How many of us are there?

November 4, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 8:18 pm   Category: Theology

Is anyone else uncomfortable with the assumption there are an infinite number of human spirits/intelligences in existence?

What I mean is, it seems like a pretty common assumption among Mormons that there are an infinite number of beginningless and irreducible spirits waiting to inhabit future worlds (or for those who like the popular tripartite model: an infinite number of “intelligences” who are waiting to receive spirit bodies and then inhabit future worlds). If time is also infinite, as most of us assume, and an infinite number of inhabited worlds have already passed then it seems the assumption is that all of the following things currently exist:

-An infinite number of pre-mortal spirits/intelligences (who have been waiting an infinite amount of time to get a mortal probation according to most Mormons)
-An infinite number of resurrected people (who lived as mortals on the infinite number of previous earth-like planets)
-An infinite number of resurrected planets (to house those resurrected people)
-An infinite number of exalted people (gods or Gods depending on your assumption I suppose)
-An infinite number of sons (and daughters) of perdition

Of course this all assumes there is an infinite amount of space and matter in existence as well.

I dunno, I just don’t dig the idea of being just one of an infinite number of us. I much prefer the notion of a finite amount of beginningless and irreducible matter and space (despite the implications of that idea) and a finite number of beginningless spirits/intelligences in existence.

What do you think?

49 Comments »

  1. You forgot to mention an infinite number of parallel dimensions occupying the same space. Science hypothesizes that they are right here with us.

    The only reason we mortal beings have a problem with infinite concepts is that we are burdened by a finite understanding of things. How will our perspective change when we are no longer constrained to mortal levels of understanding?

    Sure it’s disturbing now, but any contemplation of anything infinite at our present state is bound to boggle the mind.

    Comment by M. Ryan Taylor — November 4, 2007 @ 11:24 pm

  2. I am not opposed to this Geoff. This may not be much help, but I am fine with speculating about a finite number of intelligences/spirits.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 5, 2007 @ 5:00 am

  3. A finite number of spirits would actually push me more toward a “2 track” model, rather than the other way, however, I lean more towards the infinite idea most of the time.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 5, 2007 @ 7:12 am

  4. Geoff: just what is it about a transfinite number that bothers you?

    Comment by Blake — November 5, 2007 @ 8:27 am

  5. The idea of an infinite number of spirits doesn’t both me much at all, but that might be a function of my job as a mathematician.

    By the way, some people have taught that sons of perdition are “recycled” so there may not be an infinite number of them.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — November 5, 2007 @ 8:27 am

  6. OK, so the number is finite. But it is so large that it makes Avogadro’s number look microscopic.

    Comment by Last Lemming — November 5, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  7. If there were an infinite number of uncreated beings, it does not mean that there are infinite resurrected beings. This goes back to our discussion on latent or primordial intelligence. If you turn the clock backwards far enough, the knowledge of all uncreated beings approaches zero. In that case there was a first, but not necessarily a last mortal individual. The consequence is that there would be a finite set of exalted beings with an infinite possibility of expansion.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  8. P. Nielsen, I reject Brigham’s teaching on spirit recycling and accept Joseph Smith’s teaching that “God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all.”

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  9. I’m not sure that I accept all the “infinite number of” premises in your post — nor do I think they all are required by or fall out of LDS scriptures and writings.

    For the moment at least, it’s clear there aren’t an infinite number of worlds in our own space/time continuum. Based on current cosmology, the (very rough) estimate is ~100 billion galaxies with an average of ~100 billion stars in each, not all of which are likely to have inhabitable planets and all less than 14 billion years old.

    But that also means that we (and God), being eternal, predate this universe and therefore existed outside of and prior to it. I’m not sure that we can comprehend the nature and extent of that reality any more than a tea leaf comprehends the history of the East India Company (to steal a line from Douglas Adams). That, of course, didn’t stop me from trying to write about it nearly 30 years ago (see the section “Increasing Dimensions” near the end).

    In short, I think the original post is a false dilemma — I’m not sure all those infinities are real, and even if they were, I’m not sure that struggling with them in our current mortal state is particularly relevant. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — November 5, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  10. Geoff,

    Our discussion on the “ring” thread (linked to in the post) centered around this issue of infinities, so I don’t have much new to say. However, I will raise one of the same issues I raised there, which is the issue of infinite time. You are opposed to infinite amounts of matter, space, and spirits, but are you opposed to an infinite amount of time?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 5, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  11. Spirits are finite in number. When species go extinct, that’s an indication that the finite number of dinosaur / dodo bird / passenger pigeon spirits have been embodied. ;-)

    Comment by Ardis — November 5, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

  12. Bruce,

    I have a copy of that paper in my house. I remember running into it several years ago by accident while looking for a different paper. I enjoyed reading your paper, glad to be able to connect you to it.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 5, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  13. [Ardis wrote:] Spirits are finite in number. When species go extinct, that’s an indication that the finite number of dinosaur / dodo bird / passenger pigeon spirits have been embodied. ;-)

    Bravo! While you put a winky emoticon after your comment, it does point out a real implication of our theology.

    Of course, it raises another question, which I haven’t seen addressed (unless Erich Paul did in his book on LDS Cosmology, and I just forgot): what is the source of whatever spirit/intelligence exists in (chauvinism alert) ‘sub-human’ living things (e.g., animals and possibly plants)? I know of no doctrinal statement that says that animals were “co-equal” (usually interpreted as “co-eternal”) with God, as humans are. So if, as some LDS believe, God created ‘spirit bodies’ for all animals before this life, from where did He get the ‘intelligence’ for those animals?

    Maybe Brigham Young knew what he was talking about when he speculated on the spirits in Perdition being ‘recycled’ — but they’re recycled in smaller bits and used for animals. :-) ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — November 5, 2007 @ 3:06 pm

  14. Having just written that brief post, I tracked down here’s a more detailed discussion (with citations) on that very subject (spirit creation/resurrection of animals) over at By Common Consent. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — November 5, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

  15. No problem with it at all.

    Because ligth is intelligence, and also it is wave/particle – when we give off light we guive off particle which, in turn seeds new intelligences. The are eternal because their essense alswys had a beginning.

    Lesser animals are reincarnated through their progression into human spirits.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — November 5, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  16. M.Ryan Taylor — Interesting speculation.

    Blake: what is it about a transfinite number that bothers you?

    I suppose I am bothered by how infinitely insignificant it makes both our planet and our kind in general seem. Plus I am bothered by the notion of the seemingly arbitrary way a tiny number of spirits are supposedly plucked from premortality to be on any given planet. I wonder what the logic behind the selection process per planet would be. In addition, the fact that any premortal spirit would have to wait and infinite amount of time to get the single mortality seems oddly inefficient to me.

    P Nielsen: some people have taught that sons of perdition are “recycled” so there may not be an infinite number of them.

    See here for more on recycling. I think the problem with recycling only sons of perdition is that one might argue that we all should be exalted already over an infinite amount of time (though as Blake will point out this is not a logical necessity).

    LL: But it is so large that it makes Avogadro’s number look microscopic.

    A finite number is a finite number no matter how big it is. Over infinite time we would have all been mortals an eternity ago. So we are either stuck with infinite spirits or some variation on eternal recursion in the end I think.

    Stapley: In that case there was a first, but not necessarily a last mortal individual.

    I simply disagree with your position on this J. You are using an anemic version of the concept of infinite time I think. In fact what you are describing doesn’t sound like infinite time at all to me — rather it sounds like “really big”. But there is an infinite distance between really big and actually infinite.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  17. bfwebster: I’m not sure that I accept all the “infinite number of” premises in your post — nor do I think they all are required by or fall out of LDS scriptures and writings.

    I don’t accept that premise either. That is sort of my point. However, I think that infinite time is an inescapable premise in Mormon theology.

    So if you argue that our current universe has a beginning and an end then we must conclude that things like resurrected bodies and resurrected planets in this universe must also have an end, no?

    Jacob: but are you opposed to an infinite amount of time?

    No. As I mentioned I think infinite time is an inescapable premise based on the scriptures and on the teachings of Joseph Smith.

    Ardis – Actually, one could contend that just as a finite number of human spirits are sent here a finite number of dinosaur spirits were sent. This could be true even if one believed there is an infinite supply in existence already.

    But the sub-human question is always a tough theological nut to crack. Especially for those of us who are persuaded that evolution actually happened even for humans.

    Gilgamesh — Very Orson-Pratt-esque comment. I have explored that in the past and have not completely given up on it (even if I no longer favor the spirit atomism method of arriving there.)

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

  18. Geoff. I am not, in fact, using a watered down concept of time. I am simply using a real real concept. Until you show how my position is logically or factually mistaken, your disagreement is one of wishful thinking.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2007 @ 5:03 pm

  19. J: Until you show how my position is logically or factually mistaken, your disagreement is one of wishful thinking.

    Ummm… Have you shown your notions of time are factually correct? Why should we assume you are not engaging in wishful thinking? I don’t disagree that your speculations are logically possible if that makes you feel any better.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2007 @ 5:16 pm

  20. Given a set of uncreated beings (even an infinite set) that have the ability to gain knowledge, assuming infinite time there must be a time when their knowledge approaches zero.

    Now, this is true if time is finite or infinite, so I’m not sure how my notions of time, outside of that syllogism affect it. Though, I’d be interested in hearing.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2007 @ 6:09 pm

  21. J: Given a set of uncreated beings (even an infinite set) that have the ability to gain knowledge, assuming infinite time there must be a time when their knowledge approaches zero.

    I don’t have any problem with this part (although they can both gain or lose knowledge). I just reconcile it with infinite time differently than you do. See here.

    However I don’t know why you said “Now, this is true if time is finite or infinite” because I don’t think that is accurate.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2007 @ 7:42 pm

  22. Right, but even if the hard drive is rebooted over and over, there has to be a first time.

    However I don’t know why you said “Now, this is true if time is finite or infinite” because I don’t think that is accurate.

    It is accurate. They do both approach zero. The difference is that in finite time there is a point when it is actually zero. In infinite time, while it approaches zero, it never becomes zero.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 5, 2007 @ 8:51 pm

  23. there has to be a first time

    I disagree. That is the whole point of “beginningless”.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 5, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  24. Regarding #1. Parallel dimensions don’t occupy the same space almost by definition.

    Comment by Clark — November 5, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  25. The question of whether the number of intelligences is finite is incidental compared to the question of the average number of (person class) intelligences per unit volume, the question of the amount of mass / energy available for each, and the relative spatial evenness of both parameters. Fixing those metrics would result in identical cosmological consequences regardless of whether the raw parameters were finite or otherwise.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

  26. Re: #24,

    “Parallel dimension” is itself an oxymoron. Non orthogonal, not even linearly independent. “Coincident subspace” doesn’t have the same ring to it I guess.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 5, 2007 @ 11:49 pm

  27. One question I ask myself is if we really can define “beginingless”. Just like eternal or endless seems to have deeper meanings than just forever and ever, I suggest so could a “begining” somehow have a different meaning.
    Maybe because it’s different than any type of begining we understand in mortal parlance. Words are not adequate to explain but nevertheless help in some understanding. God classifies it as beginingless to us, to show it has no type of begining as we know. That may or may not make sense. It seems being put behind the veil keeps us from understanding true definitions. But of course therin lies the problem. I think it’s still possible to have some form of begining even if it’s not the way the mind views begining. I also don’t think that concludes there must be an end. The answer may be in what lies beyond space and time, if that can in fact even exist.

    Comment by Gunner — November 6, 2007 @ 6:42 am

  28. Geoff J, I’m glad you raised this subject because as an investigator I have a question that seems unanswerable but which your posting once again directly raises for me:

    1) If we have each existed eternally and will continue to exist eternally;

    2) If as Joseph Smith said even the Telestial Kingdom is a place of such beauty that if we knew how great it was we would immediately jump in front of trains to go there;

    3) If even sons of perdition eventually get rehabilitated (which would make sense in infinity and in terms of eternal progression even being extended to those at the ultimate fringe, which itself makes sense in terms of God’s infinite mercy)

    4) If we have free agency, always have done and always will do;

    Then, er, in eternity it would seem that there’s very little incentive for me to join the LDS church for the time being – despite my interest in it – apart for the spiritual pleasure of fellowship in this world.

    Apart from that it seems that the principles themselves logically suggest there’s all the time in infinity to join and that in infinity there’s not much difference between accepting the gospel during this life – which is relatively a micro-milli-second of my eternal existence – and joining a billion micro-milli-seconds from now.

    It seems that there’s very little genuine urgency in infinity as LDS gospel actually understands it to back-up the urgency of my missionary instructors, apart from their need to baptise a prize and raise their ‘sales’ numbers.

    Or am I missing something?

    Comment by Kyle R. — November 6, 2007 @ 7:50 am

  29. Geoff (#23), unless you produce some sort of reasoning for your assertion that I am not aware of, it is shown logically incorrect.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2007 @ 8:28 am

  30. Kyle R.- This is a complcated question with multiple facets.

    1- While Free Agency is real, Determinism also exists, which means it is much more difficult to choose good when surrounded by evil, etc.
    2- While we have exists and will always exist, that does not mean we do not change. We are actually constantly changing, either progressing or regressing. Damnation is a a failure to progress in the LDS cosmology. This understanding of progress connects dirrectly to the idea of the kingdoms of glory. Many have said that once you get past this life, progress becomes much slower and some have argued that it is impossible to progress between kingdoms then.
    3- It has been argued by some LDS theologians that sons of perdition, due to the deterministic consequences of their actions will perpetually choose the wrong, and thus not rehabilitate. That’s why they are sons of perdition.

    However, you are probably not a son of perdition.

    Personally, I believe joining the church is a very important and serious decision, and the urgency the missionaries typically have is based on a couple factors, part of which is that they want to be around when you are baptised, because they like you and they believe the church will bring greater happiness into your life here and now, and not just as a matter of the eternities. About a year after I was baptised, I also sered a mission for the church, and in my experience (take it for what it is, one in a million) I honestly thought a lot more about the immediate happiness and benefits of joining the church in the lives of those I taught, rather than the long term eternal salvation. I don’t think many missionaries think that the people they talk to are “damned if they don’t”.

    finally, I do want to say that the key point in the church is taking the leap of faith and believing it is true and correct. If you feel your prayers have confirmed that you ought to make that leap of faith, then go for it. If not, then wait. I think all of us would rather have a never baptised Kyle R. who is friendly to the church than a Kyle R. who was baptised and quit the church a month later.

    i hope this helps.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 6, 2007 @ 9:45 am

  31. If as Joseph Smith said even the Telestial Kingdom is a place of such beauty that if we knew how great it was we would immediately jump in front of trains to go there;

    Joseph never said that we would kill ourselves to get to the telestial kingdom if we knew how great it was.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 6, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  32. Thanks Matt, I’m relieved to not be a SOP, and I agree with your comments.

    “Many have said that once you get past this life, progress becomes much slower and some have argued that it is impossible to progress between kingdoms then.”

    I too have heard the idea that progress in the next life is slower than in this life or that progress made in a body is always more comprehensive and profound than progress made as a spirit. Does this idea have any origin in JS’s teachings or any where else I might look it up?

    #31 Jacob I’ve just googled this and discovered that you’re correct. JS is only reported to have said something of the sort. I think I’m not well-advised to base any decisions on gossip. Thanks muchly.

    Comment by Kyle R. — November 6, 2007 @ 10:30 am

  33. I am going to go with the, “Intelligence is matter that makes up all spiritual matter” line of thinking.

    There is an infinite amount of intelligence (chaos, or matter) but the plans put in place to turn that matter into spritual matter then into physical matter… well, I am not sure if there is a number that the boss man has put on that one…

    The question it brings to mind for me is, if there is a progression, from intelligence, to spirit, to physical, then to an exhalted or Celestial state, and the first 3 seem to take an addition or reorganization of matter, then will perfection take up some too?

    Oh I give up.

    Comment by Jake — November 6, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  34. Jacob,

    I have heard a host of those.. including a supposed converstaion where he told the bretheren that if he (the prophet) had told them who he really was, they would kill him. (huh)

    I am not sure if the inference there was that he was satan or Christ incarnated, or what…. It was one of those ones taht left you hanging… and me shaking my head and walking away.

    Comment by Jake — November 6, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  35. Stapley (#29),

    I think the reasoning for my assertion is pretty obvious: “Beginningless” means without a beginning. You said “there has to be a first time” and I disagree with that. There doesn’t have to be a first time. There doesn’t have to be a first God or a first year or a first planet or a first galaxy. versions of things could all be beginningless and I believe that is what the revelations teach us is the case.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 6, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

  36. Geoff, you are correct that beginingless means that there is no first year. However, when you are dealing with agents, there are of course firsts. You have offered nothing to controvert my position that knowledge has to approach zero. You are simply question begging.

    Comment by J. Stapley — November 6, 2007 @ 10:01 pm

  37. Stapley: However, when you are dealing with agents, there are of course firsts.

    What do you base this assertion on? I think it is largely false. There are lots of things with no “firsts” if the agent is beginningless. No first moment of existence for instance… I will grant that there are firsts of course (like first time on this particular planet or whatever).

    Comment by Geoff J — November 6, 2007 @ 10:05 pm

  38. There is no first year or first act when we are dealing with beginningless realities. However, each agent is in some sense a first cause — in the sense that the entire past does not determine what the agent will choose.

    Comment by Blake — November 7, 2007 @ 10:23 am

  39. KyleR:
    Try the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry for Eternal Progression. In fact I highly recommend Light Planet as an excellent source for general LDS teachings.

    Everybody else.

    I tried to chart all this out some time ago. I think it is reasonable to ponder that our beginningless spirit, which is constantly progressing and thus changing, could infinitely have a series of firsts.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 7, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  40. Jake (#34),

    It’s funny you bring up that quote because I thought that quote you refer to was a genuine one. I will have to try to track it down when I am at home. One important difference, though, is that I don’t think he made reference to “who he really was” (which leads to all the dumb theories) but about telling them all that he knew (including polygamy, deificaiton, etc.). This is the quote I thought was genuine:

    If I revealed all that has been made known to me, scarcely a man on this stand would stay with me.” and “Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.

    Of course, given how many of the brethren did become disaffected, if Joseph did say those things they were almost certainly proven true. Can anyone confirm or deny the authenticity of those quotes before I spend time looking for them?

    Comment by Jacob J — November 7, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  41. Perhaps space, time and eternity are so extensive that the Lord has said it is absolutely unfathomable to mortal minds kept behind the veil, and hence infinite to them. And so “infinite” could mean uncountable or beyond understanding. It’s fair to say that something uncountable could be infinite to us. This does not however mean for sure that it is the same for God. What is infinite or uncountable (beyond understanding) for us maybe countable and finite for God.

    I’m reminded of Moses 1:35-37

    Although it may be finite to the Gods understanding, it does not erase the idea that things could ever be expanding, some how, some way, some form, as we see happening in our universe. I also don’t think something finite to God makes things linear. It’s possible there’s still room for “one eternal round”. (Whatever that really means)
    Perhaps what God or The Gods have already created is so vast and advanced that we simply cannot comprehend it and it is innumerable to us. Which could give it the title beginningless or endless.

    Personally because it is innumerable or infinite for us, doesn’t rule out too me the fact that in reality it could be finite for God with possibility of eternal expansion.

    Comment by Gunner — November 7, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  42. I prefer to think of time and eternity this way. There is no beginning and there is no end because eternity is timeless. I came to a realization a while back that time (the time we are familiar with) is actually a part of creation for mortality. Time actually limits our existence, just as our knowledge and intelligence has been limited for mortality. While eternity is most easily explained to our mortal minds by using the words “infinite,” or “no beginning and end,” time is part of the creation of the physical/mortal universe as much as our own mortal existence is. In the scriptures, the word “temporal” is often a synonym for “mortal.” Spiritual things supersede temporal things. God lives outside of our mortal time as much as he lives outside of our physical world. But living outside of time (as we know it) does not limit Him, it frees Him.

    I try to envision all of this by comparing it to dimensions that I can understand. Our mortal time is as though we are all in a bus moving at an exact velocity down a straight road. If that is all we’ve ever seen, our mortal minds would not be able to understand that there are other dimensions, both laterally and vertically, in which we have never been able to move. Those who live outside of the bus understand how life is outside, and they understand how existence can be without riding at a strict velocity on the one-dimensional bus. While it is hard for us to imagine existence without time because we’ve always had it pushing us along, those outside of the bus can not only understand existence without that limitation, they can also understand other facets of existence that we can’t even begin to imagine. With this analogy, it is also easy to understand that a bus traveling on a straight course on the surface of the earth will never end its journey. Your mind doesn’t have to chart infinite space for that understanding. Does “One Eternal Round” ring a bell?

    As for attributing everything else that we can number to infinities… It seems like we need to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on this matter a little more. I for one would rather understand more about what exactly an Intelligence is, along with its true nature, before I delve into how many there may be. The answer to what intelliegence truly is may also resolve other questions whose knee-jerk answers have the word “infinite” in them.

    Comment by Troy — November 27, 2007 @ 1:07 am

  43. Regarding “living outside of time”, see this post.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 27, 2007 @ 7:13 am

  44. Can anyone give a reference for the quote:

    “Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.”

    The first place I actually heard the quote was during a philosophy class at BYU, but the teacher couldn’t remember the source. I’ve honestly spent hours looking for it. LDS.org searches render nothing and basic internet searches have come up with squat. I also could not find it in TPJS or the Life of Heber C. Kimball.

    If no one knows the actual source, does anyone have a promising idea of where I could look for it?

    Comment by Brandon — December 24, 2007 @ 11:05 pm

  45. Brandon,

    I forgot about that, thanks for the reminder. I think that quote was made famous by Truman Madsen (as with so many tidbits about Joseph Smith). Here is what he says in Joseph Smith the Prophet (I grabbed this out of Gospel Link):

    How much did Joseph Smith know about himself and his own calling? Clearly his knowledge grew and expanded from the initial encounters of the Sacred Grove. But what really was implicated in that tantalizing phrase picked up by enemies and friends, “You do not know me”? Or, in his turning to people on the stand (this happened at least three times in Nauvoo) and saying, “If I revealed all that has been made known to me, scarcely a man on this stand would stay with me”?† In another case he said, “If the Church knew all the commandments, one-half they would condemn through prejudice and ignorance.”‡ To a group he once said: “Brethren, if I were to tell you all I know of the kingdom of God, I do know that you would rise up and kill me.” Brigham arose and said, “Don’t tell me anything that I can’t bear, for I don’t want to apostatize.”§ (Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989], 105.)

    † The Prophet said to me [Brigham Young] about sixteen years ago [at Kirtland], ‘If I was to show the Latter-day Saints all the revelations that the Lord has shown unto me, there is scarce a man that would stay with me, they could not bear it’” (MS 13 [September 1, 1851]: 257).
    ‡ HC 2:477. Compare George Q. Cannon, in Conference Report, April 6, 1900, p. 57.
    § As recalled by Parley P. Pratt in MS 55 (September 4, 1893): 585.

    Anyone who has more info on these entries in Millennial Star is welcome to chime in. I noticed that in a paper by Ronald Esplin in BYU Studies (Joseph, Brigham and the Twelve: a Succession of Continuity by Ronald K. Esplin BYU Studies, vol. 21 (1981), Number 3 – Summer 1981), he used that same quote from MS 55, but instead of attributing it to Parley P Pratt he said “See reminiscence of Robert Horne in Millennial Star 55 (4 September 1893): 585.”

    Comment by Jacob J — December 25, 2007 @ 6:58 pm

  46. Jacob,

    Thank you very much for the references. I’m a fan of Truman Madsen, but haven’t yet read Joseph Smith the Prophet. I’m heading out to Deseret Book later today, so I’ll probably pick up both that and Millennial Star. Gift Certificates :)

    Does anyone know of other examinations of these quotes? It seems like they carry quite a punch and would be interesting to tease out. I’ll look into the mentioned Esplin work, but I am hoping to find an essay or speculation directly analyzing the quotes themselves. Does anyone know of a thread which looks into any implications of these quotations? I don’t want to take this thread out on a tangent.

    Comment by Brandon — December 26, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  47. Brandon,

    Madsen speculates about what Joseph might have been getting in these quotes in the passage that follows the part I quoted above. I have seen several people suggest that Joseph had polygamy in mind when he said “if I revealed all that has been made known to me…” which fits pretty well given that a bunch of people did leave the church and seek his life over that issue. The comment about “you do not know me” is commonly used to support the wildest possible speculations. The TLC uses this to support their belief that Joseph Smith is the Holy Ghost. Of course, I think that is utter poppycock and I am wary of anyone who wants to use ambiguous statements like this to support speculative superstructures.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 27, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  48. Jacob,

    The professors I talked with about those passages also mentioned the… interesting… speculations you brought up, including the possibility of Joseph Smith being the Holy Ghost or (more commonly, in their experience) the Holy Grail (Dan Brown style). I’m in complete agreement with you, that most of this is hogwash. I find it doesn’t even hold up logically; how could the knowledge of Joseph being the Holy Ghost or direct descendant of Christ cause an apostasy of the 12? It would make much more contextual sense to assert him being Lucifer (I’m being facetious, of course).

    While it is one thing to use any ambiguous statement from any source to endorse radical theories, it may be quite another to examine the statements in and of themselves. I suppose I just find it interesting. I cannot imagine any information that, if it were made known to me, would cause me to “rise up and kill” the prophet. Perhaps it’s a “milk before meat” concept?

    Comment by Brandon — December 27, 2007 @ 2:38 pm

  49. I think the polygamy thing and the deification ideas Joseph taught in the KFD and SitG did indeed cause many saints (including apostles I believe) to apostatize and join the mobs trying to kill Joseph. Those sorts of teachings are the best candidates for the “if I told you what I knew you” lines.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 27, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

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