“And There Are Many Kingdoms”: D&C 88 and the Hierarchy of Kingdoms

I recently had the opportunity to lead a discussion on the topic of Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 88 in which we delved into the subject of the multiple kingdoms of glory as they are described in that section. That discussion reminded me of some material I had posted on Heavenly Ascents a few years back.  I went back and reread that post and thought it would be nice to revisit it here.

D&C 88 discusses the idea that God has filled his Creation with various “kingdoms” that can be inhabited by his children. Verse 37 states:

37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

This declaration suggests that the cosmos is somehow divided up into various kingdoms and that within these kingdoms are subdivisions that constitute smaller kingdoms within the larger ones.  The revelation describes how these are categorized by their degree of glory — celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or no glory — and how God’s children become assigned to a specific type of kingdom based on their adherence to the laws designated for each type. In verse 47, the revelation states that all of these kingdoms, although they be inhabited by mankind, are subject to God.

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

Although God himself reigns over all of the kingdoms as King of kings and Lord of lords, He has prepared these kingdoms for his children to inherit. The revelation presents the example of the Earth and declares that it will be sanctified and “celestialized.” Inhabitants that live the law of celestial glory will, when they have been resurrected and obtained that glory, inherit the celestial Earth.

26 Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it.

27 For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

The ideas presented in D&C 88 reminded me of a concept found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and elsewhere) which concerns the idea that there are several levels of heaven and that each level has an appointed chief or guardian who rules over it.  This is actually a fairly common theme in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical literature (See, for example, the Jewish Hekhalot literature or the Jewish/Christian Ascension of Isaiah).  As one ascends to the throne of God in the highest heaven, one must pass first through the several (usually seven) firmaments or “sub-heavens” before reaching the highest, where God is present. Each level is generally inhabited by a different class of angels, and in many texts, there is a principal angel or guardian who guards the door to the next level and who sometimes is depicted as having his own throne.

Before I get into some more specific details regarding how this motif is represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I want to share another latter-day parallel to this ancient type of thinking.

This following “Diagram of the Kingdom of God” was done by early LDS apostle Orson Hyde for the church published Millenial Star in England (January 15th, 1847; 9:23-24).


The above diagram shows the order and unity of the kingdom of God. The eternal Father sits at the head, crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. Wherever the other lines meet, there sits a king and a priest unto God, bearing rule, authority, and dominion under the Father. He is one with the Father, because his kingdom is joined to his Father’s and becomes part of it.

The most eminent and distinguished prophets who have laid down their lives for their testimony (Jesus among the rest), will be crowned at the head of the largest kingdoms under the Father, and will be one with Christ as Christ is one with his Father; for their kingdoms are all joined together, and such as do the will of the Father, the same are his mothers, sisters, and brothers. He that has been faithful over a few things, will be made ruler over many things; he that has been faithful over ten talents, shall have dominion over ten cities, and he that has been faithful over five talents, shall have dominion over five cities, and to every man will be given a kingdom and a dominion, according to his merit, powers, and abilities to govern and control. It will be seen by the above diagram that there are kingdoms of all sizes, an infinite variety to suit all grades of merit and ability. The chosen vessels unto God are the kings and priests that are placed at the head of these kingdoms. These have received their washings and anointings in the temple of God on this earth; they have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests, to reign as such in the resurrection of the just. Such as have not received the fulness of the priesthood, (for the fulness of the priesthood includes the authority of both king and priest) and have not been anointed and ordained in the temple of the Most High, may obtain salvation in the celestial kingdom, but not a celestial crown. Many are called to enjoy a celestial glory, yet few are chosen to wear a celestial crown, or rather, to be rulers in the celestial kingdom.

While this portion of eternity that we now live in, called time, continues, and while the other portions of eternity that we may hereafter dwell in, continue, those lines in the foregoing diagram, representing kingdoms, will continue to extend and be lengthened out; and thus, the increase of our kingdoms will increase the kingdom of our God, even as Daniel hath said: “of the increase of his kingdom and government there shall be no end.” All these kingdoms are one kingdom, and there is a King over kings, and a Lord over lords. There are Lords many, and Gods many, for they are called Gods to whom the word of God comes, and the word of God comes to all these kings and priests. But to our branch of the kingdom there is but one God, to whom we all owe the most perfect submission and loyalty; yet our God is just as subject to still higher intelligences, as we should be to him.

…These kingdoms, which are one kingdom, are designed to extend till they not only embrace this world, but every other planet that rolls in the blue vault of heaven. Thus will all things be gathered in one during the dispensation of the fulness of times, and the Saints will not only possess the earth, but all things else, for, says Paul, “All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: all are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s”1

For Orson Hyde, whose speculations may have been based on D&C 88 and other similar teachings, our Heavenly Father’s kingdom is divided up into a hierarchy of sub-kingdoms, each having “a king and a priest” presiding over them, under the direction of the King of kings and God of gods.  The rulers over these lower divisions of heaven are called gods and reign over their own kingdoms. They are one with the Father because their kingdom is part of the Father’s.

Going back to the similar idea in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I want to consider primarily the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, a set of liturgical texts found in Cave 4 of Qumran and elsewhere. The Songs are portrayed as a description of the angelic worship that goes on in the heavenly temple.  It is set up as a sort of cultic drama that would lead the earthly participants through the various levels of heaven, moving inwards/upwards with each song until they reach the throne room of God in the highest heaven.  That is a very meager description of the rich detail presented in these songs, but that is the main idea.  Each song is to be presented on one of a series of thirteen sabbaths so that each sabbath the priestly participants move to a new stage of the ritual.

In his study on the liturgical works found at Qumran, James Davila attempts to reconstruct how those who performed these rituals would have seen the structure of the heavens:

A possible reconstruction is that seven firmaments are envisioned, each of which has its own sanctuary containing its own inner chamber (holy of holies) and administered by its own high-priestly chief prince. Multiple chariots and thrones are mentioned as well (e.g., XI 4Q405 20ii-21-22:2-5; XIII 11Q17 x:7), so perhaps each sanctuary has one of these, presumably ridden or occupied by its chief prince.

The final inner chamber, the central throne room [is] inhabited by God himself.  In this room we find the structure of the throne-chariot located above the firmament of the cherubim. It may be that the heavenly sacrificial cult is carried out in the tabernacle of the exalted chief (VII 4Q403 1ii:10), perhaps the angelic priest and warrior angel Melchizedek, who sits on a seat like the throne of God’s kingdom (XI 4Q405 20ii-21-22:2).2

If I understand Davila’s description correctly, the idea is that there are multiple levels of heaven under the highest heaven.  Each sub-heaven is modeled after the highest, each having its own god-like ruler who sits on his own chariot-throne in a holy of holies similar to the Most High God’s.

Interestingly, the Songs depict a secondary exalted/angelic figure who is in charge of the rituals/sacrifices that are being performed in the highest heaven.  Davila suggests that in the Songs this figure was likely seen as “the angelic priest and warrior angel Melchizedek.” This head of the heavenly cult is depicted elsewhere as Enoch/Metratron, Michael, and, in Christian literature, as Jesus Christ.

Later, he expands more on the idea of this latter idea, suggesting that there are ”secondary princes” that rule under each of the chiefs of the sub-heavens, as well.  After comparing the notion of the rulers of the lower heavens to similar themes in the Jewish Hekhalot literature (which depict chiefs of the gates of the lower heavenly palaces), he concludes:

Perhaps in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice the seven chief princes and seven secondary princes preside together over the seven priesthoods (VIII 4Q403 1ii:20, 22) in the seven sanctuaries (VII 4Q405 7:7), although the reconstructions in the last three references are not certain.3

So, in each lower “kingdom,” there is a god-like ruler and each of these has a secondary high priestly figure under him.  In other words, perhaps we could say that each level has a god and a christ.

All this talk of multiple gods and sub-gods may sound very uncharacteristic of the monotheistic Judaism that most people are familiar with.  That is the wonder of these discoveries of the Judaean desert!  There was much more to Judaism, or certain sects of Judaism, than is attested to in the later Rabbinic version of the religion.  In certain texts found at Qumran, the term elohim is used very broadly, both to refer to God and also very often to other divine beings, whom we would usually refer to as angels.

The Most High God (God the Father), while sometimes called Elohim, is more often referred to as El in the Qumran literature.  But frequently elohim is used as a plural, referring to angelic beings.  Many scholars recognize this distinction and have often translated the term into English as “divinities” or “gods” instead of angels.4

Besides being a common term for angels, many texts seem to suggest that the chiefest among the “gods” are actually exalted human beings.  The text termed the “Self-Glorification Hymn” appears to depict a human author who claims to have been exalted above the angels and allowed to sit on a throne in heaven in the council of the gods.

Furthermore, the “secondary prince” of the highest heaven, the chief of all angels, is often seen as an exalted human.  As mentioned before, some later texts see this figure as Enoch, who is exalted and transformed into the angel Metatron.  Enoch/Metatron is given his own throne in heaven and guards the entrance. The transformation/exaltation of Enoch, Levi, and others are noted in documents found at Qumran.  The figure of Melchizedek is mentioned as an exalted angelic figure, although it is difficult to know if this is the same Melchizedek as is mentioned in the book of Genesis (Davila seems to think it is).

The parallels between D&C 88 (also D&C 76, 132, and others) along with Orson Hyde’s conceptualization of the hierarchy of the heavens and the multi-tiered heavens of ancient Jewish and Christian literature are very interesting. Although Joseph Smith was dealing with a much larger conception of the extent of the cosmos than were the early Jewish and Christian thinkers, and there are many differences in the details, the similarities in the dynamics of how each of those heavens is governed and how each is a different degree of glory is pretty amazing.

Originally posted here.

  1. Orson Hyde, “A Diagram of the Kingdom of God,” Millennial Star 9 [15 January 1847]: 23-24. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, compiled and edited by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980], 297.  

  2. Davila, James R. Liturgical Works. Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 84 

  3. Davila, 121 

  4. Davila, p. 101 

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About David J. Larsen

David J. Larsen received his PhD from the University of St Andrews in Scotland with the dissertation, “The Royal Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” He also holds an MA degree in Biblical Theology from Marquette University and a BA in Near East Studies from Brigham Young University. His research interests include Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mysticism, pseudepigrapha and apocryphal literature, royal/messianic themes in the Bible and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and “ascent to heaven” traditions. He is the author of the blog heavenlyascents.com, where he explores topics in early Jewish and Christian mysticism, LDS theology, and other topics in religious studies. He currently lives in Springville, Utah with his wife, Marluce, and their five children.

14 thoughts on ““And There Are Many Kingdoms”: D&C 88 and the Hierarchy of Kingdoms

  1. I think concepts like this make a lot of sense and certainly add to the richness of the restored Gospel. It also makes me more excited for the future and gives me a greater desire to live so that I see that better future.

  2. Interesting article. As the Kingdom of God is a family kingdom, the sub-kingdoms diagramed by Orson Hyde are various and continuous branches of the Family of God. If my wife and I become worthy to attain our exaltation we expect to become king and queen over our own children and their posterity (including those who may be adopted in), and not over anyone else. Our sons and their wives will hopefully become kings and queens over their posterity, forming the next branches of the Kingdom, etc.

    When Orson Hyde wrote, “Such as have not received the fulness of the priesthood…and have not been anointed and ordained in the temple of the Most High, may obtain salvation in the celestial kingdom, but not a celestial crown,” I don’t think he is suggesting one could attain the Celestial Kingdom without receiving the ordinances of the temple? If so, that would be incorrect.

    • Great thoughts, here, Theodore. I’m sure you’re right — your quote from Orson Hyde seems to be speaking of persons who have received certain temple ordinances vs. those who have not received those certain ordinances. I don’t think he is referring to temple ordinances in general.

  3. There is one thing I don’t understand on this subject. How are Christ and Heavenly Father different in their eternal progression. It seems to me that their is a fundamental difference between being a “Heavenly Father” and being a “Christ”.

    Was our Heavenly Father a Christ once and if so how would that work? Is the calling of Christ a harder and more rewarding calling of that of a God? Are both the same?

    I have always understand that the faithful will themselves be Gods and have their Christ’s and such. However, I do wonder if there is a “royal” line of Christ’s that have all progressed from Son to Father and such.

    The main reason I ask is because a Christ seems such a massive and rewarding opportunity that I will never have because I have been born already and will be resurrected to never go through birth and death again. Christ is and will be rewarded immensely for his faithfulness and if I receive the same as him it seems like such a paltry thing I have to go through compared to his sacrifice. However, if I don’t receive the same thing then it seems I have been eternally damned simply because of my birth. Thus it seems there is a bit of a quandary.

    • Patrick,

      (John 5:19-21)
      “19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
      20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
      21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.”

      Joseph Smith expanded on this to explain what Jesus was saying, that Jesus had seen [in vision] his Father in the role of the Savior of a previous world.

      Those who are worthy of the Celestial Kingdom will dwell together on this celestialized earth, with Jesus Christ as our King and God. There we will raise spirit children.

      What I am going to say next is my own opinion (the Gospel according to Theodore). When our spirit children reach the stage of development that they need to go through the experience of mortality they will build a new world for themselves, under the direction of Jesus Christ, who is now the Father of our planet. Who do you expect will be the leader of those spirit children? The first born spirit son of Jesus Christ, who will also be the first born spirit child on our celestialized earth. As Jesus said, “what things soever [the Father] doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” That means that Jesus will have a firstborn spirit son, who in time, will also be Jesus’ only begotten son in the flesh. It will be this son’s right and responsibility to be the Savior for our spirit children. It is actually quite simple and logical. The idea that my wife and I will by ourselves populate an entire world has never been that appealing nor understandable. But together with all those who gain the celestial world makes more sense to me.

      • Thanks for your thoughts on this subject. I think there is a bit of a disconnect on this subject in Mormon doctrine. If Heavenly Father was indeed a Savior then how can we truly be like him if we are inherently denied a truly life changing event such as this? If we are not then we would have to be born multiple times.

        If there is one Christ for multiple groups of people as you described then Heavenly Father would not be our spiritual Father at all. The wording of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” simple states that “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents” thus by this that may be correct.

        Also, if there is a succession of Christ’s such as from Father to Son, as you describe, this almost seems like an exclusive club such as the first born sons of Levi. Am I excluded forever because of my birth? What happens if a first born such as our Christ doesn’t want to or simply completely fails which is possible. Christ could have succumbed to the temptations or pressures of life.

        • Indeed, these and related doctrines have not as yet been laid out sufficiently clear–not to mention officially.

          John 5:19-20 and Joseph’s expounding are an instructive foundation, but Brigham throws additional light. As you are surely aware, Brigham taught certain doctrines he received from Joseph. Although Brigham also on occasion said “I reckon it” in reference to these and related doctrines he had learned or reconfirmed by revelation, perhaps it was rhetorical, perhaps he was connecting the doctrinal dots he knew.

          Regardless, my testimony of Brigham is this: Brigham taught true doctrine. That much I know. What I don’t know are all the specifics. But I think the context of callings is helpful. Also, we may have to revise some of our present notions. As Joseph lamented, surely you know the quote, some “will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all.”

          Might some of our traditional understandings and interpretations be incorrect or at least over simplified (the “Primary” version, if you will)? For instance, what might it mean that “all things are theirs, whether life or death” (D&C 76:59)? “Life and death” being “theirs,” might gods “own” life and death relative to their own bodies, to lay them down and take them up again (John 10:18)? Might Brigham have used this line of reasoning?

          With that, my current understanding is as follows: Those who have received the fullness of the priesthood, the higher ordinances, including those “certain temple ordinances” David referred to above, can progress to become gods, an exalted husband and wife. As gods, they bring forth spirit children, and they create an earth whereon these may dwell. They come to that earth as an Adam and an Eve, exalted. They partake of the forbidden fruit, becoming mortal (again), their glory shed (temporarily). They are cast out of the Garden and begin creating tabernacles for their spirit children. Completing their mortal probation, they are “twinkled,” returning to their former glory. This should suffice at present.

          If there is a “royal” line of Christs, this shouldn’t affect the rest of us because each progresses to a different degree of intelligence in pre-mortality, receives different fore-ordinations, and receives different callings on earth. Are any of us worth any less than another because we do not receive exactly the same callings? Does not everyone have the same potential based their faithfulness? Must we experience every single thing the Father experienced during his mortal sojourn in order to become like Him?

          • Very interesting things to think and consider. I am sure we will all be totally astounded when we understand the complete system we are a part of and what the Plan of Salvation really means.

          • Particle Man wrote:

            “They come to that earth as an Adam and an Eve, exalted. They partake of the forbidden fruit, becoming mortal (again),”

            There appears to be some confusion here. “After resurrection, the spirit and body will never again be separated” (Guide to the Scriptures: Resurrection; see also Alma 11:45; D&C 63:49, D&C 88:16). When our Adam was formed from the dust of this earth, God then placed into this new terrestrial body the spirit of Michael. If Michael had previously had a celestial body from a previous celestial world, his spirit would have to leave one body and go into another; and later when that body dies Michaels spirit would leave it, having to be resurrected again. As death is defined as the spirit leaving the body this sounds rather inconsistent?

        • Patrick, you pose interesting questions.

          I don’t think that to become like Him means to be identical to Him. After 54 years of marriage my wife and I have become one with each other, but we are certainly not identical. We are all different and all have different experiences and different callings and responsibilities. At a regional conference I once attended in Edmonton where President Hinckley was presiding, he said that he was wondering what would happen if he just decided at the last minute not to come to the conference that morning? The thought was quite shocking. Then he added that it is just as important for each of us to carry out our callings as it was for him. Jesus has his calling and we all have ours. When everything is known by everyone we will all be able to draw and learn from everyone’s experience. We do that to a limited degree now as we read and talk about others’ experiences, but then we will know them. When we are promised that all that the Father has shall be given to us (D&C 84:38) that means that we will share equally with Jesus Christ all the blessings of Eternity; we will be joint heirs with Him. This is what the Law of Consecration, which is the law of the Celestial Kingdom, is all about. No matter what your calling, whether you are the stake president or the nursery leader, whether you manage the largest factory or sweep the factory floor, all will share equally in the blessings. We are all to be saviors, or doing the work of the Savior wherever we labor and in whatever way we can. And if we do, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him;” (1 John 3:2). “We shall be like Him.”

          You wrote: “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents” thus by this that may be correct.

          The Lord said there would be, “A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest” (D&C 121:28). The fact that He poses the question presupposes the answer. It is no accident that some people are born in one part of the world to a certain people and some to another. It is not random. It is a continuation of the family lines in our pre-mortal life. Jesus said, “I came unto mine own.” This implies that the Jews were His personal family before He came to them. Paul said, “(as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). Can you imagine how misconstrued it would be if the scriptures taught exactly how things were organized in the pre-mortal life? Maybe that is why ancient apostate cultures taught there were so many different kinds of gods.

          You wrote: “Also, if there is a succession of Christ’s such as from Father to Son, as you describe, this almost seems like an exclusive club such as the first born sons of Levi. Am I excluded forever because of my birth?”

          I have never been called as stake president nor a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, and never will be, and that is OK. Lucifer was upset when he wasn’t called as the savior of the world, but there can only be one per world. As explained above, we don’t all need to be called to these things to gain the blessings from them.

          You wrote: “What happens if a first born such as our Christ doesn’t want to or simply completely fails which is possible.”

          If the Firstborn fails there is a backup, the firstborn of the second wife, just like Joseph took over Reuben.

          P.S. My wife says that the thoughts of having ten or twenty billion spirit children is absolutely appalling. If that is the way it is to be she wants to be a ministering angel.

          • There does seem to be some confusion. As I have understood it, JD 3:319 has President Young saying, “He (Adam) was made as you and I were made and no person was ever made on any other principle.”

            He also said in JD 1:50, “Our Father in Heaven begat all the spirits that ever were, or ever will be, upon this earth; any they were born spirits in the eternal world.”

            It seems Adam and us all are direct spiritual offspring of Heavenly Father however the title Heavenly Father could be an overloaded term.

          • Theodore,

            The early brethren taught more than that which has become official doctrine, and it is to some of these that I refer and contemplate.

            While we understand the earth before the Fall was terrestrial, Brigham didn’t teach, or teach that Joseph taught him, that Michael/Adam had a terrestrial body. And we understand that gods, who are celestial beings, have spirit children, not children in a lower glory as themselves, not mortal children. As such, how and when did Adam receive a body? Was it on this earth or a former earth? Brigham answers this question.

            As we know the Creation concerns literal events but is presented symbolically, how is the creation of Adam and Eve symbolic? Brigham also explained the meaning of the rib.

            Surely there are doctrines that when revealed to us will seem inconsistent to our present notions. If some such doctrines can be found today, it’s up to each of us to search out their veracity, if we so choose, as such is not essential to our salvation. But I enjoy the search.

            P.S. I can identify with your wife! Mortal limitations make many things sound daunting to me, too. I am grateful for how the things I have experienced so far have been sufficient for me to learn and grow from, and I think it will be no different in our third estate. Eternity cannot be comprehended while in mortality. We all have a long way to grow and there is no hurry.

  4. I have long read these passages from both a theological point of view as well as that of a scientist. Most importantly, there are kingdoms of glory being discussed, i.e. celestial, terrestrial, telestial, and others of which we are as yet unaware. Yet, could Section 88 also be alluding to other systems, or kingdoms as here worded in the vernacular of Brother Joseph, created by Father in Heaven which are a vital part of our anthropic universe? I am thinking of systems of atomic & subatomic particles, geological and astronomical systems, biologic systems, etc., etc., all of which are part of God’s universe that makes His work and glory possible and lovely.

    For me, Section 88 makes moot the question: “Is God the creator or the laws of existence, or working with preexisting laws?” The answer seems to be that He IS the creator of all organized things (including that which we perceive as well as the much greater portion of which we are as yet still unaware) and as well as the creator and upholder of all laws, etc. by which His creations are governed. It would seem that whatever is ONE with Him,
    (if perhaps they came before), or after (such as Jehovah and much later, perhaps some of us) is also part of the creation of matter, energy, and laws of which the whole and its parts, or kingdoms, etc., are governed. Perhaps our fiddling with the “chicken or the egg first” arguments are just the product of finite minds yet to be expanded by God’s enlargement.

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