Did Joseph Smith, Jr. teach that he was descended from the House of Ephraim? If so, did he mean this literally or allegorically? Can you explain or clarify regarding the distinctions between the House of Israel, the House of Judah, and the House of Ephraim? Are the names or words “Israel” and “Judah” interchangeable? Can a person whom Jewish people refer to as a gentile actually be of the House of Israel? I have read that members of the LDS Church sometimes refer to non LDS members as gentiles (even those non-members who are Jewish). Can you clarify? If a person becomes a member of the LDS Church, is he then “adopted” into the House of Israel, or was he truly a member all along and by joining, has found his “home”, so to speak? Please let me know if you can provide any guidance on these questions. Thank you.
Shane, from San Francisco, California
The fact that the prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr. is descended from Joseph of Egypt is declared in the Book of Mormon, in 2 Nephi 3:14-15—
And thus prophesied Joseph, [Joseph of Egupt] saying: Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; [speaking of Joseph Smith] and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. Behold, I am sure of the fulfilling of this promise; And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.
The fact that the prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr. is descended from Joseph of Egypt, through the lineage of Ephraim, is declared by Elder Eldred G. Smith, the patriarch to the Church, at the April General Conference of the Mormon Church in 1952—
“Jacob blessed his twelve sons and gave them each a blessing suited to their individual rewards and pronounced promises that should come to them. Joseph received a special blessing which we are most interested in because we are his descendants, the most part of us, and the blessings of the gospel have come through this line, for Joseph Smith, Senior, was a true descendant, through Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph.”
These accounts do not refer to allegorical, but to literal descendents of Joseph and his son, Ephraim.
The House of Israel refers to Jacob, or Israel and his descendants. The inheritance of Israel was distributed among his twelve sons, as follows– The sons of Lia: Ruben the first born, Simeon, Levi, Juda, Issachar, and Zabulon; the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin; the sons of Bala, Rachel’s handmaid: Dan and Nephthali; the sons of Zelpha, Lia’s handmaid: Gad and Aser.
Levi was not given a land inheritance, but the Levites served as priests among the other tribes. Also, Joseph, who was sold into Egypt, did not receive a land inheritance, but his share was divided between his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Those were the twelve tribes, or houses, of Israel. You can see that the names of Judah and Israel are not interchangeable.
However, in one sense they could be considered to be equivalent. After the death of King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two groups. Ten and half tribes remained where they were, north of Jerusalem, and retained the name of Kingdom of Israel, while the tribe of Judah and half the tribe of Dan migrated south to the Jerusalem area and became known as the Kingdom of Judah.
The word, gentiles, refers to those who are not of the twelve tribes that comprise the house of Israel. Members of the Mormon Church are, by and large, descendants of Ephraim, and are thus of the house of Israel. So today there is one geographical establishment of the house of Israel, which is the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capitol, and is controlled the Jews, or the house of Judah. There is also today another establishment of the house of Israel, comprised of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have not a political geographical establishment, but are scattered throughout the world. Initially, the members of the LDS, or Mormon, Church were principally of the tribe of Ephraim, and today undoubtedly still are. However, more and more of the descendants of the other tribes of Jacob are responding to the whisperings of the Spirit of the Lord and are accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ, and participating in the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth. It may be interesting to note that among the members of the Mormon Church in Mongolia are representatives of all the twelve tribes of Israel.