Joseph Smith/Garden of Eden in Missouri
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Is it true Mormons believe the original Garden of Eden was located in Missouri? What can you tell me about this?
Although we have no contemporaneous record of Joseph Smith teaching explicitly that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, that reading is consistent with LDS scripture, and there is substantial later testimony from Joseph's associates that he did teach such an idea.
Most Latter-day Saints are aware of this, though it is a relatively minor point that plays little role in LDS theology. (By contrast, the idea that the New Jerusalem—Zion—will be built in the Americas looms much larger in LDS consciousness.)
This idea perhaps strikes most non-members as odd, but not simply because the Saints have an opinion about the Garden's location—as we have seen, religions of all stripes have had a wide variety of views on the subject. What likely strikes outside American observers as strange is the idea that the Garden is local—the LDS view does not place the Garden in a never-never land, buried in distant time and far-away space. Rather, the LDS Garden is local and somewhat immediate.
Upon reflection, though, the thoughtful observer will realize that this is simply one more manifestation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' uniqueness: rather than believing only in dead prophets, from long ago, in distant lands, in old records, the Church also embraces modern revelation, living prophets, and an on-going divine involvement with God's people. The gospel restored by Joseph Smith does not merely sacralize the past, but the present and future as well—and, it sacralizes both lofty matters and more earthly concerns like farms, hills, and geography.
It is this intrusion of the sacred into the mundane that surprises most observers—the issue of the Garden is merely one more example of a broader phenomenon.
From Mormonism 101: FAQ, Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
We do not know exactly where the original site of the Garden of Eden is. While not an important or foundational doctrine, Joseph Smith established a settlement in Daviess County, Missouri, and taught that the Garden of Eden was somewhere in that area. Like knowing the precise number of animals on Noah’s ark, knowing the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important to one’s salvation than believing in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
As the official LDS church website points out, "The doctrinal tenets of any religion are best understood within a broad context and thoughtful analysis is required to understand them. ... Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. ... A common mistake is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice."
LDS concepts and perspectives
It is important to first distinguish the "Garden of Eden" (the paradisiacal location where Adam and Eve dwelt before the Fall) from Adam-ondi-Ahman. Adam-ondi-Ahman was a location in which Adam and Eve settled after their expulsion from the Garden.
Prior to his death, the repentant Adam held a meeting of his faithful posterity in a valley designated "Adam-ondhi-Ahman:"
- 53 Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing.
- 54 And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel.
- 55 And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.
- 56 And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation. (DC 107:53)
LDS scripture further notes:
- Spring Hill is named by the Lord Adam-ondi-Ahman, because, said he, it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people, or the Ancient of Days shall sit, as spoken of by Daniel the prophet.(DC 116:1)
It is perhaps significant the Lord named this site because of a future event—the pre-millennial assembly of Adam and his faithful descendants prior to the second coming of Christ. It has generally been presumed that "Spring Hill," Missouri is thus the Adam-ondi-Ahman of Adam's mortal meeting with his posterity (D&C 107, above) and the pre-millennial visit (D&C 116), which is certainly possible.
An alternate interpretation would be the Lord has given the Adam-ondi-Ahman name to a second site (i.e., at Spring Hill, Missouri) in memorial of the first great meeting of the whole righteous human race. That first meeting, at which Adam presided, would then be a foreshadowing of the greater meeting of all the righteous prior to Christ's triumphant return in glory. This reading might better explain why D&C 116 bothers to explain why the Lord is giving the name to the site. If the site was already called Adam-ondi-Ahman, perhaps there would be little need for the Lord to renew its name. One could see this as analogous to the site "Jerusalem." There is, in LDS doctrine, to be a "New Jerusalem" built on the American continent in the last days. Yet, this does not mean the "New Jerusalem" site is the same as the Jerusalem of David and Jesus in the Old World, or that the old Jerusalem has ceased to exist.
On the other hand, Doctrine and Covenants 117 also seems to associate the Missouri Adam-ondi-Ahman with Adam's dwelling place in mortality:
- 7 Therefore, will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom, and to bring forth in abundance? saith the Lord.
- 8 Is there not room enough on the mountains of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha Shinehah, or the land where Adam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?
- 9 Therefore, come up hither unto the land of my people, even Zion. (DC 117:7-9)
The association of Adam-ondi-Ahman with the "land where Adam dwelt," and Adam's presence at Adam-Ondi-Ahman prior to his death have led most Latter-day Saints to conclude they are one and the same. (However, this verse raises more questions than it answers—there are no mountains of note in Missouri. So, was the geography more expansive than Joseph or the early saints presumed?)
Because Adam left the Garden of Eden, and (by this reading) dwelt somewhere in or near Missouri, many members have concluded the Garden of Eden must likewise be near by.
As President John Taylor wrote:
- [I]t was stated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, in our hearing while standing on an elevated piece of ground or plateau near Adam-ondi-Ahman (Davis Co., Missouri,), where there were a number of rocks piled together, that the valley before us was the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman; or in other words, the valley where God talked with Adam, and where he gathered his righteous posterity, as recorded in the above revelation, and that this pile of stones was an altar built by him when he offered up sacrifices, as we understand, on that occasion.
Garden of Eden: LDS statements
Most early statements about the location of the Garden of Eden in LDS thought come via Brigham Young, who often made reference to Joseph Smith's teachings on the matter. Brigham's history records he told Orson Hyde (who had been to Palestine):
- You have been both to Jerusalem and Zion, and seen both. I have not seen either, for I have never been in Jackson County. Now it is a pleasant thing to think of and to know where the Garden of Eden was. Did you ever think of it? I do not think many do, for in Jackson County was the Garden of Eden. Joseph has declared this, and I am as much bound to believe that as to believe that Joseph was a prophet of God.
As this idea was a common one among 19th century members, it seems likely Joseph was the source of the idea (or, at the very least, the members' perceived this to be what Joseph had told them).
Heber C. Kimball (1863):
- ...[T]he spot chosen for the garden of Eden was Jackson County, in the State of Missouri, where Independence now stands; it was occupied in the morn of creation by Adam and his associates who came with him for the express purpose of peopling this earth. 
George Q. Cannon (1867):
- We appreciate the home that God has given us here, so fruitful in blessings [p.337] to the Saints; but we look forward to that land with indescribable feelings, because it is the place where God has said His City shall be built. It is the land where Adam, the Ancient of Days, will gather his posterity again, and where the blessings of God will descend upon them. It is the land for which the wise and learned have travelled [sic] and sought in vain. Asia has been ransacked in endeavouring [sic] to locate the Garden of Eden. Men have supposed that because the Ark rested on Ararat that the flood commenced there, or rather that it was from thence the Ark started to sail. But God in His revelations has informed us that it was on this choice land of Joseph where Adam was placed and the Garden of Eden was laid out. The spot has been designated, and we look forward with peculiar feelings to repossessing that land.
Wilford Woodruff quoting Brigham Young (1879):
- [spelling as original diary] Again Presdet [sic] Young said Joseph the Prophet told me that the garden of Eden was in Jackson Co Missouri, & when Adam was driven out of the garden of Eden He went about 40 miles to the Place which we Named Adam Ondi Ahman, & there built an Altar of Stone & offered Sacrifize [sic]. That Altar remains to this day. I saw it as Adam left it as did many others, & through all the revolutions of the world that Altar had not been disturbed.
Parallels with other religious traditions
The early Saints' view of a Garden of Eden "local" to them has its parallels in other religious traditions.
The Garden of Eden or the primordial paradise of the race is often seen as the "center of the world," or the cosmic point around which all creation turns (sometimes called an axis mundi or umbilicum mundi—the "navel" of the world).
Martin Luther warned that "we ask in vain today where and what that garden was" (155). Suarez said that knowledge of the earthly paradise was necessary to understand "all that the scriptures tell us of the condition of humanity before sin"
One student of the subject stated that during the 16th and 17th centuries the "location" of paradise was more important that any other question regarding it. And various religions have placed the Garden of Eden was in their part of the world.
Bishop Pierre-Daniel Huet (1691) a member of the French Academy, wrote of the wide variety of speculation and opinion on this subject
- [The earthly paradise] has been located in the third heaven, in the fourth, in the heaven of the moon, on the moon itself, on a mountain close to the heaven of the moon, in the middle region of the air, outside the earth, on the earth, under the earth, and in a hidden place far removed from human knowledge. It has been placed under the Arctic pole.... Some have located it... either on the banks of the Ganges or on the island of Ceylon, and have even derived the name 'India' from the word 'Eden.'... Others have located it in the Americas, others in Africa below the equator, others in the equinoctial East, others on the mountain of the moon, from which they believed the Nile to flow. Most have located it in Asia: some in Greater Armenia, others in Mesopotamia or Assyria or Persia or Babylonia or Arabia or Syria or Palestine. There have even been those who wished to honor our Europe and, in a move that strays into complete irrelevance, have located it in Hedin, a town in Artois, their reason being the similarity between the words 'Hedin' and 'Eden'" 
The Bible itself seems to place the Garden of Eden at the center of the world:
- 10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
- 11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
- 12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
- 13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
- 14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14)
The named rivers represent four of the great rivers of the known world, yet this description does not match any modern known configuration. It may be better to view these verses as a symbolic expression of Eden at "the center" of all that was known.
There is also a Jewish tradition that the Garden of Eden was in Jerusalem. There is a spring of water there known as the Gihon, one of the unidentified rivers of Paradise. Ezekiel 28:13 says “You were in Eden, the garden of God,” and then parallels that in the next verse with “you were on the holy mountain of God,” generally understood as the temple mount. There is important symbolism here. If a Jewish tradition can assign the location of the Garden to its traditional headquarters—Jerusalem—it is not surprising to have a Mormon tradition assigning the location of the Garden to Jackson County, Missouri, which for a time was its church headquarters and which according to prophecy will be again some time in the future.
Members and others sometimes ask how Abraham, Moses and other near eastern Bible prophets ended up in the Old World if Adam and Eden were in the Americas. A variety of approaches have been suggested for this issue: 
- Some have conceptualized the earth as having only one land mass (e.g., Pangaea) even into historical time, which was only separated in the days of Peleg (Genesis 10:25).
- Those who accept a universal Noachian flood simply see Noah floating from a New World site to Ararat in the Old.
- Those who accept a "limited flood" theory see a similar process occurring whereby Noah traveled down rivers or from sea coasts with the flood's arrival. (This would, in effect, be a reversal of the Book of Mormon's Old World to New World migrations).
- Since there is evidence for human migration over the Siberia-Alaska land bridge from Old to New World, some have postulated travel in the opposite direction.
- It has been suggested that the Lord gave a second site the name of Adam-ondi-Ahman in the Americas, while the original site was located elsewhere, in the Old World (see discussion above). In this model, early Church leaders assumed that there was only one Adam-ondi-Ahman, when there were (in fact) two.
- Some have seen the concept of Eden as a symbolic idea which acted to "sacralize" the Americas for a new gospel dispensation, without having reference to actual geographic realities. Early members then made this concept more literal than intended.
- Some see Eden as a place which was always "separate" from the fallen world around it, and so regard questions about the present "location" of Eden as non-sensical.
- Many, perhaps most, members consider the matter of relatively little importance, and have no strong feelings about the issue at all.
It must be noted that there is little, if any, scriptural or scientific evidence to support any of the above hypotheses. The solution chosen by an individual member will probably depend mostly on their attitudes to other issues about which there is no official Church position and a variety of positions espoused by members. These issues include matters such as the issue of Death before the Fall, Evolution, Pre-Adamites, the nature of Noah's Flood, the extent to which scripture ought to be interpreted literally, and related topics.
- [note] "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," from Newsroom: The Official Resource for News Media, Opinion Leaders, and the Public (4 May 2007) at lds.org. off site
- [note] See also Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:35. BYU Studies link
- [note] See A+of+F 1:10.
- [note] John Taylor, The Mediation and Atonement (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Co., 1882), 69. ISBN 076613069X. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- [note] Brigham Young in Journal History of the Church (15 March 1857); cited in John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 396. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- [note] Heber C. Kimball, "Advancement of the Saints, etc.," (27 June 1863) Journal of Discourses 10:235.
- [note] George Q. Cannon, "Truth to Be Received for Its Own Sake, etc.," (3 March 1867) Journal of Discourses 11:336.
- [note] Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 7:129 (journal entry dated 30 March 1879). ISBN 0941214133.
- [note] Jean Delumeau, History of Paradise. The Garden of Eden in Myth and Tradition (New York: Continuum, 1995), 155.
- [note] Cited by Delumeau, 162.
- [note] Kevin Barney, Was the Garden of Eden Really in Missouri? (blog entry), By Common Consent, July 4, 2007