While eclipsed by the Iron Rod imagery in Nephi, the Olive Tree imagery in Jacob is still well-known and referred to frequently. Like so much of Mormon theology, it attempts to give an explanation for the whole swath of human history and show that we are in the last days. Since both images are unique to the Book of Mormon, they are only found in Mormon sources.
The earliest use of the Olive Tree imagery in literature is from Parley P. Pratt, who included it in his poem, Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day. This poem was included in The Millennium, the first published book of Mormon poetry, which Pratt published in 1835.
Here’s what Pratt wrote:
Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day, Part 3
by Parley P. Pratt
- Go ye and preach in all the world.
- Baptizing in my name,
- He that believes and is baptized
- Salvation shall obtain.
- Then rising from Mount Olivet
- Unto his Father’s throne.
- On high to reign until he claims
- The kingdoms for his own.
- His servants then, in mighty power,
- Soon made his gospel known,
- The Jews reject while Gentiles come.
- And glad their Saviour own.
- The Jews dispersed through all the earth,
- Jerusalem trodden down,
- In desolation long has lain,
- And cursed has been the ground.
- The Gentile churches for a while
- Produced the natural fruit,
- Being grafted in the natural vine
- Partaking of the root.
- But soon the fruit became corrupt.
- By flatteries and lies.
- Teachers in pride were puffed up,
- The simple truth despised.
- Great Babylon at length arose,
- In mighty power to reign,
- Nations and kings became corrupt,
- And many saints were slain.
- The scriptures of their plainness robbed,
- And mystery thrown around.
- That men might sup her golden cup
- And all true knowledge drown.
- Thus generations long have past
- And age on ages rolled,
- The latter day approaching fast,
- Its glories to unfold.
- Our fathers of the Gentile race
- Traversed the western main,
- And found a wide extended land,
- Of valley, hill, and plain.
- This land was peopled with a race,
- Which long had dwelt alone,
- No record nor tradition traced
- Their origin unknown.
- The Lord in mercy has disclosed,
- The truth so long concealed.
- The record found beneath the ground
- Has glorious things revealed.
- This is the land which Moses blessed.
- To Joseph and his seed;
- These are the everlasting hills,
- ‘T was for his bounds decreed.
From The Millennium (1835) and
The Millennium and other poems, (1840)
While the Olive Tree imagery is used in this poem, its not pervasive, and instead Pratt, like most Mormon poets of his time, speaks in simple, obvious language, stressing content over aesthetics or depth. In that sense, it fits well with the correlated lessons in today’s LDS Church meetings.
I’d be interested to know of other poems that use the Olive Tree imagery. My corpus of Mormon poetry so far is limited to early poetry, so I’m sure that there is much more available in the poetry I haven’t yet collected.