“The Blood of the Saints”

Brant Gardner

Textual: The very specific combination of the cry of the blood of the saints is virtually unique to the Book of Mormon (also 2 Nephi 28:10, 3 Nephi 9:11, Mormon 8:27, and Ether 8:22). The phrase also appears in DC 87:7 but that instance can easily be attributed to the influence of the Book of Mormon usage. While the particular combination of words is unique to Book of Mormon language, the concept of blood as an active entity is not, having its first appearance in Genesis:

Gen. 4:10

10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

When Cain slays Abel, God informs Cain that his deed is known through the symbolic concept of the blood “crying” from the ground. This conception is not clearly threaded through the Old Testament, but does see further conceptual presence in Psalms:

Ps. 9:12

12 When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.

In Psalms, the blood is tied to a conception of justice and a demand for that justice, although the usage is not precisely that in Genesis. Nevertheless, the idea of blood as a vital entity certainly fits into the ancient world view. The ability of the blood itself to demand justice was also picked up by early Christian writers.

John Chrysostom writes:

“But art thou pained in mind, and canst not help crying aloud? yet surely it is the part of one exceedingly pained to pray and entreat even as I have said. Since Moses too was pained, and prayed in this way and was heard; for this cause also God said unto him, ”Wherefore criest thou unto me.“ And Hannah too again, her voice not being heard, accomplished all she wished, forasmuch as her heart cried out. But Abel prayed not only when silent, but even when dying, and his blood sent forth a cry more clear than a trumpet.” (John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel According to St. Matthew)

Very clearly the basis for the conception of the blood cry is coming from the Genesis story. That beginning creates a model for a symbolic usage of unjustly spilt blood as a divinely recognizable plea for justice against those who unjustly shed that blood.

Socrates Scholasticus separates the concept from the original instance in Genesis, and uses the idea as a known image:

“If they act the part of assassins, the voice of the blood which is shed will cry against them the louder.” Socrates Scholasticus. Ecclesiastical History, Book 3: Quotations from Athanasius’ Defense on his Flight.)

This idea of the blood-cry is very specifically linked to the martyrs in Cyprian:

“Under the altar of God the souls of the slain martyrs cry with a loud voice, saying, ”How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?" And they are bidden to rest, and still to keep patience. (Cyprian. Treatises: On the Lapsed).

This linkage appears to be based on two verses from Revelations. The first is Revelations 6:9 which establishes the idea of the souls under the altar of God:

Rev. 6:9

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

The very specific connection between blood and these who were slain comes in Revelations 17:6:

Rev. 17:6

6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus…

Of course the early Christian writers are much later than Nephi, but serve to underscore the way in which the Genesis verse melded with common conceptions of the vitality of blood to create a concept that is sufficiently universal that there is no reason to suspect anything other than independent invention on Nephi’s part. Beginning with the statement in Genesis, there is a logical progression to Nephi’s usage.

Of course, the particular phraseology of Nephi certainly becomes part of Joseph Smith’s conceptual vocabulary, and he continues the conception of the blood cry in early church documents, such as:

"Exalt the standard of Democracy! Down [p.16] with that of Priestcraft, and let all the people say Amen! that the blood of our Fathers may not cry from the ground against us. (Smith, Joseph. The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p. 355. Diary entry March 13, 1838).

The conceptual usage of blood as an active claimant for justice is sufficiently part of the Western literary tradition that it is not likely that Joseph’s first exposure to the concept was in the Book of Mormon. The general conception of the connected concepts of the blood of the saints crying for justice is found in Ether in sufficiently similar terms to suppose that while the concept was part of the plates, the couching of the concept would have been influenced by Joseph’s understanding of that idea as culturally inherited.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon