Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mormons and Jews:Early Mormon Theologies of Israel

Now Online,
Mormons and Jews:
Early Mormon Theologies of Israel

Steven Epperson

Signature Books; Salt Lake City, Utah
© 1992 by Signature Books.
Table of Contents:

Judaism in Early Nineteenth-century America and England
Jewish Identity and Destiny in the Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith's Encounter with Biblical Israel
Joseph Smith and Modern Israel
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery: Identity of Israel and the Church
Orson Hyde and Israel's Restoration
Eschatological Pluralism


[p.vii] In the early part of March last 1840, I retired to my bed … and while contemplating and inquiring out, in my mind, the field of my ministerial labours... the vision of the Lord, like clouds of light, burst upon my view. The cities of London, Amsterdam, Constantinople, and Jerusalem all appeared in succession before me; and the Spirit said unto me, "Here are many of the children of Abraham whom I will gather to the land that I gave to their fathers, and here also is the field of your labours … Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished—that her iniquity is pardoned."

—Orson Hyde, A Voice from Jerusalem... (Liverpool: Parley P. Pratt, 1847), iii

In April 1840 a small Christian denomination sent a missionary to the Holy Land who did not proselytize or teach against Jewish learning and worship. Rather, Orson Hyde was sent from the Nauvoo, Illinois, conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) to "converse with the priests, rulers and elders of the Jews and obtain from them... the present views and movements of the Jewish people" (ibid., iv); to convey words of comfort, forgiveness, and blessing from the Lord; and to call them to gather to the Holy Land of [p.viii] Promise because of a "great desolation" which placed European Jewry in peril. On the morning of 24 October 1841, Hyde climbed the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem and blessed the land of Israel for the gathering of "Judah's scattered remnants," for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Temple, and for the restoration of a distinct, independent Jewish nation and government with Jerusalem as its capital (ibid., 29-32).

The intense interest of nineteenth-century Mormons in the Jewish people, Hebrew Scriptures, and the Holy Land was shared by other Christians. However, Mormon belief and practice differed from typical Christian interpretations and performances. This book presents American and British attitudes about Jews and Judaism during the early to mid-nineteenth century and then contrasts Joseph Smith's theology of covenant Israel. It discusses how the Book of Mormon and sections of the Doctrine and Covenants articulated this theology. It demonstrates how Joseph Smith interpreted Hebrew Scriptures (the "Old" Testament) and Apostolic Writings (the "New" Testament) to support the gathering of the Jewish people to Palestine and the restoration of its national commonwealth. It also examines Smith as student of Hebrew and publicist of the Jewish/Mormon encounter. The sum of Smith's contribution was the creation of an independent Christian theology of Israel which affirmed the autonomy, integrity, and continuity of covenant Israel-embodied in the life and witness of the Jewish people. Furthermore, Smith bore record, in his writings, sermons, and actions, to the ongoing importance and reality of Israel's witness to the church.

Smith's vision was not shared by all of his co-workers. Some of his closest associates propounded a different version of the relationship of Mormons to Jews. This other position bears a stronger resemblance to traditional Christian understanding which viewed Jews and Judaism in negative terms. The "extraordinary mission" [p.ix] of Mormon leader Orson Hyde to Europe and Palestine in 1840-42 was the most important early expression of Smith's vision and manifested solidarity with restorationist aspirations of the Jewish diaspora. Brigham Young, Smith's disciple and successor, continued Smith's views. His independence from classic sources of Christian theology and eschatology (teachings about "last things," "the end of the world," "life after death," etc.)—largely through ignorance of their existence—made possible a more positive view than scholarly familiarity with these traditional sources might have yielded.

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