Destroying God’s Olive Vineyard for Fame and Prophet (Part 1)

Posted: February 28, 2021 in Book of Mormon, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies, Susan Grape
Notes and Thoughts on The Book of Mormon’s Parable of the Olive Tree

An ancient olive grove in Israel. Some of the trees in this grove are over 1,000-years old.

compiled by Susan Grape, Fred W. Anson, and “Team TOYBOM”
For those unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon, the Parable of the Olive Tree is an extended allegory recounted in Chapter 5 of the Book of Jacob, the third book of the Book of Mormon. Jacob states the allegory was one of the teachings of the alleged extra-Biblical, Old Testament era prophet, Zenos found in the brass plates, a lost record. The Brass Plates were a set of plates retrieved by Nephi at the direction of his father, Lehi. They contained Jewish records similar to the Old Testament, up to the time of Jeremiah. Latter Day Saints suggest that it is possible that Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (see chapter 11) is referencing a similar parable. (see Wikipedia, “Parable of the Olive Tree”; also see “List of Plates (Latter Day Saints)”, and “Zenos”). Click here to read the parable in its entirety.

An official, correlated Church manual explains the symbolism of the parable as follows:
Vineyard = The world;
Master of the vineyard = Jesus Christ;
Tame olive tree = The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people;
Wild olive tree = Gentiles (people not born into the house of Israel);
Branches = Groups of people;
Servants = Prophets and others called to serve;
Fruit = Lives or works of people;
(“Lesson 13: The Allegory of the Olive Trees”, Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999), p. 56)

So that’s the backstory. Unfortunately, the parable has a number of issues and problems which we will discuss here in a running commentary type fashion for your consideration.

Verse 3a: An olive tree is planted in a vineyard.

Jacob 5
3a
For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard…”

Commentary: Olive trees are not planted in vineyards because grapevines will choke out young trees. (see The New manners and Customs of Bible Times, p. 43, 1987, Moody Press).

The soil requirements for olive trees and grapevines are very different. Olive trees (or groves) grow best in rocky soil like “chalky marl, with flint, and just mould enough to cover the roots. (see “Smith’s Bible Dictionary, p.224). On the other hand, “Vines (vineyards) like open, loose, soil, so their roots can grow down to the rocks to reach the moisture.” (see Ralph Gower, “The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times”, p. 43). Thus, it makes no sense to plant an olive tree in a vineyard – or for that matter, a grapevine in an olive grove. As one Bible commentator notes, this is something that we see reflected in the text of the bible itself, “Olive groves were placed alongside of vineyards not inside of them, cf. I Sam. 8:14.” (ibid, p. 113)

Verses 3b-6: Zenos’ tree fits the description of a very old olive tree, the heart was decaying, and the main top was beginning to perish:

Jacob 5
3b
…and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.

4 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard went forth, and he saw that his olive tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not.

5 And it came to pass that he pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it according to his word.

6 And it came to pass that after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish.

Commentary: Olive trees are very slow-growing, take years to mature, and then take even longer to decay and die. In fact, there are olive trees – even entire olive groves – in the Mediterranean that are thousands of years old. So to claim that this olive tree grew to full maturity and began to die within the lifetime of the master of the vineyard is simply hard to believe. From the Hunker website:

“In proper growing conditions, olive trees can live a long time—recently on Crete, scientists have been documenting that some olive trees there are as much 1,000 years old. Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem, may be older than that, though it’s doubtful that they date from the time of Christ.

Growth Pattern. One drawback of olive trees, however, is that they grow to full maturity quite slowly. During the first few years of its life, an olive tree will grow rather quickly, but growth slows thereafter. If your main interest in growing olives is to harvest the fruit, you can speed the growth somewhat by carefully pruning the tree during its first five years, to create a strong, straight central trunk. People who are more interested in the ornamental value of the olive tree may prefer to let the tree grow naturally, so that it will achieve the gnarly, wizened profile so characteristic of the trees growing in Greece and the Middle East.”
(Cathryn Chaney, “How Long Does It Take for an Olive Tree to Produce Fruit?”, July 17, 2017)

Ancient Olive Trees in Lebanon that are at least 2,000 years old but still fruit-bearing. Notice how the core is completely missing from the trunk but the tree is still healthy and thriving.

Further, the decay of an old olive tree isn’t immediately apparent. It can take years to be visible and all the while, the tree will be fruit-bearing and look just fine from outside. So the statement that “the main top thereof began to perish”, which implies that the decay was outside/inside rather than inside/out is flat out wrong.

“The body of the tree dies at the heart.”
(op cit, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, p.224)

“The olive tree…often lives to a very, very, great age, and bears fruit till the last, even when the trunk is nothing but a shell.”
(Barbara M. Bowen, “Strange Scriptures That Perplex the Western Mind”, p. 97)

“The old roots, often throw up new stems…The new shoots were grafted into stock.”
(op cit, “The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times”, p. 113)

Verses 6-11: The Lord of the vineyard makes three mistakes trying to save his tree: a) If this description is accurate then the tree was already irrecoverable, it was already a dead loss; b) Grafting from healthy stock – be it domesticated or wild – will do nothing to resuscitate a dying tree, and; c) Digging around the roots is the best way to damage or destroy a tree – any tree, healthy or ailing.

Jacob 5
6
And it came to pass that after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish.

7 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard saw it, and he said unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, go and pluck the branches from a wild olive tree, and bring them hither unto me; and we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned.

8 And behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will; and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself; wherefore, I will take these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will.

9 Take thou the branches of the wild olive tree, and graft them in, in the stead thereof; and these which I have plucked off I will cast into the fire and burn them, that they may not cumber the ground of my vineyard.

10 And it came to pass that the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did according to the word of the Lord of the vineyard, and grafted in the branches of the wild olive tree.

11 And the Lord of the vineyard caused that it should be digged about, and pruned, and nourished, saying unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, that perhaps I might preserve the roots thereof that they perish not, that I might preserve them unto myself, I have done this thing.

Commentary: First, the inside of an old olive tree – that is the core or heart – can be completely gone, and it can still produce fruit as long as the cambium and sap layers are nourishing the branches. If those layers begin to die, so will the branches, and the tree is beyond saving. If the top branches of the Lord of the vineyard’s tree were perishing, then the cambium and sap were also dying. Therefore, It would have made no difference if wild olive branches were grafted onto his tree. (see Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 26, pp. 25-26)

Finally, he dug around the roots not knowing that the young, healthy shoots that are for the tree’s future health and olive output are easily destroyed:

“The fruit is ready for picking…and the branches are beaten to shake the olives onto the cloth…The beating of the branches almost certainly destroyed the tender young shoots, so that there was a poor crop the following year…”
(op cit, New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, p.113)

How much more destruction would there be if someone dug around the roots? For a start, digging around healthy roots can cause disease. Digging around diseased roots will destroy the plant. Therefore, trying to revive a dying plant by digging around the roots is rarely, if ever, a good idea. As an Arborist explains:

“Digging through and cutting tree roots isn’t something to take lightly. Cutting critical roots can interrupt the tree’s water and nutrient uptake, leave permanent damage to the tree’s structure and stability, or, in the worst case, cause the tree to die…

It’s not a good idea to cut the roots of already damaged trees. Also, roots that are more than two inches wide or close to the trunk should not be pruned, cut or dug through because they help anchor the tree.”
(“Is It Safe to Dig Through Tree Roots?” Davey Tree website)

An ancient Greek Olive Grove. Notice the health of the branches despite the hollow trunk cores.

Verses 7-11: Grafting wild branches to save the roots.

Jacob 5
7
And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard saw it, and he said unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, go and pluck the branches from a wild olive tree, and bring them hither unto me; and we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned.

8 And behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will; and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself; wherefore, I will take these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will.

9 Take thou the branches of the wild olive tree, and graft them in, in the stead thereof; and these which I have plucked off I will cast into the fire and burn them, that they may not cumber the ground of my vineyard.

10 And it came to pass that the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did according to the word of the Lord of the vineyard, and grafted in the branches of the wild olive tree.

11 And the Lord of the vineyard caused that it should be digged about, and pruned, and nourished, saying unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, that perhaps I might preserve the roots thereof that they perish not, that I might preserve them unto myself, I have done this thing.

Commentary: Yet again, branch grafts (wild or tame) do not save a tree as the Lord of the vineyard thought. They only revitalize the produce of a healthy tree.

“Grafting is frequently used to combine advantageous characteristics of scion and stock. For example, branches of buds of trees known to produce good fruit are grafted to stronger trees that produce fruit of indifferent quality.” (Funk & Wagnalls New Enc., Vol.12, p. 90; italics added for emphasis)

There is an expert level form of grafting called, “bridge grafting” that can be performed on the trunk of older trees, but it’s not what’s being described in the text here- and it’s rarely done to stone fruit trees, like olive trees, due to the low rate of success. As this excerpt from the Michigan State University Extension website explains:

“Older trees need more involved “surgical” procedure known as – bridge grafting. As hopeful and good as this procedure is, it is not the answer for all trees. Stone fruits (cherry, peach, plum etc.) are very seldom successfully grafted. The other undesirable effect is in creating the opportunity for many disease (i.e. bacterial canker) and insect invasion (borer complex). Pome fruits (apples and pears) are in much better position. Both, young and old trees are easily grafted without too much trouble. For older trees, bridge grafting is an easy operation with high success rate.”
(Mirjana Bulatovic-Danilovich, “Bridge grafting as a life-saving procedure for trees”, Michigan State University Extension website, May 3, 2011, italics added for emphasis)

Verses 31-33: The Lord of the vineyard was gone so long that he did not know how all sorts of bad fruit (according to their “number”) got on the tree. Domestic trees need regular and on-going tending to.

Jacob 5
31
And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard did taste of the fruit, every sort according to its number. And the Lord of the vineyard said: Behold, this long time have we nourished this tree, and I have laid up unto myself against the season much fruit.

32 But behold, this time it hath brought forth much fruit, and there is none of it which is good. And behold, there are all kinds of bad fruit; and it profiteth me nothing, notwithstanding all our labor; and now it grieveth me that I should lose this tree.

33 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?

Commentary: After a domestic tree is planted, the planter’s work has just begun – this is even more the case after a domestic forest (aka “grove” or “plantation”) has been planted. If a domesticated tree or forest decays or perishes, there’s really no secret what the cause was: Human neglect. As the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations explains:

“Maintenance of forest plantations includes protecting the plants from detrimental climatic conditions, fire, insects and fungi, and animals. Maintenance may include measures that are silvicultural (such as well-timed and careful removal of damaged trees and shrubs), chemical (with insecticides or fungicides), biological (with parasites), or mechanical (removing or destroying pests, erecting fences, etc.). Because trespass by man can threaten the success of a planting programme, planning should also include methods of dealing with this potential problem.”
(“Maintenance of the plantation”, FAO website)

Verse 65: Lord of the vineyard had the bitter fruit cut off because that is the bad fruit.

Jacob 5
65
And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.”

Commentary: There are no sweet olives, they are all bitter. To claim that the fruit is “bad” because it’s bitter, therefore, makes no sense. From the World Book Encyclopedia:

“Fresh olives contain oleuropein, a bitter substance that makes them unpleasant to eat before processing…“Olives processed for eating…by the Spanish process…are placed in lye solution. The lye removes most of the bitter taste…The American process…ripens immature…olives artificially. The fruit is alternately submerged in lye and exposed to the air until no bitterness remains…The Greek process…olives undergo a slow fermentation in brine. During fermentation, the fruit’s bitterness decreases until the brine masks it.”
(The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 14 “Olives”)

One of the world’s oldest olive trees in Italy. It is estimated to be at least 4,000-years old.

Verses 65-66: The roots are too strong for the graft.

Jacob 5
65
And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.

66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.

Commentary: The roots keep the tree alive and osmosis and photosynthesis, along with the cambium and sap layers is what provides strength to the branches and fruit; therefore it is impossible for a root to be too strong for the branches. (Funk & Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia, 1983, Vol. 26, pp. 25-26; also see, op cit, The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol.14 “osmosis”; and Vol. 15, “photosynthesis”)

Verses 69-76: Bad fruit is turned into good fruit.

Jacob 5
69
And the bad shall be cast away, yea, even out of all the land of my vineyard; for behold, only this once will I prune my vineyard.

70 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few.

71 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might. For behold, this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come.

72 And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.

73 And there began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard; and the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly; and the wild branches began to be plucked off and to be cast away; and they did keep the root and the top thereof equal, according to the strength thereof.

74 And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning.

75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.

76 For behold, for a long time will I lay up of the fruit of my vineyard unto mine own self against the season, which speedily cometh; and for the last time have I nourished my vineyard, and pruned it, and dug about it, and dunged it; wherefore I will lay up unto mine own self of the fruit, for a long time, according to that which I have spoken.

Commentary: Turning bad fruit into good fruit is simply not possible, Christ Himself explained why:

“Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth corrupt fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire”
(Matthew 7; 15-19 KJV)

 

About the Compilation Team
Susan Grape grew up in a non-church going family. When she became engaged, her fiancé (now husband) and she joined a Christian church. As she was learning about the Bible and Jesus, several friends, and relatives who were either Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientist shared their beliefs with her and challenged her to the point that she knew that their doctrine was different enough to question that someone (perhaps herself) had to be wrong. When Mormon missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses came to her home, it forced her to study the scriptures to see what the Bible actually taught. That very intense time of studying gave her the evidence for what Biblical truth is. It sparked the desire to reach out to these groups with the Biblical gospel and the Biblical Christ.

Mrs. Grape served as a board member for ten years with Berean Christian Ministries and she currently is in her eleventh year of serving on the board of Christian Research & Counsel. Her husband Brad also is on the board. The Grape’s adult children are professing Christians, and their grandchildren are also being raised in the faith.

Fred W. Anson is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum).

“Team TOYBOM”
In late 2019 a new group was created on Facebook with the express purpose of encouraging Non-Mormons to read through the Book of Mormon cover-to-cover. It’s called “The One Year BOM: Non-Mormons Reading Through the Book of Mormon in a Year (aka ‘TOYBOM’)” and its mission and goal was to get Non-Mormons reading the Book of Mormon in a year as a group so they could openly and honestly discuss and deconstruct it without any Mormon interference, umbrage, or offense.

Thus no Mormons (members of any Latter Day Saint denomination or splinter group) were allowed in the group so that the group could speak freely and deconstruct the Book the Mormon honestly and openly without having to deal with the typical Latter Day Saint agendas, dogmas, thin-skinned offense, spin-doctoring, and confirmation bias driven apologetics that typically swirl around the Book of Mormon in public whenever Latter Day Saints are present. The goal was to quietly, objectively, civilly and dispassionately consider the Book of Mormon devoid of any of such partisan Latter Day Saint encumbrances.

An ancient Greek Olive Tree that’s at least 2,000 years old, possibly as old as 3,000 years.

Link to Part Two

Comments
  1. […] in 1830). The analogy reminds me of several Bible passages, but altered in some material ways. This article on Beggar’s Bread also delves into the chapter, and more specifically, problems with the analogy itself, including […]

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  2. […] in 1830). The analogy reminds me of several Bible passages, but altered in some material ways. This article on Beggar’s Bread also delves into the chapter, and more specifically, problems with the analogy itself, including […]

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  3. […] in 1830). The analogy reminds me of several Bible passages, but altered in some material ways. This article on Beggar’s Bread also delves into the chapter, and more specifically, problems with the analogy itself, including […]

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  4. […] Destroying God’s Olive Vineyard for Fame and Prophet (Part 1) […]

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  5. LeslieBee says:

    I sure appreciated your article.
    As I was reading Jacob 5 several days ago, I kept thinking of the Bible verses JS was mingling together to come up with this, but didn’t take the time to look them up until now. JS seems to have a lot of God’s Word ‘in him’. I wonder; did he read up on certain passages ahead of time or did he have a photographic memory? Did most households own their own Bible? Did the people of his era have a good knowledge of the Bible? I could see those regularly churched having a good understanding of God’s Word, but the Smith family looked into all sorts of ‘spirituality’.
    ISAIAH 5
    1Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
    A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
    My Well-beloved has a vineyard
    [a]On a very fruitful hill.
    2He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
    And planted it with the choicest vine.
    He built a tower in its midst,
    And also [b]made a winepress in it;
    So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
    But it brought forth wild grapes.
    3“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
    Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
    4What more could have been done to My vineyard
    That I have not done in it?
    Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
    Did it bring forth wild grapes?
    5And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to My vineyard:
    I will take away its hedge, and it shall be burned;
    And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
    6I will lay it waste;
    It shall not be pruned or [c]dug,
    But there shall come up briers and thorns.
    I will also command the clouds
    That they rain no rain on it.”
    7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
    And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
    He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
    For righteousness, but behold, [d]a cry for help.

    ROMANS 11
    11I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their [b]fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12Now if their [c]fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

    13For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who aremy flesh and save some of them. 15For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance bebut life from the dead?

    16For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump isalso holy; and if the root is holy, so arethe branches. 17And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and [d]fatness of the olive tree, 18do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supportsyou.

    19You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, [e]goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

    25For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own [f]opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

    Matthew 7

    15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

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