Before sunrise on Sunday, Oct. 24, 1841, Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles exited the city walls of Jerusalem, crossed the brook Cedron and climbed the Mount of Olives.
With pen and paper, and in solemn silence, he offered a prayer dedicating the Holy Land “for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants” and as a land of promise for all the scattered children of Abraham.
“Now, O Lord! Thy servant has been obedient to the heavenly vision which Thou gavest him in his native land,” Elder Hyde prayed, “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. …
“Let that nation or that people who shall take an active part in behalf of Abraham’s children, and in the raising up of Jerusalem, find favor in Thy sight.”
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Elder Hyde’s dedicatory prayer — offered 180 years ago — demonstrates the importance of the gathering of Israel to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since its organization.
“There’s nothing that President Russell M. Nelson has stressed more than the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil,” Elder Cook said. “Elder Hyde’s prayer demonstrates that from the earliest days of the Church and under the guidance of the Prophet Joseph, the focus has been on gathering scattered Israel.”
Elder Hyde’s mission
Essential elements of the assignment given to Elder Hyde to dedicate Jerusalem are found in Doctrine and Covenants 109, Joseph Smith’s dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Elder Cook said.
He quoted from verses 62-67: “We therefore ask thee to have mercy upon the children of Jacob, that Jerusalem, from this hour, may begin to be redeemed … and the children of Judah may begin to return to the lands which thou didst give to Abraham, their father. …
“And may all the scattered remnants of Israel, who have been driven to the ends of the earth, come to a knowledge of the truth, believe in the Messiah, and be redeemed from oppression, and rejoice before thee.”
After the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Moses appeared to restore the keys for the gathering of Israel (Doctrine and Covenants 110:11).
Elder Cook noted that President Nelson has taught, “The Book of Mormon came forth as a sign that the Lord had commenced to gather [the] children of the covenant.” Thus, the Book of Mormon, delivered to and translated by the Prophet Joseph, is directed toward the Lamanites, scattered Israel and Gentiles who are adopted into the tribes of Israel. The heading of 1 Nephi 22 reads in part, “Israel will be scattered upon all the face of the earth — the Gentiles will nurse and nourish Israel with the gospel in the last days.” The Book of Mormon title page states that one of its purposes is for “convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.”
Baptized in Kirtland, Ohio, by Sidney Rigdon, Orson Hyde was called as an Apostle in 1835 and served many missions. In March 1840, he had a dream in which he saw London, Amsterdam, Constantinople (known today as Istanbul) and Jerusalem and was commanded to go to these cities.
A month later Elder Hyde said in general conference that “he had a great work to perform among the Jews,” and the Prophet Joseph called him to proceed with the mission to Jerusalem.
Elder Hyde left Nauvoo in April 1840 and returned in December 1842, enduring many hardships and preaching the gospel along the way to the cities he saw in his dream.
Amber Taylor, a writer and historian in the Church History Department, described Elder Hyde’s mission as “an incredible act of sacrifice” that was “almost mythic in nature.” At a precarious time in Church history when the Saints were being persecuted, Elder Hyde left out of poverty and finished his mission “with very little fanfare.”
“God used Orson Hyde as this pivotal figure to accomplish really one of the most anticipated aspects of the prophecies of the final days,” said Taylor, who holds a doctorate in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. Though many of the requests in Elder Hyde’s prayer have happened, many are yet to be fulfilled.
From a historical perspective, Taylor acknowledged, there is a long, painful history of Christian relations with Jews. Elder Hyde’s story, she said, helps “create a space for common ground” and has led to many interfaith efforts between the Latter-day Saint and Jewish communities.
Latter-day Saints and Jews
In honor of the 175th anniversary of Elder Hyde’s prayer, Elder Cook traveled to Jerusalem in 2016 with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as part of a delegation of Latter-day Saint and Jewish dignitaries from the United States.
The delegation included former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams; former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman from Connecticut; Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City.
“We met on the Mount of Olives, the location where the prayer was offered, and it was a very spiritual event,” Elder Cook recalled. “Elder Holland gave a very moving, inspirational message and later we met with some of the leadership of the country.”
Speaking of members of the delegation, Elder Holland told the Church News in 2016, “They were giving our message and sharing our convictions about so many things. We did not have to explain ourselves or defend ourselves. There was a wonderful sense of shared purpose and common religious values.”
To the Jewish leaders Elder Cook has met, Elder Hyde’s dedicatory prayer has great meaning and generates “a wonderful feeling of respect.”
Elder Cook cited as an example Rabbi Soloveichik’s address on Thursday, Oct. 21, at the Truman G. Madsen Lecture on Eternal Man, sponsored by BYU’s Wheatley Institution. In his remarks, Rabbi Soloveichik talked about the significance of Elder Hyde’s dedicatory prayer.
“Whether they accept the gospel of Jesus Christ or not, they appreciated the Prophet Joseph sending Orson and having the land dedicated in such a respectful and prayerful manner,” Elder Cook said, noting that Elder Hyde’s visit to Jerusalem predated by over 100 years Israel becoming its own nation.
Jerusalem was the central location of President Nelson’s global ministry tour in April 2018, which also included stops in England, Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Thailand, Hong Kong and Hawaii.
President Nelson said he had symbolic reasons for planning the global trip as he did. “We wanted to start in Jerusalem to fortify ourselves with the message of the Lord Jesus Christ right from its very inception, here where He was born, where He lived, where He ministered and where He was crucified,” he said in 2018. “His message is for all of God’s children.”
From Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, President Nelson — accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, and Elder Holland and Sister Patricia T. Holland — addressed more than 300 Latter-day Saints and BYU students gathered for the Jerusalem District conference.
Read more: Elder Holland gives an inside look to miracles that made the BYU Jerusalem Center possible
The BYU Jerusalem Center, established in 1988, overlooks the Mount of Olives in the Holy Land. The Church worked closely with government and community leaders to get permission to build the center and the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden — dedicated by President Spencer W. Kimball on Oct. 24, 1979.
‘All are alike unto God’
A few months prior to the dedication of the Orson Hyde Memorial Garden, Elder Howard W. Hunter, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke during a BYU devotional in 1979 and titled his talk “All Are Alike Unto God.” The message was later published in the Ensign.
Elder Hunter, who played an important role in establishing Latter-day Saint institutions in the Holy Land, taught that “Jerusalem is sacred to the Jews, but it is also sacred to the Arabs.”
“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. … The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring about love, unity and brotherhood of the highest order.”
As Latter-day Saints honor the 180th anniversary of Elder Hyde dedicating the Holy Land, it is this message Elder Cook hopes they remember about the gathering of Israel: “God loves all His children.”