Plato, Tolkien, and Mormonism, Part 2: W. W. Phelps’s “Paracletes”

By December 14, 2015

In my previous post, I discussed how many of Tolkien’s creation and fall themes fit within various aspects of Christian Platonism.

Plato had two models. In the Phaedrus, pre-mortal souls fall: “By some accident [the soul] takes on a burden of forgetfulness and wrongdoing, then it is weighed down, sheds it wings and falls to earth” (248c-d). In the Timaeus, God (or the demiurge) “showed [souls] the nature of the universe. He described to them the laws that had been foreordained,” that they would be placed in bodies, “and if a person lived a good life throughout the due course of time, he would at the end return to his dwelling place in his companion star, to live a life of happiness” (41e, 42b-c). As Alan Scott explains,

There was therefore a good deal of disagreement among the later Platonists about the character of the cosmos and the soul’s incorporation. Was the world and our life part of a divine plan? Those who adopted this understanding of Plato interpreted the soul’s incorporation as providential and the heavenly bodies as assistants to a kindly design. Another interpretation of Plato stressed that this life has come about because of sin and error, and so took a very different view of the cosmos.[1]

Scott explains further, “Philo interprets the Genesis account in terms of both of these myths so that the creation of the world is good and the result of divine plan (as in the Timaeus), but the story of Adam symbolizes the soul’s fall because of sin (as in the Phaedrus),” which sounds pretty similar to Mormonism.[2]

Tolkien also has both: Morgoth rebels with his Balrogs (a kind of fall) while the Valar and the Maiar go and live in Valinor on Earth without a fall. Elves and Men are later placed on earth but they’re not mentioned as being preexistent, though the rebellion of the Noldor in Valinor and their return to Middle Earth was a kind of fall from paradise.

W. W. Phelps’s “Paracletes,” published in 1845 as a kind of expansion of the pre-existence narrative in Book of Abraham, also has these themes. After describing the plan for the creation in a pre-existent council, Phelps said,

Time being divided into seven parts, the following men agreed to leave the mansions of bliss, and spiritually help organize every thing necessary to fill a kingdom for the space of many of the Lord’s days, viz: Milauleph, Milbeth, Milgimal, Mildauleth, Milhah, Milvah and Milzah. Now after they had organized the kingdom of Idumia spiritually, then one at a time, was to come temporally and open the door of communication with the spiritual kingdom, that all that would, might return to their former estate.

the_silmarillion__the_valar___couples_version_by_wolfanita-d7pwa5fFor Tolkien there were fourteen Valar who aided Iluvatar in the creation, compared to Phelps’s seven but the Valar were male and female, most of whom married each other, thus forming seven pairs (six plus the two single people). Phelps’s seven were men, but he then adds that the first, Milauleph, “had to take his wife or one of the ‘Queens of heaven,’ and come upon Idumia, and be tempted, overcome, and driven from the presence of his Father.”[3] So if Milauleph (Adam) married one of the “Queens of heaven,” then the other six probably did too, which would equal fourteen like Tolkien’s Valar.

 

As discussed here, the seven angels or gods were a common theme in Christian Platonism and were another similarity between Tolkien’s and Mormon (or at least Phelps’s) cosmogonies.  And, yes, I’ll do one more post to make it a trilogy :).

[1] Alan Scott, Origen and the Life of the Stars: A History of an Idea (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), 76.

[2] Scott, Origen and the Life of the Stars, 67-68.

[3] [W.W. Phelps] “Paracletes” in Times and Seasons 6 (May 1, 1845): 891-92.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Great fun, Steve. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — December 20, 2015 @ 9:12 pm

  2. […] and Christian themes in is creation narrative in The Silmarillion and W. W. Phelps began his “Paracletes,” which also mixed these themes, with “Once upon a time.” Yet for Phelps, “Paracletes” […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Plato, Tolkien, and Mormonism, Part 3: Inclusive Monotheism and Fabula — December 22, 2015 @ 8:04 am

  3. Thanks, WVS.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — December 22, 2015 @ 8:38 am


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