Often times the student of the Book of Mormon is puzzled when he or she begins to read the fifth chapter of Jacob. Jacob quotes directly from an ancient Prophet who is unknown to us, save it be through the Book of Mormon. Elder Bruce R. McConkie made a significant comment about this prophet Zenos:
"I do not think I overstate the matter when I say that next to Isaiah himself-who is the prototype, pattern, and model for all the prophets-there was not a greater prophet in all Israel than Zenos. And our knowledge of his inspired writings is limited to the quotations and paraphrasing summaries found in the Book of Mormon." (1)
Coming to Know Zenos
Zenos was a Prophet who lived after the time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and was of the tribe of Joseph of Egypt. How do we know this? Zenos prophesied of many things that would occur, particularly around the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Concerning the time of the destructions following the crucifixion, the great prophet Mormon wrote:
"Behold, I say unto you, Yea, many have testified of these things at the coming of Christ, and were slain because they testified of these things. Yea, the prophet Zenos did testify of these things, and also Zenock spake concerning these things, because they testified particularly concerning us, who are the remnant of their seed." (3 Nephi 10:15,16, emphasis added)
So, Zenos (and Zenock) were ancestors of this branch of the house of Joseph! No wonder they were so interested in his words because he spoke specifically concerning them and those things that would come to pass in the lives of the Nephites and Lamanites, part of his posterity.
We know that Zenos was martyred for his testimony.
"And now I would that ye should know, that even since the days of Abraham there have been many prophets that have testified these things; yea, behold, the prophet Zenos did testify boldly; for the which he was slain." (Helaman 8:19)
We know that Zenos gave many very specific prophecies that would be greatly significant and important to the Nephites, including the following:
(See 1 Nephi 19:11-17)
Zenos gave us 4, 261 words in the Book of Mormon (of the total 269, 329 words), which is about 2% of the text. His words are powerful, plain and prophetic and need to be understood by members of the Church in our day and age. Hence this lesson on the Allegory of Zenos.
Coming to Understand and Love the Allegory
If taken slowly and carefully, the Allegory of Zenos can become one of the most rewarding and exciting adventures in all of scripture study. It does not have to be mysterious and unfathomable. Allegories are meant to teach in a way that brings out types, truth, history and context which could not otherwise be revealed so clearly. "Zenos's extended allegory communicates important meaning, deep emotion, rich wisdom, and divine feeling. No other allegorical encompasses greater historical scope and typological vitality." (2)
Dr. Truman G. Madsen taught: "Throughout scripture, the Teacher of teachers and his prophets have invoked their surroundings to verify revelatory acts and sayings. The cosmos is their visual aid. In the very rocks and trees of Israel , God's meaning is lodged-meaning that can reach the center of the soul. Amid all those surroundings, no figure looms larger on the landscape than does the olive tree.
"Religious literature, ancient and modern, is replete with images of a tree of life that is to be planted in a goodly land beside a pure stream. Some typologies regard it as the link at the very navel of the earth-the source of nourishment between parent and child-and place it at the temple mount in Jerusalem , where heaven and earth meet." (3)
Brother Paul Hoskisson wrote: "The allegory discusses God's loving care for and tender devotion to Israel and his desire to help Israel reach its righteous potential. The allegory is also, as any well-written allegory is, at once simple and complex, obscure and obvious." (4) The tame olive tree plays the central role in the allegory. This tree symbolizes the house of Israel . (Jacob 5:3)
To understand the allegory it is well to get out your marking pencil or your standard scripture marking utensil and make a few notes in the margins of your scriptures. This will play a key role in understanding Zenos's allegory.
First of all, remember what the Lord said in the book of Moses: "All things bear record of me." (Moses 6:63) The allegory is no exception. As we come to understand the allegory, the metaphors and the symbols placed within the story, we will begin to understand more fully the atonement.
Marking the Scriptures
One of the basic things to understand about the allegory is that there are five time periods talked about and four different groups, or geographic locations of people. This is where marking the scriptures will be helpful. A simple way to identify the time periods is just with the letters A, B, C, D, and E. A simple way to identify the various groups or branches of Israel is with the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. Let us first identify the groups of people and where they were led geographically, by description from the allegory, and then we will mark the scriptures together so this allegory will become more understandable.
Group 1. A tame olive tree in the land of Israel .This geographical area is easy to identify as ancient Israel , or the land of Palestine located in and around Jerusalem , the holy city.
Group 2. The poorest spot of ground in the vineyard.