Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “The Test” Knows What it Is

The Test

Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ay 1989 marked the 160th anniversary of the restoration of the priesthood. As it had in anniversaries past, the church had a priesthood commemoration fireside broadcast over the church satellite system.

This week’s film, The Test, is a 5-minute dramatization of a story Elder Robert B. Harbertson of the Seventy relates during his fireside talk. He narrates a Native American legend of a boy and a rattlesnake.

We cut to a mountain valley at fall’s peak. There are wind and chirping birds, but these sounds are replaced by native-sounding flute music. Elder Harbertson begins to narrate the tale. He tells how youth would often go into the wilderness to reflect and fast to find enlightenment and prepare for manhood. We see a boy in native dress appear and walk through the valley. He thinks and fasts for 3 days and then decides he will test himself against the large mountain looming in the background.

The youth hikes up the mountain. He crosses rugged terrain and scales rock faces and cliffs. He sees soaring raptors and finally reaches the summit and experiences the joy of seeing all the land arrayed before him. He hears a rustling and sees a snake. He jumps back as the snake begins to speak to him.

“I am about to die. It is too cold for me here and there is no food. Put me in your shirt and take me down the mountain,” says the snake.

The youth replies in a native tongue as Elder Harbertson continues to narrate.

“Oh no. I know your kind You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite me and I will die.”

“Not so,” says the snake. “If you do this for me you will be special. I will treat you differently. I will not harm you.”

The youth withstood the tempting of the snake for a time but ultimately relents, places the snake inside his shirt, and begins the trek down the mountain to the warm valley below.

The youth arrives in the valley and carefully sets the snake down. Almost immediately the snake coils and strikes—biting him on the leg. As the youth falls in pain he calls out.

“But you promised!”

“You knew what I was when you picked me up,” the snake replies and slithers away—leaving the youth to certain death.

Elder Harberston concludes the story:

“As a worthy bearer of the Aaronic Priesthood, you will always be warned when danger is near. The Lord cannot make your decisions for you, but he will always allow you to be aware of what is right when a decision or action is about to be made. Don’t allow yourself to ever believe that you are “different” in that you can participate in unrighteous activities—even just once—and not be hurt. Remember, “you knew what I was when you picked me up.”

From my limited knowledge it appears the native origins of this story were respected in the film. The actor seemed to be of native ancestry was used, and he spoke in what appeared to be a native language. The wardrobe also conveys traditional native apparel. I could not find information regarding the authenticity of the apparel or dialogue as depicted in the film, but it appears they tried more than I would have expected of anyone in 1989. Anyone with more knowledge of this feel free to comment or send a note to This Week in Mormons.

The story functions well as a stand-alone video and could serve as a great discussion point in a quorum meeting or class. Elder Harbertson’s delivery is impactful and direct. The story is told with few embellishments. It all leads to the classic line: “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” In short, there are no exceptions. We should not be surprised when we mess around with sin and are harmed spiritually or physically.

Elder Harbertson leaves the story there, which is one of the downfalls of the film. It’s irresponsible to preach the damaging effect of sin without reminding of the ability to repair it. Especially when teaching youth. We all make mistakes, and it stands to reason we will not make it through this life without sin. Perhaps it is better to never have engaged in sinful activities, but a reminder that “though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” would be wise.

Thoughts, Musings & Trivia

  • The music is identified as “Andean Lament” by Claudia Figueroa. I would like to say that I am really familiar with Andean flute music because of the group that played it outside my NYC office building for years, but actually that’s how Hard-to-find Mormon Videos identifies it. Not Cherokee, but it adds a certain flavor.
  • Although Eder Harbertson calls the story an “old Indian legend” it is listed more specifically as Cherokee legend by the North Cherokee Nation and us. There are a few versions of the story. One version tells of a relationship developed over several trips while another more closely resembles the version related in the film
  • The story is cited in Elder Harbertson’s talk, but the video wasn’t made until 1990.
  • I also appreciate that Elder Harbertson followed convention and used a middle initial. Try saying Robert Harbertson over and over. The middle initial gives you a chance to regroup.


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