What do we know about the location of the Garden of Eden?
Bruce A. Van Orden, associate professor of Church history, Brigham Young University. We must remember that the whole earth was paradisiacal before the Fall. The Garden of Eden was a center place. After the Fall, there was no Garden of Eden or paradisiacal status on earth. Yet relative to the locale of the site of the Garden of Eden, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned through revelation (D&C 57) that Jackson County was the location of a Zion to be and the New Jerusalem to come. The Prophet first visited Jackson County, Missouri, in the summer of 1831. The Prophet visited Jackson County again in April and May 1832. On one of the occasions, or perhaps both, the Prophet Joseph apparently instructed his close associates, and perhaps even a general Church gathering, that the ancient Garden of Eden was also located in Jackson County.
Brigham Young stated, “Joseph the Prophet told me that the garden of Eden was in Jackson [County] Missouri.” (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, vol. 5, 15 Mar. 1857, Archives Division, Church Historical Dept., Salt Lake City.) Heber C. Kimball said: “From the Lord, Joseph learned that Adam had dwelt on the land of America, and that the Garden of Eden was located where Jackson County now is.” (Andrew Jenson, Historical Record, 9 vols., Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson, 1888, 7:439; see also Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 219.) Other early leaders have given the same information.
Unfortunately, we do not have primary source documentation for all of Joseph Smith’s revelations or doctrinally related declarations. This is especially true for the periods when he did not have a scribe to keep a record of his daily activities. His 1831 and 1832 trips to Missouri fit into this category.
One of the early Latter-day Saint residents of Jackson County was Emily Austin. Remembering her first year there, she reminisced, “Our homes in this new country presented a prosperous appearance—almost equal to Paradise itself—and our peace and happiness, we flattered ourselves, were not in a great degree deficient to that of our first parents in the garden of Eden.” (Mormonism; or, Life among the Mormons, New York: AMS Press, 1971, p. 67.) She was reflecting a commonly held belief among the Saints that Eden was in Jackson County.
It wasn’t until May 1838 that revelation (D&C 116) identified Adam-ondi-Ahman, a site near the Garden of Eden, to be in Daviess County, Missouri, some seventy miles from present-day Kansas City. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., New York City: Macmillan, 1992, 1:19–20.) Other revelations referring to Adam-ondi-Ahman were D&C 78:15–16 and D&C 107:53–57.
President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “In accord with the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we teach that the Garden of Eden was on the American continent located where the City of Zion, or the New Jerusalem, will be built. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, they eventually dwelt at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman, situated in what is now Daviess County, Missouri. … We are committed to the fact that Adam dwelt on [the] American continent.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City:Bookcraft, 1956, 3:74. Compare Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–75, 2:93–95, 4:19–24; and Alvin R. Dyer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1968, pp. 108–9.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,“In accord with the revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, we teach that the Garden of Eden was on the American continent located where the city of Zion, or the New Jerusalem will be built. When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, they eventually dwelt at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman, situated in what is now Daviess County, Missouri” (Doctrines of Salvation3:74).
Joseph Smith taught that Adam, just prior to his death, called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch and Methuselah, as well as the “residue of his posterity who were righteous,’ to Adam-ondi-Ahman. It was there he “bestowed upon them his last blessing” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:53).
Apostle John Widtsoe wrote,”Since Adam called together seven generations of his descendants at Adam-ondi-Ahman, it can well be believed that there was his old homestead. If so, the Garden of Eden was probably not far distant, for it was the entrance at the east of the Garden which was closed against them at the time of the ‘fall’ (Genesis 3:24). In fact, it has been commonly understood among the Latter-day Saints, from the teachings of the Prophet, that the temple was to be built in or near the location of the Garden of Eden” (Evidences and Reconciliations, pg. 396).
According to Heber C. Kimball, a temple block was dedicated. “While there we laid out a city on a high elevated piece of land, and set the stakes for the four corners of a temple block, which was dedicated, Brother Brigham being mouth” (Life of Heber C. Kimball, 2nd ed., pp. 208-209 as printed in BYU Studies, Autumn 1972, pg. 34).
Dr. Robert J. Matthews of Brigham Young University states,”Although the ‘temple block’ was dedicated, apparently no corner stones were laid, and no temple was built. Persecution soon forced the Saints to flee Illinois, and thus the settlement had a short existence lasting only a few months, because by November 1838 the Saints were leaving their homes and abandoning Adam-ondi-Ahman” (BYU Studies, Autumn 1972, pg. 34).
Smith also taught that Adam will once again come to visit this site. Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie makes reference to this event and stated that a portion of Adam’s altar had remained through the ages. He wrote,
“At that great gathering Adam offered sacrifices on an altar built for the purpose. A remnant of that very altar remained on the spot down through the ages. On May 19, 1838 Joseph Smith and a number of his associates stood on the remainder of the pile of stones at a place called Spring Hill, Daviess County, Missouri. There the Prophet taught them that Adam again would visit in the Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, holding a great council as a prelude to the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 21).
In volume one of his two-volume set entitled Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Wilford Wood includes a photograph of what he calls “stones from Adam’s altar.” Heber C. Kimball also wrote of this altar. He stated that Smith led them a short distance from the temple block and said, “There is the place where Adam offered up sacrifice after he was cast out of the garden” (BYU Studies, Autumn 1972, pg. 34).
President Ezra Taft Benson also wrote how the Garden of Eden was located in America. Under the section “Divine Destiny” in his book The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (pp. 587-588), he wrote,
“Consider how very fortunate we are to be living in this land of America … Many great events have transpired in this land of destiny. This was the place where Adam dwelt; this was the place where the Garden of Eden was; it was here that Adam met with a body of high priests at Adam-ondi-Ahman shortly before his death and gave them his final blessing, and the place to which he will return to meet with the leaders of his people (D&C 107:53-57). This was the place of three former civilizations: that of Adam, that of the Jaredites, and that of the Nephites.”
Notice also how Benson places the Nephites in the United States, not Central America as Mormon scholars are now insisting.
Not only have LDS leaders stated that Eden was located in what is today the United States, they have also stated that Noah built his famous ark nearby as well. On October 7, 1860, President Brigham Young declared,
“In the beginning, after the earth was prepared for man, the Lord commenced his work upon what is now called this American continent, where the Garden of Eden was made. In the days of Noah, in the days of the floating of the ark, he took the people to another part of the earth: the earth was divided, and there he set up his kingdom” (Journal of Discourses 8:195).
Before he became first counselor to Brigham Young, Apostle George Q. Cannon stated,
“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” (Journal of Discourses 11:337).
In a sermon delivered by Orson Pratt, the LDS Apostle concurred with the aforementioned statements by saying,
“We may, however, observe, that so far as new revelation has given us information on this subject, this Continent of ours may be ranked among the first lands occupied by the human family. The very first man who had dominion on the face of the earth, under the direction of the Heavens, once dwelt on this Continent, His name was Adam” (Journal of Discourses 12:338)
Pratt continued by saying, “It was on this land where both Noah built his ark, which was blown by the winds of Heaven away to the east, and landed on Ararat” (Journal of Discourses 12:338).
Like many teachings brought about by LDS leaders, the idea that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri cannot be supported by the Bible. Mormons are really left with nothing but the claims of Joseph Smith for their “evidence.” Pratt admits this when he said, “These things are not revealed to us by the Bible, or by tradition, but by the inspiration of the Almighty through the great modern prophet who was raised up to commence this marvellous (sic) work of which you and I are now partakers” (Journal of Discourses12:339).
AMERICA THE GARDEN OF EDEN?
On pages 125-26, Priest describes a large hewn stump of a tree discovered by men digging a deep well near Cincinnati in 1826, eighty feet or more below the surface. It still bore marks of an axe, and a residue of rust. Priest presumes “that the tree was undoubtedly antediluvian,” p. 125, and from there he launches into painful exegesis on how Noah must have dwelt in America before the deluge. Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source © 2014 Rick Grunder 1299 Priest calculates possible current flow for the ark toward Mt. Ararat, and ends up feeling quite content “. . . that here, perhaps in the very State of New-York, the miraculous vessel was erected, and bore away, treasured with its enormous capacity, the progenitors of the human race renewed. So that if America have not the honor of being the country where Adam was created, as is believed by some, it has nevertheless the honor, as supposed, of being the country where the ark was erected.” (p. 131)
Priest’s literal biblical credulity will not allow him to accept both honors for America, since (reasons he,) the rivers that are described in Genesis as flowing from the primeval Garden do not exist here (p. 130). This does not prevent him, however, from quoting a better mind than his own, from which he relays a delicious presumption of the American Eden itself . . . The celebrated antiquarian, Samuel L. Mitchell [sic], late of New-York, with, other gentlemen, eminent for their knowledge of natural history, are even of the opinion that America was the country where ADAM was created. In a letter to Governor De Witt Clinton, in which this philosopher argued the common origin of the people of America, and those of Asia, he says: “I avoid the opportunity which this grand conclusion affords me, of stating, that America was the cradle of the human race; of tracing its colonies westward over the Pacific Ocean, and beyond the sea of Kamschatka, to new settlements; of following the emigrants by land and water, until they reached Europe and Africa. I had no inclination to oppose the current opinions relative to the place of man’s creation and dispersion. I thought it was scarcely worth the while to inform an European, that in coming to America, he had left the new world behind him, for the purpose of visiting the old.”—American Antq. Society, p. 331. [p. 129
It was Dr. Mitchill who directed Martin Harris, with the transcript of characters from the golden plates of the Book of Mormon, to meet Prof. Charles Anthon in 1828. For further discussion of Mitchill’s preeminent authority in Americans’ minds of the earlier nineteenth century, see MP 324 (Plough Boy), section entitled “Samuel Latham Mitchill.” See also MP 113 (Devotional Somnium) and MP 252 (Mitchill, Circular). Mitchill’s opinions are quoted often by Priest in American Antiquities; see pp. 129-30, 132, 282-83, 286, 288-91, 294-96, 303-4, 333, 337 and 345. “His confidence in his expositions was not always permanent;” recalled a younger associate of Mitchill, new facts often led to new opinions; but the uncertainties of geological doctrines, not yet removed, gave him sometimes more freedom of expression than rigid induction might justify; and when he affirmed as his belief that the American continent was the Old World, and that the Garden of Eden might have originally been located in Onondaga Hollow, he imposed a tax on credulity too onerous to bear. [Francis, 94] 1300 Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source © 2014 Rick Grunder
. . . But not quite so incredible to Americans of Dr. Mitchill’s generation, perhaps, as in the late 1850s when Dr. Francis wrote the reflections above. Latter-day Saints will naturally connect here with Joseph Smith’s similar doctrine which placed ancient Adam, at least shortly before his death, in what is now northwestern Missouri. What may not be evident to the casual scholar, however, is that Joseph did not declare this American Eden until Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities had gone through at least seven editions – a likely total of some thirty thousand copies or more (see bibliographic notes at the beginning of this entry). While it is true that talk of “Adam-ondi-Ahman” began in early 1832 (D&C 78:15), those words did not then positively suggest a sense of place. Dr. Robert J. Matthews shows clearly how this curious term grew gradually (Matthews, 27-30). It was enlarged upon in 1835 as a place name – the spot where Adam gathered his posterity somewhere on earth three years prior to his death (D&C 107:53, March 28, 1835). Finally, Joseph Smith designated a convenient, beautiful Mormon-owned site which he was visiting on May 19, 1838, as the place to which Adam will eventually return to greet his posterity – named, incidentally, the same as the ancient gathering place, “Adam-ondi- Ahman,” and thus presumably one and the same with either the Garden of Eden, or at least a place prominent in Adam’s later life (D&C 116; Spring Hill, Daviess County, Missouri, “named by the Lord Adam-ondi-Ahman . . .”).
“The Prophet does not tell us how or under what circumstances the Lord spoke these words to him,” wrote Sidney B. Sperry half a century ago, “but we know the channels of communication were constantly open.” (Sperry 1960, 622). Indeed, a month or so later, Joseph elaborated upon the newly-identified scene with startling precision after dedicating a temple site on a nearby hill which commanded a broad view in all directions. Heber C. Kimball described it as “one of the most beautiful places I ever beheld.” According to Kimball’s unique record, The Prophet Joseph called upon Brother Brigham, myself and others, saying, “Brethren, come go along with me, and I will show you something.” He led us a short distance to a place where were the ruins of three altars built of stone, one above the other, and one standing a little back of the other, like unto the pulpits in the Kirtland Temple, representing the order of three grades of Priesthood; “There,” said Joseph, “is the place where Adam offered up sacrifice after he was cast out of the garden.” The altar stood at the highest point of the bluff. [as presented by Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, 1945), pp. 208-9, in Matthews, 34] Through the same, stunning facility with which, in the summer of 1834, Joseph Smith had identified the remains of warrior Zelph, follower of Onandagus Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source © 2014 Rick Grunder 1301 (MP 305 [Parker] – also associated with three ancient altars, HC 2:79), Joseph now invited the very Garden of Eden to this corner of America. There was even a hint of elegance: to Joseph’s credit, he seems not to have used the actual word “Eden” here, which I am told is a corruption of the Sumerian word, ‘den (sounding rather like “Eden” with a glottal stop), referring specifically to the area between the fertile Tigris/Euphrates valley and the desert which was still suitable for cultivation. “This world was once a garden place;” Mormons surely sang that day while dedicating their site for some future temple,
. . . And men did live a holy race,
And worship Jesus face to face,
. . . . .
Her land was good and greatly blest,
Beyond old Israel’s Canaan;
Here fame was known from east to west;
Her peace was great, and pure the rest—
[“Adam-ondi-Ahman. By W. W. Phelps.” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:9 (June 1835), p. 144. For the local singing of this hymn in the summer of 1838, see Matthews, 33.]