Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ether Introduction

In attempting this commentary on the Book of Ether, I am not so presumptuous as to suppose that I can excel over the many previous commentaries that have been written about the Book of Mormon.  I proceed with it to mainly edify myself, and if it can benefit anyone else, so much the better.  Incidently, the best commentary on the Book of Ether that I have found is that written by Hugh Nibley in his book Lehi in the Wilderness and the World of the Jaredites.  The second half is devoted to the Jaredite people and sheds considerable light on their history and culture.  It can be accessed online free of charge.  

Now, on with the commentary.  The current edition of the Book of Ether has the following heading:
The record of the Jaredites, taken from the twenty-four plates found by the people of Limhi in the days of king Mosiah.
This heading, as well as all the other chapter headings and pagination, were not part of the original manuscript of the Book of Ether.  It is my understanding that the current introduction and headings were written by Elder Bruce R. McConkie.  As such they are to be used as guides, but are not generally considered scripture in the same way as the original text of the book.  
This heading introduces the twenty four gold plates which were prepared and hidden by the Jaredie prophet Ether sometime around 200 BC.  They were later found by the Nephite Limhi expedition about 120 BC, and later translated by the Nephite prophet/king Mosiah in about 92 BC.

The following are the appropriate scriptures relating to these events.  

Mos. 8:7  And the king [Limhi speaking to Ammon]  said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.
8  And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.
9  And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.

Here I will insert the conclusion of Ether's mission:  

"and [Ether] finished his record ... and he hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them."

Ether would have had to travel from Cumorah, to near Moron, where some of the early Jaredite battles took place.  I believe Cumorah was the mountain Cerro San Gil in southeastern Guatemala.  The farthest southern battlefields, which the Limhi party would have encounter first, would have been near the city of Lib, which I believe was near Managua, Nicaragua.  If this is correct, Ether would have travel a considerable distance to hide the twenty four plates.  
The records were probably not hidden in such a way that they would have been difficult to find otherwise the Limhi party would not have found them.  We have no indication that they were inspired or guided by the Lord in their journey.  We should note that they were probably the first people who passed this way since the Jaredite extinction.

Continuing with the account of King Limhi:
10  And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.
11  And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates.  
12  And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate?  For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction.
13  Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God.  And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish.  And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
14  And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.

Later we read of Mosiah's role in the translation of Ether's writings. 

Mos. 28:10  Now king Mosiah had no one to confer the kingdom upon, for there was not any of his sons who would accept of the kingdom.
11  Therefore he took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God, after having translated and caused to be written the records which were on the plates of gold which had been found by the people of Limhi, which were delivered to him by the hand of Limhi;
12  And this he did because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed.
13  And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow.
14  Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages;
15  And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people;
16  And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.
17  Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea, and even from that time back until the creation of Adam.
18  Now this account did cause the people of Mosiah to mourn exceedingly, yea, they were filled with sorrow; nevertheless it gave them much knowledge, in the which they did rejoice.
Regarding the plates that Moroni used to inscribe this record, he had earlier stated that he could not write more because he did not have gold ("ore") to make more blank plates.  He tells us "Behold, my father hath made this record, and he hath written the intent thereof.  And behold, I would write it also if I had room upon the plates, but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone (Mor. 8:5)."  In the intervening time he must have found enough gold to inscribe all the record of Ether.  This would have been a substantial amount of gold as it would have included the book of Ether, as well as the sealed portion of the gold plates.  This would have been approximately double the amount of gold contained in Mormon's original abridgment.  It would also have required considerable effort and skill in order to melt the gold into slabs, and then flatten the slabs into thin plates and cut the plates into uniform pages.


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