Book of Abraham/Kolob

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Kolob and the Book of Abraham

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Question: Do Mormons believe that God lives on a planet called "Kolob"?

Mormons do not believe that God lives on Kolob

The Church answered this question as posed by Fox News succinctly:

'Kolob' is a term found in ancient records translated by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith did not provide a full description or explanation of Kolob nor did he assign the idea particular significance in relation to the Church’s core doctrines. [1]

"Kolob" is the name given to the star closest to the throne of God in Abraham 3:3

"Kolob" is the name given to the star closest to the throne of God in Abraham 3:3. It is introduced in an effort to teach Abraham that there is a hierarchy in all things. There are many stars, and one star is "closest" to God. In a similar way, there are many intelligences, or moral agents, some greater than others. The greatest of these is God.

Thus, "Kolob" is introduced in a rather peripheral way in an effort to teach about the supremacy of God:

Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other...And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. (Abraham 3:18-19, italics added)

Kolob plays no real role in LDS doctrine or discourse

In an effort to make the Church look bizarre, many critics mock the idea of "God living on the planet Kolob." This is false as God does not live on Kolob. Kolob plays no real role in LDS doctrine or discourse. The only other mention comes from a 19th century hymn, which uses Kolob in its first line to describe the glorious life of those who return to God: [2]

There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

Because LDS theology believes in a God with a physical body, it is not surprising that one might speak of God's location in physical space. Creedal Christian critics who believe in a God without "body, parts, or passions" exploit this difference in perspective to make LDS beliefs seem blasphemous or bizarre. But, to speak of God as having location is no more strange than to speak of Jesus' physical location in Bethlehem or Jerusalem during His mortal life.


Question: What is the light which comes from the presence of God?

The Book of Abraham speaks of "light" which is "borrowed" from Kolob, which is a "governing power" over other planets

Joseph Smith provided this explanation in Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 5:

one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions.

Kolob is said to be the planet nearest to the throne of God, "which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest." Abraham 3:9. The light and power of God extend from his throne to govern all things in the universe.

The light of Christ is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the light of the stars

DC 88:7-10:

7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;

9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;

10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

The light of Christ proceeds from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space, and governs all things

DC 88:11-13:

11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—

13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.


Question: Does the Book of Abraham state that the sun gets its photons from Kolob?

The Book of Abraham's reference to "light" is not referring to photons leaving the surface of the sun

The explanation for Facsimile 2, Figure 5 states that the Sun is said to "borrow it light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash":

Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.

These verses from Abraham admit a variety of interpretations. The suggestion that Abraham must have taught that the photons leaving the surface of the sun originally came from Kolob is completely unjustified.

A figurative and abstract description such as this cannot be forced into conformance with science

There are many scriptures or statements by the prophets that seem to have scientific implications. Unfortunately, they are never couched in modern scientific terms and their meanings are often very obscure. So it is hard to decide who is more foolish — the faithful saint, who interprets them in a way that forces them into agreement with some current view of science, or the faithless critic, who purposely interprets them in a way that is most at odds with current scientific thought. The Book of Abraham quote cited in the criticism above has inspired both kinds of nonsense, including the interpretation found on the web site where this criticism appeared. The wording of Joseph Smith’s explanation of Figure 5 in Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham is, in fact, very difficult to interpret.

To “borrow” means to receive with the intention of returning

First, to “borrow” means to receive with the intention of returning, especially said of a material object or substance. It may also mean to take and adopt as one’s own, especially said of abstractions or ideas, as in “the composer borrowed his harmonic structure from Bach’s Fugue in D Major.” So what does it mean for the sun to “borrow” its light from Kolob? Is light a material or an abstraction? Does the Sun intend to repay the light it borrowed?

"This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made"

What, in fact, is meant by 'light' in this context? Doctrine & Covenants 88:7–13, in wording strongly reminiscent of our Book of Abraham quote, states “7 ...this is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. 8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; 9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; 10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. 11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; 12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space — 13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things (emphasis added).” These verses are clearly NOT talking about electromagnetic radiation. Does anyone have a convincing explanation of what they ARE talking about?

A “medium” can mean a material through which some signal propagates or a means or channel through which something is achieved

A “medium” can mean a material through which some signal propagates or a means or channel through which something is achieved. What does it mean here? Does it refer to a material or a means?

What is the "grand Key" called "Kae-e-vanrash"?

What is Kae-e-vanrash? The Book of Abraham says that it is a “grand Key,” or “governing power.” What does that mean? Is Kae-e-vanrash a term for nuclear reactions, gravitation, cosmic rays? Or is it a more spiritual medium such as priesthood or faith, or an organizational structure, or a means used for administrative communications?

This may have been a way to teach the Egyptians that Elohim, who dwells near Kolob, rules over than the sun-god, Amen-Re

And, finally, what are we to understand about the nature of Book of Abraham astronomy? Is it a revelation from God to Abraham explaining the structure of the universe as it would be seen by the astronomers of our day? Or should we remember that “The Lord said unto me: Abraham, I show these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words.” Abraham 3:15, so that, as John Gee has suggested [3], this is simply the teaching that would be easiest for the Egyptians to understand — one that would teach them that Elohim, who dwells near Kolob, rules over than the sun-god, Amen-Re?

Abraham did not teach the Egyptians that photons leaving the Sun came from Kolob

Until someone can make a convincing case that their interpretation of these things is the only reasonable one, any faith-promoting proof from Abraham’s astronomy is a flimsy house of cards and any faith-destroying attack on some straw-man interpretation is misguided. Among the misguided interpretations is the unjustified suggestion that Abraham taught that the photons leaving the surface of the sun originally came from Kolob.


Question: Do the statements in the Book of Abraham regarding Kolob's revolution time make any sense?

Abraham's astronomical statements are far more reasonable than the some claim and fit into a picture that makes sense in the cosmic world view of Abraham's contemporaries

A critic asserts the following: "LDS doctrine regarding astronomy is permeated with references to time being measured, or 'reckoned' according to a star's or planet's rate of rotation. Furthermore, this 'reckoning of time' is a prime distinguisher in terms of 'greatness.' From the standpoint of modern cosmology, this makes no sense at all. Rates of rotation are largely arbitrary, and of little comment or concern from a fundamental point of view." [4]

Once again, a critic of Joseph Smith's revelations has chosen to interpret difficult and ambiguous phrasing in a way that serves his ultimate goal — to set up straw man that is easily demolished. And the critics just do it to mock. But Abraham's astronomical statements are far more reasonable than the some claim and fit into a picture that makes sense in the cosmic world view of Abraham's contemporaries, a conclusion that was also reached in John Gee's 2009 FAIR conference talk, "The Larger Issue". Yet other faithful theorists disagree with Gee's conclusions, such as Michael Rhodes, and others, but still great respect is had for Gee's points of view. One researcher has shown evidence for both a geocentric and also a more literal interpretation, the one being a symbol of the other.

The Book of Abraham cosmology is so ambiguous that not even LDS people, let alone critics of the Church, can claim to know what it is actually trying to say

The biggest issue at hand is that the authors of the web page where the above criticism of the Book of Abraham was found have pretended to know the meaning of these scriptures to be able to set up yet another straw man to refute. The problem is, that the Book of Abraham cosmology is so ambiguous that not even LDS people, let alone critics of the Church, can claim to know what it is actually trying to say, so any criticism automatically creates a straw-man. Various LDS theorists have differing points of view on this.

One possible refutation of the above criticism is that the authors of that web page have confused rotation with revolution. Though the technical distinction is often blurred today, even by astronomers, at the time of Joseph Smith the two terms denoted technically different things. 'To rotate' means to spin on an axis, like a top or like a planet. It applies only to an extended body. 'To revolve' means to go around a central point and may be applied to any point that moves around another point. The Book of Abraham uses the term 'revolution,' and it is clearly being used in the technically correct sense. According to Abraham 3:5,9,

5 And the Lord said unto me: The planet which is the lesser light, lesser than that which is to rule the day, even the night, is above or greater than that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning, for it moveth in order more slow; this is in order because it standeth above the earth upon which thou standest, therefore the reckoning of its time is not so many as to its number of days, and of months, and of years.

9 And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.

So the picture is geocentric (nothing wrong with that — Relativity tells us that one point is as good as another), and clearly refers to the revolution of the heavenly bodies about the Earth. The Earth rotates on its axis once per day and so a point on the surface of the earth revolves about the axis at the same rate. This is the fastest motion in the heavens. The Moon is next, with an orbital period of 27.32 days. The Moon also rotates once per revolution, so it always shows the same face toward the Earth. (This is not a coincidence, but the result of tidal dissipation.) The Sun revolves slower still, with a sidereal period of 365.256363 days. The solar rotation period, by the way, is about 24.5 days at its equator and a little longer as one approaches the solar poles, not that that matters to anything. And, apparently, Kolob revolves about the Earth once per... Well, does Abraham ever give the time for Kolob to revolve around the Earth, as seen from Earth? Remember that God does not live on Kolob. Kolob is only the great star that is nearest to the throne of God. In Abraham 3:4, we read

4 And the Lord said unto me, by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord’s time, according to the reckoning of Kolob. (emphasis added)

which seems to say that Kolob's orbital period about the throne of God is 1000 years, and that it is used by God as his unit of time. Of course, since Kolob is still far above the Sun, it "moveth in order more slow" (Abraham 3:5). Thus, as seen from Earth, it encircles and "governs" all intervening stars and planets. We are left to wonder. Is the Throne of God at the center of the Galaxy (in which case it would take 220,000,000 years to orbit the Earth) or at the center of the Universe (in which case, observations limit the rotation of the Universe to be very small indeed, maybe even zero) or is it somewhere else altogether?

Yet Another View On This Issue

As was stated at the beginning, LDS theorists have differing points of view on the meanings of these passages in the Book of Abraham. Some interpret the statement in Abraham 3:4 as meaning the rotational period of Kolob's axis (the angular motion) when referring to the "revolutions" of Kolob that take one thousand years. Because in the context, it is speaking of a "day" to the Lord. The word "day" when applied to normal usage refers to the earth or another body rotating on its axis. A "year" (as the term is used normally in English) refers to a revolution of a body around its parent body. Therefore, it is difficult to see how a "year" in Kolob, or its rotation around the parent body is a "day" to the Lord, or a day in Kolob. In this case, it seems pretty straight forward that the word "revolution" refers to the rotation on the axis. It is understandable how critics could interpret it this way, as meaning Kolob's rotation on its axis, because this is the way some reasonable people believe about this passage even in the Church. This is further evidenced by the fact that in the explanation for the Facsimile #2, Figure 1, it says:

The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth.

Here we are faced with the fact that it is saying "One day in Kolob." This clearly specifies this one thousand year period as Kolob's day. In the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, when referring to Kolob, it says that:

. . . Kolob in its motion . . . is swifter than the rest of the twelve fixed stars; going before, being first in motion, being delegated to have power over others to regulate others in their time . . .

Now, the Kirtland Egyptian Papers controversy is out of scope here, but suffice it to say that it is the view of some that there is no good reason to ignore this material just because it is not in the scriptures, when it has bearing on the subject at hand, and adds critical details. So, anyway, if we say that it is swifter than the rest of the twelve fixed stars, in which way is it swifter? About Oliblish in the explanation for Facsimile #2 figure 4, it says:

. . . answering to the measuring of the time of Oliblish, which is equal with Kolob in its revolution and in its measuring of time.

If Kolob is swifter, then it is not swifter on its rotational motion on its axis, because it is equal to the rotational motion of Oliblish. Therefore, it can only be swifter in its motion around its parent body in its orbital path. Now, if we take the center of the Galaxy as a possible model of what is happening, the closest stars to the Galactic Nucleus are moving at incredibly fast speeds in the central parsec of the Galaxy. This is because the Galactic Nucleus (called "Sagittarius A*" pronounced "Sagittarius A Star" because the Galactic Center is in the constellation Sagittarius) is a super-massive black hole with extreme gravity that can easily swing huge stars around it at incredible speeds like a gigantic sling. If we take the star S2 (Sagittarius #2) around the Galactic Nucleus as a model, which is the closest, S2 has "the fastest known ballistic orbit, reaching speeds exceeding 5000 km/s (11 000 000 mph) or 2% of the speed of light . . ." ([1]). Though S2 is probably not Kolob, it stands to reason that a body that is orbiting around such an object in such close proximity in its closest approach would have an incredible speed. A very large star near to such an object would likely be the fastest of all the large bodies in its system. This is one possibility for how a very large star could be swift in its orbital motion. Therefore, Kolob is swift in its motion on its orbital path, but slow in its rotation on its axis, which takes 1000 years. So 1000 years is a day in Kolob, not a year in Kolob, according to the regular English usage of the terms. Yes, one could say in response that "revolution" is not the usual English term for rotation on an axis, at least in modern scientific terms, so why should we go in favor of this interpretation for either the word year or the word day? Well, a person can favor whatever he would like in his own personal interpretation, but some believe that this is in line with where the evidence points. Others may not, and may even disagree with the use of some of the evidence. That is the whole point. We have disagreement among theorists on these points.

Now, back to the criticism above, and we quote again:

LDS doctrine regarding astronomy is permeated with references to time being measured, or 'reckoned' according to a star's or planet's rate of rotation. Furthermore, this 'reckoning of time' is a prime distinguisher in terms of 'greatness.' From the standpoint of modern cosmology, this makes no sense at all. Rates of rotation are largely arbitrary, and of little comment or concern from a fundamental point of view.

Really? What is it about it that doesn't make sense? By the use of the word "greatness" in the scriptures, it is only referring to the length of the days. So what if the word "great" or "greatness" is used in this sense? By their use of the word permeation, they make it sound like there is a lot of emphasis put on it. We have only a few references in a few scriptures in Abraham where this is even mentioned, and only one in one verse of D&C 130. Where is the permeation? They say rates of rotation are arbitrary. So what if they are? We would expect a certain amount of randomness in nature, would we not? And the Book of Abraham is not in contradiction to that. Let's read that scripture again very carefully:

Now the set time of the lesser light is a longer time as to its reckoning than the reckoning of the time of the earth upon which thou standest. And where these two facts exist, there shall be another fact above them, that is, there shall be another planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still; And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest. (Abraham 3:7-9)

The scripture is saying that you have a range of planets, some slower or faster than others in the rotation on their axes until you go inward in the star system towards Kolob, presumably somewhere where it gravitationally dominates in the system. Kolob is the slowest of them all, taking a thousand years to rotate on its axis. It seems science has shown this to be the case as far as can be seen in general, with the discovery of exo-planets, with some being faster or slower on their axes. Just because the critics mock it doesn't mean it wasn't a valuable teaching tool for the Lord to teach Abraham a principle. Critics of the Bible could mock the stories Jesus told in parables as well, but it doesn't change the fact that the Lord chose those stories to teach something. So what's the point of the criticism, and where does it not make sense from a cosmological or scientific point of view? This criticism falls apart on close inspection.


Notes

  1. Fox News, "21 Questions Answered About Mormon Faith," (18 December 2007). off-site
  2. William W. Phelps, "If You Could Hie to Kolob," Hymn #284. off-site
  3. John Gee, "The Larger Issue", 2009 FAIR Conference. off-site
  4. Duwayne R. Anderson, Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and Science (First Books Library, 2003), 110–114.; Website: MormonThink, Article: "Conflicts with Science," URL: mormonthink.com (Last accessed: 3 Aug. 2009) FAIR review