One of the charges leveled in the recent controversy over vicarious baptisms for the dead is that Mormonism is anti-Semitic.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Latter-day Saints are, for example, the only religious group of which I'm aware whose canonical scripture expressly denounces anti-Jewish bigotry.
The familiar prophecy in 2 Nephi 29:3, that "many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible," is typically used to argue for extrabiblical scripture. And, plainly, that's one of Nephi's points. Still, we shouldn't overlook the next three verses:
"But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?
"O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.
"Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?"
By contrast, while neither can be legitimately used to charter anti-Semitism, both the New Testament and Quran are replete with denunciations of the Jews for having persecuted and slain their own ancient prophets, and the gospel of John, in particular, blames "the Jews" for the killing of Jesus. The famous "passion play" at Oberammergau, in Germany, historically based on John's account of the last days of Christ, has sometimes come under fire in recent decades for alleged anti-Semitism.
Far from being anti-Semitic, the Book of Mormon is actually philo-Semitic, pro-Jewish. And Mormon support for the Jews is further demonstrated in a famous episode from early Latter-day Saint history.
By the 19th century, hope of a return to Palestine was fading among many Jews. An 1845 conference of rabbis in Frankfurt-am-Main deleted all prayers for a return to Zion and the restoration of a Jewish state from their ritual prayer books. An 1869 rabbinic conference in Philadelphia essentially agreed.
In April 1840, though, the Prophet Joseph Smith dispatched Orson Hyde and John Page of the Council of the Twelve Apostles "to visit the cities of London, Amsterdam, Constantinople and Jerusalem." They were to carry a letter of introduction with them into the domains of the Ottoman Empire, explaining that "The Jewish nations have been scattered abroad among the Gentiles for a long period; and in our estimation, the time of the commencement of their return to the Holy Land has already arrived."
Only Elder Hyde completed the arduous mission, spending April 1841 to December 1842 in Jerusalem. Before dawn on Oct. 24, 1841, he climbed the Mount of Olives, where, overlooking the city, he wrote and recited a prayer. Here's a paragraph from it:
"Now, O Lord! Thy servant has been obedient to the heavenly vision which Thou gavest him in his native land; and under the shadow of Thine outstretched arm, he has safely arrived in this place to dedicate and consecrate this land unto Thee, for the gathering together of Judah's scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy Prophets — for the building up of Jerusalem again after it has been trodden down by the Gentiles so long, and for rearing a Temple in honor of Thy name."
Then, having built a small altar of stones, he descended from the mount.
The "First Aliyah" or Jewish emigration to Palestine can be dated to 1882, and many consider 1897, the year in which the First Zionist Congress met in Basel, Switzerland, to create the World Zionist Organization, as the birth year of practical Zionism.
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Mormonism isn't committed to any particular position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but, plainly, while many Jews were abandoning the idea, a Mormon apostle was praying for their return to Jerusalem. And, while many Christians have used the Bible to justify prejudice against Jews, the Book of Mormon expressly condemns such prejudice.
It's simply unjust to claim that Mormonism is anti-Semitic.
Daniel C. Peterson is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU, where he also serves as editor in chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative and as director of advancement for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He is the founder of http://ScholarsTestify.org. He blogs daily at dcpsicetnon.blogspot.com.