Literary BMGD #7: Joseph, From Out of the Dust

Orson F. Whitney

Lehi’s final counsel in the Book of Mormon is to his son Joseph makes an interesting literary link between Joseph in Egypt, Joseph the son of Lehi and Joseph Smith, Jr. But, LDS authors have largely ignored this link, especially before 1900, when any mention of Joseph was usually a reference to Joseph Smith, Jr. But I did manage to find an exception in Orson F. Whitney’s epic, Elias.

As far as I can tell, other than general righteousness, the only real link between these three is that they happen to have the same name. Their histories aren’t really comparable in any way that I can see. Still, Whitney at least mentions the prophecy of Joseph’s name, and connects it to Joseph in Egypt.

While perhaps overly turgid in his prose, Whitney is as or more sophisticated in his imagery than any of his poetic Mormon predecessors that I’ve read. To me the oblique references made to biblical, book of Mormon and mythological elements are fascinating.

The six stanzas I’ve chosen below (starting with the 30th stanza in Canto six) cover the Book of Mormon from its beginning to Lehi’s death, although the vast majority of the story is left out in favor of examining Lehi’s family’s importance to the overall narrative. I’ve left in Whitney’s explanatory footnotes verbatim.


from Canto Six, Out of the Dust, from Elias, An Epic of the Ages

by Orson F. Whitney

Again, athwart the wilderness of waves
Surging old East and older West between,
Where the lone sea a flowery southland laves,
And Zarahemla reigns as ocean queen,
Braving the swell, a storm-tossed bark is seen.
From doomed Jerusalem, to Jacob dear,
Albeit a leper[fn1], groping, blind, unclean,
Goes forth Manasseh’s prophet pioneer[fn2],
Predestined to unveil the hidden hemisphere.


His lot to reap and plant on this rare shore
The promise of his fathers: Joseph’s bough[fn3],
From Jacob’s well, the billowy wall runs o’er;
Abides in strength the archer-stricken bow,
Unto the utmost bound prevailing now,
Of Hesper’s heaven-upholding hills. Bend, sheaves
Of Israel, as branches bend with snow,
Unto his sheaf grown mightiest! Here, as leaves
For multitude, the son the great sire’s glory weaves.


Ere chimes for him the earth-departing hour,
Summoning a weary soul to restful toil
In risen worlds, where life puts on all power,
Lehi his house convenes,—their hearts the while
Aglow beneath the burning words that pile
A pyramid of prophecy whose spire
Empierces heaven,—and lest they soil
The prospect pure, and tempt Jehovah’s ire,
Warns them ‘gainst ways of pride and paths of dark desire.


He speaks of Joseph’s, Judah’s, destiny;
Of blighting and of blessings yet to pour;
Proclaims deliverance his own shall see,
When cometh one the wandering to restore;
Forenames a chosen seer[fn4] (revealed of yore,
When the boy dreamer’s star o’er Egypt rose),
Bringing from dust a blest land’s buried lore[fn5].
Seals then his benison, and eyelids close
To wake on worlds divine, whither, past all, he goes.


The favored son[fn6] of that prophetic sire—
Favored because most faithful and most just—
Hath soared to sacred mysteries still higher,
And tongued to envious ears the heavenly trust.
And serpent self, that demon of the dust,
Hath coiled and clung around rebellious souls,
Ne’er friendly though fraternal, whose distrust
And jealousy breed bitterness that rolls
Rivers of wormwood ‘twixt two races and their goals.


Now peoples twain the Promised Land divide:
Northland and Southland see their tribes increase,
From Arctic floe to far Antarctic tide;
From where the Eastern waves their thunders cease,
To where the Western waters are at peace.
White and delightsome, they that worship God;
They that deny Him, dark, degenerate, these,
Doomed the stern wild to penetrate and plod—
Transgression’s scourge and school, the Chastener’s heavy rod[fn7].


[fn1] A Leper. Jerusalem in her degenerate state.

[fn2] Prophet Pioneer. Lehi, a descendant of Joseph, through Manasseh, with a colony from Jerusalem, succeeds the all but extinct Jaredites upon the Land of Promise, where they extend the glory of their great ancestor.

[fn3] Joseph’s Bough. “Joseph is a fruitful bough.” (Gen. 49:22).

[fn4] Chosen Seer. Lehi predicts the coming of ” a choice seer” who is to be a lineal descendant of Joseph. The name of that seer is also to be Joseph, and it is to be the name of his father—a prophecy fulfilled in Joseph Smith, Jr. (II Nephi 3.)

[fn5] Buried Lore. The Book of Mormon.

[fn6] Favored Son. Nephi, who succeeded his father Lehi, and against whom his brothers Laman and Lemuel rebelled, thus dividing the nation into Nephites and Lamanites.

[fn7] Heavy Rod. The Lord used the savage Lamanites to scourge the enlightened yet ofttimes disobedient Nephites.

2 comments for “Literary BMGD #7: Joseph, From Out of the Dust

  1. Whitney evidently embraced the hemispheric model:

    Northland and Southland see their tribes increase,
    From Arctic floe to far Antarctic tide;
    From where the Eastern waves their thunders cease,
    To where the Western waters are at peace.

  2. Yep. I noticed that too.

    I’ve also noticed in my reading of early Mormon literature that Mormons, esp. those from Britain, often referred to the Americas as “The Land of Joseph” — not as an homage to Joseph Smith, but as a reference to this part of the Book of Mormon, which says the land is promised to the tribe of Joseph.

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