Fascinating source of Smith's "Celestial Kingdom" afterlife teachings
In D. Michael Quinn's excellent book "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View," he gives a very fascinating source of Smith's "revelations." Quinn offers an exhaustive examination of the sources for the 1832 D&C Section 76 "Vision" of the "three degrees of glory."
In fact, Smith's description of the "Celestial Kingdom" was not only a copy from earlier written works, but also VERY controversial to the Latter-Day Saints.
The diaries of Orson Pratt and John Murdock from the 1830's record their efforts to reassure members who questioned the 1832 vision of heaven. The two men described countless excommunications of Mormons, including branch presidents, who denounced "the degrees of glory" as a "satanic revelation." Even Brigham Young had a hard time with it at first and described it as "a trial to many."
Why were Mormons choking on this idea of three heavens? Quinn explains that it's because members correctly recognized it as coming from the occult. The only other sources of separate degrees in heaven came from occult writers of Smith's time.
For example, in 1784 a man by the name of Emanuel Swedenborg wrote a book about his visions of the afterlife. Swedenborg insisted: "There are three heavens," described as "entirely distinct from each other." He called the highest heaven "the Celestial Kingdom," and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the "sun, moon and stars."
By Joseph Smith's own statements, he was familiar with Swedenborg's writings. Smith told a convert by the name of Edward Hunter that "Emanuel Swedenborg had a view of the world to come, but for daily food he perished."
I was so fascinated by the connection that Quinn documented, that I bought a copy of Swedenborg's book myself from Amazon.com. It's called "Heaven and Hell and Its Wonders and was written way before Joseph Smith. Yet it describes the three Mormon degrees of glory to the tee.
Not only does Quinn make a strong case that Smith knew all about Swedenborg's ideas, but he also shows that his book "Heaven and Hell and Its Wonders" was a book in Smith's hometown library since 1817. Quinn also writes that "Nine miles from Smith's farm, in 1826 the Canandaigua newspaper also advertised Swedenborg's book for sale. The bookstore offered Swedenborg's publications for as little as 37 cents."
If you ever want to know details about the Mormon afterlife, read Swedenborg's book. Smith liberally plagarized from it to come up with his D&C "visions" of the celestial, telestial and terrestrial kingdoms. But Swedenborg's works are definitely the originals.