Kolob is a star or planet described in Mormon scripture. Reference to Kolob is found in the Book of Abraham, a work that is traditionally held by adherents of the Mormon faith as having been translated from an Egyptian papyrus scroll by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint (LDS) movement. According to this work, Kolob is the heavenly body nearest to the throne of God. While the Book of Abraham refers to Kolob as a "star", it also refers to planets as stars, and therefore, some LDS commentators consider Kolob to be a planet.
Kolob has never been identified with any modern astronomical object and is not recognized by scholars as a concept associated with any ancient civilization. Kolob is rarely discussed in modern LDS religious contexts, though the idea appears within LDS culture, including reference to Kolob in an LDS hymn. It is periodically a topic of discussion in criticism of Mormonism.
Doctrine and exegesis
Description in the Book of Abraham
The first published reference to Kolob is found in the Book of Abraham, first published in the 1842 newspaper Times and Seasons and now included within the Pearl of Great Price as part of the canon of Mormonism. The Book of Abraham was dictated in 1836 by Smith after he purchased a set of Egyptian scrolls that accompanied a mummy exhibition. According to Smith, the scrolls described a vision of Abraham, in which Abraham:
- "saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God;....and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest."
- "Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. 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, which is called by the Egyptians Jah-oh-eh."
The Book of Abraham describes a hierarchy of heavenly bodies, including the earth, its moon, and the sun, each with different movements and measurements of time, where at the pinnacle, the slowest-rotating body is Kolob, where one Kolob-day corresponds to 1000 earth-years, with similarities to 2 Peter 3:8 which says "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years". Additional, similar information about Kolob is found in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, constituting manuscripts in the handwriting of Smith and his scribes.
Mormon exegesis and speculation
According to the traditional, literal LDS interpretation of the Book of Abraham, Kolob is an actual star or planet in this universe that is, or is near, the physical throne of God. According to Smith, this star was discovered by Methuselah and Abraham by looking through the Urim and Thummim, a set of seer stones bound into a pair of spectacles. Mormon leader and historian B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) interpreted Smith's statements to say that the solar system and its governing "planet" the sun, revolved around a star known as Kae-e-vanrash, which itself revolved with its own solar system around a star called Kli-flos-is-es or Hah-ko-kau-beam, which themselves revolve around Kolob, which he characterized as "the great centre of that part of the universe to which our planetary system belongs". He was confident that this hierarchy of stars orbiting other stars would be confirmed by astronomers.
The literal interpretation of Kolob as an actual star or planet has significant formative impact on LDS belief and criticism, leading to conceptions such as that God dwells within this universe, and that the Biblical creation is a creation of the local earth, solar system, or galaxy, rather than the entire known physical reality.
Star or planet?
The Book of Abraham is unclear about Kolob being a star or a planet, and LDS writings have taken positions on either side of this issue. One part of the Book of Abraham states that Abraham "saw the stars ... and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; ... and the name of the great one is Kolob." Thus, Kolob is referred to as a "star". However, the book defines the word Kokaubeam (a transliteration of the Hebrew "כּוֹכָבִים" [c.f., Gen. 15:5]) as meaning "all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven". This would appear to include planets as among the "stars", and apparently, the earth itself as considered to be among these "stars". In addition, the Book of Abraham text appear to classify Kolob as among a hierarchy of "planets". On the other hand, in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar paper, Kolob is classified as one of twelve "fixed stars", in distinction with fifteen "moving planets". The term fixed star generally refers to an astronomical object that does not seem to move across the sky, but may have a slow proper motion as discovered in 1718 by Edmund Halley. Though "fixed", according to Smith, Kolob moves "swifter than the rest of the twelve fixed stars". Moreover, in the Book of Abraham, Smith refers to "fixed planets or stars", implying that some planets may be "fixed". He also refers to the sun as a "governing planet" further complicating the terminology. Therefore, there is no consensus on whether Smith knew Kolob to be a planet or a star as those terms are used in modern astronomy.
Writers in the Latter Day Saint movement have taken positions on both sides of the issue of whether Kolob is a star or a planet. Brigham Young, second President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke of Kolob as a planet. Likewise, LDS Apostles John Taylor, Orson Pratt (a mathematician with an interest in astronomy), Orson F. Whitney, and Alvin R. Dyer referred to Kolob as a planet. Other LDS theologians have also viewed Kolob as a planet. Several other LDS writers have referred to Kolob as a star, including B. H. Roberts and President David O. McKay.
Birthplace for the earth
According to several LDS writers (such as Cleon Skousen in his book The First 2000 Years), the earth was created near Kolob over a period of 6000 years, and then moved to its present position in our solar system. This hypothesis is based on oral comments attributed to Smith. The hypothesis is also based on a passage from the Book of Abraham stating that in the Garden of Eden, time was measured "after the Lord's time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed to Adam his reckoning". According to the hypothesis, the reason that Earth time was measured in Kolob time was because the earth was physically located near Kolob. As a corollary, some LDS writers argue that at the end times, the earth will be plucked from the solar system and returned to its original orbit near Kolob.
Using traditional creationist reasoning, influential LDS leader Apostle Bruce R. McConkie came to a different conclusion, arguing that during the first "day" of creation (not necessarily a 1000-year "day" in Kolob time; with a "day" referring to a phase of creation), the earth was formed and placed in orbit around the sun.
The idea that the earth was formed elsewhere and then migrated to orbit around the sun differs from the scientific explanation of the earth's formation. According to scientific consensus, the earth formed in orbit around the sun about 4.5 billion years ago by accretion from a protoplanetary disk, and remained near its original orbit until the present.
Several LDS authors have attempted to situate Kolob within modern astronomy. Two LDS authors have published books speculating that Kolob is a star at the Galactic Center, Sagittarius A*, of our own Galaxy. This view also had the support of several former general authorities, including J. Reuben Clark, George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjödahl. In the mid-19th century, early efforts to find a central single "central sun" in the galaxy resulted in failure.
Another LDS author has hypothesized that Kolob exists outside the Milky Way Galaxy at a place called the "metagalactic center", and that this galaxy and other galaxies rotate around it. Within mainstream astronomy, the idea of a metagalactic center was once assumed, but has been abandoned because on large scales, the expanding universe has no gravitational center.
In addition to the literal interpretation of Kolob as an actual heavenly body, the LDS Church has proposed that Kolob is also "a symbol of Jesus Christ", in that like Kolob, Jesus "governs" all the stars and planets similar to the earth.
A metaphorical interpretation suggests that Kolob may be construed as a metaphor for Jesus rather than as an actual planet or star. The symbolic interpretation was explained by Hugh Nibley in The Temple and The Cosmos. Advocates of the symbolic interpretation believe it harmonizes better with other LDS beliefs, and with beliefs in the greater Christian community, as it does not require that God have a physical throne within this universe.
According to LDS author, James Ferrell, the metaphorical interpretation is supported by the parallel construction of the passages in Abraham chapter three:
- 2 And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;
- 3 And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all...
After intervening passages that discuss how some souls are greater than others, just as some stars are greater than others, the theme is repeated in reference to Jesus:
- 23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good...
- 24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God...
Analysis and criticism
According to Fawn Brodie, Smith's idea of Kolob may have been derived from the "throne of God" idea found in Thomas Dick's The Philosophy of a Future State, which Brodie said Smith "had recently been reading" before dictating the Book of Abraham, and which "made a lasting impression" on him.
Rejecting the theory that the Kolob doctrine is of 19th-century origin, some LDS scholars have sought to link the Kolob doctrine to ancient astronomy. Gee, Hamblin & Peterson (2006) have sought to show that this astronomy is more consistent with ancient geocentrism than with 19th-century Copernican and Newtonian astronomy, and thus carries with it the misconceptions of ancient astronomy. For example, in their interpretation, Kolob is the highest and slowest-moving of a series of concentric heavenly spheres centered around the earth. These authors believe that Smith, in the 19th century, would not have made this geocentric "mistake" about Kolob, and therefore, they argue that the Book of Abraham is of ancient origin.
Validity of Smith's translation of the Book of Abraham
Modern Egyptologists have made an analysis of the facsimile, a copy of the extant original vignette from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and with fragments of the papyrus of the type from which the Book of Abraham was translated. The facsimile is widely regarded as a typical Hypocephalus, and represent only a small portion of the papyri in Smith's possession. LDS apologist Hugh Nibley states that "we have learned that the papyri are of relatively late date—but the Mormons have always known that—we have seen some of the papyri that were in Smith's possession, but there is no evidence that we have seen them all, and it is apparent that only one small piece among them has any direct bearing on the Book of Abraham – and what connection is remains a complete mystery. The Egyptologists [have] supplied some interesting footnotes to the text, but these offer poor enough pickings for anyone seeking occasion against the Prophet."
"If You Could Hie to Kolob", the hymn
"If You Could Hie to Kolob" (hie, to hasten) is a Latter-day Saint hymn that was written by the early Mormon W. W. Phelps. The music is taken from a well-known folk tune known as "Dives and Lazarus". It was originally published in 1842 in Times and Seasons and is hymn number 284 in the 1985 hymnal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The hymn makes only a single reference to Kolob, in the first line of the hymn (from which the hymn's title is derived).
The hymn reflects doctrines unique to Mormonism, such as the eternal nature of spirit (including man's spirit) and matter. It also conveys doctrines elaborated by Smith, the first Latter-day Saint prophet, about the plurality of gods and eternal progression.
Kolob as the inspiration for Kobol in Battlestar Galactica
Some of the elements of the two Battlestar Galactica science-fiction television shows seem to be derived from the Mormon beliefs of its creator and chief producer, Glen A. Larson. In both the original series from 1978, and the 2003 new series, the planet Kobol is the ancient and distant mother world of the entire human race and the planet where life began, and the "Lords of Kobol" are sacred figures to the human race. They are treated as elders or patriarchs in the old series, and versions of the Twelve Olympians in the new series. According to Jana Riess, author of What Would Buffy Do?, "Kobol" is an anagram of "Kolob", only one of many plot points Larson has borrowed from Mormonism.
- Zion National Park has a region known as Kolob Canyons.
- Daniel Steven Crafts has a movement called The Great Arches of Kolob in his Southwest Sinfonia, originally named after Kolob Canyons in Zion National Park.
- Kolob was the name of a short-lived record label/production company founded by the Osmond Brothers in the 1970s. Released in association with MGM Records (which was absorbed by Polydor in 1976), the logo consisted of a hand holding a ball of clay resembling the planet. The Osmonds also recorded an album called The Plan which deals with themes in Mormonism related to Kolob.
- Kolob was also the name of the alien probe in the children's sci-fi series Children of the Dog Star, broadcast in 1984 in New Zealand.
- In Levi Peterson's The Backslider, released in 1986, the LDS protagonist, feeling distant from God, wonders "how God is feeling this morning up on the royal star of Kolob."
- The musical The Book of Mormon (by the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q collaborator Robert Lopez) includes a reference to the planet Kolob.
- In Ken Macleod's novel Newton's Wake, a future society rooted in conservative U.S. culture have an hymn which is a very slightly altered version of If You Could Hie to Kolob.
- Abraham 3:2-3
- Gee, Hamblin & Peterson (2006) (noting "Confusion between the uses of the terms stars and planets").
- See, e.g., Alvin R. Dyer, "BYU Speeches", April 7, 1964, pp. 14–15.
- Abraham 3:2-3.
- Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Explanations to Fig. 1.
- Abraham 3:4.
- Abraham 3:4; see also Book of Abraham, Facsimile No. 2, explanations to Figs. 1 and 2.
- Smith (1835, p. 34) ("Kolob…signifies the first great grand governing fixed star which is the fartherest [sic] that ever has been discovered by the fathers which was discovered by Methusela and also by Abraham.")
- Smith (1835, p. 24)
- Roberts (1898, p. 448).
- Roberts (1898, pp. 448–49).
- Abraham 3:13.
- Gee, Hamblin & Peterson (2006) (suggesting that the planets were considered to be "wandering stars" in their ancient sense).
- Abraham 3:3 (referring to the earth as one of the "stars").
- Abraham 3:9 (referring to a hierarchy of "planets", each with a longer day than the one below it, "until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time").
- Smith (1835, p. 24).
- Smith (1835, p. 25).
- Book of Abraham, Facsimile No. 2, Explanation to Fig. 5.
- Book of Abraham, Facsimile No. 2, Explanation to Fig. 5 (stating that Enish-go-on-dosh "is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun.")
- Young (1851) (describing Kolob as "the planet nearest unto the habitation of the Eternal Father"); Young (1853, p. 652) ("Why cannot we behold the inhabitants of Kolob or the inhabitants of any of those distant planets?").
- Taylor (1857, pp. 1001–02) ("Thou longed, thou sighed and thou prayed to thy Father in heaven for the time to arrive when thou couldst come to this earth, which had fled and fallen from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob.").
- Pratt (1866, p. 561) (referring to "a certain world, called Kolob, whose diurnal rotation on its axis equals one thousand of our years"); Pratt (1873, p. 317) (referring to "a certain great world, called Kolob, placed near one of the celestial kingdoms, whose diurnal rotation takes place once in a thousand of our years").
- Whitney (1907, p. 48) ("But there is a great planet called Kolob, nearest to the throne of God."); Whitney (1920, p. 83) ("Joseph Smith taught that there is a great planet named Kolob, nearest the Celestial Throne, and that it revolves once in a thousand years."); Whitney (1930, p. 392) (referring to Kolob as "a mighty governing planet nearest the Celestial Throne, a planet revolving once in a thousand years").
- Alvin R. Dyer, "BYU Speeches", April 7, 1964, pp. 14–15 ("As yet we do not know where the planet Kolob is located, but it, as well as the throne of God, must be a tremendous distance from the earth. Any personage coming from the presence of God would need to travel a tremendous distance to reach earth.").
- Andrus (1968).
- Roberts (1923, p. 434) (referring to Kolob as "some very distant, far off central sun").
- David O. McKay, "Conference Report", Oct. 1969. Improvement Era (referring to Kolob as a great star "somewhere out in the great expanse of space")
- Taylor (1857, pp. 1001–02) ("Thou longed, thou sighed and thou prayed to thy Father in heaven for the time to arrive when thou couldst come to this earth, which had fled and fallen from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob.")
- Evans (1894, p. 779) ("The earth doubtless fell also an immeasurable distance from the presence of its Maker, from the mansion or abode of Kolob.")
- Timmins (1995) (arguing that the earth was originally in orbit around Kolob, and was knocked out of its orbit gravitationally, then captured by the present solar system).
- Abraham 5:13.
- Timmins (1995).
- McConkie (1982).
- Douglas N. C. Lin (May 2008), "The Genesis of Planets" (fee required), Scientific American 298 (5): 50–59, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0508-50, PMID 18444325
- Skousen (1996, pp. 230–234); Hilton (2006).
- Clark (1951).
- Reynolds & Sjödahl (1965, p. 309).
- Jones & Boyd (1971, p. 61).
- Cook (1981, fn. 107).
- Jones & Boyd (1971, p. 62).
- Greer (1913).
- Church Education System (2000, pp. 37, 39).
- Ferrell (2009, pp. 9–12).
- Dick (1829, pp. 241–247).
- Brodie (1946, pp. 171–72) .
- Gee, Hamblin & Peterson (2006).
- Prominent Egyptologists including Theodule Deveria, Robert Ritner, and Richard Parker have all carried out an analysis of this facsimile. See Parker August 1968, Stenhouse 1878 (for the first Deveria analysis)
- Baer 1968, p. 111, Parker 1968, p. 98, and Nibley 1975, p. 3. See also Michael D. Rhodes, The Ensign, July 1988, pp. 51–53.
- Parker 1968, p. 105
- Phelps (1985).
- Leventry, Ellen (May 2005). "Born-Again 'Battlestar'". Beliefnet. p. 2.
- In 1979, Larson received an award from the Associated Latter-day Media Artists. "LDS Scene," Ensign, August 1979, 80.
- Levi Peterson, The Backslider (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), p. 253.
- Smith, Robert (24 Mar 2011). "On Broadway, A 'Mormon' Swipe At ... Everything". National Public Radio. Retrieved 24 March 2011. "There's a line where they say, 'I believe that God lives on a planet named Kolob,' " Baker says. "That is an actual Mormon belief. We do believe that. But taken out of context — or in context — you do not want anyone to know you actually believe it."
- Andrus, Hyrum Leslie (1968), God, Man, and the Universe (Volume I from the Series Foundations of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ), Salt lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
- Baer, Klaus (November 1968), "The Breathing Permit of Hor: A Translation of the Apparent Source of the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (3), retrieved 2007-05-30.
- Brodie, Fawn M. (1971), No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (2nd ed.), New York: Knopf, ISBN 0-394-46967-4.
- Church Education System (2000), The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Clark, J. Reuben (1951), "What Was This Jesus", BYU Selected Speeches, Provo, Utah: BYU Extension Publications.
- Cook, M. Garfield, Everlasting Burnings, Salt Lake City, Utah: Phoenix Publishing Inc..
- Dick, Thomas (1829), The Philosophy of a Future State (1st American ed.), New York: G. & C. & H. Carvill.
- Evans, Charles D. (1894), "Matter and Spirit", The Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star 56 (49): 778.
- Ferrell, James L. (2009), The Hidden Christ: Beneath the Surface of the Old Testament (1st ed.), Deseret Book, ISBN 1-59038-477-6.
- Gee, John; Hamblin, William J.; Peterson, Daniel C. (2006), "And I Saw the Stars—The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy", in Gee, John; Hauglid, Brian M., Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (1st ed.), Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, p. 161, ISBN 0-934893-76-4.
- Greer, Thomas R. (July 8, 1913), "Heaven", Liahona the Elders' Journal 11 (2): 17.
- Hilton, Lynn M. (2006), The Kolob Theorem: A Mormon's View of God's Starry Universe (3rd ed.), Lynn M. Hilton, ISBN 0-9776403-1-0.
- Jones, Bessie Zaban; Boyd, Lyle Gifford (1971), The Harvard College Observatory: the first four directorships, 1839–1919, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-37460-6.
- Larson, Charles M., By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri.
- McConkie, Bruce R. (June 1982), "Christ and the Creation", Ensign: 9.
- Nibley, Hugh (1975), The message of the Joseph Smith papyri: an Egyptian endowment, Deseret Book Co..
- Parker, Richard A (August 1968), "The Joseph Smith Papyri: A Preliminary Report", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, retrieved 2007-05-18.
- Phelps, William W. (1985), "If You Could Hie to Kolob (Hymn No. 284)", Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Pratt, Orson (1866), "Millennium", The Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star 28 (36): 561.
- Pratt, Orson (1873), "The Creation—The Seventh Thousand Years, and Events Which Are to Follow the Period of the Millennium", The Latter-Day Saints Millennial Star 16: 312.
- Reynolds, George; Sjödahl, Janne M. (1965), Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book.
- Roberts, B. H. (1898), New Witness for God, Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons.
- Roberts, B.H. (1923), "Modern Revelation Challenges Wisdom of Ages to Produce More Comprehensive Conception of the Philosophy of Life", Liahona the Elders' Journal 20 (23): 433.
- Skousen, Eric N. (1996), Earth in the Beginning, Pleasant Grove, Utah: Verity Publishing, ISBN 0934364966.
- Smith, Joseph, Jr. (1835), Grammar & Alphabet of the Egyptian Language.
- Stenhouse, T. B. H. (1878), The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons, New York: D. Appleton and Company.
- Taylor, John (1857), "Origin and Destiny of Woman", Liahona the Elders' Journal (March 7, 1908) 5 (38): 1001.
- Timmins, David B. (1995), "Free Agency, Determinism, and Chaos Theory", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 28 (3): 163.
- Whitney, Orson F. (1907), "A Discourse in the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Sunday Afternoon, May 19, 1907", Liahona the Elders' Journal 5 (2): 46.
- Whitney, Orson F. (1920), "The Lost Knowledge of the True and Living God Has Been Restored to Earth: A Sermon Delivered at the Ninetieth Annual Conference of the Church", Liahona the Elders' Journal 18 (5): 646.
- Whitney, Orson F. (1930), "Things Worth While: What John Saw and Heard on Patmos—The Book of Seven Seals", Liahona the Elders' Journal 27 (17): 390.
- Young, Brigham (1851), "Proclamation: For a Day of Praise and Thanksgiving for the Territory of Utah", Ensign (Nov. 1971): 40.
- Young, Brigham (1853), "Life and Death", Liahona the Elders' Journal (2 April 1910) 7 (41): 650.
- The Book of Abraham, Salt lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1840.