“And There Are Many Kingdoms”: D&C 88 and the Hierarchy of Kingdoms (with Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls)

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently had the opportunity to lead a discussion in my ward on the topic of Doctrine and Covenants 88. One of the most interesting topics which we delved into was that of the multiple kingdoms of glory as they are described in that section. That discussion reminded me of some material I had posted on my blog, Heavenly Ascents a few years back.  I went back and reread that post and thought it would be nice to revisit it here.

D&C 88 discusses the idea that God has filled his Creation with various “kingdoms” that can be inhabited by his children. Verse 37 states:

37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

This declaration suggests that the cosmos is somehow divided up into various kingdoms and that within these kingdoms are subdivisions that constitute smaller kingdoms within the larger ones.  The revelation describes how these are categorized by their degree of glory — celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or no glory — and how God’s children become assigned to a specific type of kingdom based on their adherence to the laws designated for each type. In verse 47, the revelation states that all of these kingdoms, although they be inhabited by mankind, are subject to God.

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

Although God himself reigns over all of the kingdoms as King of kings and Lord of lords, He has prepared these kingdoms for his children to inherit. The revelation presents the example of the Earth and declares that it will be sanctified and “celestialized.” Inhabitants that live the law of celestial glory will, when they have been resurrected and obtained that glory, inherit the celestial Earth.

26 Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it.

27 For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

The ideas presented in D&C 88 reminded me of a concept found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and elsewhere) which concerns the idea that there are several levels of heaven and that each level has an appointed chief or guardian who rules over it.  This is actually a fairly common theme in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical literature (See, for example, the Jewish Hekhalot literature or the Jewish/Christian Ascension of Isaiah).  As one ascends to the throne of God in the highest heaven, one must pass first through the several (usually seven) firmaments or “sub-heavens” before reaching the highest, where God is present. Each level is generally inhabited by a different class of angels, and in many texts, there is a principal angel or guardian who guards the door to the next level and who sometimes is depicted as having his own throne.

Before I get into some more specific details regarding how this motif is represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I want to share another latter-day parallel to this ancient type of thinking.
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Report from the 1st Annual Expound Symposium

(cross-posted from www.heavenlyascents.com)

On Saturday the 14th of May I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the 1st Annual Expound Symposium, which was held in Provo at the Brigham Young Academy building.  For anyone who was there, I hope I had a chance to talk to you — I met so many bright and interesting people there. If you didn’t attend, I’m sorry you missed out on a great event!  But no worries, they are already planning next year’s symposium, which, according to current plans, will focus on the topic of temples.  If you didn’t make it this time, you should start making plans to be there next year!

The symposium was very well put together and everyone, both the speakers and attendees, were very well taken care of (we’re talking lots of free food, free drawings for awesome publications, no entrance fee — it doesn’t get much better than this as far as these types of conferences go)!  LDS author Matthew Brown was largely responsible for putting the event together and he did an incredible job of making it a very enlightening and worthwhile experience for everyone involved.  A big thanks to him, his wife, and also to Jeffrey Bradshaw for making this event more than worth it for me to go from Scotland to Provo to be a part of it.  I also want to thank my wife and kids for letting me go and my parents virtually killing the fatted calf for their prodigal son’s return (albeit knowing it would be very short-lived).

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