Mormons and Jews
by Steven Epperson
Orson Hyde and Israel’s Restoration
In April 1840 Orson Hyde, a charter member of the LDS church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, left his family and associates in Nauvoo, Illinois, for a “quite peculiar and extraordinary mission” to Jewish communities in western Europe and to Palestine.1 Hyde’s mission was to be the most explicit expression of Mormon beliefs and hopes about God’s Israel including Methodism and the Campbellites, and finally joined the Mormons on 30 October 1831.
The contours of Hyde’s early life followed lines similar to many of his contemporaries joining the LDS church in its first years.2 Born on 8 January 1805 in Oxford, Connecticut, Hyde was orphaned when he was seven and passed the next two decades migrating west. Passing fitfully from job to job, he sought solace from a succession of new religious movements, including Methodism and the Campbellites, and finally joined the Mormons on 30 October 1831.
In the summer of 1831, Hyde had begun to examine the claims and doctrines of Joseph Smith. He attended meetings and debates and “often heard the Prophet talk in public and in private upon the subject of the new religion.” He recorded that “after three months of careful and prayerful investigation, reflection and meditation, I came to the conclusion that the ‘Mormons’ had more light and a better spirit than their opponents.” He was baptized by the former Campbellite leader, now Mormon, Sidney Rigdon.
Hyde spent the rest of his life in service to the church, beginning with his ordination as apostle in 1835. He was a successful missionary, serving thirteen missions for the church. When the Saints relocated to the Great Basin, he filled terms as associate judge in the Utah supreme court and as territorial legislator.3
Hyde had briefly left the church and was dropped from the Twelve during the height of the Missouri persecutions in 1838. Though he was later restored to his former position after what he described as a “long, sad repentance” and joined the Saints in Illinois, he was still troubled, restless, and in his own words uncertain about “the field of my ministerial labours.” In March 1840, these uncertainties were cleared away when “the vision of the Lord, like clouds of light, burst upon my view.” According to Hyde, “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…”4
Writing to Hyde after his departure, Joseph Smith spoke of the significance he attached to his apostle’s undertaking: “It is a great and important mission …. Although it appears great at present, yet you have but just begun to realize the greatness, the extent and the glory of the same.”5 Several years earlier in Kirtland, Ohio, Smith had provided a key to interpreting his later emphasis on Hyde’s mission when he wrote: “One of the most important points of the faith of the Church of the Latter-day Saints… is the gathering of Israel… when it shall be said that the Lord lives that brought up the children of Israel in from… all the lands whither he has driven them. That day is one, all important to all men.”6 Along with many of the Saints, Joseph believed [p.141] that Hyde’s mission represented the first rays of that “all important day.”
As early as 1833 Hyde had been marked by Smith to perform an important role in what Mormons believed to be that reciprocal relationship which inhered between the Latter-day Saints and the Jewish people. At the prophet’s hands, Hyde had received a special blessing and was promised: “In due time, thou shalt go to Jerusalem … and be a watchman unto the house of Israel; and by thy hands, shall the most high do a good work, which will prepare the way and greatly facilitate the gathering together of that people.”7
Events crucial for Saints and for Hyde’s mission were to transpire in Kirtland in 1836. First came the winter term of the School of the Prophets when Mormon elders learned Hebrew. An advanced class of ten men, promoted above the other sections, started to translate from the Hebrew Bible three weeks after Joshua Seixas’s arrival. Hyde was among the members of this “first class,” which included Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and Orson Pratt.8 At the end of that term Hyde wrote a letter to Seixas “thanking him for the skillful and whole-hearted teaching which advanced us in the knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures… [beyond] our expectations.”9
The end of their term of studying Hebrew was marked by certificates and letters from both teacher and students filled with expressions of respect, gratitude, and satisfaction. During this same period, preparations for the dedication of the Saints’ first temple at Kirtland were concluded. The dedication of the temple capped a brief season of progress which was to be bitterly overturned only a few months later. But dissension and disappointment were the furthest from anyone’s mind during those final days of March and first week of April 1836, when the impressive dedicatory ceremonies were [p.142] attended by an outpouring of spiritual gifts and visionary manifestations.
Smith’s prayer of 27 March 1836 sanctifying and dedicating the edifice reflected the persistent identification of the Saints with the “gentile” commission to “further the cause of the recovery of God’s covenant people.” Acknowledging the “great love … thou hast … for the children of Jacob, who have been scattered upon the mountains for a long time, in a cloudy and dark day,” Smith invoked the Lord’s “mercy upon the children of Jacob, that Jerusalem, from this hour, may begin to be redeemed; and the yoke of bondage may begin to be broken off from the house of David [that] the children of Judah may begin to return to the lands which thou didst give to Abraham, their father” (D&C 109:60-64). Scattered among the gentile nations, exiled from a homeland, and lacking the requisite power and means to express national aspirations, the Jews of the first half of the nineteenth century were seen by Mormons as suffering under the yoke of bondage. Their redemption had been decreed by prophets in the past and now reiterated by one in the present. Their ingathering was perceived as the remedy, the key to unlock the shackles by which they were controlled and their birthright denied.
This priestly prayer on behalf of Israel and its restoration was followed a week later by a divine manifestation to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, wherein “the keys of the gathering” were rendered to them. “After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened to us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (D&C 110:11). This question of authority was of central importance to the Saints’ plan of restoration. Smith wrote, “all things had under the authority of the Priesthood at any former period, shall be had [p.143] again, bringing to pass the restoration spoken of by the mouth of all the Holy Prophets.”10
The “keys of the gathering,” according to Joseph Smith, had been formerly possessed by Moses, who had been “raised up to deliver the house of Israel from Egypt” (2 Ne. 3:9-10). Following the logic of the Restoration, it was appropriate for Moses to appear and bestow the keys of the gathering on the Saints. Once authorized, the Saints could work to effect conditions favorable to Smith’s prayer that “the children of Judah may begin to return to the lands which thou didst give to Abraham.”
For Orson Hyde divine sanction conferred on the Lord’s church was the crucial test of the validity of his undertaking to Europe and Palestine, the linchpin in all his arguments with Christian divines and missionaries who crossed his path and repudiated his goal. It was the touchstone of his confidence that his work would produce historically attested results.11
In a letter dated 15 June 1841 and written in London to “President Smith,” Hyde refers to a “book” he had written. He explained, “a snug little article upon every point of doctrine believed in by the Saints. I began with the Priesthood.” He continued, “God has sent his holy angel directly from heaven with his seal and authority, and conferred it upon men with his own hands.”12 Good intentions, an inner light, a compelling idea or desire, seminary training—none were sufficient authorization to work in the name of the Lord. As Hyde explained years later in Salt Lake City: “We profess that he has spoken to us from heaven, and revealed unto us his mind and will touching our duties and the course of life that we should pursue in order to build up his kingdom and spread the light of truth throughout the world … Where is the man who is authorized to go forth and act in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? If I obey my own will—my inclination or burning desire to go and preach what I believe to be the gospel, that does not authorize [p.144] me to go in the name of the Lord. Now we, in the sacredness of that name, bear testimony unto you that the Priesthood has been given to man, and we do it with the assurance that God will respond to the deeds done in his name, and by the authority of that Priesthood which he has given.”13
In letter, discourse, and disputation, Hyde returned again and again to this warrant of his faith and work: no divine sanction means no authority to work efficaciously in the Lord’s name. But Hyde was convinced that “An angel, yes an angel sent by the Almighty descended to take away the veil of darkness.”14 This angel endowed the Saints with heavenly power and commissioned them “to proceed according to the letter of instructions that he has given to us.”15 For Hyde the instructions outlining the “field of his ministerial labors” had been emphatic and clear. As an apostle in the church, he had been expressly directed to help the Saints in their part in rescuing the dispersed of Israel.
Hyde addressed a semi-annual conference of the Saints in Nauvoo on 3 April 1840. According to contemporary accounts, more than three thousand Saints attended the open-air meeting. Hyde’s impression impressed his auditors. After hearing Hyde, John E. Page, another apostle, had stood in the conference and forcefully expressed his interest in and approval of Hyde’s vision and intent. Carried away by the high spirits of the meeting, the conference recruited Page to accompany and assist the senior apostle on his journey.16
In his conference address Hyde disclosed the nature of his vision of the previous month and how it fit in with the prophecy pronounced upon him seven years earlier. Smith at that time had mentioned the “great work” Hyde was to perform “among the Jews.” Hyde then described in more detail the revelation he had received. According to the minutes included in Smith’s Journal History: “Elder Orson Hyde addressed the Conference [p.145] at some length … [H]e had recently been moved upon by the Spirit of the Lord to visit that people [the Jews], and gather up all information he could respecting their movements, expectations, &c., and communicate the same to this Church; and to the nation at large, stating that he intended to visit the Jews in New York, London, and Amsterdam, and then visit Constantinople and the Holy Land.”17
A pamphlet, A Voice from JerusaIem, or a Sketch of the Travels and Ministry of Elder Orson Hyde …, was published by the church in England as Hyde’s mission came to an end. The preface elaborated more about the revelation. In this “evening vision,” Hyde was instructed that “many of the children of Abraham” resided in the cities opened up to Hyde’s prophetic “sight.” These, the Lord instructed Hyde, “I will gather to the land I gave to their fathers.”18
Part of the task was to make a “strict observance of the movements of the Jews, and a careful examination of [the Jewish] faith relative to their expected Messiah [and] the setting up of his kingdom among them.” This latter event would be accompanied, Hyde understood, by “the overthrow of the present kingdoms and governments of the Gentiles.” By relating all this information, Hyde would serve “to open the eyes of many of the uncircumcised … that the great day of the Lord comes not upon them unawares.” Hyde was then instructed to obtain “credentials” from “your brethren” as well as the governor of the state of Illinois. He was subsequently issued “credentials” from Smith, which expressly enjoined him “to transmit to this country nothing but simple facts … entirely disconnected with any peculiar views of theology, leaving each class to make their own comments and draw their own inferences.”19
However, Hyde’s commission as revealed in his vision20 entailed a message to be delivered to Jewish communities as well. “[G]o ye forth to the cities which have been shown unto you,” he was told, and call “unto Judah”: “Assemble yourselves … Retire! stay not … the lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way … to make thy land desolate, and thy cities shall be laid waste without inhabitant.” He was also commanded: “Speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished—that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received at the Lord’s hands double for all her sins.” Finally Hyde was specifically enjoined to “let your warning voice be heard among the Gentiles as you pass” and to let them aid and assist him in his undertaking.21
As reconstructed by Hyde, this vision had two distinct messages for two separate audiences. For gentiles, Hyde has a predominately dark and apocalyptic message. The “times of the gentiles” was at an end; the “movements” and “faith” of the Jews to return to their kingdom would mean “the overthrow of present kingdoms and governments.” A new, messianic order was coming—a millennial kingdom with two capitals an ocean apart in Jerusalem and Zion. “Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry gather together…let us go to the defended cities.”
Parley P. Pratt, an important publicist, apostle, and theologian for the Mormon church, was publisher of Hyde’s pamphlet and intimately acquainted with the terms and intent of Hyde’s mission. Pratt was working in England when Hyde passed through on his way to Palestine, and it was Pratt who received Hyde’s correspondence. Not long after Hyde’s brief sojourn in England, Pratt penned a broadside directed at the empire’s young queen, in which the apocalyptic theme of Hyde’s vision was forcefully reiterated. “A letter to the Queen of England: touching the signs of the times, and the Political destiny of the World”22 is dated 28 May 1841 and was written from the office on Chapel Street, Liverpool. Pratt told the monarch that her reign would probably [p.147] be a brief one: “Know assuredly that the world … is on the even of a revolution … a revolution [for which] heaven itself has waited with longing expectation for its consummation.” “Connected with the ushering in of this new era,” the Mormon apostle confidently prophesied, “will be the restoration of Judah and Israel from their long dispersion. They will come home to their own land, and rebuild Jerusalem and the cities of Judea, and rear up the temple of their God” while at the same time “the destruction of all other kingdoms” was inevitable.
This prophecy, Pratt opined, need not herald the devastation of Victoria’s young rule. She had only to become an instrument for “revolution” herself. “I must close this letter,” Pratt wrote, “by forewarning the Sovereign and the people of England, in the most affectionate manner, to repent and turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart … Let them deal their bread to the hungry, their clothed to the naked, —Let them be merciful to the poor, the needy, the sick and the afflicted…Let them set the oppressed free, and break every yoke…Let them dispense with their pride [sic] extravagence, their luxury and excess; for the cries of the poor have ascended up to heaven … and his anger is kindled, and he will no longer suffer their sufferings to go unnoticed … If [Queen and people] will not hearken to the words of the prophets and apostles, they will be overthrown with the wicked, and perish from the earth.”
Hyde’s message had an impact on associates within the church and occasionally on uninitiated gentile readers. The sweep of Hyde’s vision propelled John E. Page from his seat in the April conference to travelling companion and second witness to Hyde. A young missionary on his way to England by the name of George J. Adams accompanied Hyde across the Atlantic. Once disembarked, Adams became an indefatigable propagandist for the gathering and restoration of the Jews and the [p.148] imminent downfall of the current political order.23 In a conference in Manchester, England, Hyde “appealed powerfully to the meeting and covenanted with the Saints present in a bond of mutual prayer during his mission to Jerusalem … which was sustained on the part of the hearers with a hearty Amen.”24 After hearing Hyde speak, William Appleby, either at a conference in Philadelphia or New York prior to his departure for England, was moved to pen a “Farewell Address to Orson Hyde.” Appleby rhapsodized: “And as you go your warning voice/Lift up to Jew and Gentile too,/The poor in spirit will rejoice/At tidings that are borne by you … O how your heart will then rejoice,/To see the outcasts’ flocking home;/ The chosen seed of Israel’s race,/No more in foreign climes to roam.”25
The Crown no doubt ignored the apocalyptic warnings issuing from Chapel Street, Liverpool, but the same message overturned the world of a small-time entrepreneur and farmer in Quincy, Illinois, named E. T. Benson. The twenty-nine-year-old Benson heard the message of the approaching millennial order and the ascendancy of Israel from Elders Hyde and Page while the pair were making their way slowly across the country to the Atlantic seaboard.
Their resonate message touched on signal topics of the day: William Miller’s predicted apocalyptic year approached and anxious souls waited for the signs of the times to point to the Lord’s advent. Miller’s imminentism was bolstered by Israel’s seeming disarray and irreversible exile, or so it seemed to Miller and his followers.
Six years later Benson, in “A brief history written by himself,”26 explained his conversion to Mormonism: “Elder Hyde preached, in the morning, a rich discourse upon the gathering of the Jews and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and called upon Elder Page to pray and I never heard the like before. They took up a collection to [p.149] assist them on their mission…This was the first time I had ever helped any missionary…”Benson described the effect of Page’s discourse: “Elder Page … preached upon the gathering of the house of Israel, which was very interesting to me. He spoke so loud that he broke up a Presbyterian meeting close by and upon coming out of their meeting he called upon the college bred missionaries to shew him where the Lord led the ten tribe[s], but none came forward…” Soon after, both Benson and his wife were baptized in the Mississippi River.
By preaching in “rich discourse upon the gathering of the Jews and the rebuilding of Jerusalem,” Hyde both affirmed the Mormon doctrine of gathering and refuted the imminentist, anti-Jewish apocalyptic of Millerite adventists. Page’s unusual prayer, his loud sermonizing, and taunting questions were gauged, furthermore, to distinguish the identity of this missionary undertaking from those of the established competition, here represented by the Presbyterians. Benson’s reconstruction of the event and its effects emphasize both the distinctiveness of the message and the fact that the question of Israel’s restoration was a topic of lively interest. If convincingly “answered,” it could persuade men and women to embrace a new Christian sectarian identity.
Gentiles were not the primary audience intended to welcome the message Hyde received in his March 1840 vision. It was principally the Jewish community that needed to escape the “destroyer of the gentiles.” The words of Hyde’s vision, part of which were reconstructed from Isaiah 40, were meant to be a joyful announcement that the streets of Jerusalem would soon resound to the clamor of the return of scattered Israel. But that joy was accompanied by an ominous oracle. Hyde’s message included a warning that the merciless hand of an enemy was raised against the Jews and posed [p.150] a mortal peril for their whole household in Europe. Hyde cited Jeremiah 4: “The lion is come up from the thicket and … is on his way … to make thy land desolate.”
Hyde was also sent on an embassy of peace and reconciliation. This was a necessary part of the Restoration. The latter half of 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon relates the ministry of the resurrected Jesus Christ among his messianic disciples in the New World. Perhaps the climax of that account is Christ quoting the words of Isaiah: “Sing O barren … break forth into singing … for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.… [T]hou shalt forget the shame of thy youth.… For thy maker, thy husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name.… For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee … with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer” (22:1-8). The preaching of this message is singular among Christians in ante-bellum America—a representative from a Christian church visiting Jewish people with words of peace and pardon. Nowhere in Hyde’s account of his vision was Christian conversion or baptism attached to this message of reconciliation.
It was not until 13 February 1841 that Hyde set sail for London. Page’s enthusiasm had already waned, and the two had separated; Page never reached New York or points east. After a routine crossing, Hyde arrived in Liverpool on 3 March and was greeted there by members of the Quorum of the Twelve, who were laboring in what was for Mormons a fertile mission field.27 Hyde and Heber C. Kimball28 had opened up this mission in 1837 after Smith told Kimball that “something new must be done for the salvation of … the Church.”29
That “something” was the LDS church’s first overseas mission. In the next several decades, tens of thousands [p.151] of Britons were to hear and accept the message preached by itinerant Mormon apostle/missionaries. At first the prospects of opening a mission in England struck unlettered apostles such as Kimball with dread. Kimball marveled, “How can I go to preach in that land, which is famed throughout Christendom for learning, knowledge and piety; the nursery of religion; and to a people whose intelligence is proverbial?”30 Dread, however, was soon replaced with disgust at the abject conditions to which the British industrial class had been reduced. Mormon apostle Wilford Woodruff recorded: “The streets were crowded with the poor, both male and female, going to and fro from the factories with their wooden clog shoes which makes a great rattling on the pavement. The poor are in as great bondage as the children of Israel in Egypt.”31
Modern historians have analyzed the effectiveness of Mormon proselytizing in the mid-1800s in Great Britain. The distinctive attractions of the Mormon millenarian program, which included immigration and financial and material assistance to remove to the American west, converted many Britons. What Mormon elders preached, in the words of British historian H. F. C. Harrison, was a “kingdom of this world … it offered practical, material benefits here and now.”32
However, Hyde did not tarry long with his brethren in their proselytizing endeavors on this trip to England. He left for London determined to labor for the “other” gathering. W. H. Oliver, in his study of prophets and millennialists in England between 1790 and 1840, pointed out the bifurcated spatial focus of Latter-day Saint millenarian hopes: “this characteristically Mormon gathering [of the English Saints] did not preclude a vital interest in the gathering of the Jews to their ancient homeland … [T]he early numbers of the Millennial Star [the church’s official publication in England] as a whole contain plenty about the gathering of the [p.152] Jews … The Mormon teaching depicted two future and cosmic gatherings. Each was part of the prophetic world picture upon which the new religion rested.”33
In London Hyde immediately sought an audience with “Solomon Hirschel, President Rabbi of the Hebrew community in this country.” The seventy-eight-year-old Hirschel informed the Mormon apostle, the latter reported, that he would be unable to receive Hyde “in consequence of a very severe accident” which left him “confined to his room” with a broken leg.34 Undaunted Hyde wrote a lengthy letter to Hirschel on the subject of his mission. Feeling that its contents “may not be altogether uninteresting to the Saints and friends in America,” Hyde mailed a copy to Joseph Smith, which was subsequently published in the Times and Seasons.35
Hyde’s message to Hirschel was essentially two-fold. His letter addressed the issue of Jewish exile and proposed a means to contrive its end. Though “not being able, by any existing document or record, to identify himself with your nation,” Hyde expressed the hope that owing to his “affections” for the “writings of the Jewish prophets” and the “finest sympathies of my heart” for the “scattered and oppressed condition” of the Jewish people, his message might yet obtain a favorable reading from England’s chief rabbi·
As an apostle of the “gathering,” Hyde argued that the bitterness of exile was due to an absence of “security … and honor … light … and knowledge” which “Kingdom,” “country,” and “standard” provide. The remedy to this “yoke of bondage” lay in the contemporary renewal of the appropriate institutions, terms, and boundaries from Israel’s past as a nation state. In the past when “they possessed a kingdom,” Hyde wrote, “a land of milk and honey—then the strong arm of Jehovah taught the surrounding nations … to pay homage to them.… [T]heir standard was raised high … and under its shade, the sons and daughters of Israel reposed in [p.153] perfect safety; and the golden letters of light and knowledge were inscribed on its fold.”
Hyde rehearsed his blessing at the hands of Smith for this “mission,” and also the particulars of his March 1840 vision which addressed the issue of Israel’s return to its covenant home. Averring that he was “completely untrammeled from every party interest and from every sectarian influence,” Hyde urged Hirschel and the Jewish community to, “Arise! Arise! and go out from among the Gentiles; for destruction is coming from the north to lay their cities waste. Jerusalem is thy home. There the God of Abraham will deliver thee.” Israel’s gathering would not only contribute to the realization of Jewish national aspirations, it would also, Hyde warned, provide the alternative to an all-consuming, proximate catastrophe which would otherwise overtake covenant Israel.
When Hyde explained the reason for the dispersion, Hirschel could hardly have been impressed. Hyde’s traditional use of biblical and theological sources led him to assign Israel’s condition to their collective responsibility for the death of Christ: “The fiery storm that burst upon your nation at that time … too plainly declare[s] that the strong imprecation which they uttered on a certain occasion, has been fulfilled upon them to the letter. ‘Let his blood be upon us and on our children.'” At least he, unlike Cowdery before him, did not also lay the charge of idolatry at contemporary Israel’s door. Though his “pen,” he wrote, “is pointed with friendship and dipped in the fountain of love and good will towards your nation,” the collective charge of homicide could not have encouraged an appointment with Hirschel.
In fact Hyde’s charge runs contrary to one of the most basic of Mormon doctrines. In what is now called the “Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Joseph Smith expressed belief in the individual accountability of human beings. In a letter to [p.154] newspaper editor John Wentworth, who had inquired about the fundamental beliefs of Mormons, Smith had replied in words which found their way into the LDS scriptural canon: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressions.”36 This belief was not qualified by reference to Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus. Building on such silence, W. D. Davies, in his article “Israel, Mormons, and the Land,” has pointed out that “It is striking … that in the passage where the cross emerges in the Book of Mormon and in the Doctrine and Covenants the Jews are not explicitly mentioned as responsible for it; rather, the cross is dealt with in broad terms.… It is surprising how few references to the cross occur in the Book of Mormon. In the index to the Doctrine and Covenants no item entitled ‘cross’ occurs.… [T]here is again no specific reference to the role of Jews in the Crucifixion but concentration on the suffering of Christ for all men.” After surveying the corpus of Mormon canonical writings, Davies observed that “all this may be significant as pointing to the absence of any anti-Judaism in Mormonism.”37
The explanation for exile was not central to Hyde’s epistle. The remedy for it was. So too was the warning of an approaching menace to Israel’s people. The crux of Hyde’s message was that the solution to oppression and exile was renewal of worship and an autonomous state. The two-pronged solution was punctuated by Hyde’s call for repentance: “Now, there, O ye children of the covenant, repent of all your backslidings, and begin, as in days of old, to turn to the Lord your God. Arise! Arise! and go out from among the Gentiles.… Jerusalem is thy home.”
This spirited passage alludes to Jeremiah 3:11-21. There the prophet calls Israel in the name of the Lord, “Return, thou backsliding Israel … and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you,” if only it “will acknowledge [its] iniquity.” The result of this turning would be [p.155] their return “to Zion,” growth in “Knowledge and understanding, expansion in numbers and influence or power,” and rapprochement between the various members of the household of Israel and between Israel and its Lord.
If Hyde’s aim had been preaching repentance to the Jewish people in the traditional Christian sense of a “turning to God in Christ with faith,”38 he surely would have mentioned it in his letter to Smith highlighting his successes. The Latter-day Saint message to gentile audiences was unabashedly sectarian and conversionist. To the Jews, Hyde’s message was fundamentally supportive of Israel’s autonomy and its hopes for an end to exile among the gentile nations.
As illustrated by his use of Jeremiah 3:29, Hyde attempted to construe Israel’s autonomy and integrity, its security and renewal, from the fund of metaphors available to him from scripture and from the Latter-day Saint experience. Thus when he states, “Repent … and begin, as in days of old, to turn to the Lord your God,” the modern reader must take into account the whole of Hyde’s epistle and the terms and categories being employed to explicate Mormon and Jewish identities. He borrowed these terms from Smith, who increasingly turned to ancient Israelite institutions, including high priests and temples, to construe the identity and strength of both the Jewish and the Mormon covenant communities.
Hyde left England after writing his letter to Rabbi Hirschel and started for the Netherlands. According to a letter to “Bro. Joseph and all whom it may concern,” dated 17 July 1841, Hyde arrived in Rotterdam and “called on the Hebrew Rabbi.”39 In this meeting Hyde began to gather the information he had been sent to find. Limited by language barriers from entering “into particulars with him,” Hyde asked three questions: Would the Messiah come from a woman or “from [p.156] Heaven”? When would this take place? “Do you believe in the restitution of your nation to the land of your fathers, called the land of Promise?”
Hyde reported that there was neither disputation nor contentiousness in the exchange. Without comment Hyde recorded the man’s responses: first, the Messiah would be born of mortal parents and from “the seed and lineage of David”; second, the event, long awaited, was believed to be near at hand; and finally, “We hope it [the awaited gathering] will be so…we believed that many Jews will return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city—rear a temple to the name of the Most High, and restore our ancient worship.” “Jerusalem,” he reported, “shall be the capital of our nation—the centre of our union, and the Standard and Ensign of our national existence.”
In parting Hyde promised to have a fuller communication of his mission translated into Dutch and received the rabbi’s thanks for his “respect.” Unable to contact “the President Rabbi” during his stay of “only one night, and a part of two days” in Amsterdam, Hyde made his way by river passage to the Adriatic. There he secured a berth in a vessel bound for the Levant. On 21 October 1841 after an overland passage from Jaffa, Hyde entered Jerusalem.40 His stay was brief, most of his task completed within days of his arrival. By 22 November, a month later, Hyde was writing to his fellow apostle, Parley P. Pratt, in England, from the harbor of Alexandria: “I have only time to say that I have seen Jerusalem precisely according to the vision which I had.… [And] that through the goodness of the Lord, I have been enabled to accomplish that which was told me prophetically, several years ago, by Brother Joseph.… ”
The climax of Hyde’s mission which took him far from Nauvoo came on the morning of 24 October 1841. He writes: “On Sunday morning … a good while before day, I arose from sleep, and went out of the city as soon as the gates were opened, crossed the brook Cedron, and [p.157] went upon the Mount of Olives, and there, in solemn silence, with pen, ink, and paper, just as I saw in the vision, offered up the following prayer to him who lives forever and ever.” In the lengthy prayer which followed, Hyde dedicated Israel’s land of inheritance and consecrated it for the “gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants,” for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the construction of the Lord’s temple. Reminding God of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and of the longing of Israel for a return to its home, Hyde blessed the earth of the Holy Land with water, flocks, and fields sufficient to provide for the return of Israel’s exiled children.
He further invoked the Lord to “incline them [Judah’s remnants] to gather” and spread abroad the spirit of return so even gentile rulers and nations would assist in the gathering. Blessings were sought for all parties assisting this work, “while the nation or kingdom that will not serve must perish according to thy word—’Yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.'” Ultimately the goal of this solemn prayer with its blessings and cursings was to manifest the Lord’s “good pleasure to restore the kingdom of Israel” and to “raise up Jerusalem as its capital, and constitute her people a distinct nation and government, with David thy servant, even a descendant from the loins of ancient David, to be their king.”
His prayer and work now completed, Hyde fashioned a pile of uncut stones “according to the ancient custom” as a witness and memorial. Those words and stones capped the Saints often inarticulate but passionate conviction that Israel would be restored as a distinct people and nation. More particularly they testified to the vision of their prophet Joseph Smith and to his belief in the concrete and efficacious power which inhered in the restoration of gospel and priesthood. That priesthood and gospel, they believed, had been extended to [p.158] the righteous among the gentiles” in the latter days to bless and fructify lands of covenant, effect Israel’s return from exile, and hence quicken the coming of Messiah and the messianic age.
Little within the literary deposit left by nineteenth-century missionaries to Palestine or by biblical/archaeological scholars, pilgrims, consuls, colonists, and travelers drawn to the Holy Land compares with Hyde’s mission and prayer. Hyde’s own account of encounters with American, British, and German missionaries working in Jerusalem underline his divergent path. While in Jerusalem, Hyde reports that he read the substance of the letter he penned addressing Jewish communities to some missionaries representing the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which was supported by Presbyterian and Congregationalist denominations, and also missionaries for the Anglican church. He was answered with silence and incomprehension. The others preferred, he reported, to draw the Mormon apostle into debate over distinctions between Mormonism and established Christian doctrine.
Hyde himself questioned the efficacy and propriety of Jewish missions in Palestine.41 “Your time is spent here to little or no purpose,” Hyde contended. Though he may well have been unfair, Hyde criticized not only the inadequacy of the religious propositions they communicated to an unreceptive audience but also the salaries they drew from foreign-based societies. Hyde refers sarcastically to the missionaries’ project to “gather Israel, convert the heathen and bring in the millennium … in our own way, and according to our own will.” Israel’s primary and pressing need was the restoration of its territory and polity. Those would be restored, Hyde opined, not by tract or sermon but by the “political power and influence” of some gentile nations.
The point was clear enough to both parties. The missionaries, who because of their longer residence and [p.159] training were acquainted with the city, its languages, and important local personalities, refused Hyde’s request for introductions.42 Thereafter he quit their company and struck out alone to survey Jerusalem and pronounce the blessings he had been commissioned to bestow.
Hyde’s account of his encounter and debates with Protestant missionaries in Jerusalem no doubt focused on differences and distinctions for the benefit of Mormons reading his public letters in the states and Great Britain. The narrative also benefits from its retrospective composition in Alexandria and Trieste. But the distinctiveness of Hyde’s mission is underlined by contrasting it with accounts of other Christians drawn like Hyde to Palestine in order to articulate their proposals for the fate of Israel.
First, there were biblical scholars such as Edward Robinson, who began his archaeological work in Jerusalem in 1838.43 Robinson’s work was of the highest quality. At the same time his writings were couched in language geared to assist the pious in their reading of the scriptures. As one traveler put it, “a perfect knowledge of the Holy Land is needful to a perfect knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures.”44 Robinson was also quite zealous to correct geographies and descriptions of the Holy Land “encrusted with Roman tradition” not corresponding with scripture and direct observation. Beginning with Robinson and continuing through Albright in our time, these works focusing on Israel’s past material culture have been widely read and their findings followed by Christian readers both in America and Europe. In 1842 Robinson’s work was cited in the Times and Seasons.45
Pilgrims and travelers comprised by far the largest group to visit the Holy Land. Whether traveling to renew their faith or taking in the Middle East as one more leg of the Grand Tour so popular in the nineteenth century [p.160] (and wryly described in Twain’s Innocents Abroad), accounts by pilgrims were legion. Reports of their travels in articles, speeches, letters, and books were also widely read. Many accounts ran through dozens of editions.
The reactions of such travelers were diverse. Herman Melville visited the Holy Land in 1857. In an epic poem Clarel, he wrote that the Holy Land was “in its mined state an outward and visible vision of the loss of religions among … men and, to some degree, the ruins of the world.”46 However, most did not share Melville’s pessimism. The prominent millenarian Horatius Bonar visited just one year after Melville and found the land “possessed a magnetic power … it wins the heart, and draws the steps towards itself, by a mighty and mysterious attraction.” He noted approvingly the labors of Protestant missionaries approaching the “Jews of Jerusalem kindly yet boldly” in the hopes of winning them to Christ.47
The French Catholic father Becq had yet another vision. Becq realized a lifelong dream of visiting the Holy Land and his Impressions d’un Pelerin de Terre-Sainte is an ardent expression of his particular religious sensibilities. Becq’s devotions are lavished on a land of shrines, pilgrimages, and sacred rites, the “land of Mary, my dear Mother, oh cradle, oh sepulchre of my God.” The Jews of Jerusalem eat “their bread in affliction and tears,” while non-Catholic Christians (les schismatiques) “are rich, ambitious, and hateful toward Catholics.” His book ends with a prayer that one day he will return to salute the Holy City in its return to the Lord. He pleads for a “pacifistic crusade” within the Roman church to deliver Jerusalem by building up its numerous shrines and churches and by flooding its streets with a tide of pious pilgrims.48
Philip Schaff, the eminent church historian and theologian, journeyed to Palestine in the wake of a personal domestic crisis, seeking solace and better [p.161] health. His account demonstrates a greater sympathy for the needs of the present-day inhabitants of Jerusalem than much of the Holy Land literature, but he still concludes: “the lands of the Bible are one vast mission field, which must be conquered with spiritual weapons for Christ and Christian civilization.” In Jerusalem he perceives the makings of “a new Jerusalem … gradually springing up by the pious and benevolent efforts of foreigners, who labor for the revival of Bible Christianity in this Bible land.”49
In addition to these pilgrims and travelers, small contingents of Americans and Europeans sought to reside in the Holy Land either as diplomats or colonists. Frank S. De Hass, Selah Merrill, Edwin S. Wallace, and Otis Overbrook were all Protestant ministers called by the American government to be its consuls in Jerusalem. It has been noted that their acceptance of consular appointments was less a matter of diplomatic credentials and experience than a desire to visit the lands of the Bible.50 Often hopes for an inspirational tour of duty were smashed. Consul De Hass wrote, “You see nothing but ruin and desolation everywhere. The people are poor and ignorant, the land neglected and barren, and the towns filthy and cheerless.”51
One exception was Warder Cresson, consul in Jerusalem in 1845. Cresson was a former (Quaker/former Mormon who once in Palestine converted to Judaism and married a Jewish woman. Elden Ricks in his “Zionism and the Mormon Church” mentions that Cresson was instrumental in establishing an agricultural settlement there and raises the question of whether Cresson’s interest in building up the country could be traced to his previous Mormon affiliation.52
Would-be-colonist George J. Adams’s Mormon connection is in contrast well documented.53 Having accompanied Hyde on the New York to London portion of the apostle’s mission, Adams benefitted directly from [p.162] Hyde’s sentiments concerning the restoration of the Jews. Much later in 1866 after having disaffiliated himself from the LDS church, Adams, now “President of the Messiah Emigration Association,” led an ill-fated band of colonists to Palestine to witness the glorious events he believed would imminently unfold. Clorinda Minor, an American Millerite, also immigrated in anticipation of great events. Wanting to be a first-hand heir of Israel’s regeneration, she had preceded Adams’s group by thirteen years and established the Mt. Hope Colony in Jaffa in 1853.54
Other major groups to venture to Palestine were Protestant missionaries sent by the British Church Missionary Society, the “London Society,” and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Founded in 1818 the American Board’s first stated goal was the conversion and reformation of the Oriental Christian churches and the conversion of Muslims.55 But in the words of Levi Parsons, who along with Pliny Fisk and Jonas King were the first to venture to Palestine, they also believed in the restoration of a Jewish Holy Land: “the outcasts of Israel will yet be gathered to their own land.… Surely the day so long desired by the people of God is beginning to dawn.” To substantiate his claim, Parsons points to the success of Christian proselytizing among the Jews in Europe. He calls for the prayers of Christians and for an outpouring of charity in order to purchase New Testaments and train missionaries.56
William Jowett’s reflections on his 1823-24 mission to Palestine, published in 1826 as Christian Researches in Syria and the Holy Land, is representative of the missionary assessment of Protestant Christianity’s role in fashioning humanity’s evangelical future. Jowett hoped that “the picture exhibited [in these pages] may be the means of rousing British public to a deeper sense of their obligations to prosecute Christian missions in this part [p.163] of the world … and to visit all the dark places of the Earth.” Jowett like Hyde indulged in descriptions of Jerusalem, its people, and environs. But unlike Hyde, he was compelled to describe the “meanness,” “filth” and “misery” of the Holy City. All were manifest proofs, he concluded, “of the displeasure of that Great King resting upon his city.” Visiting the Temple Mount, he mused on the destruction of the Second Temple. There would be no new temple except that which “He [Jesus] had rebuilt … of his own body … the wondrous work of raising a spiritual temple to his Father.” Representing a more mundane, temple-building people, Hyde “erected” a pile of stones “on what was anciently called Mount Zion, where the temple stood.” He no doubt believed this to be the site of the future restored temple of Israel.57
Jowett’s only recorded personal encounter with the Jewish populace was with a Rabbi Mendel. As it appears in Jowett’s memoirs, the meeting was designed to disparage the Talmud and to “prove” the superiority of Christianity. His general impression of the Jewish quarter and its inhabitants was that they were “pining away” and that their houses were “dunghills.” While surveying his surroundings from the Mount of Olives, the British missionary was bombarded with impressions that the land was “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” and that “God is a god of judgement.” In his mind there was “no doubt as to the present sufferings and the eternal doom of the inhabitants of this once fertile plain of Jordan.”58
As for oriental Christian and Latin churches and shrines, Jowett disparaged the “weight of their monastic piles.” Their ceremonies were vain in the sight of God. For any truly Protestant missionary attempt to be successful, the “fulsome pageantry of the scene must first be removed … this bustle of ecclesiastical apparatus must utterly vanish.”59
[p.164] Later on Jowett argues that the responsibility of Protestant missionaries is to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah and show them “Him whom they have pierced.” Although “feelings of many devout Christians are, in the present day, wound up to the highest pitch in favor to the Jews,” sentiments and expectations must be governed by a “wise and scriptural direction” given by Christian ministers from New Testament apostolic teaching alone. In contrast prophecy from the Old Testament leads to wild “conjecture catching at every probability.” As for restoration of the Jews, Christians must desire to follow Providence and not lead.60
Talk of Jewish restoration in Palestine was purely a matter of business and politics, “How easily might multitudes of Christians be misled on topics of this nature.” Christian efforts “in reference to the Jews, is none other than their spiritual conversion.” On leaving Jerusalem Jowett reflects: “What good … has my visit done here? Who will be the better for it? I feel that I have done almost nothing.… Peace be within thy walls.”61
The contrast between the sentiments expressed by missionaries, pilgrims, diplomats, and colonists and those expressed by Hyde and his prophet, Joseph Smith, is clear. At the same time many scholars and archaeologists staked out carefully boundaried academic territories for their labors and sought not to disturb the status quo for the sake of uninterrupted research. Those who went as pilgrims, Robert Handy has noted, “were really seeking the Holy Land of the first century … and hence were not … particularly concerned with the land as it had become.”62 Their letters and dispatches home often implicitly or otherwise deplored modernization or material renovation which upset biblical fantasies. Most of the missionaries pitted themselves against Israel’s literal return and autonomous development. Their theological commitment could not make place for a politically sovereign Israel which did not have an organic [p.165] relation to the church. As Jews and Muslims resisted proselytizing and Palestine became the site of aliyah or Jewish return and resettlement, mission accounts often expressed frustration that evangelists were mere observers not midwives to the great events they witnessed.
On the evening before Hyde’s ascent of the Mount of Olives to invoke his prayer of dedication and consecration, he walked the darkened streets of Jerusalem highly agitated by the prospects of the coming morning’s work. In contrast to the sentiments of his contemporaries, he wrote: “My spirit struggled within me in earnest prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would not only revolutionize this country, but renovate and make it glorious. My heart would lavish its blessings upon it in the greatest prodigality in view of what is to come hereafter.”63
8. Orson Pratt (1811-81) was the younger brother of Parley P. Pratt and at twenty-three a member of the original twelve apostles. Pratt was a tireless evangelist, preacher, and publicist. “To many Americans and Europeans in the nineteenth century, he was the best known Mormon besides Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. He was the foremost intellectual in the Church.…” “His influence on the doctrine and history of the Mormon people … can only be compared to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and his brother, Parley Parker Pratt.” See Breck England’s The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1985). These assessments of Pratt are given by Leonard Arrington and Breck England (xv, xv).
20. Hyde reports, “many other things were shown and told me in the vision which will be made public at the proper time and places. The vision continued open for a number of hours, that I did not close my eyes in sleep”; from Hyde, A Voice, iii.
23. See ibid., 3:16; 3 (1 July 1842). See also George J. Adams, A Few Plain Facts … also a short sketch of the rise, faith and doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Bedford, England: B. Merry, 1841), 14-16; also The Star in the East, ed. Elder George J. Adams, 1:1, Boston 1846, 2.
26. Benson’s “history” is recorded in the Journal History, 16 July 1846, archives, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; hereafter cited as Journal History. By 1846 Benson was the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve and was making his way with the Saints from Nauvoo toward the Great Basin. He had been appointed to fill the vacant seat in the quorum left by John E. Page.
28. Heber C. Kimball (1810-68) was born in Shelton, Vermont. Kimball “was the third elder chosen to be a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve” in March 1835. Between 1832 when he was baptized a member of the LDS church and 1844, he served “eight missions and converted thousands.” He was a member of the First Presidency of the church from 1847 until his death. Brigham Young and Kimball “were virtually inseparable.” See Van Wagoner and Walker, A Book of Mormons, 136-40.
35. Ibid., 551-55. Hyde’s letters were published in occasional numbers of the Times and Seasons as a chronicle of his mission. They became one of the major marketing appeals of its editors and contributed to the appearance of “The Jews” column. The editors writing a review of volume two noted that “The interest of the succeeding volume will be greatly enhanced, from the fact that our being in the regular receipt of communications from Elder Orson Hyde, our missionary to Palestine.… [H]is letters will be perused with pleasure and deep interest by all the well wishers to the ancient covenant people of God—the children of Israel”; ibid., 2 (15 Oct. 1841): 574. In a “Prospectus for the third volume of the Times and Seasons,” the editor, E. Robinson, noted “the interest in the third volume,” which, he promised, “will contain much information concerning the movements of the Jews, their belief &c, which is a matter of deep interest to all classes of community”; ibid., 3 (15 Nov. 1841)·
37. W. D. Davies, “Israel, Mormons, and the Land,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judeo-Christian Parallels, 94. Davies also points out an interesting variant conclusion in Apostle James E. Talmage’s reading of the destruction of Jerusalem in The Articles of Faith, first published in Salt Lake City in 1899. Talmage writes, “the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, witnesses that every nation that fought against Israel, or in any way oppressed them, passed away.” The accepted view, given out by New Testament writers themselves, was that the event was Jerusalem’s just and due punishment for the death of Christ and the rejection of his movement.
40. “My natural eyes, for the first time beheld Jerusalem. … a storm of commingled emotions suddenly arose in my breast, the force of which was only spent in a profuse shower of tears”; Hyde, A Voice, 7. The account of his experience in Jerusalem comes from this pamphlet: 8-11, 28-32. But did Hyde in fact travel to and see Jerusalem or did his record instead render an account of some inner visionary or spiritual pilgrimage? The following leads me to conclude he actually traveled there.
Physical descriptions. Hyde’s testimony that he debarked in Jaffa, travelled overland to Jerusalem, and entered by the “west gate” (7) fits well with Yehoshua Ben Arieh’s descriptions of such an approach by pilgrim traffic in the early decades of the nineteenth century; see Jerusalem in the 19th Century: The Old City (Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak Ben Zvi Institute, St. Martins Press, 1984). His accommodations at the “Latin Convent” most probably refer to the Franciscan Convent of St. Savior (Hyde, 7; Ben Arieh, 227-29). Hyde’s observations on the recent increase in the Jewish population in Jerusalem (Hyde, 16, 32; Ben Arieh, 270-72) and his description of the situation and appearance of Jerusalem all accord well with what a traveller in the autumn of 1841 would have seen and encountered.
Individuals. Hyde’s account abounds with references to people who were present in Jerusalem and the Levant at the time of his account. Knowledge of the whereabouts of all these individuals would have been extremely unlikely had Hyde not been physically present. There is his description of German Anglicans (Hyde, 12; Ben Arieh, “they constituted most of the active missionaries in Jerusalem,” 252); the naming of “Commodore [David] Porter,” the first minister of the American legation in Constantinople (Hyde, 19; A. L. Tibawi, American Interests in Syria, 1800-1901: A Study of Educational, Literary and Religious Work [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966]) and “Mr. Chassan” [Jasper Chasseaud], the first U.S. vice-consul in Beirut (Hyde, 19; Tibawi, 76, 89, 94); and Hyde’s frequent references to the Protestant missionary “Mr. [George B.J Whiting” (Hyde, 7, 8, 10, 11, 21 and Edward Robinson, Later Biblical Researches in Palestine and in the Adjacent Regions [ 1856; reprt. New York: Arno Press, 1977]). All of these references argue for placing Hyde in Jerusalem and the Levant in the early 1840s.
Events. Hyde notes accurately the presence of the British consul in Jerusalem not Jaffa (Hyde, 10; Ben Arieh, 184) and describes in detail reports of Druse-Christian conflicts in Lebanon (Hyde, 19; Tibawi, “the first Druze-Marionite armed conflict broke out in the autumn of 1841,” 95) and the diplomatic exchange between the Sublime Porte, Consul Porter, and American missionaries in “Syria” (Hyde, 19, 34; Tibawi, 93-94).
The cumulative effect of these observations and references makes a strong case that Hyde was either unusually conversant with Mission Society records, diplomatic mail and appointments, and Middle East geography, or, what seems more reasonable, was physically present to witness and record his observations of places, people, and events in Jerusalem in October 1841.
57. William Jowett, Christian Researches in Syria and the Holy Land in 1823 and 1824: In Furtherance of the Objects of the Church Mission Society (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, Cummings, Hilliard and Co., 1826), 4, 6, 157, 159. Hyde’s descriptions of Jerusalem can be found in Voice, 16, 32. For an important study of the fascination and dread which afflicted Christians with regard to the temple in Jerusalem, see Hugh Nibley, “Christian Envy of the Temple,” Jewish Quarterly Review 50 (1959): 97-123 and (1960): 229-240.