God's Chosen People: Mormon Representations of Judaism and the Jewish Other in Holocaust literature.(Critical Essay)

Article excerpt

Mormonism has struggled to form a unified doctrine regarding Judaism and Jewish identity since its founding in the early nineteenth century. On Sunday morning, October 24, 1840, ten years after the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormon apostle Orson Hyde ascended the Mount of Olives and dedicated Israel for the return of the Jews. Noticeably absent from Hyde's dedicatory prayer is any mention of proselyting or missionary efforts: the land was dedicated for the return of the Jews and not for Mormon missionary efforts. (1) Nonetheless, Hyde's words also indicate Mormon christocentrism and a conception of the Jewish need for repentance and humility when he asks "in the name of thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ," to have the land restored to its prior glory and to soften the hearts of the rightful inhabitants of the land. (2) Hyde's assumption that the Jews are the rightful inhabitants of Israel illustrates an early theological ambiguity about the relationship of Jew to Gentile and Mormon to Jew that continues to influence contemporary theological, historical, and literary representations of Jews and Judaism in Mormon works. In this paper I explore the representation of one marginalized group (Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish Holocaust) by another (Mormons) and argue that Mormon representations of Jewish life and experience (especially the experience of the Holocaust) will necessarily be flawed if Mormon authors do not recognize the competing worldviews of the groups. Through the examination of Margaret Young's House without Walls (1991), and Eugene England's "Summer Solstice" (1995), my paper explores the preferability of a poetics of impasse over a poetics of representation.

Mormons view themselves as God's chosen people, but unlike most other Christian faiths, they do not regard themselves as the successors to God's covenant with Israel. In Mormon theology, the Abrahamic covenant is alive, and Mormons hold divine birthright through their ritual adoption into the covenant. Certainly, Mormonism views itself as "a new and everlasting covenant," but it is not one that replaces God's original covenant with his chosen people. Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and "translator" of the Book of Mormon taught that the Jews were God's chosen people and that contemporary attitudes about Jews and Judaism were antithetical to God's teachings, "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 things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people." (3)

According to Steven Epperson, The Book of Mormon " is for all its christocentrism peculiarly pitched toward the realization of God's covenant with Israel. Israel's covenant dominates the text the way a `main theme' presides through the exposition, development, and recapitulation of a sonata." (4) Epperson argues that Smith was unique among religious leaders of the nineteenth century because he did not actively seek to proselyte or convert Jews (37). Indeed, Smith was critical of such efforts among the Christian denominations as attested by the passage from the Book of Mormon above (Mormons, 37, 52). The theme of separate and distinct covenant communities is further developed through Smith's "translation" of the books of Moses. According to Smith's interpretations, two separate covenant communities develop through Judah and Joseph with Mormons receiving their birthright primarily through Joseph (Mormons, 50-54). In the Doctrine and Covenants, Latter-day Saint scripture containing modern revelation, Smith clearly envisions two distinct communities when he writes, "Let them, therefore, who are among the Gentiles flee unto Zion. And let them who be of Judah flee unto Jerusalem, unto the mountains of the Lord's house. …