Literary OTGD #13: excerpt on the Exodus from chapter 1 of The Millennium

March 20, 2014 | no comments
By
Parley P. Pratt

Parley P. Pratt

The story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt is one of the iconic stories of western religious culture. And that story has descended to Mormonism, showing up, of course, in lesson #13 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual. And we Mormons basically see the story in the same way as other Christians—an oppressed people is led by the hand of God out of opression and into a promised land.

But the story has gained other cultural meanings for Mormonism. Best known is naming Brigham Young as the American Moses, and the Mormon pioneer trek as a new exodus to a promised land. But that isn’t the first association. In the following, Parley P. Pratt sees a future comparison to the promised return of Israel’s 10 tribes.

The following excerpt is from the title poem of his poetry collection, The Millennium, published in Boston in 1835, the year following his experience as a member of Zion’s Camp. In the first chapter of the poem, Pratt imagines these tribes in the “frozen north” and sees their way prepared by the hand of God.

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From The Millennium, Chapter 1

by Parley P. Pratt

What though Assyria’s captives long and lone,
Have wandered outcasts to the world unknown,
In some far region of the frozen north.
Where pale Borileous sends her meteors forth!!
Where fields of ice unbounded block the road,
To keep intruders from their drear abode;
Where no sweet flowers the dreary landscape cheer,
Nor plenteous harvests crown the passing year.
What though the land where milk and honey flowed,
And peace and plenty crowned their blest abode,
Has by the Gentiles long been trodden down,
And desolation reigned o’er nil the ground:
Yet soon the icy mountains down shall flow,
The parched ground in springs of water flow,
The barren desert yield delicious fruit,
Their souls to cheer, their spirits to recruit;
Mountains before them levelled to a plain.
The valleys rise, the ocean cleave in twain,
The crooked straightened, and the rough made plain.
The way prepared, lo, Israel comes again?
The seven streams of Egypt’s rolling flood
Shall feel the power and might of Israel’s God,
Their waves on heaps, like towering mountains rise.
They cross dry shod, with wonder and surprise.
And thus with joy Assyria’s captives come,
In grand precession to their ancient home;
A scene of joy and wonder more sublime
Than all that passed in hardened Pharaoh’s time,
When captive Israel raised to heaven their cry.
And Moses came, commissioned from on high,
Poured the ten plagues on Egypt with his rod,
The monarch trembling, owned the power of God,
And filled with envy, rage and wild dismay,
Thrust Israel forth, and bade them haste away;
Then moved with wild despair that all was lost.
He straight pursued them with his numerous host;
Before them stretched the vast expanded sea.
And mountains, on each side, hedged up the way,
The roar of chariots armed, pressed on their roar
In dread array, and filled their souls with fear;
Till Moses o’er the sea stretched forth his rod,
And cleared a passage through the mighty flood;
And soon, with safety, led his armies through;
But Pharaoh, close behind, did still pursue;
The floods returning with majestic roar,
His armies sunk, o’erwhelmed, to rise no more;
While Israel still pursued their joyous way,
Their God, in fire by night, in cloud by day,
Before them moved, majestic to behold!

Pratt, Parley P., The Millennium (1835)

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Pratt continues after these lines to talk about the children of Israel in Sinai, and I will use those lines for next week’s lesson.

I like the comparison Pratt is making here. He sees the eventual return of the 10 tribes to be similar to the exodus as they return from wherever they are to the lands of their heritage—for an exodus from one place is always an ingress to another. In the process, he gives a stirring version of the exodus story, in which:

… Moses came, commissioned from on high,
Poured the ten plagues on Egypt with his rod,

And:

… Moses o’er the sea stretched forth his rod,
And cleared a passage through the mighty flood;
And soon, with safety, led his armies through;
But Pharaoh, close behind, did still pursue;
The floods returning with majestic roar,
His armies sunk, o’erwhelmed, to rise no more;

When Pratt then speaks of God accompanying the exodus “in fire by night, in cloud by day… majestic to behold!” I can’t help thinking of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments and the way that dramatic rendering of the story still influences our views of the exodus today.

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