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.]