Come Follow Me: Ether 1-5
Background on the Jaredites at the Tower
From what we read in the Book of Ether, Jared and his brother Mahonri Moriancumer, lived near the Tower of Babel. Traditionally, the Tower of Babel was built by the great Babylonian King Nimrod. In ancient tradition, Nimrod inherited the garment of Noah, which Ham stole from his father when Noah was drunk in his tent. The garment, which caused animals to trust the wearer, was used by Noah to gather them into his ark. Nimrod is known in the Bible as a “mighty hunter” denoting this enhanced ability he received from wearing Noah’s garment.
Nimrod built the Tower of Babel in order to obtain heaven. He was ruler over much territory and saw himself as a god on earth. He now desired to be god in heaven, and so organized his people to build the tower so as to overthrow God. Nimrod’s version of a theophany was to force his way into God’s throne room, and then place himself on the throne as god and king. Isaiah would compare Nebuchadnezzar to Nimrod in calling him “Lucifer”, because of Nebuchadnezzar’s desire to be the second Nimrod and to rebuild the tower in his day:
“That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!... How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit” (Isaiah 14:8-15).
Nimrod would be the arch nemesis of Abraham and his family. In the early traditions, the young Abraham would miraculously escape the machinations of Nimrod on many occasions. Eventually, Abraham would flee to dwell with Noah and Shem in safety. Abraham’s grandson Esau would slay Nimrod, either as a hunting accident, or because he sought to own the garment of Noah and return it back to its rightful owner (himself).
In George Laub’s autobiography, he mentions the ancient historian Josephus explaining that Nimrod built the Tower to fight against God for bringing the great Flood. In addition, he explains what Joseph Smith related to him regarding Nimrod and the Tower.
“Now I will tell the story of the designs of building the tower of Babel. It was designed to go to the city of Enoch for the veil was not yet so great that it hid it from their sight so they concluded to go to the city of Enoch. For God gave him place above the impure air for he could breath a pure air and him and his city was taken, for God provided a better place for him. For they were pure in heart for it is the pure in heart that causes the Zion to be”.
If the City of Enoch, in being carried up to heaven, was still visible to people on earth, Nimrod could build a tower to reach it. Nimrod could then seek to overthrow God (or at least Enoch as Metatron the archangel) on the city’s passage to heaven.
The tower would actually have been a Ziggurat, an ancient temple design. Unlike most artistic depictions, Ziggurats are square. As with temples, they represented the place between heaven and earth where the people could go to worship their god. In Nimrod’s case, he built the tower of Babel to overthrow God, instead.
So, we see there is a very complicated and interrelated story line going on here in the ancient literature and revelations of Joseph Smith.
God interrupts Nimrod’s plans
In the Bible and other LDS scriptures, we find that the story of the Tower of Babel introduces the concept of the confounding of languages. This becomes somewhat problematic in that there is written evidence of several languages preceding the Tower. While Nimrod would probably have used Sumerian, other languages (Egyptian, etc) already existed. Not all the people in the world were situated at the Tower, although the size of the city of Babylon may have seemed like it was the center of everything on earth.
Perhaps the way to read this is a more narrow way. It is possible that Jared had sacred written records from earlier prophets. We know that the original plates of Ether contained the story of man from Adam down to the Tower. It may be that the confounding of languages occurred only in Babylon, as a method to stop the united effort to build a Ziggurat to overthrow God. Speaking various languages would cause the people to disperse, meaning Jared’s company were just one of many to leave the area in order to find their own place for people who understood a similar language. Jared’s request to not be confounded may mean he did not wish to lose their language, and therefore not be able to understand the sacred records they possessed.
Jared’s company travel
The ancient city of Babel is situated south of modern day Baghdad, Iraq. They are first sent northward to a valley named Nimrod (obviously not named by them). It is possible this was a wilderness area favored by Nimrod for hunting, as the Jaredites are successful in catching animals and birds with snares.
The area would have been an oasis in the desert. Perhaps they stopped at one of the few lakes northward of Babel. Tharthar Lake is the closest large lake and is about 160 miles away. Several hundreds of miles further north, one finds Lakes Urmia and Van. They must have been a people that were used to raising flocks and fishing, as they brought flocks with them and made a large container to carry fish with them.
“And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel. 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 2:5-7)
Here we see that before they arrived to the “sea in the wilderness” they crossed many large bodies of water by building barges. What bodies of water could these have been that they would be forced to navigate, just to get to an area where they could then travel the ocean to the Americas? Some LDS scholars think they traveled eastward into the wilderness, where they picked up some travelers of the Far East with them. This is how some explain how most Native Americans today have DNA from the Far East (Siberia, Japan, etc). This, however, can be explained by other migrations, including those crossing the Bering Strait.
The problem with this direction of travel is, there are literally no large bodies of water between Iraq and Korea/China/Russia which require building barges for travel. Some would suggest they went south to the coastline, and used barges to travel along the coastline until they needed arks to cross the Pacific Ocean. Yet, why would the Lord send them north, and then into a wilderness where men had not been before, only to send them back into civilization among people?
Northward from the valley of Nimrod, we find the Black and Caspian Seas. To me, it seems likely they would have traveled to the Black Sea. It would require barges to cross this body of water, or to use it for travel. The Black Sea then brings the Jaredites to the Mediterranean Sea, or the “sea in the wilderness.” They were not to stop once they arrived on the coastline of the Iberian peninsula, but to then build the arks which would carry them across the Atlantic to the Americas.
God Speaks in a Cloud
As we just read above, God frequently spoke with Moriancumer in a cloud. This is very representative. It symbolizes Moses speaking to the burning bush and Israel being led by a pillar of cloud during the day. It mostly symbolizes the ancient temple in Jerusalem. The high priest was not allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies until after the incense filled the room with smoke. This smoke would obscure the glory of God, allowing the person to enter and not die. In Isaiah 6, the prophet finds himself in the heavenly Holy of Holies with the seraphim and God on his throne, but the smoke has not yet filled the room. Isaiah instantly grieves, because he knows he will die for seeing God directly. However, an angel touches him with a coal from the incense and it transfigures him, so he becomes part of the divine council and able to stand in God’s presence.
“And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord. And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him. And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And these are my thoughts upon the land which I shall give you for your inheritance; for it shall be a land choice above all other lands” (Ether 2:14-15).
We often note how the Lord chastised Moriancumer for three whole hours for not praying. Have you ever had God chastise you for not praying, and saying if you do not repent the Spirit will cease to strive with you and you will be destroyed and cut off from God’s presence? It seems harsh, doesn’t it?
Yet this is exactly what we should expect in an experience regarding the Holy of Holies. Anciently, the high priest would cleanse and prepare himself before entering the room. His robes included bells, so that other priests could listen to see if he were still moving inside. A rope was tied to the high priest, so if the other priests could not hear his bells and voice for a period of time, they could pull his corpse out of the Holy of Holies. So sacred is the experience to be in God’s presence, even if he is hidden in a cloud, the unrighteous risk being forever cast out of God’s presence. This would have left the Jaredites stranded in the wilderness, far from the Promised Land they long desired to reach, and without any assistance from God.
In Ether 3, we see that Moriancumer climbs a very high mountain, “which they called the mount Shelem.” In saying “they” does Moroni mean the Jaredites called the mount Shelem, or was it another people in the area who had already named it? Note that temple endowments or theophanies are often experienced on an “exceedingly high mountain.”
Moriancumer has previously discussed with the Lord his need for light in the arks or barges to cross the great ocean. The Lord sent him to figure it out. For us, we too often seek God’s help at the very beginning, without first offering a solution and then letting God perform what is not in our power. Moriancumer’s plan showed both effort and faith. He didn’t just pick up 16 stones off the ground and ask God to change them. He molted them from rock. Once there was nothing else he could do, he went to the Lord.
His exceeding great faith, then, led to his theophany. He saw Christ’s finger touch the stones and he gasped to find out God had a body like his own. Then God stepped out of the cloud, and as with Isaiah being cleansed and transfigured by a coal/stone from the holy incense, Moriancumer was cleansed and transfigured by the touch of the Lord upon his 16 stones.
Mahonri Moriancumer as the name of Jared’s brother: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/1996/09/the-brother-of-jared-an-expert-at-learning?lang=eng
Nimrod and the Garment of Adam/Noah: https://ldsblogs.com/38398/nimrod-got-adam-garment
George Laub’s autobiography: http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/GLaub-A.html
Enoch as Metatron: http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/titles.html
Tower of Babel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Babel
Google Map of area around Babel: http://tinyurl.com/anfuk29