The Holy Lands of the Middle East have long held a particular fascination for Latter-day Saints. From Joseph Smith’s time to the present, numerous LDS tourists, scholars, and Church officials have visited biblical sites in Palestine (present-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip), Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Several of these Mormon pilgrims have written about their experiences and expressed their views on the relationship between the restored gospel and contemporary events in the modern Middle East. Since 1948, when the state of Israel was created, the amount of LDS writing about the Middle East has increased significantly. Such writing received an additional impetus in 1969, when the first BYU studyabroad program in Jerusalem was established.
Most of the LDS literature about political and religious issues in the Middle East is narrow in scope and superficial in analysis. The majority of authors since 1948 have sought to show (primarily on the basis of their interpretation of LDS scriptures) that Israel’s emergence as a nation and her military victories against neighboring Arab countries are the modem fulfillment of ancient prophecies about the gathering of the Jews. A major leitmotif has been that the creation of Israelis a modem replay of the Old Testament epic: God sustaining his covenant people against their enemies in a miraculous and successful bid to build a home in the promised land. Such reasoning leads to the conclusion that Israelis are good guys, God’s people; Arabs and Muslims are bad guys, God’s enemies; and the LDS Church and its doctrine provide unwavering support for the former in their struggle against the latter.