Facsimile No. 2 from the Book of Abraham, which Smith said discusses Kolob. The part Smith said refers to Kolob is numbered by a "1" in the center.
The first published reference to Kolob is found in the Book of Abraham, first published in the 1842 newspaper Times and Seasons and now included within the Pearl of Great Price as part of the canon of Mormonism. The Book of Abraham was dictated in 1836 by Smith after he purchased a set of Egyptian scrolls that accompanied a mummy exhibition. According to Smith, the scrolls described a vision of Abraham, in which Abraham:
"saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; ... and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest."
"Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which is called by the Egyptians Jah-oh-eh."
The Book of Abraham describes a hierarchy of heavenly bodies, including the earth, its moon, and the sun, each with different movements and measurements of time, where at the pinnacle, the slowest-rotating body is Kolob, where one Kolob-day corresponds to 1000 earth-years, with similarities to 2 Peter 3:8 which says "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years". Additional, similar information about Kolob is found in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, constituting manuscripts in the handwriting of Smith and his scribes.
Mormon exegesis and speculation
According to the traditional, literal LDS interpretation of the Book of Abraham, Kolob is an actual star or planet in this universe that is, or is near, the physical throne of God. According to Smith, this star was discovered by Methuselah and Abraham by looking through the Urim and Thummim, a set of seer stones bound into a pair of spectacles. Mormon leader and historian B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) interpreted Smith's statements to say that the solar system and its governing "planet" (the sun) revolved around a star known as Kae-e-vanrash, which itself revolved with its own solar system around a star called Kli-flos-is-es or Hah-ko-kau-beam, which themselves revolve around Kolob, which he characterized as "the great centre of that part of the universe to which our planetary system belongs". He was confident that this hierarchy of stars orbiting other stars would be confirmed by astronomers.
The literal interpretation of Kolob as an actual star or planet has significant formative impact on LDS belief and criticism, leading to conceptions such as that God dwells within this universe, and that the Biblical creation is a creation of the local earth, solar system, or galaxy, rather than the entire known physical reality.
Star or planet?
The Book of Abraham is unclear about Kolob being a star or a planet, and LDS writings have taken positions on either side of this issue. One part of the Book of Abraham states that Abraham "saw the stars ... and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; ... and the name of the great one is Kolob." Thus, Kolob is referred to as a "star". However, the book defines the word Kokaubeam (a transliteration of the Hebrew "כּוֹכָבִים" [c.f., Gen. 15:5]) as meaning "all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven". This would appear to include planets as among the "stars", and the Book of Abraham refers to Earth as a star. In addition, the Book of Abraham text appears to classify Kolob as among a hierarchy of "planets". On the other hand, in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar paper, Kolob is classified as one of twelve "fixed stars", in distinction with fifteen "moving planets". The term fixed star generally refers to an astronomical object that does not seem to move across the sky, but may have a slow proper motion as discovered in 1718 by Edmund Halley. Though "fixed", according to Smith, Kolob moves "swifter than the rest of the twelve fixed stars". Moreover, in the Book of Abraham, Smith refers to "fixed planets or stars", implying that some planets may be "fixed". He also refers to the sun as a "governing planet" further complicating the terminology. Therefore, there is no consensus on whether Smith knew Kolob to be a planet or a star as those terms are used in modern astronomy.
According to several LDS writers (such as Cleon Skousen in his book The First 2000 Years), the earth was created near Kolob over a period of 6000 years, and then moved to its present position in our solar system. This hypothesis is based on oral comments attributed to Smith. The hypothesis is also based on a passage from the Book of Abraham stating that in the Garden of Eden, time was measured "after the Lord's time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed to Adam his reckoning". According to the hypothesis, the reason that Earth time was measured in Kolob time was because the earth was physically located near Kolob. As a corollary, some LDS writers argue that at the end times, the earth will be plucked from the solar system and returned to its original orbit near Kolob.
Using traditional creationist reasoning, influential LDS leader Apostle Bruce R. McConkie came to a different conclusion, arguing that during the first "day" of creation (not necessarily a 1000-year "day" in Kolob time; with a "day" referring to a phase of creation), the earth was formed and placed in orbit around the sun.
The idea that the earth was formed elsewhere and then migrated to orbit around the sun differs from the scientific explanation of the earth's formation. According to scientific consensus, the earth formed in orbit around the sun about 4.5 billion years ago by accretion from a protoplanetary disk, and remained near its original orbit until the present.
Another LDS author has hypothesized that Kolob exists outside the Milky Way Galaxy at a place called the "metagalactic center", and that this galaxy and other galaxies rotate around it. Within mainstream astronomy, the idea of a metagalactic center was once assumed, but has been abandoned because on large scales, the expanding universe has no gravitational center.
Another LDS author has speculated that Kolob is Polaris.
In addition to the literal interpretation of Kolob as an actual heavenly body, the LDS Church has proposed that Kolob is also "a symbol of Jesus Christ", in that like Kolob, Jesus "governs" all the stars and planets similar to the earth.
A metaphorical interpretation suggests that Kolob may be construed as a metaphor for Jesus rather than as an actual planet or star. The symbolic interpretation was explained by Hugh Nibley in The Temple and The Cosmos. Advocates of the symbolic interpretation believe it harmonizes better with other LDS beliefs, and with beliefs in the greater Christian community, as it does not require that God have a physical throne within this universe.
According to LDS author, James Ferrell, the metaphorical interpretation is supported by the parallel construction of the passages in Abraham chapter three:
2 And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;
3 And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all...
After intervening passages that discuss how some souls are greater than others, just as some stars are greater than others, the theme is repeated in reference to Jesus:
23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good...
24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God...
Analysis and criticism
According to Fawn Brodie, Smith's idea of Kolob may have been derived from the "throne of God" idea found in Thomas Dick's The Philosophy of a Future State, which Brodie said Smith "had recently been reading" before dictating the Book of Abraham, and which "made a lasting impression" on him.
Rejecting the theory that the Kolob doctrine is of 19th-century origin, some LDS scholars have sought to link the Kolob doctrine to ancient astronomy. Gee, Hamblin & Peterson (2006) have sought to show that this astronomy is more consistent with ancient geocentrism than with 19th-century Copernican and Newtonian astronomy, and thus carries with it the misconceptions of ancient astronomy. For example, in their interpretation, Kolob is the highest and slowest moving of a series of concentric heavenly spheres, which are centered on Earth. These authors believe that Smith, in the 19th century, would not have made this geocentric "mistake" about Kolob, and therefore, they argue that the Book of Abraham is of ancient origin. John Tvedtnes suggested that "Another possible Hebrew etymology is the Hebrew KLB 'dog' originally pronounced kalb just as it is in Arabic. This is used to denote the star Regulus in Arabic while the Syriac, which is also kalb denotes the star Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens."
Validity of Smith's translation of the Book of Abraham
Modern Egyptologists have made an analysis of the facsimile, a copy of the extant original vignette from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and with fragments of the papyrus of the type from which the Book of Abraham was translated. The interpretation of the facsimile is widely criticized by non-Mormon Egyptologists who note that it is an image of a typical Hypocephalus, and the interpretations by Joseph Smith bear no resemblance to the interpretations by Egyptologists (including some Mormon Egyptologists). FairMormon, a Mormon apologist site, details various rebuttals and explanations for the differences.
"If You Could Hie to Kolob", the hymn
"If You Could Hie to Kolob" (hie, to hasten) is a Latter-day Saint hymn that was written by the early Mormon W. W. Phelps. The music is taken from a well-known folk tune known as "Dives and Lazarus". It was originally published in 1842 in Times and Seasons and is hymn number 284 in the 1985 hymnal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The hymn makes only a single reference to Kolob, in the first line of the hymn (from which the hymn's title is derived).
The hymn reflects doctrines unique to Mormonism, such as the eternal nature of spirit (including man's spirit) and matter. It also conveys doctrines elaborated by Smith, the first Latter-day Saint prophet, about the plurality of gods and eternal progression.
The tune was arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1906) for the English Hymnal and can be found in today's hymnals under the name "Kingsfold". The tune is also used in other hymns: "O Sing a Song of Bethlehem," "I Heard the Voice of Jesus," and "We Sing the Mighty Power of God."
Kolob as the inspiration for Kobol in Battlestar Galactica
Some of the elements of the two Battlestar Galactica science-fiction television shows seem to be derived from the Mormon beliefs of its creator and chief producer, Glen A. Larson. In both the original series from 1978, and the 2003 new series, the planet Kobol is the ancient and distant mother world of the entire human race and the planet where life began, and the "Lords of Kobol" are sacred figures to the human race. They are treated as elders or patriarchs in the old series, and versions of the Twelve Olympians in the new series. "Kobol" is an anagram of "Kolob" and, according to academic Jana Riess, is one of many plot points Larson has borrowed from Mormonism.
Kolob was the name of a short-lived record label/production company founded by the Osmond Brothers in the 1970s. Released in association with MGM Records (which was absorbed by Polydor in 1976), the logo consisted of a hand holding a ball of clay resembling the planet. The Osmonds also recorded an album called The Plan, which deals with themes in Mormonism related to Kolob.
^Abraham 3:4; see also Book of Abraham, Facsimile No. 2, explanations to Figs. 1 and 2.
^Smith (1835, p. 34) ("Kolob… signifies the first great grand governing fixed star which is the fartherest [sic] that ever has been discovered by the fathers which was discovered by Methusela and also by Abraham.")
^Book of Abraham, Facsimile No. 2, Explanation to Fig. 5.
^Book of Abraham, Facsimile No. 2, Explanation to Fig. 5 (stating that Enish-go-on-dosh "is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun.")
^Young (1851) (describing Kolob as "the planet nearest unto the habitation of the Eternal Father"); Young (1853, p. 652) ("Why cannot we behold the inhabitants of Kolob or the inhabitants of any of those distant planets?").
^Taylor (1857, pp. 1001–02) ("Thou longed, thou sighed and thou prayed to thy Father in heaven for the time to arrive when thou couldst come to this earth, which had fled and fallen from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob.").
^Pratt (1866, p. 561) (referring to "a certain world, called Kolob, whose diurnal rotation on its axis equals one thousand of our years"); Pratt (1873, p. 317) (referring to "a certain great world, called Kolob, placed near one of the celestial kingdoms, whose diurnal rotation takes place once in a thousand of our years").
^Whitney (1907, p. 48) ("But there is a great planet called Kolob, nearest to the throne of God."); Whitney (1920, p. 83) ("Joseph Smith taught that there is a great planet named Kolob, nearest the Celestial Throne, and that it revolves once in a thousand years."); Whitney (1930, p. 392) (referring to Kolob as "a mighty governing planet nearest the Celestial Throne, a planet revolving once in a thousand years").
^Alvin R. Dyer, "BYU Speeches", April 7, 1964, pp. 14–15 ("As yet we do not know where the planet Kolob is located, but it, as well as the throne of God, must be a tremendous distance from the earth. Any personage coming from the presence of God would need to travel a tremendous distance to reach earth.").
^Roberts (1923, p. 434) (referring to Kolob as "some very distant, far off central sun").
^David O. McKay, "Conference Report", Oct. 1969. Improvement Era (referring to Kolob as a great star "somewhere out in the great expanse of space")
^Taylor (1857, pp. 1001–02) ("Thou longed, thou sighed and thou prayed to thy Father in heaven for the time to arrive when thou couldst come to this earth, which had fled and fallen from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob.")
^Evans (1894, p. 779) ("The earth doubtless fell also an immeasurable distance from the presence of its Maker, from the mansion or abode of Kolob.")
^Timmins (1995) (arguing that the earth was originally in orbit around Kolob, and was knocked out of its orbit gravitationally, then captured by the present solar system).
^In 1979, Larson received an award from the Associated Latter-day Media Artists. "LDS Scene," Ensign, August 1979, 80.
^Levi Peterson, The Backslider (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), p. 253.
^Smith, Robert (24 Mar 2011). "On Broadway, A 'Mormon' Swipe At ... Everything". National Public Radio. Retrieved 24 March 2011. "There's a line where they say, 'I believe that God lives on a planet named Kolob,' " Baker says. "That is an actual Mormon belief. We do believe that. But taken out of context — or in context — you do not want anyone to know you actually believe it."