A Timeline for the Book of Ether

Ether timelineAs I continue to work on a single timeline integrating all the scriptures of the LDS Church, I’m still worried about how to split up Ether and match it with the Old Testament. In my draft from last year, I have the Jaredite character Lib congruent with King David, and the end of the Jaredite record running well into the Nephite timeline.

Today, I started over on that. My basis for this revision is to start with the very popular and well-supported theory that the Jaredite city of Lib (and the king its named for) is actually the historical Olmec city of San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo flourished from about 1400-1200 BC.

Also, the Book of Omni is actually unclear about how long the Mulekites were established in the Western hemisphere before they met Coriantumr.

For the sake of convenience, I’m dating the meeting of Coriantumr at about 550 BC, and, based on the San Lorenzo theory (and also for convenience), dating Lib at abut 1350.

(There will be lots of estimating and rounding here, since none of this can be precise, and since the splitting and mixing of Ether into the Old Testament will have to still consider creating a coherent narrative. Take all of this with a grain of salt–this is much more speculation than science, after all.)

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The Mysterious Religion of the Jaredites

Updated 11/8

I’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon, which is a wonderful, wonderful analysis of that sacred text.  In its cornucopia of insight, though, one thing has jumped out and fascinated me more than anything else: Hardy shows that the Jaredites probably weren’t Christians.

This might seem odd on the surface: it’s the Book of Mormon, after all.  Everything about it is meant to testify of Jesus Christ.  And certainly, the little book of Ether, which tells of the Jaredites, does do that…but only because of the commentary given by its editor, Moroni.

Hardy notes that the only explicit teaching about Jesus Christ in the book of Ether come from Moroni, and that the only two figures in the Jaredite record he’s abridging who seem to have any clear knowledge of Jesus are at the very beginning and the very end of that story: the brother of Jared sees Jesus personally, but is told not to share his experience (Ether 3), and the final prophet of that civilization, Ether, prophecies briefly of the New Jerusalem and is rejected (Ether 13).

That’s it.  Nothing else is said directly of Jesus Christ or any gospel-related Christian doctrine in the Jaredite record, at least as we have it.  There is no mention at all of the Atonement.  The Jaredites don’t seem to have had any priesthood or any ordinances.  No covenants among that people are recorded.  Whenever the book of Ether mentions prophets working with people, it’s merely in the context of repentance, but it’s never tied into the grace of God’s sacrifice, so while they may have had some commandments to keep, their spiritual knowledge can’t be said to have extended beyond carnal morality.

This makes sense, actually.  Continue reading

Death and Perspective

Reading Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon today, I was most touched by the portion where the clairvoyant Cassandra waxes poetic about her impending doom.  She says:

Why am I then so pitiful?  Why must I weep?

…I will go through with it.  I too will take my fate. 

I call as on the gates of death upon these gates

to pray only for this thing, that the stroke be true,

and that with no convulsion, with a rush of blood

in painless death, I may close up these eyes, and rest.  (1286-1294)

 

I’m not sure if such an attitude predicts Roman Stoicism or is simply fatalistic, but her frank courage in facing an imminent and ignominious death reminds me of a few of the prophets in the Book of Mormon, men who similarly looked down the barrel of immediate demise and never blinked.  Unlike Cassandra, though, their motivating characteristic is in no doubt: they trusted God implicitly and thus had no reservations about going full speed ahead on the errands to which He had appointed them.

Take three representative examples.  First, Abinadi.  As this lone, wild man confronted the court of wicked King Noah, a prisoner, surrounded by those who had chosen to hate him and set themselves against him, he withstood their taunts and tempts with nothing more than teaching and testimony.  At one point, he speaks the truth so boldly that he radiates holiness, stunning his would-be adversaries.  He remarks on this condition, their physical inability to reach out and kill him, but then says, “But I finish my message: and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved” (Mosiah 13:9).  Before continuing his doctrinal dissertation, he then adds that what they do to him would be a type of how they themselves would die. 

Abinadi knew that he was being preserved by divine power, but he also knew that such protection was temporary, that it would only last until the mission was done.  If that had been me, I might have been tempted to draw out the lesson a little bit!  Abinadi, however, calmly and confidently finished his message, knowing full well that after he’d delivered it, the Lord would then let him suffer the death his listeners were so eager to mete out.  Did he resent that?  Was he afraid?  No.  As he’d said, being saved is all that matters. 

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The Book of Ether and “The Power Cycle”

Students of the Book of Mormon are familiar with the “pride cycle,” that part of Helaman edited to warn us about society’s tendency to become morally slack in times of wealth.  An equally important observation is given in the second half of Ether, a sequence that might be called “The Power Cycle,” or even “The Politics Cycle,” as it shows us the ruin brought upon communities when selfish leaders claw their way to the top by any means necessary. 

Mormon edited the pride cycle; the power cycle is the work of his son, Moroni, who writes it as a cold, hard overview of a civilization’s tragic tunnel vision, its refusal to learn and remember its own lessons.  Time and again over hundreds of years, those in authority indulge in petty games of power, to the detriment of their people, who themselves often fall into general wickedness as their leaders fail to guide them in more spiritual paths.  Moroni’s commentary in these chapters gives us some of the Book of Mormon’s clearest inspiration (the rejection of the prophet Ether’s ministry is Moroni’s launching point for his famous sermon about the power of faith) and direct instruction (such as his declarations in Ether 8 that he’s writing all of this so that readers in the last days will “repent of your sins” and “be persuaded to do good continually“).

Perhaps most significantly for contemporary readers, no specific ideology is identified with any of the scores of unworthy leaders who hinder their people over time–one bad leader is often overthrown by another who turns out to be equally bad.  Let’s remember this on election days.

Though I’ve added and changed some elements, my notes below are based mostly upon Hugh Nibley’s work, “The Prophetic Book of Mormon,” from the book of the same name.

 

THE POWER CYCLE Greed/wickedness/lust for power Prophets minister People repent? Result of repenting or not
Round 1 7:4-7 n/a Yes, 7:13 Posterity, 7:14
2 7:15-17 7:23-24 Yes, 7:25-26 Prosperity & peace, 7:26-27
3 8:2-19, 9:1-11 n/a n/a Genocide/destruction, 9:12
4 –Happiness 9:13-25 9:26-27 9:28-29 Yes, 9:34-35 Revival, 9:35
5—Happiness, 10:1-4 10:5-15 n/a n/a Finally, a righteous leader / people prosper, 10:16
6—Happiness, 10:17-29 10:30-34 11:1-3 No: prophets rejected, 11:5 “Great calamity,” 11:6
7 11:7 n/a Yes, 11:8 “mercy,” 11:8
8 11:10-11 11:12 No: prophets rejected, 11:13 Ongoing wickedness, 11:14-16
9 11:17-19 11:20-21 No: prophets rejected, 11:22 n/a (status quo)
10 n/a 12:2-3 No: Ether rejected, 13:13,17,22 “Great war,” 13:15

“Ceased not,” 13:22

Robbers, 13:26

Theft, paranoia, selfishness, 14:1-2

Total destruction, 15:12-30