What follows is a thesis on the controversial doctrine from the 19th century referred to as multiple mortal probations, which fell out of favor along with Adam-God. This thesis explains a bunch of odd data points and suggests a straightforward explanation for the origin of Adam-God. The sources are quoted from boap.org and the "Multiple Mortal Probations: LDS Related Quotes" document found at mormonpolygamydocuments.org.
In the Nauvoo period, Joseph Smith began believed in and secretly taught something akin to reincarnation. Michael Quinn documented it as follows:
These secret teachings coincided with teachings by Joseph that either explicity stated or implied that previously resurrected beings, essentially from a prior earth, could interact with mortals on this earth. Perhaps the clearest example of this is a statement recorded by Nauvoo saint, George Laub. He wrote that Joseph stated, "Now the history of Josephus in Speaking of angels came down and took themselves wives of the daughters of men, See Geneses 6 Chapter 1-2, verses. These ware resurrected Bodies, Violated the Celestial laws.""By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph Smith had also reversed his prior rejection of the Cabala's doctrine of "transmigration of the souls." Two of the women Smith secretly married as plural wives in the 1840s said that he privately affirmed reincarnation. Apostle Lorenzo Snow said that "his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith, was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband." Prescendia Huntington Buell (later Kimball) also affirmed her belief in "plural probations," referring to a statement "in confirmation" by her polyandrous husband Joseph Smiths. In the 1840s their polygamous relationship to the Mormon prophet was as secret as his conversion to reincarnation."
More significantly, JS' King Follett Sermon suggests that, after the resurrection, each heir to Godhood will eventually serve as a Christ in a mortal probation. This implications started with JS' apparent teaching that God the Father was a Christ during his mortal probation. This is a straight forward interpretation of the standard collated version of the sermon most often circulated, but it's made even clearer by George Laub journal summary. He wrote, "...Jesus Christ spoke in this manner; I do as my Father before me did. Well what did the Father do? Why he went and took a body and went to redeem a world in the flesh and had power to lay down his life and to take it up again."
Another George Laub journal entry on JS' Sermon In the Grove seems to confirm that this is how Laub understood it. He recorded, "But the holy ghost is yet a Spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body as the Savior did or as god did or the gods before them took bodies for the Saviour Says the work that my father did do i also & those are the works he took himself a body & then laid down his life that he might take it up again." However, Laub didn't only understand that the Holy Ghost would serve as a Christ (more on that later), but he also implied that JS' King Follet Sermon taught that all who achieved Godhood would pass through the same. Laub wrote, "For we are to go from glory to glory and as one is raised to a higher, so the next under him may take his degree and so to take the exaltation through the regular channel. When we get to where Jesus is, he will be just as far ahead of us again in exaltation." The standard version of the sermon can be easily interpreted in this fashion. Here is the relevant portion:
Apparently, Laub wasn't the only who understood the King Follett Sermon this way. In January of 1846, just over a year and a half after the death of JS, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball ordained each other to act as a savior. They also vicariously ordained Joseph and Hyrum to do the same. Following is the summary of the January 1846 Nauvoo Temple Record from the Multiple Mortal Probations document:"...they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? to inherit the same glory, the same power and the same exaltation, until you ascend the throne of eternal power the same as those who are gone before. What did Jesus do? why I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. I saw my Father work out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom I shall present it to my Father, so that he obtains kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt his glory, so that Jesus treads in his tracks to inherit what God did before; it is plain beyond disputation, and you thus learn some of the first principles of the gospel, about which so much hath been said. When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom and go on until you learn the last principle; it will be a great while before you have learned the last. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it is a great thing to learn salvation beyond the grave."
Given George Laub's explicit summary of the King Follett sermon and the short time between JS' death and these ordinations performed in the Nauvoo period, it seems very likely that the doctrine underlying the ordinations originated with JS. This teaching was perhaps even canonized as, "This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law" (D&C 132:24, see vs. 22-25). However, the teaching was probably only explicitly taught to a select few. For example, in 1860, Orson Pratt wrote, "I heard brother Young say that Jesus had a body offlesh and bones, before he came (to earth and) he was born of the Virgin Mary, it was so contrary to every revelation given." Orson Pratt apparently wasn't in on it or hadn't understood it as others had."Brigham Young laid hands on Heber C. Kimball and "Ordained him to the Godhead, and that he would act as the Savior to a world or worlds." This was part of a long prayer. Promised wives, seed without number, be full partaker with Abraham, Isaac., and Jacob. The Godhead was a different blessing from Godhood. (Some received only Godhood.) Heber C. Kimball then did the same to Brigham Young, i.e., ordained him to The Godhead. They in turn did it by proxy for Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Other saints (W.W. Phelps) were blessed to act in Trinities (or Presidencies of worlds)."
JS also gave more info about this path to exaltation, which is that the Holy Ghost, the third member in the Godhead, was going to serve as a Christ. Besides the Laub's record of JS' comment on the Holy Ghost in his summary of the Sermon on the Grove, there is an additional JS comment recorded by Franklin D. Richards in August, 1843, not that long before the King Follett Sermon. Richards wrote, "Joseph also said that the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has."
From the above we can imply that JS believed that all Gods had served as Christs, that all heirs of the Celestial kingdom would serve as Christs as part of their progression from exaltation to exaltation, and that the Holy Ghost would also serve as a Christ. Here is where my thesis becomes a bit more speculative. It's my guess that JS believed that heirs of the Celestial Kingdom would not only serve as Christs, but first they would serve as Holy Ghosts. As is common knowledge, the trio of beings who participate in the creation in the temple are Michael, Jehovah, and Elohim, and these possibly represent JS' conception of the Godhead. JS taught many times that Michael stood next to Christ in authority, and he also taught that Elohim was the head of the Gods (i.e. The Father). With this possible equivalency between Micheal and the Holy Ghost in mind and JS' probable belief that all were to serve as Holy Ghosts prior to being Christs, JS likely believed the Nauvoo endowment was a representation of one stage of what each heir of the celestial kingdom was to pass through in their climb up the ladder of exaltation. Adam-God can then be seen as based on JS' teachings and the endowment, with a simple fundamental misunderstanding on the identity of Micheal in the Godhead. Considering the modern Mormon understanding of the titles Jehovah and Elohim didn't develop until long after Brigham Young, it is understandable that he could have developed his own interpretation of Micheal, Jehovah and Elohim. In fact, he attributed his identification of Michael as God the Father to JS' commentary on Daniel and JS' equivalence of Adam, Michael, and the Ancient of Days. The apparent supremacy in Daniel of the Ancient of Days to the "one like unto the Son of Man," who JS interpreted as Christ, makes Brigham's Adam-God doctrine even more understandable.
Some additional evidence:
- D&C 132:22-25, which dates from the Nauvoo period, can easily be interpreted as some form of reincarnation or multiple mortal probations: "For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know. But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also. This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law. Broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law."
- There are also very strong implications in the endowment (Peter, James, and John who physically interact with Adam) that resurrected or otherwise physical beings can shed their physical forms somehow and experience a mortal probation. This implication is emphasized by JS' teachings on identifying angels vs. evil spirits (found in D&C), which he taught on multiple occasions, maybe 5 or 6 times, before and after the Nauvoo endowment had been administered. This idea lines up nicely with JS' late teaching that the Sons of God who married the daughters of men in Genesis were resurrected beings who violated celestial laws, and, of course, it all lines up with JS' teachings about exaltation to exaltation in his comments about the Holy Ghost and God the Father in the King Follett Sermon, Sermon on the Grove, and other Nauvoo era comments.
- Michael Quinn documents an influential relationship between JS and Alexander Neibaur, who was a convert from Jewish Cabala and who related reincarnation-like Cabala sourced ideas in a couple of Times and Seasons articles during the Nauvoo era.
- An interesting account by Joseph Lee Robinson: "We also heard him (Joseph) say that God had revealed unto him that any man who ever committed adultery in either of his probations that that man could never be raised to the highest exaltation in the celestial glory and that he (Joseph) felt anxious with regard to himself and he inquired of the Lord and the Lord told him that he, Joseph, had never committed adultery (D&C 132:41). This saying of the Prophet astonished me very much. It opened up to me a very wide field of reflection. The idea that we had passed through probations prior to this and that we must have been married and given in marriage in those probations or there would be no propriety in making such an assertion and that there were several exaltations in the servants to the Gods. Be this as it may, this is what he said." (Journal of Joseph Lee Robinson, http://planetnielsen.com/joseph_lee_robinson/jlr_basic_journal.pdf, pp. 40-41) Some people have argued that JS's phrase, "either probation," could refer to our mortal probation and preexistence (1st and 2nd estates), and frankly, this seems like a plausible understanding of the quote, which in that scenario it at least infers that spirits were married in the preexistence. However, obviously Robinson understood Joseph as referring to some version of multiple mortal probations, which makes us wonder if there was more than what Robinson reported or if he was piecing together other things he'd heard Joseph say. No matter, he understood JS to mean multiple mortal probations. The date of the quote is more or less appropriate for MMP also, being the fall of 1841.
- Heber C. Kimball, who taught some version of multiple mortal probations at various times, claimed that JS, in the Nauvoo period, had declared Kimball's multiple mortal probation doctrine as true: "I frequently talk about the clay in the hands of the potter. The Lord said to Jeremiah, "I will show you a thing that I cannot tell you. Go down to the potter's house, and I will be there, but you shall not see me; and I will make that potter mar a vessel." Jeremiah went down to the potter's house, and the Lord showed him the very thing he had promised; for the potter undertook to make a vessel, and the clay marred in his hands, and he cut it off the wheel and threw it into the mill; "and now," says he, "take it out again and shape it into a ball, and turn it into a vessel of honour." He did that very thing, though it is not written. The Scriptures say that out of the same lump he made a vessel first unto dishonour, and then unto honour. I USED TO PREACH UPON THAT IN NAUVOO, AND JOSEPH SAID IT WAS THE TRUE INTERPRETATION. Now, Jeremiah was a man like brother Brigham, brother Heber, Amasa, and thousands of the servants of God that were valiant. There are thousands here that have never seen a potter's house. But if I was in one, I could take a lump of clay and show you; and perhaps, being out of practice, it would mar in my hands: then I would throw it back into the mill and grind it, and afterwards I would take it up again and make a vessel unto honour. And thus the Lord said to Jeremiah, "As you see that clay mar in the hands of the potter, so shall it be with the house of Israel. They shall go and be in prison till I bring them out and make them vessels unto honour." That is to be done in the latter days, when the Lord is to say to the dry bones, "Come forth," and so on. Go and read the Bible, and you will learn about it. It will be just so with thousands and tens of thousands who will embrace "Mormonism:" they will go back into the mill again, through disobedience." (Heber C. Kimball, JOURNAL OF DISCOURSES, 5:271f)