The title of and inspiration for this photograph of the Moroni statue atop Hill Cumorah in Palmyra comes from the text of Parley P. Pratt’s hymn “An angel from on High” (Hymns 13).
Are commandments also spiritual fare? When Moses received the law on Sinai, was he spiritually fed? Were the children of Israel? Lesson #14 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual discusses Israel’s trek across the Sinai, their partaking of manna from heaven, which we interpret today as a symbol of the spiritual feast that our Heavenly Father provides for us. But when we read or talk about the commandments, we sometimes don’t talk about them as spiritual food—instead seeing them as temporal duties to be performed. But, the miracle of their delivery to Moses is a spiritual story, and I think the following poem describes what should be seen as a spiritual feast.
During the crucifixion of Christ as portrayed in 3rd Nephi, the devastation seems like it is beyond our understanding. Certainly the descriptions portray devastation on a level that no one today has experienced. The very earth reacts to the death of the Savior, and continues that reaction, apparently until his resurrection on the third day. May we never experience anything like that. But the portrayal raises an interesting theological issue, one that Parley P. Pratt picked up on in his earliest Mormon poetry.
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.…
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.
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.
The first Institute class held in our upper Manhattan apartment in 1988 explored Mormon philosophy and intellectual life. The readings included a 1969 Dialogue article by Leonard Arrington, “The Intellectual Tradition of the Latter-day Saints,” (pdf) which mentioned a questionnaire Arrington had sent to 50 Mormon intellectuals asking them to list the five most eminent intellectuals in Mormon History. I was then surprised to find Parley P. Pratt on that list.