“Orson Hyde’s 1841 Mission to the Holy Land,” Ensign, Oct. 1991, 16
One hundred fifty years ago, on October 24, a Sunday, Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve climbed the Mount of Olives. There, with pen and paper, he recorded a prayer of dedication previously given him by revelation. In the prayer, he asked the Lord to inspire “kings and the powers of the earth” to help “restore the kingdom unto Israel.”1 He also prayed that the Lord would remember his promises to all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In the years since that prayer, we have seen the fulfillment of many of Elder Hyde’s requests. More are yet to be fulfilled. It is fitting, therefore, that we commemorate Elder Hyde’s dedicatory prayer and review the results of his inspired petition.
Orson Hyde was born 8 January 1805 in Oxford, Connecticut, the tenth child of Nathan and Sally Thorp Hyde. Both of Orson’s parents passed away before he was twelve. Although he was raised by loving foster parents, he hungered for an education not available on the farm and at the age of eighteen struck out on his own.
Orson was led to Kirtland, Ohio, which, like many other areas in the eastern United States, was bubbling with the spirit of religious revivalism. While working in the Newel K. Whitney store in Kirtland, Orson learned of a “golden Bible” that had been dug up in New York. Although he dismissed the report, the Spirit began to work on him. He was later to write, even before seeing the Book of Mormon, “Who knows but that this ‘golden bible’ may break up all our religion, and change its whole features and bearing?”2
Orson was soon drawn to public and private meetings alike to hear the Prophet Joseph Smith preach, and on 30 October 1831, he was baptized by longtime friend Sidney Rigdon. That same day, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon ordained Orson an elder.
A few days later, Orson sought the Prophet to learn the Lord’s will for him. In a revelation to the Prophet, Orson was told to “proclaim the everlasting gospel, by the Spirit of the living God, from people to people, and from land to land … in their synagogues.” (D&C 68:1.) Orson’s missionary talents were to take him to the ends of the earth, but the uncommon use of the word synagogues, which is generally associated with the Jews, foreshadowed his particular mission.
Although the precise date is not known, some time after Orson’s baptism, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave Orson a most unusual blessing:
“In due time thou shalt go to Jerusalem, the land of thy fathers, and be a watchman unto the house of Israel; and by thy hands shall the Most High do a great work, which shall prepare the way and greatly facilitate the gathering together of that people.”3
That mission, though at the time still in the future, was reconfirmed in 1835 when Orson was ordained as one of the original twelve Apostles of this dispensation. At his ordination, Elder Hyde was told that he would “go forth according to the commandment, both to Jew and Gentile, and to all nations, kingdoms and tongues.”4
On 3 April 1836, a singular event occurred that would open the way for Orson’s mission: Moses appeared in the Kirtland Temple and delivered to the Prophet Joseph “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth.” (D&C 110:11.) Never again would the gathering of Israel be spoken of as a future event. In a letter written by the Prophet in 1840, he noted that the Jews “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.”5
Elder Hyde would figure greatly in that commencement. In March 1840, he told of an extraordinary spiritual experience he had as he lay in bed pondering where the Lord would have him serve. He later recorded parts of this experience in a letter:
“The vision of the Lord, like clouds of light, burst into my view. … The cities of London, Amsterdam, Constantinople and Jerusalem, all appeared in succession before me, and the Spirit said unto me, ‘Here are many of the children of Abraham whom I will gather to the land that I gave to their fathers; and here also is the field of your labors.’”6
The following month, during April conference 1840, the Prophet commissioned Elder Hyde to go to Palestine and there dedicate that land for the return of the Jewish people.
After a long and arduous trip fraught with suffering and personal sacrifice, Elder Hyde arrived in Jerusalem. On Sunday, 24 October 1841, Elder Hyde climbed the Mount of Olives, and just as he had seen in the vision, offered a heavenly inspired dedicatory prayer.7
In one of the prayer’s opening paragraphs, Elder Hyde focused on three themes: (1) the gathering of Judah, (2) the building up of Jerusalem, and (3) the rearing of a temple.8 The balance of the prayer, for the most part, is a supplication that these three objectives be accomplished.
With the keys of the gathering restored and the land dedicated, the Lord’s Spirit began to move among Jews throughout the world. Many who were not even aware of their Jewish ancestry began feeling restlessly Jewish; others who had ignored their heritage felt their hearts begin to turn. A common desire began to build among many Jews to find their roots in their ancient homeland.
It is no coincidence that historical annals point to the 1840s as a period of awakening among Jews dispersed throughout the world. Out of this new dawn arose men of influence like Moses Hess, Joseph Salvador, Moses Montefiore, Leo Pinsker, and Theodor Herzl. Having been touched by the spirit of gathering, they began to instill in Jews everywhere the desire to return to their ancient homeland.
At first, Jews began returning by the hundreds. But eventually they were returning by thousands and then by tens and hundreds of thousands.9
It was perhaps inevitable that the gathering of the Jews and the creation of their modern nation would lead to a clash between political zionism and Arab nationalism. Few members of the Church fully appreciate the dimensions of this confrontation. In what has become a classic address, President Howard W. Hunter observed:
“Our Father loves all of his children. He desires all of them to embrace the gospel and come unto him. Only those are favored who obey him and keep his commandments.
“As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover the supreme truth that indeed our Father is no respecter of persons. Sometimes we unduly offend brothers and sisters of other nations by assigning exclusiveness to one nationality of people over another.
“Let me cite, as an example of exclusiveness, the present problem in the Middle East—the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. We do not need to apologize nor mitigate any of the prophecies concerning the Holy Land. We believe them and declare them to be true. But this does not give us justification to dogmatically pronounce that others of our Father’s children are not children of promise. … Both the Jews and the Arabs are children of our Father. They are both children of promise, and as a church we do not take sides. We have love for and an interest in each. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring about love, unity, and brotherhood of the highest order.”10
Some of our Arab/Palestinian friends express concern about Elder Hyde’s prayer because they feel anything that favors the Jews must oppose them. On the other hand, some of our Jewish friends have a tendency to interpret the prayer as conferring political support for their cause. Even members of the Church are sometimes confused as to how the prayer is to be understood.
The scriptures and the modern prophets clearly teach that all father Abraham’s children have a place in the Lord’s plan, and our Arab/Palestinian friends are a part of this group. Latter-day Saints need to be more sensitive to the hurt, disappointment, and even anger created among our Arab/Palestinian friends when we blindly attribute divine approbation to all that takes place in that part of the world we call the Holy Land.
In 1972, President Harold B. Lee, following a visit to Jerusalem, authorized the Church to explore the possibility of erecting a memorial to Orson Hyde on the Mount of Olives. After several years of extensive negotiations, Jerusalem’s mayor, Teddy Kollek, offered a parcel of land on the Mount of Olives for the development of a park.
Funds were raised, and on 24 October 1979 the park was dedicated in the presence of Latter-day Saint leaders, Israeli dignitaries, and Arab notables. The park, with its panoramic view, amphitheater, winding walks, and gardens, is a fitting tribute to Elder Hyde and an appropriate gift to the city of Jerusalem. It is a place of quiet meditation for Christian, Moslem, and Jew alike.
As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of Orson Hyde’s visit to Jerusalem and consider that troubled part of the world, we look forward to the day when Moslem, Christian, and Jew will resolve their differences and be united. In that spirit, the concluding paragraphs of Elder Hyde’s dedicatory prayer speak peace to our souls:
“Thou, O Lord, did once move upon the heart of Cyrus to show favor unto Jerusalem and her children. Do Thou now also be pleased to inspire the hearts of kings and the powers of the earth to look with a friendly eye towards this place, and with a desire to see Thy righteous purposes executed in relation thereto. …
“Let that nation or that people who shall take an active part in behalf of Abraham’s children [who include both Arab and Jew], and in the raising up of Jerusalem, find favor in Thy sight. Let not their enemies prevail against them, neither let pestilence or famine overcome them, but let the glory of Israel overshadow them, and the power of the Highest protect them.”11