In the minds of most people, what modern-day lands are connected to the Old Testament? Of course, the obvious one is the place called Palestine or Israel. And, for those who have seen the movie where Charlton Heston faces off with the Pharaoh, Egypt would come to mind.
But what about Missouri?
The small fraction of mankind who have even heard of this Midwestern state would probably consider it the last place on earth to be linked with the Old Testament.
Yet, Latter-day Saints know Missouri as a first place on earth. It is a place of beginnings. For centuries after the Fall, many (if not all) of the experiences of Adam and Eve were set in this area.
When, in 1831, the Mormons began settling in Missouri, they didn't imagine they were proxies for the human race in a kind of homecoming. Understanding came in stages.
A revelation in 1832 referred to a wide region called "Adam-ondi-Ahman" (Doctrine and Covenants 78:15). Later, Joseph Smith spoke of an ancient meeting presided over by Adam. The place of this ancient event, he said, was a specific spot in that region, "the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 38). By 1833, William W. Phelps pieced together enough clues to pen words to a beautiful hymn (No. 49 in our present hymnal).
Though the Saints as yet had no idea where the valley lay, they sang about it often in the early 1830s, including at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. That tender hymn, along with a recorded revelation given in 1835, nurtured a growing awe in the hearts of the faithful on this subject (Doctrine and Covenants 107:53-57).
We can imagine, after all that buildup it must have been electrifying news when, in May of 1838, the Prophet Joseph at last identified the location of the sacred valley. Church headquarters were now in Far West, Mo.; the valley was 25 miles north, at a place called Spring Hill. A settlement called Adam-ondi-Ahman was created there. Really, there were dozens of other Latter-day Saint settlements at that time. All of them were very likely in the wide area the revelations refer to by that name.
And yet the valley itself, which occupied just a few square miles, was dear to the Saints. For them to hear descriptions from those who visited it, to think of its past and future, to simply speak the name of it, seemed to justify the sacrifices they had made in Missouri. They had paid heavily for the homecoming, but in the economy of heaven, it was worth it.
Ironically, just as these shining discoveries dawned, darkness fell. Within a few months, the Saints were expelled. Their visit to an ancient homeland was over.
That valley today is beautifully kept, though not officially listed as a church history attraction. Nevertheless, we can ponder its importance from clues in scripture. And we sing of its part — its past and its future — in the great story of mankind.
Regarding the past, here are some words from our hymns:
"In Adam-ondi-Ahman, Zion rose where Eden was, when beyond the pow'r of evil, so that none could covet wealth, one continual feast of blessings crowned their days with peace and health."
"This earth was once a garden place, and men did live a holy race, and worship Jesus face to face in Adam-ondi-Ahman."
And regarding the future, we sing:
"Sons of Michael, he approaches! Rise, the ancient father greet."
"Raise aloft your voices million, in a torrent pow'r of song."
Indeed, "Hosanna to such days to come" (See Hymns, 49, 50 and 52).
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" is serialized in weekly segments Fridays on MormonTimes.com.