The 12 Patriarchs and 3 Degrees of Glory
Something else that I found interesting in reading the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is a description of three separate heavens found in the The Testament of Levi. The lowest heaven is reserved for the wicked and is the darkest. Each heaven increases in it's level of brightness. The highest heaven is reserved for God.
8. Then there fell upon me a sleep, and I beheld a high mountain, and I was upon it.Compare this to the apostle Paul’s description of the resurrection in 1st Corinthians 15:40-42, and Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76. Regardless of whether or not this was written in the 2nd century B.C. or redacted in the 2nd century A.D., it is apparent that the early Christians had a very different view of heaven than the "Orthodox" or Protestant churches have nowadays.
9. And behold the heavens were opened and an angel of God said to me, Levi enter.
10. And I entered from the first heaven, and I saw there a great sea hanging.
11. And further I saw a second heaven far brighter and more brilliant, for there was a boundless light also therein.
12. And I said to the angel, Why Is this so? And the angel said to me, Marvel not at this, for thou shalt see another heaven more brilliant and incomparable.
13. And when thou hast ascended thither, Thou shalt stand near the Lord, And shalt be His minister, And shalt declare His mysteries to men, And shall proclaim concerning Him that shall redeem Israel.
14. And by thee and Judah shall the Lord appear among men saving every race of men.
15. And from the Lord's portion shall be thy life, And He shall be thy field and vineyard, And fruits, gold, and silver.
16. Hear, therefore, regarding the heavens which have been shown to thee.
17. The lowest is for this cause gloomy unto thee, in that it beholds all the unrighteous deeds of men.
18. And it has fire, snow, and ice made ready for the day of judgement, in the righteous judgement of God; for in it are all the spirits of the retributions for vengeance on men.
19. And in the second are the hosts of the armies which are ordained for the day of judgement, to work vengeance on the spirits of deceit and of Beliar.
20. And above them are the holy ones.
21. And in the highest of all dwelleth the Great Glory, far above all holiness.
22. In [the heaven next to] it are the archangels, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the righteous;
23. Offering to the Lord a sweet- smelling savour, a reasonable and a bloodless offering.
24. And [in the heaven below this] are the angels who bear answers to the angels of the presence of the Lord.
25. And in the heaven next to this are thrones and dominions, in which always they offer praise to God.(1)
I also noticed that Levi starts out by saying that "I beheld a high mountain, and I was upon it." The very first thing I thought of was the vision of Nephi. Nephi writes:
"… I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceeding high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot."Is this similarity in writing style a coincidence? Did Joseph Smith copy all this? Did he even know the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs even existed?
1. Levi 1:20-25, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Forgotten Books of Eden (Alpha House, Inc.: Newfoundland, 1927), p. 227.
2. 1 Nephi 11:1, The Book of Mormon (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Salt Lake City, Utah, 1979), p.17.