The Lehites weren’t the only Book of Mormon peoples to come from the Old to the New World. The Mulekites (or people of Zarahemla) and the Jaredites (who preceded the Lehites) also begin their journeys from the Old World. The next few issues will examine the world of the Jaredites and their journey to the New World. As Dr. Hugh Nibley pointed out years ago, the Jaredite tale adds another level of persuasiveness that the Book of Mormon is based on an authentic ancient text.
“I think we are agreed that it would take a great deal of training for anyone to acquire the background necessary to compose First Nephi. Now imagine any man insane enough to try after such colossal exertions to write another such story, of equal length and detail but this time about a totally different race of people, living in an age far removed from the other and in a wholly different geographical setting! As far as I know, not even Joseph Smith ever called anyone's attention to this prodigious feat; we all take it for granted.”
Our modern book of Ether is an English translation of Moroni’s abridgement of the Jaredite history (Ether 1:2). As explained in a previous installment, the Jaredite history was written by Ether the Jaredite on 24 metal plates that were discovered by the people of Limhi. Mosiah the younger, a Nephite prophet, interpreted these plates by way of a special stone (referred to in modern times as the “Urim and Thummim”) and Moroni felt inspired to add this record to his father’s abridgement of the Nephite record. While Moroni may have had access to the 24 metal plates, it seems more logical that Moroni drew his material from Mosiah’s translation of the Jaredite record.
The main character is the earliest chapters of Ether is simply referred to as “the brother of Jared.” His actual name is never given (Joseph Smith later revealed that his name was Mahonri Moriancumer). Ether was a direct descendant of Jared (Ether 1:2, 32) not of Jared's brother, so it seems likely that because he was writing about his own lineage he may have been unconcerned with the brother of Jared’s name.
The book of Ether begins at the time of the Tower of Babel when the languages were confounded and the people were scattered because of the wrath of God. While the Bible also relates the story of the Tower of Babel, a number of people — both Christians and non-Christians — believe that the story is little more than a fable. Science doesn’t seem to support the notion that all peoples of the earth had a unified language four to five thousand years ago, nor that this singular language suddenly became multiple languages in the short period implied by the biblical narrative. For some people, the Tower of Babel story is a great example of how science conflicts with religion.
When those same people discover the great tower story in the Book of Mormon, they typically assume that this proves that the Book of Mormon is merely a fictional creation of Joseph’s imagination and borrowings from the Bible.
How do Latter-day Saints approach the Tower of Babel story — especially since it's supported by its inclusion in the Book of Mormon? Some members, like other Christians, accept the story at face value. They believe that the Bible story relates an actual historical event and that this event relates a miraculous incident demonstrating the power of God.
Other Mormons — who also believe in the miraculous powers of God — believe that intellectual studies can shed light on areas such as history and science.
Science can tell us how things happen while religion can tell us why things happen. As explained in a past column, I believe that science and religion can typically be harmonized.
President Cecil O. Samuelson, the current president of BYU, recently pointed out that Latter-day Saints believe that revelation comes from God but that science is essential in gaining knowledge. “We hold that science and religion are not enemies and that they only become so when someone purports that religion makes science unnecessary or when science becomes one’s religion.”
Both extremes, he explains, “impede progress and understanding” and “are the stuff of both poor science and insufficient theology” (“Questions I Ask Myself, BYU Studies, 49:2, 53). In the next few articles I’d like to examine “how” things may have happened in the Jaredite tale of their journey from Babel to the Americas.