Improvement Era 1951-52


By Hugh nibley, Ph. D.


Author's Note

THE epistolary form of this series of articles, is the style in which the writer most commonly expounds his views. Although "Professor F." to whom these letters are addressed is a purely fictitious anthropologist in an eastern university, he is typical of many a real correspondent, and the letters themselves are no less typical. If "F." seems unduly meek and teachable, that is because with the limited space at our disposal it would be folly to engage in long and needless controversies.

My dear Professor F.:

I WARNED you that you would find the Book of Mormon full of strange and puzzling things. Please don't hesitate to tell me what you think; above all, there is no need to be concerned about offending my religious sensibilities. The Book of Mormon is tough; it thrives on investigation; you may kick it around like a football, as many have done; and I promise you it will wear you out long before you ever make a dent in it.

As to your first objection, you say that you are disturbed by the apparent attempt of the Book of Mormon to trace the origin of our Indian tribes to a single city in the Near East and to a time as recent as 600 B. C. This would seem to you to be a much too simple and limited explanation for everything. It seems so to me, too. But since you have only begun your reading of the Book of Mormon, my urgent advice to you is, read on! There is a great surprise awaiting you in the next to last book. Far from being oversimplified, this strange history is extremely varied and complicated. As you know, the missionaries in the early days of the Church recommended the Book of Mormon to the world as "a history of the Indians," Indians being one of the few subjects on which Americans in general possessed some information and on which their interest could be easily aroused. But as a matter of fact, the Book of Mormon is not so much a history of the Indians as of their distant ancestors—people as different from them in many things as our Anglo-Saxon forefathers are from us. The story of the Indians only begins where the Book of Mormon ends: before that it deals largely with those great city-building nations of the south, about whom you know much more than I do.

But before the Book of Mormon ever approaches your glamorous field, it has a good deal to say about another culture, one that has been much studied in our day and can still be examined at first hand, namely (of all things) that of the desert Arabs, which is brought before our eyes in First Nephi with a vividness and clarity which, I believe, say much for the authenticity of the record. The same book also gives us a glimpse into the life of the prosperous and civilized "Jews at Jerusalem" in the days of Zedekiah, briefer but no less clear and specific than the picture of life in the desert.

Already, you see, this remarkable document offers to impart information on no less than four widely-divergent cultures. I leave it to you whether an accurate description of any one of them, with the possible exception of some Indian tribes, would have been possible from source materials available in the days of Joseph Smith. But it is to the culture number five that I would now call your attention. The last history in the Book of Mormon, which goes under the title of Ether, is even more wonderful in my opinion than the first. It takes us into the twilight world of proto-history where the dim half-described shadow-empires of Asia are only in our day beginning to take on recognizable form. As you know, my constitutional weakness for whatever is vague and fuzzy has drawn me irresistibly to this dangerous area, and I have been guilty of a number of lengthy articles on matters that sensible people hold to be unsearchable. You are free to laugh at this, but if you think I am trespassing, what would you say of a man who tried to give an account of life in that prehistoric world from what was known of it 120 years ago!

THE Book of Mormon is tough; it thrives on investigation; you may kick it around like a football, as many have done; and it will wear you out long before you ever make a dent in it.

With the same unfaltering and unhurried step that led us across the sands of Arabia (and you must agree that that was a marvelous performance), the author of the Book of Mormon now conducts us into a world so remote, so utterly different from anything within the scope of the Biblical or classical student, that if we would follow him, we must acquire a whole new gear and tackle for the journey. I think we are agreed that it would take a great deal of training for anyone to acquire the background necessary to compose First Nephi. Now imagine any man insane enough to try after such colossal exertions to write another such story, of equal length and detail but this time about a totally different race of people, living in an age far removed from the other and in a wholly different geographical setting! As far as I know, not even Joseph Smith ever called anyone's attention to this prodigious feat; we all take it for granted. Yet you will soon see that the author of Ether could have obtained precious little help from any materials used in writing First Nephi. On the contrary, the former experience could only tend to embarrass any attempt at a new history, which would call for an entirely new training and preparation.

What the author of Ether has to supply is not a new plot but all new props and scenery. Every century sees its wars, treaties, migrations, and so forth; but always in a different setting; so that the test of an historical document lies, as we have so often insisted, not in the story it tells but in the casual details that only an eyewitness can have seen. The story of Jared and the story of Lehi have the same theme, the familiar one of the righteous man who leads his people out of a doomed and wicked world. There is nothing original in that: it is also the story of Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, "The Church in the Wilderness," and, for that matter, the restored Church. But what a setting! What strange institutions and practices! How shall we ever be able to check up on such recondite stuff? It is going to require a bit of doing, and so I would advise you to prepare yourself for a long siege.

As you know, it is my unfortunate habit either to write appallingly long letters (twenty pages yet) or none at all. Since you have set this off by accusing the Book of Mormon of proposing an over-simplified story of the Indians, I am not going to let go of your throbbing wrist until, Hamlet-like, I have forced you to look upon a number of strange and disturbing pictures. Had the Jaredites lived in a vacuum, their story would today be beyond the reach of criticism. But they did not live in a vacuum: the Book of Ether tells us that they continued in the New World the customs and vices that had flourished in the Old. If, then, we can only find out what people were up to in the homeland at that early day we will have our "control" for the Ether story. That, as you will recall, is the way we handled the problem of Lehi in the desert—found out what was going on in the world that Nephi was supposed to be describing and then compared the data with what Nephi had to tell us. The task of checking up on Lehi's activities was greatly simplified by the fact that the Beduins of Arabia do things in our day much as they did them in his. What we find in Central Asia—Jared's country—are customs equally stable.

"But," I can hear you snorting, "what about the evidence?" It is one thing, I will admit, to read Arabic, and another to lisp the chaste Mongolian. From the isolation of Utah it is not possible to do more than skim the top of our materials; but if you will hasten to consult the bibliographies of such standard works as McGovern and Vernadsy, you will see that even they have hardly done more. Until someone appears who is competent to deal with the difficult documents—a Classicist who is also a Sinologist, an Indologian, an expert on Semitics, Turkish, Slavic, and whatnot, in short, another Vambery—we must be content to base our speculations on the limited materials within our control. Our whole justification is that these are adequate, as in the case of Lehi, to prove what we want to prove, no more. And what are we going to prove? That certain strange and unfamiliar things described in Ether actually could have taken place as described, because they actually did take place—characteristically and repeatedly—in those very cultural areas in which, according to the Book of Mormon, the Jaredites acquired their culture and civilization.

And what are those "materials" to which we have been so darkly alluding? They come in periods. To illustrate, let us say that there is a peculiar custom—of the royal court or the hunt, for example—described in Ether. We find the same custom described by modern travelers in Central Asia (source number one); Christian and Moslem merchants, geographers, and missionaries report the same peculiar custom in the same region in the Middle Ages (source number two); next we move back another seven or eight hundred years and behold: the spies and ambassadors of the Byzantine court describe the same custom (source number three, and so on), for which we are now beginning to feel a measure of respect! Moving back through the centuries, we find that classical historians from Cassiodorus to Herodotus, a full thousand years apart, mention the same custom, and then slipping back another fifteen hundred to two thousand years we read about it in the records of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Last of all, the Russian archaeologists find evidence for the same thing in prehistoric times. From these many points of reference we may project as it were a smooth curve right back to the Jaredites, and safely assume that when the Book of Ether describes the very institutions depicted in these records of early Asia it is on solid ground. In each instance, however, you will have to be the judge, for all we can give at the present interval is a sampling of the evidence. You may have to wait thirty years for the rest of it.

Please note that we are limiting our curiosity to the sort of thing that happened. The exact time and place of any specific event are no concern of ours. Such matters are always open to dispute, and in the case of the Jaredites they don't begin to come within guessing distance. Bear in mind that these people lived their lives in a realm far removed from the current of world history; in a dateless age they took their culture from the common source and thereafter were on their own until they disappeared from the earth. What difference whether they had a battle in one spot or another—in one year or another? The important thing is that they did have battles and, for our purpose, that those battles followed patterns of warfare peculiar to Central Asia. We specialize in patterns.


By Hugh Nibley, Ph. D.



Dear Professor F.

IN REPLY to my sustained blast of the 17th inst. you tax me with "a naive and gullible acceptance of the Tower of Babel story." I knew you would. Most people believe quite naively that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address, but their totally uncritical acceptance of the fact does not prevent it from being true. You may accept any story naively or you may take it critically. What would you say if I were to accuse you of being very simple and gullible in rejecting the story of the tower? The cornerstone of "sound scholarship" in our day is the comfortable doctrine that the answer no can never be quite as wrong as the answer yes, a proposition which to my knowledge has never been demonstrated. Excuse me if I seem recalcitrant, but I find it odd that the one skill most appreciated and rewarded in those circles where one hears everlastingly of "the inquiring mind" and the importance of "finding out for one's self" is the gift and power of taking things for granted. Even our Latter-day Saint intellectuals are convinced that the way to impress the Gentiles is not to acquire a mastery of their critical tools, (how few even know Latin!), but simply to defer in all things to their opinions.

Think back, my good man, to the first act of recorded history. What meets our gaze as the curtain rises? People everywhere building towers. And why are they building towers? To get to heaven. The tower was, to use the Babylonian formula, the markaz shame u irtisim, the "binding-place of heaven and earth," where alone one could establish contact with the upper and lower worlds. That goes not only for Babylonia but also for the whole ancient world, as I have pointed out at merciless length in my recent study on the "Hierocentric State." The towers were artificial mountains, as any textbook will tell you, and no temple-complex could be without one. The labors of Dombart, Jeremias, Andrae, Burrows, and others shall spare us the pains of showing you these towers scattered everywhere throughout the old world as a means of helping men get to heaven. 1 2 The legends concerning them are legion, but they all fall into the same pattern: In the beginning an ambitious race of men tried to get to heaven by climbing a mountain or tower; they failed and then set out to conquer the world. A thoroughly typical version of-the story is a variant found in Jewish and Christian apocryphal writers in which the sons of Seth (the angels, in some versions), eager to regain the paradise Adam had lost, went up on to Mt. Hermon, and there lived lives of religious asceticism, calling themselves "the Watchers" and "the Sons of Elohim." It was an attempt to establish the heavenly order, and it failed, the embittered colony descending the mountain to break the covenant, marry the daughters of Cain, and beget a race of "men notorious for murders and robberies." Determined to possess the earth if they could not possess heaven, the men of the mountain denied that they had failed, faked the priesthood, and forced the inhabitants of the earth to accept the kings they put over them. 3 This story you will recognize as an obvious variant of the extremely ancient and widespread Mad Hunter cycle, which I treated in an article on the origin of the state. 4 The Mad Hunter, you will recall, claimed to be the rightful ruler of the universe, challenged God to an archery contest, and built a great tower from which he hoped to shoot his arrows into heaven. Sir James Frazer has collected a large number of American Indian versions of the story to illustrate Old World parallels, for the tale is met with among primitive hunters throughout the world. 5

In Genesis X we read that Nimrod, "the mighty hunter against the Lord," 6 founded the kingdom of Babel, and in the next chapter that Babel was the name of the tower builded to reach to heaven. This Nimrod seems to be the original arch-type of the Mad Hunter. 7 His name is for the Jews at all times the very symbol of rebellion against God and of usurped authority; he it was "who became a hunter of men," established false priesthood and false kingship in the earth in imitation of God's rule and "made all men to sin." 8 A very early Christian writing tells how Noah's descendants waged bitter war among themselves after his death, to see who should possess his kingship; finally one of the blood of Ham prevailed, and from him the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Persians derive their priesthood and kingship. "From the race of Ham," says the text, "came one through the magical (as opposed to the holy) succession named Nimrod, who was a giant against the Lord . . . whom the Greeks call Zoroaster and who ruled the world, forcing all men by his false magical arts to recognize his authority." 9 The Chronicon Paschale reports a widespread tradition that this giant who built Babylon was not only the first king of Persia, the earthly Cosmocrator, but also the first man to teach the killing and eating of beasts, 10 a belief also expressed in the Koran. 11 There is another common tradition that Nimrod's crown was a fake, and that he ruled without right "in the earth over all the sons of Noah, and they were all under his power and counsel," while he "did not go in the ways of the Lord, and was more wicked than all the men that were before him." 12 The antiquity of these stories may be judged from an early Babylonian account of a wicked king who first "mingled small and great on the mound" and caused them to sin, earning for himself the title of "king of the noble mound" (cf. the tower), "god of lawlessness," "god of no government." 13 In the very earliest Indo-European traditions this person is Dahhak, "the type of the dregvant, the man of the Lie and the king of mad-men," who sat on the throne for a thousand years and forced all men to subscribe their names in the Book of the Dragon, thus making them subject to him. 14

In the Book of Ether the name of Nimrod is attached to "the valley which was northward," and which led "into that quarter where there never had man been" (II:2, 5), which suits very well with the legendary character of Nimrod as the Mad Hunter of the Steppes. The name of Nimrod has always baffled philologians, who have never been able to locate it, 15 but at the end of the last century the explorer and scholar Emin found that name attached to legends (mostly of the Mad Hunter variety) and place names in the region of Lake Van, the great valley due north of upper Mesopotamia. 16 Now I am not insisting for a minute that the legendary Nimrod ever existed. As I told you before, I am only interested in the type of thing that happened, and after having examined hundreds of legends from all parts of the ancient world, all telling substantially the same story, I think that anyone would find it difficult, in view of the evidence, to deny that there was some common event behind them. It seems to have been a single event, moreover. How so? I said above that we find mounds and towers scattered throughout the whole ancient world; now I will go further and say that they are not independent local inventions but actually imitations derived ultimately from a single original. Every great national shrine of antiquity had a founding legend of how in the beginning it was brought through the air from some mysterious faraway land. And this faraway land always turns out to have been in Central Asia. Our Norse Othinn came from the giants' land to the east, the Greek national cult from the land of the Hyperboreans, far to the northeast of Greece; people of the Near East looked to a mysterious white mountain of the North as the seat of their primordial cult, the Chinese to the paradise or mountain of the West, and so forth. 17 You may list the various founding legends and trace them back at your leisure to a single point of origin. Is it not strange that the founding father and summus deus of each nation of antiquity is somewhere declared to be a fraud and an impostor, a wandering tramp from afar whose claims to supreme authority cannot stand a too careful examination? Think of Prometheus' challenge to Zeus, of Loki's blackmailing of Othinn, of the dubious "Justification" of Osiris," of the terror of all-mighty Anu when Tiamat challenges his authority, and so forth. 18 Run down these legends, and you will find in every case that the usurper comes from Central Asia. Even Isaiah (XIV:12ff) recalls that in the beginning the adversary himself set up his throne "upon the Mountain of the Assembly in the regions of the North," and there pretended to be "like the Most High." For all this a single origin is indicated; whether historical or ritual makes little difference.

There is one aspect of the Nimrod cycle that is too interesting to pass by, especially for an anthropologist. That is the tradition of the stolen garment.


Nimrod claimed his kingship on the grounds of victory over his enemies; 19 his priesthood, however, he claimed by virtue of possessing "the garment of Adam." The Talmud assures us that it was by virtue of owning this garment that Nimrod was able to claim the power to rule over the whole earth, and that he sat in his tower while men came and worshiped him. 20 The Apocryphal writers, Jewish and Christian, have a good deal to say about this garment. To quote one of them: "the garments of skin which God made for Adam and his wife when they went out of the garden and were given after the death of Adam . . . to Enoch"; hence they passed to Methusaleh, and then to Noah, from whom Ham stole them as the people were leaving the ark. Ham's grandson Nimrod obtained them from his father Cush. 21 As for the legitimate inheritance of this clothing, a very old fragment recently discovered says that Michael "disrobed Enoch of his earthly garments, and put on him his angelic clothing," taking him into the presence of God. 22 This garment of Enoch was supposed to be the very garment of skins that John the Baptist wore, called by the Early Christians "the garment of Elias." 23 An Arabic "Life of John the Baptist" says that Gabriel brought it to John from heaven as "the garment of Elijah"; "it went back," says John Chrysostome, "to the beginning of the world, to the times before which Adam required covering. Thus it was the symbol of repentance." 24 Others believed it was the same garment that Herod and later the Romans put under lock and key when they wished to prevent the people from putting it on a candidate of their own choice, and tell how the Jews tried to seize the garment by force and put it on John the Baptist, thus making him, instead of Herod, their high priest. 25 Whatever its origin, the wearing of a garment of repentance, symbolic of the life of man in his fallen state was known to the most ancient Christians and practised by certain ultra-conservative cults down to modern times. 26

Incidentally the story of the stolen garment as told by the old rabbis, including the great Eleazer, calls for an entirely different rendering of the strange story in Genesis IX from the version in our King James Bible. They seemed to think that the 'erwath of Genesis IX:22 did not mean "nakedness" at all, but should be given its primary root meaning of "skin covering." As they read it, Ham took the garment of his father while he was sleeping and showed it to his brethren, Shem and Japheth, who took a pattern or copy of it (salmah) or else a woven garment like it (simlah) which they put upon their own shoulders, returning the skin garment to their father. Upon awaking, Noah recognized the priesthood of the two sons, but cursed the son who tried to rob him of his garment. 27 This is, apparently, the source of the widespread legend that Ham stole the garment of Noah and claimed to possess the priesthood by virtue of his illegal insignia. Ham's descendants, Cush and Nimrod—both Africans, though Nimrod in his wandering moved to Asia 28—made the same claim. It is interesting that according to certain ancient scriptures which the Latter-day Saints claim have been restored by revelation in our own age, Pharaoh (who represents the Afro-Asian line of Cush-Nimrod) "was blessed as to the kingship but cursed as to the priesthood," and he offered Abraham the privilege of wearing his own royal insignia in hope that Abraham would return the compliment by allowing Pharaoh to wear his priestly ones. 29 There is a good deal of Egyptian material dealing with this custom of a royal exchange of garments and honors, but there is no time to go into it here—I only want to call attention to the fact that we are actually moving in a world of established patterns and familiar concepts, however weird they may seem to the uninitiated.

According to the Talmud, Nimrod's "great success in hunting was due to the fact that he wore the coat of skin which God made for Adam and Eve." 30 There is a tradition that Nimrod, becoming jealous of the rival hunter Esau (so much for chronology!), lay in ambush for him, but was defeated by Esau, who cut off his head and "took the valuable garments of Nimrod . . . with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land (or earth!), and he ran and concealed them in his house." These garments, says the report, were nothing less than the birthright which Esau later sold to Jacob. 31

Two significant conclusions come from all this: (1) that any historical reconstruction of what actually happened is out of the question, what has come down to us being a mass of conflicting legends and reports, and (2) that these conflicting legends and reports nevertheless agree on certain main points, that they are very old, and were considered by the most learned Jews to present matters of great importance, the significance of which has escaped later ages. The priests and kings of antiquity certainly wore such garments, 32 and the skin garment was often imitated in woven materials; 33 in fact the skin garment was itself held to be a substitute for a still older garment made of the leaves of the ficus religious. 34

I make no apology for conducting you into these lost bypaths of the past. You have often proclaimed it your professional obligation to be interested in all things, and especially the unusual. Still there is such a thing as going too far, and it is high time I was showing you what a sober, factual, and commonsense document the Book of Ether really is. Let us return to Babel.


The Book of Ether, depicting the uprooting and scattering from the tower of a numerous population, shows them going forth not individually but in groups and not merely family groups but groups of friends and associates: "thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families." (I:41.) There was no point in having Jared's language unconfounded if there was to be no one he could talk to, and his brother cried to the Lord that his friends might also retain the language. The same, however, would apply to any other language: If every individual were to speak a tongue all of his own and so go off entirely by himself, the races would have been not merely scattered but quite annihilated. 35 We must not fall into the old vice of reading into the scripture things that are not there. There is nothing said in our text about every man suddenly speaking a new language. We are told in the Book of Ether that the languages were confounded with and by the "confounding" of the people: "Cry unto the Lord," says Jared (I:34), "that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words." The statement is significant for more than one thing. How can it possibly be said that "we may not understand our words"? Words we cannot understand may be nonsense syllables or may be in some foreign language, but in either case they are not our words. The only way we can fail to understand our own words is to have words that are actually ours change their meaning among us. That is exactly what happens when people, and hence languages, are either "confounded," that is, mixed up, or scattered. In Ether's account, the confounding of people is not to be separated from the confounding of their languages; they are, and have always been, one and the same process: the Lord, we are told (I:35-37), "did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded . . . and the Lord had compassion upon their friends and their families also, that they were not confounded." That "confound" as used in the Book of Ether is meant to have its true and proper meaning of "to pour together," "to mix up together," is clear from the prophecy in XIII:8, that "the remnant of the house of Joseph shall be built upon this land . . . and they shall no more be confounded," the word here meaning mixed up with other people, culturally, linguistically, or otherwise.

Yet another important Biblical expression receives welcome elucidation from our text: though Ether says nothing about "the whole earth" being "of one language and one speech" (Gen. XI:1), he does give us an interesting hint as to how those words may be taken. Just as "son" and "descendant" are the same word in Hebrew and so may easily be confused by translators (who in fact have no way of knowing, save from the context, in which sense the word is to be understood), so "earth" and "land" are the same word, the well-known eretz. In view of the fact that the Book of Ether, speaking only of the Jaredites, notes that "there were none of the fair sons and daughters upon the face of the whole earth who repented of their sins" (XIII:17), it would seem that the common "whole earth" (kol haaretz) of the Old Testament need not always be taken to mean the entire globe. Certainly it is quite as legitimate to think of the days of Peleg as the time when, as the old Jewish writers describe it, "the children of Noah began to divide the earth among themselves," 36 as, without the least authority, to visualize the drifting of the continents or the rending apart of the terrestrial globe. A reader's first reaction to an ancient and fragmentary text usually becomes a lifelong credo, though research and revelation have combined in latter days to discredit this obvious and easy solution of the mysteries. The Book of Ether, like First Nephi, is, when we come to examine it, heavily weighted in the direction of sober and factual history and was never meant to be a springboard for the imagination; for example, our record does not attribute the scattering of the people, as one might innocently suppose it does, to the confusion of tongues. After the brother of Jared had been assured that he and his people and their language would not be confounded, the question of whether they would be driven out of the land still remained to be answered: that was another issue, and it is obvious that the language they spoke had as little to do with driving them out of the land as it did with determining their destination. It was something else that drove the reluctant Jaredites from their homes. What could have forced them to leave? History to be sober and factual need not deal with the dull, normal, and everyday. The confounding and scattering of the people of the tower was no slow working out of the historical process. It was sudden and terrible, and the Book of Ether gives the clearest possible indication of what caused it.

But this introduces a theme on which it is impossible for me to speak with brevity. Let us consign it to a later communication.


1. Numbers refer to bibliography at end of article.

2. For the classic treatments of the tower, see A. Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients (Leipzig: 1916), pp. 168-180; W. Andrae, "Das Gotteshaus und die Urformen des Bauens, in Das Alten Orient" 1930, 1 ff; Theod, Dombart, Der Sakralturm (1920), and "Der babylonische Turn," in Das Alte Orient XXIX (1930), Heft 2; Eric Burrows, in S. H. Hooke (ed.), The Labyrinth (London: 1937), and below, n. 19.

3. The Book of Enoch VI, 2; The Book of Jasher IX, 20ff; E.A.W. Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus (Oxford: 1932), I, 3 (ch. 4).

4. H. Nibley, "The Arrow, the Hunter, and the State," The Western Political Quarterly II (1949), 339ff.

5. Nibley, loc. cit., cf. William Nestle, "Legenden vom Tod der Gottesverachter," Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft XXXIII (1936), 246-270.

6. The vague "before the Lord" of the King James version (Gen. X:9) conceals the true meaning, rendered "against the Lord" by the Rabbinical and early Christian writers; on this head see K. Preisendanz in Pauly-Wissowa, Realenzyklopaedie der Altertumswissenschaft XVII, 624.

7. Under the direction of Nimrod men said, "We will ascend to heaven and smite him (God) with bows and spears; and God knew all their works . . . and he saw the city and the tower which they were building," thus Jasher IX, 20, cf. G. Sale, The Koran ch. xxi, p. 269. The same custom and the same arrogance is reported of the ancient Thracians, Herodotus, Hist. IV, 94.

8. See the article on Nimrod in the Jewish Encyclopedia; cf. Book of Enoch X, 7-10 on Azazel the mad hunter to whom "is ascribed all sin," who "led the angels in their pursuit of the daughters of men," etc.; Preisendanz, loc. cit.

9. Clemens Romanus, Homilia ix, 3-5, in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca II, 241-4.

10. Chron. Paschal. xxxvi, in Migne, Patrol. Graec. XCII, 145.

11. Koran xxxi, 68f; cf. Anon. Chron. in Migne Patrol. Latina III, 680.

12. Mahbub (Agapius) of Menbij, Kitab al-Unwan (ed. A. Vasiliev), in Patrologia Orientalia V, 631; Bar Hebraeus, Chronography (Budge I, 8); on Nimrod the usurper who "slew his father and took his mother to wife," C. M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta (New York: Random House, 1937), II, 32.

13. Boscawen, "The Legend of the Tower of Babel," Bibl. Archaeological Soc. Transactions V (1876), 303ff.

14. A. J. Carnoy, Iranian Mythology (vol. VI of Mythology of all Races, Boston, 1917), p. 321. When Seth succeeded Adam in the priesthood, he ordered a special record to be kept, which was called the Book of Life but was concealed from the sons of Cain, according to the Persian antiquarian Tha'labi, Kitab Qisas al-Anbya-i (Cairo, A. H. 1345), p. 33; the Dragon's Book was an imitation of this. In some accounts Jemshid himself, the first king and father of the human race, is described as the usurper; e.g. Ad-Diyarbakri, Tarikh al-Khamis (Cario, A. H. 1283), I, 67; C. Huart and L. Delaporte, L'Iran Antique (Paris: A. Michel, 1943), pp. 454f.

15. K. Preisendanz, in Pauly-Wissowa, Realenzykl. XVII, 625f. Kraeling (in Jnl. Bibl. Lit. 66 (1947), 289, n. 1) has finally accepted Eduard Meyer's much-doubted theory (Geschichte des Altertums II. 2.31f), that the name is Egypto-Lybian.

16. O. Emin, Izsledovania i Statyi (Moscow, 1896) pp. 301-3.

17. I have treated this subject at some length in an article, "The Hierocentric State," in The Western Political Quarterly III (1951), 226-253. For a survey of various such primordial mountains, T. H. Gaster, Thespis (N.Y.: Schuman, 1950), pp. 184f, 169-171; H. R. Hall in Journal of Egyptian Archaeology X (1924), 185ff.

18. C. J. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East (London: 1948), p. 1; Dahhak-Jemshid (above n. 20) is a typical example of this.

19. Jasher VIII, 39-46.

20. A. Jeremias, Das Alte Testament, pp. 158f; Jewish Encycl., s. v. Nimrod; Preisendanz, Pauly-Wissowa, RE XVII, 627.

21. Quote is from Jasher VII, 24-30; others given in Jewish Encycl. loc. cit.; cf. Jeremias, loc. cit.

22. A. von Gall, Basileia tou Theou (Heidelberg: 1926, p. 330, citing II Enoch xxii, 8.

23. Robert Eisler, Iesous Basileus ou Basileusas (Heidelberg: 1930) II, 33-38. Eisler (p. 33) cites the tradition that John the Baptist wore the garment of raw skin ('or, Gen. III:21) in place of the original garment of light ('or) worn before the fall; various early cults, forbidding the slaying of animals, changed the skin garment into a hair garment, id. II, 16, 34, 118f, cf. F. Dieterici, (ed.), Thier und Mensch (Leipzig:1881), pp. 22, 97.

24. Joh. Chrysostome, Homil. in Mat. X: 4, in Patrol. Graec. LVIII, 1880 & 1892; this and the anon. Life of John the Baptist are both cited in Eisler II, 36, n. 6. According to the Book of Jubilees (2nd century B.C.) (ed. R. H. Charles) III, 30f, ". . . to Adam he (God) gave a covering for his shame. . . . On this account it is prescribed on the heavenly tablets as touching all those who know the judgment of the law, that they should cover their shame, and should not uncover themselves as the gentiles uncover themselves."

25. Eisler, op. cit. II, 78-81; Josephus, Antiquities III, 182-7, cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. I, vi.

26. Eisler, op. cit. II, 35, 78, 109f; A. von Gall, op. cit., pp. 330-2, cit. Baruch Apoc. c.iv; Enoch LXII, 15; II Enoch XXII, 8; Rev. III:4f; VI:11; the Mandaeans believed the garment of John the Baptist would be given to all who were admitted to salvation (Eisler, II, 33), cf. Odes of Solomon xxv, 8; and the 2nd-century Apostolic writing published by C. Schmidt, Gesprache Jesu mit seinen Jungern (Leipzig: 1919), p. 72. Related to the baptismi vestamentum of the Early Christians, Tertullian, De Baptismo xiii, in Patrol. Lat. I, 1323 (1215).

27. By an extremely common type of transposition, simlah of Gen. IX:23 could very easily stand for an original tsimlah, a copy, imitation, pattern or salmah, a garment or mantle as in Mic. 2:8. Even as it stands simlah means only a woven garment and can hardly refer to the original skin article.

28. See above n. 21; cf. J. Poplicha, "The Biblical Nimrod and the Kingdom of Eanna," Journal of the Am. Oriental Soc. XLIX (1929), 304.

29. Abraham I:26-27. Abraham's refusal to make the exchange was the real reason for his being expelled from Egypt, according to apocryphal writers. According to a very old tradition, Pharaoh coveted the priesthood of Moses exactly as his ancestor Nimrod did that of Abraham, Dieterici, Thier u. Mensch, p. 112; It was said that the Pharaohs of Egypt dressed in a skin garment "to show that their origin was older than time itself," A Wunsche, Salomons Thron und Hippodrom (Ex Oriente Lux ii), p. 26.

30. Jewish Encyclop, IX 309: "When the animals saw Nimrod clad in them, they crouched before him so that he had no difficulty in catching them."

31. Jasher XXVII, 2ff.

32. Above n. 36; Egyptian priests, royalty, and the dead were all clothed in the classic skin garment of the Egyptian priesthood in Jnl. of Eg. Archaeol. XVI (1930), 173. The kaunakes of the Sumerians was a heavy skin garment wholly unsuited to the climate of Babylonia and has for that reason been taken as proof that the Sumerians came from the North, Moret, Hist. de l'Orient, I, 21, n. 81; vs. G. Barton, "Whence Came the Sumerians?" Jnl. Am. Or. Soc. XLIX (1929), 263. M. R. James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: 1924) p. 413, cf. p. 411, on "the garment of the King of Kings." In 1939 an amber statuette was found showing the King of Assyria wearing the insignia of the Jewish High Priest, Illustrated London News.

33. In later times the Egyptian priest wore "no real leopard-skin but a close-fitting coat of fine linen in the form of a leopard-skin, "H. R. Hall in Jnl. Eg. Archaeol. XVI, 1, cf. T. J. C. Baly, "The Opening of the Mouth," Jnl. Eg. Arch. XVI, 173. The Syrian Christians said that the garment given to Adam was of cotton, the "skin" of the tree," (Eisler, op. cit. II, 34); this doctrine they say, was known only to Moses "who called cotton 'skin' because among trees it takes the place of skin"; hence the idea that John the Baptist took his clothes from trees. The Jews retained traces of the older garment in their phylacteries and in the Sisith, the four strings that every Jew once had on the edge of his garment, see F. J. Stephens, "The Ancient Significance of Sisith," Jnl. Bibl. Lit. L (1931), 59ff. Compare the Irham of the Moslems (J. L. Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia (London: 1829), I, 104f; 163f).

34. Eisler, op. cit. II, 34, n. 11 for references.

35. Among traditions of the dispersion, that story is not lacking of the righteous man whose language was not changed. Certain rabbis, says Bar Hebraeus, Chron. ed. Budge I, 8f, teach that "the Hebrew was preserved with Abher (Eber), for he was a righteous man and did not agree to the building of the tower." This theory is necessary to defend the belief, popular among the Jews, that Hebrew is the language of paradise. The Book of Ether is much more realistic.

36. Book of Jubilees VIII, 9.


By Hugh Nibley, Ph.D.



Dear F.

IT is gratifying to know that you have at last read the Book of Ether and found that it is not, in spite of its name, "chloroform in print." The thing to which you are now objecting, "the extravagant and overdone account of how they crossed the ocean," is the very thing to which my last letter was leading. We ended, you will recall, with the observation that it must have been something terrific that drove the Jaredites out of the land. What was it?

The burans of Central Asia are terrible at all times. Ancient and modern travelers tell almost unbelievable but uniform tales of those appalling winds which almost daily shift vast masses of sand, dust, and even gravel from one part of the continent to another. 1 2 The great loess deposits on the eastern and western fringes of the vast area bear witness to even more dreadful dust storms that accompanied the drying up of the land after the glacial epoch. But it is when the world's weather gets out of hand, as it has a number of times in the course of history, that the blowing sands of Asia bring mighty empires to ruin, bury great cities almost overnight, and scatter the tribes in all directions to overrun and submerge the more favored civilizations of the east and west. The weather of Asia is the great central driving-mechanism of world history. It is only of recent years that men have begun to correlate the great migrations of history, with their attendant wars and revolutions, with those major weather crises such as the great wind and drought of 2300-2200 B.C. and the world floods of 1300 B.C. which we now know to have taken place in the course of recorded history. 3 So hypnotized have students of society become by the ease and directness with which an evolutionary rule-of-thumb may be applied to all the contingencies of life, that the raging of the elements and the crash of empires go unheeded in their graphs and handbooks. With examples gross as earth before them, they still disdain to recognize anything as cheaply sensational as plagues and earthquakes, nor will they acknowledge the frightening speed with which the scenes of world history are shifted.

Sir Aurel Stein in his book Lou-Lan has described the deserted houses and streets of that city standing exactly as they did fourteen centuries ago, when their inhabitants were driven forth by drought so sudden and severe that neither the wood of the fruit trees nor the most delicate fabrics have rotted since then. The mighty city of Etsina was just as suddenly deserted six hundred years ago, and not found until 1908: "all natural life died. The trees of the forest threw themselves to the ground (referring, of course, to the terrible winds) ... and storms arose which soon buried the country in sand." To this day the trees remain undecayed, "like sun-dried mummies, dead, naked and gray. ... Over a vast area, once shady forest, they lay in thousands. ... We passed other ruins of deserted strongholds, and with strange sensations dug up objects that no human being had touched for more than six hundred years. ..." 4 The same traveler who reports these things was to witness the recurrence of this familiar Asiatic tragedy with his own eyes:

Once we came upon an abandoned Sart village, where newly thrown-up dams and uncompleted excavations bore witness to the departed population's desperate struggle to retain the vanishing water. ... But a day had come when there was no more water to be had. The animals stood by the watering places and sought in vain for moisture, the women wept in the houses, and the men gathered in the mosque to pray to Allah for the miracle which alone could save their many homes. (Cf. Ether I:38). But no miracle happened; the village got no water, and in the last extremity of famine the people had thrown their most indispensable possessions onto the remaining horses and donkeys and hastily left their homes and the lands of their fathers to follow their aksakal (n. village elder, cf. the Brother of Jared) out into the parched country around on a desperate search for water. 5

The fate of the unhappy wanderers is thus described: "Later on we sometimes met with small parties of these former agricultural villagers, who now drifted about out on the steppes as unhappy nomads. The fugitives had been obliged to divide into small groups, since no one water-hole could accommodate them all. ..." 6

Is not this the story of the dispersion in miniature? You know the story of how the ancestors of the Etruscans were driven out of Asia Minor by drought and moved to the west, hunting for a promised land. It is not merely water these people were looking for, but a better land, above all, a better grazing land. In the epic of the Beni Hilal we are shown how one of the greatest of Arab tribes was driven from their homes by seven years of hot winds, and how they sought a promised land, first in Central Asia and then in Morocco. It was when the rest of the world was smitten with famine that Egypt became the refuge of the patriarchs, for "there was corn in Egypt." As you know, there are two classic points or centers of radiation from which all the great migrations of antiquity took their beginning—the heart of Asia and (to a far lesser degree) the Arabian desert. Is it not remarkable that the migrations of the Book of Mormon take their departure from these same two centers?

You must get over the idea that history moves at a slow, even, majestic pace. It does not. The sudden calamity that overtook an Asian village in 1927 has struck repeatedly in the past, dispersing the inhabitants of mighty capitals to become wanderers on the earth, "and when the storm laid itself to rest, the flying sands solidified again and the terrified nomads found the whole face of nature changed into new shapes." 7 And of all the many cities and empires dispersed by a sudden puff of burning air, Babel, the city of the tower, has left behind the richest deposit of legend and tradition.

Eusebius in his Chronicon, which has proved one of the most reliable sources of early oriental history, cites the Sibyll to the effect that "when all men were of one tongue, some of them built a high tower so as to mount up to heaven, but God destroyed the tower by mighty winds. 8 Two centuries earlier Theophilus of Antioch gave a fuller version of the story, quoting the Sibyll in verse: "After the cataclysm cities and kings had a new beginning, in this manner. The first city of all was Babylon ... and one by the name of Nimrod became its king. ... Since at that time men tended to become scattered, they took counsel of themselves and not of the Lord, to build a city and a tower the top of which would reach to heaven, so that their own name might be glorified. ... Thus speaks the Sibyll: But when the threats of the great God were fulfilled of which he had warned mortal men at the time, they built a tower in the Assyrian land. They all once spoke the same language and wanted to mount up to the starry heavens. But forthwith the Immortal One laid great stress upon the blasts, so that the wind overthrew the mighty tower, and drove mortals to strive with one another. And when the tower had fallen, the languages of men were divided up into many dialects, so that the earth became filled with different kingdoms of men." 9 The Book of Jubilees (second century B.C.) tells how "the Lord sent a mighty wind against the tower and overthrew it upon the earth, and behold it was between Asshur and Babylon in the land of Sinar, and they called its name "Overthrow." 10 The zealous and learned Persian antiquary. Tha'labi (d. 1030 A.D.), records the report that the people were scattered from the tower by an awful drought, accompanied by winds of such velocity as actually to blow down the tower. 11 "Forty years after the tower was finished," says Bar Hebraeus, who collected a vast amount of lore in central Asia in the thirteenth century, "God sent a wind, and the Tower was overturned and Nemrodh died in it." 12 The picture of violent atmospheric disturbances accompanied by social upheavals, the scattering of tribes, and the changing of languages cannot but go back to some real experience; not only is it the sort of thing one would expect, but it is also definitely known to have happened time and time again—there is no reason for doubting that a great city called Babel once long ago suffered the same fate as the people of 'Ad and Thamud, of Lou Lan, Etsingol or the Nasamonians. 13

An artis's conception of the building of the vessels by Jared and his people.

Painting by Goff Dowding

But what of the Book of Mormon? In striking contrast to the story of Lehi, where the only terrors met on the journey by land and sea were the normal and familiar ones, including a typhoon, we have in the history of the Jaredite migration a very freakish state of things. The Lord commanded Nephi to build "a ship"—an ordinary ship, which his brothers felt sure he would never be able to finish. Yet the ship was finished, and the family set sail. There is no mention of the Lord's giving any specifications for the building of this ship, indeed, as Nephi describes it, he was left largely on his own as a test of his faith, and his brethren apparently had no scornful comments to make on the type of ship he was building. From which we conclude that it was, as it is repeatedly called, simply "a ship." Now, Lehi's people had to cross at least twice and probably three or four times as much water as the Jaredites, and an ordinary ship sufficed for their purpose. But Jared's ships were altogether unusual vessels. The Lord gave the builder special instructions for every detail. They had to be submersible and yet ride very lightly on the surface of the waves. "They were small and they were light upon the water," yet built to stand terrific pressure: "exceedingly tight," "tight like unto a dish," with special sealed vent holes that could not be opened when the water pressure on the outside was greater than the air pressure within. The Lord explained why it would be necessary to build such peculiar vessels: because he was about to loose winds of incredible violence that would make the crossing a frightful ordeal at best: any windows, he warns, will be dashed to pieces; fire will be out of the question; "ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you ... 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? (Ether II:23-25.) This was no normal crossing and no brief passing storm: "the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters ... they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind." (VI:5f.) It is perfectly clear from our account that the party was to spend a good deal of time below the surface of the sea! Of course such phenomenal and continual winds cannot have been a mere local disturbance, and we may confidently assume that the Book of Ether is reporting the same super-winds that are said to have accompanied and possibly caused the destruction of the tower.

In so many words, the Book of Ether tells us that at the time of the dispersion the world was swept by winds of colossal violence. There are three main sources for checking on this: (1) the old traditions of the tower, (2) actual historical records of other places that have suffered the same fate as Babel, thereby showing that the fate of Babel was a possible, nay a typical one, and (3) the studies of the paleoclimatologists, showing that sudden world droughts accompanied by very high winds have taken place within historic times. I suppose that one would only have to find the next major catastrophe before 2300 B. C. in order to date the Tower of Babel with some accuracy. Meantime, I must insist again, we are concerned only with the sort of thing that happened. Not only does the Bible not mention the winds, but the Book of Mormon itself does so casually, albeit very specifically, by way of explaining something else. This very casualness is a strong argument for the authenticity of the record.

As we said at the beginning, the Book of Ether leads one into the strangest regions. Now we shall demonstrate the surprising fact that even at its oddest, our story never loses touch with historical reality. That is going to take a good deal of time and paper, so let this suffice for the present and expect more.


1. D. & C., 89:4.

2. Numbers refer to bibliography at end of article.

3. John de Pian de Carpini opens his account of his travels in Central Asia in the 13th century with a description of these winds, M. Komroff (Ed.) Contemporaries of Marco Polo (N.Y.: Liveright, 1927), p. 4. Such modern explorers as G. N. Roerich, Trails to Inmost Asia (Yale University, 1931), refer to them repeatedly, e.g. p. 49: "We were approaching the great desert basin of inner Asia, and each breath of wind brought dust from its vast sandy expanse." Pp. 110, 193-5, 210, 404, etc.

4. "Good general treatments of the major weather changes in ancient history may be found in C. E. P. Brooks, Climate Through the Ages (London, 1926). A. R. Burn, Minoans, Philistines, and Greeks (N. Y., Knopf, 1930.) Christopher Dawson, The Age of the Gods (London, Murray, 1928). Ed Eyre, European Civilization, I, 94f, 103; J. B. S. Haldane, "A Biologist Looks at England," Harpers 175 (Aug. 1937) pp. 284, 286. V. G. Childe, New Light on the Most Ancient East (N.Y.: 1934), Ch. ii.

5. Henning Haslund, Men and Gods in Mongolia (N.Y.: Dutton, 1935), p. 108, 106-110.

6. Idem, pp. 176-8.

7. Id., p. 177.

8. Id., p. 106.

9. Eusebius, Chronicon I, iv, in Patrol, Grace. XIX, 116.

10. In Patrol. Grace. VI, 1101; virtually the same text in the Sibyll (ed. R. H. Charles) III, 98. The idea that the tower was built expressly to unify the human race which was tending to become dispersed is found in Sibyll V, 423: "touching the very clouds and seen of all, so that all the faithful and all the righteous may see the glory of the invisible God." Of this idea Kraeling says Jnl. Bibl. Lit. 66, 282f, "Here is indeed a primitive, yet profound philosophy concerning the nature of the Oriental city." Whether Babel was a tower or a city (Kraeling, op. cit. pp. 280-2) is a mere quibble, since the two normally go together. In spite of everything, God cursed the project because it was undertaken by men on their own without consulting him: "Woe to thee, Babylon, golden-throned and golden-sandaled, thou who for many a year wast queen, sole sovereign of the world, of old so great and cosmopolitan. ... Sibyll V, 434f.)

11. Book of Jubilees, X, 25f (R. H. Charles).

12. Tha'labi, Qissas al-Anbiya, p. 43.

13. Bar Hebraeus, Chron. (Budge) I, p. 8.

14. For 'Ad and Thamud, R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs (Cambridge, 1930), Ch.i; Herodotus II, 32, tells how the wicked and presumptuous Nasamonians were forced to leave their land by drought, only to be buried in the sands by terrible winds that overtook them on their wanderings. The suddenness of the fall of world-ruling Babylon made an ineradicable impression on the minds of men, who have applied the name of that city as a "code-word" to every doomed world-metropolis since then, e.g. Rome, Alexandria; B. Meissner, Babyl. und Assyr. I, 385-6.

By Hugh Nibley, Ph. D.


Dear F., So you think my account of the Big Wind is a bit farfetched. I make no claim that the tower was blown over, but only point out that the ancients had a very old, widespread, and persistent tradition that its fall was accompanied by high winds. This I correlate with the description of the winds in the Book of Ether. To show you that such a thing is possible, however, I will give you one historical parallel. Qazwini in his Cosmography says that the great dome of Bagdad was a sign and symbol of the power and unity of the land. Scholars have often pointed out that the Tower of Babel served as a like symbol. Qazwini further informs us that this mighty structure was destroyed by a terrible wind-at least he says it fell during a windstorm and leaves us to draw our conclusions. 1


From the plain of Shinear the Jaredites moved northward into a valley named after Nimrod, the mighty hunter, and thence "into that quarter where there never had man been" (Ether 2:5). This would take them into the land of great broad valleys where the Tigris, Euphrates, Kura, and Araks rivers have their headwaters, a "hub of radiating valleys and routes to which the Euphrates owes its importance as a highway of commercial and military penetration." 2 The frequent occurrence of the name of Nimrod in this area, which we have already noted, may not be without genuine significance, for no historical phenomenon has been more thoroughly demonstrated than the extreme tenacity of place names. In many instances place names still in use among illiterate peasants or nomads have been proved to go back to prehistoric times.

Whether the party moved east or west from the valley of Nimrod is not a major issue, though a number of things favor an eastern course. For one thing, there is the great length of the journey: "for this many years we have been in the wilderness" (Ether 3:3); such a situation calls not only for vast expanses to wander in, but a terrain favorable to cattle-raising nomads and a region "in which there never had man been," conditions to which the Asiatic rather than the European areas conform. But most revealing is the report that "the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land, while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind" (Ether 6:8). Now whether the Jaredites sailed from eastern or western shores, they would necessarily have to cross the ocean between the thirtieth and sixtieth parallels north, where the prevailing winds are westerly right around the world. Since the cause of these winds is tied up with the revolution of the earth and the relative coolness of the polar regions, it may be assumed that the same winds prevailed in Jared's time as in ours. Of course, one cannot be too dogmatic on such a point, for weather has changed through the ages, and freak storms do occur; yet the extreme steadiness of the wind strongly suggests prevailing westerlies and a North Pacific crossing, since it would have meant a headwind all the way had the voyagers attempted the Atlantic. The length of the sea journey, 344 days, tells us nothing, since the vessels, though driven before the wind, apparently did not use sails: the almost perpetual hurricane conditions would have made sails impossible even if they had had them. But the fact that the party spent almost a year on the water even with the winds behind them certainly suggests the Pacific, and recalls many tales of Chinese junks that through the centuries have been driven helplessly before the wind to end up after a year or so at sea stranded on the beaches of our West Coast. 3 Then too, we must not forget that a mountain of "exceeding height" stood near the point of Jaredite embarkation (Ether 3:1), and that there is no such mountain on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, as there are at many points on the Asiatic shore.

But east or west, from the Baltic to the Pacific, "from the Gobi desert and the border of Korea to the Lower Danube and the Carpathian Mountains," a single way of life has prevailed since the dawn of history, conditioned by a remarkably uniform type of terrain. 4 A number of authoritative studies in the so-called Art of the Steppes, and the excavations of the Russians in recent years have confirmed the most extravagant speculations on the extent, antiquity, and uniformity of the steppe cultures. The newly discovered Kelteminarian culture, for example, would seem to bind together all the major languages of Europe and central Asia in a single, vast, prehistoric continuum that embraces not only the Indo-European family but the Turanian as well and even the ancient non-Aryan languages of India. 5 Asia is the classic land of wandering tribes and nations, with a common type of culture and society which, as we shall see, is perfectly exemplified by the Jaredites.

Only the book of Ether sees the now dry and dusty landscapes under peculiar conditions: "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. 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" (Ether 2:6-7; italics added). The crossing of many waters under continual direction comes as a surprise, "the sea" in question being apparently but one—though the most formidable—of many waters to be crossed. Now it is a fact that in ancient times the plains of Asia were covered with "many waters," which have now disappeared but are recorded as existing well down into historic times; they were of course far more abundant in Jared's time. Even as late as Herodotus, the land of the Scythians (the region into which Jared's people first advanced) presented formidable water barriers to migration: "The face of the country may have differed considerably from what it is now," says Vernadsky, "the rivers were much deeper and many lakes were still left from the glacial age which later turned into swamps." 6 Indeed, Pumpelly's theory of the development of civilization from oasis cultures rests on the assumed existence of vast inland seas, now vanished, but well attested even as late as the Chinese annals, which speak of "expansive bodies of water of which Lob-nor and other shrunken lakes and brackish tarns are the withered survivals." 7 The steady and continual drying up of the Asiatic "heartland" since the end of the last ice age is one of the basic facts of history and is even looked upon by some experts as the mainspring of world history. But it is a relatively recent discovery. Whoever wrote the book of Ether showed remarkable foresight in mentioning waters rather than deserts along the migrants' way, for most of the deserts are of very recent origin, while nearly all the ancient waters have completely vanished. We need only remind ourselves that Sven Hedin has discovered that there are lakes which actually move in Central Asia!

The Moving Host

Ether's account of "crossing the plains" is an Asiatic idyll. Nothing essential is missing. First of all, the steppe is darkened by "flocks, both male and female, of every kind," and if we look more closely fowl, fish, even bees, and "seed of the earth of every kind" are not wanting. Moreover the brother of Jared was instructed to admit to his company anyone whom he felt like taking: "also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families" (Ether 1:41). Here is another striking contrast with the Lehi story: unlike the people of the sands, these ancients do not form their societies on the basis of blood relationship—the friends of Jared and the friends of his brother are two separate groups, as they would not be if they were relatives. Apparently whoever is a friend is a supporter and member of the tribe, and this rule, significantly enough, has been a basic law of Asiatic society from the earliest recorded times, when the formula "I counted them among my people" was applied to whatever people a king could subdue, regardless of race or language. 8

All these families with their herds and their baggage moved through the valleys and out over the plains with the intent and expectation of becoming "a great nation" and finding a promised land; in all of which they are typical Asiatic nomads of the old school, as a few examples should make clear.

Ammianus Marcellinus, writing in the fourth century A.D., describes the Alans on the march as resembling "a moving city." All the people of Asia migrate in the same way, he explains, driving vast herds before them as they go, mounted on the backs of beasts, with their families and household effects following along on great ox-drawn wagons. In spite of their wealth of cattle, says Ammianus, the people hunt and plunder as they go. 9 The Huns, who defeated and supplanted the Alans, kept the same customs, as in turn did their successors, and so on, 10 until in the thirteen century William of Rubruck, traveling as a spy and observer for Louis IX of France, uses almost the very words of Ammianus: "On the next day we met with the carts of the Scacatai laden with houses, and I thought that a mighty city came to meet me. I wondered also at the huge droves of oxen, and horses, and at the flocks of sheep." 11 In the present century Pumpelly describes how "a thousand Kirghiz families descended from the passes round about, with their long camel trains caparisoned and rich-laden with nomadic wealth, and each caravan with its flocks of sheep and goats, herds of camels and cattle and horses." 12 Note that the herds of all these people consist of every type of animal—to us an almost inconceivable mix-up: "flocks of every kind," says Ether, who seems to know what he is talking about. If you want to move backward in the time scale, you will find at an age far more remote from Ammianus than he is from our own, the annals of the Assyrian kings swarming with the same huge herds of cattle, sheep, horses, camels, and human beings, all mixed up together and moving across the plains either as prisoners of mighty conquerors or as seekers after escape and security in some promised land. 13 It is a touching and tragic picture, that of the wandering tribes ever seeking for new homelands—promised lands where they might settle and become "mighty nations." Almost without exception these people, however terrible they may appear to us or to the weaker tribes that lay in their way, were actually refugees who had been driven from their native farms and pastures by the pressure of still other tribes who in the end had been forced to move by the common necessity which the weather imposes from time to time on the users of marginal and sub-marginal grasslands. 14

If the Jaredites mixed their cattle, they also seem to have mixed their professions, and you might well ask, what were they: hunters, herdsmen, or farmers? You might ask the same of any normal Asiatic society and get the same answer: They are all three. McGovern repeatedly points out that the tribes of the steppes have at all times been hunters, herdsmen, and farmers all at once. 15 And in my recent studies on the state I have shown that they were the original city builders to the bargain. All the tribes we have just mentioned, for example, were expert hunters, though none lacked animals in plenty. Typical is the case of the Manchu-Solons who when murrain destroyed their herds took to farming, yet they "plough no more than hunger compels them to, and in years when game is plentiful they do not plough at all," 16 that is, they are hunters, cattlemen, or cultivators as conditions require or permit. Let us be careful, then, not to oversimplify our picture of what life was like in the first civilizations and dream up Cecil B. DeMille ideas about "primitive" conditions that never existed.

It is a remarkable thing that mention of flocks of any kind is conspicuously absent from the history of Lehi, though that story is told in considerable detail. What an astonishing contrast! The one group hastening away from Jerusalem in secrecy to live a life of hunting and hiding in the desert and almost dying of starvation, and the other accepting volunteers, as it were, from all sides, moving out in a sort of massive front, driving innumerable beasts before them and carrying everything from libraries to hives of bees and tanks of fish! It would be hard to conceive of two more diametrically opposite types of migration, yet each fits perfectly with the customs and usages recorded throughout history for the part of the world to which the Book of Mormon assigns it.

But how could the Jaredites have carried all that stuff with them? The same way other Asiatics have always done—in wagons. And such wagons! "Measuring once the breadth between the wheel ruts of one of their carts," William of Rubruck reports, "I found it to be twenty feet over. . . . I counted twenty-two oxen in one team, drawing a house upon a cart . . . the axletree of the cart was of huge size, like the mast of a ship." 17 Marco Polo saw the houses of the Tartars mounted "upon a sort of cart with four wheels." 18 Seventeen hundred years before Marco Polo, Xenophon beheld enormous wagons on the plains of Asia, drawn by eight yokes of oxen, 19 and yet a thousand years earlier we have reports of how the Philistines rolled into Palestine with their families and their possessions loaded on huge, solid-wheeled affairs drawn by four oxen. 20 To this day the archaic type of wagon has survived in the immense ceremonial wagons of India and the huge cars in which such plainsmen as the Buriats carry their gods across the steppes. 21 But can we say the wagon is possibly as old as the Jaredites?

In all probability it is. We now have a few samples of such high antiquity as to come within hailing distance of the flood itself, and these vehicles have already acquired the form and perfection which they are to keep without major alteration for thousands of years to come. The teams and wagons from the royal tombs at Ur, the el-Agar chariot found in 1937, the Khafaje car, prehistoric wagon tracks everywhere, all point to the great antiquity and central Asiatic origin of the wagon. 22 The last-named vehicle, dating from the fourth millennium B.C., was horse-drawn and justifies Gertrud Hermes in her conclusion that the horse was not only known "but actually used, at least in some places, as a draught animal with war chariots" at a surprisingly early date. 23

H. G. Wells once wrote a vivid description of how a primitive man swinging from a branch one day landed to his surprise on the back of a grazing horse that happened to walk under his tree. Such an event, he believes, would account most logically for the discovery of the art of riding. Perhaps it would, but that is not the way it happened according to the present-day consensus, which is that "driving everywhere preceded riding." Nay, McGovern tells how at a relatively recent date "the Scythians and Sarmatians hit upon the brilliant and original notion of mounting the animal they had long been accustomed to drive." 24 It is generally agreed that ox-drawn vehicles were older than horse-drawn, but both go back to the fourth millennium B.C., and though it would have been possible for the Jaredites to go afoot, as the Mongols themselves did as late as the sixth century B.C., it would not have been possible for them in such circumstances to have carried bird cages, beehives, and tanks of fish with them. There is not the slightest objection to their using wagons, especially since they had no shortage of beasts to pull them.

1. This dome was the symbol ('alam) of Baghdad, and the crown of the country, and the principal achievement of the sons of Abbas.'' cf. Genesis 11:4. The passage is in E. Harder, Arabische Chrestomathie (Heidelberg: Goos, 1911), 166.

2. Alexandre Moret, Histoire de l'Orient, 2 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1929-36), 1:306.

3. See Charles E. Chapman, A History of California: The Spanish Period (New York: Macmillan, 1926), 21-30.

4. The quotation is from Louis Marin, foreword to G. N. Roerich, Trails to Inmost Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931), ix.

5. V. Altman, "Ancient Khorezmian Civilization in the Light of the Latest Archaeological Discoveries (1937-1945),'' JAOS 67 (1947): 81-85.

6. George Vernadsky, Ancient Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), 15-16. In the 12th century it was possible to ward off invasion from the great central Asian kingdom of Khwarazm by flooding the country, Karl A. Wittfogel and Fêng Chia-Shêng, "History of Chinese Society Liao,'' TAPS 36 (1946): 647.

7. Raphael Pumpelly, Explorations in Turkestan, 2 vols. (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1908), 2:286; cf. 1:66, 70-75.

8. Hugh W. Nibley, "The Hierocentric State,'' WPQ 4 (1951): 245-46.

9. Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum XXXI, 2, esp. sections 18-22.

10. See the vivid description in Priscus Rhetor, De Legationibus Romanorum ad Gentes, in PO 113:7-9. written in 433 A.D.

11. William of Rubruck, ch. 12, in Manuel Komroff, ed., Contemporaries of Marco Polo (New York: Liveright, 1928), 76.

12. Raphael Pumpelly, Explorations in Turkestan, 2 vols. (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1908), 2:260.

13. David D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926-27), vol. 1.

14. The sense of being lost and on search for a promised land or an ancestral home has always dominated among the nomads of Asia, as is finely illustrated in a recent study of the Kirghiz, Semen I. Lipkin, Manas Vyelikodushnyi (Moscow: Sovietski Posaty, 1947).

15. William M. McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939), 73-78. Cf. Pumpelly, Explorations in Turkestan 1:39, 41, 67-69.

16. Henning Haslund, Men and Gods in Mongolia (New York: Dutton, 1935), 264.

17. William of Rubruck, ch. 2, in Komroff, Contemporaries of Marco Polo, 59.

18. T. Wright, ed., The Travels of Marco Polo (London: Bohn, 1854), 129 (bk. 1, ch. 47).

19. Xenophon, Cyropaedeia VI, 1, 52, 29, where he describes huge wood tower-wagons used in war.

20. For sources, Alexandre Moret, Histoire de l'Orient, 2 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1929-36), 2:584, n. 150.

21. M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia (Oxford: Clarendon, 1914), pl. 16.

22. Xenophon, Cyropaedeia VI, 1, 27, notes that "in ancient times Medes, Syrians, Aramaeans and all the inhabitants of Asia used to make use of those wagons which today survive only among the Cyrenaeans.''

23. Gertrud Hermes, Anthropos 31 (1925): 365-94, cf. 32 (1926): 105-27. For Tel Agrab chariot, discovered after Hermes' authoritative study appeared, see Henri Frankfort, "Revelations of Early Mesopotamian Culture,'' ILN (6 December 1937): 794-95.

24. McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia, 47; Bruno Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Winter, 1926), 1:93.

By Hugh Nibley, Ph. D.



My dear Professor F.

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 mere 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 enjoyed a position of great ritual prominence among the founders of the classical Egyptian civilization, who associated it very closely with the symbol of the bee. These people, the authors of the so-called Second Civilization, seem to have entered Egypt from the northeast as part of the same general migration that sent the makers of the classical Babylonian civilization into Mesopotamia. 1 Thus we have the founders of the two great parent civilizations of antiquity entering their new homelands at approximately the same time and from a common center—apparently the same center from which the Jaredites also took their departure, but more of this later. What concerns us here is that the Egyptian pioneers carried with them a fully developed cult and symbolism from their Asiatic home. 2 Chief among their cult objects would seem to be the bee, for the land they first settled in Egypt was forever after known as "the land of the bee," and designated in hieroglyphic by the picture of a bee, while every king of Egypt "in his capacity of 'King of Upper and Lower Egypt' " bore the title, "he who belongs to the sedge (the sign of Upper Egypt) and the bee (the sign of Lower Egypt)." 3

From the first, students of hieroglyphic were puzzled as to what sound value should be given to the bee-picture. 4 By the New Kingdom, according to Sethe, the Egyptians themselves had forgotten the original word, 5 and Grapow designates the bee-title of honor as "unreadable." 6 Is it not strange that such a common and such a 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 of Lower Egypt was often "substituted for superstitious reasons." 7 The substitution was a natural one, for the bee like the red crown was identical with the majesty of Lower Egypt. If we do not know the original name of the bee, we do know the designation of the red crown—the name it bore among other things when substituted for the bee. The name was dsrt (the vowels are not known, but we can be sure they were all short), 8 for the founders of Egyptian civilization called their land dsrt, and the crown they served dsrt. Now when the crown appears in place of the bee, it is sometimes called bit "bee," 9 yet the bee, though the exact equivalent of the crown, is never by the same principle called dsrt. This certainly suggests deliberate avoidance: If the Egyptians were reluctant to draw the picture of the bee "for superstitious reasons," they would certainly hesitate to pronounce its true name. The word dsrt happens to mean red in Egyptian and could safely be used in that connection but never applied to the bee. A familiar parallel immediately leaps to mind: To this day no one knows how the Hebrew word for God, YHW, 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 YHW is a very common verb form in Hebrew and as such used all the time. There are other examples of such substitution in Hebrew, and there must have been many in hieroglyphic which, as Kees points out, is really a kind of double talk.

That the Egyptians deliberately avoided calling the bee deseret while applying the name to things symbolized by it and even substituted for it is further indicated by another remarkable fact. The bee symbol spread in other directions from its original home, enjoying a prominent place in the mysteries of the Hittites, the Finnish Kalevala, and surviving in some nations in certain Easter rites. In all of these the bee is the agent through which the dead king or hero is resurrected from the dead, and it is in this connection that the bee also figures in the Egyptian rites. 10 Now the original "deseret" people, the founders of the so-called Second Civilization, claimed that their king, and he alone, possessed the secret of resurrection. That, in fact, was the cornerstone of their religion; it was nothing less than "the king's secret," the power over death by which he held his authority. 11 If the bee had any part in the profoundly secret royal resurrection rites of the Old Empire—and how else can we account for its presence in the later and more popular versions of the royal rites?—it is plain why its real name and office were carefully concealed from the world. I personally am persuaded that the archaic and ritual designation of the bee was deseret, a "word of power" too sacred to be entrusted to the vulgar, being one of the keys to "the king's secret."

In certain editions of the Book of Mormon, though not the first, the word deseret is capitalized, for the editors have recognized that it is really a title: "which by interpretation is a honeybee," as distinct from the "swarms of bees" which also went along. One might be justified, though we will not insist on it, in seeing in Deseret the national symbol or as it were the totem of Jared's people, 12 since the author of our record seems to attach unusual importance to it. Through the prehistoric haze we seem dimly to descry various tribes moving outward in all directions from a common center somewhere to the north of Mesopotamia to plant a common protohistoric civilization in various regions of the earth. And among their holiest possessions is the life-giving bee.

We need not resort to speculation, however, to make out an interesting case for deseret. Let us list the known facts and let it go at that. (1) The Jaredites in their wanderings took with them "a honeybee" which they called in their language deseret, as well as "hives of bees." (2) The founders of Egyptian Second Civilization had the bee as the symbol of their land, their king, and their empire, 13 to all of which they also applied the designation deseret, or something very close to it. (3) Though they never call the bee itself dsrt, the sign which is often "for superstitious reasons" written in its place is so designated. (4) The bee sign was always regarded by the Egyptians as very sacred: "As a determinative," says Sethe, "it is significant to note that it is always placed before any of the others. ..." 14 As is well known, this honor is the prerogative of the holiest objects only in the writing of hieroglyphic. Its extreme sacredness and its role in topsecret ritual amply explain, nay, all but demand, the suppression of its true name in the reading of texts.

To come down to modern times, it is to say the least a very picturesque coincidence that when the Lord's people migrated to a promised land in these latter days, they called the land Deseret and took for the symbol of their society and their government the honeybee. The Book of Ether is of course directly responsible for this, but it is hard to see how the book can have produced such a striking repetition of history without itself having a real historical basis. Deseret, the honeybee, seems quite at home in the twilight world of prehistory (which is, incidentally, exactly where the Book of Ether places it), but the numerous ties and parallels that must establish its reality still await investigation. Suffice it for the present to show that such evidence does exist.


(Draw your own conclusions)

This sign stands for:

1. The bee.

2. The Kingdom of Lower Egypt.

3. The Land of Lower Egypt.

4. Kingship in general.

5. Divinity.

6. Authority.

7. King of the gods. Godhead.
(Applied to Pharoah after the 19th Dynasty)

This sign stands for:

1. The Red Crown of Lower Egypt.

2. The Crown on the head of Re.

3. The King of Lower Egypt.

4. The Lord of the Red Crown, esp. Atum the Creator-god of Heliopolis (identified by some Egyptologists with Adam).

5. The oldest known symbol of sovereignty in the world = Sequence Date 35-39.

6. It first appears at Koptos, where it belongs to the Lady Neith. If the name Egypt was derived from Koptos, as some scholars maintain, the Lady of Koptos may have been Egyptus.

is called in the above contexts.

is called but its original name gives trouble.

Some entomologists think it is a hornet, in which case what is the Egyptian word for bee?

and may be substituted for each other.

When is substituted for it is read as if it were "bee."

Does this mean that is the "bee-crown"? Note the antenna!

If this is so then = also means bee-crown.


A few lines above I suggested that the Jaredites were but one of "various tribes moving outward in all directions from a common center ... to plant a common protohistoric civilization in various regions of the earth." I was thinking in terms of the latest researches, and it did not occur to me at the time that the picture of the great dispersion is exactly that depicted in the Bible and the Book of Mormon! If we are to believe these, a single civilization was spread throughout the world in the beginning, and historians have now learned that such was actually the case. Scholars no longer argue as to whether Egypt or Mesopotamia was the true founder of civilization, for we now know that both derived their light from a common source, "a world civilization, spread over an immense area and by no means localized in the Orient." "In the beginning at least," writes Professor Moret, "we cannot separate" the various civilizations of the old world, for they are all one. 15 In my recent studies on the ancient state I have tried to show that this amazing unity may be easily accounted for by the fact that all these civilizations trace their origin back to central Asia, whose people and whose institutions have throughout history periodically spilled over into other regions—India, China, Egypt, Europe—there to establish kingly and priestly dynasties. To top it off, Professor Frankfort now tells us that we must include the New World in this Asiatic system, for "in such striking cases as the Early Chinese bronzes, or the designs of Mexican sculpture or of the Northwest American Indians, one must reckon to a greater extent than most of us were hitherto prepared to admit, with the possibility of diffusion from Eastern Europe and the Middle East." 16 A few years ago this would have been high treason to American archaeologists. Now it brings the new world into the old world picture. In the case of the Nephites we can pinpoint the original old world cultures represented. In the case of the Jaredites we can almost do the same, for they came from the same region, to the north of Mesopotamia, that served in ancient times as a veritable martialing area for world invasions. That is where their culture belongs, and that is where it fits.

It is still too early to attempt a detailed picture of life in the days of the dispersion. "The archaeology of nomad central Asia is still in its infancy," writes G. N. Roerich. "A new branch of historical science is coming into being, the object of which will be to formulate laws that will build up the nomad state and to study the remains of a great forgotten past." 17 But the general picture begins to take form. Let me quickly sketch for you the rough outline.

The basic fact is space—vast expanses of grassland, woods, and mountains, where hunters and herdsmen have ranged since time immemorial, trespassing on each other's territory, raiding each other's settlements, stealing each other's cattle, and grimly pursuing or escaping each other by turns. In good times the tribes multiply, and there is crowding; in bad times they are forced to invade each other's lands in search of grass. The result is chronic chaos, a condition which has been a standing challenge to the genius and ambition of men with a talent for leadership. Periodically the Great Man appears in Asia to unite his own tribe in fanatical devotion to himself, subdue neighboring tribes one after another, and by crushing all resistance at last bring "peace and order" to the world. The endless expanse of the steppes and the lack of any natural boundaries call for statesmanship in the grand manner, the concept and techniques of empire being of Asiatic origin. For a time one mind nearly succeeds in ruling the world, but a quick reckoning comes when the Great Man dies: In a wild scramble for the throne among his ambitious relatives the universal empire promptly collapses: Space, the force that produced the super-state, now destroys it by allowing disgruntled or scheming heirs and pretenders to go off by themselves to distant regions and found new states with the hope in time of absorbing all the others and restoring world dominion. The chaos of the steppes is not the primitive disorder of savage tribes accidentally colliding from time to time; it is rather, and always has been, a shrewd game of chess, played by men of boundless arrogance and formidable intellect with mighty armies at their disposal. 18

Now to turn to the Jaredites, their whole history is the tale of a fierce and unrelenting struggle for power. The Book of Ether is a typical ancient chronicle—military and political history with casual references to the wealth and splendor of kings. You will note that the whole structure of Jaredite history hangs on a succession of strong men, most of them rather terrible figures. Few annals of equal terseness and brevity are freighted with an equal burden of wickedness. The pages of Ether are dark with intrigue and violence, strictly of the Asiatic brand. When a rival for the kingdom is bested, he goes off by himself in the wilderness and bides his time while gathering an "army of outcasts." This is done by "drawing off" men to himself through lavish bestowal of gifts and bribes. The forces thus won are retained by the taking of terrible oaths. When the aspirant to the throne finally becomes strong enough to dispose of his rival by assassination, revolution, or a pitched battle, the former bandit and outlaw in turn mounts the throne to cope with a new batch of rebels and pretenders. This you will instantly recognize as the biography of the typical Asiatic conqueror. It is a strange, savage picture of nightmare politics that the Book of Ether paints, but it is historically a profoundly true picture. Take a few examples.

In the oldest records of the race we find the supreme god, founder of the state and cult, "Winning his way to the throne by battle, often by violence against family predecessors, which generally involves horrific and obscene incidents." 19 So much for the antiquity of the system. There is now ample reason for believing that the oldest empires known to us were by no means the first, and that the familiar process goes back to prehistoric times: "Empires must have been formed and destroyed then as they were to be later on." 20 Such empires "were not the result of gradual expansion or development but rapidly became enormous empires under the leadership of a single great man," McGovern observes, "and under the reign of his successors slowly but surely declined," though in many cases they "disintegrate immediately after the death of their founders." 21

1. We are following Moret in this, Hist. de l'Orient.

2. Moret, op. cit. I, 173.

3. A. H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (Oxford, 1927), pp. 72-73.

4. See the speculations of W. Pleyte, "La Guepe," Ztschr. fü aegyptische Sprache IV (1866), p. 14f; Kurt Sethe, "Ueber einen vermeintlichen Lautwerth des Zeichens der Biene," Ibid. XXX (1892), 113-9; Karl Piehl, "La Lecture du Signe (Abeille)," Ibid. XXXVI (1898), p. 85.

5. Sethe, Aeug. Ztscher. XXX, 117.

6. H. Grapow, Aegypt. Handwrterbuch, 223.

7. Gardiner, op. cit., p. 491. The final "t" is the feminine ending, the root being dsr.

8. A. Erman & H. Grapow, Wrterbuch der aegypt. Sprache, I, 435.

9. T. H. Gaster, Thespis, pp. 364-367. In his notes on the Telepinu Myth, Gaster points to ties that connect the rites all over the ancient world.

10. Moret, op. cit. I, 75-180, 189, 207-222, 230ff, especially 257 f.

11. In Egypt "the kings of the North were incarnated in the totem of Bouto: a Bee (bit)"; Moret, op. cit. I, 178.

12. Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1928), vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 36

13. Erman & Grapow, op. cit. I, 434.

14. K. Sethe, in Aeg. Ztscher. XXX (1892), 118: Als Determinativ steht es aber, was zu beachten ist, stets allen anderen voran. ...

15. Moret, op. cit. I, 12.

16. H. Frankfort, Cylinder Seals (London, Macmillan, 1939), p. 311.

17. Trails to Inmost Asia, p. 123.

18. For a general treatment of this theme, see Ellsworth Huntington, Mainsprings of Civilization (N. Y., John Wiley, 1945), pp. 187-207.

19. C. J. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East (The Schweich Lectures 1945; London, 1948), p. 1.

20. Vernadsky, Ancient Russia, p. 27.

21. McGovern, Early Empires, p. 116 f.


By Hugh Nibley, Ph.D.


Dear F.

Continuing the theme of my letter:

AS TO the fugitive who gathers forces in the wilderness by "drawing off" people from his rival, in the first century there was Lu Fang, "the leader of a small military band, half soldiers, half bandits," who nearly won the Hunnish and Chinese empires for himself and would have done so had not some of his ambitious officers deserted him just as he had deserted others. 1 Having cheated his brother of the throne, Attila "hoped to subdue the entire world." 2 After Attila's death two of his descendants went out into the wilderness, and there gathered about them "armies of outcasts," each hoping in time to win back the world empire for himself. 3 You will remember that Genghis Khan 4 lived for years as an outcast and a bandit as he gathered around him the forces that were to conquer all his rivals. At the time, and most of the time, all the princes of central Asia, "the leaders, the bagadurs and noyans, strove to become independent by attracting subjects and followers of their own." 5 The great rulers of Asia have regularly passed from the risky station of bandit chief to the hardly less risky one of world monarch—and back again, in a world where "every man was filled with the desire to become an independent prince," and every independent prince to become lord of all. 6 Time and again "the boldest...adventurers flocked to the banner of the new and successful chieftain of the race," as in our own day the youth of all central Asia joined the fifteen-year-old Ma Chung-ying as he "calmly worked out a plan for the conquest of the whole world." 7

Not only is the Jaredite practice of seeking to "draw off" followers to an army that builds its forces and bides its time in the wilderness in the best Asiatic tradition, 8 but also the method of doing it is likewise the usual one. Thus Akish bound his followers around the nucleus of his family (the Asiatic conquerors are fanatically family-conscious) by lavish gifts, for "the people of Akish were desirous for gain, even as Akish was desirous for power; wherefore the sons of Akish did offer them money, by which means they drew away the more part of the people after them." (Ether 9:11.) It was the sons of Genghis Khan, you will remember, who did most of his campaigning for him, and from the very beginning the secret of his power was the huge heap of riches that always stood near his throne and from which, after the immemorial custom of the steppes, he rewarded all who joined him. 9 "The pattern of steppe imperialism" is ever the same, according to Vernadsky, beginning with "accumulated wealth in the hands of some able chieftain," which enables him to expand his popularity among neighboring clans." 10 The Jaredite pattern is well authenticated 11 and is nothing less than "the ancient law" of the khans. 12

But if the ambitious chieftain gains adherents by bribery, he keeps them by oaths. The oath is the cornerstone of the Asiatic state as of the Jaredite. Akish again furnishes an excellent example:

...Akish gathered in unto the house of Jared all his kinsfolk (this is always the first step with any Asiatic conqueror).

...and...they all sware unto him, by the God of heaven, and also by the heavens, and also by the earth, and by their heads, that whoso should vary from the assistance which Akish desired should lose his head....

And Akish did administer unto them the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain. (Ether 8:13-15.)

Note that these terrible oaths are traced back explicitly to the Old World. The very oldest texts in "the oldest language in the world," according to Hommel, are incantations "having the stereotyped conclusion: 'let it be sworn (or conjured) by the name of heaven, let it be sworn by the name of earth!' " 13 From the flood of documents that have come forth of recent years to teach us the ways of men at the dawn of history, it is apparent that oaths, conspiracies, and combinations were the established order of things from the beginning. What better illustration of this could one ask than the great Babylonian New Year's hymn, the "Enuma Elish," in which Tiamat, aiming at the rule of the universe, "draws off" the gods to her side, so that "they conspire unceasingly night and day" against the rightful ruler, and "gather themselves together in a host to make battle." When he heard the news, the true king sat upon his throne "grim and silent, without saying a word,..." then "He smote his thigh, he bit his lips, controlled his voice," and finally gave the order to assemble his army—which by formal acclamation took the oath of eternal allegiance to its leader Marduk. 14 This story which goes back to the beginning of things (the actual text comes from the first Babylonian dynasty) 15 is no mere primitive fantasy: It is the authentic and familiar picture of the great Khan who learns that a relative and a rival is raising an army against him in the wilderness.

The story of the rise and career of any great conqueror is a long catalog of terrible oaths taken and broken, the most solemn of these being sealed by the drinking of blood, as when "the King of the Commains had the Emperor of Constantinople and his people to be blooded, and each drank alternately of the other's blood...." 16 The annals of the Assyrians conduct us, as does the study of the oldest languages of Asia, into a world of oaths and covenants. 17 And why should this be so? The explanation is simple, for the purpose of the oath is to bind. (The Egyptian word for oath, to give one example, is simply ankh, originally a knot. In a world of vast open spaces and limited population, where wandering nomads may take independence for themselves by hunting beasts or driving cattle over limitless grasslands, how can men be bound to any spot or leader? They must be tied by oaths, because there is no other way of binding them. Of course every effort was made to make the oath as binding, that is, as terrible as possible, and of course such oaths were broken whenever convenient. The ease with which one could pass from one camp to another put every king on his guard, so that Asiatic kingship is at all times enveloped in a stifling—and very Jareditish—atmosphere of suspicion and intrigue. Mithra rules, says the Avesta, by virtue of his ten thousand spies, which make him alone of all kings undeceivable. This is the institution of "the King's eyes," and "the King's ears," perfected in Persia and inherited' by the monarchs of many lands. The success of any conspiracy against watchful royalty depends therefore on secrecy and surprise before all else, and so we have as the unfailing adjunct and nemesis of Asiatic kingship the secret society, investing all life with a paralyzing sense of insecurity, as Hoernes notes, and overthrowing dynasties and empires in a single night. 18 Asia's gift to the world has many times saved the world from Asia's rule, for how many a Persian, Hunnish, or Mongol conqueror has had to turn his back on the West just as he stood on the verge of world conquest, to quench the fires of rebellion set by the secret conspiracies of his relatives behind his back! The normal constitution of Asiatic empire, write Huart and Delaporte, is "despotism tempered by dethronement and assassination, in which the clergy play the leading role." 19

For better or for worse, every ruler of the steppes, however great his personal power and prestige, has to reckon on the presence of a class of ambitious and powerful priests—usually shamans. Even Genghis Khan, the mightiest of them all, was nearly pushed from his throne by an ambitious high priest, and at the dawn of history more than one such high priest seized the rule for himself. 20 The case of the brother of Shared whose "high priest murdered him as he sat upon his throne" (Ibid., 14:9) is, then, thoroughly typical, and that by no mere coincidence, for we are told not only that the system was inherited "from them of old" and perpetuated by the same methods—secret societies, family compacts, bribes, oaths, etc.—as in the Old World, but we are also given a clear image of the physical background of the whole thing.

We are told for example, how a son of King Akish, enraged at his father for the inhuman death of his brother by starvation (how typical), went out and joined the growing hosts of the deposed King Omer, who, since he had been overthrown by a "secret combination of Akish and his friends," had been dwelling in tents and gathering strength for a comeback. (Ibid., Ch. 9.) Note the apparent fluidity of Jaredite society—the possibility of large parties of people wandering here and there over a sparsely-settled continent. Note also how closely conditions in "this north country" duplicate those prevailing in the same latitudes on the other side of the world, where much the same landscape also prevails. This, we will see later, is very significant, for it plainly points to the possible origin of much of the Indian way of life among the hunters and nomads of Asia at a very early date—the very thesis that has so often been thrown up as the strongest argument against the Book of Mormon is first propounded by the Book of Mormon itself! But more of this later.


The Jaredites, like their Asiatic relatives (and unlike the Nephites), were through-going monarchists, and their monarchy is the well-known Asiatic despotism lacking none of the trimmings. Take the four verses that describe the reign of Riplakish, Ether 10:5-8. Here, I submit, is the perfect thumbnail portrait of an Asiatic tyrant; the lechery and cruelty, the magnificence and the oppression are all there. That sort of thing was well-known in Joseph Smith's day—after all Hajji Baba came out in 1824—but the Book of Ether goes far beyond the conventional picture to show us institutions quite alien to the experience of western people.

Such is the practice, mentioned many times in the book, of keeping a king prisoner throughout his entire lifetime, allowing him to beget and rear a family in captivity, even though the sons thus brought up would be almost sure to seek vengeance for their parent and power for themselves upon coming of age. Thus Kib was taken captive by his own son, begot yet other children in captivity, and died of old age, still a prisoner. To avenge Kib, his son Shule overcame the unfilial Corihor whom, however, he allowed to continue in power in the kingdom! Shule in turn was taken prisoner by Corihor's son Noah, only to be kidnapped from his prison and restored to power by his own sons. And so on: "Seth...did dwell in captivity all his days.... Moron dwelt in captivity all the remainder of his days; and he begat Coriantor. And it came to pass that Coriantor dwelt in captivity all his days and...begat Ether, and he died, having dwelt in captivity all his days." 21

It seems to us a perfectly ridiculous system, yet it is in accordance with the immemorial Asiatic usage. Thus when the brothers Baidu and Kaijatu disputed the throne of Asia, the advisers of the latter when he gained ascendency declared: "It is right that he should be yoked under service, and that he should be kept in bondage for the whole period of his life, so that his hand can never be stretched out to kill or commit any injury."

In the Book of Ether King Hearthom... "served many years in captivity." (Ibid., 10:30; King Levi the same, Ibid., 10:15.) Kaijatu failed to heed the advice, to his regret, for presently his brother staged a coup and put him in a tower for the rest of his days. 22

Benjamin of Tudela tells how the khalif—the spiritual ruler of all western Asia—arranged for "the brothers and other members of the khalif's family" to live a life of ease, luxury, and security: "every one of them possesses a palace within that of the khalif, but they are all fettered by chains of iron, and a special officer is appointed over every household to prevent their rising in rebellion against the great king." 23

Genghis Khan during his earlier career was put in stocks and carried about with the court of a rival prince as a permanent prisoner; his escape was considered superhuman. His descendant, Tamerlane, and his wife were also made permanent prisoners and kept in a cowshed by a rival ruler. 24

In an emergency the shah of Persia was unable to come to the same Tamerlane's aid as an ally because, he exclaimed, "his nephew Mansur had robbed him of his army and thrown him into prison" 25—yet he was able to write letters. 26

When Izzudin overcame his brother Alluddin in their fight for the Seljuk empire he locked him up in prison; but when at the end of seven years Izzudin died, his brother was immediately released and put on the throne without a dissenting voice—he had been kept behind bars all that time just as a precaution! 27

It was the custom of Turkish kings, as has been recently shown, to allow their defeated rivals to sit upon their thrones by day but lock them up in iron cages for the night! 28

These lords of the steppes, like the Mameluke ruler who brought an upstart general to heel by having him hauled to court in a cage, 29 were following in the footsteps of much earlier kings. Sennacherib reports of no less a rival than the king of Babylon that "they threw him fettered into a cage and brought him before me. I tied him up in the middle gate of Nineveh, like a pig." 30 And of the king of Arabia he says: "I put him into a kennel. With jackals and dogs I tied him up and made him guard the gate in Nineveh...." 31

Moving back to the earliest records of all, we find a large class of legends all over the ancient world telling how the victorious god in the beginning bound and imprisoned his rebellious relatives, not killing them since they partook of his own divine nature—the earliest myths of Zeus and Osiris at once spring to mind. But the actual carrying out of the practice in history as described in the Book of Ether comes as a surprise.

Related to the permanent confinement of kings is the institution of forced labor in prisons. Riplakish "...did obtain all his fine work; yea, even his fine gold he did cause to be refined in prison; and all manner of fine workmanship he did cause to be wrought in prison." (Ibid., 10:7.) Work in prison was the alternative to the paying of ruinous taxes. (Ibid., 10:6.) Much the same system was used by the Assyrians from the beginning; thus Tiglath Pileser III: "I laid tribute and taxes upon them...their horses, their mules, their camels, their cattle and their sheep and workmen without number I carried away....All the skilled artisans I shrewdly used to best advantage." 32 "Feudal dues, forced labor, and overseers I imposed upon the land of Nairi." 33 Even kings are made to serve, as Hearthom did: "Their kings, their rulers, I brought into submission to my feet and imposed taskwork." 34

Later rulers of Asia kept up the tradition: the Scythians considered all people their slaves, and their Parthian successors bound these slaves down on huge work farms. 35 While in Western Asia, Alaric and Attila treated all men as their bound serfs, 36 in eastern Asia the Wei kept a million captives working for a hundred years in caves to produce "all manner of fine workmanship." 37 Each relative of the Great Khan "received a certain number of skilled workmen, artisans, artists, and so on, who were at his entire disposal and whom he made settle where he liked." 38 Tamerlane kept such artists, especially goldsmiths and glassworkers, for himself, forcing them to settle in prison camps at Samarkand in much the way Assur-Nazir Pal bound the Amorite workers three thousand years before. 39

Even in our own day the ja lama forced everyone who fell into his power, "Tibetan officials, Mongol pilgrims, lamas, Chinese traders, Kirghiz headmen," as well as an innumerable host of soldiers and peasants "to work erecting buildings and constructing towers and walls" to his glory. 40

We must not overlook the ambitious building programs of the Jaredite kings, for nothing is more typical of the earliest rulers of the East, where even the prehistoric creation legends "harp upon building with a notable persistence." 41 Coriantumr "... did build many mighty cities" (Ibid., 9:23), the magnificent Riplakish "... did build many spacious buildings" (Ibid., 10:5), and Morianton "... built up many cities, and the people became exceeding rich... in buildings." (Ibid., 10:12.) It is a strange thing that warlike and nomadic kings should have a passion for building, but it is a fact in Asia as in America: "Cities sprang up like mushrooms in honor of the ruling khan, most of them remaining unfinished and falling speedily into decay. Armies of handicraftsmen would be assembled for the purpose (another Jaredite practice) ... then the khan would perish and of the intended glory nothing would remain but a heap of ruins...." 42 I think I have given the true explanation of this phenomenon in a recent article, 43 but what I want to call attention to here is the exact resemblance of the Jaredite practice to that in the Old World.

The particular care bestowed upon the royal throne in Ether's account (Ibid., 10:6) is another authentic touch. The plan of the royal throne was said to have been revealed to Gudea, the ancient patesi of Lagash, from heaven, and at all times there was a widespread belief in Asia that there could be only one true throne in the world and that any unauthorized person who attempted to sit upon it would suffer grave injury. 44

1. McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia, 224-26.

2. C. C. Mierow, The Gothic History of Jordanes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1915), 101-3; ch. 35.

3. They were Dinzio, ibid., 129-31; ch. 53, and Mundo, ibid., 137-38; ch. 58.

4. B. Ya. Vladimirtsov, The Life of Chingis-Khan (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1930), 3.

5. Fikret Isiltan, Die Seltschuken-Geschichte des Akserayi, Sammlung Orientalistischer Arbeiten 12 (Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1943), 88.

6. The first quotation from E. S. Creasy, History of the Ottoman Turks, 2 vols. (London: Bentley, 1854-56), 1:5, the second from Sven Hedin, The Flight of Big Horse, trs. F. H. Lyon, (New York: Dutton, 1936), 16. Cf. Mildred Cable, The Gobi Desert (New York: Macmillan, 1945), 222-32.

7. F. E. A. Krause, Cingis Han (Heidelberg: Winter, 1922), 13. Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire (London: Allen & Unwin, 1940), 47-49. A description of the technique of "drawing off'' another's supporters is in Al-Fakhari's Al-Adab al-Sultaniah wal-Daula-l-Islamiah (Cairo), 5.

8. Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 86.

9. Menander Protector, De Legationibus Romanorum ad Gentes 8, in PG 113:888.

10. According to Odoric of Pordennone, ch. 18, in Komroff, Contemporaries of Marco Polo, 249-50 "the ancient law'' of the Khans is, "Thou shalt not appear in my presence with an empty hand,'' the corollary being that "No Mongol, this day, entered the tent of his ruler without being richly rewarded,'' Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 86. The strictly mercenary nature of the whole business is well described by Peter Patricius in 230 A.D., in PG 113:665-68, and Priscus, in 449 a.d., in PG 113:748-52. E. A. Wallis Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), 1:505, tells how when Baidu the Mongol wanted to supplant his brother on the throne of Asia "he made men rich with gifts, and he made men splendid with royal apparel.'' And so he bound them to him. Innumerable parallels might be cited.

11. Vernadsky, Ancient Russia, 80.

12. Fritz Hommel, Ethnologie und Geographie des alten Orients (Munich: Beck, 1926), 22-23.

13. I am following the text of René Labat, Le poème babylonien de la création (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1935), 98-101.

14. Ibid., 24.

15. Memoirs of Louis IX, King of France, in Lord John de Joinville, Chronicles of the Crusades (London: Bohn, 1848), 482. The whole history of Jenghiz Khan is a long succession of terrible oaths, the most solemn being taken by a bag full of blood, to follow Krause, Cingis Han, 17-18, 23-24, etc. Herodotus, Histories IV, 64, describes the blood-drinking oaths of the Scythians two thousand years earlier.

16. Moritz Hoernes, Natur- und Urgeschichte des Menschen, 2 vols. (Vienna: Hartleben, 1909), 1:582, discussing conditions in pre-agrarian societies generally.

17. James Darmesteter, The Zend-Avesta, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1895), 2:135, 140 (Yasts 15:63; 21:82).

18. Hoernes, Natur- und Urgeschichte des Menschen 2:418. The reader is reminded that fellowships and secret societies have always been the foundation of Asiatic government and religion, whether shamanistic (e.g., the Bn), lamist or Buddhist, from Peking to Cairo.

19. Clement Huart and Louis Delaporte, L'Iran antique (Paris: Michel, 1952), 399.

20. I have a long note on this subject in my article, Hugh W. Nibley, "Sparsiones,'' CJ 40 (1945): 526, n. 70.

21. Ether 11:9, 18-19, 23; cf. 10:14, 31; 7:7; 8:3-4; 10:15, 30.

22. E. A. Wallis Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), 1:495, 500.

23. Benjamin of Tudela, Travels, ch. 56, in A. Asher, ed., The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, 2 vols. (New York: "Hakesheth,'' n. d.), 1:95 (italics added); cf. ibid., 1:96: following a rebellion "it was decreed, that all the members of the Khalif's family should be chained, in order to prevent their rebellious intentions. Every one of them, however, resides in his palace; . . . They eat and drink and lead a merry life.''

24. Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire (London: Allen & Unwin, 1940), 424.

25. Ibid., 448.

26. Fikret Isiltan, Die Seltschuken-Geschichte des Akserayi, Sammlung Orientalistischer Arbeiten 12 (Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1943), 41-42. For some picturesque dethronements, see Budge, Chronography of Bar Hebraeus 1:147, 163, 176, 178.

27. N. Martinovitch, "Another Turkish Iron Cage,'' JAOS 62 (1942): 140, citing a number of instances.

28. Budge, Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 1:471.

29. David D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926-27), 2:155.

30. Ibid., 2:314.

31. A. B. Cook, Zeus, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914-40), and C. J. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East (London: Oxford University Press, 1948) treat this subject at length.

32. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:270-71, 288; 1:182.

33. Ibid., 1:50.

34. William M. McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939), 73. Cf. Herodotus, Histories IV, 20.

35. Claudian, Bellum Geticum 11, 364-68; C. C. Mierow, The Gothic History of Jordanes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1915), 128-29; ch. 52.

36. Henning Haslund, Men and Gods in Mongolia (New York: Dutton, 1935), 4.

37. Marco Polo, Travels.

38. B.Ya.Vladimirtsov, The Life of Chingis-Khan (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1930), 147-48; the quote is from 148. The theory is that "the conquered are the property of the conqueror, who is the lawful master of them, of their lands, of their goods, of their wives, and of their children. We have the right to do what we will with our own,'' E. S. Creasy, History of the Ottoman Turks, 2 vols. (London: Bentley, 1854-56), 1:21.

39. Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 131, 142, 175, 476. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:182.

40. G. N. Roerich, Trails to Inmost Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931), 232.

41. Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 374; Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East, 6.

42. Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 374.

43. Under the subtitle "Mountain and Palace,'' in Hugh W. Nibley, "Hierocentric State,'' WPQ 4 (1951): 235-38. No empire was possible without a palace and city as its center; as in Jubilees 4:9; 7:14. In the most ancient times "every king built himself a new residence: upon mounting the throne,'' says Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1909), vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 145, for the custom was "that every king possess his own 'city.' ''

44. A. Wansche, Salomons Thron und Hippodrom (Ex Oriente Lux 2:3), 9ff, 22-25. Tha'labi, Qisas al-Anbiyya, 11-12.

by Hugh Nibley, Ph.D.


My dear Professor F.

THE importance of the throne is well illustrated in the story of how the Mongol Baidu "was led into error by the flatterers, and he became proud and magnificent himself ... he sent and had brought the great throne which was in Tabriz ... and he planted it in the neighborhood of Aughan, and he went up and sat upon it, and he imagined that henceforth his kingdom was assured." 1

Very famous is the story of how Merdawij of Persia, seeking to assume the title and glory of the king of the universe in the ninth century, erected a golden throne on a golden platform, before which stood a silver platform on which his princes sat in gilded chairs; some say the latter were silver thrones, but all agree that the foolish man thought it was the throne that gave him majesty. 2 Of the throne of the Grand Khan, Carpini writes: "There was a lofty stage builded of boards, where the emperor's throne was placed, being very curiously wrought out of ivory, wherein also was gold and precious stones, and there were stairs going up to it. And it was round at the back." 3 There is no need for laboring the point that the great rulers of Asia specialized in beautiful thrones—do not all kings? Indeed, and it can be shown that their thrones wherever they are found, whether dragon-throne, peacock-throne, griffon-throne, or even sella curulis, go back to the old Asiatic pattern. 4


THERE is one tale of intrigue in the Book of Ether that presents very ancient and widespread (though but recently discovered) parallels. It is the story of Jared's daughter. This was a later Jared who rebelled against his father, "... did flatter many people, because of his cunning words, until he had gained the half of the kingdom ... did carry away his father into captivity" after beating him in battle, "and did make him serve in captivity." (Ether 8:2-3.) In captivity the king raised other sons who finally turned the tables on their faithless brother and defeated his forces in a night skirmish. They spared his life on his promise to give up the kingdom, but they failed to count on Jared's daughter, an ambitious girl, who had read, or at least asked her father if he had read "... in the records which our fathers brought across the great deep," a very instructive account of those devices by which the men of old got "kingdoms and great glory."

"... Hath he not read the record which our fathers brought across the great deep? Behold, is there not an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory?

"And now, therefore, let my father send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say, I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king." (Ibid., 8:9-10.)

Historically, the whole point of this story is that it is highly unoriginal. It is supposed to be. The damsel asks her father if he has read "the record" and refers him to a particular account therein describing how "they of old ... did obtain kingdoms." In accordance with this she then outlines a course of action which makes it clear just what the "account" was about. It dealt with a pattern of action (for "kingdoms" is in the plural) in which a princess dances before a romantic stranger, wins his heart, and induces him to behead the ruling king, marry her, and mount the throne. The sinister daughter of Jared works the plan for all it is worth. Having had her grandfather beheaded and her father on the throne, she married Akish, who presently, having "sworn by the oath of the ancients ... obtained the head of his father-in-law, as he sat on his throne." (Ibid., 9:5.) And who put him up to it? "It was the daughter of Jared who put it into his heart, to search up these things of old; and Jared put it into the heart of Akish." (Ibid., 8:17.)

Need we ask the part played by the daughter of Jared once she married Akish? According to the ancient pattern (for Ether insists that it all goes back to "the ancients") Akish as soon as he sat on the throne would be marked as the next victim, and sure enough we find him so suspicious of his son that he locks him up in prison and starves him to death; but there were other sons, and so "... there began to be war between the sons of Akish and Akish." (Ibid., 9:12.) Many years later the old evil is revived by Heth, who "... began to embrace the secret plans again of old," dethroned his father, "slew him with his own sword; and he did reign in his stead." (Ibid., 9:26-27.)

This is indeed a strange and terrible tradition of throne succession, yet there is no better attested tradition in the early world than the ritual of the dancing princess (represented by the salme priestesses in Babylonia, hence the name Salome) who wins the heart of a stranger and induces him to marry her, behead the old king, and mount the throne. I once collected a huge dossier on this awful woman and even read a paper on her at an annual meeting of the American Historical Association. 5 You can find out all about the sordid triangle of the old king, the challenger, and the dancing beauty from Frazer, Jane Harrison, Altheim, B. Schweitzer, Farnell, and any number of "folklorists." 6 The thing to note here is that there actually seems to have been a succession rite of great antiquity that followed this pattern. It is the story behind the rites of Olympia and the Ara Sacra and the wanton and shocking dances of the ritual hierodules throughout the ancient world. 7

And it is not without historical parallels, as when in 998 A.D."the sister of the Khalifah had a certain scribe, an Egyptian, in Syria, and he sent and complained to her about Abu Tahir (the ruler of Syria). And because her brother always paid great attention to her, she went and wept before him. And she received (from him) the command, and she sent (it) and killed Abu Tahir, and his head was carried to Egypt...." 8 Here the princess wins the king by tears instead of the usual allurements—it could hardly have been otherwise, since he was her brother—but the plot is essentially the same, reminding us that such things can and do happen more than once in history.

Certainly the Book of Ether is on the soundest possible ground in attributing the behavior of the princess to the inspiration of ritual texts—secret directories of the ancients, on how to depose an aging king. The Jaredite version, incidentally, is quite different from the Salome story of the Bible but is identical with many earlier accounts that have come down to us in the oldest records of civilization.

The Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra, New York, where the Prophet Joseph Smith received the golden plates of the Book of Mormon.


BEFORE coming to grips with the grim and depressing military annals that make up the bulk of Jaredite history, as of nearly all ancient history, it shall be our pleasant duty to consider briefly the few casual references contained in the Book of Mormon to the material culture of this strange nation.

A few years ago the loudest objection to the Jaredite history would most certainly have been its careless references to iron and even steel (Ibid., 7:9) in an age when iron and steel were supposedly undreamed of. Today the protest must be rather feeble, even in those quarters "still under the influence of a theory of evolutionism which has been dragged so unfortunately into the study of ancient history." 9 Nothing better illustrates the hopelessness of trying to apply the neat, convenient, mechanical rule of progress to history than the present-day status of the metal ages. Let me refer you to Wainwright's study on "The Coming of Iron." There you will learn that the use of iron is as "primitive as that of any other metal: In using scraps of meteoric iron while still in the Chalcolithic Age the predynastic Egyptians were in no way unusual. The Eskimos did so, though otherwise only in the Bone Age, as did the neolithic Indians of Ohio. The Sumerians of Ur were at that time in the early Bronze Age though later they relapsed into the Copper Age." 10

The possibility of relapse is very significant—there is no reason why other nations cannot go backwards as well as the Sumerians. But scraps of meteoric iron were not the only prehistoric source, for "it now transpires that, though not interested in it, man was able at an extremely early date to smelt his own iron from its ores and manufacture it into weapons." 11

Men had the knowledge all along, then, but were "not interested" in using it. But there is no reason for denying the Jaredites iron if they wanted it, as apparently they did. A Mesopotamian knife blade "not of meteoric origin" has been dated with certainty to the twenty-eighth century B.C., iron from the Great Pyramid goes back to 2900 B.C. and "might perhaps have been smelted from an ore." 12 Yet the Egyptians, far from specializing in iron, never paid much attention to the stuff except in their archaic rituals. While Wainwright himself found iron beads at Gerzah in Egypt that "date to about 3500 B.C. or earlier, ... actually Egypt was the last country of the Near East to enter the Iron Age, and then under an intensification of northern influences." 13 In fact by 1000 B.C. Egypt still keeps on in the Bronze Age"; 14 having proved that the working of iron is as old as civilization, the Egyptians then go on to prove that civilization is perfectly free to ignore it, to the dismay of the evolutionists.

It was in other parts of the world that iron really came to its own. As early as 1925 B.C. a Hittite king had a throne of iron, and in Hittite temple inventories "iron is the common metal, not the bronze to which one is accustomed in other lands of the Near East." 15 If we moved farther east, however, to the land in which the Jaredites take their rise, we find the manufacture of iron so far advanced by the Amarna period that the local monarch can send to the king of Egypt "two splendid daggers 'whose blade is of khabalkinu' ... the word being usually translated as 'steel." 16 Though the translation is not absolutely certain, literary references to steel are very ancient. The Zend Avesta refers constantly to steel, and steel comes before iron in the four ages of Zarathustra, 17 reminding one of the Vedaic doctrine that the heaven was created out of steel and that steel was the "skyblue metal" of the earliest Egyptians and Babylonians. 18

The legends of the tribes of Asia are full of iron and steel birds and articles, and the founder of the Seljuk dynasty of Iran was even called Iron-(or Steel-) Bow. 19 The working of iron is practised in central Asia even by primitive tribes, and Marco Polo speaks of them as mining "steel" (rather than iron.). 20 Where "steel" may be taken to mean any form of very tough iron, the correct modern formula for it is found in steel objects from Ras Shamra, belonging to the 14th century B.C. 21 If we would trace the stuff back to its place and time of origin, we would in all probability find ourselves at home with the Jaredites, for theirs was the land of Tubal-Cain, "the far northwest corner of Mesopotamia," which, Wainwright observes in accepting the account in Genesis 4:22is "the oldest land where we know stores of manufactured iron were kept and distributed to the world." 22 It is there and not to Egypt that we should look for the earliest as well as the best types of ironwork, even though the latter region knew iron by 3500 B.C.

The example of iron, steel, and bronze is instructive. They are not evolved by imperceptible degrees to conquer the world in steady and progressive triumph through the ages but appear fully developed to be used in one place and forbidden in another, thrive in one age and be given up in the next. 23 The same applies to another product attributed to the Jaredites and believed until recent years to have been a relatively late invention. In Joseph Smith's day and long after there was not a scholar who did not accept Pliny's account of the origin of glass without question. 24 I used to be perplexed by the fact that reference in Ether 2:23 to "... windows ... that will be dashed in pieces" can only refer to glass windows, since no other kind would be waterproof and still be windows. Moreover, Moroni in actually referring to "transparent glass" in 3:1 is probably following Ether. This would make the invention of glass far older than anyone dreamed it was until the recent finding of such objects as Egyptian glass beads "from the end of the third millennium B.C." 25 of "plaques of turquoise blue glass of excellent quality" in the possession of Zer, one of the very earliest queens of Egypt. 26 From such glass windows could have been made, and there is no reason for doubting that Marco Polo saw colored glass windows at the palace of the Great Khan in the thirteenth century. 27 "Very little is known," writes Newberry, "about the early history of glass," though he notes that "glass beads have been found in prehistoric graves" in Egypt. 28 We need not be surprised if the occurrences of glass objects before the sixteenth century B.C. "are few and far between," 29 for glass rots, like wood, and it is a wonder that any of it at all survives from remote antiquity. There is all the difference in the world, moreover, between few glass objects and none at all. One clot of ruddy dirt is all we have to show that the Mesopotamians were using iron knives at the very beginning of the third millennium B.C.—but it is all we need. Likewise the earliest dated piece of glass known comes from the time of Amenhotep I, yet under his immediate successors glass vases appear that indicate an advanced technique in glassworking. 30

The finding of the oldest glass and ironwork in Egypt is not a tribute to the superior civilization of the Egyptians at all, but rather to the superior preservative qualities of their dry sands. We have seen that the Egyptians cared very little for iron, which was really at home in the land of Tubal-Cain. The same is true of glass. The myths and folklore of the oldest stratum of Asiatic legend (the swan-maiden and arrowchain cycles, for example) are full of glass. In one extremely archaic and widespread legend the Shamirbird (by many names), seeking to enter the chamber of the queen of the underworld, breaks his wings on the glass pane of her window when he tries to fly through it. The glass mountain of the northern legends and the glass palace of the immense Sheba cycle I have shown in another study to be variants of this. The great antiquity of these—especially the glass window—can be demonstrated. 31 "Glaze and vitreous paste," so close to glass that its absence in the same region comes as a surprise, were "known and widely used in Egypt and Mesopotamia from the fourth millennium B.C. onwards." 32 But such stuff, applied to clay objects, has a far better chance of leaving a trace of itself than does pure glass which simply disintegrates in damp soil—a process which I often had opportunity to observe in ancient Greek trash-heaps. This easily accounts for the scarcity of glass remains outside of Egypt.

If glass and iron perish, what shall we say of silk? The "fine twined linen" of the Jaredites (Ibid., 10:24) offers no serious problem, since as I pointed out in an earlier letter, scraps of very fine linen have actually survived at prehistoric sites in various parts of the world. 33 But the same verse speaks of silk. Since few substances suffer more complete oxidation than silk, it is not surprising that the only evidence we have of its early existence is in written records. 34

But these are quite sufficient to allow the Jaredites the luxury of their silken garments, if any credence is to be placed in the claims cited in the Encyclopedia Britannica that silk was known in China in the first half of the third millennium B.C. and in India as early as 4000 B.C.! The priority of India over China suggests a central distribution point for both of them, which would of course be central Asia, and indeed Khotan in Central Asia was the great world silk center of the Middle Ages. The making of silk on Greek islands at a very early date, and a legend of the Minoan Daedalus reported by Apollodorus which can only refer to silk culture, also strongly indicate Asia rather than China as the prehistoric distribution center of the knowledge of silk in the world.


Like metal and glass, the animals of old have long been misrepresented by the settled preconceptions of the antiquarians. Until five years ago—and perhaps yet—the very best archaeologists were convinced that the camel was not known in Egypt until Greek and Roman times, and dismissed the Biblical account of Abraham's camels (Gen. XII: 16) as the crudest of blunders. Yet J. P. Free has been able to demonstrate the continued existence and use of the animal in Egypt from prehistoric times to the present, and that on the basis of evidence within the reach of any conscientious student. 33 We know that the horse, like the iron with which it is so often associated in conventional history, did not appear on the scene in only one place to spread gradually and steadily throughout the world but was "repeatedly introduced into the primitive Indo-Germanic culture-area, filtering in, so to speak, again and again. 37 While certain prehistoric peoples (e.g., at Anau) had the ox and the horse before either the dog or the goat, others (like the Erteboellian) had the dog long before the others. "It is rather remarkable," writes McGovern, "that we find no specific reference to the camel among the Scythians and Sarmatians, although ... its existence and usefulness must have been known." 34

The moral is that we can never be too sure. Any naturalist would assume that the elephant has been extinct in western Asia for hundreds of thousands of years, for all the evidence the creature has left of itself. It is from written history alone that we receive the assurance that large herds of elephants roamed the temperate lands of Syria and the Upper Euphrates as late as the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty, when the Pharaohs hunted them there for sport, and that elephants were used by the warlords of Central Asia well into the Middle Ages. 36 In late antiquity the wild variety disappear without trace, perhaps because of a change in world climate. I think it quite significant that the Book of Mormon associates elephants only with the Jaredites, for there is no apparent reason why they should not have been so common in the fifth as in the fifteenth century B.C. All we know is that they became extinct in large parts of Asia somewhere between those dates, as they did likewise in the New World, to follow the Book of Mormon, leaving only the written records of men to testify of their existence.

"They have plenty of iron, accarum, and andanicum," says Marco Polo of the people of Kobian. "Here they make mirrors of highly polished steel, of large size and very handsome." The thing to note here is not primarily the advanced state of steelworking in Central Asia, though that as we have seen is significant, but the fact that no one knows for sure what accarum and andanicum are. Marco knew, of course, but since the things didn't exist in Europe, there was no western word for them, and so all he could do was to call them by their only names. It is just so with the cureloms and cumoms of Ether 9:19. These animals were unknown to the Nephites, and so Moroni leaves the words untranslated, or else though known to the Nephites they are out of our experience so that our language has no name to call them by. They were simply breeds of those "... many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man." (Ibid., 9:18.) The history of the breeding of "animals which were useful for man" is an extremely complex one; to trace even such conspicuous breeds as the Arabian horse, the dromedary, or the ox is still quite impossible. 40 Travelers in central Asia, both from Europe and the Far East, always comment on the peculiar breeds of animals they find there—camels with two humps (which are really no more like the Arabian camels than a llama is like a sheep), big-tailed sheep, and strange varieties of oxen and horses, for none of which it is possible for the travelers to find words in their own languages. 42 So they call dromedaries and Bactrian camels both "camels" and kulans "horses," just as no doubt the Book of Mormon designates as sheep and cattle breeds that we would hardly recognize. I find it most reassuring that the Book of Ether, taking us back to archaic times, insists on complicating things by telling about animals plainly extinct in Nephite days and breeds that we cannot identify.

The description of how people were driven out of a land by a plague of serpents that then "hedge up the way that the people could not pass" (Ether 9:31-35) may put a strain on your scientific credulity. I hasten to relieve it. Pompey the Great, we are told, could not get his army into Hyrcania because the way was barred by snakes along the Araxes, a stream that still swarms with the creatures. 43 One of the chief philanthropic activities of the Persian magi was to make war on the snakes—a duty which must go back to a time when the race was sorely pressed by them. 44 The Absurtitani were said to have been driven from their country by snakes, and Esarhaddon of Assyria recalls the horror and danger of a march by his army through a land "of serpents and scorpions, with which the plain was covered as with ants." 45 In the thirteenth century A.D. Shah Sadrudin set his heart on the building of a capital which should surpass all other cities in splendor; yet the project had to be abandoned after enormous expense when during a period of drought the place so swarmed with serpents that no one could live in it. 46 It is interesting in this connection that the plague of serpents in Ether is described as following upon a period of extreme drought (Ether 9:30).

In the tenth chapter of Ether we read how great hunting expeditions were undertaken in the days of King Lib into the rich game country of the south "to hunt food for the people of the land" (Ether 10:19). Westerners are prone to think of hunting as a very individualistic activity; indeed, Oppenheimer insists that hunters operate "always either in small groups or alone." But that is not the way the ancient Asiatics hunted. According to Odoric and William, the Mongols always hunted in great battues, thousands of soldiers driving the game towards the center of a great ring where the king and his court would take their pick of the animals. 47 That was the normal way of provisioning an army and a nation in Asia as Xenophon describes it seventeen centuries before Carpini. 48 Thousands of years before Xenophon, a predynastic Egyptian carved a green slate palette on which he depicted an army of beaters forming a great ring around a panicked confusion of animals being driven towards a round enclosure in the center. It is the royal hunt, Jaredite fashion, at the dawn of history. 49 In these great hunts the king was always the leader, as among the Jaredites: "And Lib also himself became a great hunter" (Ether 10:19). "Kings must be hunters," and every royal court must have its hunting preserve in imitation of the early rulers of Asia who invariably set aside vast tracts of land as animal refuges where habitation was forbidden. 50 Here the Book of Mormon confronts us with a truly astounding scoop: "And they did preserve the land southward for a wilderness, to get game. And the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants" (Ether 10:21). The picture of the old Asiatic hunting economy is complete in all its essentials, and correct on all points.

1. Bar Hebracus, Chron. (Budge I, 500).

2. Huart & Delaporte, L'Iran Antique, p. 399; A. Mex, Renaissance des Islams (Heidelberg, 1922), pp. 16-17.

3. Carpini, Ch. 28, in Kormoff, Contemps. of Marco Polo, p. 45.

4. Ed. Meyer, op. cit. II. 1. 235; Nibley, op. cit., p. 240. The sella curulis was a gilt campstool used by the Roman emperor, but its name shows that it was originally mounted on wheels in the Asiatic fashion.

5. At the Pacific Coast meeting in 1940 (Annals Am. Hist. Assn. 1940, p. 90).

6. Nibley, Class. Jnl. XL (1945), 541ff.

7. Loc. cit., for a preliminary treatment.

8. Bar Hebraeus, (Budge I, 182).

9. Quotation is from P. Van der Meer, The Ancient Chronology of Western Asia and Egypt (Leiden, Brill, 1947), p. 13. Has nothing to do with glass, but to the point in matters of historical prejudice.

10. G. A. Wainwright, "The Coming of Iron," in Antiquity X (March 1936), 7.

11. Ibid., p. 7.

12. Ibid., pp. 8-9.

13. Ibid., pp. 7, 22f.

14. Ibid., p. 22.

15. Ibid., p. 14.

16. Ibid., p. 18.

17. Darmesteter, Zend-Avesta, I, 93; Fr. Spiegel, Eranische Alterthumskunde (Leipzig, 1873) II, 152.

18. This subject received some notice in "Lehi in the Desert," IMPROVEMENT ERA LIII (1950), 323.

19. Akhbar ud-Daulat is-Saljuqiyya, p. 1. This might be regarded as a mere ornamental epithet were it not that the name Iron Arrow is fairly common and actually refers to such a weapon, Lipkin, Manas Vielikodushnyi, p. 24f. The implications of steel bows are of course very significant for I Nephi 16:18.

20. M. Polo, Travels I, xxxix. Traveling through central Asia in 568 A.D., Menander was met more than once by primitive tribesmen from the mountains who tried to sell him their native ironware, Meander, de legat. in Patrol. Graec. 113, col. 884.

21. T. J. Meek, "The Challenge of Oriental Studies" Jnl. Am. Or. Soc. 63 (1943) p. 92, n. 73, gives the formula for the Ras Shamra steel.

22. Wainwright, op. cit., p. 16.

23. "The art of forging iron must have been kept a secret for a long time by the clans of forgers, in order to preserve their privileges," thus G. Vernadsky, Ancient Russia, p. 43.

24. D. B. Harden, "Ancient Glass," Antiquity VII (1933), p. 419; Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxvi, 191.

25. Harden, loc. cit.

26. P. E. Newberry, "A Glass Chalice of Tuthmosis III," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology VI (1920), 159.

27. Travels II, vi. The existence of such windows has been hotly disputed, for no good reason. In the Everyman Edition, p. 169, n. 2, an early traveler "mentions that the windows of some yachts or barges had plate glass" in the East. It is interesting that the only proven use for window-glass was on vessels.

28. Newberry, loc. cit.

29. Harden, loc. cit.

30. Harden, op. cit., p. 420, cf. 426. Of the glassmakers of the time of Tuthmosis III Newberry says, "they reveal their art in a high state of proficiency, that must be the outcome of a long series of experiments," p. 158f.

31. The author is preparing a study on this subject which is to appear in the near future.

32. Harden, op. cit., p. 419.

33. J. P. Free, "Abraham's Camels," Jnl. of Near Eastn. Stud. III (1944), 187ff.

34. Early Empires of Cent. As., p. 77, cf. p. 27; R. Pumpelly, Excavns. in Chin. Turkest. I, 41-43.

35. McGovern, loc. cit.

36. J. Breasted, History of Egypt (N.Y.: Scribners, 1912), p. 304; Wittfogel & Chiasheng, op. cit., p. 669:

37. Fritz Flor, in Harentz, ed., Germanen und Indo-Germanen (Heidelberg, 1934), 1:111ff, 122.

40. The principal authority on this subject is Max Hilzheimer. See Max Hilzheimer, "Dogs,'' Anitquity 6 (1932): 411-19; and Max Hilzheimer, "Sheep,'' Antiquity 10 (1936): 195-206.

42. See for example Wittfogel & Fengsheng, op. cit., p. 662, H. Haslund, Men & Gods in Mongolia, p. 73.

43. Darmesteter, James Zend-Avesta Pt. I, p. 4, n. 5.

44. Herodotus I, 140.

45. J. A. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (University of Pennsylvania, 1934), p. 50.

46. Isiltan, Seltschuken-Gesch. d. Akserayi, p. 97f.

47. Odoric Ch. 14; William of Rubruck Ch. 7, in Komroff, Contemporaries of Marco Polo, pp. 241 and 68. On Oppenheimer, see Nibley, Wstn. Pol. Quart. IV, 251.

48. Xenophon, Cyropaedeia II, 4, 16-26.

49. E. A. W. Budge, The Mummy, Cambridge Univ., 1925, Plate ii.

50. Nibley, op. cit., pp. 238ff; and II (1949), 343f.


Dear Professor F.

IF MY insistent harping on central Asia annoys you, let me remind you again that the Book of Ether gives us no choice. It never lets us forget that what the Jaredite kings did was a conscious imitation and unbroken continuation of the ways of "the ancients," of "them of old," on the other side of the water. This, incidentally, is another indication that we are not to regard the Jaredite migration as taking place immediately after the flood, for the fall of the tower saw the destruction of an ancient and established order. The Jaredites left their homeland driving great herds of cattle before them in the immemorial Asiatic manner, and even if they had never been nomads before, they certainly lived the life of the steppes during those many years before they set sail (Ether 3:3); and when they embarked, they crammed all they could of their beasts into their small boats, "flocks and herds" and other beasts (Ibid., 6:4) and, upon reaching the New World, continued to cultivate "all manner of cattle, of oxen, and cows, and of sheep," just as their ancestors had in the old country. (Ibid., 9:18.) Nothing could be better calculated to keep the Old World ways alive than those notoriously conservative secret societies which Ether always traces back to "the oaths of the ancients" and which at all times have exerted a fatal attraction on the men of Asia. We have already noted that such secret abominations are the necessary product of a society in which social ties may be easily broken. The political history of the Jaredites clearly betrays in all its aspects the ways of the "space people."

Jaredite history in the New World was formally inaugurated by a general assembly and census of the entire nation (Ibid., 6:19), a thoroughly Asiatic practice which goes back to the days of prehistoric hunters and which lies at the root of all ancient political organization, as I have demonstrated in a number of articles. 1 Strictly in accordance with the ancient pattern, this assembly was the occasion for the choosing of a king, and the establishment of a dynasty, which as the brother of Jared clearly foresaw, could only lead straight to the slough of Old World intrigue and turmoil from which the Jaredites had already been once delivered (Ibid., 6:23.) He was right, for presently one Corihor "... rebelled against his father, and went over and dwelt in the land of Nehor; ... and drew away many people after him." (Ibid., 7:4.) Then he went back to the land of Moron and captured his father but was subdued by his righteous brother Shule who achieved an ambition of every Asiatic monarch to "... spread his kingdom upon all the face of the land." (Ibid., 7:11.) 2 Shule then gave his capable brother and erstwhile rival "power in his kingdom" (Ibid., 7:13), a surprising but quite authentic touch, from which it appears that emirs shared in the immense task of ruling the empire, as in Asia. Shule's grandson "... rebelled against his father, and came and dwelt in the land of Heth," drawing people away until he had gained half the kingdom. (Ibid., 8:2.) His deposed father "... departed out of the land with his family, and traveled many days" to reach the place where later the Nephites were to be destroyed; from there he continued eastward until he reached the sea (Ibid., 9:3), where he lived in tents and was joined in time by other refugees from his distracted kingdom (Ibid., 9:9), where civil war had reduced the population almost to zero—another Asiatic touch, as we shall see. Years later, when the royal brothers Shared and Coriantumr fought for the kingdom, the latter beat his brother, "did pursue him to the wilderness of Akish," where the two armies raided each other by night and "did lay siege to the wilderness," until Coriantumr emerged victor, chased his brother's successor to the seashore, only to be beaten in turn and pursued back to the wilderness of Akish, taking "all the people with him, as he fled before Lib. ..." (Ibid., 14:15.) More battles and another pursuit to the coast (Ibid., 14:26), thence to the waters of Ripliancum, then southward to camp in Ogath, then to the hill Ramah for the showdown.

**Picture Goes Here**

Conquests and migrations of Mongol Hordes, roughly indicated, to show immense length of yearly marches in Asia, compared with distances in North America

This sampling should give a picture of the peculiar warfare of the Jaredites, a war of motion with no set frontiers, great armies sweeping over the continent in flight or pursuit, making the most of space by continually falling back on this or that "wilderness," setting up rival camps for a period of a year or two, while dissenting groups or individuals join themselves to one army or another. It is Asia all over again, and it calls for a geographical note.

The North American continent is a rough copy of the Asiatic, with tundra and forest in the north giving way to open grasslands, deserts, and finally tropical jungles in the south. The main difference is that in Asia everything is bigger: the forests and plains seem never-ending, the deserts are wider, hotter and drier, the mountains far higher and more forbidding, the jungles deeper and more dangerous, the rivers wider and deeper. And yet these formidable barriers have not prevented the rapid and ceaseless marches and countermarches of mighty armies in every age. One of the earliest of Aryan texts is the prayer: "May we go smoothly along the roads, find good pathways in the mountains, run easily through the forests, and cross happily the rivers!" 3 During one campaign, we are told, the army of Juji "was separated by only about twelve hundred miles" from the main body of Mongols. 4

That should give some idea of the distances covered by these hordes that would winter in the plains of France or Hungary and make their summer camps in the Altai or on the Onon River almost within sight of the North Pacific. It was not all flat plains, either, for the kings of the steppes extended their rule time and again to China, India, Persia, Asia Minor, Europe, and Siberia, which meant regularly traversing some of the greatest deserts, highest mountains, and widest rivers on earth.

The Asiatic state consists of two main elements, on the one hand a sedentary populace living in oases cities and bringing the arts, industry, and agriculture to sometimes astonishing peaks of perfection, and on the other hand a migratory ruler, moving at the head of his warlike host—a tribal army of conquerors with his own tribe and family as its nucleus—ever marching from city to city and from castle to castle over burning wastes or freezing mountain passes to overawe the world, stifle rebellion, and above all curtail the ambitions of any possible rival to world dominion. 5 This army is a moving nation, with its wives and children—the Mongols when they left their families behind inaugurated a radical change in steppe warfare, achieving a speed and mobility that quickly paralyzed the slower-moving hordes or their rivals, who still observed the old-fashioned custom of marching with their families and household effects. The Hyksos in the eighteenth century B.C., and the People of the Sea five hundred years later were just such nations on the march—a devastating army, but an army carrying all their goods and families along with them as they sought new lands to settle, "sweeping off the inhabitants of the land, all who would not join with them," exactly in the Jaredite manner. (Ibid., 15:27.) 6 At all times among the people of the steppes "the nation and the army are one and the same; the lord of the clan or rex becoming duke or vovoid" in battle. 7 This is certainly the case with the Jaredites, whose kings are before everything leaders in the field, and who go to battle "with their wives and their children—both men, women, and children being armed with weapons of war, having shields and breastplates, and head-plates, and being clothed after the manner of war." (Ibid., 15:15.) The armor deserves mention, since it is now known that armor is another central Asiatic invention of great antiquity, borrowed in later times by Europe and the Far East, but reaching a high state of perfection on the steppes in prehistoric times. 8

Since the Jaredite kings with their migratory armies were constantly on the move in the best Asiatic manner, is there any reason why they should not have covered Asiatic distances? Then why all the fuss about Cumorah? From the Narrow Neck of Land to New York state is a distance that staggers us, but for Juji or Timur it would be a milk run. Because we think of journeys in terms of hours or days at the most we are liable to forget that people who never stop moving think of space not in terms of time but of stages, and that when it is broken down into stages, the longest route on earth becomes negotiable even to the most primitive means of transportation—in a word, distance is no object. A glance at the map will show that the vast extent of territory covered by the Jaredites is really rather moderate by Asiatic standards. The Brigham Young University expedition of 1900 actually took teams and wagons from Provo to Peru in a matter not of decades but of weeks.

When King Omer was overthrown by his son Jared, he had to travel "many days" before he was beyond the reach of the usurper who had seized a kingdom that was "spread upon all the face of the land." (Ibid., 9:3, 7:11.) In fact he fled as far as he possibly could, from Central America to the Great Lakes and New England coast regions, which were to become the classic hiding and fighting grounds of the latest Jaredites. It is here that we must seek the bones and burial mounds of the Jaredites, but not their cities. Just as the great structures of the Mongols, among the noblest buildings on earth, are to be found in the south and west, far from the primordial hunting and fighting grounds of the tribes, so the great monuments of Jaredite civilization abound in the lands of the south that they first settled rather than in the wilderness of the last great battles. One of the strange paradoxes of history is that the nomads of the steppes were perhaps the greatest builders of all time, though their normal type of "city" was "more suggestive of an ordo-like tent-city than a town in the usual sense." 9 In the lands that the Mongol conquers, he builds Taj Mahals and Jehols, but in his own lands the "winds clean up the place which has been soiled, the pastures which his flocks have cropped grow greener than ever, and Nature promptly repairs all the mischief he has done to her clean orderliness." 10 And so "mighty nomad empires rose and vanished into the unknown" without a trace. The thing to note is that in the Asiatic pattern: camp culture, that leaves no mark behind, and city culture have been characteristically sponsored by the same tribes and rulers since the beginning of history. That people should live as nomads and yet build great cities is no more contradictory than that they should be both hunters and farmers or both herdsmen and merchants at one and the same time. But from the first, men have preferred to practise hunting, grazing, and farming in special areas set aside for the purpose, a custom duly observed by the Jaredites, as we have seen. (Ibid., 10:19-21.) 11 A study of the old Asiatic system will provide a ready explanation for any apparent difficulties in locating Cumorah where the Book of Mormon says it was.

The normal life of Asia is one of chaos, violence, and insecurity produced by constant warring between the tribes and rivalry among ambitious men within them. From time to time a superman appears who, first gaining complete control of one tribe, ruthlessly crushes his neighbors one by one, forcing the survivors to make common cause against him and form a great coalition; a final showdown in which this coalition is either destroyed or victorious in a great "battle of the nations" decides the fate of the world for generations to come. If the great man wins, the world knows a period of enforced peace and unity under the absolute sway of one iron will. At any moment in his career the world conqueror has to face one particular rival, his most dangerous rival of the hour, against whom his whole attention is directed with passionate personal hatred and dedicated fury. This can be shown from almost any page of the life of any would-be cosmocrat from Sargon to Hitler. It is the leitmotif of Jaredite history as well, which, whenever it becomes coherent, crystalizes about the person of some dreadful but competent warrior pitted against an equally alarming rival. While "Coriantumr dwelt with his army in the wilderness for the space of two years, in which he did receive strength to his army," his opponent Shared "also received strength to his army" through the operation of "secret combinations." Later Coriantumr pitched his tents by the hill Ramah and spent four years "gathering together the people." (Ibid., 15:11-14.) Just so, Genghiz Khan hid out in the wilderness for two years recruiting an army against his relative Wang Khan, who was doing the same thing, 12 and later devoted four years to building up an army to meet the emperor of Khwarizm, who worked feverishly to build up his army, each doing everything in his power to "draw off" his enemy's supporters to his own side. 13

The Throne of Darius, depicting among other things Darius himself sitting upon the throne. An inscription on the throne reads: "Behold the representation of those who bear my throne, and you shall know how great is the number of the lands which Darius the King has seized." Compare this with the "exceedingly beautiful throne" of Riplakish (Ether 10:6) and the oppressive means by which he got it.

This system of "drawing off" is, as we have noted before, very ancient in Asia. There is even a special Arabic word for it jadhab. "From whom shall I take away ... the awful sovereignty?" asks Mithra in the Avesta, which is full of legendary heroes who draw off each other's followers. 14 The gathering of rival forces is regularly accompanied, as in the Book of Mormon, by exchange of personal letters between the chiefs and the sending of formal challenges: "Let the Shanyu come to the South and either meet the emperor in open battle or else become a subject and pay reverence to the imperial throne," is a typical example. 15 Jealousy and ambition, says Xenophon (Cyrop VI, ii), are the essence of Asiatic kingship, which is an intensely personal thing; he describes how Croesus and Cyrus devoted every ounce of their energy and treasure, gathering together huge conglomerate armies to fight it out for the rule of all Asia. How intensely personal this rivalry was has been recounted in the unforgettable pages of Herodotus. In the Egyptian annals Pharaoh alone is the only victor and the only hero, and the issue of every war is simply his personal argument with the opposing monarch. 16 Every king of Babylonia or Assyria performs all of his tremendous feats singlehanded, as the monuments explain, and makes it a point to report that his Majesty personally dispatched the rival king: "In the midst of the battle my own hand captured Kashtilash, the Kasite king"; "against the king himself, at the point of the spear, unto the setting of the sun I waged battle." 17 This last vividly recalls the Book of Mormon picture of Shiz and Coriantumr fighting with each other until nightfall. (Ibid., 15:20 ff.) The actual exploits of a Sargon, Cyrus, Thothmes III, or Rameses II, moreover, give us to understand that the personal combat between kings was no mere hollow boast but actually took place.

Since every war was a personal combat between two kings, it was customary for them to challenge each other to single combat. The king of the Scythians sent his challenge to the king of the Massagetae and also to the great Darius, whose father exchanged challenges with an earlier queen of the Massagetae; the king of the Visigoths challenged the Emperor Honorius to single combat as King Lazarus of Servia did Amurath the Turk, and so on. 18 I need not point out at this date that the whole system of chivalric etiquette originates on the steppes of Asia. The great khans when their rivals were captured in battle would personally behead them, as Chinese generals still do other Chinese generals. 19 Queen Tomyris not only beheaded Cyrus, according to Herodotus (I, 205), but mad with hatred, sloshed his head around in a skin filled with blood. It was common among the rulers of the steppes to convert the skull of a personal enemy into a drinking cup, as the emperor of the Bulgars did with the skull of the Emperor Nicephorus, and the king of the Hiung-nu did of the top piece of the ruler of Iran. 20 The ancient Ukranians would take their oaths by drinking blood from such vessels. 21 The Assyrian rulers collect the skins of rival monarchs, as the Ja Lama did in our own day. 22

We have dwelt at unsavory length on these gory details because it is necessary to explain what the Book of Ether is about. The grim ferocity with which the rulers of Asia concentrate all their wrath against the person of a rival king belongs to the Jaredite tradition: "And it came to pass that Coriantumr was exceedingly angry with Shared, and he went against him ... to battle; and they did meet in great anger." (Ibid., 13:27.) And "when Shiz had received his epistle, he wrote an epistle unto Coriantumr, that if he would give himself up, that he might slay him with his own sword, that he would spare the lives of the people." (Ibid., 15:5.) During the battle that ensued, "Shiz arose, and also his men, and he swore in his wrath that he would slay Coriantumr, or he would perish by the sword." (Ibid., 15:28.) What these men seek before everything else is not power or victory but settlement with a personal rival.


Both Shiz and Coriantumr as they moved about on their endless campaigns "swept off the inhabitants before them, all them that would not join them." (Ibid., 14:27.) This is the classic Asiatic method of forced recruiting: "If the neighboring province to that which they invade will not aid them," says an eyewitness of the Tartan technique, "they waste it, and with the inhabitants whom they take with them, they proceed to fight against the other province. They place their captives in the front of the battle and, if they do not fight courageously, put them to the sword." 23 In such a way the Asiatic war lords from the beginning "... swept the earth before them" like Shiz (Ibid., 14:18), and like the Communist hordes of our day, forcing all that lay in their path to become part of them. "I counted them among my people," says the Assyrian conqueror of one nation after another, and this ancient formula would seem to go back to our old friend Nimrod, whom popular superstition saw reincarnated in Genghiz Khan as he "became a mighty hunter," according to Carpini (Ch. vi.) "He learned to steal men, and to take them for prey. He ranged into other countries taking as many captives as he could, and joining them to himself," as Nimrod had done, by awful oaths. This system of "sweeping the earth" explains how it was possible for small and obscure Asiatic tribes to rise very quickly to be conquerors of all Asia and most of Europe: The tribe that gave its name to the conquering hordes was merely the nucleus of an army which snowballed into a world army by forced recruiting of all it met.

A great deal has been written about the calculated Schrechlichkeit of the great conquerors, especially Genghiz Khan, whose practices have been condoned by recent biographers on the grounds that there is no better weapon than terror to soften up opposition, provoke early surrender, and thus save lives. Certainly terror is the keynote of Asiatic warfare with its "absolute contempt for human life," 24 and the boast of an Assyrian king might be echoed by many an ancient and modern successor: "I marched victoriously, like a mad dog, spreading terror, and I met no conqueror." 25 Being a mad dog seems to us a poor thing to boast of, but the terror was carefully calculated. Shiz would have understood as in his pursuit of Coriantumr "...he did slay both women and children, and he did burn the cities. And there went a fear of Shiz throughout all the land; yea, a cry went forth throughout the land—Who can stand before the army of Shiz? Behold, he sweepeth the earth before him!" (Ibid., 14:17-18.) When Corihor gained a victory, it was his turn to be the terror of the earth and "...the people began to frightened, and began to flee before the armies of Coriantumr...." (Ibid., 14:27.)

An important by-product of the Asiatic-Jaredite system of rallying armies and absorbing nations is an efflorescence of robber bands on all the face of the land. All who will not join the great armies are put to death, as we have seen, but what of those who escape? They are naturally outlaws, having no allegiance to any king and hence no rights or claims to protection. To survive, these people band themselves together, and since all are deserters whose heads are forfeit, their behavior becomes very dangerous. Asia has at all times swarmed with robber bands, exactly as did this continent under the Jaredites, and from time to time these robber bands have formed coalitions strong enough to ruin states and overturn thrones. After wars between the Mongols and Mamelukes had exhausted all their resources and brought ruin to many lands, soldiers from both sides banded together in robber armies, gathered up the outcasts in the deserts and mountains, and came near to conquering all of western Asia. 26 The pages of Bar Hebraeus swarm with these robber bands and good descriptions of how they operate. Whenever central governments became weakened by wars and corruption, bands of robbers would appear as if out of the earth, as when early in the ninth century the robber Omar became the terror of all the Near East and joining forces with the robber-chief Nasir in the north "began to destroy the world." 27

Just as robber bands often formed the nucleus of world-conquering armies (some Chinese emperors had whole armies composed of "bad young men"), so those world armies, once beaten, promptly broke up into robber bands again, while their leader, lately a world ruler, would find himself again nothing but a bandit chief. 28 The years during which Justinian and Chosroes were locked in deadly rivalry for the rule of the world saw the rise in western Asia of a motley array of robber gangs numbering 12,000 men, who brought complete ruin upon a large part of the civilized world; in this time of panic and insecurity "great schism fell upon the Arabs (i.e. the inhabitants), and in every quarter a man rose up who did not agree with his companion." 29 This typical and recurrent state of things vividly recalls the awful days of the Jaredite robbers, when every man slept on his sword to guard his property from every other man—and still had it stolen. (Ibid., 14:1-2.)

We need not dwell on the pathological aspects of Asiatic warfare—the hideous disguises, the bloody oaths, the insane yells, the pyramids of heads and all that. In Taras Bulba Gogol describes the Kazakh hordes as going quite insane in battle or, as Ether puts it: "...they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine." (Ibid., 15:22.) One unpleasant aspect of the business worthy of mention is the universal custom of scalp collecting, at all times practised with zeal on the steppes of Asia as in America. 30 It was the rule in Asia for great conquerors to disseminate the belief that they were not human but actually incarnations of the devil! 31

The insane wars of the Jaredite chiefs ended in the complete annihilation of both sides, with the kings the last to go. The same thing had almost happened earlier in the days of Akish, when a civil war between him and his sons reduced the population to thirty. (Ibid., 9:12.) This all seems improbable to us, but two circumstances peculiar to Asiatic warfare explain why the phenomenon is by no means without parallel: (1) Since every war is strictly a personal contest between kings, the battle must continue until one of the kings falls or is taken. (2) And yet things are so arranged that the king must be the very last to fall, the whole army existing for the sole purpose of defending his person. This is clearly seen in the game of chess, in which all pieces are expendable except the king, who can never be taken. "The shah in chess," writes M. E. Moghadam, "is not killed and does not die. The game is terminated when the shah is pressed into a position from which he cannot escape. This is in line with all good traditions of chess playing, and back of it the tradition of capturing the king in war rather than slaying him whenever that could be accomplished." 32 You will recall the many instances in the Book of Ether in which kings were kept in prison for many years but not killed. In the code of medieval chivalry, taken over from central Asia, the person of the king is sacred, and all others must perish in his defense. After the battle the victor may do what he will with his rival—and infinitely ingenious tortures were sometimes devised for the final reckoning—but as long as the war went on the king could not die, for whenever he did die, the war was over, no matter how strong his surviving forces. Even so, Shiz was willing to spare all of Coriantumr's subjects if he could only behead Coriantumr with his own sword. In that case, of course, the subjects would become his own. The circle of warriors, "...large and mighty men as to the strength of men..." (Ibid., 15:26) that fought around their kings to the last man, represent that same ancient institution, the sacred "shieldwall," which our own Norse ancestors took over from Asia and which meets us again and again in the wars of the tribes, in which on more than one occasion the king actually was the last to perish. So let no one think the final chapter of Ether is at all fanciful or overdrawn. Wars of extermination are a standard institution in the history of Asia.

To cite a few examples, when Genghiz Khan overcame the great Merkit nation, he left only one man alive—the brother of his favorite wife. 33 The Assyrian kings would systematically annihilate every living thing in the lands they conquered, sowing fields with salt, like the Romans, and flooding the sites of cities they destroyed to convert them into uninhabitable wastelands. 34 In cities of a million inhabitants the Mongols left not a dog or a cat alive, and they converted vast provinces into complete deserts. 35 The great island of Cyprus was an uninhabited waste for seven years after the Turkomans took it. 36

The Goths in a single battle entirely exterminated the Sciri (Jordanes, Ch. 53), as the Huns did the Scythians and Alans, and as the Mongols did the Tartars. 37 The Mongols themselves met retribution in 1732 when their own kinsmen, the Manchus, wiped out nine-tenths of the Oret Mongols in a Chinese-in-spired project aimed at the complete obliteration of both sides. 38 Such mutual suicides of nations were not uncommon: the Kin and the Hsia Hsia, the two greatest empires of their day and as closely related in blood as were the people of Shiz and Coriantumr, engaged in fifteen years of warfare that wiped out eighteen million people—a figure that makes Ether's two million (Ibid., 15:2) look rather paltry. 39

Incidentally, the wars of Genghiz Khan cost China alone forty million lives! 40 The Hunnish Jao Dynasty of the North and the Dsin Empire of the South almost achieved mutual quietus during a civil war in which "neither side was willing to make peace until the other was completely crushed." 41 In the first century B.C., the Huns divided to follow two brothers, Jiji and Huhansie. Twenty years of war followed, and the deadlock was only when in 43 B.C. Jiji's people in despair finally fled west in the best Jaredite manner, leaving "vast stretches of land bare and deserted" behind them.

This sort of history should convince the most skeptical that the Book of Ether is not exaggerating in what it tells us either of what happened or of the scale of events. The whole picture is a conservative one by Asiatic standards but by the same standards completely authentic.

What the Jaredites left behind was a land littered with bones, for " swift and speedy was the war," that "...the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead," (Ibid., ETCAR 14:21f), and a generation later "...their bones lay scattered in the land northward." (Omni 1:22.) A medieval traveler, passing Kiev years after the great wars between the Mongol and Russian hordes, reports: "When we were traveling through this country, we found an innumerable multitude of dead men's skulls and bones lying upon the earth." Far away, in Commania and Cangle, "we found many skulls and bones lying upon the ground like cattle-dung." All the living inhabitants, he notes, were reduced to slavery. Where burial was at all possible after such battles, the only practical procedure was to heap up the bodies in great piles and cover them with earth, "erecting great tumuli over them," as when the whole Naiman nation was buried in mounds after its destruction. Joinville, traveling a whole year through Asia to reach the court of "the cham of Tartary," saw all along the road of Tartar conquest "large mounds of bones." A comparison of the prehistoric mounds of Asia and America is still to be undertaken.

1. Nibley, Wstn. Pol. Quart. IV (1951), 238ff

2. Ibid., pp. 226-230

3. Darmesteter, op. cit., II, 65

4. M. Prawdin, Mongol Empire, p. 162

5. The earliest kings are always described as perpetually "going the rounds." Thus Pharaoh in the Pyramid Texts "goes the rounds" of the Two Regions as of the skies, and the Babylonian gods have from shrine to shrine, i.e., from castle to castle, as Apollo (Il I, 37ff) and Poseidon (e.g. Od. V, 381) do in the beginning

6. A. Jirku, "Aufsteig u. Niedergang der Hyksos," Jnl. Palest. Or. Soc. XII (1932), 49-61; W. F. Albright, 'Egypt & the Early History of the Negeb," Ibid. IV (1924), 134; Ed. Meyer, Gesch, des Altert. II.1.72. For dates see W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (Penguin Books, 1951), pp. 85, 109

7. Hoernes, Natur- u. Urgesch., II, 396

8. E. A. Speiser, in Jnl. Am. Or Soc. LXX (1950), 47ff; Hurrian words for armor indicate central Asian origin, id., p. 49

9. Wittfogel & Chia-sheng, in Am. Phil. Soc. Transactions XXXXVI, 663; H. Haslund, op. cit., p. 237

10. M. Cable, The Gobi Desert, p. 264. See especially E. N. Fell, Russian and Nomad (N.Y.;1916), p. 9f

11. The whole question is treated in my two articles cited above, note, 179

12. Krause, Cingis Han, pp. 14-27; Prawdin, Mongol Empire, pp. 147ff

13. Darmesteter, op. cit., II, p. 148. A description of the technique of "drawing off" another's supporters is in Al-Fakhri's Al-Adab as-Sultaniah wal-Daula-l-Islamiyah (Cairo), p. 5

14. McGovern, Early Empires, p. 143; cf. Nibley, Wstn. Pol. Quart. IV, 244ff

15. Max Pieper, Die Aegyptische Literatur (Potsdam: Athenaion, 1927), p. 74

16. Luckenbill, Anc. Records I, 57, 60, 40, ef. II, 124 (No. 247): "I seized him alive with my own hands," etc., speaking of the rival king

17. Herodotus IV, 126 IV, 11; Jordanes, Bell. Goth. xxx; Creasy, Hist. of the Ottoman Turks, p. 46

18. Krause, op. cit., p. 26; H. Haslund, Men & Gods in Mongolia, p. 155

19. Vernadsky, Anc. Russia, p. 298; G. N. Roerich, Trails to Inmost Asia, p. 368; C. R. Beazley, The Dawn of Modern Geography (London, 1901) II, 267

20. B. Meissner, Babylonien u. Assyrien I, 112; Haslund, loc. cit

21. Carpini, Ch. 16, in Komroff, op. cit., p. 26

22. R. Grousset, L'Asie Orientale des Origines au XVe Siecle (Paris: Presses Univers taires, 1941), pp. 304f, 307; Hoernes, Nat. -u. Urgesch. II, 392-403

23. Luckenbill, Anc. Records II, 99 (No. 176)

24. Budge, Chronogr. of Bar Hebraeus I, 465

25. Ibid., p. 124

26. This is well-nigh the leitmotiv of Arabshah's Life of Timur, Kitab 'Ajaib al-Maqdur, etc. (Cairo, A. H. 1335); princes when defeated regularly become highway robbers according to Chinese annals, Krause, op. cit., p. 24. Attila's descendants became leaders of robber bands though heirs to world empire, e.g. Jordanis, Bell. Goth. Ch. 58. That this is the primordial state of things appear from Darmesteter, Zend-Avesta II, p. 171

27. Budge, op. cit., I, 103, 111ff

28. Herodot. IV, 64, 66, 70; Pliny HN VII, ii, 10; Ammianus, Ch. 31; Luckenbill, Anc. Records II, 396 (No. 1050); Budge, op. cit. I, 465; McGovern, Anc. Empires, p. 54

29. Arabshah, op. cit., pp. 4-6, lists great world conquerors who propagated the belief that they were devils. Cf. Lipkin, Manas Vyelikodushniy, pp. 14ff, 18, etc

30. M. E. Moghadam, in Jnl. Am. Or. Soc. 58 (1938) p. 662; cf. L. Thorndike, "All the World's a Chessboard," Speculum VI (1931) p. 461

31. Krause, op. cit., p. 26; Grousset, L'Asie Orientale, p. 291

32. Luckenbill, Anc. Records II, 311 (No. 811); 152 (No. 340)

33. Prawdin, op. cit., pp. 191f, 469, 472

34. Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De admin. imper. xlvii, in patrol. Graec. 113, col. 365

35. Eunapius, ch. vi, in PG 113, 656f; McGovern, Early Empires, p. 366

36. H. Haslund, Men and Gods in Mongolia, p. 206f

37. Prawdin, op. cit., pp. 221, 329

38. McGovern, op. cit., pp. 335, 189-191

39. Carpini, Ch. 13, 21, in Komroff, Contemps. of M. Polo, pp. 22, 37

40. Krause, op. cit., p. 17


My dear Professor F.:

THE first rule of historical criticism in dealing with any ancient text is, never oversimplify. For all its simple and straightforward narrative style, this history is packed as few others are with a staggering wealth of detail that completely escapes the casual reader. The whole Book of Mormon is a condensation, and a masterly one; it will take years simply to unravel the thousands of cunning inferences and implications that are wound around its most matter-of-fact statements. Only laziness and vanity lead the student to the early conviction that he has the final answers on what the Book of Mormon contains. "It is the constitutional disposition of mankind," said Joseph Smith, "to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty.... Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain?" 1 These words apply equally to the wildest revivalist and the ablest scientist. Tertullian taught that anything which is not specifically stated in the Bible to have occurred in the past must actually be assumed not to have happened at all.

Even the most opinionated Bible student today would not limit himself so strictly; but granted that we may go farther than Tertullian, how far may we go? Nothing in the restored gospel was more offensive to the Christian world than its insistence on going much too far to suit the Christian world, and daring to speak of doctrines and events not mentioned in the Bible at all; for example, Brigham Young states, in the face of long centuries of misinterpretation of Genesis 1:14: "How long the starry heavens have been in existence we cannot say; how long they will continue to be we cannot say. How long there will be air, water, earth; how long the elements will endure in their present combinations it is not for us to say. Our religion teaches us that there never was a time when they (the physical elements) were not, and there never will be a time when they will cease to be; they are here and will be hereafter." 2

Obviously the implications of such statements are highly offensive to many good Christians. Six months before his death the Prophet Joseph Smith declared: "I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions...." 3 Of what traditions is he speaking? Not infant damnation or baptism by sprinkling or Neoplatonic ideas about God, for such things the Saints had left behind. The traditionalism to which he refers is clear from another address given by the Prophet at about the same time, when he said, "I suppose I am not allowed to go into an investigation of anything that is not contained in the Bible. If I do, I think there are so many over-wise men here, that they would cry 'treason' and put me to death. So I will go to the old Bible and turn commentator today." 4 Notice that good members of the Church are charged with two follies: 1, taking the Bible as the only possible source of knowledge, and 2, interpreting the Bible strictly in the light of their own limited experience.

Turning to the Book of Mormon, is it not possible there also to fall into the old sectarian vice of oversimplifying? Are there not many Latter-day Saints who will insist that every American of pre-Columbian descent must be a Lamanite because, forsooth, there were once Nephites and Lamanites, and the Nephites were destroyed? Yet the Book of Mormon itself makes such an interpretation impossible. The Nephites were destroyed, we are told, but it is pertinent to the case of the Jaredites to ask, what does the Book of Mormon mean by destroyed? The word is to be taken, as are so many other key words in the book, in its primary and original sense: "to unbuild; to separate violently into its constituent parts; to break up the structure." To destroy is to wreck the structure, not to annihilate the parts. Thus in I Nephi 17:31 we read of Israel in Moses' day that, " ... according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them ..." bringing them together after they had been "destroyed," i.e., scattered, and needed a leader. "And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews," according to II Nephi 25:9" ... even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities."

A complete slaughter of any one generation would of course be the end of their history altogether, but that is not what "destroyed" means. Of the Jews at Jerusalem Nephi says (I Nephi 17:43): "I know that the day must shortly come that they must be destroyed, save a few only.... " Later, " ... after the Messiah hath risen from the dead ... behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again.... " (II Nephi 25:14.) In these two cases what actually happened was that the Jews were all scattered " ... save a few only" that remained in the land. The Israelites upon entering the Promised Land, we are told, drove out " ... the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction." Here it is plainly stated that the destruction of the Canaanites was their scattering—as is known to have been the case. Likewise of the Nephites: " ... and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold these things shall be hid up ..." (I Nephi 13:35), where both Nephites and Lamanites dwindle in unbelief after they have been destroyed.

Only once in the Book of Mormon do we read of a case of annihilation, when we are specifically told that " ... every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed ... " (Alma 16:9), where not only the social structure but each individual is undone. In other instances, the Lord promises that he will not utterly destroy the descendants of Lehi's youngest son, Joseph (II Nephi 3:3), or of Lemuel (Id., 4:9), and even Nephi is told that God " ... will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren ... " (I Nephi 13:30), even though the promise and fulfilment were that the Nephites should be "destroyed."

So when we read that the Jaredites " ... were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country ... " (the very first verse of Ether), we are to understand that the nation was smashed and dispersed, but not that the catastrophic final battle was necessarily the whole story. The first thing that occurs to King Mosiah on the discovery of the twenty-four gold plates was, " ... perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came ... " (Mosiah 8:12), showing that whether anyone survived or not, for Mosiah at least it was perfectly possible for remnants of a people to exist after that people had been "destroyed." But did not Ether prophesy that " ... every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr"? (Ether 13:21.) Every soul of what? Specifically of "his kingdom ... and all his household." Ether himself, hiding in a cave, was not included in the number, and neither were other inhabitants of the continent—Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites that were actually living here at the time of the Jaredite destruction. Neither were renegade Jaredites, wandering far and wide beyond the confines of the kingdom. That there were such renegades will appear from a number of things.


Nephites with Jaredite Names

In the first place, a number of undeniably Jaredite names turn up from time to time among the Nephites. Such striking coincidence calls for investigation, for it can hardly have been an accident. From the Book of Mormon we learn that the Jaredites and Nephites spoke entirely different languages, and even a cursory search will show that Jaredite proper names have a peculiar ring of their own. Their most characteristic feature is the ending in -m. This is called mimation and is actually found among the most ancient languages of the Near East, where it was followed by the later nunation, or ending in -n, the most characteristic feature of classical Arabic and also of Nephite proper names, as we noted above. 5 The correct use and sequence of mimation and nunation in the Book of Mormon speaks strongly for the authenticity of the record, for the principle is a relatively recent discovery in philology. It may be illustrated by the only Jaredite common nouns known to us, curelom and cumom, and the only adjective, shelem, applied to a mountain " ... because of its exceeding height." (Ibid., 3:1.) It is interesting that the original meaning of the best known of Semitic roots, Salam, may be "a high place" (Arab. sullam, "ladder, stairway, elevation") with the idea of safety, and hence peace, as a secondary derivation.

(Reproduced from Fewkes, 1907, pl. 10.)

This old engraving of an Arawak dance to the Earth Goddess may be taken as representative of the ways of the Jaredites and Lamanites in the days of their decadence. The picture presents an astonishing number of Old-World elements: the griffon-headed devil with claws for feet, the many-headed, central figure strongly reminiscent of certain Egyptian-Hellenistic idols, the feathered and turbaned headdresses, the pitchforks and especially the trident held by the leading figure, the ring-dancing—all are found combined in the cults and abominations of the Old World, in which the Earth Goddess usually is the most conspicuous figure.

But it is the proper names that concern us here. When out of the short list of Jaredite names preserved to us, a respectable percentage turn up as Nephite names as well, it is high time to ask, is this one case where the author of the Book of Mormon has slipped up or is there something significant about those Nephites who bear Jaredite names? The answer is a surprise: Every one of these men has a Mulekite background and is a leader of subversive movements against the Nephite state and religion! The significance of this will appear at once if we consider that the only case of definite overlaping between the Jaredite and Nephite peoples is provided by the episode of Coriantumr and the Mulekites.

Coriantumr, the last Jaredite chief, spent the last nine months of his life among the Mulekites. These people had left Jerusalem eleven years after Lehi did and therefore three years after Lehi's people had already settled in the New World. We are told that "Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla ... " (Omni 21), who must have been traveling quite awhile to meet him even halfway between their landing place in Central America and Cumorah; in all probability they traveled a good deal more than halfway, and perhaps all the way, since Coriantumr had been very badly wounded, and with not a soul to help him could not have got very far; the fact that he lingered only nine months after his rescue implies as much, though it does not necessarily prove it. But the evidence strongly suggests that the Mulekites "discovered" Coriantumr shortly after the last Jaredite battle, and hence that they had been on the continent for quite awhile, though some years fewer than the Nephites. The overlap between the Mulekite and Jaredite cultures was at least nine months long and may have extended over many years. At any rate we have proof that the Jaredites made a permanent cultural impression on the Nephites through Mulek, for centuries after the destruction of the Jaredite nation we find a Nephite bearing the name of Coriantumr, and learn that this man was a descendant of Zarahemla, the illustrious leader of the Mulekites. This shows the Jaredite influence reaching the Nephites through Mulekite channels, which is exactly what one would expect. The name had been preserved either in the royal family (Coriantumr the Jaredite would have been the guest of the chief) or in the records—most likely the former, since people do not as a rule go to written histories for their names, while nothing is more persistent than personal names, most of those we use today being at least a thousand years old.

1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith (Deseret News Press, 1938), p. 320.

2. Quoted in N. B. Lundwall, Temples of the Most High (Salt Lake City, 1941), p. 301, from journal of Discourses III, 367f.

3. Joseph Fielding Smith, op. cit., p. 331.

4. Ibid., p. 348.

5. Examples of mimation may be found in W. F. Albright, The Vocalization of Egyptian Syllabic Orthography (New Haven: Am. Or. Soc., 1934), 7f, 14f, etc.

6. "They flee to the mountains," is the Assyrian formula, e.g., Luckenbill, Anc. Rec. I, p. 79. "Upon leaving Balach," says Marco Polo, Travels I, xxiii, " ... you traverse a country that is destitute of every sign of habitation, the people having all fled to strong places in the mountains, in order to secure themselves against the predatory attack of lawless marauders, by whom these districts are overrun." In the flat regions of the north "everyone tried to escape into the woods," at the approach of the hordes, Vladimirtsov, Chingis-Khan, p. 19.

7. R. Grousset, L'Asie Orientale, p. 305.

8. M. Cable, The Gobi Desert, p. 278.

9. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 267.

10. Origen, Peri Archon, in Patrol. Graec.

11. For a complete account of the Kensington Stone, see S. N. Hagen, "The Kensington Runic Inscription," Speculum XXV (1950), 321ff.


Dear Professor F.

BUT why all this insistence on the possible survival of a few Jaredite escapees prowling in the woods? Because it would take no great number of such renegades to perpetuate "upon the face of this north country" the ways of the Jaredite nomads and hunters. We have said that when the Asiatics hide in the mountains and the woods, their way of life becomes just like that of the Indians. Indeed Professor Grousset can think of no way of life so perfectly like that of the scattered and disorganized tribes of Asia after the destruction of the great nations than that of the North American Indians at the time of their discovery by the whites. 1 And what is more natural than that conditions in the north country, littered with bones and haunted by savage hunters, should present after the passing of the Jaredite nation just the sort of wreckage and savagery that make the Asiatic scene after the passing of empire? In time descendants of Jaredite hunters and robbers would combine with Lamanite riffraff, as their ancestors did with the Mulekites, and the old Jaredite stock would survive, like the Nephite, as a "mixture" only. (I Nephi 13:30.) But the ways of the Jaredite hunters, perfectly adapted as they were to conditions of life in this north country, would not only hold their own but also remain predominant. This complicates the picture considerably, but for that matter, the anthropologists themselves now begin to detect just such complications in their own picture, as Gladwin has shown us with much spirit and wit. 2

We need not discuss the well-known affinities between the North Americans and the hunters of Asia—shamans, mounds, peace pipes, scalping, secret societies, and all that. 3 Contacts between the natives on the Asiatic and American shores of the far North Pacific still take place, but that is strictly a local phenomenon. 4 It is the really ancient Asiatic background of the Indians that interests me. In a recent study on the rise of the ancient state in Central Asia, I drew evidence equally from the American ethnologists and the Old World sources, and it all fitted neatly into a single picture. But whatever connection there might have been between the Asiatics and the Indians—save for those maddeningly obvious ties with the Near East to which. Gladwin draws attention—must have been a very early one indeed, for the Asiatic languages are among the most conservative and widespread on earth, and if the two worlds had been in contact anywhere near as recently as certain authorities believe, the Asiatic nature of the Indian languages should be instantly recognizable. To date no one has been able to recognize those languages as those of the Asiatic steppes.

Now all this is as the Book of Ether would have it. That account tells us that at the very dawn of history, many thousands of years ago, a party of nomad hunters and stock raisers from west central Asia crossed the water—very probably the North Pacific—to the New World, where they preserved the ways of their ancestors, including certain savage and degenerate practices, and carried on a free and open type of steppe warfare with true Asiatic cruelty and ferocity; it tells us that these people moved about much in the wilderness, for all they built imposing cities, and that they produced a steady trickle of "outcasts" through the centuries. A careful study of the motions of the Jaredites, Mulekites, Nephites, and Lamanites should correct the absurd oversimplification by which the Book of Mormon as a history is always judged. It will show as plain as day that the Book of Mormon itself first suggests the Asiatic origin of some elements at least of the Indian race and culture long before the anthropologists got around to it. The scientists no longer hold that one migration and one route can explain everything about the Indians. The Book of Mormon never did propound a doctrine so naive. Though it comes to us as a digest and an abridgment, stripped and streamlined, it is still as intricate and complex a history as you can find; and in its involved and tragic pages nothing is more challenging than the sinister presence of those fierce and bloody-minded "Men out of Asia" known in their day as Jaredites.


The time has come to draw a few conclusions. If you will recall, I set out to prove "that certain strange and unfamiliar things described in Ether could have taken place as described because they actually did take place—characteristically and repeatedly—in those culture areas in which, according to the Book of Mormon, the Jaredites acquired their culture and civilization." Among such strange and unfamiliar things we mentioned that valley of Nimrod, the confounding of the languages, the great wind, deseret, and the flooded plains of the Old World, while in the New World our list includes such items as the great assembly of the nation, the drawing off of followers by bribes, oaths by kings in prison, fine work done in prisons, the dancing princess, strange breeds of animals, plagues of serpents, great national hunts, and special hunting preserves, the nation in arms, peculiar strategy and tactics, the formation of armies by forced recruiting, systematic terrorism, the rule of robber bands, wars of extermination regarded as personal duels between rival rulers, with the ritual survival of the king. The list of bulls'-eyes is a long one, and if it is not as long as Lehi's it is because Ether takes fewer shots (Nephi, which covers but eight years, can devote much more attention to detail) and at an, if possible, even more difficult target. His percentage of hits is no less staggering.

Journals of anthropology are full of such photographs of forlorn-looking Indians. They are essentially "hiders," seeking only to escape any involvement with the outer world. The danger and exertion of life in Jaredite times drove many into the wilderness as permanent refugees. It is not impossible that their descendants have left a strain in the blood and culture of the predominantly Lamanite American Indians.

Individually I find the parallels between the Jaredites and the early Asiatics very impressive, but taken together their value increases as the cube of their number. In the Book of Ether they are woven into a perfect organic whole, a consistent picture of a type of society the very existence of which has come to be known only in recent years, and which is quite different from that Indian culture into which it later developed. How beautifully integrated this short history is! There is a great calamity, a confusing and confounding of peoples and tongues, a general scattering in many directions from a point somewhere to the north of Mesopotamia. 5 Then a migration into unknown lands covered with swamps and lakes, the dank remnants of the last ice age, and then tremendous winds that overtake the party just as they set sail. Some years after their landing in the New World they hold a general assembly and choose a king; his son in time rebels and inaugurates centuries of bitter warfare, ending eventually in a war of extermination with odd survivors lurking in the woods and deserts. Numbers, distances, and times all fit together perfectly, but the sort of thing that can be most fully checked and is virtually impossible to fake is, as I have often insisted, the sort of thing that was done and, the way it was done. It is the big picture that is really impressive.

But our main purpose in writing these letters, if you will think back to the first one, was to refute the Einheitstheorie of a single beginning for the origin of the Indians, since you protested that the Book of Mormon was over-simplifying the story. I think by now it should be apparent that the Book of Mormon account is not as simple as it seems. Ether alone introduces a formidable list of possibilities, few of which have ever been seriously considered. Foremost among these is the probability, amounting almost to certainty, that numerous Jaredites survived in out-of-the-way places of the north to perpetuate a strong Asiatic element in the culture and blood of the American Indian.

To write a history of what could have happened at the very beginning of recorded history would have been as far beyond the scope of any scholar living in 1830 as the construction of an atom bomb would have been. The portrait of the first great states of antiquity is only now taking shape in our own day, and the idea of the original Asiatic nucleus of all civilizations was undreamed of a few years ago. Our own ideas will have to be revised continually on many points, but the main outlines of the picture are firm and clear—and it is the same picture that meets us in the Book of Ether. One of the most surprising discoveries of recent years has been the revelation that wherever the experts search, in Babylon, Thebes, Ras Shamra, Central Asia, or the Far East, we are met at every period of history by an almost unbelievable mix-up of physical and linguistic types. And as the biological picture becomes more complex, the cultural one seems to become more simple, the whole civilized world at any moment of its history seeming to share in a general sort of way in a single common world civilization. This is also the picture we get in Ether, where the nations and tribes are already thoroughly "confounded" in Jared's day, while certain institutions and practices are described as being common to "the ancients" as a whole and as flourishing among all nations.

Consistent with this picture is the fact that a number of Jaredite names are also Bible names. You asked in your last letter how that can be if the Jaredite language was the lost Adamic tongue? In the first place, let us make it clear that the language of Jared was not the Adamic language at all: Jared asked that his language be not confounded, so that his people might continue to understand each other, not because it was a unique or perfect language or the sacred language of Adam, a thing which would certainly have been mentioned if it were so. Indeed, after the Jaredites had made their getaway and their language was safe, the Lord told the brother of Jared: "the language which ye shall write I have confounded." (Ether 3:24.) When Moroni tells of the remarkable power of the writings of the brother of Jared, he attributes the mighty words not to the genius of the language but to a special gift from God to the writer. (Ibid., 12:24.) As to the antiquity of writing, incidentally, we have not discussed the matter because it is still, so to speak, completely up in the air. At Uruk, where "the parent forms" of writing first appear, they do not do so by any gradual process of evolution, but "suddenly and without warning there appear fifteen hundred signs and pictographs scratched on clay. They seem to have been written and used without any signs of hesitancy," 6 showing that writing was already well-established somewhere in the world, and that somewhere was the region to the north of Mesopotamia. 7 The emergence of writing in Egypt is just as sudden and surprising.

As to Jaredite names in the Bible, the general confusion of tongues would not only allow it but also require it, for, remember, that the vast majority of people who spoke Jared's language originally were confounded and that language contaminated, so that while the words remained, their meanings did not. (Ibid., 1:34.) We would expect, then, to find Jaredite words scattered here and there all over the Old World. The only way we can trace such words, of course, is in proper names. Few people in our society know what their names mean, though both family names and given names almost all once had meanings because our names are almost without exception survivals from long-dead languages, having very involved and picturesque histories. Such has always been the case with proper names. It is not surprising that three of the oldest cities in the world, one of them traditionally described as the first city in the world after the flood, all bear the good Jaredite name of Kish, though these cities are widely separated. It is not surprising that the first king of Israel should also be named Kish. It is not surprising that a city rivaling Kish in age and importance in Mesopotamia should be named Lagash, while one of the oldest cities in Palestine was Lakish, both recalling the Jaredite Rip-lakish, which could mean in Babylonian "Lord of Lakish." A more remarkable coincidence is that the Jaredite king, Aha, was the son of Seth (Ibid., 1:10; 11:10), since Menes, the fabled founder of the First Egyptian Dynasty, bore the name of Aha (meaning warrior), and was supposed to have succeeded Seth as the ruler of the land. A good idea of how mixed up things are may be gained from considering the name of Corihor. We noted above that the name of the high priest who in 1085 B.C. usurped the throne of Thebes (incidentally, the oldest city in Egypt and the oldest city in Europe both bear the name of Thebes—how come?) seemed to be identical with that of the Nephite upstart Korihor. But we have just seen that Korihor is just as obviously identical with the Jaredite Corihor. What is the tie-up? Not in Egypt, surprisingly enough, for Hur-hor, Heriher, or whatever it was, does not seem to have been an Egyptian name at all, but is possibly a late adoption from the Hurrian, through Canaanite or Amorite; that is, it comes from the original stamping grounds of the Jaredites. The Nephites can thus have got it either from the Jaredites through Mulek or have imported it directly from their corner of the Egyptian Empire, where its Egyptian form was illustrious among the followers of Ammon. 8

There is not a name or an event in Jaredite history that does not call for long and serious study. They merit such study because they are names and events of authentic type. As with the Lehi story, if this is fiction, it is fiction by one thoroughly familiar with a field of history that nobody in the world knew anything about in 1830. No one is going to produce a skilful forgery of Roman history, for example, unless he actually knows a good deal of genuine Roman history. So if Ether is a forgery, where did its author get the solid knowledge necessary to do a job that could stand up to five minutes of investigation? I have merely skimmed the surface in these hasty letters, but if my skates are clumsy, the ice is never thin. Every page is loaded with matter for serious discussion—discussion that would fizzle out promptly in the face of any palpable absurdity.

But nothing could be more unfair than to treat the Book of Ether simply as a history. After our long preoccupation with the sordid and secular side of Jaredite history, it is high time to remind ourselves that this text, from which we have been arbitrarily selecting for comment only those verses which might have been found in any ancient chronicle, is one of the greatest treasures that ever came to a generation of men. The sad story of the Jaredites is but a framework for the inspired commentary of Moroni, a mighty tract for our times but more than that for the times ahead.

1. Rene Grousset, L'asie orientale des origines au XVe Sicle, 305.

3. Gladwin, Men Out of Asia.

4. M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia (Oxford, 1914), pp. 114-6.

5. If the reader will examine the culture map of Asia published in Life magazine for December 31, 1951, pp. 8-9, he will notice that the editors have placed the "beginning of civilization" in the mountains to the north and east of Mesopotamia, with the main focal point in the great valleys immediately north of the Plain of Sinear. This is in strict accordance with our own conclusions based on the Book of Ether.

6. W. Andrae, "The Story of Uruk," Antiquity X (1936), 141-2. On the equally sudden emergence of Egyptian writing, S. Schott, Mythe und Mythenbildung in Alten Aegypten (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1945), pp. 2ff.

7. I have treated this theme in Wstn. Pol. Quart. II (1949).

8. P. K. Hitti, History of Syria (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1951), p. 149; for the archaic Hur-, Hor- element in Egyptian names, Schott, op. cit.

by Hugh Nibley, Ph.D.


My dear F.

MORONI assures us that it is the Lord who is running things, and that men miss the whole point and meaning of their lives by failing to recognize the fact: "... the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains," (Ether 2:24) he tells the brother of Jared—but to men it does not seem that way, for the Lord is constantly showing forth "great power, which looks small to the understanding of men." (Ibid., 3:5.) Men simply do not have faith and so deny themselves the blessings and the powers that might be theirs—boundless knowledge, "knowledge of all things" that is "hid up because of unbelief." (Ibid., 4:13.) Given faith, God will not withhold from us a knowledge of all things. And ironically enough, men know that they should have faith even apart from the thought of any reward, "for it persuadeth [men] to do good." (II Nephi 33:4.) You begin with hoping—"man must hope, or he cannot receive an inheritance," (Ether 12:32) for "faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." (Id., 6.) "... If there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them," (Id., 12) for he "workest unto the children of men according to their faith." (See Id., 29.)

—Photograph used by permission of Chamber of Commerce, Alexandria, Minn.

The Kensington Runestone

Nothing is harder than to convince a man of a thing he has not experienced: "Ether did prophesy great and marvelous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not." (Id., 5.) Those without faith live in a world of their own which to them seems logical and final; they take the very unscientific stand that beyond the realm of their own very limited experience nothing whatever exists! God's works to them look small, and they will never be cured of their myopia until they are willing to face facts and pass a test that only the honest in heart can consider without a chill of aversion. The test is this: "... if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; ... then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Id., 27.) What man of the world or posturing Ph.D. is ever going to ask for weakness? The men of the world seek for the things of the world, the realities they know—and the greatest of these are "power and gain." Through the ages, the book of Ether assures us, men have sought these things as their highest goal, and have invariably made the tragic discovery that the key to control over one's fellow men, i.e., the key to power and gain, lies in three things: secrecy, organization, and freedom from moral scruples, especially from squeamishness in the matter of shedding blood. Of these three things Moroni says: "the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man." (Ibid., 8:19.) These things, the prophet explains, have destroyed one civilization after another, and shall continue to destroy "whatsoever nation shall uphold such secret combinations." (Id., 22.)

We seem to be reading Thucydides, who comments on Greek history just as Moroni does on Jaredite: Men who live for this world only invariably become dangerous paranoiacs who destroy themselves and all connected with them. But the Greeks never showed us the other side of the picture. It is there that the book of Ether far surpasses all other commentaries on human history. The greatest of Greeks taught us, wrote Goethe, that "life on this earth is a hell." Farther than that they could not go. But the book of Ether teaches us that life on this earth can be heaven, that there actually have been many "before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad." (Ibid., 12:19.) Here we are not dealing with the usual platitudes and truisims to the effect that if men would only behave themselves and help each other, they would have no troubles—men have always known that, only too well.

Ether shows us human society divided into two groups, not the good and the bad as such, but those who have faith and those who do not. They live in totally different worlds, the one group in real heaven, the other in a real hell. In no uncertain terms we are shown just what kind of world the faithless make for themselves to live in. This is Moroni's tract for our times. A generation ago the doings of the grim and bloody maniacs of the Asiatic steppe were as far removed from the thought and experience of Western man as the other side of the moon.

On the other side of the picture we have the Lord himself speaking "in all humility" (what a commentary on humility!) to any man who is ready to receive him. The Jaredites were not Israelites or even the seed of Abraham: They were simply human beings, apparently a nondescript body of no particular racial affinity. Time and place cease to exist in this story, for many men of whom we have no record spoke face to face with the Lord long before he came to fulfil his earthly mission. This remarkable indifference to any quality but faith is carried in Ether even into the next world, where we learn that the Lord has prepared "among the mansions of [his] Father" a house for man (see Id., 32), "a place for the children of men" where the faithful of this earth shall be at home among the faithful of other worlds. Thus the bonds of time and place are completely dissolved in Moroni's theology, and the same promises and warnings that hung over the world of the Jaredites are handed on to our own world.

In closing, let me point out that it is in the Book of Mormon, specifically in the book of Ether, that we read about things beyond the veil, of other worlds than this—many mansions, among which the faithful of this world inherit but one—and of men who talk with Jesus Christ face to face in visions. All this I find published in 1830, when Joseph Smith was but twenty-four years old and the Church not yet organized. Yet some of my intellectual friends are even now knocking themselves out to show that all such ideas were the product of Joseph Smith's later thinking, and that the idea of anything like his First Vision was first worked out by a committee in Nauvoo in 1843.

There is nothing like the story of the Jaredites to show us that the gospel is as timeless as it is true.

If the historical part of the book of Ether were to be put forth to the world as the translation of some text found, let us say, in the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas, the experts on early Asia might think it a work of fiction but would find nothing in it, barring the strange proper names, to make them doubt that it reflected a genuine ancient culture. If you want to be very cautious, you might say there is very little in it that would annoy the expert. But bearing in mind that Asiatic studies are still in embryo, and considering the conditions under which this work was published and the fabulously remote probability of the writer's getting anything right at all, I think no further credentials are necessary to establish the authenticity of the book. The book of Ether, claiming to be reporting the ways of very early Asiatics, rings the bell (like the book of First Nephi) much too often to represent the marksmanship of man shooting at random in the dark.