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Revision 8.2 “A further note on the rededication of Palestine”

Revision 8.2 “A further note on the rededication of Palestine” November 1, 2020

 

Looking at Tel Aviv from Joppa
A view of modern Tel Aviv from ancient Joppa (or Jaffa, or Yafo)
Wikimedia Commons public domain image

 

I continue my account of a party sent in 1872 by President Brigham Young to rededicate Palestine for the return of the Jews.  It included George A. Smith of the First Presidency, Lorenzo Snow and Albert Carrington of the Twelve, and the poet and Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow:

 

Their travels took them to England, Holland, Belgium, France, Bavaria and other parts of Germany, Austria, Russia, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and Syria. The journey was strenuous, but the little party of Latter-day Saint tourists seems to have retained a sense of humor. In Egypt, their Coptic Christian guide took them to an area near the modern city of Heliopolis, the biblical On, where he showed them an ancient sycamore tree. This, he informed them, was the very tree under which Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus had camped during their flight into Egypt. Mary had bathed in the nearby well and, although it had only given brackish and undrinkable water before, from that time forward its water had become sweet and good. Presi­dent Smith tasted it and agreed that the water was excellent, remind­ing him of “the big spring at Saint George.” There was just one thing lacking, to his taste. “I remarked to the man I really wished she had made it cold while she was about it, for a drink of cold water would have been very refreshing just then. This cost me one franc.”[1]

In Palestine itself, the apostolic party visited the traditional home of Simon the Tanner in Jaffa, where the Apostle Peter had received his important vision of the sheet let down from heaven that opened the way for the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. While there, they asked the Arab caretaker of the house whether Peter had been a Muslim. Yes, he replied, pointing to a mihrab niche in the wall of the building as the place where the apostle had prayed.[2] They saw the beautiful orange groves in the vicinity of Jaffa. They spent a night at the monastery of Mar Saba near Bethlehem, and, in that town itself, they went to the Grotto of the Nativity, which local tradition identifies as the precise spot of Christ’s birth. They were struck by the remarkable similarity between the Dead Sea and their own Great Salt Lake. They noted that Palestine’s Jordan River was smaller than Utah’s and rather barren in its surroundings. “We used to sing about the flowery banks of Jordan,” said President Smith, “but it takes off the romance to go and see them.”[3] Lorenzo Snow especially liked the Arab town of Nablus. He was attracted to its setting in a relatively verdant and well-watered valley, surrounded by olive trees, fruit orchards, and various gardens, as well as by its white domes, its mosques, and its many minarets. But the hilly scen­ery, while picturesque, made for difficult travel. “I have seen a good many rough roads in Utah in the mountains,” recalled President Smith, “but of all the rough horseback riding I ever did see, I think that Palestine has the premium.”[4] Still, beyond all the discomforts of touring in the Holy Land, there was the marvelous sense, felt by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims before and since, of walking in the very footsteps of Jesus and the personalities of the Bible. “I can­not communicate …to any extent,” President Smith later remarked,

the impressions I felt at the time. I had no doubt that I passed over the grounds where the Savior and his Apostles, and the Prophets, kings and nobles of Israel had lived, although I did not believe a great deal about the identical spots set down by the monks, yet I was satisfied that I was in the localities in which the great events of scripture took place.[5]

 

Joe Freeman in the City of David
In the area of the original “City of David,” in Jerusalem. The Kidron Valley and then the Mount of Olives are visible in the background. The BYU Jerusalem Center is out of the picture to the left.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photo by Joe Freeman)

 

On Sunday morning, 2 March 1873, President Smith arranged with their guide to take a tent, a table, several chairs, and a carpet up onto the Mount of Olives. He and his companions rode up the slope on horseback. When all was ready, and after Elder Carrington had offered an invocation, President Smith led them in a prayer rededicating the land of Palestine for the return of the Jews. “When on the Mount of Olives with our faces bowed toward Jerusalem,” he later reported to the Saints back in Utah,

we lifted our prayers to God that he would preserve you and confound your enemies. We felt in our hearts that Zion was onward and upward, and that no power could stay her progress; that the day was not far distant when Israel would gather, and those lands would begin to teem with a people who would wor­ship God and keep his commandments; that plenty and the blessings of eternity would be poured out bounteously upon that desert land, and that all the prophecies concerning the res­toration of the house of Israel would be fulfilled.[6]

After President Smith’s prayer, the other brethren prayed in turn, confirming and repeating his supplications for themselves and on behalf of scattered Judah. Their assigned task completed, the party then returned to the mountains of North America. The memories of their visit to Palestine remained with them, however. As a relatively recent biographer of Lorenzo Snow puts it:

Lorenzo’s words and conduct during the quarter of a century of life that was to remain after his Palestine tour reflected the lasting impression this trip had made upon him. The experience trans­formed him into a man more sensitive to the reality of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry… Thereafter, his sermons that devel­oped themes of biblical history or doctrine would have greater depth of meaning because of his direct exposure to the ancient land of the prophets and the patriarchs… But, more germane to his highest role as a special witness of Jesus Christ, were the spir­itual assurances and illuminations he had received of the Savior’s divinity and Godhood that had come to him as he had visited the historic places where the great Messianic drama had been enacted. These would ever be in his heart and his mind’s eye in the years ahead as he served and bore testimony of the Master.[7]

 

[1] Journal of Discourses 16:91.

[2] Journal of Discourses 16:92.

[3] Journal of Discourses 16:100. Mark Twain was similarly unimpressed by Palestinian geography. “When I was a boy,” he recalled in his travel memoir The Innocents Abroad, “I somehow got the impression that the river Jordan was four thousand miles long and thirty-five miles wide. It is only ninety miles long, and so crooked that a man does not know which side of it he is on half the time… It is not any wider than Broadway in New York. There is the Sea of Galilee and this Dead Sea— neither of them twenty miles long or thirteen wide. And yet when I was in Sunday school I thought they were sixty thou­sand miles in diameter.” See Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984). We have many misconceptions about the region. Every Christmas, Latter-day Saints sing of a sacred event that took place “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.” But Judea is hill country, with hardly a flat spot in it.

[4] Journal of Discourses 16:98.

[5] Journal of Discourses 16:100.

[6] Journal of Discourses 16:102.

[7] Francis M. Gibbons, Lorenzo Snow: Spiritual Giant, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 138, 148.

 

Posted from St. George, Utah

 

 


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