Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ether Chapter 1

Moroni abridges the writings of Ether—Ether's genealogy set forth—The language of the Jaredites is not confounded at the Tower of Babel—The Lord promises to lead them to a choice land and make them a great nation.

1  AND now I, Moroni, proceed to give an account of those ancient inhabitants who were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country.
They weren't known as Jaredites by the Nephites.  They referred to them as the ancient inhabitants.  Until Mosiah translated the plates of Ether, these people were essentially a mystery to the Nephites.  They stood in awe of their former accomplishments and their ultimate annihilation.  Was the Lord really responsible for their destruction?  Certainly he allowed it to happen, but the people had completely lost the protection of the Spirit and Satan had complete control of them, therefore they brought it upon themselves.  The Jaredites inhabited what the Nephites referred to as the north country, or land of Desolation.  They did not, in any significant way, inhabit the south land occupied  later by the Nephites and Lamanites.  Upon the face of this north country -- The Jaredites were limited to the Nephite land northward or the land of Desolation.  This would indicate that Moroni was now traveling in the north country as he speaks as if he is present there.
2  And I take mine account from the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the Book of Ether.
Refer to comments on the twenty four plates in the introduction.  The script used by Ether must have been very abbreviated to have been contained on twenty four plates.  The Book of Ether is very short, but the complete record is contained in the sealed portion of the Golden Plates.  This section was twice as large as the content of the Book of Mormon that we now possess.  Normally the scriptural records in the Book of Mormon are named after their principal authors.  
3  And as I suppose that the first part of this record, which speaks concerning the creation of the world, and also of Adam, and an account from that time even to the great tower, and whatsoever things transpired among the children of men until that time, is had among the Jews—
The Book of Ether contained a record of the history of the world back through the creation, similar to the revelation given to Moses.  Whether this was a copy of the record of Moriancumer, that he received on the mount, or the revelation given to Ether, is not revealed, but they were probably very similar.  Moroni is aware that the Jews would have this history (see 1 Ne. 13:21-29).  The Nephite records mention the early history as found in the Bible, as well as that from the Brass Plates.  Moroni decides not to include this large section of the record as he is aware that the gentiles will have access to it through the Jewish sources.  He refers to the "great tower", or the Tower of Babel.  At the time of the dispersion, the tower was only known by this term as the designation Tower of Babel was a later name given because of the confusion of tongues.
4  Therefore I do not write those things which transpired from the days of Adam until that time; but they are had upon the plates; and whoso findeth them, the same will have power that he may get the full account.
Which plates is he referring to?  I assume he is referring to the original plates of Ether.  Whoever finds these plates will have the power or ability to translate them and get the full account.  We are told that there are other records which are to come forth.  Perhaps the plates of Ether are some of those mentioned.  (See D&C 8:1, 11; and 9:2)  I assume that anyone who finds these plates will be inspired by the Lord, or have authorization through his servants.  They may also have access to the Urim and Thummim to assist them in this translation.
5  But behold, I give not the full account, but a part of the account I give, from the tower down until they were destroyed.
Moroni's abrigement only includes the Jaredite history from the great tower to the last Jaredite battle at the hill Ramah.
6  And on this wise do I give the account.  He that wrote this record was Ether, and he was a descendant of Coriantor.
Moroni is careful to include the complete genealogy of the male line of Ether back through the original Jared.  The main line, or line of the leader of the original group would have been Jared's brother Moriancumer.  However as Ether was of Jared's line, and as the lineage of the kings descended from Jared, this history focuses on his line.  Ether is designated as a "descendant" of Coriantor.  Most of those listed are designated "sons" of such and such.  However, several of the line are listed as descendants.  In one case at least, one of them is listed first as descendant, and then later as the son of, so it is uncertain whether this term is meant to be exact, or whether it is only a general term which could be used for a son as well as a later descendant.  In Hebrew son and descendant are the same word, so it may have been the same with the Nephites.
To most of us a genealogical list, such as this one presented in Ether, is just a barren list of names with little or no meaning.  However, to the ancients, who often were oriented to the past rather than the future, such lists legitimized the importance of their ancestry.  Tobias Smollet has written: "From a barren list of names we learn who were the fathers or mothers, or more distant progenitors, of the select few, who are able to trace what is called their descent from antiquity."  (The Critical Review 28:298)  From the Bible Studies web site we read: "What was the purpose of ancient genealogies? ... The purpose ... was two-fold. First, they wanted to trace the basic outline of their history, establish their history of descent ... The second purpose of ancient genealogies was religious and theological. They wanted to make the point that God (or the gods) has protected this line as promised, and they wanted to show the connection with these past godly people.  ( Genealogies.  Accessed 11/23/2012)
The Sumerians, from whom the Jaredites descended, compiled a large list of kings extending far back into antiquity.  The early kings are considered to be mythical, however, evidence of the kings from 2300 BC have been found in the records.  One of the purposes of this list was to legitimize the king's right to rule (i.e. the divine right of kings) and his appointment by the gods.  So this Jaredite genealogy was an extension of the ancient tradition practiced in their homeland.  
Another example is that of the Aztecs who, at the time of the Spanish conquest, compiled genealogies of their ancestors to validate their claims of royal descent, and to legitimize their claims to lands which were being taken, or threatened, by the Spaniards.  
The following list of Jaredite kings legitimized their royal descent.  At the time of Ether, the line had been replaced by outsiders who were not of the direct linage of Jared.  
The chart at the right is from Charting the Book of Mormon, by Welch and Welch (BYU Studies) and illustrates the line of kings, which were sons, those that served in captivity, etc. 
Now on with Ether's list.  
From Charting the Book of
Mormon by Welch and Welch
BYU Studies
7  Coriantor was the son of Moron.
8  And Moron was the son of Ethem.
9  And Ethem was the son of Ahah.
10  And Ahah was the son of Seth.
11  And Seth was the son of Shiblon.
12  And Shiblon was the son of Com.
13  And Com was the son of Coriantum.
14  And Coriantum was the son of Amnigaddah.
15  And Amnigaddah was the son of Aaron.
16  And Aaron was a descendant of Heth, who was the son of Hearthom.
This is one of the examples of the designation "descendant."  We have no idea how many generations are skipped.  
17  And Hearthom was the son of Lib.
18  And Lib was the son of Kish.
19  And Kish was the son of Corom.
20  And Corom was the son of Levi.
21  And Levi was the son of Kim.
22  And Kim was the son of Morianton.
23  And Morianton was a descendant of Riplakish.
Another example of the use of "descendant."
24  And Riplakish was the son of Shez.
25  And Shez was the son of Heth.
26  And Heth was the son of Com.
27  And Com was the son of Coriantum.
28  And Coriantum was the son of Emer.
29  And Emer was the son of Omer.
30  And Omer was the son of Shule.
31  And Shule was the son of Kib.
32  And Kib was the son of Orihah, who was the son of Jared;
33  Which Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered.
Jared, Mohonri Moriancumer, and their families, as well as their friends and their families leave Sumer at the time the Lord confounds the language of the people.  The Lord was displeased with the Sumerian's rebellion in congregating in one place and with their effrontery in building the tower.  He decrees that they will be scattered over all the different lands.  Josephus tells us: "[God] caused a tumult among them, by producing in them divers languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another ... After this they were dispersed abroad, on account of their languages, and went out by colonies every where; and each colony took possession of that land which they light upon, and unto which God led them; so that the whole continent was filled with them, both the inland and the maritime countries. There were some also who passed over the sea in ships, and inhabited the islands: and some of those nations do still retain the denominations which were given them by their first founders (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Ch. 4:3; 5:1)."
34  And the brother of Jared being a large and mighty man, and a man highly favored of the Lord, Jared, his brother, said unto him: Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words.
Here we are given some background on the brother of Jared, who was actually the main character, and the leader of this epic adventure.  Joseph Smith has revealed that his full name was Mohonri Moriancumer.  We get this information from George Reynolds who related the following: "While residing at Kirtland, Elder Reynolds Cahoon had a son born to him. One day when President Joseph Smith was passing his door he called the Prophet in and asked him to bless and name the baby. Joseph did so and gave the boy the name of Mahonri Moriancumer. When he had finished the blessing, he laid the child on the bed, and turning to Elder Cahoon he said, the name I have given your son is the name of the Brother of Jared; the Lord has just shown or revealed it to me. Elder William F. Cahoon, who was standing near heard the Prophet make this statement to his father; and this was the first time the name of the brother of Jared was known in the Church in this dispensation  (“The Jaredites,” Juvenile Instructor, 1 May 1892, p. 282)."  
Moriancumer is described as being a man of large stature and great strength.  He was "highly favored of the Lord" which would indicate among other things, that he was very spiritual, that he had a history of following the Lord and obeying his commandments, and that he was accustomed to communicate with the Lord.  He had probably been acquianted with, or at the least, been familiar with the teachings of, Noah and Shem.  We could also infer that Moriancumer had not sucomed to the false teachings and religion of Nimrod.  We can also infer that Jared was not such a man, or he would have been able to do the asking for himself.  Jared asks Moriancumer to petition the Lord that their language might not be confounded.  This brings up another point.  Were they aware of this event before it happened?  Or perhaps it was a gradual event that slowly crept over the people.  On the other hand, prophets may have been predicting this event for some time.  We are also given some understanding of the mechanism of the confusion of tongues.  The people still used the same words, but following the event, they did not understand the words in the same way.  The symbolic meaning of the words in their minds had changed.  Cleon Skousen describes the process as a reverse gift of tongues.  "Sometime after the departure of the Jaredites from Babel a great calamity fell upon that city. By a simple psychological device known to the Lord several different systems of linguistic phonetics suddenly appeared among the people. 'The confusion of tongues' was really a multiple 'gift of tongues' which conferred various languages upon the people so that they now expressed themselves by different linguistic sounds from the ones they had originally learned (The First Two Thousand Years, p. 237)."
35  And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded.
Moriancumer's petition is answered.  We are not told how long this request took or if he asked and fasted over a period of time, but I think we can assume that it followed the natural pattern established in the scriptures and experience by other prophets.  Some have assumed from this scripture that the Jaredites retained their original tongue, which would have been the Adamic language.  But I believe it merely means that the language of their group was not confounded, that they could still understand one another, and their words still had the same meaning.
36  Then Jared said unto his brother: Cry again unto the Lord, and it may be that he will turn away his anger from them who are our friends, that he confound not their language.
Their immediate family group was probably relatively small, so they ask for this miracle to include their friends as well.  Who were these friends?  As we will see later, there were at least four other families included in this group of "friends."  And when we speak of "families" we may be talking about larger family groups, or kin groups, which could have included the grandparents, parents, and children.  As far as ethnicity is concerned, it is possible that there could have been different racial groups involved.  The principal ethic group in Sumer would have been the descendants of Cush, or Nimrod's relatives.  However, many other groups would have been present in Sumer.  Nimrod conquered many other peoples and nations and brought them to serve in his construction projects.  These would have mixed wth the original Sumerians over the years.  There did not seem to be a lot of discrimination among the racial groups at the time.  Semites were even included in the ruling elite.  For example, Abraham's father Nahor was the commander of Nimrod's army.  Descendants of Ham seem to have been included in the posterity of the Jaredites judging from the evidence of blacks among the Olmec people.  As to the ethnicity of Jared and Moriancumer, we are not given any information.  If I were to guess, I would suggest that they descended from Japheth.  However some have suggested that Jared was actually the same as Jerah, the great grandson of Shem, which would make them Semites.
37  And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon their friends and their families also, that they were not confounded.
38  And it came to pass that Jared spake again unto his brother, saying: Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go.  And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth?  And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.
If we are going to have to leave, where will we go?   Will it be a choice land?  Please let it be so.  If the Lord will grant us this blessing, let us covenant with the Lord to follow his commandments and perhaps he will give it to us for an eternal inheritance.
39  And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord according to that which had been spoken by the mouth of Jared.
It seems strange that none of these requests seem to originate with Moriancumer, but come from his brother Jared.  Perhaps it was Jared that had all the good ideas, but it is probably just the perspective of Ether showing through, writing about Jared's line and attributing all the initiative to Jared.
40  And it came to pass that the Lord did hear the brother of Jared, and had compassion upon him, and said unto him:
Moriancumer appears to have had regular and easy communication with the Lord, but it was undoubtedly much more detailed and complicated than Moroni's abridged account would lead us to believe.  Most prophets have had to struggle and work at receiving revelation.
41  Go to and gather together thy flocks, both male and female, of every kind; and also of the seed of the earth of every kind; and thy families; and also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families.
This is a verbatim revelation of the Lord speaking to Moriancumer.  Moroni is transcribing directly from the earlier record.  It is now time to get ready and go.  The hard work of preparation begins.  They are not only to move themselves, but perform a modified version of the epic adventure of Noah.  They must gather all varieties of their domestic animals (male and female), and plant seeds of every kind, to take with them.  Why would this be so?  Because many of the species had not spread to the Americas yet.  Moriancumer is to take his families (plural - was he a polygamist?), Jared his family (singular), plus Moriancumer's friends and families (plural) and Jared's friends and their families (plural).  This totals at least seven families.
Hugh Nibley gives us some insight into these friends of the brothers: "the brother of Jared was instructed to admit to his company anyone whom he felt like taking: 'also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families' ... these ancients do not form their societies on the basis of blood relationship—the friends of Jared and the friends of his brother are two separate groups, as they would not be if they were relatives. Apparently whoever is a friend is a supporter and member of the tribe, and this rule, significantly enough, has been a basic law of Asiatic society from the earliest recorded times, when the formula 'I counted them among my people' was applied to whatever people a king could subdue, regardless of race or language (Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites)."
These verses may give us clues as to the occupations of this group.  Apparently, they were involved with agriculture and were familiar with agricultural practices.  They had herds of animals and were familiar with seeding practices.  They knew how to keep bees.  They also knew how to trap wild animals and care for them and how to maintain fish in an artificial environment.  Of course, the Lord could have aided them with this knowledge, but it is more likely that they already possessed it. 
However, this does not necessarily mean that they were rural people.  Among the Sumerians, it was normal for farmers to possess and maintain fields and farms outside the city, but live inside the city themselves.   
42  And when thou hast done this thou shalt go at the head of them down into the valley which is northward.  And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.
At the head of them - Moriancumer was to lead.  He was to be the spiritual, as well as the temporal leader.  This suggests that the valley northward was down in elevation.  This would be difficult as their home in Ur was just above sea level.  It was the valley that is later called Nimrod.  I suggest that this valley is that formed by the Kura and Aras Rivers in central Abazebaijan, to the west of the Caspian Sea.  It is familiar to them because of Nimrod's hunting expeditions to that area.  The Caspian Sea is actually lower than sea level, and thus lower than Ur.  The Lord promises to meet them there, and lead them to a promised land.
43  And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation.  And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth.  And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me.
Here the Lord makes Moriancumer some marvelous promises.  In some ways these promises ares similar to the promises given by the Lord to Abraham (see Abr. 2:8-11).  He is promised that a great nation would descend from their (his, his brother's, and their friends) posterity.  This nation would be the greatest nation on the earth, and it doesn't seem to be limited in time.  This would be in comparison to all the great civilizations that had ever been, or would ever be.  (For more details, see my essay on this subject.)  The Lord will do this because of the faith and diligence of Moriancumer.  This long time ye have cried unto me -- The Lord said this at the beginning of their adventure, so it gives us some idea of the effort he had already put in to his prayers and supplications.  

1 comment:

  1. In one of your "descendant" examples we indeed have an idea how many generations are skipped. Just keep reading. The answer is 0. Ether 10:31 "And Heth begat Aaron"