In their basic revealed texts, Latter-day Saints encounter many themes concerning the history and destiny of the Jews. Generations of Church officers and members have formed differing combinations of those themes. Their varying formulations somewhat reflect the trends and perceived needs of their eras. Thus, in effect, many Latter-day Saints have functioned as subjective revisionists or as reductionists.While a few of their revisions are specific to certain eras, other revisions have endured or reappeared and now coexist. In an effort to identify the main elements that have played roles in LDS thought about the Jews, this essay will first discuss revisionism and subjectivism in history and theology. It will then examine, in the order in which they have appeared over time, certain themes relating to the Jews. Bibliographic information for this body of LDS literature is given in the endnotes.
Revisionism and Subjectivism in History and Theology
Reviewing the issues surrounding revisionism and subjectivism is helpful for understanding the various themes that have been present in Latter-day Saint attitudes toward the Jews from 1830 to the present. Revisionism is the practice of deliberately revising generally understood ideas about history or theology. Subjectivism in historical studies means perceiving past situations or events in terms of present values. Both practices are risky yet unavoidable and often salutory. Revisionism is hazardous in that such a reinterpretive exercise can attract dishonest zealots—some whole historical endeavors reek of unscrupulous fanaticism. Perhaps the most unsavory of these at present is the revisionism which denies the occurrence of the Holocaust.Nevertheless, revisionism is relentless and necessary, as implied by Carl Becker’s oft-quoted mot that every generation rewrites history from its own perspective.
This re-visioning can also be beneficial. Events, documents, and other phenomena become more fully understood after scrutiny from various angles by historians of many eras. In fact, many reputable scholars label themselves “revisionists” to promote what they deem are improved ways of comprehending certain events and texts in light of neglected sources or fresh analytical approaches.
Debates about the pros and cons of revisionism in history often pit subjectivism (investigating the past from one perspective or one’s current beliefs and values) against objectivism (reconstructing the past for its own sake).Meinecke identified these “two great tendencies” in historical studies and recommended that “neither of these tendencies . . . be pursued one-sidedly.”
Twentieth-century historians have typically employed some subjectivism and rejected Ranke’s ideal of completely objective, “scientific history.” They have urged historians to assess the past’s “usefulness” in applying historical knowledge to humanity’s present quandaries. As Becker argued in 1935, “The history that lies inert in unread books does no work in the world. The history that does work in the world, the history that influences the course of history, is living history.”Subjectivists of course distinguish between “living history” and fiction or propaganda. For instance, in the early twentieth century, Croce affirmed, “A history without relation to the document would be an unverifiable history; and . . . the reality of history lies in this verifiability.”
A similar subjective-objective interaction occurs in religion.In a Latter-day Saint context, subjectivism underlies Nephi’s practical advice that individuals should “liken” the scriptures unto themselves. Neal A. Maxwell counseled, “Make the living scriptures relevant to our lives and to our times as did Nephi.” Russell M. Nelson, trained as a physician, used curative metaphors and urged that knowledge of history be used to uplift. He cautioned that “some truths are best left unsaid” in preference to the practices of “self-serving historians [who] grovel for ‘truth’ that would defame the dead and the defenseless.” Yet, where subjectivism endorses likening, selecting, and omitting for our current or personal needs, objectivism cautions against “wresting the scriptures” (see 2 Pet. 3:16; Alma 13:20; D&C 10:63).
In both history and theology, objectivism checks the subjectivist temptation to treat the documentary record too selectively, thereby wresting the past by reducing it or by citing evidence out of context. This concern applies to the intent of a specific passage (otherwise the sixth commandment could be rendered “Thou shalt . . . kill”) and especially to the integrity of the whole context’s complexities and subtleties. For example, an objectivist might countenance on one hand the reduction of a situation that has the elements AABCCCXYYZZ to AbCxYZ (where two A’s are reduced to A, three C’s to C, and so on). On the other hand, the objectivist would protest the reduction of that event to BX. Yet B and X might be precisely those aspects of the situation that some historians or theologians would subjectively find most relevant to their day, although other subjectivists might prefer element C or the formulation AYZ.
The ongoing revisionism present in the exercise of history and the tensions between subjectivism and objectivism in both history and theology are among the issues one encounters when surveying the complex topic of LDS attitudes toward the Jewish people and the modern state of Israel.
The Jews in LDS Thought
Impressively, the whole tapestry of the Book of Mormon consists of a myriad of complex and subtle threads. Through the decades, sermonizers and scholars have treated individual strands either in isolation or in reweavings of their own design, sometimes with apparently contradictory results.
Scriptural Foundations. One may select from the tapestry a few main strands, for example:
6. conversion to Christ
On the basis of the manifestations of factors such as these, one may hazard to infer the Jews’ status according to LDS scripture.
When considered in isolation, one of these strands—judgment—focuses on transgressions by the Jews and their resulting condemnation.For example, 1 Nephi 19:13–14 includes such phrases as “those who are at Jerusalem . . . shall be scourged by all people, because they crucify the God of Israel” and “they shall wander in the flesh, and perish, and become a hiss and a by-word, and be hated among all nations.” Although milder than the sermonized abuse by the Greek and Latin Church Fathers, such language compares in accusation and tone to New Testament passages that Jewish writers have found offensive.
In contrast, the thread of the Abrahamic lineage evokes themes of divine respect and prophetic expectations, leading to the strands of Judeophilia (esteeming the Jews) and an anticipated religious partnership. We find references to “the Jews, the covenant people of the Lord,” and explicit cautions against hatred of the Jews: “Ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them” (3 Ne. 29:8).Indeed, as Latter-day Saints have identified themselves either as literal or adopted descendants of scattered Israel, they imply a future Jewish-Mormon partnership. Assuming a “tribes of Israel” framework—featuring “Judah” and “Joseph” —scriptures predict cooperation between these tribes in such areas as promulgating scriptures and building millennial capitals. Prophetic expectations for the tribe of Judah also include the concept of a return to the Holy Land: “And I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people . . . that I would gather them together in mine own due time, that I would give unto them again the land of their fathers for their inheritance, which is the promised land of Jerusalem” (3 Ne. 20:29).
Yet this thread of the Jews’ return to Israel frequently appears interwoven with Christ’s divine and messianic roles, the latter-day restoration of the New Testament church, and its progress defined in “tribes of Israel” terms. Many passages in Latter-day Saint scripture mentioning the Jews’ return thus also mention the Jews’ Christianization—“when they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance” (2 Ne. 6:11).Ambiguities exist, however, regarding sequence, amount, and timing. Verses like 2 Nephi 6:11 and 25:16–17 imply that the Jews’ conversion not only precedes their return, but also serves as its precondition, whereas those like 3 Nephi 20:29–30 imply a sequence of return followed by a delayed conversion and final inheritance. Suggesting the former order, 2 Nephi 30:7–8 hints at still a third sequence—return triggered by the Jews “begin[ning] to believe in Christ.”
Moreover, a prominent related strand conveys a sense of universality—“he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:33).Although Joseph Smith characterized the LDS Church’s missionary-driven growth as “the literal gathering of Israel” (A of F 10), provision is made for those not counted among the innumerable sand-grains of Abraham’s descendants: “If the Gentiles shall hearken unto the Lamb of God, . . . they shall be numbered among the house of Israel” (1 Ne. 14:1–2). In other words, faith and faithfulness can “Israelize” Gentiles, and unfaithfulness can “gentilize” Israel (2 Ne. 30:2).
The threads of judgment, lineage, Judeophilia, partnership, conversion, return, and universality have appeared, ebbed, reemerged, and continue to entwine in various configurations through Latter-day Saint thought on the past and future of Jews and Israel.
1840–1880. By the mid-nineteenth century, Reform Judaism had arisen in Germany and spread to America. (Reform Judaism discarded or modified some traditional beliefs and observances and instituted others, such as a belief in progressive theology.) Secular Jewish nationalism (the advocacy of a Jewish nation and homeland divorced from traditional Judaism) was emerging. Christianity’s long tradition of trying to convert Jews had new expressions; “Christian Zionism” (Christian denominations encouraging the Jews’ return, largely because it validates their own theology) was flourishing, now mainly among evangelical Protestants. De Gobineau, a French aristocrat, was popularizing scientific racism, claiming the white race combined the best human traits and therefore was superior to, and should be isolated from, inferior races. Pogroms were increasing in Eastern Europe, as was the trickle of pious European Jewish emigrants to Palestine.
Reading their newly revealed scriptures in light of such developments, nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints articulated three main and enduring theological positions regarding the Jews’ status. All three positions included the ideas of judgment, lineage, and return: Orson Hyde and Wilford Woodruff saw the promises made to the lineage triggering a return which would lead to conversion. Parley and Orson Pratt urged Christianization as necessary for removing the judgment on the Jewish lineage and thus permitting the Jews’ return. And Brigham Young disassociated return from the removal of judgment on lineage and from conversion. Instead, he associated conversion with the Second Coming.
Orson Hyde’s 1841 prayer to “dedicate and consecrate this land [the Holy Land] . . . for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants” included the themes of judgment, lineage, and delayed conversion, with the return to Palestine receiving the focus of attention—expressed formulaically as judgment/lineage/RETURN/ delayed conversion (with the emphasized topic capitalized). While praying to “incline them to gather in upon this land” and “constitute her people as a distinct nation and government,” Hyde also petitioned to “let Thy great kindness conquer and subdue the unbelief of Thy people.”Almost the same blend of return and conversion exists in the Twelve’s 1845 Proclamation. Composed by Wilford Woodruff, it charges “the Jews among all nations . . . to return to Jerusalem” but implies impending conversion: “For be it known unto them that we now hold the keys of the priesthood and kingdom which are soon to be restored unto them.”
In contrast, Parley P. Pratt’s “Address to the Jews” in his 1852 “Proclamation” emphasizes a second formula of judgment/lineage/immediate CONVERSION: “To the Jews we would say—Turn from your sins.” “We have now shown you the door of admission into the kingdom of God, into which you would do well to enter.” Return to Jerusalem is implied as a benefit of conversion. As Orson Pratt explained, “The main part of [the Jews] will believe while yet scattered.”
A third formula of JUDGMENT/LINEAGE/return/DELAYED conversion was articulated in 1866 by Brigham Young. “Let me here say a word to the Jews,” he said. “We do not want you to believe our doctrine. If any professing to be Jews do so, it would prove they were not Jews. A Jew cannot now believe in Jesus Christ.” “The decree has gone forth from the Almighty,” he continued, “that they cannot have the benefit of the atonement until they gather to Jerusalem, for they said, ‘Let his blood be upon us and our children.’ Consequently, they cannot believe in him until his second coming.”John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff softened Brigham Young’s position; then all three endorsed the theme of return by sending George A. Smith in 1872 to rededicate Jerusalem to that end. During the years 1841 to 1933, Palestine was dedicated by Latter-day Saints seven times only for the return of the Jews, not for the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
1881–1920. During the four decades straddling 1900, the Jews’ legal status improved in North America and western Europe, where assimilation seemed likely, at least until the Dreyfus Affair (in which Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French officer, was court-martialed for spying, even after the main evidence against him was proven to be forged). Meanwhile, the Jews’ condition drastically worsened in Eastern Europe, the “great migration” to the West began, and new expressions of secular and religious Zionism materialized. These forces provoked the first two Zionist aliyahs (waves of Jewish emigration to Palestine) and swelled the previous trickle to a stream.These events, particularly the obvious movement of large numbers of Jews to the Holy Land, prompted additional LDS pronouncements that confirmed and expanded the Hyde, Pratt, and Young conceptions of the Jews’ destiny.
As during the years 1840 to 1880, a frequently expressed position was Hyde’s judgment/lineage/RETURN/delayed conversion formulation. For example, it appeared in the dedicatory prayers of the Manti Temple (1888) and the Salt Lake Temple (1893) offered by Lorenzo Snow and Wilford Woodruff respectively.In 1899, J. M. Tanner contributed a flattering, academic description of Zionism. Five years later, J. M. Sjodahl placed a positive connotation on judgment—“Persecution has been the means of preserving their nationality”—then cited Old Testament return passages as a prelude to identifying Zionism as “exceedingly important.” This position was reiterated in 1917 by James E. Talmage: the scattering permits biblical Israel to bless the nations, and the prophesied return has begun. Subscribers to this trend considered General Allenby’s capture of Jerusalem in November 1917 to be particularly significant.
A version of Brigham Young’s view (JUDGMENT/LINEAGE/return/DELAYED conversion) appeared in 1918 when E. H. Lund enumerated cases of the Jews’ “unrighteousness and hypocrisy” per the Old Testament and then interpreted 2 Nephi 10:3–5 as asserting that the Jews were the only nation having the “necessary mental qualities” to crucify Jesus. Yet, he observed, present developments suggest that “the Lord is gradually withdrawing the curse which he placed on that land anciently,” although “the innate skepticism and unbelief of the Jews will still possess them” until the Second Coming.
Pratt’s emphasis on judgment/lineage/CONVERSION/return also found new voices. For example, during 1901 the Improvement Era addressed a reader’s question: “When the Jews gather to Palestine, will they be in a condition of belief or unbelief in Jesus Christ?” The respondent, John Nicholson, dismissed what he called “the complete unbelief theory” and concluded, “Doubtless there will be a class of those who gather to Palestine who will be unbelievers, but it will probably be proportionally small.” Nicholson also made a novel observation. Citing Reform Jews who proposed sympathetic (revisionist) views of Jesus, he commented, “These statements are evidences that the Jews are ‘beginning to believe in Christ,’ and are therefore being prepared for complete conversion.” This idea was repeated in general conference in 1902 by B. H. Roberts and in 1918 by David O. McKay.
1921–1947. In 1920 the League of Nations entrusted a mandate over Palestine to Great Britain, which at first promised to sponsor the creation of a Jewish national home. The great migration, the relocation of over four million Russian Jews to the West from the 1880s to the 1920s, was accompanied by growing Judeophobia in western Europe and America—compounded after the 1917 Russian Revolution by a Communist, or “red,” scare. By the late 1930s, moreover, Britain completed its “decommitment,” announcing in 1939 an intent to transfer sovereignty over the Holy Land to the native Arab Palestinian majority. During that decade, Nazism arose in Germany and proceeded to attack the Jews’ economic interests, then their legal status, and ultimately the Jews’ very existence as individuals and as a people in both Germany and the lands it conquered during World War II. The third, fourth, and fifth aliyahs from Poland and Germany swelled the stream of immigrants to a flood.
During this period, Joseph Fielding Smith perpetuated the judgment-on-lineage formula associated with Brigham Young and E. H. Lund.Hyde’s formula of lineage/RETURN/delayed conversion was continued by Heber J. Grant, Janne Sjodahl, and David O. McKay. And Pratt’s stress on lineage/CONVERSION/return was redefined by B. H. Roberts. President of the Eastern States Mission from 1922 to 1927, Roberts noted, “In greater New York, there are two millions of the House of Judah, and for the last several years I have been wondering how we could . . . have the material to present to them that would place in their hands the great message that God has for that branch of the House of Israel.” By 1927, Roberts had already created some “material”—several pamphlets formulating the LDS message especially for Jews. These were later consolidated into a book entitled Rasha—the Jew: A Message to All Jews.
Meanwhile, two new emphases emerged tentatively during this era. In response to the red scare and anti-Semitism, Heber J. Grant, while implying lineage, partnership, and return, articulated a position of Judeophilia. Speaking at the April 1921 general conference, he called attention to “the agitation that is going on at the present time . . . against the Jewish people”; recalled Orson Hyde’s mission; cautioned, “Let no Latter-day Saint be guilty of taking any part in any crusade against these people”; and concluded, “I believe in no other part of the world is there as good a feeling in the hearts of mankind towards the Jewish people as among the Latter-day Saints.”
John A. Widtsoe, who visited Jerusalem for another rededication of the land in 1933, befriended a prominent Palestinian Arab, then articulated a position of conversion/return/UNIVERSALITY. In his autobiography, Widtsoe described meeting Shaykh Ya‘qub al-Bukhari, who “became one of our loyal friends with whom we corresponded for years.” This Muslim friend “gave us the Arab view of the colonization of Palestine.” Widtsoe concluded, “It is my personal belief that the Jews will succeed in taking over Palestine fully only when they accept Christ. Until that time, bloody conflict, hate, jealousy, and fear will accompany the Jewish efforts to colonize Palestine.” He then expressed a universalist stance:
The oft-asked question, “Who are the children of Abraham?” is well answered in light of the revealed gospel. . . . All who accept God’s plan for his children on earth and who live it are the children of Abraham. Those who reject the gospel . . . forfeit the promises made to Abraham and are not children of Abraham.
The optimistic LDS outlook for the Jews’ future expressed during the 1920s transmuted into pessimism with the onset of World War II. Attempts were made to understand events in traditional terms. For instance, Melvin J. Ballard depicted Hitler as “an instrument in the hands of God” to drive Europe’s Jews back to Palestine, and Charles A. Callis interpreted Nazism’s threat against Jews as a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.Such efforts underscored Latter-day Saints’ interest in developments among Jews primarily as evidence that would validate their own current views or dogmas.
1948–1979. By the time the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Cold War had started. Until Stalin’s death (1953) and the Suez Crisis (1955–56), the USSR supported Israel as did the United States, but thereafter, the Arab-Israeli conflict coincided more or less with the global East-West conflict. As antireligion became orthodoxy in the East bloc and received constitutional protection in the West, many faiths acted to mitigate ancient animosities between themselves to permit cooperation in maintaining common spiritual beliefs and values. Thus an ecumenical dialogue began. Not yet participating in that process directly, the LDS Church nevertheless grew beyond its traditional base in the Western United States, becoming more global and interacting with peoples in Africa and Asia as well as in Europe and the Americas.These were among the factors that further shaped the attitudes of Latter-day Saints toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
Orson Hyde’s emphasis on the return of the Jews expressed itself in some LDS officials welcoming the creation of Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy. In 1950, Ezra Taft Benson asserted, “In fulfillment of these ancient and modern promises, a great drama is being enacted in Palestine. The Jews are returning as one of the events of the last days.” In his Israel! Do You Know?LeGrand Richards included a section entitled “New Nation of Israel Fulfills Prophecy” and suggested that the Three Nephites fought on the Jewish side in the 1948 War. The next year, he stated that “what is going on over in the Holy Land today is a great miracle,” an assertion seconded in 1958 by Lynn M. Hilton. A year later, Arthur V. Watkins, U.S. Senator from Utah, wrote, “Israel, as an independent nation, is an established fact and must be accepted. No one believing in the prophecies of God would contend otherwise.”
Partly fusing the Hyde and Pratt traditions, many advocates of the return of the Jews seemed to feel at this point that the time had arrived for conversion. Hilton indicated, “It is my sincere prayer that we will not be as reluctant to take the gospel from the Gentiles and give it to Israel as Peter was reluctant to do the converse in the meridian of time.” Richards, whose Marvelous Work and a Wonderanthologized his Southern States Mission presentations, wrote Israel! Do You Know? as a lesson plan to explain the LDS gospel to Jews. In it he declared, “God is calling the Jews. He invites them into the fold of Christ.” During the late 1950s, Richards organized LDS “Jewish Missions” in Los Angeles; Salt Lake City; Ogden; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; New York; and Washington, D.C., some of which produced their own “lesson plans.”
The First Presidency terminated these missions in 1958, but high-level interest in communicating with Jews continued. For example, in 1976 Ezra Taft Benson delivered a “Message to Judah from Joseph,” in which he indicated that the LDS Church approaches Jews “in a different way than any other Christian church because [Latter-day Saints] represent the restored covenant to the entire house of Israel.”On the other hand, Bruce R. McConkie, although emphasizing the idea of “believing blood”—“the more of the blood of Israel that an individual has, the easier it is for him to believe the message of salvation” [Jews excepted?]—reiterated that “the conversion of the Jews as a people . . . will not take place until after the Second Coming.”
The dicta of Ezra Taft Benson and Arthur Watkins in the 1950s contained a political undercurrent. The idea that Israel not only fulfilled prophecy, but also figured in the Free World’s containment of Communism became explicit in W. Cleon Skousen’s Fantastic Victory: Israel’s Rendezvous with Destiny,which put Israel on the side of the angels and portrayed its Arab opponents as diabolic Soviet agents and clients. A reviewer observed, “The tragedy of this type of analysis lies in its inability to recognize that the Soviet Union’s success in the Middle East during the past decade is primarily due to an American foreign policy based upon this one-sided view of the Arab-Israeli crisis.”
Meanwhile, Heber J. Grant’s 1921 expression of Judeophilia was taken up by LDS scholars who were familiar with Jewish contributions to Jewish-Christian dialogueand who, for the first time, directed their formulations to Jewish and academic audiences. So they downplayed judgment and Christianization while emphasizing JUDEOPHILIA/partnership/return. For example, Eldin Ricks’s article published in the Herzl Yearbook selectively reviewed “material bearing on Zionist themes” in the Book of Mormon (see endnotes 15–20 below), recounted Orson Hyde’s mission, then selectively quoted from Sjodahl and other later adherents of the RETURN/delayed conversion formula. Like Ricks, Truman G. Madsen selected Book of Mormon return passages and then discussed Orson Hyde, but he also distanced Mormonism from traditional Christian trinitarianism and drew parallels with Judaism. Meanwhile, Armand L. Mauss conducted a sociological study of “the unique Mormon doctrine of ‘Semitic identification,’ which holds that Mormons and Jews literally have the same ethnic origin,” and concluded that “Mormons [are] less likely than any other denominations to hold secular anti-Jewish notions.”
During the same period, LDS scholars participating in the Church’s increased involvement in Africa and Asia echoed Widtsoe by articulating the theme of universalism. For example, in Mormonism—a Message for All Nations, Spencer J. Palmer criticized earlier formulations of “a narrow Mormonism,” stressed the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, and asserted that the restored gospel “is not the peculiar property of any one people, any one age, or any one nation” and that “it is a proclamation for every ear that will hear and for every heart that humbly seeks the truth.”
Since 1979. The LDS Church’s accelerating global expansion, together with the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to “all worthy male members of the Church . . . without regard for race or color” (OD—2), has put a stronger emphasis on the universalist thread. LDS scholars have expressed considerable interest in this trend,as have General Authorities. The First Presidency issued a statement in 1978 “that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.” In “All Are Alike unto God,” Howard W. Hunter affirms mankind’s common origin and brotherhood and states, “Our Father does not favor one people over another, but accepts all those of every nation who fear him and work righteousness.” In “The Uttermost Parts of the Earth,” Spencer W. Kimball similarly expresses the need to preach the gospel in Africa, China, India, and Southeast Asia and behind the Iron Curtain.
As applied by some General Authorities to the question of the Jews’ restoration, this recent high-level emphasis on universalism has, in effect, produced a restatement of the Pratt CONVERSION/return formula. For example, in a May 1981 conference address, Marion G. Romney quoted most of the Book of Mormon’s conversion/return passages, which he said “make it perfectly clear that the restoration of the house of Israel to the lands of their inheritance will signal their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their redeemer.”
Perhaps because of this emphasis on conversion, by the time his Millennial Messiah was published,Bruce R. McConkie had shifted his emphasis from Young’s judgment-on-lineage position to Pratt’s CONVERSION/return expression. McConkie stipulated that the modern state of Israel “is not the gathering promised by the prophets. It does not fulfill the ancient promises. Those who have thus assembled have not gathered into the true Church.” It is rather a “gathering of the unconverted.” He repeated this assessment in A New Witness for the Articles of Faith under the heading “The Myth of the Jewish Gathering”: “The present assembling of people of Jewish ancestry into the Palestinian nation of Israel is not the scriptural gathering of Israel or of Judah. It may be a prelude thereto. . . . But a political gathering is not a spiritual gathering.” McConkie did, however, reaffirm the literal nature of the gathering within the tribes of Israel framework and the idea of “believing blood.”
The universalist emphasis has also spawned among Church members a new discussion of the tribal-blood framework and the status of the Jewish people within it. One trend has sought to broaden the framework—either to include all possibly identifiable Abrahamic peoples or by defining the “scattering” as being so extensive that virtually no one could conceivably be excluded.
Spencer Palmer at first participated in this trend by arguing for possibilities of Asiatic descent from Abraham, but he later offered another solution that relied on Paul (Rom. 2:11, 28–29; Gal. 3:28–29) and on 2 Nephi 26:33—a purer universalism which in effect reduces the tribes of Israel to a metaphor.Critical observers like Sterling McMurrin, while applauding such intentions, expressed doubt that the LDS Church can transcend its lineage-based theology; movement toward genuine universalism occurs “only if the missionaries are after all the souls that are out there in the wicked world and not just the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”
On the other side of the discussion, some have come to the defense of the fundamental role of lineage in the Mormon doctrine of gathering.Robert Millet and Joseph McConkie’s Our Destiny: The Call and Election of the House of Israel represents an effort to introduce into this discussion Bruce R. McConkie’s post-1979 position: the Church now constitutes the blood-based covenant Israel, but membership in the house of Israel is accessible to all through conversion. Without conversion even Jews cannot enjoy Abrahamic blessings [including covenant-related possession of the Holy Land?].
In this recent discussion, positions have emerged along a spectrum, the poles of which might be labeled “universalism” and “literal blood of Israel,” with some voices toward one of the purist ends and some in the synthetic middle. Spokespersons for each position have tended to use scriptural and other texts selectively in their efforts to define what are—or ought to be—the “living” elements in Mormon gathering theology. On the one hand, Steven Epperson’s Mormons and Jews: Early Mormon Theologies of Israel,by emphasizing Joseph Smith and limiting its coverage to the nineteenth century, functions in certain respects as an objectivist check on subjectivist tendencies, some of which minimize the prominent “Judah-consciousness” of early Mormonism. On the other hand, one of Epperson’s main arguments—that Joseph Smith expressed a position of Judeophilia unsullied and unconditioned by such negative traditional Christian features as judgment and conversion—renders Epperson’s work, too, open to inquiries into possibilities of selectivity.
Summary and Conclusions
As a review of an LDS textual tradition, this exercise leads to four conclusions. First, three interpretive traditions arose by the 1860s and survived for a century: Hyde’s return emphasis (which passed through Wilford Woodruff, J. M. Sjodahl, and Ezra Taft Benson, among others); Pratt’s conversion formula (John Nicholson, B. H. Roberts, LeGrand Richards); and Young’s stress on judgment (E. H. Lund, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie).
Second, some of these traditions, along with variations on them, can be correlated with contemporaneous ideologies or developments: the tendency of the Civil War era to see things in racial terms, the successes of the Zionist movement, the British conquest of Ottoman Palestine, an American Judeophobic red scare, the creation of the state of Israel, the Cold War, Mormonism’s growth to global dimensions, and the 1978 priesthood revelation.
Third, after 1948 there occurred a partial merger of the Hyde and Pratt traditions, and after 1979 the leading earlier spokesman for the Young position endorsed that of Pratt.
Fourth, until the 1970s the discussion, assuming lineage as common ground, centered on the tension between the principles of judgment, conversion, and return. However, after 1979, by which time positions of universalism (John A. Widtsoe, Spencer Palmer, Howard W. Hunter) and Judeophilia (Heber J. Grant, Eldin Ricks, Truman G. Madsen) had reemerged, a further consensus arose on the basis of the Pratt formula, and the discussion shifted to consider the tension between lineage and universalism.
In this regard, surveying an issue’s past also serves as a prelude to ongoing discussions. President Romney’s 1981 conference address—the most recent pronouncement on this topic from the pulpit of the Tabernacle—may have been intended to settle the question once and for all. But at a nonauthoritative level, position takers are likely to continue taking stands. Most of these persons, despite a few objectivist antiquarians inquiring into the total record for its own sake, can be expected subjectively to cull the many texts for passages that support their efforts to shape the dynamic tradition in the direction they wish to see it go. This observation stems not from cynicism, but from the way a “living theology” functions. What this generation enlivens depends on what it selects to remember—or to forget.
Speaking personally, although it runs counter to my objectivist historical training, I would like to “forget out” nineteenth-century racism from our living theology, but I would like to “remember in” the courageous, outreaching efforts of Joseph Smith and Heber J. Grant, both of whom drew upon a special theological tradition in order to befriend the beleaguered Jews despite prevailing hostility. Someone is likely to ask, however, whether what I deem worth forgetting and worth remembering are related. While those on various sides of that question and others germane to it may subjectively approach the past in regard to their own positions, as in trial law they will at least function objectively with regard to each other’s, which may keep the relentless revision process honestly rooted to some extent.