The revealed text

The revealed text
The light of revelation at the Whitmer farm where Joseph and Oliver worked upstairs to finish translating the Book of Mormon

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lesson 13: The Allegory of the Olive Trees

This lesson focuses on Jacob 5 and 6, the purpose being "To help class members better understand Zenos’s allegory of the olive trees and how it applies in our day."

It's interesting that the manual skips over Jacob 7 completely.

For this lesson supplement, I'm just going to post the sections from Moroni's America on Jacob 5 and Jacob 7.

Jacob 5

Jacob chapter 5 relates the allegory Zenos made about Israel and the Gentiles. The allegory demonstrates the scattering of Israel, the apostasy, and the gathering of Israel. No specific locations are mentioned, although the natural branches are hidden in the “nethermost part of the vineyard.”[i]
One aspect of the allegory that is often overlooked is that when a branch of one plant is grafted onto the trunk of another, the branch retains its DNA. For example, any particular variety of apples we eat today is genetically identical to that variety when it was first discovered.[ii]
This may have some bearing on the question of the DNA of Lehi and his descendants; i.e., maybe the parable suggests their DNA is not lost after all.
It is well known that the Hopewell Indians of the Midwestern United States, who lived in Book of Mormon time frames, had a particular type of DNA called Haplotype X2. This is Middle-Eastern DNA and is found among Native American Indian tribes from the Great Lakes region even today.[iii] By contrast, most indigenous people of the Americas have DNA that is Asian in origin (which, in Book of Mormon terms, could be Jaredite).

[i] A diagram is here:
[ii] Michael Pollan, “The Call of the Wild Apple,” The New York Times, November 5, 1998, online at Of course, cloning plants by grafting is different from sexual reproduction, but the allegory of the olive tree is based on preservation of lineage.
[iii] A detailed discussion of the DNA issue is outside the scope of this book, but there is an essay on that addresses DNA. It is online here: In my view, the DNA link between the Middle-East and the Hopewell Indians deserves more study and analysis than this essay provides. This issue has been discussed at some length in the LDS literature, often with undue acrimony.  


Jacob 7

This chapter contains Jacob’s confrontation with Sherem: “And now it came to pass after some years had passed away, there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem.” This verse has traditionally interpreted to mean Sherem came from somewhere else, but the text does not say that; it says he came among the people of Nephi.
In every other use of the phrase there came, the thing or person described arises from within the community. For example, before Lehi left Jerusalem, “there came many prophets” (1 Nephi 1:4). They didn’t come from somewhere else, any more than Lehi did. When Alma and Amulek were cast into prison, “there came many lawyers and judges and priests and teachers.” They didn’t come from somewhere else; they were part of the community.
In the context of Jacob 7, I think the phrase there came is equivalent to arose from. Thus, the passage means “there arose from among the people of Nephi a man whose name was Sherem.” This interpretation is corroborated by Sherem addressing Jacob as “Brother Jacob” and explains how Sherem knew the language and culture so well.
By contrast, Alma 30:6 says “there came a man into the land of Zarahemla,” clearly indicating the man came from outside.
The Book of Mormon Onomasticon, which offers derivations of the proper nouns used in the text, notes that “The observation has been made that the name SHEREM may not be Lehite.”[i] And yet, the text says Sherem “had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people.” I think this means Sherem was one of the non-Lehites who came over from the Old World, or one of their descendants.
Another important point in this chapter is that the Lamanites “sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually” (verse 24). Jacob says the Nephites fortified against the Lamanites with their arms. It may be difficult to find archaeological evidence of wooden and earth fortification in this area of Tennessee from 500 B.C., but there may be evidence of ongoing, continual warfare. For example, farmers have found thousands of arrowheads in the areas, such as those found in Dade County, Georgia, and other locations that date to the Hopewell Woodland era. It seems unrealistic to expect to find more substantial evidence of this type of inter-tribal warfare from over two thousand years ago in the early period of Nephite history.
This brings up the larger question of expectations vs. reality in terms of archaeology. Archaeologists believe it was predominately a hunter-gatherer society that lived in the southeastern United States around 500 B.C.
Enos says the Lamanites

were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us (Enos 1:20).

Such people leave behind relatively little archaeological evidence. The abundance of arrowheads in the area, however, is evidence of conflict. Bones of fallen warriors would long ago have been eaten or decomposed.
By contrast, the Nephites, according to Enos,

did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses (Enos 1:21).

Should we expect to find evidence of ancient farms?
The earliest evidence of agriculture has been found in dry areas of the Fertile Crescent.[ii] In Tennessee, archaeologists identify the Woodland Period (300 B.C. to A.D. 900) as the beginning of agricultural practices. Enos reports that the people raised all manner of grain and fruit. The archaeological record from this period includes remnants of

hickory nuts, walnuts, butternuts, acorns, hazelnuts, beechnuts, chestnuts, grapes, persimmons, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and honey locust pods….Practicing a more sedentary life and building more permanent dwellings than their forebears, Woodland peoples also demonstrated a preference for living near river flood plains….Agricultural practices began to emerge during these centuries. The Native Americans used both native and tropical plants. Seeds were cultivated from sunflowers, sumpweeds, and chenopodiums and taken from pigweeds, knotweeds, giant ragweeds, and maygrass.”[iii]

Again, archaeological evidence is not proof of the Nephite civilization, but it is consistent with what the record says. Jacob summarizes his life experience this way:

the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days (Jacob 7:26).

This passage is consistent with a landing among a sparsely populated wilderness of hunter/gatherers who picked sides and joined with either the Nephites or the Lamanites. The ongoing conflict is between “our brethren” and not a vast pre-existing indigenous civilization.

[i] See entry for Sherem here:
[ii] Tia Ghose, “Evidence of Ancient Farming in Iran Discovered,” Live Science,
[iii] Carroll Van West, “Woodland Period,” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture,