Friday, January 1, 2010

Some Insights On Pre-Earth Life From Ancient Documents

The late Hugh Nibley gives some insights into pre-earth life from ancient documents.  This material should be read for the general impressions given and not to develop specific doctrines. 

Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, edited by Robert Smith and Robert Smythe, p.12-1,13-14

The Apocalypse of Baruch is a very valuable one that goes way back. You'll find that in R. H. Charles. It says, "The multitude of those who should be born was numbered and for that number a place was prepared where the living might dwell." And this is another view: What are we here for then? Was our coming down here a fall or a calamity? Well, the Gnostic doctrine was that we are here in prison. We are being punished. "Man's descent from heaven at the moment of conception with his human form and divine seal (showing that he had existed before)" But unlike Origen and the Gnostic schools, the Cabala does not regard life as a fall or exile but as a means of education and a beneficial trial. As  Nephi  says, "Our time here became a time of probation." That's what the Cabala teaches. But Origen, the Gnostics and the Christians went off in this direction-that it is a fall, an imprisonment, and a curse. Well, just like "Adam brought the curse of man's first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose bitter taste brought death into the world and all our woes." It was utter calamity that brought us here. In the Jewish teaching that was not so. It's a benefit, a time of education and learning, and a time of testing. So in the third chapter of the Book of  Abraham  we read, "We will make an earth whereon these may dwell, and we will prove them herewith to see if they will do all the things whatsoever we shall command them. They who keep their first estate shall be added upon"    

Another book we are going to cite is from the Zohar. This is a very important writing which has been neglected by the Jews; they come back to it. They used to think it was just an invention of  Moses  of Leon in 1240 A.D., a work of the Middle Ages, but now they know it is very old. It has come out in a number of editions. I have a beautiful, complete Hebrew edition of the Zohar that just came out. It's full of not just biblical teachings, but things that might have been in the Bible. Remember the canon of the Bible is a very arbitrary sort of thing. Many things are in there that shouldn't be, and things are left out that should be there. But the Zohar tells us here: "All men before they lived on earth were present in heaven in the identical form they possess in this life, and everything they learn on earth they knew already before they came to this world." That's an interesting thing; how could you be tested if you knew it already. This becomes a very interesting problem in physics. According to the Talmud, this world is only a marshaling area, a sort of freeport, while that world above is the true dwelling. We have just left it temporarily to be tested here. "All spirits which are to enter into the body exit from the day of creation of the world until the earth shall pass away."     

Now a powerful passage in the Zadokite Document from the Dead Sea Scrolls tells how God condemned the wicked in the preexistence by not counting them among those chosen. "From of old, from the days of eternity and before they were established, he knew them and abhored their generations. With exactitude he set out their names, but those whom he hated he caused to stray." Remember in the Pearl of Great Price, Satan was a liar from the beginning.     

This expression that is used is another important one: "from eternity to eternity." In the Serek Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2:1, it uses the expression me'olam le'olam. It's more than an ecstatic outbreak "from ever to ever." The Christians use it, and Barnabas uses it in his  epistle eight. Barnabas-remember he is one of the seven apostolic fathers, one of the earliest fathers after the New Testament. He says, "From eons unto the eons means that you come out of the eons and you go into the eons." You have an eternity behind you, and you have an eternity before you. This is the bottleneck you pass through to determine for a long time to come which way you will take hereafter. He says, "The way of light is the Lord from eons into the eons; the way of life leading from one eternity up to the other one to come. The eschatology is inconceivable without the protology. Typical of this common background to Jews and early Christians is the prayer of Anna in the Pseudo-Philo. "Hast thou not, O Lord, examined the heart of all generations before thou formedst the world?" In the Secrets of Enoch in the Slavonic Enoch (this is one very close to the Joseph Smith Enoch), the Lord says to Enoch, "Sit down and write the names of those who are not yet born and the places which are prepared for them forever; for all the spirits were prepared before the foundation of the earth." Enoch speaks here, "I swear unto you, my children, that before man was made in the womb of his mother, he was prepared; and how each has sojourned in this age that a man might be tested in the balance while he was here." There's your probation and preexistence too. "There has indeed been prepared in advance a place for every human soul."    

We'll go back to our friend Gregory of Nyssa again. "The soul had a previous existence and a life of its own where, even as in this life, it was given its free agency by the Creator. And such as grew weary at doing good entered this life at a disadvantage, having passed the test less satisfactorily than others." Now this is writing which is accepted by Origen, the earliest Christian theologian, and he says that this is what the brethren taught. "I don't believe it," he said, "but the brethren in the early church taught it." Now the fact is when we are born into this world it's with unequal advantages, isn't it? Some are born blind, lame, crippled; it's terrible. Some are born into poverty; some into riches. He says, "How does that happen? They used to teach that before we came here life was a test too, and when we passed the test, we came into this world. Our life here is a reward for our performance before we came here." He says that would certainly explain the inequality of people being born. Or as Gregory of Nyssa says here, "The soul had a previous existence for even as in this life, it was a free agent." Remember there was a Council in Heaven. They voted and some preferred this and some preferred that. You were perfectly free to take your way there. You had your free agency. And such as grew weary in doing good entered this life at a disadvantage because they passed the test all right, but less satisfactorily than others passed it. Well, there's an interesting thesis that Origen developed. Needless to say, it was slapped down.    

Well, Basilides, also a contemporary, says that suffering in this life is punishment for sins in the preexistence, not by way of denying that there was preexistence, by insisting that the opportunity to suffer here, even martyrdom, is rather a reward earned before, an opportunity for greater glory. Persecutions are not to punish the saints but to sanctify them. Then back to Origen again, "The spirit stands for progress and by definition evil is refusal to accept progress. This is the principle of apostasy that you refuse to progress, and when you dug in your heels in the other world, you came here at a lower level. "Learn this one thing," wrote Cyril of Jerusalem, "that before coming to this cosmos, the spirit did not sin, but that we came down sinless here and now. And now we sin by choice."  
Well, which is it? Is it a matter of sin up there? We had to come down here and take on flesh, I suppose, to be tested in a particular way. No, it's the level of performance that we are judged on in coming down here. And that's another interesting thing-that wonderful passage where the Lord says that one will be more intelligent than another. Don't resent it because you know perfectly well why you are not more intelligent than you are. We only use one thousandth of our potential anyway. So you can't complain that somebody is ahead of you. You might be far far better than you are. So don't worry about him; just improve yourself. And this is the gospel of repentance. Well, the time is up and we are still bogged down in these fundamentals. But they are the fundamentals that are treated with peculiar address and clarity in the Pearl of Great Price, and as far as I know, nowhere else.     


Jon Sargent said...

Good spiritual manna in your opening article on your blog. The simple questions of "Where did I come from, and why am I here?", are more than just a passing thought. In the gospel sense, to understand ones beginnings appropriately, helps to understand our purposes here, and our eternal destiny, after this life, with greater clarity. I remember listening to Joseph McConkie state he would teach missionaries the Pearl of Great Price first, to help them understand better who they are, so they could teach better, their investigators, who they are.

Donna B. Nielsen said...

I liked this post--thanks for making such good information available.

Telona McPherson said...

From what the scriptures teach us and what I know, we lived in the presence of Heavenly Father before we came here so I don't believe that we would have sinned because no unclean thing can be in the presence of God, I do believe that we did look like what we do now because the Lord created all things spiritually first then second temporally. Also I believe that greater trials here on the earth will lead to a greater glory, not because of being lesser or a type of punishment from the Pre Mortal Realm, in the Book of Abraham it says that God saw the noble and great ones to be good and chose them to be his leaders. When I think of the Prophet Jospeh Smith and many others we learn that he had great opposition because of the greatness of His work, I like to think that how great the blessing from God is the same has to be equal in opposition because of the law that is found in the Book of Nephi, speaking on an 'opposite in all things'. Great read though, has helped me with some questions that have I have been pondering. Please know that my answer is from what I have learnt and I'm not quoting it as 'doctrine'. Thanks