Adam-God in the Hymnal

May 18, 2004 | 11 comments
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I made an exciting discovery some time ago. It seems that Adam-God lives on in the pages of the current LDS hymnal. I write, of course, of that well-loved favorite, “Sons of Michael He Approaches,” hymn 51.

It was written by Elias L. T. Harrison who lived from 1830 to 1900 and would have been alive right at the height of the Adam-God teachings during the middle of Brigham Young’s administration. The hymn was first published in 1861 in the Millennial Star. It seems that the Millennial Star was most active on the Adam-God front between about 1855 and 1857. After about 1860, Adam-God in general died down a bit, since due to opposition Brigham started to counsel against its teaching, although it continued to be taught in less public settings — e.g. the School of the Prophets — much later. Thus, the Adam-God timing for the first publication of “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” is not quite right for the “high” Adam-God period, but it would have been right on the edge.

While the language of the hymn does not include explicitly those claims that have made Adam-God so controversial down through the years – Adam is the father of Jesus Christ, Adam is the God of this world, etc. – there is certainly reason to think that Adam-God teachings, and the interest in the status of Adam and Michael of which those teachings are a part, forms the theological backdrop for this hymn. Certainly, the vision of Adam-Michael as the deified patriarch of the human race and holder of the ultimate priesthood authority of this world is a wonderfully distinctive Mormon image and one that led Brigham on to Adam-God adventures. Included here are the lyrics to “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” for the edification of all:

    Sons of Michael, he approaches! Rise, the ancient father greet.
    Bow, ye thousands, low before him; Minister before his feet.
    Hail the patriarch’s glad reign, Spreading over sea and main.

    Sons of Michael, ’tis his chariot Rolls its burning wheels along!
    Raise aloft your voices million In a torrent pow’r of song.
    Hail our head with music soft! Raise sweet melodies aloft!

    Mother of our generations, Glorious by great Michael’s side,
    Take thy children’s adoration; Endless with they seed abide.
    Lo! to greet thee now advance Thousands in the glorious dance!

    Raise a chorus, sons of Michael, Like old ocean’s roaring swell,
    Till the mighty acclamation Thru rebounding space doth tell
    That the ancient one doth reign In his Father’s house again!

Interestingly, the current hymnal indicates the text has been altered from the original. My curiosity was piqued. As I suspected, the unmodified version of “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” is even better than our current version. Here is the unamended text from the 1948 hymnal, hymn 163:

    Sons of Michael, he approaches! Rise, the ancient Father greet;
    Bow ye thousands, low before him; Minister before his feet;
    Hail, hail the Patriarch’s glad reign, Hail, hail the Patriarch’s glad reign
    Spreading over sea and main.

    Sons of Michael, ‘tis his chariot Rolls its burning wheels along!
    Raise aloft your voices million In a torrent power of song;
    Hail, hail our Head with music soft! Hail, hail our Head with music soft!
    Raise week melodies aloft!

    Mother of our generations, Glorious by Great Michael’s side,
    Take thy children’s adoration; Endless with thy Lord preside;
    Lo, lo, to greet thee now advance, Lo, lo, to greet thee now advance
    Thousands in the glorious dance!

    Raise a chorus, sons of Michael, Like old Ocean’s roaring swell,
    Till the mighty acclamation Through rebounding space doth tell
    That, that the Ancient One doth reign, That, that the Ancient One may reign
    In his Paradise again!

Some of the changes are boring enough. In 1985 the hymn was set to different music, and the repetitions in the third line of each verse were eliminated to accommodate the new music. In addition, in the 1985 version “Father” (applied to Adam/Michael), “Head,” and “Ancient One” are no longer capitalized. I would write this off as an irrelevant typographical change, except that The Story of Our Latter-day Hymns explicitly states that the shift in capitalization was part of an effort to more correctly define Adam’s eternal role. We don’t want people to get any ideas of divinization from the capitalization.

The real fun changes, however come in the third and fourth verses. The 1985 version says that Eve is to “endless with thy seed reside,” while in the 1948 version she is to “endless with they Lord preside.” So we have here two shifts. First, Eve no longer “presides,” and second, Adam is no longer her “Lord.” It seems that we have three different stories that can be told about this change. First, we can say that Eve’s eternal authority is being down-shifted from presiding to residing. Second, we can say that Eve’s eternal position is being bettered in that Adam is no longer her “Lord.” Third, we can say that Adam’s eternal position is being down-shifted in that we are no longer referring to him as “Lord.”

The shift in the fourth verse is striking. In the 1985 version the ancient one once more preside’s in “his Father’s house.” This obviously has the effect of emphasizing Adam’s subservient status to his father. He is not the “our Lord and our God and the only one with whom we have to deal” (to use BY’s phrase) in this formulation. However, in the 1948 version there is no mention at all of Adam’s father. Rather, he returns to his Paradise to reign again. Thus we have the vision of Adam/Michael returning to the paradisiacal glory from which he decended (coming from another world with one of his wives, as BY taught?) as Lord and Head surrounded by the posterity who “have to do” with him.

In short, this is a truly great hymn; a hidden treasure of Mormon wierdness (in the best possible sense).

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11 Responses to Adam-God in the Hymnal

  1. John David Payne on May 18, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    Has anyone tried linking the Adam-God theory with the Shape-changing-Reptile theory? Brigham Young figures prominently in both…

  2. Adam Greenwood on May 18, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    I hadn’t realized how fabulous the lyrics were until I saw them without the music (which I can’t cotton to). I like the old lyrics better. Maybe we’re far enough away from Adam-God that we can change them back.

  3. Brent Metcalfe on May 18, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    Hi Nate,

    Additional variants are found in the original hymn when compared to the two renditions that you provided. Of particular interest is the opening stanza: “Sons of Michael, he approaches! / Rise; the Eternal Father greet:” (Millennial Star 23.15 [13 April 1861]: 240, emphasis added).

    My best,

    Brent

  4. Nate Oman on May 18, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    Cool! Alas, my New Mormon Studies CD-Rom was stolen while I was in law school. (Apparently the HLS Law Library is the place where criminally minded students of Mormonism prowl for sources.)

  5. Frank McIntyre on May 18, 2004 at 11:39 pm

    Nate,

    You can take comfort in the fact that yours was probably the only New Mormon Studies CD ever stolen from the Harvard Law Library.

  6. Brent Metcalfe on May 19, 2004 at 12:49 am

    Hi Nate,

    As luck would have it, the Signature Books New Mormon Studies CD doesn’t include the Millennial Star, and the Deseret Book GospeLink 2001 CD only includes up through volume 7 (along with a few miscellaneous excerpts). I located the “Sons of Michael” reference the old-fashioned way—during the 80s I read all early-19thC Mormon periodicals.

    Times have changed. [whisper] If you promise to keep it between us, I’ll share one of my research secrets: searchable scanned images of the Millennial Star are available online here. [/whisper] It appears that I was born a few decades too early.  ;^)

    Best wishes,

    Brent

  7. Brent Metcalfe on May 19, 2004 at 12:57 am

    Hi Nate,

    *sheesh!* I’ve got a one-track mind. Make that “all 19thC Mormon periodicals” not merely “all early-19thC Mormon periodicals.”

    Cheers,

    Brent

  8. Aaron Brown on May 19, 2004 at 1:55 am

    “You can take comfort in the fact that yours was probably the only New Mormon Studies CD ever stolen from the Harvard Law Library.”

    Perhaps, but MY New Mormon Studies CD-Rom went missing from the Harvard Law School computer room under Hauser. Yes, really. I’m sure there’s an anti-Mormon conspiracy at work that deserves the blame.

    Aaron B

  9. Grasshopper on May 19, 2004 at 10:50 am

    Brent, thanks for the link to the Millennial Star online.

  10. Times and Seasons » X-Files on October 29, 2004 at 4:08 am

    [...] t tipping my hand (the administrator’s login and password appear to have been “adam-god” and “zelph” although these have since been changed). Having gaine [...]

  11. Geoff Johnston on February 18, 2005 at 6:35 pm

    What a cool post. I showed up to late around here. That link Brent provided is the coolest addition to my bookmarks in weeks!