In the early part of March last , I retired to my bed one evening as usual, and while contemplating and enquiring out, in my own mind, the field of my ministerial labors for the then coming season, the vision of the Lord like clouds of light, burst upon 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
Orson Hyde�s vision gave him confidence that the times were hastening to their end and that the Mormon prophet Josephs Smith�s prediction of a Jewish return to the Holy Land would soon be fulfilled. The mission of Elder Orson Hyde to the Holy Land laid a path for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to establish a presence in Palestine that continues to grow to this day. His travel and dedication of Jerusalem to the return of the Jews was, what Latter-day saints believe, a fulfillment and ancient and modern day prophecy found in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and prophecies of modern day prophets. He placed a course that future LDS pilgrims followed to the Holy Land. He established a foundation that allowed the Mormon faith to exist, work, and assemble in the land that has been set aside, according to both Christianity and Judaism, for the building of the Messiahs Kingdom on earth.
In 1831, a twenty-six year old Orson Hyde, was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by the Prophet Joseph Smith. At this time he was given a 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 of that people.
This blessing would come to fruition in April of 1830 when Hyde as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostle, the governing body of the church, was called to serve a mission to the Jewish communities of Europe and Palestine. Hyde was instructed by the Quorum of the Twelve to go to the Holy Land and dedicate the land of Palestine for the return of Judah and the house of Israel as stated in the original assignment
Be it known that we, the constituted authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, assembled in Conference at Nauvoo, Hancock county, and state of Illinois, on the sixth day of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and forty, considering an important event at hand, an event involving the interest and fate of the Gentile nations throughout the world�from the signs of the times and from declarations contained in the oracles of God, we are forced to come to this conclusion. 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�. [We] have, by the counsel of the Holy Spirit, appointed Elder Orson Hyde, to be our Agent and Representative.
Orson Hyde had been awaiting this calling for some nine years. When he initially joined the Church he professed to have had a vision from the Lord. In this vision he received direction and instructions that pertained to, what he now had been called to fulfill, a holy mission and dedication of the land set aside for Gods� chosen people. Though the task seemed to be a large and overwhelming one, his earlier vision gave him the direction and comfort he needed. This is an excerpt from that vision.
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�. go ye forth to the cities which have been shown you, and declare these words unto Judah, and say, blow ye the trumpet in the land; cry, gather together, and say, assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defensed cities�. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her, welfare is accomplished�that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lords hand doubly for all her sins. Let your warning voice be heard among the gentiles as you pass; and call yet upon them in my name for aid and assistance. With you it mattereth not whether it be little or much; but to me it belongeth to show favor unto them who show favor unto you.
Following his official appointment by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Orson Hyde left immediately on his mission to the Holy Land accompanied by John E. Page. The two traveled to the eastern shores of the United States, spending about a month in these cities. During this time Page grew apprehensive of the enormous journey ahead. Despite the urging of church leaders Joseph Smith and George A. Smith, Page decided to stay behind as Hyde left the eastern coast of the United States and traveled by boat across the Atlantic to Liverpool, England. He stopped for a time here mingling among the members of the church and missionaries in London and throughout England but was still unable to find anyone to accompany him. He then proceeded to travel into Europe.
He crossed to the mainland staying first in Amsterdam and then on to Rotterdam. Here he met with a prominent Jewish Rabbi and published a book about the Church in Dutch. He then proceeded to Germany. He decided he should learn the German language, knowing this would help him on his mission. He embarked on a crash course, and after eight days, he had read most of two books and translated and written considerably. He was reportedly so fluent that people were astonished at his ability.
He continued on his journey stopping at Strasbourg to make friends and establish relationships for later missionary efforts there. Here he entered and crossed Eastern Europe along the Rhine by boat until he arrived in Constantinople where he continued his travel by boat on to Jerusalem.
Along his travels he faced many hardships. He fought danger, disease and hunger all along the way. Some of Hyde�s greatest trials came on his voyage from Smyrna to Beirut. As he traveled with a group of Arabs under the hire of a few Englishman they were blown off course into the small isles that litter the easternmost cost of the Mediterranean. This journey of four days turned into nineteen. They had not taken food stores for this happenstance and began to suffer from lack of nutrition. He managed to survive by gathering snails from the rocks of the isles, which they passed. Eventually they found the mainland, and he continued his journey by land through Beirut.
Hyde obviously had little love for the "Arabs" in the area. He called them "land pirates". He was constantly concerned for his well being among them. He stated once in a letter to a friend, "You will hear from me again at first opportunity, if the "Arabs" don�t kill me". While he was in Beirut, "a battle of extermination" was fought within view of the city between the Drewzes and Catholics where eight hundred were killed. The Drewzes were a fundamentalist Muslim group supported by the Sultan who had been pushing out European settlers and missionaries throughout the region. The Catholics were being assisted by the English military to protect the Europeans. It is apparent at this time that Hyde was feeling the effects of the trip as he showed great fear and disgust at this sight. He saw headless bodies lining the streets. He spoke of rampant robberies, theft, and murder.
At this same time the Grand Sultan issued orders that all American missionaries in the region should leave. The Grand Sultan was beginning to feel the pressures of the European settlers in the area. This, combined with the increasing European military presence created a fear for the Grand Sultan that he was losing power. Though in this time of great trouble and danger, Hyde seems to gain confidence and a second wind. He wrote:
�. in this, if it does take place, I can see plainly the hand of Providence. The fact is, this land belongs to the Jews; and the present fermentation thereof shows me that it is fast working back into the hands of its rightful heirs. God will, in due time, drive out the Canaanites, so that no more a Canaanite shall be found in the land, or in the House of the Lord. I find that almost a universal anxiety prevails respecting the return of the Jews. The waters are troubled because the Angel has descended. My heart leaps for joy at the prospect of seeing that land, and there fulfilling my mission.
He now continued travel by boat on down the coast on his way to Jaffa. On the trip Hyde states that an amazing vision took place.
On my passage to Beyrout to this place, the night before last, at one o�clock, as I was meditating on the deck of the vessel, as she was beating down against a sultry schroke wind, a very bright glittering sword appeared in the heavens, about two yards in length, with a beautiful hilt, as plain and complete as any cut you ever saw. And, what is still more remarkable, an arm, with a perfect hand, stretched itself out and took hold of the hilt of the sword. The appearance really made my hair raise, and the flesh as it were, to crawl on my bones. The Arabs made a wonderful outcry at the sight; "O, Allah, Allah, Allah!" was there exclamation all over the vessel. I mention this because you know there is a commandment to me which says: "Unto you it shall be given to know the signs of the times, and the sign of the coming of the Son of Man."
Hyde debarked at Jaffa, and traveled onward to Jerusalem. At this time Jerusalem had a population of approximately 20,000 in habitants. Among these, 7000 were Jews. The majority of the population consisted of Turks and Arabs. He traveled the city viewing and meditated among the spiritually historic sights that he emotionally witnessed. He attempted to contact other Christian missionaries and prominent men of the city, but he did not meet with much success. So he again resolved to complete the purpose of his mission alone.
One year and six months had passed since he embarked on his journey from Nauvoo, Illinois. On Sunday morning, October 24, 1841, just before dawn, Elder Orson Hyde walked out of Jerusalem, up the Mount of Olives, and viewed the beautiful sight of Jerusalem at as sunlight spread across the city of the Messiah. Here he wrote and delivered the dedicatory prayer, consecrating the land for the gathering of Judah�s scattered remnants and for the eventual building of a temple. In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Hyde referred to the prophecies of God�s servants in relation to the Jews and Jerusalem, and asked that all might be fulfilled. He called for the richest blessings of heaven upon the Jews; he blessed, by virtue of his priesthood, and by his special calling as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, the city, the land, and the elements, to the end that Judah might be gathered, Jerusalem rebuilt, and become a �Holy City," that the Lord�s name might be glorified in all the earth. After the prayer, in accordance with a vision given him before he left Nauvoo, he erected a pile of stones as a witness. He later erected a similar pile or altar upon Mount Zion.
Hyde noted that many Jews listened to his prayer with great interest. To this day his prayer is well known in Jerusalem among the Jews for the wonderful blessings and promises which it proclaims upon Jerusalem and the "the Lords chosen people." Soon after this he boarded a ship and sail back to England by way of Egypt, Trieste, and Regensburg. On the way he wrote a letter to the editor of the church�s British newspaper the Millennial Star, describing the event of his journey and predicting England role in bringing the results that he had worked and prayed for.
It was by political power and influence that the Jewish nation was broken down, and her subjects dispersed abroad; and I will here hazard the opinion; that by political power and influence they will be gathered and built up; and, further, that England is destined, in the wisdom of economy of Heaven, to stretch forth the arm of political power, and advance in the front ranks of this glorious enterprise.
Orson Hyde�s mission to the Holy Land was not undertaken for personal reasons. Like other Mormon travelers who followed Hyde to Palestine, it was done under the auspices of divine authority. He understood his was a quest called for by a prophet of God. He believed his mission to be inspired. This was the fulfillment of God�s plan for his children on earth. Its foundation lay in the prophecies of old revealed in ancient scripture such as the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon.
If one is to understand the significance of the mission of Elder Orson Hyde and his dedicatory prayer then one must understand where Mormons find the prophecies and divination that make it so important. This is found in Holy Scriptures such as the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon. Since the contents of the Book of Mormon are not common knowledge to most it is important that a description be given of what this book contains
The Book of Mormon is a volume of Holy Scripture that is regarded as a companion to the Holy Bible, according to Mormons. It is a record of a compilation of books written by ancient prophets and abridged by the last of these prophets whose name was Mormon. It does this by giving an account of two civilizations. One of them is led by an ancient prophet named Lehi, who, after being commanded by God to leave Jerusalem just before the Babylonian destruction in the early 6th century B.C. This group of people divided into two tribes called Lamanites and Nephites. The other civilization came to the Americas from the Middle East much earlier around the time of the tower of Babel. Both groups brought with them their Semitic customs and languages. Two of the groups were destroyed leaving the Lamanites who Mormons believe are the ancient ancestors of the American Indians. From this we can see that the geographical roots of Mormonism�s essential document are anchored in the Holy Land in a profound way from its opening pages.
Throughout the Book of Mormon are references and prophecies concerning the House of Israel, Jerusalem and the restoration thereof. The Book of Mormon teaches that through the help of the Gentile nations (the western world), the Jews will be assisted in their return to the land of promise before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon states:
And it shall come to pass that they [the Jews} shall be gathered in from their long dispersion, from the isles of the sea, and from the four parts of the earth; and the nations of the Gentiles shall be great in the eyes of me, saith God, in carrying them forth to the lands of their inheritance. Yea, the kings of the Gentiles shall be nursing mothers; wherefore, the promises of the Lord are great unto the Gentiles, for he hat spoken it, and who can dispute? But behold, this land, saith God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land.
Mormons believe themselves to be literally part of the family of Israel, living in Gentile America. It is their mission to help Israel in returning to the Promised Land. Though not blood descendants, the Mormons believe that they are adopted into the House of Israel. According to the Book of Mormon:
By and by the Jews will be gathered to the land of their fathers, and the ten tribes, who wandered into the north, will be gathered home, and the blood of Ephraim, the second son of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt, which is to be found in every kingdom and nation under heaven, will be gathered from among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles who will receive and adhere to the principles of the Gospel will be adopted and initiated into the family of Father Abraham, and Jesus will reign over his own and Satan will reign over his own.
This explains the significance of the Mission of Orson Hyde to the Holy Land for Mormons. He was fulfilling ancient prophecy concerning the gathering of Israel. Mormons believe that not only should they assist in this gathering but being part of Israel, they also are being gathered. This explains why Latter-day Saints have always had such an interest in the Holy Land. They do not ascribe to the common Christian view that a heavenly Jerusalem and Temple will descend on the earth. Latter-day Saints ascribe to the view supported by Jewish Talmudic sages that a gathered portion of Israel will be established around an earthly Jerusalem.
Similar to common Christian beliefs, Mormons believe that the Second Coming of Christ will not take place until Jerusalem is restored. This is supported by the modern prophecy of Joseph Smith.
Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple, and the waters of the dead sea be healed. It will take some time to rebuild the walls of the city and the temple, etc.; and all this must be done before the Son of Man will make His appearance.
Thus the urgent nature of the mission of Orson Hyde is evident. It was crucial in the advent of coming of the Messiah. Orson Hyde�s journey and dedication led to the furthering of the Latter-day Saint work in the Holy Land. Upon his return, interest in the gathering of Israel increased greatly among members of the church.
In October of 1872 another mission followed Elder Orson Hyde�s path to the Holy Land when Church Leader George Albert Smith led a group of Latter-day Saints to rededicate Jerusalem. Here they met many Jews who received them graciously as they identified themselves with Orson Hyde. Again, as with Orson Hyde before them, they were not on a mission to convert the Jews to Christianity, but only to perform the dedication which they were directed to do by the churches Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They toured the same places that Hyde toured and dedicated the land in the same manner as Hyde had thirty years previously.
This was followed by the visit of the first Mormon missionary to the Holy Land, Elder Jacob Spori, in 1884. He was able to continue the momentum previously established by converting a small group of twenty-five people consisting of Germans, Arabs, Russians, and Austrians. This group continued to exist and prosper in the land for years to come. Following Spori came a number of Church leaders and missionaries into the area.
Throughout the 20th century the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had the opportunity to build relationships and establish a presence due to the early efforts made by Elder Orson Hyde and those that followed as a result. Deep ties have been made with the Jews and the Muslims in the area. The culmination of these efforts lies in an actual physical presence in the city of Jerusalem.
On October 24 1979, one-hundred and thirty eight years after Hyde�s dedicatory prayer on the Mount of Olives, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Spencer W. Kimball traveled to Jerusalem to dedicate the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden. This was a gift given to the city and people of Jerusalem. It lies on the western slope of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Garden of Gethsemane. It consists of five and one-quarter acres of pathways and vegetation created to honor and beautify the city as well as remember Elder Orson Hyde for which the park is named. Many people who visit Jerusalem today see a beautiful, white, limestone building cascading down the northwestern slope of the Mount of Olives. This eight-tiered structure is known as the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. In 1984 this University was opened and began hosting students, visitors and dignitaries. In the early 1980s the construction of the Center faced resolute opposition from certain religious circles and Israeli nationalist groups who feared that the Center might become a base for Mormon proselytizing of Jews. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints agreed with the government of Israel that the Center would be used exclusively for educational and cultural activities. The Jerusalem center is known by those who occupy the city as one of the most beautiful structures in the Holy Land. In 1994 an estimated total of 72.000 visitors were hosted in the Mormon center; a nickname it has been given due to the church, which sponsors the university. Elder Orson Hyde�s efforts laid a legacy for the LDS church which has now established a physical presence in the Holy Land. More important than this though is the spiritual legacy, which he founded. The doctrinal ties of Mormonism were exhibited and rooted within the modern era in the Mission of Orson Hyde.
Many pilgrims either associated with certain churches or on their own traveled to the Holy Land for different reasons. Edward Robinson, a 19th century explorer and scholar, went o Palestine to uncover the truths about Israel�s past and retranslate the scriptures of old. Prominent millenarian Horatius Bonaar spoke of the magnetic power, which the area had. Many pilgrims traveled to the Holy Land to seek spiritual enlightenment or the follow the paths that Jesus Christ traveled two thousand years before. Men such as Pliny Fisk, Jonas King, and William Jowett traveled to the holy land as Christian missionaries. Their goal was similar in the sense that they desired to bring about the restoration of the Jewish Holy Land, but their actions sought out the full and purposeful conversion of the Jews. This is what separated these men from Hyde and his purpose.
His experience and the legacy he left for other Mormons was much different. Orson Hyde�s message to Israel and the Jews was that they needed to gather. They needed to escape the destruction of their people being promulgated by the Gentiles: "Assemble yourselves�. Retire [into your defenced cities]! stay not�. the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way, he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate, and thy cities shall be laid waste without inhabitant." At the same time he was warning the Jews, he was also speaking words of comfort: "Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her�. that her iniquity is pardoned." This is what made Orson Hyde unique among his contemporary travelers and pilgrims; he delivered a message of peace and forgiveness, a blessing upon a holy and prophesied land, without the belief of a need to immediately convert and baptize Judah. This is the legacy that he initiated which developed into over 50,000 Latter-day Saints traveling to the Holy Land. His belief in his mission as an instrument in the hands of God, being directed by one of his prophets to perform a work in a certain manner, established a doctrinal policy. This policy has led to the physical and spiritual ties that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been able to forge due to efforts, one-hundred and fifty years previous, of a thirty five year old Elder of a fledgling church who traveled with meager means but great faith.