Destroying God’s Olive Vineyard for Fame and Prophet (Part 2)

Posted: March 14, 2021 in Book of Mormon, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies, Susan Grape
More 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.

Other Thoughts and Notes:
An Olive Tree allegory would have had no direct significance to people living in the Americas in 541-421BC and approximately 60-years after the Book of Mormon people left the Middle East.
This is because olive trees aren’t native to the Americas and didn’t exist on the American continent until the 16th Century. From Wikipedia:

“Olives are not native to the Americas. Spanish colonists brought the olive to the New World, where its cultivation prospered in present-day Peru, Chile and Argentina. The first seedlings from Spain were planted in Lima by Antonio de Rivera in 1560. Olive tree cultivation quickly spread along the valleys of South America’s dry Pacific coast where the climate was similar to the Mediterranean. Spanish missionaries established the tree in the 18th century in California. It was first cultivated at Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769 or later around 1795. Orchards were started at other missions, but in 1838, an inspection found only two olive orchards in California. Cultivation for oil gradually became a highly successful commercial venture from the 1860s onward.“
(Wikipedia, “Olive”)

An ancient Olive Grove in Israel. This grove is estimated to be about 2,000-years old.

Further, 19th Century Americans not living on the North American Southwest Coast – such as the Book of Mormon’s original, target audience – would be unable to see the flaws in the Parable of the Olive Tree since they can only be grown “landscaped in” (as is the case in Jacob 5) in Mediterranean climates.
From a botanical website on olive tree cultivation and olive oil production:

“Olive trees need a subtropical climate and do best with mild winters and long, warm, and dry summers. They are sensitive to hard freezing environments. They will grow in climate zones 10 and 11 (see map below). Some varieties are hardy enough for zone 9 or even 8. Temperatures below 22ºF (-5ºC) will kill small wood and branches. Freezing conditions lasting days or a hard freeze, below 15ºF (-10ºC), will kill or severely damage an olive tree. It is best to avoid planting olive trees in situations where there is a high risk of frost during bloom (late April to mid-May) or where freezing conditions are likely before harvest. Summer rainfall can cause fungal and bacterial infestations.”
(“Site Selection”, The Olive Oil Source website)

From Wikipedia:

“An estimated 865 million olive trees are in the world today (as of 2005), and the vast majority of these are found in Mediterranean countries, with traditionally marginal areas accounting for no more than 25% of olive-planted area and 10% of oil production.”
(Wikipedia, “Olive”)

Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that someone who was born and raised in the North American Northwest (which generally has a Humid Continental Climate) wouldn’t have a good working knowledge of landscaped olive trees or groves since olive tree cultivation is only possible in pots in that climate zone:

“Olive trees thrive in the northeast where they can live outside in containers from spring through early fall, but then they must be moved inside. In winter, they cannot survive outside because of low temperatures in the northeast that range from 10 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 25 F. The northeastern region is in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 though 7; olive trees grow outdoors in climate zones 10 and 11. If you prefer, you can keep the trees indoors year-round. According to a New York Times gardening column, olive trees do well in big pots, so you’re in luck if you have the indoor space.”
(Nellene Teubner Plouffe, “Olive Trees in the Northeast”)

Unlike the other plant and tree parables in the Bible, the botany in Jacob is flawed, inaccurate, and error-filled.
For example, consider Christ’s allegory of the vine and Vinedresser in John 15. As one of this article’s compilers, Fred W. Anson, explained in his October 2019 Faith After Mormon Conference lecture, “From Human Doing to Human Being: Abiding In Jesus After Mormonism” this allegory is so botanically and scientifically correct and precise that a vineyarder could follow it’s instructions and get exactly what the passage claims and promises: Improved grapevine health and fruit production. Here’s what the passage says:

John 15 (KJV)
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

By comparison, if an Olive Tree Arborist followed the instructions given in Jacob 5, it would kill the olive tree – it reeks of ignorance on the very subject that it’s using as an allegory. This fact raises the question of whether this passage in the Book of Mormon is inspired by God at all. After all, surely the Author and Creator of the universe would know how to care for the very olive trees that He designed and created, right?

An ancient olive tree in Spain that is about 2,000 years old.

There is no evidence that the Old Testament Prophet Zenos, who was being quoted from Laban’s Brass Plates as the source for this parable, ever existed.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains:

“Zenos is one of four Israelite prophets of Old Testament times cited in the Book of Mormon whose writings appeared on the plates of brass but who are not mentioned in the Old Testament (see also Zenock; Neum; and Ezias). Zenos is quoted or mentioned by Nephi 1 (1 Ne. 19:10-17), Jacob (Jacob 5:1-77;6:1), Alma 2 (Alma 33:3-11, 13, 15), Amulek (Alma 34:7), Nephi 2 (Hel. 8:19-20), and Mormon (3 Ne. 10:14-17).

Although specific dates and details of Zenos’ life and ministry are not known, the Book of Mormon provides considerable information about him from his teachings and related facts. Evidently he lived sometime between 1600 and 600 B.C. because he was apparently a descendant of Joseph of Egypt and his writings were on the plates of brass taken from Jerusalem to the Americas by Nephi 1 about 600 B.C. He may also have been a progenitor of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi (cf. 3 Ne. 10:16). Zenos spent time “in the wilderness” (Alma 33:4), but also preached “in the midst” of the “congregations” of God (Alma 33:9). Some of his enemies became reconciled to him through the power of God, but others were visited “with speedy destruction” (Alma 33:4, 10). Finally, he was slain because of his bold testimony of the coming of the “Son of God” (Hel. 8:13-19).”
(Daniel H. Ludlow, “Zenos”, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1623)

The first problem here is that Zenos isn’t a Jewish name – it’s a Greek name that means, “gift of Zeus” (see Wikipedia, “Zeno (name)”; also see The Bump website, “Zeno – Baby Name”). In fact, the closest historical match for “Zenos” is Zeno of Elea who was referred to by Plato and Aristotle in their work. (see Wikipedia, “Zeno of Elea”)

The second problem is the magnitude, weight, and significance that Mormon leaders and the LdS Church have placed on the work of Zenos during the Old Testament period. Consider the words of influential Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie:

“I do not think I overstate the matter when I say that next to Isaiah himself-who is the prototype, pattern, and model for all the prophets-there was not a greater prophet in all Israel than Zenos.”
(Bruce R. McConkie,”The Doctrinal Restoration”, in “The Joseph Smith Translation, The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things”, ed My. Nyman and R. Millet. Provo, Utah, 1985, p.17)

So logically, if the prophet Zenos was as the Book of Mormon and the LdS Church claims, then it seems incredulous that there would be no record of him in the Bible, let alone that his body of work won’t have been recorded and as diligently preserved in the biblical canon as the other Old Testament prophets. The same is true of extra-biblical sources, such as well-known Jewish Historian, Josephus or the literature of the cultures and civilizations that surrounded Old Testament Israel.

Given all these problems and logical incongruities, as well as the fact that the Parable of the Olive Tree doesn’t seem to be the work of anyone actually familiar or acquainted with olive tree germination and care, it might be easy to conclude that Zenos is simply a fictional character that the 19th Century author of the Book of Mormon contrived and produced from his imagination and tried to pass off as legitimate using a classic historical revisionism tactic.

Finally, in Jacob 4:1, the alleged author of the book states that he cannot write much because of the difficulty of engraving on the plates.
Yet he writes this allegory that contains over 600 repetitive words (yes, we counted them), consisting of “Behold/beheld/looked/beholdest”, “It came to pass”, “the Lord of the vineyard, said to the servant of the vineyard,” and over a 1,000 if you add the last part of many verses that repeat the first part of the verse.

In the end, there are significant problems and concerns about the Parable of the Olive Tree in the Book of Mormon that simply can’t be ignored by the reader. Jacob chapter 5 creates far more problems than it solves. In fact, because the Zenos character in the Book of Mormon both here and elsewhere acts and speaks more like a 19th Century American Protestant than an ancient Old Testament Prophet. Therefore, it’s very reasonable to conclude that he was simply invented to give voice to Joseph Smith so he could push the Book of Mormon as his prophetic credential – as we know from the historical record that he did.

In other words, we are of the opinion that the Parable of the Olive, like the rest of the Book of Mormon, was written by Joseph Smith, to coin a phrase, for fame and prophet. And though we have come to different conclusions (he faith-promoting, we skeptical), this assertion is fully aligned with the body of historical evidence that Mormon Apologist, Daniel C. Peterson summarized so well regarding the role of the Book of Mormon in early Mormon culture when he said:

“Studies of Latter-day Saint sermons and curriculum from the earliest period of church history well into the 20th century demonstrate surprisingly little use of the Book of Mormon to establish doctrines or as a text from which to preach. Many Saints were converted by reading it, but, thereafter, they tended to overlook its specific content. Early members, mostly converts, knew the Bible well and used it extensively in their teaching and missionary efforts, but the Book of Mormon served mainly as a kind of talisman, its sheer existence pointing to Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. Even Joseph Smith used the Bible far more than he used the Book of Mormon in his sermons.”
(Daniel C. Peterson, “Embracing the power of the Book of Mormon”, The Deseret News, published: Thursday, Jan. 5 2012 5:00 a.m. MST)

The infamous Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 in Berkeley, California. By Olive Grove standards, this is a young grove that’s only a little over a hundred years old.

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 One

Comments
  1. […] Destroying God’s Olive Vineyard for Fame and Prophet (Part 2) […]

    Like

  2. LeslieBee says:

    Thank you both for the research you put into this! I’m in the middle of reading your article but had to comment.

    Like

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