Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Etherial Insights

In reading for the Sunday School lesson covering Ether 1-6, Brant Gardner's Second Witness series has some really interesting content surrounding the Jaredites, where they came from, when they came from, and more.  This post may seem somewhat disconnected as I'm mainly highlighting some of the ideas that I found most enlightening.

Are the Jaredites the same as the Olmecs?

According to Gardner, they are not the Olmecs, but obviously lived in the culture, though more likely were absorbed into the already extant civilization when they arrived.  The connections are "completely circumstantial.... The Olmec culture flourished and supported hierarchical societies, including kings, during the period when similar social institutions flourished among the Jaredites.  Olmec lands in the Gulf Coast lie in appropriate geographic proximity to the southern Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Chiapas [plausible Nephite lands].  The plausible linguistic and cultural connections of the people of Zarahemla also fit into the known archaeological and linguistic history of the area."

One major catch is that the "phonetics of the Olmec and therefore probably of the Jaredites, do not match the Jaredite names in the Book of Mormon."

Jaredite Chronology

Gardner hypothesizes that given "the fact that Coriantumr was given refuge in Zarahemla, [this establishes] a plausible prior connection with that group.  Mulekite early history suggests that they had participated in the Olmec culture to the point of adopting that language and religion and losing their own (Omni 1:17).  Apparently a smaller group moved up the Grijalva Valley to Zarahemla.  From the fact that both the city and the ruler at Mosiah's arrival were named Zarahemla, [Gardner deduces] that they had only recently relocated and that the city was named for the founding leader.  Thus, Coriantumr may have lived with them perhaps less than fifty years before Mosiah's arrival.

"I also read Zarahemlaite interest in the stone they brought to Mosiah as interest in a relatively recent history, not as antiquarian curiosity in a stone nearly three hundred years old.  Therefore, this commentary uses 200 B.C. as a probable death date for Coriantumr and his contemporary Ether and therefore a plausible anchor for the generational chronology.  This anchor places the beginnings of the Jaredites somewhat earlier than 1070 B.C. [Gardner uses the round number 1100 B.C.]... This places them after Abraham and the patriarchs, and after Joseph in Egypt, after Moses and the plausible timing of the Israelites' return from Egypt."

Issues in Establishing the Chronology

John Sorenson cautions, "Historical texts and archaelogical research on Mesopotamia, their homeland, tell us that big pyramid-shaped temple platforms called ziggurats were being erected well before 3000 B.C.  Nothing but one of them qualifies as 'the great tower' referred to in Ether 1:33.  If the departure of the Jaredite party from their original home had been many centuries later than 3000 B.C. or earlier than about 3300 B.C., their account about "the great tower" would sound odd in terms of Near Eastern history... We have already seen that the earliest evidences of some of the basic indicators of civilization - stable agriculture, village life, and ceramics - date in Mesoamerica to about 3000 B.C.

"There is no sound evidence, by the way, to support the idea from outmoded biblical commentaries that the great tower ('of Babel') dated to near 2200 B.C., as some Latter-day Saints continue to believe.  Indeed, contrary data abound."

Gardner places "the reign of Jared's son (the first on the king list and therefore the first to have a reign to which the average reign of 30 years might apply) at 1120-1190 B.C.  The result is a gap of nearly two thousand years between the [Tower of Babel and their arrival]....

"In the genealogical list, the text identifies Morianton as a 'descendant' (rather than 'son') of Riplakish (Ether 1:23, 10:11).  Ether himself is a 'descendant' of Corihor.  Assuming that every other part of the genealogy were absolutely accurate, at these two locations we might have a plausible collapsing of generations.  Two other locations where 'descendant' is used in the original list (Ether 1:6, 16) suggest that there might be other places where there is the possibility of missing kings.  Hugh Nibley suggests: 'The first chapter of our text [Ether] gives us warning not to be dogmatic about chronology.  Three times in the genealogical list of thirty names running back to "the great tower" the word "descendant" occurs in place of "son" (1:6, 16, 23).'

"Although this caution is important, the chronology in the text itself corrects two of the three 'descendant' links to 'son' (Ether 11:23, 10:31).  This doesn't leave much room for missing generations.... While the king-list could be in error, it is internally consistent and there is no obvious reason to call it into question.  I believe that it provides a reasonable structure for reconstructing estimated time."

The Translation of the Jaredite Record and the Tower

"The Jaredite/Mesoamerican record itself seems fairly consistent and accurate, starting at the ending point (Ether and Coriantumr) and working backwards.  But it is difficult to connect the Jaredite/Mesoamerican story with a chronology that would include the Tower of Babel."

Gardner then pulls out other examples from later Mesoamerican history where cultural history was purposely linked to Bible stories due to some similarities (the building of a tower in one linked to the Tower of Babel).  This is "either because of [their] own belief in the Bible or awareness that a Christian-like narrative would be pleasing to the politically dominant Spanish....

"The provenance of the book of Ether is inherently problematic:
  • Ether is the original author.  His relationship to any actual records is completely unknown.
  • Mosiah (2) translates the text using the translators.
  • Moroni retells the text.
  • Joseph Smith translates Moroni's text into English."
Gardner further explains that three of these four transmission steps offer the opportunity of mixing up the histories with the Tower of Babel (as Ether would have not likely made this erroneous link to the tower).  Mosiah (2), Moroni, and Joseph Smith all knew the Bible story and if any of them made the "same kind of translation/historical conflation" as others have done, "then the tower story could have been read into the Jaredite story, rather than being original to it."  Gardner suggests that if this did happen, it was likely during Mosiah's translation, "as Mormon mentions the tower as part of Mosiah's translation (Mosiah 28:17).  Thus the tower appears in the narrative before Moroni's retelling of it."  Additionally, there are elements of Noah, Moses, and Abraham clearly in the Jaredite narrative, that in my mind continue to support this reading in of Biblical history into the Jaredite story.

Gardner understands that this contradicts traditional reading, and the assumption that scripture must be historically accurate, but it does help understand "how a text that is otherwise accurate to a time and place could miss a 'little thing' like a gap of two thousand years between the dates of the Old World tower and the date Gardner reconstructed using the average reign calculation of the king-list in Ether."