Potential sources for the Allegory of the Olive Tree
The allegory of the Olive Tree, Jacob 5, finds potential sources in Joseph Smith’s milieu. Note, the argument is merely that these were possible influences on these ideas, not necessarily that a given source was directly plagiarized from (a common strawman argument).
Patchwork between Isaiah and Romans 11 still evident
The parable of the Olive Tree may be viewed primarily as an amalgamation and embellishment of Romans 11 and Isaiah 5. Paul, in Romans 11, uses an olive tree as a metaphor and Isaiah uses a vinyard. They are similar, but also somewhat distinct, and the slight difference is apparent in Jacob 5—in fact the patchwork is still evident.
Halfway through the parable, the Jacob 5 author shifts from a focus on the olive tree to a focus on the whole vineyard (in Jacob 5:41). As Curt van den Heuvel has pointed out “the break appears at the same point that the Book of Mormon quotes a passage from Isaiah.” From then on, the the author of Jacob 5 “refers exclusively to the ‘fruit of the vineyard’, apparently forgetting that vineyards yield grapes, not olives.” (source: Curt van den Heuvel, here, and here).
Possible Old Testament Influences
The allegory may be seen as an extension of a number of old testament passages. Some focus on the positive aspects of the Lord caring for his tree (lists compiled from here):
- Exodus 15:17 “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established.”
- 2 Samuel 7:10 “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime,”
- Psalm 1:3 “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
- Psalm 52:8 “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.”
- Hosea 14:4–8 “heal their backsliding … mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.”
- Isaiah 4:2 “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.”
And other Old Testament passages on destruction:
- Psalm 52:5 “God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah.”
- Psalm 80:15–16 “And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.”
- Isaiah 5:1–7 (emphasis added) “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: 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. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. 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? 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: 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. 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 17:9–11 “In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough, and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel: and there shall be desolation. Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: In the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow.”
- Jeremiah 11:14–17 “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble. What hath my beloved to do in mine house, seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many, and the holy flesh is passed from thee? when thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest. The Lord called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken. For the Lord of hosts, that planted thee, hath pronounced evil against thee, for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke me to anger in offering incense unto Baal.”
Possible New Testament Influence
In terms of direct quotation, Jacob 5 tends to most closely quote the New Testament (as is common throughout the Book of Mormon).
Consider these verses:
- Matthew 19:30 “…first shall be last; and the last shall be first”. Compare Jacob 5:63
- Matthew 3:10 “Therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Compare to Jacob 5:42, 46, 49, and 6:7.
- Luke 13:7 “Why cumbereth it the ground?” Compare Jacob 5:49, 66
- Luke 13:8 “I shall dig about it, and dung it.” Compare to Jacob 5:47, 64, 76.
In addition, Nephi’s commentary on the allegory is rich in New Testament allusion, including:
- Romans 10:21 “…All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” Compare Jacob 6:4 “…he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long. And they are a stiffnecked and a gainsaying people…”
- Hebrews 3:7-8 “…To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts…”
- Matthew 3:10 (listed above in chapter 5)
- Revelation 21:8 “…in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Compare Jacob 6:10.
- Revelation 14:11 “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever…” Compare Jacob 6:10
- Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter ye in at the strait gate…narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life…” Compare Jacob 6:11
Similarities in usage to First Book of Napoleon
The First Book of Napoleon shares a non-trivial similarity to the Book of Mormon in its general tone and scriptural language and may have influenced the creation of the Book of Mormon via influence on the Late War. It contains a pair of passages similar to those in Jacob 5:32:
But the Gauls were altogether a wicked and perverse people, and the tree which they had planted in the midst of them was a blasted tree, and lo and behold, it brought forth nothing but bad and forbidden fruit, and all manner of unrighteousness…
And additional similarity to Jacob 5:37 (“And because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof, it hath brought forth much evil fruit.”)
And this evil tree was planted in many and divers places but the leaves and branches thereof decayed, and were blasted, and its roots rotted ; because the sap which was in the tree, was poison, and all those who tasted of its fruit perished thereby ; yea, even with a cruel and bloody death.
Information about olive tree cultivation available
First, Joseph grew up in a farming community and was undoubtedly familiar with apple cultivation and grafting, which is approximately similar in principle to that described for olive trees:
Most domesticated plants are genetically adapted to give maximum production with careful tending, and it is likely that the quality of the fruit is very poor without tending. When both domesticated (tame) and non-domesticated (wild) plants are properly tended, the domesticated plants will always produce superior fruit. It is common in Utah and adjoining states to see apple trees growing along roadsides or on ditch banks. These plants may be products of the sexual reproduction of domesticated plants which have become “wild” and are normally genetically inferior to plants grown in orchards. The fruits are normally small and of poor quality. Even in abandoned orchards, where the plants are genetically superior, neglected trees normally have undersized fruit of very poor quality.
Second, information was available at the time (for instance, this essay was composed by the New Englander Augustus Lucas Hillhouse) which described European olive tree cultivation, including:
- The importance of consistent manure application
- The importance of turning the soil
- The importance of pruning
- The ability to burn olive trees if needed
Source: With some minor modifications to address the question, from my document here