The Doctrine and Covenants, a selection from the Lord's new revelations, also brings us glimpses of ancient understanding. I recall Hugh Nibley telling a Sunday School class about the Egyptian nature of Section 88 of that book, a section he cites time and again in his elucidation of Abraham's cosmos, One Eternal Round. That cosmos indeed courses One Eternal Round, as depicted also in the round figure of the hypocephalus (Book of Abraham Facsimile 2).
One Eternal Round speaks to continual renewal, to a newness of life, to creation and resurrection; it bespeaks a timeless Day in which all things are present before the Lord. Latter-day Saint Prophets teach of a great assembly of all Father's children, prior to the Creation of the Earth, in which the Plan of Happiness, even the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was first revealed. I once asked Brother Nibley whether the hypocephalus had anything to do with the Grand Council in Heaven. "Yes," he replied, with his manner of swift surprise. (Facsimile 2: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/abr/fac-2?lang=eng)
The same ancient ideas about the Grand Council and Creation also appear in the Doctrine and Covenants. Take the revealed interpretation of the Divine Title, Lord of Sabaoth (or Lord of Hosts) in Doctrine and Covenants 95:7; 35:1; 38:1. (See also Abraham 3 and Abraham Facsimile 2.)
And for this cause I gave unto you a commandment that you should call your solemn assembly, that your fastings and your mourning might come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, which is by interpretation, the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end (95:7, http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/95?lang=eng).
The Lord expands on the interpretation of his Eternal Name in the final verse 17, while also leaving us, as always, to ponder the implications and connections:
And let the higher part of the inner court [of the House] be dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles, saith Son Ahman; or, in other words, Alphus; or, in other words, Omegus; even Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen.
The first part of verse seven reflects the themes and imagery of the second chapter of Joel, and note the emphasis on calling a Solemn Assembly in the Lord's House; while the second part, the interpretation of "Lord of Sabaoth," catches the breath away, as does sacred verse 17.
The revealed interpretation of Lord of Sabaoth cleanly and simply by-passes the dictionary definition (a transliteration of the Hebrew word for hosts = tzabaot) and instead proposes an interpretation. Now it's likely--although it hardly matters one way or the other--that the Prophet Joseph, prior to his formal study of Hebrew, had no idea what Sabaoth meant; nor might he have grasped how the revealed interpretation refers back to the creation story and its summation (its beginning and end) in Genesis 1:1 and 2:1:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
And what is "all the host of them"? Answer (as found in any lexicon or commentary): the stars and planets and the holy angels make up the hosts of heaven. Indeed Latter-day students have often treated Genesis 2:1 as one key to the revealed interpretation of Lord of Sabaoth (Dana Pike, Robert Boyle).
Semiotics, the theory of signs, differentiates between dictionary and encyclopaedia. The interpretation in Doctrine and Covenants 95:7 touches on dictionary and expands into encyclopaedia. In fact the verse packs both denotation and connotation into a surprisingly small compass of eleven words. Let us first recall that many students have wrestled with the interpretation and origins of the name, a title which Professor Choon Seow terms "one of the most enigmatical divine names in the Holy Bible" (cited in Maire Byrne, The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
We start with two of the formulaic introductions to revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants (Joseph McConkie considers these one key to Doctrine and Covenants 95:7). These formulae introduce God, in his own terms, to humankind.
Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever (Doctrine and Covenants 35:1).
Here we have the name of God, as found in the Apocalypse of John and taken from the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega.
Or, in other words: Why, then, should the 95th Section speak of Alphus and Omegus, using an unusual, indeed unknown, form of the Greek letters? The names--and note these are presented more as names than name--are not Latin, rather Anglicized forms, that is, made-up forms--"in other words" is how the Lord phrases it. Greek Alpha and Omega here take Latinate (as if 2nd declension), or even general Indo-European nominative masculine case endings. Hugh Nibley explains the word Telestial as a like coinage, framed in harmony with Latin celestial and terrestrial, that combines both Greek root and Latin ending in an Anglicized form (to telos, the ultimate or lowest kingdom of glory in Doctrine and Covenants Section 76).
To show another example, the same verse speaks of Son Ahman, a purely semiotic construct consisting of an English word or name plus a name in a different language. We are given a sacred revealed name, true; but we are also presented with what linguists call a sign, signifier, or semiotic pointer to the Divine, not the Divine itself. Our word son is hardly newfangled anyway: sunus in Vedic and Gothic is the very same word, minus the archaic masculine nominative case -us; as for Ahman, for Hugh Nibley the name evokes, among other, deeper things, the Egyptian Pantocrator, Amun. The Cosmic Amun, or Transcendent Amun-Re, as Professor David Klotz calls the figure, appears at the center of all Egyptian hypocephali (Abraham Facsimile 2).
I'll not forget meeting one rabbi in Long Beach, California: learned, perceptive, keen. No introductions about my own faith were necessary; he let me know I was a Latter-day Saint the moment he saw me and, in a trice, had my Hebrew Bible open and therefrom began to expatiate on the Hebrew origins of the name Ahman. (He startled me by saying I should publish these findings.) Someday we'll know more about God's Divine Names; for now, He clearly is inviting us all--Jew and Gentile alike--to ponder, to study, to compare. (For the Indo-European cases see Frederik Kortlandt, "An Outline of Proto-Indo-European," www.kortlandt.nl.)
This is good news because if there is anything new to be published in Biblical studies, I'll give you five dollars. I wouldn't be caught dead in Biblical scholarship. But, you see, the Doctrine and Covenants is "all things divinely new."
English alone often seems to be an inadequate vehicle for what the Lord wishes to teach the Latter-day Saints. One possible reason for the Lord presenting us with these startling new or archaizing names, or Alpha and Omega in other words, lies in the origins of that name in the Hebrew encyclopaedia. From the Hebrew perspective, the world was organized or framed in One Eternal Round and, in the semiotic system which encodes said organization, the first and last letters of the alphabet round that world. These letters are aleph and tau. The observation is nothing new. . .
But the Doctrine and Covenants always intertwines the ancient with the everlastingly new (for Christ is primus et novissimus). By emphasizing the translated, approximated, European nature of the name (or names) Alpha and Omega, or Alphus and Omegus, the Lord points our minds back to the ancient name Aleph and Tau and thus invites us not only to look at the Greek symbols as mere signifiers of a former semiotic system but also at all these earthly symbols as purely signifiers of an Eternal Order. Doubtless He is also letting us know by means of Section 95, if we choose to ponder further, that the use of Alpha and Omega in the Book of Mormon, is only by way of translation; or in other words, in accord with our own English usage, as taken from the Greek Testament. Christ introduces himself in our translated Book of Mormon as Alpha and Omega, although to the Nephites He would have introduced Himself as Alpha and Tau (another insight from Hugh Nibley!).
In the same way hosts and armies only approximates the calling forth of the Sabaoth, which name, studied over centuries, also sorely calls out for illumination! By way of stunning originality, Frank Moore Cross reads the name Lord of Hosts, or Jehovah Sabaoth, as YHWH Tzavaot as Elohim YHWH Tzavaot, or, in other words, "God, He (Who) Causes to Come Into Being the Hosts." The reading, whether indeed correct, evokes Joseph Smith's interpretation, "Creator of the First Day," and also references Genesis 2:1. None of these readings need exclude another. Consider the name, eternally open-ended, which God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. And He Will Be what He Will Be.
The introduction of Section 35 answers to the second part of the interpretation of Sabaoth: "the beginning and the end"; in fact the Lord reveals four titles by way of elucidation. One of these four titles is not to be found in the Holy Bible but occurs three times in the Book of Mormon: "Whose course is one eternal round" (the One whose course is one eternal round). The phrase one eternal round also appears more than once in the Doctrine and Covenants. Its use by both Nephi and Alma, and similar wording in the various other places in Scripture, clearly shows it to be a quotation (with its own tradition of variants!) from yet other Scriptures in their possession. The phrase does recall the theme of the first chapters of the Book of Enoch: "And all His works go on thus from year to year for ever" (Enoch 5:2; tr. R. H. Charles), the Semitic word for year deriving from "that which goes round." The phrase also appears in Watts's hymns, and in various British and American poets, but any future study of it must show just how unique it is to Restoration Scripture. The Prophet used what language was at his disposal to teach the gospel, or to translate the gospel in a familiar way, but the phrasing of the Scriptures from which he translated reflects ancient wording time-out-of-mind.
Doctrine and Covenants 38, although revealed prior to Section 95, not only revisits the titles found in Section 35, it also expands upon the first part of the interpretation of Sabaoth as "creator of the first day":
Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made. The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes; I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me (38:1-3).
Seraphic is the only way to describe this prelude to revelation, and seraphic is surely another of those Hebrew words (found only in Isaiah 6) that comes unelucidated into our own tongue (s-r-f or ll-r-f, to burn, be fiery); its interpretation requires, in fact, the cloven "tongue of angels" and of fire. In the revelation given to Brother Joseph, seraphic describes the premortal spirit sons and daughters of Father and also evokes the glory that emanates from God and fills the seraphim with everlasting burnings. I hear the glowing stars "Forever singing as they shine: 'The hand that made us is divine' " (Addison).
The First Day is that Seraphic Day. God, sitting on His Throne, surrounded by His Seraphim (as in Isaiah 6), looked upon the wide expanse--the great maidan of eternity--and made the First Day. "This is the Day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice--sing the angelic hosts--and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24). For Latter-day Saints, the very words Isaiah speaks in the sod, the Council, "Here am I, send me," bespeak imitatio christi. In the Grand Council in Heaven, standing before the Throne and in the presence of all the seraphic hosts of heaven, in blessed witness, Christ offered Himself a sacrifice for sin with these very words: "Here am I, send me" (Abraham 3:27). Here I AM, send me. Isaiah Chapter Six therefore also fits our scenario of the Grand Assembly, before the world was. After all, God dwells in an Eternal Present; Isaiah was not in time, temporal, when he so communed. His offering and call, in imitatio christi, was also first made "before the world was made."
Or, in other words, all things were decided and planned spiritually in the Council, for "all things were before created; but spiritually were they created," then "naturally" (Moses 3: 5,7). God, who knows "the end from the beginning" (Abraham 2:8), planned the creation and called forth, in Grand Council, the First Day. The Babylonians had a word for all these actions, a word very much like tzabu (hosts, troops): tzubbum ("to look at something from a distance; to carry out, execute properly, according to plan"--John Huehnergard, A Grammar of Akkadian, 519-20). My point, by means of wordplay, is that our English "looked upon" should be read as compactly, as poetically as possible. To look upon the wide expanse of heaven and its hosts of seraphim is to plan for them: it is the First Day of the Plan of Happiness--and what a beautiful day that would be! All the sons of God sang for joy. The Lord of Hosts is the Lord of the First Day--the day of the mustering of the hosts, that is, the Day of the Mustered Ones, in glorious though Solemn Assembly (Hebrew tz-b-'-t). "Call your Solemn Assembly," says the Lord, even as I have called Mine: "on earth as it is in heaven."
We're already deep into the Pearl of Great Price, so let's move at once to Facsimile 2. There, too, we see "God sitting upon His throne" and revealing his light and knowledge "through the heavens." At center, we find what the Prophet Joseph calls the grand, governing star Kolob, the "first creation," or, in other words, "lord of the first day." Kolob stands nearest of all created things to the throne of God, and students notably associate the title Lord of Sabaoth with the enthronement of God, of which the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant is symbolic (William F. Albright, Frank Moore Cross). Describing Facsimile 2, Hugh Nibley concludes: "The theme of the hypocephalus is the creation drama" (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 137).
"God sitting upon His Throne" and surrounded by his assembled hosts (his Sabaoth), announces, or calls forth the First Day. It is also the Day of the Grand Council in Heaven, the heavenly panegyris or Solemn Assembly. We again recall how Section 95:7 begins by referring to the Solemn Assembly, what in Hebrew is called 'atzarah (lit. "cessation of work," and thus, following call of trump and preparatory fasting, "festive assembly") or eidah (assemblage, gathering = Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon) and, in Greek, the panegyris (Hebrews 12:23: "the general assembly"). The Greek lexicon yields: pas, aguris/agora, "all, assembly or council," that is, "an assembly of a whole nation, a high festival, a solemn assembly" (Liddell-Scott Lexicon). You recall I once asked Hugh Nibley whether Facsimile 2 had reference to the Great Council of Heaven. "Yes," he answered directly--and many other things:
"The great year-rite in one form or another seems to be found throughout the ancient world. What we are talking about is what the Greeks call the panegyris, the great assembly of the entire race to participate in solemn rites essential to the continuance of its corporate well-being. . . .At hundreds of holy shrines, each believed to mark the exact center of the universe and represented as the point at which the four quarters of the earth converged---'the navel of the earth'--one might have seen assembled at the New Year---the moment of creation, the beginning and ending of time--vast concourses of people, each thought to represent the entire human race in the presence of all its ancestors and gods" (One Eternal Round, 103-4). The ceremonies "at the hierocentric center" become "the exact reflection" "of what goes on in heaven" (106-7).
And an "exact reflection" of the places in the Doctrine and Covenants!
The "timing" marks "the ending of one cycle and the beginning of the next," as "the sun begins a new life every year at the winter solstice" (One Eternal Round, 108); "The whole universe and all that is in it must be 'jump-started' for a new round of existence" (109); and it is Facsimile 2 that "touches on the New Year's rites at many points" (130). According to Hugh Nibley, the Book of Abraham opens with a retelling of the Year-Rite, the scenario that matches all three facsimiles from altar to coronation.
The expression Lord of Sabaoth thus marks the First Day, the "moment of creation," of renewal in the on-going cycles of existence: to Latter-day Saints not the ultimate beginning but an again-beginning order of creation, "for the works of God continue"; "My works never cease."
The First Day is thus both end and beginning. The Assembly always comes at the end of the festival, and here we have the end of our first primordial childhood and the beginning of a fresh plan of happiness. The Doctrine and Covenants yields a glimpse of the panegyris or Solemn Assembly, the Seraphic Sabaoth that encircle the Throne at Center of the Universe--and that's also what we see depicted on Facsimile 2: the starry hosts encircling the Center, all standing in hierarchic order, as planned from the beginning "before the world was." These are the Ogdoad, the Council of Eight Souls or Powers--and the Prophet associates them with stars (for the Ogdoad, see Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round). We also see depicted therein, in the lower panel that represents solsticial North, the Hathor Cow (mother of the Sun, or feminine sun), the Four Quarters of the Earth, as also the four elements of life and creation, and the Lotus-Lion-Lam cryptogram (s-m-s = to cause to be born; or come into existence; smsw = the Eldest) that works renewal. It is both the Birthday of the Sun and the day of coronation and royal endowment of power. Kolob, near the throne of God, sits surrounded by the hierarchy of the wide expanse of eternity, as that describes a circle or sphere. Here are the stars; here, the encircling seraphic hosts praising God with uplifted hymning hands at the morning of the world, the beginning and the end. "It's a hologram," Brother Nibley went on to tell me that day in chapel.
Why labor such an obscure theme? It burdens the scriptures. Considering the apocalyptic literature on Abraham, now being taken seriously for the first time, Nibley asks:
"Why such an obsession with the year-rite? It is because Abraham is a prime example of the tradition in literature, while Joseph Smith, long before the phenomenon emerged, provided us with at least five splendid examples of the great assembly. There is the celebration before the throne of God (1 Nephi 1:8-11); then there is the gathering of the righteous posterity of Adam at Adam-ondi-Ahman just before Adam's death (Doctrine and Covenants 107:53); the future gathering of the righteous at Adam-ondi-Ahman before the second coming of the Savior (Doctrine and Covenants 116:1); and the gathering at the temple after Christ's resurrection (3 Nephi 11-26). But the most striking of all is the coronation of King Mosiah, which we are explicitly told took place at the beginning of a new age," One Eternal Round, 167.
To this list, Hugh Nibley now adds the Book of Abraham (coherently assembling all three of the accompanying facsimiles), and shall we not then also include the Prophet Joseph's many other teachings about the Grand Council in Heaven, a description of which clearly appears in Doctrine and Covenants 38:1 and 95:7? These are events heralding a spiritual rebirth and a "renewing of their bodies" (Doctrine and Covenants 84) as well, for: "It was the universal birthday, also the day of creation," One Eternal Round, 168, and resurrection, the beginning and the end.
Hugh Nibley frequently compared the rescuing visit of Christ to the Nephites with the Descensus motif ("Christ among the Ruins," Ensign, July 1983). (The first time I ever saw or talked to him, was the occasion this very talk in Long Beach, California.) And President Joseph F. Smith saw in vision "gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just"; "all these. . . mingled in the vast assembly"--then "the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives" (Doctrine and Covenants 138: 12, 16, 18, 49; see Isaiah 61:1). Professor James A. Sanders, ever sensitive to how one prophet quotes another, often observed to his students at Claremont College how Isaiah's "declaring liberty to the captives" refers to the epoch-marking celebration of Jubilees, a new beginning. Now we have a modern prophet quoting from Isaiah's Messianic verses; and, by so doing, opening to our view Christ's Descensus as a Jubilee Panegyris, even the jubilee trump of resurrection.
The scriptures of the restoration are telling us something again and again, and by means of various media and using a variety of titles and phraseology. The scriptures teach that the power of creation is awesome and indeed purposely beautiful, and they even bring us directly into the picture as participants (Nibley was keen on that idea). We join with God in the work of creation. We are Sabaoth--the Seraphic Sabaoth that "at His bidding post." In the Explanation of Facsimile 2, given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, God shares His power, or priesthood blessings with a succession of named patriarchs, Adam, Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and thence with their children. Fittingly, the four heads of the Kolob figure, say all who have studied the hypocephali, represent the first four divine kings, the first patriarchal dynasty, of Ancient Egypt. Kolob, "as the great, governing star," is exactly that--an embodiment, says Donald Redford, of the nationhood of Egypt. The iconography of the hypocephalus thus fits the prophetic Explanation.
This priesthood bond is the Abrahamic covenant. President Lorenzo Snow long pondered the scripture: "Behold, I am from above, and my power lieth beneath. I am over all, and through all, and search all things" (Doctrine and Covenants 63:59; Conference Reports). This Latter-day Prophet came to perceive that God's power lay below in and through the power of His priesthood hosts on earth. Through this divine priesthood army or Sabaoth or Baneemy ("my sons"--another semiotic "construct" of archaic feel), God will finally subject all things to himself: "And the day cometh that all things shall be subject unto me" (63:59), in perfect harmony and cooperation, after the pattern of the stars, after the music of the spheres.
"Behold, I am Alpha and Omega, even Jesus Christ" (63:60).
Some years ago at UCLA, I examined the Gardner Library copy of Brother Nibley's dissertation, "The Roman Games as the Survival of an Archaic Year-Cult" (University of California, Berkeley, Dec. 1938). It's all about the ancient panegyris at the Year-Rite. Whether the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Hopi, Aztecs, Egyptians, or Abraham, whether Heliopolis or Stonehenge, Hugh Nibley never dropped the Year-Rite; he was always adding to his tally of knowledge about it and tying it in with all his work on the Restoration. I count eight decades of study on the Year-Rite. No wonder One Eternal Round sums things up in such concise language. Other students have written on the theme--Mircea Eliade for instance--but Nibley had both priority and control of languages and sources--and, thus, comprehensiveness. And what he accumulates still makes for new scholarship in the 21st Century.
And notice there's no mysticism in any of it: no bells, no incense, no inward absorption into the divine. It's all historical research. His argument perforce ranges over ideas borrowed by the mystics, and certainly Nibley had much to say about mystery: religious protocols, the lodge, the temple. But if there was one thing Hugh Nibley eschewed it was mysticism. I heard him voice this dislike time and again. To him, all systems of mysticism stand exactly opposite to what Facsimile 2 conveys and to what all modern and ancient revelation teaches. Mysticism and Mormonism have nothing in common. Panegyris is history, folks.
As the title of Hugh Nibley's last book reminds us, and as the Book of Mormon states in triplicate, God's "course is one eternal round" (Alma 7:20; 1 Nephi 10:19; Alma 37:12; Doctrine and Covenants 3:2; 35:1). The title refers to Facsimile 2, the round drawing on papyrus, the book's ostensible subject, but Nibley is reaching for something more--he is reaching into eternity. The facsimile is just that: a simile or mirror of God's continuing creative power, a work to which we are all invited. This coming-together party to participate in eternal creation, this assembly or panegyris, constitutes the burden of Hugh Nibley's ministry. We see Creation as Celebration.
Creation as Celebration as One Historical Round: "In ancient Egypt," notes Erik Hornung, "history was a religious drama in which all of humanity participated. . . From the earliest annals on, the elaborate festivals and their celebration by the king were recorded as historic events. Thus we might characterize the ancient Egyptian sense of history with the phrase 'history as celebration.'" "The ceremonial character of history" gyrates according to a "basic pattern" set at the first festive all-gathering at the first royal coronation (Erik Hornung, Idea into Image, 187). The three facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, taken together, capture that moment or "basic pattern" even better than the annals Hornung cites:
"And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;"
The vital teaching about One Eternal Round turns up (or comes round) everywhere in the scriptures, for "the works of God continue." The Eternal Round and the Plan of Happiness describe one and the same "work and glory"--"to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." For the Latter-day Saints, God is not the Creator, past tense, but the Creative: "for my works never cease" (2 Nephi; cf. Truman Madsen).
We end with the Divine Name I AM THAT I AM. What does the Hebrew tell us? The name is open-ended, an eternal going-around. In another Sunday School class, Hugh Nibley sat listening. In the Hebrew, our teacher (Jeff Lindsay) explained, the Name more fully expresses I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE. "Is that right, Brother Nibley"? he asked. Brother Nibley nodded with gusto: "Yes!"
We glimpse Kolob, among the Sabaoth, as "the grand governing star," early to rise, "first in time," on the first day, even the gathering sunrise coronation of the earth, our eternal home. The renewed earth stands "crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:19). In Creation as Panegyris we see God's work and glory for "the immortality and eternal life of man," for Adam redeemed: I SHALL BECOME FOR YOU WHAT I SHALL BECOME. And in that Name, I hear Jehovah saying to all Israel that--"Look and behold the condescension of God!"--He will become the Messiah and save His people "for ever, even for ever and ever" (Daniel 7:18--a panegyris text; 1 Nephi 11:26).
A detailed overview of the name "Lord of Sabaoth" is to be found is Maire Byrne, The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The quotes from Frank Moore Cross and Choon Seow come from this book, and someday I will even add the correct page numbers.
LDS commentary: Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (2000). The authors note the tie between 95:7, 38:1, and 45:1.
The article to read is Dana M. Pike's "Biblical Words You Already Know and Why They are Important," in By Study and By Faith: Selections From the Religious Educator, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Kent P. Jackson (eds) (Provo, 2009), 183-201.
Robert Boyle's Web page also has a concise essay posted on this topic.