Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Brass Plates and Their Importantance

After abruptly leaving their home at Jerusalem, and reaching a location where Lehi settled down and pitched his tent in an area he called the Valley of Lemuel, near the river he called Laman (1 Nephi 2:6,8), the Lord told him to send his sons return to Jerusalem and obtain the Brass Plates, or record of the Jews (1 Nephi 3:3-4). This record was so important that the Lord authorized Nephi to kill Laban in order to obtain it (1 Nephi 4:10,13-17).
Nephi and his brothers returning from Jerusalem welcomed by Lehi and Sariah

Why was it so important for Lehi to obtain this record? The Book of Mormon tells us and bears testimony of the critical nature of record keeping and particularly of the necessity for scriptural records in the development and preservation of a civilization.
    One of the earliest but most poignant lessons of the Nephite record is the power of scriptural records to prevent a nation from dwindling and perishing through both illiteracy and unbelief (1 Nephi 4:13; Omni 1:17). King Benjamin explained to his sons that “were it not for these [brass] plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God” (Mosiah 1:3).
    Alma likewise explained to his son Helaman that the brass plates “have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls” (Alma 37:8).
    After Nephi and his brothers returned from Jerusalem with the records, Lehi was excited in receiving them. Nephi records it as: “After they had given thanks unto the God of Israel, my father, Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning. And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents; And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah” (1 Nephi 5:10-12).
    “Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law. And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass” (1 Nephi 4:15-16).
    There is no specific reference in the Book of Mormon to the origin of the brass plates. Nephi explained that “Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records (1 Nephi 5:16), meaning the brass plates. Exactly how long before the time of Laban the brass records were begun is unknown. The record was probably kept in the tribe of Ephraim, and thus Laban may well have been of that tribe (Gen. 48:5, 13–20; 1 Chronicles. 5:1–2).
    These brass plates, on which may be found lost scripture, may have been the official scripture of the ten tribes, and were no doubt in the northern lands among the tribe of Ephraim. How then did they come to be in Jerusalem in Lehi’s time? The brass plates, on which may be found lost scripture, and may have been the official scripture of the ten tribes. It should be kept in mind that it is a well-established fact that writing on metal plates was not an uncommon practice in the ancient world. To understand this, there are numerous ancient records that were written on metal plates—Darius the Great had finely-inscribed records written on both gold and silver plates, that were discovered in 1933 by a German archaeologist in Persepolis, the Persian capital.
One of the plates of Darius, written around 530 BC and still in excellent condition

Four plates in all were found with the writing in four languages: Old Persian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Elamite. It might be of interest to LDS that Darius’ plates were found in a stone box with a stone lid, buried in the ground with a large stone resting on top—discovered just over 100 years after the Book of Mormon was first published.
    These gold and silver plates were square, measuring 13 inches by 13 inches and .63 inches thick. In contrast, the Book of Mormon plates, as reported by witnesses who saw and handled them, describe them as rectangular and somewhat smaller at about 6 inches by 8 inches in size as viewed by eyewitnesses.
    It is interesting to note that when they were discovered, the gold plates had survived in better condition than the silver plates, which were a black color and almost unrecognizable when found while the gold plates shone as if brand new. In other words, gold proved to be a superior medium to silver for preserving a text.
    The superiority of gold for long-term record-keeping was something that Nephi undoubtedly already knew. Although the “Introduction” and the “Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith” printed in the modern-day Book of Mormon refers simply to “gold.” On the other hand, some eyewitnesses, including the Eight Witnesses, used more cautious language, describing the plates as having the “appearance of gold.”
    Significantly, Nephi, who mentions finding gold, silver and copper ore in the Land of Promise (1 Nephi 18:25-19:1), only specifies using “ore” to make his plates. For a variety of reasons including increased durability, most students of the Book of Mormon now assume that a gold and copper alloy was used.
    Nephi makes another statement about the brass plates that draws our interest. He says, "And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records" (I Nephi 5:16). These words seem to indicate that the recording of the Hebrew scriptures on the brass plates had begun many generations before Laban's time, though how many we are not told. But it seems evident that the senior tribe of Israel, the tribe of Ephraim (see Genesis 48:5, 13-20; I Chronicles 5: 1-2). Laban may well have been a descendant of Joseph through Ephraim.
Map of the Kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south

If this is true, then we might also ask how it happened that both Laban and Lehi’s family were in Jerusalem since they were descendants of Joseph through Manasseh, and as most people, had been allied generations before with the northern kingdom of Israel , not with Judah in the south. A reasonable answer to our question would be this: The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians when its capital o f Samaria capitulated to Sargon II in 721 B.C. The forebears of Laban may well have fled to Jerusalem to prevent the sacred records from falling into alien hands—at which time Lehi's grandfather or great-grandfather may have left his northern home for Jerusalem in order to prevent his children from intermarrying or making religious compromises with the foreigners brought into the land by the Assyrians. Such a course would not be unreasonable on the part of many devout families.
    Concerning this period when the families of Ephraim and Manasseh (from whom Lehi and Ishmael were descendants) came to settle in Jerusalem, Sidney B. Sperry has written: “The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians when its capital of Samaria capitulated to Sargon II in 722 BC. The forebears of Laban may have fled to Jerusalem to prevent the sacred records from falling into alien hands. Lehi’s grandfather or great-grandfather may have left his northern home for Jerusalem in order to prevent his children from intermarrying and making religious compromises with the foreigners brought into the land by the Assyrians” (Robert L. Millet, The Plates of Brass, The Book of Mormon, the Word of God, LDS website).
Sidney B. Sperry

In regard to this matter, Sperry then asked: “What happened to the keeping of sacred records when the Israelites became sharply divided on political grounds—so much so that the two nations were enemies?” He then suggested an answer: “The prophets in both nations probably paid little attention to the political lines of division, but it is improbable that all of them had their words recorded in the scriptures of both nations. From the time of the division until the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, the Brass Plates may well have been the official scripture of the Ten Tribes. It is probable that some prophets wrote on these plates whose writings may not have been recorded in the records kept in Judah. Were Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and Ezias (1 Nephi 19:10; Hel. 8:20) among them? They were all Hebrew prophets known to the Nephites, but their names do not appear in our current Old Testament. It is also possible that the writings of some prophets in Judah were not placed on the Brass Plates during the period under consideration, but of this we have no way of knowing.”
    The fact that Lehi’s genealogy could be traced back to Joseph—specifically Manasseh (Alma 10:3)—also implies that the record had its origins in the Northern Kingdom rather than in Judah in the south (1 Nephi 3:3, 12; 5:14–16). In one of the prophecies of Zenos are found these words: “And as for those who are at Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 19:13; emphasis added), suggesting that Zenos was speaking from somewhere other than Jerusalem. Further, note Mormon’s words concerning the prophets Zenos and Zenock: “Behold, I say unto you, Yea, many have testified of these things [signs of the death of Christ] at the coming of Christ, and were slain because they testified of these things,” and “Yea, the prophet Zenos did testify of these things, and also Zenock spake concerning these things, because they testified particularly concerning us, who are the remnant of their seed” (3 Nephi 10:15–16; emphasis added). This passage certainly suggests that Zenos and Zenock were both of the tribe of Joseph.

1 comment:

  1. I recently read Don Bradley's new book: "The Lost 116 Pages" Among many other interesting things it points out that the Brass Plates were written in Egyptian. Mosiah 1:4 says:

    "For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; FOR HE HAVING BEEN TAUGHT IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE EGYPTIANS THEREFOE HE COULD READ THESE ENGRAVINGS...."

    If I knew this before I had forgotten it. Bradley suggests that possible Joseph himself made the Brass Plates and started the record keeping on them.