“‘I Dug the Graves'” and “Brigham Young’s Garden Cosmology” (AKA “Adam-God”)

The most recent issue of the Journal of Mormon History just dropped. There are a number of articles, essays, and reviews that are very compelling. I recommend becoming a subscriber and checking it out. I have an article that I want to talk about, but first I want to point to Paul Reeve’s article in the same issue.

Paul authored “‘I Dug the Graves’: Isaac Lewis Manning, Joseph Smith, and Racial Connections in Two Latter Day Saint Traditions.” There are a number of remarkable elements in this publication, which fleshes out one of the early black Latter-day Saints’ experiences in a predominately white church. As Paul notes, this is a burgeoning area of research which complicates ideas of a monolithic “black church.” In particular, over a period of years, Paul has scoured membership records researching for the Century of Black Mormons. One conclusion he has made, and for which he supplies ample evidence, is that priesthood ordination was far more limited than has been previously thought in the early church. His discussion of this spans pages 43-45, and should reframe our discussions. This is incredibly important work, which is made possible by time working through the archives. Sometimes there are no shortcuts.

Brigham Young’s so called “Adam-God” teachings have been perennially controversial. Many church members and leaders have wondered whether we simply have not had a complete picture of Brigham Young’s teachings, that existing archival sources are in some way unreliable, and that his apparently controversial teachings were simply a misunderstanding.

By the grace of the Church History Library’s release of LaJean Carruth’s shorthand transcripts of early shorthand records, I approached what Brigham Young taught and believed about Adam, Eve, God, and the Garden. I started by working through Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo cosmology and then focus on Young’s teachings.

I avoid using the term “theory” (e.g., Adam-God Theory) as opposed to “teachings” because it obfuscates the degree to which Young clearly believed and taught the ideas. But I also suggest that we not use the term “Adam-God.” It is not contemporary to Brigham Young, and like so much of our historiography, it ignores the majority of the population (women) and key actors (namely Eve) that are essential to it.

Young was remarkably consistent from 1852—the year he started teaching the ideas associated with his cosmology—to his death in 1877. I think I help provide a critical approach to the sources of his teachings, fair summaries of his teachings, and a framework to approach them. It is clear that Young’s ideas are an analogical exaltation of biology—perhaps a way to render on the grandest of scales the procreative relationships that occupied the Saints greatest sacrifices.

Check out these articles and other great content in the issue!


  1. When you say he writes that priesthood ordination was limited, do you mean to say that ordinations of black Mormons was limited or that priesthood ordination among Mormons in general was limited? Because if the latter, that is very interesting.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    R., that would be the latter.

  3. Thank you! I will have to grab a copy to read. I’ve enjoyed your research on priesthood over the years and I really need to read more of Reeve’s work.

  4. Looking forward to your article, J. It’s a fascinating topic. I remember, years ago, talking to someone who said, “Believe Adam-God? I don’t even understand it!”

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks Gary. It is always great to be able to build on the scholarship of other smart folks like yourself. And that is a great anecdote!

  6. I’ve spent the last 10 minutes trying to figure out how to purchase this latest issue, ut all I’m finding is the option to purchase individual articles for $14 each.

  7. J. Stapley says:

    Wannabuy, JMH subscriptions come along with Mormon History Association memberships. They are fairly reasonable:


    If a subscription is feasible, I suggest reaching out to the author directly.

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    An interesting pair of articles.
    I knew that priesthood ordination was quite different then (with adults being ordained as deacons etc), but I didn’t realise that MP ordination tended to be based on ward leadership needs (much like High Priest ordination these days I guess).

    The garden teachings article was good, but I’m still not sure I fully understand what was going on.
    Could you explain if my understanding is correct?

    JS from KFD + Nauvoo liturgy have uncreated spirits placed in a body, with the end goal being king/queen/priest/priestess to God. With God the Father being a previous Jesus type saviour. (Is K/Q/P/P godhood as it’s generally taught today, or something different?)

    BY has Adam being a previously exalted being, coming to earth, becoming mortal, and then returning to exalted status without dying. Viviparous spirit birth etc.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Aussie Mormon, for a couple of sentences each, that is not a bad summary. Thanks for taking the time to read through. Though I’m not too sure what is generally taught today. Things are largely generalized and thus open to dramatic swings in personal interpretation. I see BY focused laser-like on biological reproduction, and incorporating it everywhere. JS takes a very different approach.

%d bloggers like this: