“…the glory of the sun…”

By February 5, 2008

If you’re reading a religious history blog–which you obviously are–you’ve probably heard of the hollow earth theory[1]–but have you heard of the hollow sun theory?┬áThe theory, though he never gave it a name that I’m aware of, was developed by Latter-day Saint Esaias Edwards (1812-1897). Edwards converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Missouri after becoming convinced that the Church most closely resembled the biblical church and after the miraculous healing of his wife by a Mormon elder. He shortly after moved to Nauvoo and eventually on to the Great Basin. His diary recounts his desire to start a family cooperative community called “Edwardsville” where he would bring together the members of his family, most of whom had not converted to Mormonism, and where he would not only greatly improve all of their lives materially but would be enabled by the inspiration of God to teach them more about science, astronomy, and religion than any other person could.

In his diaries Edwards lets his speculations on the location of the celestial world on the sun run wild. It is a fascinating read. Basically, he suggests that the sun is the habitation of celestial worlds. The sun is hollow-what we see is the “outer curtain,” which gives light and warmth to all the planets. The dark solar spots, which many had heard of at the time, were openings that would allow sanctified planets to pass through the curtain. All planets are created at a great distance from the sun but are drawn nearer to it as they progress in righteousness. When they are perfected such worlds and their inhabitants are fireproof and can dwell in everlasting burnings.[2]

A vestige of this idea–that of the sun being literally, not only symbolically, the celestial kingdom–persisted in some strains of Mormon thought. In a letter Joseph Fielding Smith wrote to his missionary son, he expressed his belief that the sun was actually the heavenly habitation:

It is my judgment and belief that the sun is a celestial body. It has previously passed through its death and had its resurrection, just as it is decreed that this earth shall do.[3] No man ever saw the face of the sun, so far as I know, for it is surrounded by a cloud. This cloud is what the astronomers see. It is very apparent during an eclipse, but the sun is veiled so that we cannot see its surface. Moreover, I believe that it is inhabited. Why not? If we ever have the privilege of dwelling on a celestial earth–and this earth will become such–we will have to endure “everlasting burnings.” [4]


[1] The hollow earth theory has taken many forms over time, many purporting that the lost ten tribes are located within the earth somewheres, getting there, I suppose, through a tunnel in the north country. A variation on the theme, and one of the most elaborately developed, was that by Cyrus Teed, leader of the Koreshan community, who stated that the earth is hollow and we are living on the inside.
[2] Edwards’s diary is housed in BYU Special Collection, and a scanned copy is located in the Trails of Hope database, available thru the library catalogue.
[3]The idea that the earth will become a sun is also found in some strains of theosophy.
[4] JFS to Milton Smith, July 18,, 1948, qtd. in Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. and John J. Stewart, The Life of Joseph Fielding Smith(SLC: Deseret Book, 1972), 295.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. I think the sun is a big ball of gas. Joseph Fielding Smith said this about the sun in 1972, in other words Smith lived in the scientifically advanced 20th century. How in the world could he believe something so superstitious?

    Comment by Ryan — February 5, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

  2. “everything’s gas to you poombah”

    Comment by Stan — February 5, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  3. I seem to remember Brigham talking about this (and perhaps Heber), so it isn’t too bizarre for nineteenth century Mormonism. Sam will know better, but a few eighteenth and early nineteenth century protestants made similar speculations.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 5, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

  4. Yep. Just checked. Parley Pratt, Orson Hyde, Brigham Young…the whole crew.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 5, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

  5. Thanks for the fun and fascinating read, Stan. Re: #2, who is Shane and who is poombah?

    Ryan, plenty of people in the (even more) scientifically advanced 21st century believe in things more preposterous than JFS II’s superstitions.

    Comment by Christopher — February 5, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

  6. Stan: Ditto on both parts of Chris’s comment directed to you.

    Ryan: Wow. Have a little academic empathy for the religious subject, even if he doesn’t hold your “enlightened” beliefs.

    Comment by David G. — February 5, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

  7. Didn’t Brigham Young think this as well? I tried to find the quote I was thinking of in the JD but couldn’t. I’m reasonably sure though that in the 19th century it was a common belief that this world would be resurrected and obtain a celestial glory and become heaven for us.

    Comment by Clark — February 5, 2008 @ 10:48 pm

  8. Whoops — I left out that earth would become a sun.

    Comment by Clark — February 5, 2008 @ 10:49 pm

  9. J: Did the “whole crew” preach a hollow sun idea or simply that the sun was an inhabited CK?

    Chris&David: poombah is from the Lion King. He’s like a little polecat or lemur or something. It’s in quotes because Shane Mourtgos said it to Ryan after he read his comments.

    Comment by stan — February 5, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  10. Humanized astronomy was pretty common for a lot of antebellum folks. I don’t follow the postbellums that much. People believed the garden of Eden (hence the postmortal paradise) was the sun (or a particular comet, or an unnamed star), they saw their postmortal fate in particular stars, and a variety of other, pretty ancient but robust beliefs about stars. The caricature of astrology/superstition as applied to these beliefs is haughty, presentist, and uncompelling.

    The main accounts I read suggest most prominent early Mormons believed hominids inhabited the surface of the sun (perhaps the sun spots). For broader context, I think Thomas Dick is most important. I’m aware that Brodie and Vogel appear to overuse Dick, but he was important, and the earliest LDS do openly quote him.

    The earth as a Urim and Thummim is clearly a Smithian doctrine. For background, the metaphysical doctrine of “correspondence” is critical here, along with Dick and related. My sense is that they did believe that planets became stars or star-like celestial bodies through their “translation.”

    Comment by smb — February 6, 2008 @ 12:15 am

  11. stan, you got me there. The hollow sun appears to be an anomaly.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 6, 2008 @ 12:26 am

  12. I would hope that a religion that believes in the resurrection of the dead could stand a little creativity with regard to where they reside. A hollow body is pretty impractical though.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 6, 2008 @ 1:50 am

  13. Thanks, Stan. I just read through the sections on astronomy in the online journal transcript.

    I liked this passage:

    “And another thing is that the Deity uses great econemy in all his works and it dont look reasonable that he would create plannets by geth
    ering the material from space and commence at the center and enlarge it like winding yarn in to a ball to get a certain size when he can create a shel similar to an egg shel and build on the outside of the shel with a great deal les material and preserve the inside for anny purpose
    that he chuses to use it for we builde houses and mansions for various purposes but we allways [preserve?] the inside for a wise purpose in ourselves.”

    Comment by Justin — February 6, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  14. Note from the lunatic fringe: If I remember, Joseph Smith Jr’s hollow earth theory also included a miniature sun inside the earth that orbited around. A guy in one of my wards in Utah growing up (late 60’s) had used Joseph Smith’s theory to plot the orbit of this miniature sun, and came to believe it was responsible for the uncommon but not infrequent sinking or disappearances of US and Russian nuclear submarines for unknown reasons during the cold war era.

    Comment by kevinf — February 6, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  15. I always wondered what happened to those submarines…now I know.

    Comment by stan — February 6, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

  16. For background, the metaphysical doctrine of ?correspondence? is critical here, along with Dick and related.

    Could you clarify what you mean by correspondence here? What tradition are you referring to? I don’t recall reading that in Dick (although it has been a while since I read him last).

    I agree about your point on humanized astronomy. One can’t neglect the various Renaissance theories which persisted in folk traditions via the so-called hermetic influences. (Which I think, for the record, are overstated but which are definitely there) In neoPlatonic tradition for sure the planets and stars were also daemons/angels and quasi-sentient. (You might see an echo of this is the animism in Joseph’s Enoch texts)

    Comment by Clark — February 6, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

  17. Pumbah was a warthog. His partner, the meerkat, was named Timon. And Lion King was an excellent movie.

    And didn’t several episodes of Star Trek feature Dyson spheres similar to the ideas discussed here? Perhaps what was seen in revelation was an episode of Star Trek.

    Comment by Coffinberry — February 7, 2008 @ 9:51 am

  18. Coffinberry: Thank you for correcting my Disney–I can never keep my meerkats and havolinahs straight. And as for the Star Trek, I heard that the creators of that show were Mormon (one of them was Alice Cooper’s father I think), which might explain it; I’ll bet they read Esais’s journal. (And I don’t know if I’d call this sort of theorizing “revelation”.)

    Comment by stan — February 7, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  19. smb and Justin: thanks for your substantive contributions.

    Clark: I assume the “correspondence” theory smb referred to is in the Swedenborgian sense, which Wikipedia defines as “the relationship between spiritual and natural realities.” I’m not really sure just what that means though. Perhaps if smb gets back on here he can correct me or elaborate further.

    Comment by stan — February 7, 2008 @ 10:18 am

  20. If you want to know more about the notions of “correspondence” you should check out Catherine Albanese’s Corresponding Motion: Transcendental Religion and the New America (Philly: Temple U Press, 1977).

    Comment by SC Taysom — February 7, 2008 @ 11:11 am

  21. When it comes to Joseph Fielding Smith, I think it’s important to realize he had some very “interesting” astonomical ideas. He taught in the early 1960s that mankind would never reach the moon, for example. He was evidently a firm believer that mankind was limited to this earth, and that exploration beyond that was impossible, as it was against the will of deity.

    Funny, but I was tracting on my mission on the day of the first space shuttle disaster (1985 or 1986?). One woman answered her door, and gave my companion and me a diatribe on how the shuttle blew up because it was against the will of deity for men to try to leave this planet. I have no reason to believe that she was LDS.

    Comment by Nick Literski — February 7, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  22. Stan, if that is what he means it’s much more neoPlatonic like sympathies which was a common belief during the Renaissance (and persisted in various forms long after).

    I’m not sure I buy the view of sympathies to understand the Urim and Thummim/Earth connection. However I agree that neoPlatonic views of animism of the stars (including the earth) are relevant.

    Swedenborg’s view of correspondence is also very much a part and parcel of Kabbalistic views where what is done on earth affects the heavenly realm and vice versa. There’s a strong connection between the two. (Something Mormons also believe, albeit not quite the way the more neoPlatonic Kabbalistic views entail)

    It is interesting that Swedenborg’s view of correspondence entails angels living in houses and so forth in heaven. So there’s definitely a Mormon parallel there. Far more so than the Kabbalistic views. Although with Kabbalistic views there are so many levels that the mythic one (which would be blasphemous to traditional Judaism) can’t be rejected out of hand. (i.e. God anthropomorphized strongly)

    Comment by Clark — February 7, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  23. I recommend Albanese’s recent summative Republic of Mind and Spirit from Yale (2007) to review correspondence and its meaning in American metaphysical religion. I think Albanese will be the new standard for framing and describing these discussions.

    Correspondence broadly is a sense of meaningful symmetries across (usually geologic or astronomical) scales that allow for mutual influences. Astrology is the simplest straw man for correspondence (e.g. the Zodiacal Body), but it ranges from Swedenborgian to other hermetic/kabbalistic traditions, to Protestantism, and beyond, and it includes things in Mormonism like the shiny little seerstones standing in for the celestialized world and vice versa. No simple summary does justice to the broader notion of correspondence; you kind of have to roll up your sleeves and dig into the material.

    I agree with Clark that the connections to these traditions are present and important but much less deterministic than claimed by e.g. Brooke, Owens, and Quinn.

    I’m trying to finish a KEP hermeneutics paper for Dialogue that discusses several of these issues at length. It may take a while.

    Comment by smb — February 7, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  24. I’ve got Albanese’s Republic of Mind and Spirit on my shelf just waiting to be read…’praps I’ll have to jump in.

    smb: thanks for the explanation. what’s KEP?

    Comment by stan — February 7, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  25. Kirtland Egyptian Papers

    Comment by David G. — February 7, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

  26. he was my great great great great grandfather. I have a copy of his journal- and have read this before. Interesting.

    Comment by stef — March 26, 2010 @ 12:20 am


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