Mormons and JewsMormons and Jews
Early Mormon Theologies of Israel
Steven Epperson

on the cover:
“Steven Epperson’s study will be an eye-opener for many, both within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and without. Over a century before other churches began to rethink traditional Christian (mis-) understandings of Jews and Judaism, LDS leaders not only saw Judaism in a positive light, they even sent a mission to Palestine to bless the land that it might receive the Jewish people back. In light of current changing Christian attitudes toward Judaism, Epperson raises the question whether Latter-day Saints might not have something to share with this ecumenical movement. Mormons and Jews: Early Mormon Theologies of Israel is a fascinating, well-documented story, one well told. And one that deserves to be known.”
—Richard L. Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Columbia University, and author, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism.

about the author: Steven Epperson holds a Ph.D. from Temple University. Currently he is History Curator at the Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City, Utah. He is recipient of the William Grover and Winifred Foster Reese Best Dissertation Award from the Mormon History Association.

title page:
Mormons and Jews:
Early Mormon Theologies of Israel
Steven Epperson
Signature Books Salt Lake City

copyright page:
Cover design: Brian Bean
Cover painting: The Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane as Seen from the East Wall of Jerusalem, Gary E. Smith, oil on canvas, 1982.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements for Information Sciences– Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.
© 1992 by Signature Books, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Composed and printed in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Epperson, Steven
Mormons and Jews : early Mormon theologies of Israel / Steven Epperson.

Introduction [see below]
01 – Judaism in Early Nineteenth-century America and England
02 – Jewish Identity and Destiny in the Book of Mormon
03 – Joseph Smith’s Encounter with Biblical Israel
04 – Joseph Smith and Modern Israel
05 – Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery: Identity of Israel and the Church
06 – Orson Hyde and Israel’s Restoration
07 – 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.

I wish to express my thanks and respect to Paul van Buren. It took an Anglican/Episcopalian theologian engaging in the contemporary dialogue between Christians and Jews to show me the unique and constructive contribution of my own Mormon community to this important theological issue. Franklin Littell, Norbert Samuelson, and Richard Bushman also helped through their careful reading and criticism.

I wish to thank also the archive staffs at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, the Marriott Library at the University of Utah, and the Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their assistance. Particularly I appreciate the staff at the Salt Lake City Public Library, where the bulk of this book was written. They provided valuable resources as well as a sanctuary of sorts for me (along with many of the city’s homeless).

I thank the late Iris Epperson for her support and my children for their love and patience.

But above all everything here belongs to Diana. Only she knows how much.