1 And it came to pass that Jared and his brother, and their families, and also the friends of Jared and his brother and their families, went down into the valley which was northward, (and the name of the valley was Nimrod, being called after the mighty hunter) with their flocks which they had gathered together, male and female, of every kind.
The composition of the party is not given here, but the basic outlines are given in Ether 6:14. One of the important phrases in this verse is “also the friends of Jared and his brother and their families.” In keeping with the patriarchal emphasis in the record keeping of the Biblical peoples, the friends should be assumed to be male. They brought their wives with them, but the people who were counted were always the males. Thus when we are told that there are twenty-two friends in Ether 6:14, we are to understand that it is most probably that these were twenty-two males, and they were accompanied by their wives. Nevertheless, this original party of males and their spouses would have numbered twenty-four families, not a large migrating party.
Geographic: The story of Nimrod is closely associated with the Babylon, and travel northward through a valley would logically either consist of moving up the river valley of the Tigris or the Euphrates. (Hugh Nibley. Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites. Bookcraft, 1952, p. 175).
Chronological: The timing of the departure from the Tower would appear to be in the vicinity of 3000 BC. (John L. Sorenson. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1985, pp. 116-7). However, the reconstruction of dates from the Jaredite kin-list cannot be reconstructed that far back in time. As noted following Ether 1:32, it is most probable that there are gaps in the king-list. Therefore Jared would be approximately at this time, and the chronology would lose nearly a thousand years of time somewhere later. Even though the king-list appears to make all of the connections, experience with multiple king-lists among the Maya suggest that such losses of names are not unusual (see Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. Thames & Hudson, 2000, p. 102).
2 And they did also lay snares and catch fowls of the air; and they did also prepare a vessel, in which they did carry with them the fish of the waters.
The preparations for the journey are given is brief statements that don’t tell us as much as we would like. They lay snares to catch birds to take with them. They also take fish. The implication of these things is that they are taking live animals. Of course this might simply be provisioning of the group, but the command of the lord was to go with “their flocks which they had gathered together, male and female, of every kind.” This emphasis on the male and female highlights the breeding aspect of the flock, and since this immediately precedes the collection of the birds and the fish, we are seeing a recounting of a literal gathering of all the animals. The biggest clue to what is happening here is the inclusion of the vessel for the “fish of the waters.” The logistics of moving a breeding population of multiple live fish is tremendous. There is little chance that the Jaredites could have arranged such a wondrous feat, nor that there would be a real necessity for it. It is most probable that this is not really a historical statement, but rather a symbolic one that continues to connect the Jaredites to the story of Noah and the ark.
3 And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.
Just as the Jaredites collected birds and fish, they must also collect insects. Of course the specific insect would be the most useful, and that is the honey bee.
Linguistic: The word deseret in the record of Ether was adopted by the saints. It became a name for the industriousness of the bees, and therefore appropriate as the name of the territory that became known as Utah. Prior to having that legal name, the saints called it the territory of Deseret, and the name continues in LDS culture to this day. The source of that name is this verse in Ether.
Nibley has suggested:
“By all odds the most interesting and attractive passenger in Jared's company is deseret, the honeybee. We cannot pass this creature by without a glance at its name and possible significance, for our text betrays an interest in deseret that goes far beyond respect for the feat of transporting insects, remarkable though that is. The word deseret, we are told (Ether 2:3), "by interpretation is a honeybee," the word plainly coming from the Jaredite language, since Ether (or Moroni) must interpret it. Now it is a remarkable coincidence that the word deseret, or something very close to it, enjoyed a position of ritual prominence among the founders of the classical Egyptian civilization, who associated it very closely with the symbol of the bee. The people, the authors of the so-called Second Civilization, seem to have entered Egypt from the northeast as part of the same great outward expansion of peoples that sent the makers of the classical Babylonian civilization into Mesopotamia.
From the first, students of hieroglyphic were puzzled as to what sound value should be given to the bee-picture. fn By the New Kingdom, according to Sethe, the Egyptians themselves had forgotten the original word, fn and Grapow designates the bee-title of honor as "unreadable." fn Is it not strange that such a common and very important word should have been forgotten? What happened? Something not at all unusual in the history of cult and ritual, namely the deliberate avoidance or prohibition of the sacred word. We know that the bee sign was not always written down, but in its place the picture of the Red Crown, the majesty of Lower Egypt was sometimes "substituted . . . for superstitious reasons." fn If we do not know the original name of the bee, we do know the name of this Red Crown—the name it bore when it was substituted for the bee. The name was dsrt (the vowels are not known, but we can be sure they were all short); the "s" in dsrt had a heavy sound, perhaps best represented by "sh," but designated by a special character—an "s" with a tiny wedge above it by which the Egyptians designated both their land and crown they served. Now when the crown appears in place of the bee, it is sometimes called bit "bee," fn yet the bee, though the exact equivalent of the crown, is never by the same principle called dsrt. This certainly suggests deliberate avoidance, especially since dsrt also means "red," a word peculiarly applicable to bees. If the Egyptians were reluctant to draw the picture of the bee "for superstitious reasons," they would certainly hesitate to pronounce its true name. As meaning "red" the word could be safely uttered, but never as meaning "bee." A familiar parallel immediately comes to mind. To this day no one knows how the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, is to be pronounced, because no good Jew would dare to pronounce it even if he knew, but instead when he sees the written word always substitutes another word, Adonai, in its place to avoid uttering the awful sound of the Name. Yet the combination of sounds HWH is a common verb root in Hebrew and as such used all the time. (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, edited by John W. Welch with Darrell L. Matthews and Stephen R. Callister [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988], 189-90.)
4 And it came to pass that when they had come down into the valley of Nimrod the Lord came down and talked with the brother of Jared; and he was in a cloud, and the brother of Jared saw him not.
5 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.
Redaction: The essence of these passages is that the Lord led the people of Jared on their journey. What is interesting is the way in which this leading is couched. We have the Lord “in the cloud” leading the Jaredites in the wilderness. This is strongly reminiscent of the Exodus story. The Lord was “in the cloud” for Israel under Moses (Exodus 16:9). Quite specifically, the Lord led Israel from the cloud:
20 ¶ And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.
21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:
22 He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
As noted before, the story of the Jaredites is being framed in terms of the Biblical stories, even though those stories take place after the time of the Jaredites. While this might seem anachronistic, we must also remember that the probable redactors here are Mosiah and Moroni, both of whom are well after both events, and have access to the Biblical stories through the brass plate record.
Up to this point we have been unable to tell whether this typologically cast came from Mosiah or Moroni. While it is no more sure at this point, there is in this section some evidence of the relationship of Moroni to the text in question. From verse 9 through the beginning of verse 13 we have a very clear insertion by Moroni in the text. We also have a slight repetition of events where verses 6 and 7 give the story of the barges briefly, but then later in greater detail. All of this points to a significant hand of Moroni in the text. The repetition of the mention of the barges tells us that Moroni is not citing his source. Moroni is retelling his source. In the process of the retelling, Moroni is seeing that text in its typological relationship to both ancient and future history. We may therefore suggest that it is Moroni who is the author of these close parallels to the typological stories of Abraham, Noah, and the Exodus.
6 And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord.
7 And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.
While we are not told the timing of this part of the journey, there is no indication of any significant halt in movement as there is in verse 13 below. It appears logical that they the Jaredites have come along the valley of one of the rivers, and arrived at a location where the next phase of their journey must be over water. The logical possibilities are either the Black Sea or the Mediterranean, with the Mediterranean being the ultimate body of water regardless of the location of the original embarkation. The most likely scenario would appear to have the Jaredites build barges and sail west across the Mediterranean, stopping perhaps in northern Africa, Southern Spain, or Portugal. While Allen notes this possibility, he suggests:
“If the Jaredites crossed the Mediterranean and eventually ended up in, let us say, Morocco or Poretugal, they would then be on the borders of the great Atlantic Ocean. The mountains of Spain may have been the area described as “beyond the sea [Mediterranean] in the wilderness.” At this point, this alternative lacks credibility.” (Joseph L. Allen. Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. S.A. Publishers, 1989, p. 259).
Allen does not tell us why this alternative lacks credibility, other than the rather obvious fact that he doesn’t believe it. What he never does is tell us where this original journey that required barges might have occurred in the eastward journey that he favors to have the Jaredites arrive at the Pacific. Our text requires two journeys over many waters in barges, not one. The sequence in the text tells us that they follow a valley, which might be formed by a river, and then they set sail in barges, stopping on a shore where they are also ready to launch to the “great sea which divideth the land.” (Ether 2:13). It would appear that they land on a shore, and that very shore is the next departure point. Only the westward movement across the Atlantic makes sense of this description.
8 And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.
Here is the point that most interests Moroni. He recounts the conditional promise that the Jaredites received about their promised land. As Moroni writes, he is well aware that the Jaredites where “swept off” by the time the Nephites arrived in Zarahemla, some six hundred years before Moroni’s time. Moroni is also painfully aware that his Nephites had received a similar promise, and suffered a similar fate for a similar reason. With two failed peoples as his example, Moroni now turns his attention to his audience, which is only future readers.
9 And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.
10 For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off.
Moroni attaches the promise to the land, not the people. Therefore, it becomes a land of promise to all who might inhabit it, and the inherent promise of the land becomes the potential covenant of all who live on it. The blessing of the promise will apply to “whatsoever nation shall possess it,” but so will the promise that if that nation should turn from God, that it shall be “swept away.”
11 And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.
[And this cometh unto you]: “This” is the entirety of the Book of Mormon. Even though Moroni is currently writing in Ether, he understands that it is the whole of the work that it to come forth to the gentiles in the last days.
[O ye Gentiles]: This is a specific reference to the future readership of the Book of Mormon. However, it is a reference that carries with it the prophetic understanding that when then Book of Mormon comes forth it will be the Gentiles who are in control of the land. Mormon had written to the remnant of the house of Israel, but at this point Moroni’s admonition comes directly to those who are most affected by the nature of the promise of the land. The Gentiles will be in possession of it, therefore they are under the requirement of the promise; to serve God or be swept off the land.
[as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done}: Moroni makes his comparison explicit. This aside to the future readers has been inspired by the promise to the Gentiles, but it is fueled by Moroni’s personal experiences.
12 Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.
Here is the positive part of the promise. Moroni begins with the penalty associated with the promise (verse 10) because he is most painfully familiar with that consequence. He does not forget, however, that there is a positive aspect to the covenant associated with the land. It is very clear that this is the promise of the land as understood by Moroni, as he specifically notes that Jesus Christ is the “God of the land.”
In Nephite theology, there is a very clear association between Jehovah and the Messiah who came and is to come. That Jehovah/Messiah/Jesus are all the same person. Even though they understand the difference between God the Father and Jesus Christ as Son after Christ’s appearance in the New World, yet they understand Jesus in his Messianic role. The nature of the appearance of the Savior in the New World allowed them to see Jesus in that larger sense more readily than did those of the Old World, who might have seen him only as his human aspect (as some still do).
Literary: Moroni places both aspects of the promise in similar structures.
Verse 10 begins: For behold, this ls a land which is choice above all other lands:
This verse begins: Behold, this is a choice land
This is an intentional paralleling of the essential promise as a prelude to the specific clause of the promise.
13 And now I proceed with my record; for behold, it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.
The end of the sea voyage has the Jaredites coming to a place where they pitch their tents, name the land, and are “upon the seashore for the space of four years.” This series of events tells us that they ended the first voyage in barges, and now are still in the shore where they landed. Thus there is no significant traveling noted between the first water-journey in barges and the second one. They embark on the second journey to the New World from the basic location where they landed from the first journey.
Cultural: They name the area Moriancumer. With our information that the brother of Jared has this as part of his name, we see that the area is probably named for the brother of Jared. It is unclear why the brother of Jared would have right of name, unless there was an understanding that they would eventually be moving on, and Jared was reserving his right of naming to the perceived more permanent colony in the land of promise.
Redaction: [And now I proceed with my record]: Moroni knows that he has strayed from his narrative, and now signals us that he is returning to it.
14 And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.
Most children really fear the conversations with their parents when they know that their parents are unhappy with them, and they know in their hearts that the parents are right. The longer those conversations continue, the worse a child feels. Imagine, then, the brother of Jared who appears to be chastened by the Lord for three hours!
The only thing we are told about the Lord’s reason for chastising the brother of Jared is that Jared had “remembered not” to call upon the name of the Lord. This would seem to be a straightforward indication that the brother of Jared had forgotten to pray, but that is an unsatisfying answer. The brother of Jared is a man who has called upon the Lord before and been worthy of prophetic answer. He is a man who calls upon the Lord now, and receives a direct communication. It is doubtful that even the most spiritually attuned prophets would receive a direct communication from the Lord during every prayer, and even if we were to assume that such a prophet might not have had a formal prayer (though difficult to conceive) it is virtually certain that he would follow the admonition of the later Alma:
27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
The chastisement of the Lord was probably not for forgetting to pray at all, but for a very specific prayer that should have been prayed and was not. The brother of Jared would not have forgotten about the Lord, would not have thought less of the Lord, but he might have neglected to ask an important question. The Jaredites have been somewhere for four years. When the Lord comes to chastise the brother of Jared, the theme of the instructional part of that revelation is that they get on to going to the promised land. This suggests that the reason that the brother of Jared was being chastised was because he had allowed the Jaredites to settle into a land that was not their land of promise. This was not the place where the Lord wanted this people, and the brother of Jared had neglected to ask the Lord about continuing the journey. This is the message that the Lord has for them, and must have been the reason that the chastising comes.
Geographic: The Jaredite band is in the wilderness for four years. They are now ready to embark towards the promised land. Allen champions the Pacific crossing, while this commentary sees the Atlantic crossing as more probable. Allen presents his arguments in his book, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. (Joseph L. Allen. Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. S.A. Publishers, 1989, pp. 258-262). In addition to Allen’s problem of finding a place where one water-journey might end right were the next begins, some of his analysis depends upon his reading of Ixtlilxochitl as requiring that the “first settlers” came from Asia (Joseph L. Allen. Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. S.A. Publishers, 1989, p. 260). Unfortunatley, that reading both misunderstands what Ixtlilxochitl is saying, and places way too much historical accuracy on a very questionable source.
The reading suggested here is that the chastisement would be directly related to the inaction. If the Jaredites were traveling during those years, as Allen proposes, then the Lord would not have had to remind them to get on to the task, for they would already be about that task as they traveled to a departure point. It is more probable that the time in the wilderness was spent without significant travel, and that the command of the Lord comes at this time to tell them to get going.
15 And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him. And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And these are my thoughts upon the land which I shall give you for your inheritance; for it shall be a land choice above all other lands.
After the three-hour chastisement, the brother of Jared “repented of the evil which he had done, and id call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him.” The Lord did not tell the brother of Jared what they needed, only that he needed to ask. When he does ask, the Lord tells him. What the Lord tells him is that they are to go to the land of their inheritance that the Lord has prepared for them.
16 And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord. And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.
[build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built.]: We do not know why we get the description of the barges at the second building rather than the first. Perhaps the original text described then for the first journey, but Moroni elected to describe them here because of his interest in warning his future readers that comes on the heels of the first mention. In any case, the fact that the barges must be built again suggests that they had been dismantled during the four years to supply living materials to the small colony.
17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.
Redaction: The advisability of a boat with a bottom and sides that were “tight like unto a dish” should be rather well understood. A leaky boat would be a rather distinct disadvantage on a long sea voyage. The very mention of the construction of the vessel suggests that it was somewhat unusual in its own day, but it is even more telling against the culture of Mosiah or Moroni. Mesoamerican sea-going vessels were all dugouts, even though they might be made of very large trees. In such a vessel, the idea of being watertight is not much of an issue because the vessel is made of a single tree. The implication of the barges of the Jaredites is that they were constructed. They had to be larger than a tree, indeed, the length was of a tree, but the clear implication is that they were much wider. The construction is interesting, but even more interesting is the very fact that it exists in the text. It is here because it was interesting to Mosiah and/or Moroni. They put the information in the text (where Moroni is known to have left out at least the story of the creation and Garden of Eden) because it is interesting to them because it clearly differed from their current technology.
Historical: Milton R. Hunter cites Ixtlilxochitl as native historical remembrance of the voyage of the Jaredites:
“When things were at their best, their languages were changed and, not understanding each other, they went to different parts of the world; and the Toltecs, who were as many as seven companions and their wives, who understood their language among themselves, came to these parts, having first crossed large lands and seas, living in caves and undergoing great hardships, until they came to this land which they found good and fertile for their habitation. . . .” (Milton R. Hunter, Christ in Ancient America [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1959], 61.)
As in all other references to Ixtlilxochitl, Elder Hunter is placing too much faith is a source that is clearly mixing European and native stories. In this case, we can trace much of the native element of Ixtlilxochitl’s tale to the emergence of the Chichimeca from Chicomoztoc. While this is clearly the reference in Ixtlilxochitl, other texts tell us that they were considered real caves, and not barges and Elder Hunter reads them:
“Chicomoztoc: Literally "the seven caves," this was a legendary mountain perforated by a single cave or by seven caves, and was considered a sacred place by the Aztecs and most other Nahuatl-speaking people of Central Mexico at the time of the Conquest. For many groups, Chicomoztoc was the place of origin from which mankind emerged; the Aztecs believed that they had sojourned there some time after their initial departure from the legendary Aztlan. In the mid-15th c., Motecuhzoma I sent 60 wise men to seek out Chicomoztoc, to learn more about Motecuhzoma's ancestors, and to find out if the mother of Huitzilopochtli was still alive.\
At the time of the Conquest, most Maya peoples of highland Guatemala also recognized authority issued by a place that the Quiche called Tulan Zuyua, or "seven caves." In the Popol Vuh the tribal lineage heads journey to Tulan Zuyua to receive their gods; Tohil, for example, was loaded into the pack of Balam Quitze to be carried back home.
In 1971, during excavations to install sound and lighting equipment at Teotihuacan, a cave was found under the Pyramid of the Sun. The cave features several small chambers, almost in a clover-leaf arrangement, similar to the radiating caves depicted in the picture of Chicomoztoc in the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, and was used as a retreat for ritual. Caves have been found at other ancient sites, and a number may have been regarded at one time as a Chicomoztoc.” (Mary Miller and Karl Taube. An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. Thames & Hudson, 1993, p. 60.)
The large number of earth-emergence (autochthonous) myths from Mesoamerican as well as the American Southwest further establishes this origin myth as one relating to earth, not water-born vessels.
18 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
19 And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
The brother of Jared comes to the Lord with questions that arise from the construction of the barges. One of these comments is that “them there is no light; whither shall we steer?” There are multiple implications of this question. The first is that the expected mode of steering a vessel required being able to see. This was, of course, the method used throughout most of history, and required not only the ability to see land (helpful only when land was close enough to be seen) but also to see the stars. Any transoceanic voyage would require the human pilots to steer by the stars. The brother of Jared comes to the Lord because the tight cover on the vessels (made according to the Lord’s requirements) make it so that they cannot see the stars. How will they steer?
The second implication of this statement is that while the Jaredites had built barges for the first voyage over the waters (presumably the Mediterranean), they did not have the waterlight “lids” on the vessels. The Jaredites would have been able to see the stars, and therefore this issue became relevant only upon this modification for the longer voyage across the Atlantic.
The second problem that comes from the watertight/airtight construction of the barges is that the air supply would be limited, and therefore dangerous. Both of these are new issues that arise from the apparently new instruction to lid the barges.
20 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
The solution to the problem of air requires holes in the top and bottom of the vessel that may be stopped and unstopped. Of this arrangement, Nibley notes:
“And the Lord said . . . thou shalt make a hole in the top thereof, and also in the bottom thereof; and when thou shalt suffer for air, thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air. And if it so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole thereof, that ye may not perish in the flood." (p. 542, 1st Ed.). An exacting editor by removing those very significant "thereof's" has made it appear that when Jared wanted air he was to open the top window of the boat and admit fresh air from the outside. But that is not what the original edition of the Book of Mormon says. For one thing, the ships had no windows communicating with the outside-"ye cannot have windows. . . "(2:23); each ship had an airtight door (2:17), and that was all. Air was received not by opening and closing doors and windows, but by unplugging air holes ("thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air. . . "), this being done only when the ship was not on the surface "when thou shalt suffer for air" i.e., when they were not able to open the hatches, the ships being submerged. (2:20.) This can refer only to a reserve supply of air, and indeed the brother of Jared recognizes that the people cannot possibly survive on the air contained within the ships at normal pressure:" . . . we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish."(2:19). So the Lord recommended a device for trapping (compressing) air, with a "hole in the top thereof and also in the bottom thereof," not referring to the ship but to the air chamber itself. Note the peculiar language: "unstop" does not mean to open a door or window but to unplug a vent, here called a "hole" in contrast to the door mentioned in verse 17; it is specifically an air hole-"when thou shalt suffer for air, thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air." (1st Ed). When the crew find it impossible to remain on the surface-" and if it so be that the water come in upon thee" (2:20), they are to plug up the air chamber: "ye shall stop up the hole thereof, that ye may not perish in the flood." This, I believe, refers to replenishing the air supply on the surface, lest they suffocate when submerged-"that ye may not perish in the flood.” (A Book of Mormon Treasury: Selections from the Pages of the Improvement Era [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1959], 136-7.)
Even more interesting in Dr. Nibley’s article is the lengthy comparison he makes between the construction of the Jaredite barges and the texts of some of ancient flood stories. There are some fascinating comparisions, including the following possibility that parallels the Jaredite air-system:
“The boat has. . . a door to be shut during the storm flood and at least one 'air-hole' or 'window' (nappashu, li. 136)." The word nappashu, meaning "breather" or "ventilator" designates no ordinary window.” (A Book of Mormon Treasury: Selections from the Pages of the Improvement Era [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1959], 139.)
Variant: Multiple occurrences of the word “thereof” were removed from this sentence, beginning with the 1920 edition. (Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987). The original read (“thereof” restored in italics):
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top thereof, and also in the bottom thereof; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole thereof and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole thereof, that ye may not perish in the flood.
21 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.
Having received the solution to one of the problems, the brother of Jared returns to inform the people of that solution. They implement the solution.
22 And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
There is still the issue of being able to see. Somehow, between the first and the second petitions to the Lord, the brother of Jared has slightly shifted his request. The first was that they be able to see to steer. That is no longer a question. Apparently, just as they did not need the air system if they could open doors in a calm see, the issue of light was not a great concern when they could similarly open the doors simply to allow light. The brother of Jared may have also understood that the Lord would do the steering through the winds and the ocean currents, so that the necessity of a human pilot was gone. Nevertheless, there was the human need for light to see inside the barges. That problem continued to exist, and the brother of Jared now brings this very specific question to the Lord.
23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?
The Lord explains the problem of light to the brother of Jared. The Lord does not provide the solution, but only the parameters of the problem. As with the rest of his children, the Lord wants us to learn to think and work out problems on our own. Of course he wants us to come to him for advice, but not in such a way that we abdicate our agency and God-given reason. The Lord makes certain that the brother of Jared understands the outline of the problem of light.
The first problem of light is that they cannot have windows. The reason given is that they would be “dashed in pieces.” This phrase has caused several problems for the historicity of the Book of Mormon because it seems to suggest that the windows would have been glass. There are multiple problems with the assumption of glass windows. Even if we accept that there was some glass technology at this time as Nibley suggests (Hugh Nibley. Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites. Bookcraft, 1952, p. 213-4), the ability to make glass into small beads is a long way form sheets of glass mounted in frames to be windows.
The explanation of the windows dashed in pieces must refer to something else, and the most likely probability is shuttered holes. Such a “window” does not require glass, but simply some form of covering. It is therefore possible that the reference is to some form of wooden shuttering, something that would be much more likely in the ancient world than glass windows.
The windows cannot provide light when they are under water, even though they would have been effective above water. The reason is that they could be broken, and the water would come it. This suggests that the door of the barges also had to have some reinforcement or sealing to prevent a similar problem.
The second issue was the inability to carry fire. Even though there is an inherent problem of having fire in a wooden boat, the reason does not appear to be given because of the fire hazard. The brother of Jared is told that they cannot have fire because “ye shall go as a whale in the midst of the sea.” When the barges are underwater, then the fire becomes a problem. Of course the reason is that fire consumes oxygen, and a fire while they were submerged would be consuming precious oxygen right at the time when that oxygen was most in need.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002