Jacob 5 is a story about an orchard of Olive Trees and a servant who grafts branches from wild trees to tame trees and vice versa all according to the commands from the Lord of the Vineyard. The allegory represents the past, and future history of the House of Israel. It discusses the scattering of Israel before the time of Christ, the ministry of Christ and his Apostles, the Great Apostasy, the gathering of Israel in the latter-days and finally the Millennium and end of the world.
Jacob quotes an allegory from Zenos, a Hebrew prophet mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon. An allegory is a literary device in which one object or event is used to describe or represent another. Zenos’s allegory uses olive trees to summarize Israel’s history and foretell its destiny.Lesson 13: The Allegory of the Olive Trees,” Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual
It gets problematic though, when we consider Jacob is referencing this allegory from Zenos, but he’s completely unfamiliar with olives and olive trees. According to the timeline of the Book of Mormon, Jacob wasn’t born until after Lehi took his family and fled Jerusalem. He never lived in any old-world civilizations and would have been very young still when the family embarked on their transoceanic journey. He lived his life in the Americas concerned with building the new Nephite civilization. Jacob wasn’t a leader until later in life and became the spiritual leader after his brother Nephi was dead. He wouldn’t have written his book (and copied this allegory) until this point.
He cites an apocryphal Israelite prophet Zenos, as the originator of this allegory, but there is no mention of this prophet anywhere other than in the Book of Mormon. There is mention of the allegory in the New Testament though. In Pauls epistle to the Romans we find an allegory with very similar concepts. It discusses wild olive branches being grafted into tame trees and comparing the tree to the israelites
Olive Trees are Not Native to the American Continent
While olive trees are known to be plentiful in the old world, they are not common in the Americas today and are not native to the continent. Why would Jacob have cared so much about the work involved in an olive vineyard?
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.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive
Jacob would have no experience in an olive vineyard. Why would he copy a parable about the specifics of tree grafting and husbandry that both he and his people have very little to no knowledge about? Why was this allegory so important that it needed to be shared as such an elaborate parable among people who had no experience with Olive Trees? Having the allegory come from an Israelite prophet in the old world is a nice touch to where the knowledge of an Olive vineyard came from, but why would it have been so important to Jacob?
It is also uncharacteristically long for a Book of Mormon chapter! There are 77 verses and around 3800 words! The longest parable in the Bible is Luke 11-32 – it’s 21 verses and only 388 words. What about all the talk about how hard it was to write in Reformed Egyptian and engrave it on precious metals? The allegory is found in Jacob 5, and in the previous chapter Jacob has just said “I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates”. He then proceeds to engrave a novel!
1 Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain;
2 But whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers—Jacob 4:1-2
Was this extremely long parable so valued that the alleged writers could get it into the plates? It’s not about actually planting a tree, but it’s so long, what about the step of engraving the plates being tedious and the writers needing to save space?
Vineyard of Olive Trees?
Readers of Zenos’s parable in Jacob 5 have been perplexed by the use of the term “vineyard” to denote a parcel of ground in which olive trees are planted. Perhaps one should expect the word “orchard” instead.Vineyard or Olive Orchard?
The very apologetic article then compares Hebrew translations in the KJV and decides that the use of vineyard here is actually proof that Joseph Smith didn’t write it because the misuse of these words shows it is also ancient in origin. They don’t mention though that it was translated from Hebrew into Reformed Egyptian and then into the King James English that God speaks. This is an entirely different track of translation and supposedly the “most correct” book would have God’s blessing and properly use the words – even if the KJV Bible doesn’t. It makes just as much sense that Joseph simply copied these terms from the bible, and that’s where their misuse originated.
Allegory Source Material
Some cite the contents of this allegory as proof that Joseph Smith couldn’t have written the Book of Mormon because as we’ve discussed Olive Trees don’t grow in the US and thus Joseph wasn’t familiar with them either. Joseph did know the Bible though. This allegory could easily have its roots in the Bible, even though there’s no mention of Zenos in the Bible.
Paul discusses an Olive Tree allegory comparing the tree to the House of Israel and explains the symbolism of grafting and pruning branches from wild trees to tame trees etc in Romans 11. And Isaiah has a parable of a vineyard in Isaiah 5. Both of these sources contain phrases that match the chapter in Jacob 5.
There are two major Biblical passages that provided structural material for this parable, and a number of shorter passages that supplied secondary ideas. The primary passages are Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard, contained in Isaiah 5:1-7 and Paul’s discussion of the relationship of Israel to the Gentiles (Romans 11:16-24), in which he used the metaphor of an olive tree…
The most telling piece of evidence, however, is that fact that the two passages are built on slightly different metaphors. Isaiah used a vineyard to represent Israel (Isaiah 5:7), while Paul used an olive tree. In the light of this, it is significant that the prophet Zenos appears to display some confusion about his metaphor. The parable of the vineyard begins with Israel as an olive tree located in a vineyard (Jacob 5:3). However, halfway through the narrative, the metaphor suddenly switches to the vineyard itself, significantly, just at the point that the Book of Mormon quotes Isaiah (Jacob 5:41). From this point on, the author repeatedly refers to ‘the trees of the vineyard’, apparently forgetting that the parable started out with olive trees as the primary metaphor, not grapevines.The Parable of Zenos
Compare for yourself. The following passages contains phrases with exact matches in Jacob 5 bolded (some of these match multiple times). Even when there isn’t an exact match many times the concepts and sentence structure is the same or very similar but one word or break in the phrase is different while the overall flow is the same.
Pauls Olive Tree Allegory
The Allegory of the Olive Tree in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans refers to the scattering and gathering of Israel. It compares the Israelites to a tame olive tree and the Gentiles to a wild olive branch. The olive tree itself, as well as olive oil and olives, play an important role in the Bible.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive
16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?Romans 11:16-24
Isaiah’s Parable of the Vineyard
Isaiah’s parable describes the LORD’s desire to make of Israel a chosen people, rich and beautiful in his sight. Yet their hearts had become full of the stink of poison.
Long before Isaiah, Moses was inspired to use a similar reference to describe Israel’s future apostasy and faithlessness:https://something-greater.blogspot.com/2014/06/isaiah-5-parable-of-vineyard.html
1 Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.
4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:
6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.Isaiah 5:1-7
There are also other sources with exact phrase matches to Jacob 5 in the New Testament, namely Matthew 3:10, Luke 13:6-9, and John 15:6.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.Matthew 3:10
6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.Luke 13:6-9
7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
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.John 15:6
Looking closely, we can see the exact sources Joseph was pulling from in the Bible to construct the chapter attributed to the apocryphal Hebrew prophet Zenos.
Above we see that apologist Daniel Peterson carefully stated “although some very limited information about olive cultivation might be derivable through careful, focused study of the Bible and a few other books that were available during Joseph Smith’s early years,” which we can then show through the text itself is exactly what happened.
Furthermore, it is crucial to understanding that Joseph Smith incorporated these passages earlier in the Book of Mormon, which shows that Joseph Smith both knew of these sources and was already thinking about them prior to creating this parable.
Not only can we see that Joseph Smith was aware of these passages in the Bible in the two books preceding Jacob, but we can see in the text of Jacob 5 exactly where Joseph Smith switches from using Paul’s writings to create the parable to Isaiah as the metaphor switches suddenly.
These are all fingerprints that help us to show that the Book of Mormon cannot be a historical record, and throughout the Book of Mormon they tell us that Joseph Smith is the author. This particular example shows us not just that Joseph Smith was using the KJV to produce the text, but that he was so familiar with the KJV that he was pulling directly from five sources in the parable of the olive tree. Joseph Smith was not just pulling material from both Isaiah 5 and Romans 11, but he was using exact phrases from Luke, Matthew, and John.Book of Mormon Overview: How It Was Composed, The Book of Mormon and the Parable of the Olive Tree
The rabbit hole just keeps getting deeper from here! As is pointed out on 2think.org, Ethan Smith refers to several of these same passages in his the View of the Hebrews which many cite as another source or at least inspiration for the Book of Mormon. It really was like a melting pot of ideas that all came together with Joseph’s folk magic and story telling to become what we have today.
As an interesting aside, it should be noted that Ethan Smith referred to several of these source passages in the View of the Hebrews. On page 62, we find a reference to Israel being “grafted in again”. On page 254, the author quotes Luke “why cumbereth it the ground?”. Ethan Smith also quoted and expounded on large portions of Isaiah, specifically with regard to Israel’s restoration. He quoted Isaiah 5:26 on page 235, and Isaiah 5:13 on page 236. He also referred to the ripening of the vineyard as a sign of the end-times on page 243.
Thus we see that rather than representing an actual ancient parable, Zenos’ story of the Vineyard is actually a conflation of several sources, some of which would not even be written for several hundred years.The Parable of Zenos
Book of Mormon Anachronisms
How does the historicity or origin of the Book of Mormon look when considering the anachronisms that are present in it? What about the varying occult stories of translating the book? The witnesses of the Gold Plates who only witnessed with their “spiritual eyes”? Adding all these points together it is plain to see that the Book of Mormon can be explained without divine intervention or guidance. Just as the translation of the papyrus into Book of Abraham has been found to be just another story from Joseph Smith. Believing the stories takes more mental gymnastics and doublethink than many can muster once we know the facts and examine the evidence with an open mind and real intent to understand the truth rather than only an intent to buy into the fantasy. Share your experinece in learning about the anachronisms or your cognitive dissonance with any other aspect of Mormonism, what was (or is) on your shelf and how did you make it work, or did your shelf breaking lead you to decide that the Mormon church was suffering a truth crisis and then follow Jesus or your integrity out of the boat? Please join the movement today and share the story of your faith journey. You may find healing and closure and you may also help others along in their own faith transition.