At Adam-ondi-Ahman

This past Saturday, May 19th, the 174th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s arrival at the very same site, my family and I visited what our atlas refers to as a “Mormon shrine.”

This was our third visit in five years, and this time in particular we found the space unusually inhospitable. As we attempted to orchestrate a family picnic, our efforts were thwarted by the unrelenting 50mph gusts blowing up off of the windspun valley. We were also stung by bees and bitten by chiggers. We ended up eating in the car, walking around for 15 minutes or so, and then driving back to our Kansas City hotel.

I never saw this place as a child or adolescent, though it had a kind of mythical significance in my young Mormon mind. The place where Adam lived. The place to which he would return. The apocalyptic gathering, with Christ present, the final scene of play’s great final act. This is where we would gather. This is where we return to the presence of God. This is Eden. This is a place of unspeakable, otherworldly beauty and primal holiness. I even remember trying to look at it seven or eight years ago, when I first discovered Google Earth. That pixellated and poorly resolved satellite image only added to the sacred mystery of the place. My first actual visit was as an adult, married, with four small children. Perhaps growing up in Salt Lake City and my regular visits to the pristinely landscaped grounds of temple square shaped my expectations, but, at least initially, I was profoundly disappointed by this place which, outside of temples, might be considered by Latter-day Saints the holiest site on earth.

The Valley

But my expectations were also shaped by past visitors, who had described the natural beauty of a place saturated with ancient mystery and latent eschatological promise. They spoke of stone Nephite altars and shimmering green flora, of a sense that this quiet landscape had always attracted those with a true knowledge of God. What I saw, by contrast, was overgrown tree thickets, many with dead and broken branches, others bent by the relentless winds blowing off the valley below. I saw scorched-brown ash-laden fallow fields. Sure, the giant, plateau-like stones seemed conspicuous, but that hardly qualifies them as relics, as altars built by the ancients.

A sapling submits to the force of the wind.

When the LDS Church wants a sacred or historic site to be beautiful, it spares no expense. It requires little imaginative effort to envision a site like this complete with neatly arranged, hummingbird-strafed, abundant flower gardens punctuating tree-lined, immaculately groomed paths, perhaps a fountain here or there, leading to a beautifully crafted, air-conditioned visitor center complete with postcards, framed photographs, short films, and scripted guided tours that include an audio-narration-enhanced replica of an ancient stone altar. Instead, the place is utterly un-groomed, almost shockingly natural, untamed and even dreary. This is not to discount the work that the handful of missionaries assigned to the site do, but my understanding is that they mostly keep the bathrooms clean, the points-of-interest litter free, and devote the bulk of their effort to actual farming. Beyond aesthetics—the inescapable conclusion that the Church has no interest in artificially beautifying this place or otherwise treating it like a high-traffic Mormon pilgrimage site—I was also quite surprised to see how significantly the few markers of Church presence in the area seem to downplay the mythic claims (folklore?) so commonly associated with Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Is this Eden? Did Adam live here? Does “Adam-ondi-Ahman” mean “the place where Adam dwelt” in a forgotten language of the Gods? Or was the site merely named “in tribute to Adam”? Will the Second Coming happen here? Will all faithful LDS be called to gather here one day to meet the Returning Christ and the Ancient of Days? I don’t mean any of this to be flippant. I actually applaud the more measured description. Adam and Eve, Eden and the Fall, are particularly freighted topics in Mormonism. On the one hand, our theology and authoritative teachings seem to necessitate a literal First Parents. Adam and Eve are, in Mormon discourse, inescapably real, historical individuals. Whatever their genealogical relationship to human beings before or after, they are our Great Progenitors, Patriarch and Matriarch of humanity. Situating Eden in Missouri, as Mormons have done now since 1838, only complicates the matter.

Conversely, Mormons are also aware, on some level, of what scholars of the Hebrew Bible have known for some time: Adam is everyman. We are all Adam and Eve, as we are expressly told to consider ourselves. They might have indeed been real individuals, but they are also great archetypal stand-ins for all of humanity, past, present, and future. Their story metaphorically recapitulates the monumental shift in the human story, from a paradisaical nostalgic hunter-gatherer past—a time-unbound period when we subsisted on that which the earth spontaneously brought forth in abundance and where we had a more genial relationship with the animals (also framed as the blissfully ignorant innocence of childhood)—to a sweat-of-the-brow, hard-fought, alienating and dreary life cultivating grain and eating bread (a transition into adulthood, with all that entails in terms of reproduction and parenthood, work and responsibility, and an ever-present awareness of death).

The tension between Adam the historical being and Adam-as-everyman might be more unresolvable in Mormonism than in any other tradition, in part because both sides pull so persistently. Eden, too, might be a place, but it is more than anything else a loss. The Fall from innocence is something we all know, and something we know collectively, buried in the deep structure of our primeval shared memory.

It hit me like an epiphany.

This is no shrine to Eden. This is not Eden at all, and it never was. This is the place where Adam found himself after leaving Eden behind. I’m skeptical that the Church has consciously or strategically planned to manage the site so minimally that visitors would be stricken by its desolate and alienating bleakness. But as I walked around I found myself very able to imagine an ancient progenitor, standing next to a heap of carefully placed stones and calling upon the God of a lost but unforgotten world in lone defiance of the Gods that seem to rule over this rough and threatening, weed-ridden and inhospitable, dreary existence.

The Fall was many things. A change in consciousness, in lifestyle, in diet, in proximity to God, and in our relations with each other. Perhaps the most profound consequence of it all was the overwhelming violence over which our looming death cast an especially terrifying shadow as we divided and cultivated the land, built settlements and cities, and founded civilization. As Joseph stood on this spot, the violent expulsion of his people from their Eden—their Zion—was a fresh memory even as the signs of coming violence were omnipresent. He knew that if the Saints were to settle here, they would labor and sweat, would till the ground and build homes, and ceaselessly call upon their God for relief. This windswept, untamed land was their place—a hard, foreboding place where they might find refuge, but would surely toil as they sought signs from God that he still heard their voice. In such a moment, in such a place, it is both stirring and unsurprising that the Prophet chose to call it Adam-ondi-Ahman.

Comments

  1. Ugly Mahana says:

    My first impression on my first visit, as a teenager, has never changed. Most spiritual cornfield I’ve ever seen.

  2. Another terrific post. Best. Week. Ever. at BCC (based on my six years of reading and commenting).

  3. whizzbang says:

    just to get this through my head, Adam-ondi Ahman is where Adam and Eve went after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden? thanks!

  4. Brad,
    I love this. That is all.

  5. oudenos says:

    This is awesome. For me, one of the most difficult things about the coming to grips with the Fall has been accepting that the Garden was never there in the first place. Or, as you say, whenever we go looking for the Garden, all we can see are our first brushes with reality. And then it is a long, often lonely, march to a different sort of Garden, the existence of which we dearly hope is less elusive than that of our childhood. Helluva thing, this growing up.

  6. The only spiritual experience I had as a teenager, at least that I see an authentic with a great deal of assurance, happened at Adam-Ondi-Ahman. The memory is on the short list of things that ground me in Mormonism.

    It has been a really good week for BCC.

  7. .

    Me, I think it’s appropriate to have a site where Christ and Adam may come unfurnished. I doubt we could impress them with our taste in upholstery and cobblestones and paintings.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Like you, Brad, I never saw Adam-ondi-Ahman in my youth. Our family went to Nauvoo/Carthatge every year, but never the Missouri sites. I had occasion finally to see it maybe a decade or so ago; due to time constraints we just drove by, didn’t stop. I thought it was very pretty; all I remember are rolling green hills. But I too was struck by the Church’s minimalist approach to the site. And I agree with you that I actually prefer the minimalist approach for this one. Thanks for the wonderful essay.

  9. “Does “Adam-ondi-Ahman” mean “the place where Adam dwelt” in a forgotten language”

    Ahman refers to the Savior – “your Redeemer, even the Son Ahman” – D&C 78:20.

    Not sure what the title Adam-ondi-Ahman means, but it’s interesting to see the direction connection with Adam and Christ in the name of the place.

  10. When we went to Adam-ondi-Ahman as a family when I was a teenager, we found strange fruits and a snake eating a litter of rabbits. A reenactment of the partaking of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil was in the offing…

  11. themormonbrit says:

    I love the whole concept of Adam being everyman. It just sits so much better with my understanding of scripture. Scripture was never intended to be a historical textbook. Rather, its purpose is to teach eternal truths about God, man, and man’s relationship with God. So, in that context, Adam being everyman fits so well with what scripture is really about than if the Adam and Eve story is just some historical account of how the world began. So whether or not Adam and Eve and the Fall were all really literally historical (which I happen to seriously doubt, but that’s irrelevant), surely it makes more sense if the whole story is also about each and every one of us. We began our existence in a perfect, edenic, paradisiacal state of innocence in perfect harmony with God and each other (ie Eden represents the preexistence). However, we realised this was not ideal, and freely chose to ‘partake of the fruit’ and enter mortality, a Fallen state where we would be subject to suffering, temptation, sin and separation from God. We did this, obviously, for the greater good, to learn and grow.
    Just my rambling thoughts :)
    Oh, and by the way Kaphor, I always thought “Ahman” = God the Father and “Son Ahman” = Jesus. According to good old Bruce R McConkie and my trusty old edition of Mormon Doctrine: “Adam-ondi-Ahman means the place or land of God where Adam dwelt”. In the Journal of Discourses, vol 2 p. 342, Orson Pratt discusses a revelation in the form of Question and Answer:
    “Q: What is the name of God in the pure language?
    A: Ahman.
    Q: What is the name of the Son of God?
    A: Son Ahman – the greatest of all the parts of God excepting Ahman.
    Q: What is the name of men?
    A: Sons Ahman.
    Q: What is the name of angels in the pure language?
    A: Angloman.”
    Just a bit of Adamic linguistic trivia :)

  12. Jordan F. says:

    Love this! Thanks for sharing, Brad!

  13. I visited Adam-ondi-Ahman when I was a kid and was very impressed. For those interested, this article has quotes from people who were present at the discovery of the altar: https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=5081 Many of the reports are very detailed and suggest to me that what you see now when you visit isn’t what they found.

  14. Ah, sorry, you’re right #11, it’s been awhile since I’ve thought about it and conflated the two.

  15. Mommie Dearest says:

    I visited here as an adult chaperone with a church youth supertrip. I thought it was beautiful left in it’s mostly natural state. The few roads are maintained, the worst overgrowth of weeds is controlled, any signs of what must be a fairly significant number of visitors are removed. The bottomlands are cultivated in season, as is all farmable acreage in that part of the country. There is little to nothing for visitors to do there, except look it over. It was my favorite site of the trip. The fact that the church will conserve it with little more development than nature provides gives me as much hope for the future (of the church) as Adam-ondi-Ahman gives me for the future in general.

    Your pictures were lovely to look at, and contemplate.

  16. PangWitch says:

    i dont personally believe that adam and eve existed.

  17. Lovely, and true.

    Regarding the curation of the site, there is a fair amount of work that is done. When I was in the stake in high school, the missionaries spent time eliminating thorn trees, planting others, and creating natural-feeling spaces to be. Any altar like sturctures have been taken and rebuilt many, many times over.

  18. Rachel E Odell says:

    I too appreciate the comparatively unmanicured (but still husbanded) character of Adam-ondi-Ahman. In fact, I am sometimes uncomfortable with the notion that there is no death in heaven. Some of the places most heavenly to me are beautiful in large part because of their dreariness — the rotting fallen tree trunks and the dead grasses and the stark, even barren, landscapes.

    Although, I must say, growing up on a farm in southeast Idaho, I found rural Missouri mind-bendingly luscious on my trips there as a youth (~age 10 and again ~age 15). The humidity and the trees and the rolling fields — and something else? — made the place feel more alive and ethereal than perhaps any other place I’ve been.

  19. My father-in-law and his wife worked there as a missionary couple on a service mission. Sounds like they did a lot of gardening duties – built fences, moved rocks, cleared downed trees. I remember visiting it with my wife and wondering, so, where is it?

    That’s an interesting take on it. I’ll have to see what the FiL thinks of your theory. =)

  20. Really nice post with beautiful photos as illustrations. I came as far north as Independence but never made it all the way up to Adam-ondi-Ahman. Lots of people have expressed what a spiritual feeling they experienced there. I got a chuckle out of your “bees and chiggers” experience because from my personal experience being in that area a few years ago, there was nothing worse than doing a video shoot at the river having chiggers climb up my dress biting my legs and not being able to swat them away! Needless to say, Missouri is NOT my idea of Eden! …but, I digress. I enjoyed the post, and I look forward to finding out someday what specific significance this land will play in history. Meanwhile, it’s exciting that a new temple will soon be built nearby.

  21. True, Eden was not in Missouri. It was in Kentucky, and it still is.

  22. Perhaps I am naive, but if there were no Adam and Eve and they are simply just everyman/woman what on earth was the Atonement for? One of the reasons for Christ’s Atonement was to cover the fall of Adam and Eve and thus mankind. I don’t know where they lived, and where they didn’t live, but if they never existed then I have honestly been wasting my time…for reallll.

    Also, if Adam-ondi-Ahman is where the second coming will take place why are people excited about a temple being built there? I am a bit rusty, but isn’t that one of the major signs of the Second Coming? I guess it would be exciting if you were where you should be, but I am like Wayne and Garth “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthyyyyyy”

  23. By the way, the pictures were beautiful, Brad, thank you.

  24. Nice work, Brad. This seems relevant: http://wilderness.motleyvision.org/2011/thorns-and-thistles-and-briars-an-easter-poem-by-jonathon-penny/

    I’ve yet to see the place, but have wanted to, and now do all the more.

  25. I was just there about a month ago! Only chiggers and bees? You missed out on the ticks then. There was a family there with small children when I visited and I heard the mom say, “The feeling you are feeling now is exactly how your dad and I feel when we’re in the temple.” I agree with all of the posts that talk about the spiritual feeling that is there. Sacred Grove & A-D-A seem like our outdoor temples. Was told that a tree from A-D-A was used to build the recommend desk in the new KC temple.

    Brad, just down the hill from the stone altars is a huge rock nicknamed “Prophet’s Pulpit”. Did you get a chance to check it out? Acoustically, anyone can stand out in the field and hear what is preached from this rock. (Not the field you took a picture of but a smaller one down at the bottom of the hill) So cool! My kids had fun running behind trees and still could hear anything we said, and my husband and I were talking in a normal voice. You could picture large crowds of pioneers (or sons of Adam & daughters of Eve) being able to hear anything that was said at this pulpit from JS (& A&E) without modern technology. My B-I-L was shown this rock by senior missionaries but there is no plaque or info about it, just a small worn trail. I have never seen any missionaries when I’ve visited there so was never able to ask any follow-up questions about it. It is very atypical, as you mentioned, from the SOP of the rest of the church history sites. Usually the missionaries are awaiting your arrival.

    According to a missionary couple in Independence, they told us the president of the church is the mission president of A-D-A and will always be, so that he will have the keys and authority when the time is right for Adam to come again. Can anyone verify this? If not, it’s another story to add to Mormon folklore!

    One other thought I had when I visited was how run-down and non-paradisaical Jackson Co seems and how beautiful A-D-A seems in comparison. The opposite of how A&E experienced it. It seems they may have been able to create heaven on earth.

  26. kc: The map on lds.org shows Adam-ondi-Ahman as being within the borders of the Missouri Independence Mission. I suppose that Adam-ondi-Ahman could secretly be its own mission, but I really doubt it.

  27. In 1838 Joesph Smith, Jr., told those at AOA (in the newly formed county of Daviess n Missouri) that it was the place where Adam came to after being expelled from the Garden of Eden in Independence, MO. Jackson County had earlier been designated by Joseph to be the place where the New Jerusalem would be built, so the 1838 pronouncement tied it all together theologically and well as geographically. A side story, I was once asked by a Community of Christ member to tell him something about this “Adam- yada-yada” place in Northern Missouri. It doesn’t have as much significance in that tradition as it does with their western cousins. I about fell on the floor laughing.

  28. Terrific read, Brad.

  29. Very interesting points. I do agree, however, with the idea that Adam-ondi-Ahman should be maintained in a natural way. I think it’s better not to dramatize it, especially if it really is where Adam dwelt and where Christ will come.

    kc: I really want to try out the “Prophet’s Pulpit” rock next time I’m there. That’s really cool, and there’s no way you could call that coincidental. The acoustics are impressive for a reason.

    Also, not to discount all of the interesting ideas brought up, but it is doctrine that we believe in Adam and Eve existing as real people. And I always thought revelation led to the idea that Adam-ondi-Ahman IS in fact the place where Adam dwelt and where Christ will come. If that’s incorrect, then I guess it’s open for discussion. But I feel like if you have a testimony of the Bible then you know Adam and Eve were real people, and if you have a testimony in the leaders of our Church, you would faithfully support their assertions or ideas.
    All in all, this provided some great insight.

  30. So, if Adam is everyman and Eve everywoman, but if they were still real people, and maybe we’re not all of us descended from them (at least not in every line of our family history..), does that mean that by being ‘adopted’ into the family of Abraham, we are therefore also ‘adopted’ sons and daughters of Adam and Eve? (Lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ I know.) Was ‘adoption’ in this manner something that was also pre-Abrahamic?
    Just something I’ve been pondering recently, so interesting that it has sort of come up here too…

  31. themormonbrit says:

    EOR, I totally understand where you’re coming from. We are taught that the three key elements of the Plan pertaining to this Earth are the Creation (to create a physical world), the Fall (to separate us from God and/or corrupt our human nature and/or create an imperfect world of sin, pain and suffering) and the Atonement (to overcome the Fall). And yes, I acknowledge that to say Adam and Eve are ‘merely’ symbolic, would be very difficult to reconcile with a lot of Mormon theology and statements from church leaders. However, I also maintain that the Atonement is not dependent upon the literalness of the Adam and Eve story. The Atonement overcomes our separation from God, our fallen nature and our tendency toward sin (it also does a lot more than this). But we can be separated from God, enemies of God and fallen creatures without the Adam and Eve story being literally true. I’m not saying the Fall isn’t real, I’m just pointing out that it could be each and everyone of us that is responsible for our own Fall, in coming to Earth. We are separated from God, and thus need a Redeemer to reconcile us to Him, but we became separated from God by coming to an imperfect world and voluntarily leaving our Father’s presence, not necessarily because our long-lost ancestors ate some forbidden fruit.
    So basically, while the Atonement is necessary to overcome the effects of ‘the Fall’, these effects could be due simply to the fact that we have voluntarily come to an imperfect world, not necessarily because of the transgression of our ancestors. I’m not insisting this point of view is correct, and I am open to the possibility that Adam and Eve were real historical beings (although I think it’s unlikely). I’m just pointing out another perspective.

  32. Zionssuburb says:

    A-D-A Mission doesn’t seem to have its own mission defined, as seen through maps.lds.org, but as I understand it, they do not report to the Mission President of the Independence Missouri Mission. They do have their own satellite dish, I got a call once from the a missionary up there wondering if our Regional Stake Conference would be broadcast to their satellite (this is the first time I learned they had one), and I told them I wasn’t sure, but could check…. I then asked if they had a broadcast van up there hidden away somewhere, but I don’t think he understood my ‘meaning’.

  33. Sharee Hughes says:

    I visited A-D-A in 1976, when some friends and I were on a road trip to celebrate the Bicentennial. We kind of did the church historical tour backwards as we headed back east to Philadelphia and Boston, etc. I like that it is left to nature (although I understand it is kept up now somewhat better than it was then–the only evidence that we were there was a very battered sign) and not prettified. I do believe that Adam and Eve were our real progenitors, but the Garden of Eden story I believe to be somewhat metaphorical.

  34. Thank you for this, Brad.

  35. Graham Doxy was over AOA first as the Mission President in the late 1970s and continued throughout his life to oversee it in various capacities. He and LaMar C. Berrett who wrote the “Sacred Places” books (http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Places-Comprehensive-Historical-Missouri/dp/1570089396/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337952013&sr=1-4) were not fans of each other. LaMar had gotten permission to do three years of archaeological investigations at AOA in the late 70s and Graham was not happy about it at all. Graham is the one that pushed the idea that site seeing visits to AOA should not be encouraged…if people happen to come by briefly, fine, but he felt it was too sacred to be overrun with tourists…”you never know when that final meeting might be held and that will be by invitation only” sort of attitude he had. When I was living in SoCal, I was planning a trip in the early 80s to do some historical research retracing the road that the Mormons used to go between AOA and Far West through what was going to be the City of Seth. I was also doing research for Bill Hartley’s biography “My Best for the Kingdom.” about former Seth resident John L. Butler. I wrote Graham Doxy and explained that I could be much more productive during this trip if I didn’t have to drive back and forth from Kansas City everyday if I could camp at AOA. He politely turned me down with the reasons I gave above. I mentioned this to Lamar and he laughed and told me about his experiences with him as well. I found the road anyway…

  36. I spent the first 40 years of my life living in the Missouri Independence Mission and visited AOA many, many times. I never heard anyone refer to it as Eden or the garden of Eden, but rather the place where Adam dwelt after being expelled. Must be folklore from elsewhere. The Prophet’s Pulpit is way cool, the missionaries for decades were very protective, and one must be of a tougher material to withstand ticks, chiggers, wind and humidity. I’ve long had visions of tender travelers from afar at that great gathering and I’ll admit to chuckling. Women would not just provide refreshments; they’re the only ones who would remember bug spray and chigger-rid. I’m not offended to not be invited. Take good notes and tell us all what happens.

  37. YES. All of this.

    And #5 too.

  38. I agree with EOR in #22. I have one question for all of those that do not believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

    Without an A&E, when and to whom did God give commandments to keep, (not break) and where is it recorded? Because, if it cannot be shown that God ever interacted with man, giving him commandments to keep, then all of the laws we have are man made and breaking them would have no long term consequences. Therefore, what would a saviour save us from?

  39. Modern Mormon teachings are that there will be a secret “grand council” that will be held at AOA where the Ancient of Days (Adam) will meet with the returning Jesus and other invited dignitaries just before the big event of Jesus returning in glory descending from the clouds to Independence, Jackson County, Missouri. Some on this thread seemed to confuse these two locations…believe me, if you have ever drove back and forth between them you sure wouldn’t! LOL

  40. Believing in Adam and Eve as everyman and everywoman does not rule out also believing in them as real individuals. I think were stuck with that tension in mormonism.

  41. The thorny locust trees are being replaced slowly with nearly identical thornless varieties. Wells and water rights/sources are monitored and measured. I am told there is underground water to support a community. Aside from Preacher’s Rock, there is a pioneer ford by the creek, a few stone home foundations, and a pioneer well. Anyone have directions to finding these things? If you go, avoid the summer. One year we picked over 30 ticks off each family member. Yuck. We’re not the only ones who joke that H.F. must not want people there just yet. The church KC Temple website says that the wood in the garden room was harvested from white oaks in AOA.

    Question: Is the meeting in AOA for church leaders through the dispensations? Will there be women in attendance?

  42. You are correct, Brad.

  43. JAT: the Mormons were the ones that originally planted the locust trees in Caldwell and Daviess counties because they were prairies and locust trees grow very fast…very tall weeds basically. The thrones are very hard on tractor tires now-a-days. Along with ticks, the other thing you have to watch out for at AOA is rattle snakes…lots of those there. Maybe they should invite St. Patrick to the grand council? ;-)

  44. The place is just filled with noxious weeds, thorns and thistles, which make tilling the soul all the more laborious. The deadly snakes are almost an ironic slap in the face.

  45. themormonbrit says:

    CEF, firstly let me just reiterate that I am perfectly open to the possibility that Adam and Eve were real historical people. I would never be prepared to say that the Garden of Eden story definitely did not happen. Also, I recognize that if one were to take the approach of the Adam and Eve story being purely symbolic, they will inevitably run into statements by church leaders and church manuals and conference talks and lots of other things that will be problematic. However, I can’t accept that an approach where Adam and Eve are purely symbolic is totally irreconcilable with the scriptures and the gospel.
    Now, as to the point you raise about how the Adam and Eve story is necessary to demonstrate that God has interacted with mankind and given us eternal laws to abide by. I’m not suggesting that He hasn’t. I fully embrace a belief in the prophetic calling of several figures in history, and I believe that their teachings are more or less accurately recorded in the scriptures. I believe that God spoke to Joseph Smith and revealed eternal laws to Him that we are required to obey. I believe that Joseph Smith was not the first prophet, and that God has spoken to and interacted with others throughout history to reveal His laws and statutes so that His children might know the way to happiness and reunion with Him. I just don’t necessarily accept that one has to accept that Adam and Eve were literal historical beings in order to believe that God has spoken to humanity and revealed eternal laws. There are countless individuals in the history of the human race whom I believe God has spoken to and revealed His laws to; Adam and Eve do not necessarily have to be among them.

  46. themormonbrit, thank you for at least trying to answer my question. You are rare. I am not trying to pick a fight here, but I do think my question deserves an answer from those that claim Adam and Eve are not real historical folks.

    I fully admit there are real problems with a real A&E, but without rewriting our scriptures and redacting much of our history of statements from our GAs, there is no way to believe A&E are not historical persons. I will reframe the question for you.

    If it was not A&E, just who do you think God first interacted with, and where is it recorded? Again, it has to be able to be shown, somehow, if one is going to believe it to be true. I hope you have already figured out, that you cannot use the same scriptures that you must discount in regards to A&E, to prove your point.

  47. themormonbrit says:

    CEF, thank you for your polite response. I’m also not trying to pick a fight, I just hope to offer a different perspective.
    Firstly, I will fully agree with you that to reject a historical Adam and Eve would require a rejection of at least some, possibly many, comments and statements made by general authorities, and also a radical reinterpretation (though not necessarily a rejection) of many portions of the scriptures. However, I think to assume that simply because a particular idea is widely believed, or possibly even widely taught, by General Authorities at a particular time means it must be completely true and inerrant is a somewhat simplistic way of looking at their divine calling. I even think the church would agree with me on this one (see Elder Christofferson’s general conference talk The Doctrine of Christ from April).
    Now, to answer your question (and thanks for rewording it by the way), to put it simply, I haven’t the faintest idea who the first person God ever interacted with was, in terms of their name, biography or description. I doubt we have any record of them, or their conversings with the Lord. Actually, I would assume it would be the first people that ever lived, as I believe God interacts with all His children who are willing to be taught by Him. Now, obviously, we need to make a distinction between the interaction between God and His children and the interaction between God and His prophets. While I think the first people God ever interacted with (in terms of a Father-child interaction) would have been the first people on earth (whether they were Adam and Eve or not), I honestly wouldn’t presume to know who was the first ‘prophet’, sent to guide people on their journey back to God. I wouldn’t expect their writings to have survived so many tens of thousands of years (if they were even capable of writing). Now, I don’t really have an issue with people taking this hypothetical first prophet and calling him ‘Adam’, or with people taking the first humans and calling them ‘Adam and Eve’. People can call them whatever they want. The only point where it becomes problematic is when you accept the Fall as being a literal historical account in the sense that it is commonly taught (ie it happened around 4000 BC, there was no death before the Fall etc etc etc). Obviously, it clashes with current scientific understanding. I know, ‘cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh’, but I really would much rather not reject the vast accumulation of evidence that makes the Genesis narrative so unlikely if viewed as a literal historical narrative.
    Look, I’m not comfortable with rejecting the scriptures. But neither am I comfortable with rejecting countless scientific discoveries that cast so much doubt on the literalness of the Genesis account. So for me, ‘Adam is everyman and Eve is everywoman and the Fall is our decision to leave our Heavenly home and come to a fallen earth’ is my way of avoiding doing either of these two things. I’m not trying to claim that it’s the position most consistent or easily reconcilable with traditional LDS theology, just that it’s the position I feel most comfortable with.
    I’m really sorry if this seems disjointed and a bit all-over-the-place. It’s late and my thinking isn’t the clearest it could be.

  48. My favorite story regarding Adam-ondi-Ahman is the account of James E. Talmage confronting Joseph Fielding Smith, who argued adamantly that there could have been no death before the fall, with fossils he discovered in the rocks of Adam’s altar. http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=7109

    If there was no death before the fall, Adam must have lived a really, REALLY long time before he built that altar. :-)

  49. Fumormo says:

    I grew up and currently live in this area. At one point they did have flowers planted around the Tower Hill and valley overlook areas, but have since gone back to the more natural look. The best time to explore the countryside for pioneer ruins is in the winter. Then you don’t have to deal with all the underbrush, snakes, and bugs. The foundation for Lyman Wright’s cabin is not nearly as defined as it was 20 years ago. That’s probably because that was one of the few ruins that tourist have access to. There’s some other interesting things to find for those daring enough to explore a little.

    There is a water system large enough to supply a good sized community. I’ve actually stood in the empty water tanks. Most of my Sunday school teachers and scout leaders were AoA missionaries, so we often got to see those things they keep from the general public.

    Another thing that the sister missionaries did there for years was genealogical extractions. I’m not sure if they still do that. They usually had a couple of missionary families as well, which I was grateful for as a youth. Not many can say that they’ve dated sister missionaries without breaking rules. :)

    One of the best things about AoA is the interesting people that are drawn to the area. There are even some non-Mormon groups that view that area as holy ground. It’s amazing to me to see the gathering that has taken place there over the past 20 years. 20 years ago Gallatin, Chillicothe, and Trenton all met as a single branch in Trenton. Nearly half of those members were AoA missionaries. Now, Trenton and Chillicothe have good sized branches, and Gallatin has a huge ward that will probably be split soon. That doesn’t include the many non-LDS Mormons that have gathered to the area. From my perspective, Adam-ondi-Ahman is a fascinating place with fascinating people.

  50. “There is a water system large enough to supply a good sized community”

    Really? Who’s presumed to have built them?

  51. themormonbrit, and CFE I like this discussion, I think it is a healthy one to be having. Like themormonbrit I will not simply ignore scientific facts–I don’t claim to know WHEN A&E were around (Man’s concept of time is completely jacked anyway) but for me personally that doesn’t come into conflict with scripture.

    On another hand too, it is important to note that the rejection of the Genesis narrative is not only a rejection of LDS Scripture, but all Judeo/Christian scripture as well. At that point in “history” our paths were even crossed with Muslims still (though I will admit I am unaware whether or not they recognize the A&E story)

    I don’t really have a problem rejecting what is being said no matter how many mouths say it if I do not feel it in my heart, but as I mentioned earlier, no A&E really begs some major questions about the need for the Atonement. I am alright to say I believe A&E existed and believe the timeline is flawed rather than to do the gymnastics required for them to have not existed. Mayhaps I am just too lazy to throw out the baby with the bathwater like that.

  52. Fumormo says:

    Martin, the water system is modern construction built by the Church.

  53. So to answer my own question about who the mission pres is of AoA–sorry if I’m thread-jacking/jilling–I googled ‘adam-ondi-ahman who is the mission president’. The very first link was a BYU newspaper account of an education week class that was taught on AoA by Randall C. Bird in 2008. I’ll try and link it but the interesting part to me was this quote, “The Adam-ondi-Ahman mission is one of the smallest but is led by two mission presidents who report on conditions to the First Presidency bi-annually.” So, 2 mission presidents, huh? The plot thickens….Also in the article, Bro. Bird talked about the acoustics of the area, the gathering to come and…marijuana!

  54. Link attempt!
    nn.byu.edu/story.cfm/69182

  55. While in other Christian faiths people can talk about Adam and Eve as merely historical figures, the Endowment ceremony forces Mormons to think of them in the terms of the everyman (everywoman?) whether or not they existed historically.

  56. themormonbrit says:

    EOR, I agree, I think this discussion is healthy. And I would never presume to suggest that no real A&E is the position most consistent with lds theology, just that it isn’t entirely irreconcilable. And I also recognise that there are other ways of reconciling a ‘real’ A&E with the findings of science. I just don’t feel that one is necessarily obliged to take that position, and I also disagree that one cannot accept the scriptures without also accepting a ‘real’ A&E. Now, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know exactly what I think about a historical A&E any more. I’m not certain which I think is more likely. I just wanted to point out that a purely symbolic A&E and Fall is not entirely irreconcilable with the scriptures and mormon theology. And it’s important that we don’t get too wrapped up in the historical A&E at the expense of the personal symbolic aspect of the Fall.

  57. One of the fundamental problems with a literalist read is that there is not shred of evidence on the site that it was ever inhabited by anyone except native Americans. That is despite repeated attempts to find something.

    Accordingly, I’m in the symbolic camp.

  58. What sort of evidence are you looking for though? And again, how would you reconcile a symbolic A&E with the need for the Atonement?

  59. Regarding a cosmology without a historical Adam and Eve, I’d say that the Fall could consist of our choosing to leave God’s presence by coming to Earth: to each his or her own personal Fall upon leaving the premortal life.

  60. What I don’t understand from your guys’ POV though is: The Fall necessitated the Atonement. Obviously from the beginning it was planned that we would leave the presence of God and obtain bodies to be tested in mortality. To me, and maybe I just cannot get my head around the thinking behind symbolic A&E, it makes no sense to create us so we would fall knowing that one would have to come to redeem us from said fall. Why would we have even chosen to come? It is backwards to me. How can one reconcile the concept of “Adam fell that men might be…” If we were all going to have our own individual fall this scripture makes no sense, and honestly to me neither does the Plan of Salvation.

  61. One way you could read that scripture would be that if we all did not Fall – i.e., leave the presence of God to come to Earth – human beings could not exist because they’d remain unembodied spirits in heaven. Another reading would be to say that Lehi believed in a historical Adam and a young Earth. Besides, perhaps the purpose of life is for us to allow ourselves to be redeemed, to recognize our utter weakness and failing and God’s munificence. From this perspective, the Fall isn’t a mistake to be remedied – it’s a way to teach certain traits of character that could otherwise not be developed.

  62. Bethany says:

    I live near the area and yes, if you go there’s nothing really there but bees, an assortment of obnoxious bugs and beautiful scenery. It’s a quiet place to think and contemplate though. Just not for very long.

    Far West is also nice to visit if you can find it.

    What no one has brought up is the eery chill you get while driving through the counties as you can almost feel the sorrow and fear from the early Saints and the horrible things that happened. Nauvoo has a cheery yet said to leave feeling when you visit, whereas these places seem haunted and desolate.

  63. My dad was Missouri Independence Mission president. I can say definitively that AOA was not part of his mission stewardship. The missionaries assigned to AOA are mostly couples. I don’t recall if there were senior sisters serving there. At the time my dad was in MO, AOA did more name extraction than any single unit of the church. The AOA missionaries, during my dad’s tenure, reported directly to the First Presidency. Whether that has changed in subsequent years I wouldn’t know. Many of the missionaries were farmers; their role, in general, was related to caretaking tasks and whatever projects the FP asked them to do.

  64. oudenos says:

    In regard to literal Adam, Eve, garden, serpent, etc.:

    In light of countless examples of GAs’ and other levels of authorities’ statements on how the temple endowment is chock full of symbolism, often in a sense of (genuine or rhetorical) wonder and humility, I am surprised that many members contrariwise refuse to take it to be anything but literal. If a GA says over the pulpit at general conference that he has been to the temple hundreds of times and is just starting to get a grasp on the symbolism, perhaps he means that part of his learning curve has been to leave literalness behind and embrace the garden story as symbol.

  65. oudenos you are surprised that everyone doesn’t have the same experiences and testimony as GA’s do? That is surprising to me. I have received no witness to the contrary of what I already believe, and until I do will continue to believe that Adam and Eve were literal people. Again, I readily admit there are timeline fudges or misinterpretations, but other than that just as much as others see no reason to view A&E as literal I see no reason to see A&E as symbolic.

  66. YvonneS says:

    #48 Nathan thanks for the link. Imagine how much differently things would have developed if someone would have clearly and authoritatively said we don’t know.

    I enjoyed the lovely pictures and the description. I found the post and the discussion to be most enlightening.

  67. themormonbrit says:

    EOR, I’m really sorry but I genuinely and sincerely don’t understand what is so difficult about accepting the Atonement without accepting a literal A&E. Yes, ‘Adam fell that men might be’, but if ‘Adam’ means ‘everyman’, then basically every man ‘fell’ (ie chose to come to an imperfect world filled with pain and suffering and be separated from God) in order to exist in mortality. And yes, the Atonement is necessary to redeem us from the effects of the Fall, but those effects could easily be the result of our own personal ‘Fall’ rather than the transgression of our ancestors. And we would choose to come to this imperfect world for the same reason that we all supported the Plan in the first place – to learn, grow and gain a physical body, and to learn the difference between good and evil, joy and sorrow. To me the Atonement is easily reconcilable with a purely symbolic A&E.

  68. Put me down as a believe in Adam & Eve’s literal existence. After all, they’re on my family history chart and everything on that chart is 100% factual, right? (ha ha) Do I believe Eve came out of Adam’s rib? No–symbolic. Do I believe they both existed? Yes.

    As a young girl, age 10 or 11, I cleaned house for our neighbor who knew our family was religious. She said to me that she loved the story of Adam & Eve, and Noah & the ark. She also loved the story of Jack & the Beanstalk and Goldilocks & the 3 bears. Even as a young child, I knew they were completely different things.

    AoA is certainly a unique place, full of many firsts. First home after marriage, first baby born, first murder, first tick bite?

  69. themormonbrit (67) it isn’t like we are talking about gravity, or the shape of the Earth. So I am unsure why it is so hard to understand/believe that I have a different belief than you. Neither one of us knows if we are right, we only have our testimonies, and beliefs to go on. Mine tells me that A&E were real people. I cannot predict if this will ever change or not, but as for now I am sticking with what I feel in my guts.

  70. Leonard R says:

    Great post, Brad. Much appreciated.

    Re: the need for the atonement without a literal Adam and Eve, I think it is best answered in regards to CFE’s question, “Therefore, what would a saviour save us from?”.

    We need a saviour to save us from death and hell (hell being a separation from God.)

    Whether there was a literal Adam and Eve or not, we do know two things about our current state:

    1) We are mortal and are going to die.
    2) We are not in the presence of God.

    Regardless of how we got into this situation, we need to get out of it. We need a saviour. Christ gives us hope that both can be overcome. He died, and rose from the grave. He left our presence and returned to God’s. He promised that if we followed him, we could too.

    Whether Adam and Eve were literal people, or metaphoric people, either way their story explains the siutation we are in. Christ’s story explains how we get out of it.

  71. Some Neat AoA Trivia
    (Gathered from general research and speaking with Mature missionary couples who serve there)

    1) The President of the Church is indeed the Mission President of the AoA Mission. However, a member of the Seventy deals with day to day issues, and (I think) signs the letters calling the couples to the mission.

    2) The male missionaries are generally well grounded in technical issues, field work and various trades before being called. They do a lot of cutting, planting, carpentry, laying pipes, road repairs, etc. The sisters do name extraction, help with reactivation in the various units where they attend Sunday meetings and physical labor as appropriate.

    3) There are wells and a water system on the property. There is a cistern and pump building built out of concrete that many in the cyberworld mistake as a bunker, entrance to a hidden underground temple, etc. Keep in mind that the property needs a larger system to function. All the missionaries generally live on the property, and need household water. There are also agricultural needs, a fire fighting reserve and (I speculate) a higher pressure section needed for the public restroom building located on the site.

    4) Even if there were big plans to work on AoA soon, anybody with a few bucks could find out easily. A custom close up photo array of the entire area could easily be purchased from one of the private Imaging Satellite outfits.

    5) Faith promoting rumors about AoA are just that, rumors. The Lord can make anything happen, and will exercise that sovereignty concerning AoA when he sees fit.

  72. #48, 66
    Yes. Thank you for that link. I found that chapter fascinating.

  73. themormonbrit says:

    EOR (69) I’m really sorry if I came across as being dismissive or flippant or as if I was ridiculing your beliefs. That’s the complete opposite of what I was trying to do. I wasn’t trying to imply that your belief in a literal A&E was invalid, merely that I was curious as to why you would see someone else’s disbelief as being invalid. But as you say, we both have our beliefs, and I think both are reconcilable with the scriptures and with the gospel, and I am confident that both can find a home somewhere in the vast world of Mormonism.

    Leonard R (70) Amen. My thoughts exactly. I think you very succinctly summed up a lot of what I’ve been trying to say! Thank you.

  74. themormonbrit (73) I will admit that I let my surprise set the tone of my comments and I apologize for that. I *personally* (I am very flawed, btw) cannot understand how it would all work without a literal A&E and I was surprised because I had never come across people who shared similar belief structures to me not believing in a literal A&E. I believe both views absolutely have a home in Mormonism. I am not arrogant enough to think that just because I cannot see or understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  75. themormonbrit says:

    EOR, I, likewise, would not presume to suggest that my point of view is the only valid interpretation of the Fall. I am sure my own views on this matter will continue to change and evolve over time. So I suppose that, in this instance, we should agree to disagree and leave it at that. I’ve enjoyed the discussion though.

  76. #71 db Thanks for the verification of Pres. Monson as MP of AoA. So glad they found something to keep him busy! =)

  77. As to the question of the relationship between the Fall and the Atonement, I tried to work through some of the issues here:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/02/19/death-mortality-and-the-fall/

    It doesn’t speak directly to the question of literal/archetypal A&E, but it does deal with some of the difficulties raised here in relation to that question.

  78. The dreary description of Adam-ondi-Ahman at the beginning of this post shows the author has a lack of understanding of agriculture. The author visited the site in mid-May. The fields are not fallow but have likely just been planted with soybeans or corn. Just because the modern likely urban author of this post can’t see the agricultural potential of the land but only sees a dreary waste doesn’t mean agriculturally savvy earlier people would have seen it that way. The whole concept of what makes land ‘beautiful’ to an agricultural based individual may be quite different to an urban individual who only understands the concept of ‘Garden’ indicating a manicured flowerbed.

  79. themormonbrit (75) wonderful discussion, thank you. Brad (77) thank you for the link I will check it out. Farmer (78) one of the most arrogant comments ever. We “urban” folk sure must not know anything about land or agriculture. It isn’t possible that the OP was taken aback at the state of AOA because of anything like ohhhh the fact that it does not really match the highly manicured state of other Church sites, or that the OP may have been something grand because of its significance–you know, like it said in the post. It must be that he is from an “urban” area and knows nothing about the earth at all. I submit you know just as little about urban people and urban life as you seem to think they know about farm life.

  80. I believe Adam and Eve were real persons. However, their lives and experiences certainly were a “type” we could look to in order to understand OUR situation — that we came to earth, and that by our own actions we separate ourselves from God and must look to Christ for our hope, etc. But the Book of Mormon, especially Lehi’s discourses, seem only to reinforce the idea of Adam and Eve as real individuals, although we can easily conclude that the Adam and Eve story THEY had (from the Brass Plates and through prior understanding) was basically the same story WE have — more of a carefully crafted symbolic story than a narrative of Adam and Eve’s day to day life.

  81. Texan (80) that is exactly how I feel, thank you.

  82. Part of the problem with a literal Adam and Eve is that, given the rather obvious symbolic and mythic elements of the accounts we have of them, what could actually be said of them biographically? What did they actually do? Biblical accounts and even the temple drama don’t really provide answers (though the temple at least suggests that they participated in a ritual drama of covenant making). One thing the Mormon canon does provide, an actual biographical claim, is that Adam held the priesthood.

  83. Brad I agree with what you are saying, but the major problem I have with a line of thinking that dismisses them because we don’t know anything about them is simply that I know I exist, yet long after I am dead and cremated no one will know anything about me either. I suppose I am not as satisfied by the accuracy of historical accounts because I am not an academic, nor am I an intellectual (I am not saying those are bad things, I honor the mental fortitude it takes to be either because I am a lazy lazy person)

  84. It looks like I missed a lot by taking the long weekend off. :) Brad is starting to get to the thick of things. If A&E did not exist, then we have way too many things to explain, that to me, are just not explainable. The priesthood being one of them. If no A&E, then just when did the priesthood *first* make an appearence? Good luck explaining that one.

    The flowing is just a make-believe story to help make my point: There is a group of people that live in the middle of the ocean and believe if one travels too far they will fall off the edge of the ocean. (Earth is flat) This is taught in their scriptures along with a lot of other things – All are thought to be true, gods word.

    One of their beliefs is, those that sail to far, will fall off the edge of the earth and will go to hell. (They should have know better) And the only way to get out of hell, is for them to believe in a savior that will deliver them at the end of their time on earth. Lets say, those left behind can pray for those in hell and do special work for them, to help get them out of hell.

    After a few thousand years, they discover the earth is round and there is no possible way to fall off the edge of the earth. My question is – Do they still need to believe in the saviour that will save them from the hell they will go to, if they fell off the earth? And, will their doing special work for their dead really do any good? Or, could it be said, that their beliefs are built upon a false premise and therefore are not necessary at all?

    I would like to add how much I appreciate the tone of this discussion.

  85. pd: How dare you take this conversation beyond its heretofore 19th century worldview! LOL

  86. I really do recommend the link given in #48 (thanks again Nathan). I especially liked this part where Sterling Talmage describes the beliefs of his father (James E.)
    ‘Talmage was described by his geologist son, Sterling, as having expressed in 1920 a concept of pre-Adamites which “went beyond anything that I had dared to think.” ‘
    I’ve been reading a lot of things related to the link in #85 recently (thanks for that one pd), and it is all very fascinating and thought-provoking.

  87. The story of human evolutionary origins is one of the most fascinating on earth. I highly recommend a new edited volume called _Deep History_.

  88. The kicker to this recent paper (2010) is found in the abstract: “We show that Neandertals shared more genetic variants with present-day humans in Eurasia than with present-day humans in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals into the ancestors of non-Africans occurred before the divergence of Eurasian groups from each other.”

    This is innocuous language for interbreeding. So when someone calls crude Uncle Bob a “caveman” (unless Uncle Bob is sub-Saharan African) they are likely not entirely wrong -

  89. That timeline is hardly surprising considering that there’s a pretty sizeable gap between the estimated dates for neanderthal extinction and the beringian migration, no? Still, the recent genetic evidence about human and neanderthal DNA is super exciting, both methodologically (they extracted freaking neanderthal DNA!), and in terms of the human story (does it make more sense now to designate neanderthals humans? How does this all reshape our classificatory and phylogenetic models? What _is_ a human, exactly?). Tremendous stuff.

  90. Missouri is known as the “Cave State” so, if Adam and Eve were Neanderthals they would have felt right at home! ;-)

  91. Caves, cavemen, Cave State, Missouri – if you’re a Jayhawk (guilty!) this all makes perfect sense.

  92. pd, Brad

    I’m not a biologist (Materials Science & Eng was my field followed by working in the patent profession, and I keep up reading general science during my years as sahm), but I did get basic education in DNA at A level chemistry, and I’ve found articles about this recent development very interesting. My understanding of the position so far, is that it is believed that modern humans and neanderthals share a common ancestor, and that there is now evidence of interbreeding between the two groups in the the eurasian population. Did I get that right?

  93. I’m I that obvious? Born in Topeka. I just love ironic humor that’s all.

  94. Love ya, Missouri. Just kidding.

  95. Kai #93, You got that right -

  96. Thanks.

  97. I’m a late comer to this post. I’m always interested in how we as Church members try to answer the difficult questions. in hindsight, we tend to put a less than literal interpretation on some of the statements made by Joseph Smith. The events incidental to AOA tell us something about the operation of the mind of Joseph and how it affected those around him. I tend to put the AOA saga in the “come back to it later” box. Like many of Joseph’s statements, they open up a dichotomy between scriptural literalism and anthropology. Some of the resources linked in this post are very helpful.

  98. Ardyn Ramirez says:

    I live in central america and just looking at this place and the pictures made me felt something gret will happen there but this feeling arouse to me before I knwe I was reading of where adam dwelt

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