We all know that revelation frequently requires study. Many of the key doctrines of the restoration came from revelations given to Joseph as he was going through and modifying the Bible by way of command. Some of these were treated as modifications of the Biblical texts (such as in our Book of Moses) while others were treated as independent visions or revelations (such as D&C 76). The key part though was studying. (See D&C 9:7-8) We even know that during the work on the New Testament that Joseph began consulting a copy of Clarke’s Bible Commentary and using some of its suggestions. (Probably more interesting than where he followed Clarke are the places where he differs greatly from him) While we know that the command to work on a Bible “translation” was the catalyst for many aspects of these revelations, there were other influences as well.
Steve Fleming, over at Juvenile Instructor, has done some amazingly interesting work over the past few years on some of these influences. One source of influence he’s focused on are the translations of various Platonic works by Thomas Taylor. Steve has found many places of parallel. Some texts, like D&C 93 or 88, have a rhetoric that is extremely platonic. Steve’s even suggested some terminology may have arisen from Taylor’s translations. He’s suggested, for instance, that the mysterious term “telestial” may have come from “telestic” in certain Platonic translations. (Especially those of Iamblichus)
I was browsing old texts for something unrelated to these topics and accidentally came upon another Thomas Taylor text that seemed very relevant to D&C 76 and the JST of 1 Cor 15. The text is Works Not Thitherto Published.The interesting part is the discussion of the third heaven. Now much of this is standard classic neoplatonism. However it has bearing on the shape of D&C 76, which is a significant revision to the doctrine of the afterlife taught in the Book of Mormon. (I’ve modernized spelling in the below and italicized important parts)
What is meant by Heaven and Earth?
Not only those two vast bodies which we see above and below us, but by a metonym of the subject, all their plenitude, fulness, and furniture.
The visible heavens are two.
1. the air with all her regions, reaching up to the Moon. […]
2.The vast expanse region, in which are the stars and planets of this heaven. […]
What are the invisible Heavens, which we see not?
That is the place whither Christ ascended far above all aspectable Heavens, Eph 4:10. This is called the third Heaven, the seat of the blessed Saints, of the Elect Angels, and happy souls which are dead in the Lord, called also Abraham’s bosom, Luke 16.[…]
That the third Heaven, in which God is said to dwell and reveal his glory immediately to the Saints, is the creature of God, and made in the beginning.
1. We have a ground of comfort that God made the third Heaven for our rest and habitation, wherein to enjoy fully the blessed and glorious presence of God. John 14:1-2. Let not your hearts be troubled, in my Father’s house are many mansions. 2 Cor 5:1 When this house of our earthly tabernacle shall be dissolved we have a building given us of God.
Again to be clear, I have no problem with this as an influence. I think as we study we have information the Holy Ghost can work with, telling us what’s true and telling us where to inquire further. Later on Joseph moves beyond a “three heaven” model into recognizing the 1st century view of multiple heavens. (Usually seven, with Eden as a terrestrial kingdom in our parlance as the third heaven) I do think though that the above forms and important context for our D&C 76 especially with how it expands beyond the presentation in Alma 42.
1. I should note that while I was initially sympathetic to the telestic as the source for telestial I’ve come to be more skeptical.