Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Exiled from Zion

Not too long ago, on a discussion at another blog about the way other historians gloss over our history, I made a comment like “the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years until they were led to Zion. The Mormons wandered Zion (Missouri and surrounding areas) for 15 years until they were led to the desert.” I thought it was a great original thought. Turns out I was wrong. Richard Jackson beat me to it by 15 years.

The citation and abstract are below. But you can purchase a .pdf copy of this article for an insane $31.50! I don’t think so! I’m still looking around for the complete text to his paper (for a more reasonable price) I don’t have access to JSTOR at my public library (Cursed rural Tennessee library system!). And I don’t want to pay $31.50 for a 17 page electronic document.

But what kind of insight does looking at our history this way bring? Do we still look at Jackson County as Zion from which we are in exile? Is our definition of Zion broad enough to allow us to be content with the land of Deseret? Do we still believe we will be called to return to Missouri in a mass migration in the manner described in the alleged Horseshoe Prophesy attributed to John Taylor? And how does it change considering the Diaspora of Mormons living outside the Great Basin (like I do in Tennessee)?

Jackson, Richard H. "The Mormon Experience: the Plains as Sinai, the Great Salt Lake as the Dead Sea, and the Great Basin as Desert-cum-promised Land." Journal of Historical Geography 18 (1992): 41-58.

The experiences of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in migrating across the Great Plains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, in colonizing the Wasatch oasis, and in occupying major portions of the Great Basin gave rise to a collective and official landscape tradition within a few years of the migration and settlement process of the mid-nineteenth century. In this official tradition, the Mormon experience is viewed as analogous to the wanderings of the Children of Israel in the Exodus. The Plains, the Wasatch oasis, and the Great Basin are all viewed in this collective tradition as harsh, uninviting, desert landscapes. The traditional Mormon view of the Plains and Wasatch oasis as desert, derived from examination of Church records, speeches of elders, correspondence and newspaper articles, contrasts in almost all aspects with the actual accounts of the participants in Mormon migration and settlement. The records of migrants on the Mormon Trail present a pastoral view of the Plains and the earliest recorded impression of the Great Salt Lake Valley were of an abundant and bucolic region. The contrary official invented desert tradition persisted well into the mid-twentieth century, largely as a result of the belief that group identity can be reinforced by a tradition of shared hardship and by a glorification of the past.


Christopher said...

Check your inbox, Bruce. I've passed along a PDF copy of the article.

Anonymous said...

Bruce - One important reference is Orson Pratt's talk on the Redemption of Zion that may be of interest to you.

BruceCrow said...

A very interesting take on this. I had not read Pratt's discourse before. It certainly explains many of the other explanations I have read, as though they were written with Pratt's discourse in mind. Thanks