Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Meaning of Nethermost: Connecting the Dots in South America – Part II

 Continuing from the last post regarding the importance of crop growths and harvests in the time of the Nephites and the true meaning of Zenos’ allegory of the tame and wild trees.
    The prophet Zenos, like Zenock, Neum and Ezias, was an Old Testament prophet not mentioned in the Bible, but introduced to us in the Book of Mormon from the Plates of Brass.
The first mention of Zenos we find in Jacob Chapter 5, was written on the Plates of Brass and was part of the original writings of what we now have as the Old Testament. He would have lived sometime between Abraham (Helaman 8:19) and Lehi, about 1900 to 650 B.C.
Top: Nephi and his brothers return with the brass plates acquired from Laban in Jerusalem; Left: Lehi immediately read them and made great discoveries; Right: They were written in Egyptian on plates (sheets) of brass 
    Although specific dates and details of Zenos' life and ministry are not known, he was apparently a descendant of Joseph of Egypt and his writings were on the Plates of Brass taken from Jerusalem to the Americas by Nephi about 600 B.C. There is some consideration he might also have been a progenitor of Lehi, since the Disciple Nephi claims “because they testified particularly concerning us, who are the remnant of their seed” (3 Nephi 10:16). Zenos spent time "in the wilderness" (Alma 33:4), and in his “fields” (Alma 33:5), and also preached "in the midst" of the "congregations" of God (Alma 33:9). Some of his enemies became reconciled to him through the power of God (Alma 33:4), but others were visited "with speedy destruction" (Alma 33:10). Finally, he was slain because of his bold testimony of the coming of the "Son of God" (Helaman 8:19).
    Now, having placed Zenos in a time frame and stated his qualifications as a prophet of God, let us consider what he said about the vineyard and determine the carefully worded parable of the events and their meaning. Taking first, the word “nethermost” and also the word “hid."
The Shemen (tree of oil) as the Olive Tree was called in ancient Israel, and is from a primitive root word meaning “to shine,” i.e., Shemesh “to be brilliant”
1. Jacob 5:13. “And these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard, withersoever I will, it mattereth not unto thee; and I do it that I may preserve unto myself the natural branches of the tree; and also, that I may lay up fruit thereof against the season, unto myself, for it grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof.” 
    Explanation: Let’s take the first sentence: “And these will I place in the nethermost [nether=lowest; nethermost=lowermost or furthest down] part of my vineyard, withersoever [to whatever place] I will, it mattereth not unto thee [it matters not to the servant where the master places the branches].”
    Now, to the meaning of nethermost. What does “nether” mean? In the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, “nether” means “lower, lying beneath or in the lower part,” “belonging to the regions below,” “in a lower place” “lower in position” “bottom” “situated down below” “the nether regions situated down or below.” The word is taken from Middle English (earlier from Old English) “neothera, meaning down” (akin to German “nieder,” meaning “down,” and from Indo-European base form of ni,”meaning “down”? Thus, the nether part of something is the lower or bottom part of it. So what does “nethermost” mean? It is an adjective, meaning it describes a noun or something attributed to it.
Olive trees hid in the nethermost part of the vineyard 
    Thus, nethermost means “farthest down,” “bottommost,” or “lowermost.” “nether” then means to be located beneath or below, lower or under, “the bottom or lower regions of the earth.” In addition, the comparative suffix (the following part) describes the extent of the “nether” thus, nethermost, means the furthest down, the lowest possible, at the very bottom.
    So, the nethermost part of the master’s vineyard would be the lowest part of the vineyard, that part that was furthest away from view.
2. Jacob 5:14: Now the next verse states: “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard went his way, and hid the natural branches of the tame olive-tree in the nethermost parts of the vineyard, some in one and some in another, according to his will and pleasure.”
     Explanation: Let’s take this first sentence here: “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard [the master or owner of the vineyard] went his way [went where he chose], and hid the natural branches [where no one knew where he put them] of the tame olive-tree in the nethermost [the lowest or furthest away] parts of the vineyard, some in one and some in another [in different locations], according to his will and pleasure [as he chose].
    Thus, no one but the owner of the vineyard knew where he put the branches, for they were far away in an area no one knew about, and at a distance from everything else that no one would discover them. He also did not put all the branches in the same place, but placed them in different locations in this hidden, far away place.
    Now comes the interesting part of this. To the Lord of the vineyard, or the owner or master of the vineyard, which interpreted is God (Jehovah), his vineyard is the Earth, and he views it from afar, or in modern terminology, he views it as though from a far away satellite—or as a globe in space.
The world as viewed from space, or as it might be seen from the heavens 
    We also need to keep in mind, at the time of Zenos to Jacob, the world had no knowledge of the Western Hemisphere, or of Australia, and, in fact, almost everything they knew about was above the equator, meaning the northern hemisphere (north and eastern quadrant of the globe).
    Except for Africa, nothing south of the Equator was known to the world in B.C. times and for about 1000 years after that except for those the Lord had led to the “isles of the sea.”
Note the land south of the Equator, specifically the Western Hemsiphere, the Lord’s vineyard, where the lowest place, or nethermost part, is not only in South America, but in the lowest part of it 
    In the nethermost part of the vineyard, the Lord hid the transplanted branches where only he (the master of the vineyard) knew they were hidden. When looking at the globe above, it is not difficult to see the Lord’s perspective as he put the words in Zenos’ mouth about his planting a branch in the southern part of South America, hidden in the “nethermost” part, which would appear from his distant heavens as the bottom or lowest part of his vineyard (world) further south or "lower down" (nethermost) than any other inhabitable part of the world.
3. Jacob 5:19. The allegory continues with: “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Come, let us go to the nethermost part of the vineyard and hehold if the natural branches of the tree have not brought forth much fruit also, that I may lay up of the fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self.”
    So the owner of the vineyard goes down to the furthest part of his world and sees how the transplanted branches are doing.
    Now consider that the owner of the vineyard, i.e., the Lord of the Earth (Jehovah), who had hid away this branch (Nephites) from the House of Israel in the nethermost (furthest away place) part of the vineyard (world), had made this known to Lehi through his vision that his land to which Lehi had been led, was hidden from the world, and none should be brought into this nethermost part of the vineyard “save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:6), for this part of the vineyard was consecrated “unto him whom he shall bring” (2 Nephi 1:7), and shall be free from others, “a land of liberty” where they will be safe and “unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever” (2 Nephi 1:7). And “it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance” for Lehi’s seed (2 Nephi 1:8). That is, this nethermost part of the vineyard would be reserved just for this branch until the branch no longer warranted the privacy (promise).
4. Jacob 5:20. “And it came to pass that they went forth whither the master had hid the natural branches of the tree, and he said unto the servant: Behold these; and he beheld the first that it had brought forth much fruit; and he heheld also that is was good.”
    So the owner of the vineyard went to that furthest away part of his world where he “had hid the natural branches of the tree” to see how his people were doing.
    And so we see that the master of the vineyard was vigilant in overseeing his transplanted branches, and when they did not perform as needed or expected, as we find in this allegory on the second visit of the master (Jacob 5:38-39), other means were implemented (the gentiles were led to the land), which is another purpose and part of the allegory. But for this part, we can see where South America is the only location where the Land of Promise fits Zenos’ allegory as the nethermost part of the vineyard.


  1. Good comments about Zenos and who he was. He was likely an Ephraimite prophet living in Egypt after the time of Joseph. The records of the Ephraimite prophets were destroyed when they were taken into captivity at 721BC. The brass plates however did preserve some of their writings as we have here in the BOM. Good stuff!
    Although this is an interesting Idea about nether I think you have it somewhat wrong. Your definition fits better as poor spot of ground (lower) rather or opposed to a good spot of ground (higher). This isn’t talking about geography in other words. I think one of the first things that needs to be understood about this allegory is what constitutes a poor spot of ground vs good ground. It isn’t the climate that makes a good place or a bad place. It is who else is present in those places that have the ability to pollute the Lord’s people. The Lord’s people in all ages of time when they are left to mingle among the local inhabitants who are either brought in (as in our case) or are transplanted to other places as in the case of the Jews and lost 10 tribes, the Lord’s people adopt the practices of those pagan/heathan people. This is called apostasy and this is why the tree decays. The Lord sends prophets to correct them. If they cannot be corrected then the Lord whacks off the dead branches and bad fruit, and destroys them. This has been the history of the Olive tree throughout history.
    If you define nether as poor spot or lower then it all begins to make sense. What branches of the tree were taken to poor (nether) spot of ground therefore from the captivities of 721bc and 600bc? The Jews all 4,600 of them were taken to Babylon where they married the descendants of Shemite women to reconstitute the tribe. This was a poor spot of ground. The 10 tribes on the other hand were taken farther North into Assyria and finally into Eastern Europe and were mingled with the northern people and lost. Isaiah and Hosea speak about them and they will be coming from the steppes of Russia in the last days. They were settled in a very poor spot of ground for 2,700 years and will soon be brought out from that poor spot of ground. They are in complete apostasy now as the allegory says.
    Here is a good example of what I am talking about Jacob 5:19-21 it says that the Lord went to the nethermost part of the vineyard vs 19 it was a poorest spot in all the land vs 21. Who were they? These were the ancient Jews taken into Babylon not the Nephites. Vs 23 says he planted branches in an even poorer spot of ground (10 tribes) because they were cast among a very pagan/heathen population where they eventually mingled among them and were lost. Ephraim of course mingled farther west into Western Europe – Germany, Norway, England etc. and were eventually gathered through the restoration. The other 9 tribes are still in the steppes and will be gathered later.
    Now we get to the good spot of ground in vs 25. Notice that the Lord does not say that this is the neither spot but a good spot of ground. The Lord nourished it for a long time and only part of the tree brought forth good fruit (Nephites) whereas the other half of the tree (Lamanites) brought forth wild fruit.
    There is much more to this allegory but your analysis is good start because I always thought that Nether meant North. It simply means poor or lower as you’ve mentioned. If you define it as I have done here then the entire allegory makes perfect sense and we can identify clearly who the 4 branches are that were broken off: vs 23 Lost tribes (poorest spot (nethermost); vs 20 Jews poor spot (also nethermost); vs 24 Mulekites Not nethermost; vs 25 good spot Nephites/Lamanites Not nethermost.

    Of course there is much more to discuss in this allegory but I wanted to stick just to the topic at hand. Thanks for the discussion. Ira

  2. One other comment I neglected to make which fits the South American model. The reason that spot of ground in South America was so good is because there was nobody here. That of course contradicts the Meso and North American models. There were no other pagan/heathen people in South America to pollute them. The Lord was working with members of the House of Israel only and nourished them through prophets for a long time as it says. Thanks, Ira

  3. Your comment is very interesting. Thank you. The only problem is, the word "nether" does not mean or imply "poor" but "lower" and when applied to a geographical location it means "south" and "nethermost" means the lowest place, and in a geographical location, the furthest south.
    Having said that, it should again be pointed out as we have written many times here, almost all scripture has depth of meaning that is not clear at first, and though a deeper meaning does not discredit the surface, simpler or other meaning(s), it just adds to greater understanding, which I think you have pointed out quite well.
    Because of our unique readership, i.e., specializing in the Land of Promise and the location of the Nephite nation, etc., as it is found in the scriptural record, we try not to get too far afield. Our effort with the allegory was the connection to South America and Jacob’s use of it as it applied to the Nephites. Since he was quoting an Old Testament prophet, it would stand to reason that the allegory would have to do with more than the Nephites, and as you have pointed out so well, Zenos’ allegory was about much more of the House of Israel than just the Nephite branch.

    1. In your own comments you said it means lower. Checking the current dictionary says the same thing. But I think you've made a connection in your comments to South America that none of the other so-called scholars have. They all acknowledge that there were other people in Meso and North America. The BOM clearly states that there wasn't anybody else in the promised land and that I think is your connection and why you are correct. So as you say without going to far afield you've made the connection. The allegory makes perfect sense when you interpret nether as poor or lower. Otherwise the different branches cannot be identified correctly. Good comments and thanks for the correct definition of nether. It actually helped quite a bit. Ira

  4. And thank you for your insightful comment about the 10 tribes, etc. As I said, Zenos was an Old Testament prophet and would obviously have had the ten tribes and others of the House of Israel led away, like those into Egypt, etc. I appreciate the info and have filed it away in my RAM for future use if I get further into the Allegory beyond the Nephites.

  5. How were maps situated in ancient Israel? I believe that North=Up=Higher is the (most?) common map style, but was it commonly used by Israel in that (admittedly large) time frame?

  6. Maps in the Middle East, including Israel, used east as the top of their map; Egypt used south as the top of their map as did China. However, if you are referring to the article written about the view of the globe from space, we were referring to God's view of the Earth, and his orientation when being referred to by Zenos in the allegory, then from space, South America is the lowest (furthest south) livable land mass on the planet and appears that way on a globe--irrespective of the orientation of maps, the globe was and is always set up accurately, with north at the top, once globes became popular.

  7. If you study vineyards, the lowest part of the vineyard is not "the furthest from view", nor "the furthest", it is simply the lowest or farthest down.
    The lowest part of the vineyard is the least desirable, as it has the poorest soil, the poorest drainage, less sunlight and poor airflow. All vineyards have their best harvest from the mid to upper parts of the vineyard. Therefore, the statement made by the master of the vineyard that he knew he had put the branches in the poorest part of the vineyard ratifies this understanding. Likewise, the parallel to the children of Israel is not to distance or compass orientation, but simply to the "quality" of place the children of Israel being sent to would have been.

    Your assumptions regarding distance and compass are really not relevant... the reference is clear when one understands the allegory being a vineyard.