Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mosiah 8: The Mystery of the Jaredites

King Limhi, after making a really terrible speech to his people, begins nagging Ammon to translate the writing on a set of twenty-four gold plates that Limhi's people had found in a deserted city.  Ammon can't translate them, but he knows a guy—Mosiah, his king back home—who's right for the job.

The Vanishing Jaredite Battlefield
The characters—I mean, the historical figures—in this chapter don't know it yet, but the gold plates they found contain the story of the Jaredites, an earlier transplanted-Israelite-American-settlement.  Verse 8 describes the location in which these plates were found:
...a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind...a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.
This is hardly my most original point, but the commonly-posed question is fair—where are all those bones?  In Ether, upwards of two million Jaredites were killed in battle.  That's a lot of corpses and a lot of weaponry.  That's a lot of people who used to live in homes and cities.  That's a hell of a lot of archaeological evidence to simply not turn up.  At over two million, the Jaredites had a population that rivaled the expanse of the Mayans and the Aztecs and maybe even the Incas.  There is plentiful evidence of those nations.  Why are there no Jaredite ruins—especially considering the Book of Mormon explicitly states that all the archaeological evidence we would ever need was one point?

Limhi (n):  gullible person
Limhi is so dumb.  I just can't get over it.

Let's say you're a king (you know, hypothetically).  And let's say a bunch of your subjects find a ruined civilization and massive battlefields strewn with skeletons.  And let's say these subjects bring you a book they found among the wreckage.  And let's also say that you know a guy who knows a guy who can probably figure out what the book says.  What's your first reaction?

If you said, "wet myself with excitement over the enigmatic contents of the book and praise God!" then I have some bad news for you—you're probably a Limhi:
Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.
O how marvelous are the works of the Lord... 
Look, Limhi:  I get that you want to know what's written on those plates, but nothing you just said is "doubtless."  It could be that the plates simply contain the boring genealogy of the destroyed civilization and no great mysteries.  It could be that the fact that King Mosiah can probably translate the records is nothing more than coincidence.  And let's not forget that you're giddy as a schoolgirl over some writings found in a place where a few million people slaughtered each other.  Have a little respect for the dead.

Limhi is willing to believe pretty much anything.  Doubtlessly his name must have become ancient American slang for a stupid person (see what I did there?).  I'm picturing a Lamanite child coming home from school in tears because the other kids called him a "Limhi-butt" and a "curelom-face."

Joseph Smith Pulls a Melville—or Maybe a Wilde
In verses 13 through 18, the narrative goes off on a bit of a tangent about seers, prophets and revelators (but mostly seers).  The definitions of each of the terms are pretty unimportant and certainly not central to our salvation, but for some reason they were laboriously etched into sheets of metal to be read in our day.

To be honest, it reminded me of that chapter in Moby-Dick when Melville goes on and on about the different kinds of whales or the chapter in The Picture of Dorian Gray when Wilde rambles about his character's new fascination with different kinds of fabrics and perfumes.  Joseph Smith's tangent pales in comparison, as it's only a few verses, but it shares the same characteristic—the level of detail does not match the level of significance.

By the way, all seers are prophets but not all prophets are seers.  It's kind of like a square-and-rectangle thing.  In case you were wondering.  And I'm sure you weren't.


  1. This time, I decided to actually read the chapter before reading your commentary.

    The thing that stuck out to me was also the stuff about prophets and seers. I was waiting for Ammon to predict that in the future god would raise up a great translating prophet who would share the name of his own father, have the same name of one of the sons of Lehi, and be named after the son of Jacob who was sold into Egypt. This mighty seer would be the greatest of all seers and would be the most important man to ever live on the earth, save Christ himself. And then, Limhi would stupidly add something about how he himself was a descendent of Lehi.

    The first presidency and twelve apostles are sustained as "prophets, seers, and revelators." Do you think they each get their own little seer stone to carry around in their pocket? They are also supposed to be "special witnesses" of Christ, but I have never once in my lifetime heard one of them say they have seen him with their physical eyes. I wonder how long it takes them after they are made an apostle to figure out that they won't ever see Christ and that it's all bull. Then they have to spend the rest of their lives lying to and misleading the people, oh and being monetarily supported by them. I have personally talked with and shaken the hand of 3 of them at different times, in the past 12 years or so, 2 of them outside of church settings. I felt nothing at all special about any of them, and that was when I was still trying to force myself to believe.

    1. Yeah, I was also kind of impressed with Joseph's subtlety when praising his own calling as a seer. In earlier chapters, he's almost come out and said "HAY GUYS I'M LIKE THE NEW BIG PROPHET THING IT SAYS SO HERE IN MY BOOK." This time, it takes a little bit more to realize he's talking about himself.

      I also remember being taught this chapter in seminary and going into detail over the delineations between a prophet, a seer and a revelator. The seminary teacher said we should know what we're sustaining the prophet for when we sustain him in general conference. But I think the definition of "sustain" would have been a more important thing to study.