There are 19 thoughts on “First Visions and Last Sermons: Affirming Divine Sociality, Rejecting the Greater Apostasy”.

  1. I really appreciate how Val Larsen introduced and then expounded upon this topic. Any other manner, –for instance if he would have jumped in too fast or lobbed too freely with some of his suggestions– and he would have lost those of us somewhat resistant to the idea. For instance, I remember reading the old testament as a youth, and being filled with indignation that the ancient Israelites of Josiah’s time would have fallen so far away (apostatized) from the Gospel that they would be worshipping the pagan goddess of nature, for that is what I was led to believe that they had done. As a youth, I was filled with gratitude to Josiah and his henchmen that they would bring the people, (perhaps even forcibly if required,) back to worshipping the Supreme God.

    Not that long ago, I was introduced to the idea that Josiah might not have been so pure in his intentions, or at least might have been gullible or complicit with those who wished to consolidate power in Jerusalem. The idea was floated at that time, that those who worshipped Asherah amidst the Divine Council might have gotten short-shrift.

    Now comes Val Larsen with a very logical, cogent explanation as to how even our scriptures and our most holy teachings and moments (i.e. Nephi/Lehi’s teaching, the First Vision, King Follett discourse and even Revelations) from the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, all lend credence to the concept of a Divine Council, or at least the obvious and natural inclusion of God, the Father and God, the Son, –with an almost inescapable and certain conclusion that this council includes God, the Mother, as well. (Even now I am hesitant to name her as I have been taught from youth that to reference her is sacred territory…)

    Val Larsen has caused a huge paradigm shift within my mental state and worldview.

    So, now I feel that perhaps the time is right to include Elah, (not the way that the ultra-feminists would insist that we “worship” the Divine Mother as envisioned as the earthy goddess of nature or “Mother Nature” as the Wiccans or ultra-feminists ascribe to, which is diametrically opposed to she who composes part of the ancient Divine Council) …let us not worship her like that, but that we at least graduate to the degree where we can acknowledge her publicly and without that hesitancy which comes from misunderstanding her position in the Divine Council. To me, this seems a sensible and logical thing to do, and especially after having read Brother Larsen’s incredibly well-detailed research regarding the plausibility of how she was understood by the ancient Israelites, our own father Lehi and his son, Nephi, let alone how well understood she might have been by John, the Revelator or our very own Prophet, Joseph Smith.

    I’m partial to the certain explanation that Brother Larsen gives us, that each of us are invited, –not only invited, but commanded– to take part in this enlarged version of a Divine Council. If we refuse the idea that it is wise to attempt to be included now, I am unsure how we should expect to have a change of mind later on. Each of us should personally seek to understand, and ultimately to be invited into the council of those who are divine.

  2. For the Elohim (Heavenly Father/God and Heavenly Mother/Goddess) to be both “seen” together in the Temple ceremony would, in my humble opinion, be awesome.

    I’ve followed Val’s thinking for many years in his Institute class here in Northern Virginia, grateful that I’ve been able to participate in his thought-provoking and passionate journey with the Book of Mormon that has culminated in this essay where Mother in Heaven is front and center.

    I’m with Brother Budge who commented that “this is probably the most thought-provoking paper I’ve seen yet at Interpreter.” I would leave out the “probably” and affirm that this is the most thought provoking paper I have ever read here, particularly on the subject of mother in heaven. It stands side by side with Val’s Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture who might possibly be standing backstage, patiently waiting. I say this in response to what President and Prophet Russell M. Nelson said, as quoted by Val in his concluding paragraph above: “We are witness to the process of restoration. If you think the Church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. Wait till next year, and then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills, get your rest. It’s going to be exciting!”

    What exciting revelations await us just behind the curtain? Some, as suggested here, can come to us through our personal wrestling with the scriptures. Some come through inspired writings by scholars who have the spirit of revelation. And doctrinal ones come from our living prophets.

    That we are seeing “just the beginning” of the restoration gives me goosebumps.

    I thank Val for introducing me to fantastic scholars, both inside and outside of the Church, many of them referenced in this essay. So much to savor and ponder in my twilight years!

    • In a sense, MiH has been right in front of us in the temple, represented by the sister temple workers, and the Matron of the temple, formerly referred to as the “priestess.”

      • Yes, the fact that the temple must have a matron/priestess and women workers to function properly is a token of the essential female aspect of divinity. Thanks for making this point. I would add, as mentioned in the article, that Mother is signified in the temple by both the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. And, I think, she is signified by the apron made of fig tree leaves, i.e., that Adam and Eve are, symbolically, clothed by their Heavenly Mother when they first discover their nakedness after partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The apron adds greatly to the beauty of the temple clothing just as the understanding that we have a Mother in Heaven who loves us adds to the glory of the universe created for us by the Elohim.

  3. I, with so many other commenters, think this paper is amazing. I’ve had so many of the thoughts articulated in this paper about the missing plain and precious truths that were lost, that the first Vision gave us back our Father and Mother, that the Book of Mormon is full of Heavenly Mother theology when you know how to interpret correctly, that Lehi was preaching against the Deuteronomist traditions, that the Spirit of the Lord in the form of a man was Jehovah in spirit form guiding Lehi/Nephi, not the Holy Ghost and many others, plus many new and important ideas. You just put all the pieces together and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. This paper is a game changer.

    My favorite new thought: who (not what) the Love of God is.

  4. Excellent article. Echoing another commentator, all of this flood of scholarly knowledge about Ashereh/the Tree of Life and the revelations that the Lehite church (by that I mean the worship of the pre-Deuteronomists) did have a significant worship of a Mother Goddess leads me to believe that we are getting closer to more revelation. Especially with the Brethren talking up women and the Priesthood and how they are actually exercising Priesthood power at times. Exciting stuff!

    The thing is… if we were to get a revelation reinstating worship of Heavenly Mother, 1) we have no idea what that would entail, as we only have fragments of historical practices, and who knows if they were apostate and 2) I’m honestly baffled as to what kind of additional doctrine regarding worshipping Heavenly Mother would add to our current practices. That’s not a complaint, but really I have no idea because we are told we have all we need now (doctrine and saving ordinances) to receive exaltation. Adding more ordinances connected with Heavenly Mother seems to be more of an optional thing? Clearly they are not necessary for salvation.

    That is one thing I would like to see addressed: The thrust of many of these kind of articles is that the Deuteronomist reforms around 650 or so BC constituted a sort of apostasy. Josiah and Zedekiah and perhaps Hezekiah are, in this reading, apostates; a Simon Magus if you will.

    So was Deuteronomy itself canonized incorrectly? How should we feel about the reforms Josiah instituted–apostasy, or were there good things? Why, in fact, did the Lord permit the “old, true” religion to be destroyed–permanently? Were there benefits to removing polytheism that outweighed the loss of the knowledge of Heavenly Mother?

    I really don’t know.

    • On the need for additional knowledge about Mother in heaven, see the comment immediately below from TJ Uriona or the many expressions from women online who long to know more about their paramount role model. Many feel a hole in their heart that only She can fill. So do I. With respect to ordinances, let’s start by recognizing Mother’s symbolic presence in key ordinances we already have. When baptized, in an echo of our pre-mortal spiritual birth, we emerge from maternal waters born again to new spiritual life. The fountain of baptismal water, like the Sacred Grove, signifies Mother. When anointed with consecrated oil in the temple or when sick, we are touched by Mother. (I discuss this and other topics not covered in this essay in Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture, While it is true that we now have all we need to be saved, so did the children of the Elohim at all other times if they were true to what was given them. But if one listens closely in the temple, it is apparent that the ritual we enjoy now is not complete. It sets us up for at least one additional ritual most do not now experience. As part of the “further light and knowledge pertaining to the kingdom of God” and the additional revelation President Nelson promises, I think most members would welcome changes that highlighted the importance and role of Heavenly Mother, e.g., presenting Elohim in the temple as Father and Mother, side by side, or adding a new saving ritual performed by sisters as proxies for Mother in Heaven. Such changes must come, if they come, from those authorized to make them. Our task is to be ready to receive them if they come. What God can reveal is often conditioned by a people’s readiness, even eagerness, to receive it.

      That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact. Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob all condemn the views of the Jews then living in Jerusalem. The city is on the verge of total destruction, a pretty good sign that it has taken a wrong turn with Josiah’s reform. They are abandoning a theology we now know to be true and embracing one God declares to be an “abomination” in both First Visions treated in this article. And note how the reforms of Josiah and Lehi are initiated. Each man is given a book, Josiah receiving from Shaphan the scribe a book many scholars think was written by Hilkiah the High Priest, a book that centralizes power in the hands of king and high priest, a book that comes from man and that will be interpreted by scribes in the rabbinic religion that this reform inaugurates, a religious tradition that will reject Christ, God with God, when he comes to them 600 years later. By contrast, Lehi receives a book sent down from the throne of God in heaven, given him by the hand of Christ, who will be welcomed by people faithful to this religious tradition 600 years later. Josiah’s book and tradition is Sophic, Lehi’s is Mantic.

      Was Deuteronomy canonized incorrectly? Deuteronomy contains much truth. Hilkiah is probably not its only author if its author at all. It condemns and ended the sacrifice of children to Molech (possibly a mistaken imitation of Abraham/Isaac). It provides a kingship code that Jacob uses to condemn the second Nephite king when he goes astray. But in chapter 13, it also provides mandates Laman, Lemuel, and Sherem—Deuteronomists all–follow as they oppose and seek to kill the prophets who preach the Gospel of Christ. In the context of the Deuteronomist reform, none of these opponents of Christ is a cardboard villain. But they are seriously misled by changes in doctrine that take them away from the truth into apostasy. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated/transmitted correctly. Deuteronomy like other parts of the Bible would seem to contain a mixture of much true and some false doctrine.

      You ask why God permitted the “old, true” religion to be destroyed. Because his respect for our agency makes us the co-creators of this world. When we reject his plain truth (Father, Mother, and Son) and look beyond the mark, seeking things we cannot understand (the Solitary Sovereign), he lets us have it because we desire it (Jacob 4:14).

      • “That the Deuteronomist reform is the Greater Apostasy is an overdetermined fact.”

        I don’t know if it’s possible to object to this statement any more strongly. Previous papers along these lines appear to rest upon a whole set of assumptions, which in turn seem to rest on what I regard as rather fallacious interpretations of the so-called Deuteronomists and Josiah’s reforms. Later papers then seem to take these assumptions as proven. There’s seems to have been little attempt to engage or even argue against criticisms of this theory, for all of its significant implications.

        “Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob all condemn the views of the Jews then living in Jerusalem. The city is on the verge of total destruction, a pretty good sign that it has taken a wrong turn with Josiah’s reform.”

        Except that, according to both the Kings, Chronicles and Jeremiah (and Ezekiel), the reforms of Josiah didn’t stick. Indeed, a great error of the people following was their worship of idols, including Asherah (for instance, Jeremiah 17:2). This is just an exhibit of the problem: this approach seems to gloss over the entire Josiah/post-Josiah situation, and assume the whole era is an exhibit of the reforms, when the texts read quite differently.

        “Each man is given a book, Josiah receiving from Shaphan the scribe a book many scholars think was written by Hilkiah the High Priest, a book that centralizes power in the hands of king and high priest, a book that comes from man and that will be interpreted by scribes in the rabbinic religion that this reform inaugurates, a religious tradition that will reject Christ, God with God, when he comes to them 600 years later.”

        “[M]any scholars” also think that book *is* Deuteronomy, a book that Nephi will explicitly quote (and indeed, quote a Messianic prophecy from). In fairness to you, it appears you appreciate this.

        “Was Deuteronomy canonized incorrectly? Deuteronomy contains much truth. Hilkiah is probably not its only author if its author at all… We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated/transmitted correctly. Deuteronomy like other parts of the Bible would seem to contain a mixture of much true and some false doctrine.”

        On one hand I commend the embrace of the implications of this argument (Christensen and Rappleye appear to have resisted this, at least in part because they did not realise that the “Deuteronomists” were conceived as the very authors of the work). On the other, this illustrates precisely the outcome that I said would be the conclusion of this approach.

        Yet Nephi accepts the book of Deuteronomy as authoritative scripture. He quotes from it, he describes the plates of brass as containing the *five* books of Moses, and furthermore the vision he describes of the loss of plain and precious things from the Bible in 1 Nephi 13 does not fit what is proposed here: Nephi is told that “many plain and precious things [are] taken away from the book” (1 Nephi 13:28) – not that false teachings would be substituted in – and that these writings “go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God” (1 Nephi 13:25): that is this process *post-dates* Nephi and the transmission of these writings (which include both OT and NT material) to the Gentiles.

        “But in chapter 13, it also provides mandates Laman, Lemuel, and Sherem—Deuteronomists all–follow as they oppose and seek to kill the prophets who preach the Gospel of Christ.”

        This is precisely issue I’m talking about: previous arguments become assumptions and then become “overdetermined fact[s]”. Rappleye argued that Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists, as you indicate in your main article, to which you clearly agree. But here it’s quite clear you regard it as almost incontrovertible. Yet Rappleye hardly proved his case (I argue against it in the 2nd part of a 3 part blog article here: – part 1 can be found here: , part 3 here: – an earlier post critiquing the contra-Deuteronomist argument can be found here: ).

        I expressed myself in quite strong terms here (although I believe still civilly), but I believe these are serious issues with huge implications. This article refers to “the Deuteronomists’ mists of monist darkness”, implicitly characterising the teachings of the book – a book that *the Saviour* quoted often as scripture – as part of the “temptations of the devil” said mists are interpreted as in 1 Nephi 12:17. Such an argument is already using severe terms for someone. Moreover, it seems to garb its argument as a restoration of “plainness”, when it is…

        • Thank you for your thoughtful, well-informed response and critique. Let me start by saying what I don’t mean and what I do when I say that something is “an overdetermined fact.” I don’t mean that thing is an incontrovertible truth. I only mean that it is a claim supported by multiple lines of evidence, not all of which I could speak to in the reply. I completely agree with your claim that the arguments in this article—and, as I emphasize in the paper, all Old Testament interpretations—are rooted in assumptions that build on assumptions. This is inescapable because we have so little, besides the surrounding text, that can narrow the range of plausible meanings. Having so little context, meanings change dramatically depending on our baseline assumptions. For example, I assume the normativity of Joseph’s mature theology. My reading is clearly shaped by that assumption. It leads me to expect a divine Mother in true theology and to be suspicious of developments that suppress well-established belief in a Heavenly Mother, beliefs that clearly existed prior to Josiah’s reform, and clearly were suppressed by him. (I grant the possibility you will insist on that the suppressed Mother may not be our true Mother.)

          Ex hypothesis, if the OT was edited by followers of Josiah, his successors had to be framed as apostates or the destruction of Jerusalem would be inexplicable. The question is whether that frame is backfilling or accurate history. If it is history, Josiah’s violent death and Jerusalem’s total destruction shortly after it finally got things right, however briefly, is passing strange given the centuries of prior opportunity to destroy the city and its kings for worshiping the Gods of the Sod instead of Josiah’s Solitary Sovereign.

          Deuteronomy clearly was scripture for both Nephi and the Savior. A book can be scripture and contain errors along with truth. Descriptions of Lamanites in the Book of Mormon often seem to be Nephite chauvinism, not objective history, but for us, the book is, nevertheless, scripture. And the same scripture can be used for opposite ideological purposes. The way plain and precious things are taken from scripture is most often precisely by substituting in false teachings/interpretations, not by text erasure, i.e., the Great Apostasy mostly occurred through reinterpretation. (Indeed, on your view, that is what I have wrongly done in this article.) The Deuteronomists clearly reinterpreted early texts to replace the Sod with Yahweh alone, though, on the Book of Mormon account, they also erased plain and precious writings of Zenos and Zenoch. So whatever Nephi was referring to, this process didn’t post-date him.

          I do think Rappleye generally gets Laman and Lemuel right. I develop the argument at some length in a paper under second review elsewhere and can’t fully explicate here. Suffice it to say that many specifics in the text beyond those Rappleye mentioned support this view. L&L’s dogged persistence in opposing Lehi and Nephi is much more plausible and understandable if it is grounded in a coherent and deeply held set of religious beliefs shared by the Jews in Jerusalem, whom L&L view as righteous men, than if it is held to be mere cardboard villainy.

          Like Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob, I do not reject Deuteronomy root and branch. The mists of monist darkness I condemn is the then emerging idea, now Jewish/Christian orthodoxy, that God is an incorporeal being wholly other than us, outside of space and time–we being creatures, his ex nihilo creations, instead of children. That belief begins to take form with the Deuteronomists, and Christ tells Joseph it is an abomination.

          Again, thanks for your civil and thoughtful comment. I hope people follow the links you post and see the depth of the reasoning that lies behind the brief critique you offer here. Alternative interpretations of the text are certainly plausible. The main grounds ordinary Saints might have for rejecting my argument (and you do a good job of highlighting this) is that it raises questions about how reliable some parts of scripture may be. Personally, I have come to love the scriptures all the more for seeing the humanity mixed with the divinity in them. Others’ mileage may vary. I think modern prophets are essential precisely because scholarship cannot give us final answers to important questions like the ones you and I both raise. Fortunately for the Saints, they have prophets and don’t have to rely on us to give them answers. We can play our limited role of pointing out the possibilities in the text.

  5. I really enjoyed your article.  While studying for come follow me this year I came to see the tree as a representation of Mother in Heaven for the first time. I tried explaining the idea to my wife but struggled to articulate the impressions I had. After listening to you article I immediately sent it to her. I loved the way you connect the grove in Josephs dream to a Mother in Heaven.  As the father of three little girls I desperately want them to see their place in the scriptural narrative and the grand council.  Your paper has given me some wonderful tools to help with that.  Thanks so much for all the work you put into making those tools available to the larger church.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this recently. I posted this over on Mormon dialogue board but figured I’d put it here too. Part of your article approaches what I’ve been musing for a couple of weeks.

    In listening to the church’s podcast on the First Vision, I got to thinking about Asherah and the vision. Nephi wanted wisdom (name for Mother in Heaven) and went to a grove (her symbol). In one of the podcasts it mentioned that it was springtime and one of the trees that could have been present was a cherry tree with white blossoms. White fruit is a known symbol of Asherah (Margaret Barker mentions this in her BYU Studies article). When Joseph Smith left the grove, he wrote that his soul was filled with love for many days. The tree of life in Nephi’s vision associated with Asherah and is defined to be the love of God.

    This got me thinking about the Lehi/Nephi vision of the Tree of Life. Joseph Smith was adrift spiritually (in the wilderness) and then read the scriptures (iron rod). Holding fast to the scriptures he read he began going to the tree of life (sacred grove) but was stopped by a “thick darkness” (mist of darkness). He had the vision in the grove, and then after leaving was mocked for his testimony (great and spacious building). 

    The river of filthy waters didn’t immediately come to mind as a parallel. One way I thought of was that water is typically a positive symbol – Christ as the living waters, the waters of baptism, or even positive references to water in the Tree of Life vision. Dirty waters could then be an apostate form of the gospel. This is what Joseph Smith was explicitly warned against (“draw near to me with their lips…”). 

    Is there something here? Or am I seeing what I want to? 

    • I really like your reading. Here are some thoughts your comment sparked for me. In the article, I suggest that Mother has two guises, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, Satan being the fruit in Her first guise, Christ the fruit in Her second. In the grove, Joseph begins by tasting evil, the first tree (which brings new depth of understanding), then tastes of the second (which brings all the joy you mention). So on a micro scale, Joseph experiences the beginning and end of a ritual life journey, first experiencing the fall, courtesy of Satan (partaking of the forbidden fruit borne by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and then experiencing redemption, forgiveness of all his sins (thus partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life). The Sacred Grove becomes a temple of sorts, an apt place to construct a temple as the Church has since done.

  7. Wow! Insightful and helpful. This essay comes to me at a time when similar materials have presented themselves. I recently encountered the works of Margaret Barker (a Methodist preacher and scholar, as you know), which tie in nicely with some things others on the Interpreter have been teaching about the religion that predated the reforms of Josiah, all of which tie into some things the late Hugh Nibley taught. The Elohim must be reaching out . . . not just to me but to many other Latter-day Saints who are finally ready to receive more Restorationist theology. Thank you.

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