Blossom as the Rose

July 30, 2008 | 30 comments

Lately I’ve got interested in the idea of the desert blossoming as the rose.

Gentle readers, I would like your help. Do you know of any good historical sources, journal articles, essays, blog posts, and so forth that would help me delve deeper into the topic? I’m particularly interested in the Mormon historical experience and ideology but other meditations on the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy would also interest me.

Thanks in advance, possets.


30 Responses to Blossom as the Rose

  1. Jonathan Green on July 30, 2008 at 6:23 am

    The one interpretation that comes to mind, from the medieval commentary tradition, is that the verse referred to Jews’ converting to Christianity. Am I correct in guessing that’s not quite what you’re looking for?

  2. Researcher on July 30, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Are you talking about irrigation? I could go look up my books on irrigation. One of them has a chapter on the Mormon experience.

  3. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2008 at 9:24 am

    J. Green, I’m interested.

    Researcher, I’m very interested.

  4. Ardis Parshall on July 30, 2008 at 9:42 am

    The early Utah-era Saints tossed off that phrase just about every time they planted a seed or took a sip of spring water. One somewhat more developed thought is this 1870 talk by Orson Pratt; there may be other Journal of Discourses talks with similar themes.

    My all-time favorite use of the phrase is by Ned Desaules, the lonely, deaf, French-speaking Swiss bachelor I’ve written about from time to time here on T&S. He spent an enormous sum (perhaps as much as $1,000 in 1870s dollars) to import flowers to turn Santaquin, Utah into a bower, with crocus, tulips, anemones, irises, and ranunculas being some of the specific flowers I remember him mentioning. He planted them all over the settlement, not merely around his own shack. When more hard-headed people scolded him for squandering his money that way, his defense was, “Je ne crois pas que la cultivation des fleurs est une chose inutile. Par s’il faut que Sion fleurisse comme la rose, il faut bien qu’il y aient des fleurs” (“I do not think that the cultivation of flowers is a useless thing, because if Zion is going to blossom as the rose, there must needs be flowers.”) (Henri Edouard Desaules to Marie Julie Desaules Desaules, 11 April 1874, Desaules papers, LDS Archives)

    I love my Ned for that!

  5. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Thanks, Ardis P. I love that.

  6. Seth R. on July 30, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Cadillac Desert?

  7. Mark B. on July 30, 2008 at 10:16 am

    When the bloom is off the rose, the petals die and are scattered by the wind, and all that is left are the hard, thorny branches and stems of the rose bush.

    Did Isaiah’s prophecy perhaps foretell also the end of the blossoming cycle as the Utah desert strains under the weight of too many people using too much water?

  8. Todd Wood on July 30, 2008 at 10:31 am

    I am interested in this as well, Adam.

    It is not in the great Isaiah scroll.

  9. Todd Wood on July 30, 2008 at 10:32 am

    At least I think.

    I need to go back and check.

  10. J. Stapley on July 30, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Ardis, in the original Franch that has so much panache that I am filled with delight.

  11. John Mansfield on July 30, 2008 at 10:49 am

    “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”
    Isaiah 35:1

  12. Kylie on July 30, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    It sounds like you are mainly looking for that particular phrase and more scriptural . . BUT, if you want to delve into that flower imagery in more general terms (both doctrinal and cultural), you really should look at Susannah Morrill’s dissertation (now a book) titled, “White Roses on the Floor of Heaven.” I did a book review of it for the Journal of Mormon History–I think it’s coming out in the next issue. She has a better grasp of the use of flowers in LDS lit/doctrine than anyone I can think of.

  13. Julie M. Smith on July 30, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Isaiah is writing poetry here which means that the line

    The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them

    is placed into a relationship with the line

    And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;

    The question left to the reader is: What is that relationship?

    1. If those phrases are meant to be simply parallel, then ‘being glad’ means about the same thing as rejoicing and blossoming.

    2. If the second line is meant to develop and extend the thought of the first, then rejoicing and blossoming can be taken as expressions of being glad.

    I find it interesting that the first line has a double subject (wilderness and wasteland; wasteland is sometimes translated just ‘dry places’–I’d also note that we think wilderness=forest, but in ANE perspective, wilderness=desert) and the second line has a double verb (rejoice and blossom).

    Modern translators seem divided over whether the ‘rose’ is a crocus or lily or undetermined. Lily is a minority view, but kind of nice from a Mormon angle.

    I like this verse because it is what’s known in the trade as an eschatological reversal: things will be the opposite of what they are now in the endtime. Christ’s reigning power is such that something as barren as a desert will bloom with flowers! That’s good stuff.

  14. Clark on July 30, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I thought it was the south that was supposed to blossom as a rose. Wasn’t that a purported prophecy of J. Golden Kimball when he as Mission President?

  15. Ray on July 30, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    #4 – Ardis, anyone who would spend that much to plant flowers in my hometown is someone I can appreciate.

  16. Edje on July 30, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    It’s a stretch to put it in the “meditations on the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy” category, but Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West treats the subject of irrigation. Worster traces (and/or assumes) various ecological, political, economic, and sociological consequences of colonizing deserts. I imagine that the intro and sixty or so pages (IIRC) on Mormons are probably worth your while.

  17. Edje on July 30, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Perhaps an interesting point of comparison comes from D&C 49:24: “But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose.” There’s a poetic relationship between the two phrases, but, following Julie,”What is that relationship?”

    From a more historical perspective, desert blossoming frequently took place at the expense of local Lamanite blossoming. I have not read Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape, but based on this post at the Juvenile Instructor, it seems to be on point.

  18. Adam Greenwood on July 30, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks, Edje, et al.

  19. Researcher on July 30, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Edje beat me to it; Tom Alexander assigned Rivers of Empire for a class on land use. That class was also my first exposure to Aldo Leopold.

    In the Mesa area, not only did Mormon pioneers and other early settlers build irrigation canals; in some cases they used the ancient Hohokam canals. Hence, the name of the Arizona state capitol, Phoenix, a city which rose from the ashes of a former civilization.

  20. clark on July 30, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Interesting. I had never heard that as the origin of the name Phoenix.

  21. BrianJ on July 30, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    If Israel is fertile land because it produced the chosen people, then wouldn’t the desert/wilderness be all the Gentile lands? Since now the Gospel is gaining righteous fruit among Gentiles, I think that is a way to think about the desert blossoming like the rose. (An interpretation that I think Paul would like.)

    By the way, it’s interesting that many Bible translations cannot agree on the type of flower mentioned in Isaiah 35:1—in various translations it is a rose, crocus, lily, or meadow-saffron. I was hoping to find some specific insight based on the characteristics of the flower (a la “mustard seed” parable).

  22. Jim Cobabe on July 31, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I have done part to help the desert blossom. We are stewards of the land. Every effort that enhances or beautifies contributes to that end.

  23. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Beautify I understand. If we make the land prettier to us, we’ve beautified it. But what do you mean by ‘enhanced’? More useful for mankind? Having more kgs. of biomass?

  24. Jim Cobabe on July 31, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Adam, we need the land to be productive, of good useful things. Thorns and thistles are put there to afflict and torment man and beast. The more we control these, the more it becomes like the garden we were originally assigned to tend. Thus the land is enhanced.

    Takes a lot of work, and careful selectivity.

  25. Bob on July 31, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Sorry guys, The beauty of America is much less since the White man took it over. If there is a book that says differently, please advise.

  26. quin on July 31, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Ezra Taft Benson once compared the many similarities between modern Saints and the House of Israel and noted that Brigham settled the Saints “in a desert region similar to the topography around the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.” Indeed, they are eerily similar with their endorheic, hypersaline lakes surrounded by arid desert valleys and ringed by mountains perched over tectonic plates and “Jordan” rivers flowing into them. Both also have nearby freshwater lakes-the Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest freshwater lake and Utah Lake is Utah’s largest freshwater lake.

    And for BrianJ,

    Actually, the autumn crocus is a member of the lily family called the meadow saffron-so experts are more in consensus than they realize. The true crocus blooms at the end of summer and after all the other “summer flowers” have died away…just in time to adorn “harvest festivities”. In his book “Song of Songs” John Davidson claims that “in ancient times, wheat was threshed and winnowed in the open air” and “when the chaff had been separated, the wheat was gathered into a heap and then surrounded with thorns to keep away cattle and other farm animals”. Song of Solomon 7:2 references a heap of wheat surrounded by lilies which Davidson believes refers to those “harvested” by the Lord no longer being surrounded by the thorns of human imperfection and evil, but protected by the sweet purity of spirituality-symbolized by lilies. There are many biblical references to “lillies” and the royal Fleur de Lis symbol is literally french for “lily flower”. The temple of Solomon was adorned with “lily work” including the baptismal font. That should get your mind going. :-)

  27. Bob on July 31, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Salt Lake City is not in a Desert. A Desert has less than 10″ of rain in year. Salt Lake=15.74″ (LA about 12″, Jerusalem also about 12″).

  28. Adam Greenwood on July 31, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    I’m not sure that precise definition of desert is the main one nowadays, let alone 150 years ago or in Isaiah’s time. “Make a desert and call it peace” isn’t about reducing rainfall.

  29. quin on July 31, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Bob-google “Great Basin Desert”

    Isaiah is filled with dual meanings as well, and the “water” and “blossoming” in these verses is both physical and spiritual. Water, wells, springs are related to the word of God that nourishes all things-the “living water” that causes man to thirst no more. The desolate places and wilderness relates to a world without the gospel until it was restored, and as it grows and moves forward-it causes the wilderness to bloom and become fertile again.

  30. BrianJ on August 1, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    quin: fantastic! Thanks for the notes. I did see that the meadow saffron is poisonous (kinda interesting, but probably not relevant: “You will blossom like a poisonous flower.” Yikes!).


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.