This blog offers resources for 2016 LDS Gospel Doctrine teachers and students, focusing on the context of the scriptures, including geography and historicity. Much of the material comes from these books: Moroni's America, The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light, and Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah.
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 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
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).
[ii] Michael Pollan, “The Call of the Wild Apple,” The New York Times, November 5, 1998,
online at http://bit.ly/Moroni54. 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 lds.org that addresses DNA. It is
online here: http://bit.ly/Moroni55. 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. ____________________________
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
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
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
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.