While eclipsed by the Iron Rod imagery in Nephi, the Olive Tree imagery in Jacob is still well-known and referred to frequently. Like so much of Mormon theology, it attempts to give an explanation for the whole swath of human history and show that we are in the last days. Since both images are unique to the Book of Mormon, they are only found in Mormon sources. The earliest use of the Olive Tree imagery in literature is from Parley P. Pratt, who included it in his poem, Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day. This poem was included in The Millennium, the first published book of Mormon poetry, which Pratt published in 1835. Here’s what Pratt wrote: Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day, Part 3 by Parley P. Pratt Go ye and preach in all the world. Baptizing in my name, He that believes and is baptized Salvation shall obtain. Then rising from Mount Olivet Unto his Father’s throne. On high to reign until he claims The kingdoms for his own. His servants then, in mighty power, Soon made his gospel known, The Jews reject while Gentiles come. And glad their Saviour own. The Jews dispersed through all the earth, Jerusalem trodden down, In desolation long has lain, And cursed has been the ground. The Gentile churches for a while Produced the natural fruit, Being grafted in the natural vine Partaking of the root.…
Category: SS Lesson – Book of Mormon
Literary BMGD #12: Aristocracy
A major element of Jacob’s sermon in Jacob 2 is his condemnation of pride and those caught up in their riches. In that sermon, Jacob not only preaches against pride, but argues for equality, saying “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.”(2:17) and adding “one being is as precious in His sight as the other.” While Jacob likely lived too early in Nephite history for inherited classes to develop, still these views seem to clearly argue against classes and social hierarchy.
Literary BMGD #11: Eternity of Matter
In Nephi’s final writings (2 Ne. 31, discussed in Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine lesson 11) he teaches about the “doctrine of Christ,” focusing on Christ’s baptism and redemption of the world from sin and on urging his readers to “endure to the end.” This doctrine is the heart of the gospel, the key element of the plan of salvation and eternal progress. Which makes the following poem fit well with the lesson. I only wish that the poem also somehow mentioned baptism.
Literary BMGD #10: An angel came down from the mansions of glory
Perhaps the most common theme in early Mormon poetry is the restoration. But while the Book of Mormon itself prophesies about the restoration (as it does in the 10th Book of Mormon lesson), it wasn’t until this hymn was published in 1833 that Mormon poetry addressed the subject. Of course, soon after the Restoration became a very common theme in Mormon poetry from many authors. William Wines Phelps, the author of this hymn was also one of the first and most prolific of Mormon poets, although unlike his contemporaries Parley P. Pratt, Eliza R. Snow and John Lyon, Phelps never published a volume of his own poetry. He is also unique because he is likely the author of the only poem, outside of scripture, attributed to Joseph Smith (The Vision, a paraphrase of D&C 76). If I recall correctly, he is still the Mormon author with the most hymns in the current hymnal.
Literary BMGD #9: A Paraphrase of Isaiah 60
Scripture is often repeated in scripture, and poets have rarely been shy about re-using lines of poetry, often without attribution. Plagiarism is everywhere, and our view of it as a faux pas is really relatively recent—this view is certainly more recent than the mid 19th century, when Mormon newspapers started churning out poetry and other forms of Mormon literature. The 9th Book of Mormon lesson is also about repeated scripture, specifically Nephi’s use of the early chapters of Isaiah which seem to make up the bulk of 2nd Nephi. Perhaps Nephi served as an example for the poetry I’ve chosen for this lesson.
Literary BMGD #8: Twas on that dark, that solemn night
Active Mormons hear poetry about the atonement each Sunday in the sacrament hymn, so finding a poem to go with Jacob’s discourse on the atonement in 2 Nephi 9 isn’t too much of a burden. The hard part is finding something that isn’t already well known and is unique to Mormonism, which I’ve generally tried to do in this series. There are 28 sacrament hymns in the current hymnal, most of which are probably familiar. However, there have been a number of other sacrament hymns that are no longer in our current hymnal. Most of those are not by Mormons. And, while I have not been able to identify the author of this hymn, I have so far only found it in Mormon hymnals, starting with the Manchester Hymnal put together by Brigham Young, John Taylor and Parley P. Pratt in 1840.
Literary BMGD #7: Joseph, From Out of the Dust
Lehi’s final counsel in the Book of Mormon is to his son Joseph makes an interesting literary link between Joseph in Egypt, Joseph the son of Lehi and Joseph Smith, Jr. But, LDS authors have largely ignored this link, especially before 1900, when any mention of Joseph was usually a reference to Joseph Smith, Jr. But I did manage to find an exception in Orson F. Whitney’s epic, Elias. As far as I can tell, other than general righteousness, the only real link between these three is that they happen to have the same name. Their histories aren’t really comparable in any way that I can see. Still, Whitney at least mentions the prophecy of Joseph’s name, and connects it to Joseph in Egypt. While perhaps overly turgid in his prose, Whitney is as or more sophisticated in his imagery than any of his poetic Mormon predecessors that I’ve read. To me the oblique references made to biblical, book of Mormon and mythological elements are fascinating. The six stanzas I’ve chosen below (starting with the 30th stanza in Canto six) cover the Book of Mormon from its beginning to Lehi’s death, although the vast majority of the story is left out in favor of examining Lehi’s family’s importance to the overall narrative. I’ve left in Whitney’s explanatory footnotes verbatim. Joseph from Canto Six, Out of the Dust, from Elias, An Epic of the Ages by Orson F. Whitney Again, athwart…
Literary BMGD #6: Man’s Free Agency
One of the fascinating things that happen in Lehi’s fatherly advice to Jacob in 2 Nephi 1 and 2 is that he tries to put together an overall philosophical basis for the gospel. Here the war in Heaven is related to our ability to choose, the fall is related to the atonement, and our choices are related to the very nature of existence, which, Lehi says, requires that there be an “opposition in all things.”
BMGD #6: 2 Nephi 1-2
Literary BMGD #5: Trials
The story of Lehi’s family and their travels to the promised land perhaps reaches its height in the crisis point during the storm while they are on board the ship they built. The internal divisions within the family have lead to yet another dispute, and the Lord puts them through a trial to help them work it out. In fact, this is just the last of three stories in this lesson, all showing a similar pattern — and in each case showing faith and diligence (as the lesson describes it), leads to the Lord’s assistance in resolving the trial.
Literary BMGD #4: On the Latter-day Dispensation
From a literary point of view the second part of Nephi’s vision, his vision of the future, is very like an epic. It covers a broad sweep of human history and mentions the actions of a series of heroes and heroic groups who have an impact on the fate of humanity. Unfortunately, the broad nature of this epic vision is difficult to cover in a short form, like a blog post or something you might share in a Gospel Doctrine lesson.
BMGD #4: 1 Nephi 12-14
Note that I will not be posting notes for lesson #5; I’m taking the week off. (Notes for lesson #6 should be right on schedule, however.) Also note that when I teach this, I plan on covering 1 Nephi 11-15, since I think it makes more sense to treat Nephi’s vision in its entirety and in its context.
Literary BMGD #3: Hymn of Praise
While perhaps not the most important symbol in the Vision of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8-11), the Iron Rod may be the one that has received the most attention, at least in recent decades[fn1]. But I think I was able to find something that kind of fit with the whole vision instead of just mentioning the Iron Rod. I like this hymn for not just (vaguely perhaps) invoking some of the imagery of the vision, but also for placing an emphasis on the Lord’s role in assisting us.
BMGD #3: 1 Nephi 8-11; 12:16-18; 15
This isn’t a lesson; it is the notes from which I will prepare a lesson.
Literary BMGD #2: The Pilgrims’ Hymn
In looking for a literary work to go with the second Gospel Doctrine lesson this year, I was struck by some of the parallels between what Nephi experiences in the first few chapters in the Book of Mormon and what the early Mormons went through in traveling to Utah. Many of those we call the pioneers left comfortable homes, like Nephi and his family, and traveled to a “promised land” “into the wilderness.” And perhaps half or more of the pioneers also had to travel over an ocean to reach the promised land.
BMGD #2: 1 Nephi 1-7
Again, this isn’t a lesson. It is the notes from which I will prepare a lesson. Sorry it is so long. (The rabbit trail of the week was related to the killing of Laban, but I don’t plan on discussing that with my class.)
Literary BMGD #1: Address to the Book of Mormon
I’m pleased that Julie has begun a series of posts that cover this year’s lessons on the Book of Mormon. With this post I will begin a kind of companion series: Mormon poetry and literary texts that can accompany each week’s lessons. Since Mormon literature often gets short shrift (usually from those who haven’t actually read what they dismiss), I think that connecting this literature to a regular part of our worship may help members become more aware of and familiar with our culture.
BMGD #1: Introduction
These are the notes from which I will create my Sunday School lesson. It is not a Sunday School lesson, unless your ward has Sunday School for five hours and a high tolerance for rabbit trails that happened to catch my interest.
Sunday School Lesson #23
Lesson 23: 1 Samuel 18-20, 23-24
Sunday School Lesson #22
Lesson 22: 1 Samuel 9-11, 13, 15-17