The first known reference to Kolob is found in the Book of Abraham, published in the LDS volume of scripture entitled the Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Abraham was dictated by founder Joseph Smith, Jr. as he read from Egyptian scrolls that accompanied a traveling mummy exhibition. When this show passed through Smith's town of Kirtland, Ohio in 1835, Smith was approached about the scrolls based on his reputation for having published translations of ancient texts such as the golden plates. According to Smith, the scrolls described a vision of Abraham, in which Abraham:
In an explanation of an Egyptian hypocephalus that was part of the Book of Abraham scrolls, Joseph Smith interpreted one set of hieroglyphics as representing:
The Book of Abraham describes a hierarchy of heavenly bodies, including the earth, its moon, and the sun, each with different movements and measurements of time, where at the pinnacle, the slowest-revolving body is Kolob, where one Kolob-day corresponds to 1000 earth-years:
The Book of Abraham is unclear about whether Kolob was a star or a planet. One part of the Book of Abraham states that Abraham "saw the stars...and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God;...and the name of the great one is Kolob." (Book of Abraham 3:2-3.) Thus, Kolob is referred to as a star. In another part of Book of Abraham, however, might be interpreted as implying that Kolob was a planet (See Book of Abraham 3:4-9). LDS Church leaders rarely speak about the subject of Kolob; however, President David O. McKay referred to Kolob as a great star "somewhere out in the great expanse of space".
The word most likely derives from the common Semitic root QLB, which has the basic meaning of "heart, center, middle" (Arabic qalb "heart, center"; Hebrew qereb "middle, midst", qarab "to draw near"; Egyptian m-q3b "in the midst of"). In fact, qalb forms part of the Arabic names of several of the brightest stars in the sky, including Antares, Regulus, and Canopus.
Facsimile 2, the hypocephalus (meaning "under the head"), belongs to a class of Egyptian religious documents called hypocephali, which were amulets the Egyptians placed under the heads of their dead that were highly individualized for each of them (see Book of the Dead and Book of Abraham). Hypocephali first appeared during the Egyptian Saite Dynasty (664-525 B.C.), and it is in chapter 162 of the Saite version of the Book of the Dead that directions for the construction and use of hypocephali are given. The section to which this chapter belongs (chapters 162-165) contains many strange words and concepts, which some Egyptologists believe contain foreign influences, possibly Semitic or Nubian.
It may also be noted that the Egyptian and the Semitic language families are believed to derive from a common ancestor (Proto-Afro-Asiatic), thus both branches are included as members of the Afro-Asiatic super-group. Concerning their relationship, John A. Tvedtnes writes:
Egyptian hieroglyphs were used to transliterate Semitic words borrowed during the late period, as Albright's study of the "Egyptian Syllabic Orthography" shows. Moreover, it was Egyptian symbols that were used in the Proto-Sinaitic script that became the ancestor of the Hebrew and other alphabets.
Most Egyptian language scholars (who are neither critical of nor interested in Mormon theology) believe that while Kolob may be of Semitic origin, it was not translated (rendered) from the papyri Smith possessed, but merely transliterated from a word he may have heard M. H. Chandler, the previous owner, use; and this prior to Smith's translation of some of the papyri's characters. In this theory, the word is specifically claimed to be the Arabic "qalb" (plural "qulob"), meaning "heart" or "center." It is contended that M. Antonio Lebolo, the one who found the mummies with the papyri in Egypt, must have heard an Arabic speaker there use the word to describe the "center" figure (Kolob) of the hypocephalus. According to this theory, Lebolo later related the word to his nephew Chandler, and in turn Chandler related the word to Smith. Smith then transliterated the word as Kolob and managed to successfully present it as the actual translated name of the figure. This theory is weakened by the fact that Chandler had not spoken with Lebolo, his relative (a claimed uncle), upon obtaining the mummies, which were left to him upon Lebolo's death.
Arabic was the language most widely spoken in Egypt during the 19th century when the mummies were discovered there. Archaeology, and especially Egyptology, was not an established discipline at the time of Smith's procurement of the hypocephalus, and the ancient Egyptian language had not yet been translated into English when Smith produced the Book of Abraham. It was common for Arabic speakers to assist English and French treasure hunters, and also for ancient Egyptian artifacts to be sold to English and American collectors with embellished stories, or legends surrounding them. The hypocephalus was one such artifact, with almost one hundred known similar examples.
The hypocephalus was written with hieroglyphs and hieratic script. No instance of the Semitic root "qlb" is known to have been found on any other actual hypocephalus, and although no two such documents are the same, some share certain hieroglyphs and hieratic characters with the one Smith obtained. There is little evidence to support the position that the word was translated from any of the hieroglyphs themselves, although some have attempted to show correlation. Although many hypocephali do have additional languages written on them such as Greek, this particular hypocephalus does not exhibit a strong Semitic influence, nor is a possible root for Kolob found in any other Egyptian writings.
There is a second theory proposed attempting to account for Kolob. They allege Smith's own knowledge of Hebrew due to his experiences with Andrew Seixas reveal a habit of modifying Hebrew words, by either inserting or changing a letter in a particular word. For example, changing the Hebrew kokob for "stars" into Kolob for "the star nearest to the celestial."
Some critics supporting and discounting Smith are apt to find legitimate Semitic origins and relations to the hypocephalus in order to empathize a non-African presence in Egypt. This has caused widespread controversy.
Figure 1 in the Facsimile is referenced directly from the pictograph in the center, and has none of the hieroglyphs anywhere in the papyrus as a reference. However, Joseph Smith's notes, Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, contain exact replications of the hieroglyphs in the hypocephalus with corresponding English translations made by the prophet Joseph Smith. This 'key' to translating the facsimile is useless in any other Egyptian document or artifact.
Although Smith stated the translation he gave "was given" to him (thus not giving any insight into how the translation was accomplished), he indicates clearly that he was following an already established linguistic system, and not a uniquely given process. According to Joseph Smith, quoted from the Documented History of the Church 2:238:
The remainder of this month (July, 1835) I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.
Therefore according to Smith he was translating Kolob from the hieroglyphs, as the pictographs themselves, although interpretable, are by their nature beyond the realm of translation.
If You Could Hie to Kolob is a Latter Day Saint hymn that was written by William Wines Phelps, a prominent early Mormon. The music is taken from a well-known folk tune known as "Dives and Lazarus". It is hymn number 284 in the hymnal for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The hymn reflects doctrines unique to Mormonism, such as the eternal nature of spirit (including man's spirit) and matter. It also conveys doctrines elaborated by Joseph Smith, Jr., the first Latter-day Saint prophet, about the plurality of gods and eternal progression. The word hie means To go quickly; hasten.
The lyrics can be found on the Church's online hymnal.