Thoughts on Language: A Song in Pure Language

In my last post, I suggested that a key to understanding Joseph Smith’s interest in recovering the “pure language” of Adam could be found in a relatively obscure example of pure language which was recently published in the Joseph Smith Revelations book. Simply titled “Sang by the gift of Tongs and Translated,” the text was composed in February 1833 and is in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams with revisions by Williams, Oliver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps, an unknown scribe, and Joseph Smith. The text was later adapted into a hymn and published. An undated broadside of the hymn says that it was “sung in tongues” by David W. Patten and “interpreted” by Sidney Rigdon. Reminiscent of Elizabeth Ann Whitney’s song, this song tells of a vision Enoch had as he stood upon a mountain. Seeing the corruption of humanity, Enoch cried out to God and wept. Then God “touched his eyes and [Enoch] saw heaven [and] gazed on eternity and sang an Angelic song and mingled his voice with the heavenly throng.” The text then reproduces the angelic song, a song within a song:

Hozana, Hozana the sound of the trump
around the throne of God echoed and echoed again
and rang and reechoed until eternity was filled with his voice
he saw, yea, he saw, and he glorified God the salvation of his people
his city caught up through the gospel of Christ

The text then says Enoch saw Adam who was in eternity before a grain of dust in the balance was weighed he saw that he emanated and came down from God he saw what had passed and then was and is present and to come. Finally, the song speaks of the last days, “the Angels in glory will soon be descending . . . to join you in singing the praises of God” and saints “gaze upon Jesus” and weeping “strike hands with Enoch of Old they inherit a city as it is written the City of God.”

The song reveals, I believe, some important ideas about the reasons the early saints were interested in pure language. Adam, according to the song, “emanated” from God, the language here is loaded with a quasi-mystical, Platonic equivalence. The distance between God and Adam is reduced to a sliver. It speaks of angels descending and joining with the righteous on earth to sing praises, presumably also in a pure language, and then those righteous inheriting the city of God, a paradisiacal land of inheritance. Pure language was, for Joseph Smith, not simply a Pentecostal outpouring, but an act of community-building. It signified true at-one-ment.

Likewise, Adam-ondi-Ahman was a concept before it was ever a geographic space; it represented the pure in heart before it meant a place in Missouri. And when these songs mention Adam-ondi-Ahman they identify it with Adam’s post-lapsarian abode as well as Enoch’s Zion.

In 1830, Joseph Smith identified Adam as Michael, and linked him with Daniel’s apocalyptic “Ancient of Days,” giving him a premortal backstory and a prophetic role in the endtimes drama. Smith recast Adam, from the misguided and guilt-ridden progenitor of traditional Christianity, into a heroic archangel and primal patriarch, a role inevitably entwined in Latter-day Saint lives. In Hebrew, the name Michael means “who is like god?,” something Joseph Smith would have known. The words “Ancient of Days” have traditionally been seen as a title for God, something the description in Daniel seems to reinforce. Clearly, Joseph Smith saw an elevation in roles for Adam.

But it is not just Adam who is elevated here. The word ‘adam in Hebrew simply means “person,” so another translation of Adam-ondi-Ahman could be “humans near to God,” or “humanity in God’s presence.” And the pursuit of a pure language was itself a pursuit of the divine.

This entry was posted in Thoughts on Language and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts on Language: A Song in Pure Language

  1. This definition of Adam-ondi-Ahman almost bridges the gap to the Eastern philosophy of God residing within each person and God-consciousness as recognizing the unity of all beings within God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>