Book of Mormon
The Allegory of the Olive Trees
Jacob quotes Zenos allegory of the olive trees.
Jacob exhorts his listeners to repent and follow Christ.
A study of this lesson will help us better understand Zenos’s allegory of the
olive trees and how it applies in our day.
Scripture references for study:
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 13 Handout (PDF
Jacob 5 & 6
In Lesson 12 we discussed
the fact that Jacob was commissioned by Nephi to write only that which was of
great value or "most precious."
WHO WAS ZENOS?
Jacob's recitation of Zenos allegory takes up just over a one third of
the Book of Jacob.
Jacob 5 is the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon.
Jacob considered this allegory and what it teaches to be of great value.
"...the allegory of the olive tree...strikes us
anew as one of the most magnificent allegories in all the sacred literature
of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Besides its exceptional length and exquisite
detail, Zenos's extended allegory communicates important meaning, deep
emotion, rich wisdom, and divine feeling. No other allegorical text encompasses
greater historical scope and typological vitality. It deserves an honored
place alongside the best biblical parables or symbolic literature."
(from the introduction to The Allegory of the Olive Tree, p.ix)
WHAT IS AN ALLEGORY?
He was one of the unknown prophets whose writings were probably drawn from the
Ezias, Neum, and Zenock are other unknown prophets mentioned in the Book of
Mormon whose writings were probably included in the Brass Plates.
These are prophets whose writings are from the world of the Bible, but
missing from that great record.
Zenos was quoted or referred to by Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Nephi (son of Helaman),
and the Lord speaking from the heavens prior to his appearance in the Americas.
Bruce R. McConkie: "I do not think I overstate
the matter when I say that next to Isaiah himself...there was not a greater
prophet in all Israel than Zenos. And our knowledge of his inspired
writings is limited to the quotations and paraphrasing summaries found
in the Book of Mormon." (The Joseph Smith
Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things,
An extended metaphor in the form of a story.
Metaphor = A literary device in which a word or set
of words is used in place of another.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus said to Peter "Feed my sheep."
Sheep are those who follow the Lord.
The stories or parables of Jesus are allegories.
They are artistic forms intended to be understood.
Both in the teachings of Jesus and the writings of
his prophets, metaphorical images and allegories concerning vines, vineyards,
and trees are common.
- Olives and olive trees are not mentioned after Jacob 5. The last of
those who would understand olive horticulture lived at the time of Jacob.
Those who Jacob taught either migrated with Lehi from Jerusalem or they heard their
parents and/or grandparents talk about olives. There were no olive trees in the
Americas during the time of the Nephite and Lamanite nations.
- "In this single chapter of the Book of Mormon
there are many detailed horticultural practices and procedures that were not
likely known by an untrained person, and may not have been fully appreciated
by professional botanists or horticulturalists at the time the Book of Mormon
was translated. Even today, outside of olive-growing areas, professional
horticulturalists may not fully appreciate some of the unique aspects of olive
culture. Given the extensive detail about olive culture present in Jacob 5, we
must give Zenos much credit for a high degree of horticultural knowledge,
which many take for granted." (quoted in The Allegory of the Olive
Scattering & Gathering
WHAT IS THE OVERALL THEME OF ZENOS ALLEGORY?
Basic principles concerning the scattering and
The scattering and gathering of Israel.
It summarizes Israel's history and foretells its
An inheritance of well-being in a promised land is
a blessing based on righteous living.
Those who are unrighteous lose their inheritance
or live under a curse rather than a blessing.
The ten tribes were taken from Palestine.
The Nephites and Jaredites were destroyed.
No one has a right to a promised land or any other
blessing of the Lord's covenants simply on the basis of lineage.
The Lord has led groups of people away so he could
raise up a righteous people and preserve them from the sins of the world
and their consequences.
Lehi and his family is one such example.
Repentance must take place before the Lord will gather
and restore his once-chosen people.
President Spencer W. Kimball: "The
gathering of Israel consists of joining the true Church and coming to a
knowledge of the true God....
"Any person, therefore,
who has accepted the restored gospel, and who now seeks to worship the
Lord in his own tongue and with the Saints in the nations were he lives,
has complied with the law of the gathering of Israel and is heir to all
of the blessings promised the Saints in these last days....
"And so the gathering is
taking place. Korea is the gathering place for the Koreans, Australia
for Australians, Brazil for Brazilians, England for the English."
(The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p439-440)
Metaphors from the Allegory of the Olive Trees
Vineyard = The world.
Tame olive tree = The house of Israel
Wild olive tree = The Gentiles (those who are not
of the house of Israel by birth).
Master of the vineyard = The Lord.
The servant = A prophet or prophets.
Grafting natural branches into the wild trees = Branches
of Israel dispersed among Gentiles.
Grafting wild branches into the natural tree = Adoption
of Gentiles into Israel.
Pruning, nourishing, and cultivating = The work of
the Lord and his servants to save their people.
Natural fruit = Faithful Saints and their righteous works,
worthy of eternal life (v61).
Wild fruit = Unfaithful individuals and their unrighteous
NOTE: These same symbols were used by Paul which
might indicate that he was acquainted with the allegory of Zenos.
Nephi defined grafting as coming "to
the knowledge of the true Messiah" (1
First Visit to the vineyard:
Second visit to the vineyard:
The master found the tame olive tree (Israel) dying
After arriving in the promised land (Palestine),
many Israelites fell into apostasy.
After pruning, and cultivating, there was new natural
growth, but the top died
The Lord sent Prophets to Israel. Some Israelites
responded to their message, repented and lived righteous lives; others
did not and fell away. The priests and rulers were often counted among those who rejected the Lord's message (1000 BC -
Dead branches were burned
The destruction of Israel and Judah including the death
of thousands (735-587 BC).
Wild branches were grafted into the old root tree
Gentiles joined remnants of Israel to form the Early
Christian church (AD 30-100).
HOW DID GRAFTING IN THE WILD OLIVE BRANCHES (GENTILES)
HELP THE TAME TREE?
Tame branches were transplanted to the "nethermost
parts of the vineyard" into good ground, poor ground, and the poorest ground.
Third visit to the vineyard:
The master inspects the old root tree and finds the wild
branches bearing good fruit on the strength of the natural roots. This
grafting saved the tree
The Early Christian church flourished in righteousness
because of the adoption of Gentiles into Israel through baptism and church
membership. Many faithful saints brought forth righteous works (AD
Natural branch planted in a poor spot
A group of scattered Israelites produced faithful
saints with righteous works.
Natural branch planted in a poorer spot
A second group of scattered Israelites produced faithful
saints with righteous works.
A third natural branch, planted in the choicest spot of
ground and long nourished, brought forth both good and wild fruit
Lehi's children in the promised land.
There was both:
Good fruit - righteous.
Wild fruit - unrighteous.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE BRANCHES IN THE POOREST PARTS
OF THE VINEYARD YIELDED GOOD FRUIT WHILE THE BRANCH IN THE BEST PART YIELDED
BOTH GOOD AND EVIL FRUIT?
WHAT APPLICATION MIGHT THIS HAVE FOR US TODAY?
Fourth visit to the vineyard:
The natural tree with wild branches now brought forth much
fruit of all sorts. None of it was good
Apostasy had overcome the Christian Church, leaving
errant Christianity in all its varieties (AD 100-1820).
The wild branches in the natural tree had overpowered the
roots, yielding bad fruit
False influences had gained control of Christianity,
yielding distorted doctrine and incorrect works (AD 100-1820).
All three natural branches planted elsewhere in the
orchard became corrupt
The Israelites who were led out of Palestine and
placed elsewhere became unfaithful.
The third natural branch died when the wild fruit overcame
the good fruit
The wicked among Lehi's descendants overpowered the
All of the trees brought forth only corrupt fruit
From the time unrighteousness prevailed among Lehi's
descendants, there was a universal, worldwide apostasy (AD 421-1820).
"And it came to pass that the servant said unto
his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard--have not the
branches thereof overcome the roots which are good?"
WHAT MIGHT "THE LOFTINESS" OF THE MASTER'S VINEYARD
HOW CAN OUR OWN LOFTINESS PREVENT US FROM BEARING
Jacob's summary of the allegory is found in Jacob
The Master decided not to destroy the corrupted orchard
The time for the destruction of the wicked was not
yet. The Lord determined not to destroy the world yet, lest chances
for future righteousness be destroyed also.
The natural branches that had been planted elsewhere in
the orchard were grafted back into the original natural tree, whose branches in
turn were grafted onto the roots of those natural branches that had been placed
in other parts of the orchard
Formerly isolated groups of scattered Israel became
one with the main body of Saints in a worldwide Church. This includes
such groups as Lehi's posterity and the descendants of the scattered tribes
of Israel. There is a union of Israel and Gentiles in the Lord's
church (AD 1820-Millennium).
The Master and his servants worked vigorously to prune and
cultivate the trees before the end
The Lord sent prophets in the last days, through
whom he has worked with his covenant people to help them bring forth works
of faith and righteousness. The covenant people of the house of Israel
are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Only
the "most bitter" are expelled from it while the Lord and his servants
patiently work with the rest (AD 1820-Millennium).
Natural fruit began to grow throughout the orchard. Over the course of time the bad branches were removed, and all of the trees
brought forth good fruit
The Church will become purified though the work of
the Lord and his servants. Consistent acts of faith and righteousness
will be performed by the Lord's Saints, who will establish Zion in the
world and will be found worthy to stand in the Lord's presence when he
comes again (the Millennium).
When bad fruit appears again, good and bad will be
gathered to their appropriate places, and the orchard will be burned.
At the end of the Millennium, when Satan will again
obtain power in men's hearts, the Lord will gather the good to himself,
and Satan and his followers will be banished to their "own place," to suffer
eternal condemnation. Then the earth will be burned to prepare the
WHAT MUST WE DO?
Repent and bring forth good works.
WHO IS SHEREM?
- "And now it came to pass after some years had passed
away, there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem"
- There is little in the Book of Mormon about this man Sherem. The verse
states that this man, Sherem, came among the people of Nephi. This seems to
imply that he was not a Nephite. We can only speculate further. Was he a
Lamanite? Did he come from another group of people. We do know that he knew
the language of the people (v4), so he must have at least had some association
with the the Nephites or Lamanites.
WHY DO YOU THINK SHEREM WAS ABLE TO LEAD SO MANY PEOPLE AWAY FROM THE TRUTH?
WHAT EVIDENCE TO YOU SEE THAT SOME PEOPLE TODAY USE SIMILAR METHODS TO
LEAD OTHERS AWAY FROM CHRIST?
He preached much that was flattering to the people.
He was well educated and understood the language of the people.
He used much flattery and power of speech.
Sherem was the first of the antichrists in the Book of Mormon.
HOW WAS JACOB ABLE TO CONFOUND SHEREM?
Example: The twisting of science to show that there is no evidence
for a God.
HOW CAN WE PROTECT OURSELVES FROM THE DECEPTIONS OF ANTI-CHRISTS TODAY?
He had the Spirit (v8).
Used the witness of the scriptures (v10-11).
His righteousness enabled him to invoke the power of God in smiting Sherem
to his death.
See v23 - they searched the scriptures.
"Now I beseech you, brethren,
mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which
ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such
serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words
and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." (Romans
Live to be worthy of the Spirit.
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
- Record your thoughts on the allegory of the olive trees. What principles
from this extensive allegory be applied to your life?
Resources Used In This Lesson
Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121 & 122.
Studies in Scripture, Volume 7 (Nourished by the Good Word
of God by Kent Jackson).
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball.
The Allegory of the Olive Tree edited by Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch.
The Joseph Smith Translation:
The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things edited by Monte S. Nyman and
Charles D. Tate.
Gospel Doctrine Class
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Changes last made on:
19 February 2012