The Challenge of Adam-ondi-Ahman

September 13, 2004 | 36 comments
By

Various debates about the historicity of scripture have captured a fair chunk of the Mormon intelligentsia (and pseudo-intelligentsia) for the last decade or more. The “Big Issue” of course is the Book of Mormon. This seems to have replaced evolution and the creation story of Genesis as a situs for conflict about the scriptures. Lost in all of this is my question: What are we to make of Adam-ondi-Ahman?

A quick review: Adam-ondi-Ahman is a gentle little valley located in Daviess County, Missouri. After the Saints were driven out of Jackson County, they settled in Clay County with Far West as their central settlement. North of Far West was a spot known as Spring Hill, which the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith as the location of Adam-ondi-Ahman (See D&C 116). Adam-ondi-Ahman it turns out is a place fraught with theological significance. In 1835, the Prophet Joseph recieved a revelation that stated in part:

Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing. And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel. And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thouare a prince over them forever. (D&C 107:53-56)

We learn elsewhere that at the end of time, Christ and the Ancient of Days (Adam) will appear to a great convocation of Adam’s posterity at Adam-ondi-Ahman. (See D&C 116, Dan. 7:13-14).

There is a huge amount of stuff going in these very brief set of stories. We have the beginning and the end located in space. We have the Genesis story transported to the middle of the American continents. We have the gathering of Zion tied to the gathering Adam’s posterity. We have an alternative example of the man-become-god (the main example being Christ) in the person of Adam, who is prince and archangel. This is heady and cool stuff.

It is also more than a little weird. I mean if Nephites and Lamanites present historical complications, what are we to do with the claim that the human race began somewhere in western Missouri? Of course, contra Kaimi et al, Adam-ondi-Ahman provides impeccable scriptural support for the notion that there were people in the land when Lehi and his family arrived. One can simply claim that Adam’s posterity has always been in the Americas!

I don’t really have good answers to these sorts of questions. (Maybe we could subscribe to a “Two Adam-ondi-Ahmans Theory” analogous to the “Two Cumorahs Theory”.) Frankly, I think that the Genesis story makes the most sense as a ritual text. Thus, we have creation accounts in the Bible, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the temple. I think that the first three versions should be read in light of the fourth version. This leaves the whole issue of the “historicity” of Genesis rather beside the point. Except, of course, for Adam-ondi-Ahman, which seems to locate the Genesis narrative very concretely in space.

I am curious about this whole thing. First and foremost, I am interesting in understanding the meaning of the Adam-ondi-Ahman stories. Secondly, I am curious as to what I am to make of the specific historical claims made about Spring Hill, Missouri. (By the way, there is a picture of Spring Hill in the most recent edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.) Finally, I wonder why the Adam-ondi-Ahman issue has garnered virtually no attention while debates about the Book of Mormon have been merrily burning along for years.

[Update: My real interest in Adam-ondi-Ahman was sparked, of course, when my wife and I were trying to figure out what to name our son. I liked the sound of Adam ondi Oman. She didn’t, and we named him Jacob Bryan Oman instead.]

Tags:

36 Responses to The Challenge of Adam-ondi-Ahman

  1. Kaimi on September 13, 2004 at 10:24 pm

    Nate,

    You missed your opportunity. You should have named him McKay David Oman.

    Or perhaps Muscat is-the-capital-of Oman.

    Well, I guess we could always rename the site admin ID, to become Adam-ondi-Admin.

  2. Jim F. on September 13, 2004 at 10:36 pm

    Nate, I don’t know what to make of the stories and revelations, but I think your note about the beginning and the end having a specific location is very interesting. I find it odd, however, that the beginning (The Garden of Eden) and the end (Adom-ondi-Ahmen) aren’t quite in the same place. Why would that be? It seems that we would expect them to be in the same place or, if we were traditional Christians, to be completely separated. But to put them very close together, but not in the same place seems significant, though I don’t have anything to say about what that significance is. If only they were the same place, then I would have a lot to say.

    As for it being odd that the beginning of the world occurred in what is now Western Missouri, that is no more odd than any other place you could pick that isn’t already considered holy for some reason. The Temple Mount might have been able to function symbolically as the site of the Garden of Eden, but if you don’t choose a place like that, then Missouri is as good as any place else. (Besides, having been born in Western Missouri, I like the idea that that it is the site of the Garden of Eden and the last general conference.

  3. Kaimi on September 13, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    Nate,

    Well, A-o-A doesn’t get any attention because it has plausible deniability with regard to the archeological record, due to the flood.

    Thus, you get two classes of people.

    Class one believes that (1) the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, (2) Noah built an ark, (3) forty days of rain washed away all traces of civilization, (4) Noah ended up in Mesopotamia and started over.

    Class two doubts (1), and possibly (2), (3), and (4).

    What’s probably intellectually unsustainable is to accept (1) but not (2), (3) and (4). I’m not sure that anyone holds that position, though.

    It’s different from the Book of Mormon, because the latter doesn’t have a handy-dandy flood to wipe clean the archeological record . . .

  4. BTD Greg on September 14, 2004 at 12:06 am

    Slightly off-topic query: is it necessary to believe strictly in the flood covering the entire planet? Or is it acceptable to believe that the flood covered the earth in the vicinity of Mount Ararat? I’ve been leaning toward the second possiblity, and I’m wondering how close to apostasy this theory brings me. Of course, this theory doesn’t create the handy dandy explanation for how the ancients got from North America to Mesopotamia either, so that’s another drawback.

  5. Silus Grok on September 14, 2004 at 12:07 am

    Jim: If I recall the text properly, the gathering at AoA came some 900 years (or a “very long time”) after Adam and Eve’s eviction from the Garden… so it can hardly be considered “the beginning”. Similarly, the convocation at AoA is pre-millenial, so it can hardly be considered “the end”… maybe I’m reading your comment (or the scriptural record) incorrectly.

    At any rate, it seems that the series of events is more of a chiasmus:

    A – Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Jackson Co MO)
    B – The first meeting at AoA
    C – The Telestial Era
    B – The final meeting at AoA
    A – The human family returns to a state like the Garden of Eden and the City of Enoch returns to Jackson Co MO.

  6. Silus Grok on September 14, 2004 at 12:10 am

    BTD Greg: I’ve leaned a bit towards the Black Sea flood myself, but find it doesn’t really jive with the Flood-cum-baptism line of thought (unless you believe in sprinkling); nor does it seem to jive with the presence of a flood story in so many cultures around the world.

    I dunno.

  7. Clark Goble on September 14, 2004 at 12:12 am

    First off, I think most apologists reject the idea of a global flood as traditionally thought. There are indications by Joseph that he thought Noah lived around the Carolinas in which case a giant hurricane would be a great candidate for how to be washed away.

    As to the garden, I’d note that the garden has either terrestrial or celestial glory and thus probably isn’t on our earth in a normal fashion. I recognize that some see the fall of Adam and Eve as the fall of the world. But I don’t buy that. Rather I see Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden into our regular world. Further, I’m willing to accept Pres. Romney’s point that Adam was the first of his family but not necessarily the first on the planet. (i.e. pre-Adamites) The idea pops up in church history fairly regularly although I recognize it makes literalists cringe. However literalists have the problem of the abundant scientific evidence and (in my mind) some questionable hermeneutics. (Indeed I really ought to put literalist in quotations, but that’s a different debate)

    Once you have Adam and Eve amongst pre-Adamites then you have an apologetic situation not that far removed from the limited geography for the Book of Mormon.

  8. Kaimi on September 14, 2004 at 12:33 am

    Nate,

    Plus, A-o-A creates a great setting for the non-rhymingest hymn in the book. (This is an old ax of mine, but I don’t think I’ve ground it here yet, forgive me if I’ve repeated it previously).

    Mammon with ahman? Canaan? Puhh-leaze!

    What if WWP had had to use _real_ rhymes?

    The West was once a violent place, where bandits fought with lawmen . . .

    or

    My mission was a garden place, but all I ate was Ramen . . .

    or

    Our tribe was once a garden place, but then we lost our shaman . . .

    or perhaps

    This blog was once a garden place, till we attacked those strawmen. . .

  9. Julie in Austin on September 14, 2004 at 12:57 am

    I’m not sure what’s more interesting–the topic of this thread, or Kaimi’s several appearances for comic relief.

  10. Jim F. on September 14, 2004 at 1:43 am

    Silus Grok: Thanks very much. I’ve not thought much about AoA and, so, didn’t get it right. Your chiasmus is incredibly interesting and helpful.

  11. Grasshopper on September 14, 2004 at 8:49 am

    Nate wrote: One can simply claim that Adam’s posterity has always been in the Americas!

    The Book of Mormon seems to address this with reference to the Flood:

    Ether 13:1-3
    1 AND now I, Moroni, proceed to finish my record concerning the destruction of the people of whom I have been writing.
    2 For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether; for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;
    3 And that it was the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord.

    This seems to say that even if the Flood was not global, it at least covered the area of the New Jerusalem and more.

  12. Matt Evans on September 14, 2004 at 9:08 am

    This has been a pet concern of mine for a long time. Nate and I discussed it several years ago, but it looks like we’re both still looking for resolution. The historical claims about Missouri greatly problematize attempts to reconcile Mormon creation accounts with natural history.

  13. D. Fletcher on September 14, 2004 at 9:38 am

    That song is wonderful! One of the real Sacred Harp-type songs that made it into our hymnbook. There is no other like it.

  14. Geoff B on September 14, 2004 at 10:52 am

    I consider the whole geography-in-the-ancient-scriptures issue as one of those that are very difficult to resolve without further information and revelation. For example, what are we to make of modern-day revelatory evidence that the City of Enoch may have been in the current Gulf of Mexico and was taken up when Enoch was translated (I can take the time to provide a link on this if anybody’s interested)? What about the Earth being divided in the time of Peleg (Genesis Chap. 10)? It seems clear that Mount Moriah (the site of the current temple mount) has a crucial role as a center point for geography, but much after that is very difficult for me to understand fully. I often put this in the category of things that I will understand better someday, but until then I just don’t know what to believe.

    By the way, I liked Silus’ chiasmus.

  15. Silus Grok on September 14, 2004 at 11:56 am

    Thanks, guys.

    I’m a little obsessed with patterns, and as such really enjoy pulling them out when I can from the scriptures.

  16. Nathan Tolman on September 14, 2004 at 12:13 pm

    I consider the whole geography-in-the-ancient-scriptures issue as one of those that are very difficult to resolve without further information and revelation. For example, what are we to make of modern-day revelatory evidence that the City of Enoch may have been in the current Gulf of Mexico and was taken up when Enoch was translated (I can take the time to provide a link on this if anybody’s interested)?

    I heard the same theory about Atlantis. Coincidence? I think not!

  17. Nathan Tolman on September 14, 2004 at 12:21 pm

    Slightly off-topic query: is it necessary to believe strictly in the flood covering the entire planet? Or is it acceptable to believe that the flood covered the earth in the vicinity of Mount Ararat? I’ve been leaning toward the second possibility, and I’m wondering how close to apostasy this theory brings me. Of course, this theory doesn’t create the handy dandy explanation for how the ancients got from North America to Mesopotamia either, so that’s another drawback.

    It is interesting to note that most, but not all, cultures have a flood myth similar to Noah. The ones that do not are in East Asia,* which might point to an Atlantic flood, but one that had less of an impact on the Pacific.

    * Ok, I fibbed a little. The Chinese do have a flood myth. Not one where people climb into boats, but one where Yu the great stops the flood by digging a series of trenches to drain away the water. The Classic of Poetry soes state “The flood was sent to punish our crimes/sins.”

  18. Chance Richardson on September 14, 2004 at 12:35 pm

    haha Nathan T, I always have this association in the back of my mind in regards to the City of Enoch and Atlantis.

    Nate O, appreciate the post, gave me things to ponder.

    Chance

  19. MDS on September 14, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    I really like the chiasmus explained by Silus, but have one issue with it. Many years ago, as a college freshman, I wrote a research paper on Adam-ondi-Ahman. I recall there being at least some support in the historical writings for TWO pre-millenial meetings at that location: One in which all priesthood leaders with keys pass them back to Adam who in turn delivers them to Christ, and a second meeting involving all of us, the sacrament meeting referenced in D&C. IIRC, the “two meetings” idea was treated in most depth by Bruce R. McConkie in “The Millenial Messiah,” which I do not currently possess.

  20. Silus Grok on September 14, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    MDS: I’ve actually heard the same thing about two meetings, but choose to see the two meetings as being sessions of the same conference — to borrow from modern LDS vernacular.

  21. Mike on September 14, 2004 at 2:51 pm

    In regards to the question of whether or not as a Mormon we should believe that the flood was a global or localized event, you will be hard pressed to find any person of authority in the church (apostle or president), past or present, who states that it could have been a localized event. Rather it is taught that the flood was literally the baptism of the Earth, and since we believe in baptism by immersion it is necessary to believe that the flood covered the entire face of the Earth.

    That being said, it makes it quite difficult for a rational person to believe in a global flood for a number of reasons which are obvious, and in spite of what has been taught I personally think that most if not all of what has been taught regarding the early history of the world has been made up for whatever reason. It’s the only conclusion that makes sense in light of what we know about the physical history of the world. I’m not saying that there couldn’t have been a Noah or an Adam, but if they did actually exist their lives likely barely resembled the stories we are told today in the Church.

  22. BTD Greg on September 14, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    Of course, the other possibility, if you want to leap headfirst into heterodoxy, is to take the position that all of Genesis is intended to be more allegorical and symbolic in importance than literal. In this way, the stories of the Garden of Eden, the Flood, some of the accounts of Abraham, teach us important divine messages, and it’s just silly to quibble about the factual or historical aspects. Big forest, tiny trees.

    That said, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be difficult to find statements by Church leaders that would dispute this approach.

  23. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    I share Nate and Matt’s concern. Adam-ondi-Ahman does make it hard to reconcile Genesis with natural history.

    I agree that Genesis does seem like a ritual text, but I suggest that the ritual is all the more powerful it it were once physically enacted.

  24. Daylan Darby on September 23, 2004 at 4:26 pm

    If global flood is true and Mt Everest was 29,000 feet at the time then rainfall was approximately 362.5 inches per hour (348,000 inches divided by 960 hours), assuming no influx of water from the North.

  25. Dustin on October 11, 2004 at 10:20 am

    Well it look’s like I’m going to have to look elsewhere for answers to the original topic since comments from this post are all over the place… but to add a comment about the last meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahmen, it seems that the church has had a number of successful practace runs converting stake centers to temples temporarily if you know what I mean.

  26. Rob on October 11, 2004 at 12:13 pm

    Would Adam’s altar at AoA be evidence that Noah’s flood didn’t wipe everything away? Or that the flood was only local? Or who knows what?

    Nate, thanks for the post…I’ve thought a lot about this over the years, and it does seem to raise the interesting types of questions you raise.

    Of course, for most Biblical scholars, Adam is just a representation of all of humanity, not a literal or even historical person. The AoA stuff would seem to make Mormons even more literalist than most Christian fundamentalists. Not only is Adam a real person, he made an altar in Missouri, he appeared to Joseph Smith, he’s coming back, etc. Many Mormons claim to be able to trace their geneaology back to Adam (through the Irish Kings, etc.).

    Archaeologists have people in the Americas possibly as early as 12,000 BC. There’s evidence for early colonizations from Eurasia via both the Bering land bridge, but even earlier from across the Atlantic ice sheet, and possibly even earlier via boats along the Pacific Coast to Chile. If there was a historic Adam in Missouri ca. 4,000 BC he’d have lots of company.

    But remember, Adam wasn’t created in the garden. He was introduced into the garden at some point after haveing lived outside the garden for an indefinite period of time. The legends also refer to his first wife, Lilith, who he had before he was in the garden. All this is fun from a literary perspective. Once you start taking it as historical, as the AoA stuff seems to try and lead us to, it gets really hairy. Fun, but hairy.

  27. greenfrog on October 11, 2004 at 3:41 pm

    If global flood is true and Mt Everest was 29,000 feet at the time then rainfall was approximately 362.5 inches per hour (348,000 inches divided by 960 hours), assuming no influx of water from the North.

    This is a reasonably good first approximation, but to calculate the figure with more precision, shouldn’t we take into account the larger size of the sphere required to cover the earth to a height of 29K feet? The surface area of the earth’s theoretical sphere at sea level is ~197,379,404 sq. miles. At 29,000 feet above that level, the surface area of the sphere is (if I did my math correctly) 197,926,620 — about 547,216 additional square miles.

    This, of course, is only the beginning of a second-level approximation. To get to the right math on the needed amount of rain, we’d have to take into account the distortion of the earth’s shape resulting from its ellipsoidal shape and the fact that the earth already has surface features above sea level that would diminish the volume of water needed to fill the gap between a world spherical at sea level and a world spherical at 29K’ above sea level.

    And, finally, I’m not enough of a calculus critter to be able to formulate the math needed to describe the quantity of additional water that would be needed to increase sea level by one inch at the current sea level compared with the quantity that would be needed to increase sea level by one inch at 29K’ above sea level minus one inch. But I’m sure that there are folks who could do this. Maybe I’ll quiz my wife when I get home.

    But I’m sure that the result of all that math is that the rain per hour required will be something more than even predicted by the first approximation.

  28. greenfrog on October 11, 2004 at 3:49 pm

    Regarding the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, I read an article recently that reported the tentative conclusion that Homo erectus fossil fragments have been found here. If that is the case (and that’s a big if at this point), that could push homind arrival to the Americas back by tens of thousands of years, as current archaeology puts the last extinction of Homo erectus communities between 27,000 and 53,000 years ago in Java.

  29. Zippy on December 6, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    I’ve always wanted to know what kind of a house Adam and Eve lived in. And how did they get around the incest thing. These are big questions. Anybody have any thoughts on the matter?

  30. Mark B on December 6, 2004 at 8:48 pm

    Now, those are really secondary questions.

    The real important question is: When they got kicked out of the garden, and were spending that first afternoon and night out in the real world:

    WHAT DID THEY HAVE TO EAT???

    I mean, there’s no take-out Chinese around the corner, no pizzeria to grab a slice at, not even a McDonald’s to give them a break today. And, c’mon, if anybody deserved a break after a rough day, Adam and Eve certainly did.

    And all that stuff about earning bread by the sweat of Adam’s brow–how much good will going out and sweating do, if they need food today, and for the next four months until a crop comes in.

    Sometimes it’d be nice if the scriptures answered some of these practical questions. :-)

  31. Zippy on December 6, 2004 at 8:57 pm

    Hmmmmmm. I like where you’re going with this.
    Another bothersome question is how did Adam live to be nine hundred and however many years? But lets get back to the incest question. Did Adam have one wife or were there others?

  32. Kaimi on December 6, 2004 at 9:41 pm

    Mark,

    They probably picked fruits off of trees. Or hunted and ate birds and animals and such. Or perhaps they foraged in the grass, hunter-gatherer style.

    All else failing, maybe they had manna for a while. After all, can’t let them starve, can you?

    Zippy,

    Post-Adam incest and post-Noah incest would have had to have been a fact of life. Rules against incest weren’t on the books then anyway.

  33. Zippy on December 7, 2004 at 1:55 pm

    There must have been other people introduced into the world other than Adam and Eve. I’m thinking they have a son who needs a wife but there aren’t any females yet so God intervenes and says here is Jane from the planet Zurg. God transports Jane to earth to be the wife of Adam and Eve’s son. This doesn’t stop Adam and Eve from being the parents of mankind at all. Adam and Eve then keep having offspring that they can pair up with their son’s and Jane’s offspring. See, without introducing another person or people into the picture the whole thing seems entirely weird to me. But I suppose since Adam lived to be over 900 years old one could surmise that there was enough time for them to produce a big enough family that the children started marrying each other. I’m still confused about the other question of what do you do with the whole proto humanoid population? Obviously there were people on the earth that managed to sneak in unnoticed or maybe the whole timeline of when Adam and Eve started to populate the world is messed up.

  34. steely on June 8, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    When we all start trying to comprehend scriptural doctrine and prophecy with mankinds thinking of science and plausibility then we really are treading on thin ice! Remeber that above all we must have faith even if the cunningness of men may seem to be able to make us believe or thnk otherwise.If we accept the book of mormon and d&c in its entireity as gospel truth then we must not question it or try to apply our own reasoning to it,remember the lord has told us to” lean not in thine own understanding”,we must show faith and not try to understand the mysteries of heaven.

  35. steely on June 8, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    pardon the type errors!

  36. annegb on June 8, 2005 at 8:56 pm

    Steely, are you new here? Welcome, disregard being disregarded (smile).