The REPO Atlas: the Jaredites (part 1)

[Here is an introduction to the REPO postings. Also I’ve made a few updates below.]

It’s hard to mine any detailed information about the Jaredites out of the book of Ether itself. What we have is Joseph Smith’s translation of Moroni’s highly selective and condensed abridgment of his (or Mosiah[2]’s) translation of Ether’s very condensed (“twenty-four gold plates“) and late summary of somewhere from 2000 to over 3000 years of Jaredite history. Outside of the brother of Jared’s theophany of the premortal Messiah, and the occasional speculation on just how those barges were built, most of our quotes from the book of Ether tend to come from Moroni’s commentary rather than anything the Jaredites did or said.

Ether becomes a bit more interesting, however, when we ask ourselves just how the Jaredite civilization(s) splintered, interacted (usually by fighting), and re-merged, and what kind of religious behavior and institutions existed. It’s particularly interesting to note how different the Jaredite narrative reads from the Lehite narrative in both political and religious aspects.

We start out with a modest group — Jared, his brother, their families, and some friends and their families — starting out from some unidentified (but likely Central Asia) location. They travel cross country (including “cross[ing] many waters”) and come to the “sea in the wilderness”. They build the barges; their numbers are sufficiently great to require eight barges (vs. the one ship for the Lehi/Ishmael group), but that may indicate in part a need to carry more supplies with them due to less opportunity to put to shore for food and water (cf. Ether 6:5-11).

It is only after they arrive at their destination that we get any sort of census: Jared has four sons, the brother of Jared has “sons and daughters”, and their friends “were in number about twenty and two souls”, with their own sons and daughters, which implies that the “twenty and two” refers either just to adult men (since there is no mention of the spouses of Jared and his brother) or possibly to adult men and women combined. In any case, it is a much larger landing party than Lehi’s.

Possible polygamy among the Jaredites

When Jared and his brother reach old age, the record shows how their posterity has grown: Jared has twelve children (including four sons), while his brother has 22 sons and daughters (Ether 6:19-21). The text indicates that this a census of living individuals in their group. Since Jared and his brother in their old age have between them 34 surviving (and, most likely, largely adult) children, this strongly suggests polygamy as an active practice, at least among the ruling class, particularly given both the typically high (>50%) infant/child mortality rate and, for that matter, adult mortality rate in pre-modern societies. These numbers show up again in at least one subsequent ruler (cf. Ether 7:2); for many later rulers the phrase is simply “many sons and daughters”.

Another possible indication of polygamy are the accounts of rulers siring sons and daughters “in their old age” (cf. Ether 7:26; Ether 9:14; Ether 10:4; Ether 10:14), though that could also simply indicate the death of one wife and the marriage to a new, younger wife (cf. Ether 9:24). Note that many of these examples involve leaders and rulers who are clearly indicated as being righteous and God-fearing.

Religion among the Jaredites

As I noted in my REPO introduction, the truly unique aspect of Ether is that it gives us our only glimpse into the religious behavior of a post-Noachian, pre-Abrahamic people (Genesis 10 and 11 gives us only genealogy and a brief story of the great tower).

Upon the arrival in the New World, we have the brief and somewhat intriguing passage: “And they were taught to walk humbly before the Lord; and they were also taught from on high.” (Ether 6:17). The brother of Jared was still alive at that point and was likely continuing to act as a prophet; that may be what was meant by “taught from on high”, or that may have reference to something else.

However, after that point there is no indication of any form of organized or institutionalized religion or worship among the Jaredites, nor of any form of priesthood authority or ordinances (save one, mentioned below). You do have three Christ-related theophanies — the brother of Jared, Emer, and Ether (sort of) — stretched out over two or three millennia. You have occasional incursions of prophets — always plural and always unnamed (until Ether himself) — crying repentance unto the Jaredites, on fear of destruction. No specific commandments or standards — other than “walking humbly before the Lord”, “preparing the way of the Lord” and “repenting of iniquities”– are ever cited by these prophets in the record, again until Ether.

The only exception to the above is the mention of Gilead being murdered by “his high priest…as he sat upon the throne” (Ether 14:9). Gilead is mentioned in the previous verse as having “received great strength to his army, because of secret combinations” (Ether 14:8); if I read Ether 14:10 correctly, the high priest himself is murdered by Lib, who is “one of the secret combinations.”¬† It is impossible to tell from these few verses what the high priest’s motivation was or if he was part of the intermittant orthodoxy.

As for Ether, it is hard to tell from the record what he actually wrote and how much Moroni is summarizing¬† and interpreting, particularly with his own post-Abrahamic, post-Israel, post-Mosiac, post-Christ perspective. The closing of the book of Ether (Ether 15:33-34) — when Moroni says he only related “a hundredth part” of Ether’s record and then quotes Ether verbatim, speaking in first person terms — suggests that Moroni reduced most of what Ether actually wrote into a brief, third-person account.

Ether knows of Christ and of Jerusalem by vision, and prophesizes of a New Jerusalem to be built in the Americas; he also knows of others whom God has led to the Americas, either by revelation or by direct or indirect contact; after all the people of Zarahemla (“Mulekites”), the Nephites, and the Lamanite had been living ‘south’ of the Jaredites for over 300 years at this point.

Indeed, Ether may well have first learned of Jerusalem and the house of Israel from contact with these other groups. This seems especially likely, since Ether ends up prophesying specifically regarding the seed of Joseph (cf. Ether 13:6-8); of course, Lehi and Ishmael were both of the tribe of Joseph.

Possible indigenous people in the Jaredite regions

As with the Lehite party, there are subtle indications that the Jaredites may have encountered an existing indigenous population when they settled in the Americas. Here are some of those indications:

  • In the Americas, the people are “taught to walk humbly before the Lord”; if this refers only to the transplanted Jaredites, it raises the question of just what they were being taught in all those years migrating across Asia, plus the full year on the ocean when they “did not cease to praise the Lord” (Ether 6:7-9).
  • As noted above, it appears likely that Jared and his brother, as well as their immediate descendants, practiced polygamy; the explosion of the number of children appears to occur mostly after the arrival in the Americas.
  • At the same time, the overall Jaredite population grows sufficiently between the arrival of the Jaredites and the approaching deaths of Jared and his brother to require a census (cf. Ether 6:19-20).

None of these individually is terribly compelling, and even combined they only hint at the existence of native populations. The case is certainly not as strong as it is for the Lehites, but there’s nothing to preclude a native population either.

Geographic dispersement among the Jaredites

We have very little in the way of geographical details about the Jaredites, other than the names of various cities and a few geographical landmarks. And the transmission process of the book of Ether (Jaredite records -> Ether -> Moroni) makes it difficult to unravel the basis for some of the statements made.

For example, in Ether 7:6 we read:”Now the land of Moron, where the king [Kib, grandson of Jared] dwelt, was near the land which is called Desolation by the Nephites.” This event is within 2 generations of the Jaredites arriving in the New World, so it predates the prophet Ether by roughly 2000 years. So we face a few related questions:

  • How did Ether know just where the land of Moron was located 2000 years earlier?
  • How did he convey this in his record?
  • How did Moroni determine from Ether’s abridgement/writing just where Moron was located and thus identify it as being “near the land which is called Desolation by the Nephites”?
  • Is it possible that Ether and/or Moroni confused the land of Moron cited in Ether 7:6 with the land ruled 2000+ years later by the Jaredite king Moron (Ether’s grandfather; cf. Ether 11:14-23) and possibly named after him (cf. Ether 14:6, 11)? Or were both lands of Moron really the same?

Similar problems occur with most Jaredite geography. We don’t know if the name of a given city, land, or landmark is its original name, its name at the time of Ether, or the name that Moroni knows it by.

What we can tell is that even after the Jaredites arrive in the New World, there are a lot of migrations, a lot of unnamed cities founded, and a lot of population groups that splinter off (and occasionally recombine). Here’s a list of the significant geographical entities we have from the book of Ether:

Again, it is unclear whether the lands of Nehor and Corihor at the end of the Jaredite civilization map exactly (or at all) to the lands of Nehor and Corihor in the early days of the Jaredite civilization. Likewise, it is unclear on what basis Moroni maps specific Jaredite locations to locations known to the Nephites (such as the hill Ramah being the same spot as the hill Cumorah). All we do know is that one expedition found Coriantumr and a large engraved stone “with a few words” in the midst of the remains of the Jaredites somewhere to the “north” of Zarahemla (Omni 1:21), while another found the twenty-four gold plates (Mosiah 8:7-11) likewise among abandoned and decaying armor.

This post is getting long, so I’ll save the discussion on Jaredite politics for part 2.¬† ..bruce..

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