THE ALLEGORY OF THE OLIVE TREE
Looking back at Chapter 4 of Jacob, we see Jacob addressing his “children” and “beloved brethren.” His children are probably his descendants. Who are his “beloved brethren?” Are they the descendants of Laman and Lemuel? Are they the future readers? Are they both?
This part of the Book of Mormon is very dry, long, and tedious for some. I decided to break up the chapters as Grant Hardy has done in his Reader’s Edition of The Book of Mormon. I found it helpful to keep track of what was who and what the heck was going on. I will not offer any scriptural exegesis as that can be found in the church manuals; the exception is Jacob 7.
Jacob 5:1-6 First Decay and Remedy (pruning, digging, and nourishing)
Jacob 5:7-14 Second Remedy (wild branches grafted in; withered branches burned; young branches transplanted elsewhere)
Jacob 5:15-28 General Success; Additional Help for Transplant #3 (more pruning, digging, and nourishing)
end of vs. 16-18 The Main Tree
vs 19-22 First Transplant
vs. 23 Second Transplant
vs 24-28 Third Transplant
Jacob 5:29-46 Second Decay
vs. 30-37 Main Tree – good roots, but wild branches produce evil
vs. 38-46 Transplants – all produce evil fruit
Jacob 5: 47-48 An Explanation (roots versus branches)
Jacob 5:49-59 Third Remedy (cross-grafting between the main tree and the transplants; the worst branches are burned)
Jacob 5:60-69 One Last Effort (servants are called for additional grafting, pruning, digging and nourishing; the bad branches are gradually removed)
Jacob 5:70-74 Success Again
Jacob 5:75-77 Prophecy of a Third Decay and the End of the Vineyard
Jacob 6:1-4 A Meditation on Zenos’ Allegory
Jacob 6:5-13 An Exhortation on Zenos’ Allegory
This ends Jacob’s address to what I view as being Modern Readers (Jacob 4-6)
Jacob 7 Sherem the Anti-Christ
vs. 1 “..there came a man among the people of Nephi…”
vs. 4 “And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people…..”
These are odd phrases given that the Lehi colony had only been in the New World for about a generation and a half. Of course Sherem would have a perfect knowledge of the language. That is unless, Sherem was not part of the Lehi colony, but was part of a civilization that existed in the Americas prior to the arrival of Lehi. That would make perfect sense given what we know about Mesoamerica. The phrase sighted in verse 1 also seems to substantiate that claim. Why else would Jacob have said that Sherem, “came among the people..,” unless he was not originally part of the people of Nephi?
Using scriptural hermeneutics and exegesis (translate that!), we find textual evidence within the Book of Mormon that there was civilization pre-existent to the Lehites. Here we find that Mesoamerican archeology helps inform what we find in The Book of Mormon.
My entire life I’ve read and been told that the Book of Mormon is a history of the American Indians (Lehites, exclusively); yet when this claim begins to appear less and less credible, “new textual evidence”–once obscure and somehow unrecognized until as of late– creeps out from a passage and seems to intimate that well, no, church leaders somehow missed the fact that the Lehites were not the sole progenitors of the Native Americans, contrary, as I said, to what has always been claimed by the church, especially by its early leaders. Is proposing this recently discovered textual evidence i.e. that the Lehites may not have been the only inhabitants of the Americas, an attempt to deal with a seemingly indefensible claim by the church concerning the origin of the American Indians?
It’s a problem. I agree with you 100%.
I remember as kids, before my dad re-married, he would take Paul and I to Mexico a lot. One year when he was teaching seminary, he gave a final exam and told the students if anyone got a 100% on the exam, he would pay that’s students way to go to Mexico with us. One student got a 100%. He, along with another student who paid for her own way, came with us to Mexico for about 2-3 weeks. I remember distinctly the Toltec, and Mayan pyramids and their distinct architectural styles. My dad was always under the impression that the Book of Mormon took place somewhere in Mexico or Guatemala. He even called Paul and I his “little Lamanites”, as our biological mother is from Guatemala. We never took offense to it, but wore it as a unique badge of honor.
I also remember being taught or under the impression that the Lamanites were any of the Native Americans from the Yukon to the Patagonia. I don’t know who taught me this or why I thought that to be true. I can remember in elementary school learning about the Bering Strait and thinking that theory [the Bering Strait] was wrong because I knew how the natives “really got here.”
It wasn’t until later, that I saw some of my pre-concieved ideas as being problematic and it wasn’t do to archeology. The Lehites were in the Yucatan, Guatemala, and upstate New York? Say what? It just seemed not to be right.
I believe strongly that the majority of members of the church that sit in the pews hold to a hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon. I am not sure how many of our General Church Leaders do. I have asked at random what people think regarding the Book of Mormon and claims to Native American origins, and either because they have not given it any thought, or they are trying do hide what they really think (perhaps because they are getting a sense of how ridiculous it might be), most will say, “I don’t know.” You can only get a feeling of what is really thought when people make comments in Sunday School.
Compound this with leaders, such as President Kimball, calling Natives from all over the western hemisphere (including Polynesians) as descendants of the Book of Mormon. It puts us in a real pickle.
We know, based on archeological, and now DNA evidence that the Lehites/Jaredites were not the sole progenitors of the Native Americans. I have to go where the evidence leads me. So what do I do?
I reject anything that is not true. I don’t care who said it. I am not anti-science. When an apostle mocks in General Conference,”the so called big-bang theory,” which throws Mormonism back 60 years, I reject it; that apostle is wrong. I groaned when that comment was made and then the congregational laughter came afterwards.
When an apostle or prophet of the church claims the Native Americans of North America as being the descendants of Lehi, I reject it. Though I hold open the idea that I might be wrong; there are some fancy ways to get around that problem.
I hold to a limited geography model of the Book of Mormon. I know the Americas were inhabited for thousands of years by people who crossed the Bering Strait, prior to Lehi’s arrival. I look at Mesoamerican archeology to inform me about the Book of Mormon; not the other way around. By doing so, I find textual evidence within the Book of Mormon that supports archeology; not the other way around. It is my own reading that informs me – not official church publications.
There is a comparison here with early Christians and the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. I don’t want to go too far into it because I deal with these prophecies in more detail in one of the upcoming resurrection posts. There was no belief in antecedent Judaism of a “suffering Messiah” as we find in Isaiah. It was only after Jesus’ death and resurrection that the first Christians found textual evidence of such a Messiah.
What is the church institution doing with regards to all of this? Mostly nothing. I bought the Double day Version of the Book of Mormon two years ago. It’s introduction is interesting. Compare it with what is in your version of the Book of Mormon. The end of the second paragraph reads, “…except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” Hmmmmm.
Now, there have been times throughout our church history when different leaders held to different views on the whole problem. In 1842, Joseph Smith reviewed John Lloyd Stephens’ book, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. Because of that book, we see Joseph adjusting his view of where the Book of Mormon took place. Despite publishing his views in Times and Seasons in September of 1842, the church and its leaders, seemed to hold to the older view after Joseph’s death. This has put us in a bind.
So what to do? Teach truth. Reject what is false. Be wiling to readjust your prior conceptions. Period.
Fascinating insight and discussion, but I believe there is little church guidance on the matter because of its irrelevance to salvation. When a church ecclesiastical leader speaks about trivial matters, his opinion isn’t offered by the spirit, but rather by his own study which is subject to the interpretation of just a man/woman, and could be wrong.
I agree with you. The difficulty however lies in what is considered “trivial” and “irrelevant to salvation”. Some might argue that the historicity of the Book of Mormon is relevant. Some would argue to the contrary and thus take the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction. Furthermore, when opinion is spoken from the pulpit at General Conference, things can get real confusing.
Elder Christopherson’s talk at G.C. approached the subject, but then kind of missed the difficulty and possible slippery slope of members deciding what is and isn’t inspired, and what is and isn’t relevant for salvation.
I grew up believing that ALL people from South America were descendents of Lehi. I have to credit this ignorance to my own laziness. I took virtually no interest in any school subject and my study of the Book of Mormon, I’m sorry to say, was even worse. Jacob 7:4 provides additional support that the Nephites had combined with other groups. Sherem sought much opportunity to speak with Jacob. How difficult would it be to seek out Jacob if the group only consisted of less than half the direct descendents of Lehi.
I agree with the comment above about the Church not needing to take a stance on issues that don’t impact our eternal salvation. I’m sure there have been plenty of righteous saints who have died with an incorrect knowledge of South American Ancestry, and have gained that knowledge in the afterlife.
I believe that not every person needs to come to the same level of understanding on every subject to have a solid testimony of Jesus Christ. Some will only scratch the surface on Joseph Smith, others will only know a small piece about the non-canonical books of the bible, and some won’t care to take the time to consider if Nephi joined up with other groups after arriving in America. On the flip side, some will know everything piece of history about Joseph Smith and never have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, some will know every missing book of the Bible and never accept Jesus Christ, and some will understand that ancestry of the America’s and never understand the peace of living the gospel.
I don’t think we sould shy away from scholarly learning, but I have come to accept that others will not be interested in knowing the same level of details and history that I want to learn; and those people are still fully capable of having a testimony stronger than mine. And conversely, I understand others will want to fully investigate some topics where I choose to stop, yet, I believe my testimony will not suffer from that choice.
Very well stated. I agree completely. There is a reason why Jesus in his earthly teachings focused primarily on the basics of faith, repentance, charity, etc. It’s because it will be the basics that will help us to obtain salvation. Having said that, I do enjoy digging deeper and analyzing some of these things. A friend of mine said that discovering these details of Book of Mormon history and authenticity are neat and exciting, but they aren’t going to change anything. Those that believe will still believe and those that don’t won’t be convinced.
I agree that those that are on the way out of the church or have no interest in its truth claims, won’t find any amount of argument convincing. However, not providing a plausible or rational argument for one’s beliefs can destroy faith.
“Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” (Austin Farrer, “Grete Clerk,” in Light on C. S. Lewis, comp. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965), 26.)
I think your first point is a good one. That is, there is a lot of diversity of opinion in regards to Book of Mormon geography. So when people begin having issues with the whole BoM geography, who’s fault is it really?
I would have to go back and look to see which editions had it, but there was at least one that had a map in it of BoM lands; now that is problematic.
Now is BoM geography trivial? Probably. I think it is only important if you are trying to defend its historicity in regards to DNA and if you are looking for Mesoamerica archeology (assuming as I do that is where things took place) to inform your study of the BoM. This can, just as likely, also lead to some really bad apologetics.
If you know anything about B.H. Roberts you know he was a stalwart defender of Mormonism and especially the Book of Mormon. While he was a general authority he was assigned and willingly accepted this responsibility. Additionally, He wrote the six volume” Comprehensive History of the Church”, ” New Witnesses For God”, “Mormon Doctrine of Deity”, “The Gospel and Man’s Relationship to Deity” and other works. Yet, in his later life, and prompted by then existing questions about the Book of Mormon’s authenticity, he engaged in further study of the book and discovered several additional issues (difficulties) that he associated with the book’s historic, geographic, and logistics claims and even the origin of the book itself. In an effort to reconcile these alleged problems he presented them to other general authorities (in the early 1920s if my memory has it correct) including the first presidency. He provided extensive detailed reports hoping to receive satisfactory ANSWERS and explanations, but in his own words, failed to receive either.
Some have suggested that Roberts lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon, and even went so far as to label the golden plates non-objective, in other words a figment of Joseph Smith’s imagination. We have to direct proof of any of this, and Roberts remained silent about the matter. Again, he did state on several occasions that he was merely trying to get ANSWERS to questions he had, questions he was sure others would also have if they read the book with an open and inquiring mind.
His papers on this matter were published in 1984 under the title “Studies of the Book of Mormon.” His questions and inquiries are penetrating and thought provoking– even 80 plus years after he asked them. I would suggest the book to everyone.
I haven’t read that book yet but it is on my “to read list”. I first became aware of the BH Roberts/BoM issue when I read Teryl Givens’ book, “By the Hand of Mormon.” Great insight you provided. Thanks
I think you’ll be surprised at the number of ambiguities in the Book of Mormon as well as its numerous internal links (too many to be coincidences) to an already published book: “View of the Hebrews”, a book that was widely available in New England and the mid Atlantic region five to eight years prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. Roberts definitely had questions, and he had the courage to ask them.
Sorry to keep linking stuff to FAIR, but I do it to provide some possible explanations to the questions posed by BH Roberts.
Much like the Solomon Spaulding theory, I think it is very telling that the modern publisher of the “View of the Hebrews” was actually the LDS church (well BYU in this instance). If it were so incriminating of a text, there is no way the church or BYU would voluntarily publish the manuscripts. They did so to quiet the criticisms and allow the rare manuscripts to be more accessible to all.
Brent’s mention of BH Roberts made me think of this link that contains some wonderful scholarly questions about the book of Mormon with some of them answered. Not all of the questions can be adequately answered at this time, but I have no doubt that we will continue to check off more and more anachronisms as archaeological science advances and we discover more and more.
Oh, and while I’m at it, seeing as how the bulk of this SS lesson focused on Zenos’s allegory, I thought I would throw out there the fact that in Joseph Smith’s time there was no olive culture in New England. So for him to be able to present a manuscript that so accurately describes cultivating and grafting of olive trees is extremely impressive.
There are only two possible explanations as to how he included this allegory that is so accurate: One is the claim which we as a church adhere to, that through the power of God Joseph Smith translated an ancient text that included passages from ancient prophets recorded on plates of brass that came from the Old World where olives and olive culture were very common place.
The other explanation is that the young, unlearned Joseph Smith somehow came across some instructional manuscript on olive cultivation in the frontier of America where libraries of scholarly work were not to be found. He then not only understood what he read but he also took that rare information and integrated it into an allegory that beautifully and perfectly describes the Saviors efforts to preserve and gather a chosen people that included both Jew and Gentile.
This is a fine example of Ockham’s razor, saying that sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one. The explanation that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon is so implausible that the simpler explanation of translation is the more likely answer.
That is one of the interesting things about the BoM. There is so much there that I cannot explain – that goes beyond coincidence. There is also so much there that is problematic such as the anachronisms, etc.
People that leave the church often will speak of the cognitive dissonance they had as they had to deal with things that just didn’t add up. I would argue that the cognitive dissonance doesn’t leave with the severing of ties with the church. The reason being that you still have to deal with the evidences for the Book of Mormon. For me it throws the whole thing back into the realm of faith
I agree with what you say. I personally believe that the Lord left just enough ambiguity to require us to rely on faith. He gives us enough “proofs” to allow our faith to grow, but doesn’t make anything fully compatible with the scientific method. There are things that the critics have absolutely no answer for, just as the apologist have no answer to some of the criticisms. The way I look at it, if I were to put on a scale all the positives in favor on one side and all the negatives against on the other, the scales will definitely tip to the side in favor of the Book of Mormon being from God. While I’m not afraid of the questions and critiques, I don’t feel like I need to have absolute clarity with regards to all the questions that surround the book. It’s just like BH Roberts said at the end of his life, “For many years, after a rather rigid analysis, as I think, of the evidence bearing upon the truth of the Book of Mormon, I have reached, through some stress and struggle, too, an absolute conviction of its truth.” Despite rumors that he lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon, he believed fully in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. All of his questioning and research didn’t shake his testimony.
Some of the chief things B.H. Roberts pointed out in his study:
* The priority of publication by several years of Ethan Smith’s” View of the Hebrews” is established.
* The likelihood of Joseph Smith and his family’s contact with Ethan Smith’s book and other books dealing with American antiquities has been insisted upon.
* The material in Ethan Smith’s book is of a character and quantity to make a ground plan for the Book of Mormon: It supplies a large amount of material respecting American antiquities–leading to the belief that civilized or semi-civilized nations in ancient times occupied the American continents,
* It not only suggests, but pleads on every page for Israelitish origin of the American Indians.
* It deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of Israel, as does the book of Mormon does
* It emphasizes and uses much of the material from the prophecies of Isiah, including whole chapters, as the Book of Mormon does.
* It deals with the future gathering of Israel, and the restoration of the Ten Tribes, as the Book of Mormon does.
* It makes a special appeal to the gentiles of the United States–to become the nursing fathers and mothers unto Israel in the New World–even as the Book of Mormon does, holding out great promise to the great Gentile nation that shall occupy America, it it acquiesces in the divine program.
* It holds that the peopling of the New World was by migration from the Old, the same as does the Book of Mormon. It takes it’s migrating people into a country where “never man Dwelt,” just as the Book of Mormon takes its Jeredite colony into “that quarter where there never has man been.” In both cases the journey was to the northward; in both cases the colony entered into the valley of a great river; they both encountered seas of “many waters” in the course of their journey; in both cases the journey was a long one. The motive in both cases was the same–a religious one.
* Ethan smith’s book (View of th Hebrews) supposes that his lost tribes divide into two classes, the one fostering the arts that make for civilization, the other followed the wild hunting and indolent life that ultimately led to barbarism, which is just what happens to the Book of Mormon peoples.
* Long and dismal wars b
This is a great discussion that we wouldn’t get in Sunday School. I love it. I personally cannot comment on the specific problems that View of the Hebrews gives the Book of Mormon. It is one of those things that I have yet to read myself. I have heard apologists comment on it, but I am always leery of apologetic explanations until I have read the source material myself; unless it is in Greek or something like that of course.
What is interesting is the the Spaulding-Rigdon theory is making a come back. This is despite even Fawn Brodie shooting that theory out of the water over 60 years ago.
What always bothered me about BH Roberts’ concerns was that the the brethren didn’t deal with them when he brought them up. Teryl Givens’ book that I noted earlier has a copy of the letter he sent to the Quorum of the 12. I wanted to quote it here, but just realized I have leant the book out to a non-member friend.
We are going to be at Paul’s at the end of July. It would be cool if we all got together and discussed this kind of stuff. It would be fun. I think the main difference between me and the people with whom I share the pews is that I am willing to ask questions for which I often don’t have the answers. I am OK with that for right now.
For the life of me I don’t understand how the Spalding manuscript criticism has gained any traction. I read it and feel that it is about as similar to the Book of Mormon as Last of the Mohicans is. It is such a stretch to claim that Joseph Smith plagiarized it. Now, “View of the Hebrews” is much more worthy of the criticism, but I still see enough differences from the Book of Mormon to not disturb me. And, on top of that, the possibility of the uneducated farm boy to be able to compile a manuscript that is as complex and accurate as the Book of Mormon just seems too improbable to me. The fact that there were approximately 60 anachronisms when the Book of Mormon was published fed fuel to the critics fire. Within 12 years, 8 of those had been confirmed. As of 2005, 35 of those have been confirmed. There is no explanation for a farm boy being able to guess that many correctly.
Oh, and a get together a Paul’s could be fun.
break out between Ethan Smith’s civilized division and his barbarous division. The same occurs between Nephite and Lamanite, divisions drawn on the same lines of civilized and barbarous in the Book of Mormon.
* The savage division utterly exterminates the civilized in Ethan Smith’s book; the Lamanites, the barbarous division of the Book of Mormon, utterly destroy the civilized division–the Nephites.
* Ethan Smith’s book assumes for the ancient civilized people a culture of mechanic arts; of written language; of knowledge and use of iron and other metals; and of navigation. The B of M does the same for its civilized peoples.
* Ethan Smith’s book assumes a unity of race for the inhabitants of America–the Hebrew race, and no other. The B of M does the same.
* E Smith’s book assumes that this race (save perhaps, the Eskimo of the extreme north) occupied the whole extent of the American continents. The B of M does the same for its peoples.
* It assumes the Indian tongue to have had one source–the Hebrew; the B of M makes the same assumption for the language of its peoples.
* E Smith’s book describes an instrument among the mound finds comprising breast plate with two white buckhorn buttons attached, “in imitation of the precious stones of the Urim,” says Ethan Smith. J Smith used some such instrument in translating the B of B called Urim and Thummin.
* E Smith’s book admits to the existence of idolatry and human scrifice; the B of M does the same.
* E Smith’s book extols generosity to the poor and denounces pride, as traits of the American Indian; the B of M does the same for its peoples.
* E Smith’s book denounces polygamy, the B of M under certain conditions does the same as to David and Solomon’s practices.
* E Smith’s book quotes Indian traditions of a “Lost Book of God” and the promise of its restoration to the Indians, with a return of their lost favor with the Great Spirit. This is in keeping with the lost sacred records to the savage Lamanites of the B of M.
* E Smith’s sacred book was buried with some “high priest,” keeper of the sacred tradition.”; the B of M sacred records were hidden or buried by Moroni, a character that corresponds to this tradition in the Hill Cumorah.
* E Smith’s book describes extensive military fortifications linking cities together over wide areas of Ohio and Mississippi valleys, with military observatory or “watch towers” overlooking them; the B of M describes extensive fortifications erected throughout large areas with military “watch towers” here and there overlooking them.
There is more, but I’m tired of typing. Read Robert’s book and draw your own conclusions.
Crap. That was a fast response and some fast typing. Robert’s book, like I said, is on my “to read list”. I guess I have now added View of the Hebrews to that list now too.
Although Roberts is referring to a particular difficulty or case in his book, I think the following applies to all of the difficulties he addresses therein: “What shall our answer be then? Shall we boldly acknowledge the difficulties in the case, confess that the evidences and conclusions of the authorities are against us, but notwithstanding all that, we take our position on the book of Mormon and place revealed truths against the declarations of men, however learned, and await the vindication of the revealed truth? Is there any other course than this? And yet the difficulties to this position are very grave. Truly we may ask ‘who will believe our report?’
It is statements like that, that always land BH Roberts consistently at the top of the list of “Top 10 LDS Intellectuals”. I love it. Open and honest:
I want to finish this last bit from B.H. Roberts regarding the numerous and striking similarities between the Book of Mormon and “View of the Hebrews”, by Ethan Smith:
• Ethan Smith’s book describes sacred towers or “high places” in some instances devoted to worship, in other cases to idolatrous practices; the Book of Mormon also has its prayer or sacred towers.
• Part of Ethan Smith’s ancient inhabitants effect a change from monarchial governments to republican forms of government; Book of Mormon peoples do the same.
• In Ethan Smith’s republics the civil and ecclesiastical power is united in the same person; this was a practice also with Book of Mormon people.
• Some of Ethan Smith’s peoples believed in the constant struggle between the good and bad principles, by which the world is governed; Lehi, first of Nephite prophets, taught the existence of a necessary opposition in all things—righteousness opposed to wickedness—good to bad; life to death, and so following.
• Ethan Smith’s book speaks of the gospel having been preached in the ancient America; the Book of Mormon clearly portrays a knowledge of the gospel had among the Nephites.
• Ethan Smith gives, in considerable detail, the story of the Mexican culture-hero Quetzalcoatl—who in so many things is reminiscent of the Christ; the Book of Mormon brings the risen Messiah to the New World, gives him a ministry, disciples and a church.
Can such numerous and startling points of resemblance and suggestive contact be merely coincidence? Roberts asks. These were and still are, I presume, questions that have yet to be answered.
I think regards to high places as sacred could also be traced to the Bible also. Moses going up to the mount for example.
But yes, many unanswered questions!