THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE INTERPRETERS –THE URIM AND THUMMIM-TO THE RECORD OF THE BROTHER OF JARED
By Alan C. Miner
The Book of Mormon reader will find that Moroni, in his abridgment taken from the book of Ether, writes of the brother of Jared, the great patriarch of a group of families that departed from the great tower. Seeking answers in order to accomplish the tasks which lay before him, the brother of Jared went up into a high mountain to commune with the Lord. Because of his great faith, the Lord appeared to him as a pre-mortal being and revealed to him many marvelous things having to do with all ages of time, both past and future. The Lord then commanded the brother of Jared to write what he had "seen and heard."
'And it came to pass that the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt not suffer these things which ye have seen and heard to go forth unto the world, until the time cometh that I shall glorify my name in the flesh; wherefore, ye shall treasure up the things which ye have seen and heard, and show it to no man. And behold, when ye shall come unto me, ye shall write them and shall seal them up, that no one can interpret them; for ye shall write them in a language that they cannot be read. And behold, these two stones will I give thee, and ye shall seal them up also with the things which ye shall write. For behold, the language which ye shall write I have confounded; wherefore I will cause in my own due time that these stones shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write. And when the Lord had said these words, he showed unto the brother of Jared all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth. For he had said unto him in times before, that if he would believe in him that he could show unto him all things--it should be shown unto him; therefore the Lord could not withhold anything from him, for he knew that the Lord could show him all things. And the Lord said unto him: Write these things and seal them up; and I will show them in mine own due time unto the children of men. And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that he should seal up the two stones which he had received, and show them not, until the Lord should show them unto the children of men.' (Ether 3:21-28; emphasis added)
What the brother of Jared initially wrote is generally referred to as "the record of the brother of Jared." Moroni notes in the middle of abridging the book of Ether that he had already written "the very things which the brother of Jared saw" and "sealed up the interpretation."
Behold, I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared. Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord. (Ether 4:4-5).
This implies that Moroni's process for interpreting and writing the record of the brother of Jared was distinctly different in time and manner than his method for abridging the book of Ether. If the record of the brother of Jared is what constitutes the sealed portion of the set of plates which Moroni delivered to Joseph Smith, then they probably constituted a unit which would have been set apart on Moroni's plates from Moroni's abridgment of the book of Ether as Joseph Smith did not include the record of the brother of Jared as part of the Book of Mormon text. Whether that setting apart involved metal bands around a section of plates right in the middle of Moroni's abridgment of the book of Ether, or physical repositioning of the record to be at the very end of Moroni's set of plates is not known. It is not even clear what portion of the plates which Moroni delivered to Joseph Smith was sealed. Joseph Smith simply said: "The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed" (History of the Church, Vol 4., p. 537). George Q. Cannon said that "about one-third" was sealed (Young Peoples' History of Joseph Smith, p. 25), whereas Orson Pratt maintained that the sealed portion comprised "about two-thirds" of the plates (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 347). Neither of the last two brethren indicate where they obtained their information. Nevertheless, if this sealed portion comprised two-thirds of the plates delivered to Joseph, then the written text produced by the sealed portion alone could possibly total over a thousand printed pages (double the length of our present Book of Mormon) or even many more. Such a prodigious work would have required a good amount of time for Moroni to fabricate (or have fabricated) the required metal plates, translate the characters my means of the interpreters, and inscribe the necessary material onto those plates.
The "two stones" mentioned in connection with the record of the brother of Jared are referred to in other parts of the Book of Mormon text as the "interpreters" and were apparently what the Lord referred to in a revelation recorded in The Doctrine and Covenants as the ones used by Joseph Smith:
Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.' (D & C 17:1; see also D&C 10:1))
The interpreters, or Urim & Thummim, were initially found by Joseph Smith in a stone box with a breastplate and a set of plates which Moroni had deposited there. He writes:
Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario County, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated on any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth. Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger." (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 16) (see also Skousen, Treasure from the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, p. 2102)
Joseph Smith was told by the angel Moroni that he should only show the contents of the box to certain people because they were extremely sacred:
Again he [Moroni] told me, that when I got these plates . . . I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 13)
This correlates with the warning words of Ammon in the book of Mosiah: "And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish." (Mosiah 8:13)
Joseph Smith described the plates which Moroni entrusted him with as follows:
These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters and bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. (Dean C. Jessee ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 1984, p. 214)
It appears that Joseph Smith's mother was one of those allowed the privilege of viewing at least one of these sacred items--the breastplate--early on. She gives this account:
It [the breastplate] was wrapped in a thin muslin handkerchief [which in those days was large and much like a scarf], so thin that I could feel its proportions without any difficulty. It was concave on one side, and convex on the other, and extended from the neck downwards, as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material, for the purpose of fastening it to the breast, two of which ran back to go over the shoulders, and the other two were designed to fasten to the hips. They were just the width of two of my fingers, (for I measured them) and they had holes in the end of them, to be convenient in fastening. After I had examined it, Joseph placed it in the chest with the Urim and Thummim. (Quoted by B.H. Roberts in Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 1, pp. 92-93) (See also Skousen, Treasure from the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, p. 2102)
Andrew Hedges writes241 that the material of this thin muslin handkerchief was apparently so fine that Lucy could reportedly "see the glistening metal,242 and ascertain its proportions without any difficulty." Hedges also notes that following Lucy's examination of the breastplate, Joseph placed it "in the chest with the Urim and Thummim."243 I have yet to find any statement concerning the origin of the breastplate, i. e. whether it originated with the brother of Jared, Mosiah, Mormon, or Moroni. Because Limhi's party brought back "breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper," one might want to associate the breastplate with the Jaredites, however, one should also realize that the breastplate was associated with the interpreters and that at the time the Limhi party returned, the king of the land of Zarahemla already had the interpreters (see Mosiah 8:13-14).
Joseph Smith describes the Urim & Thummim as follows:
With the records was a curious instrument, the Urim & Thummim, which consisted of two transparent stones, set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate. Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God" (History of the Church, Vol. 4, p. 537).
William Smith, the brother of Joseph Smith, gives a more detailed description of these instruments, although he does not give any details as to the source of his knowledge:
The Urim and Thummim were set in a double silver bow which was twisted into the shape of a figure 8, and the two stones were placed literally between the two rims of the bow. At one end was attached a rod which was connected with the outer edge of the right shoulder of the breast-plate. By pressing the head a little forward, the rod held the Urim and Thummim before the eyes much like a pair of spectacles. A pocket was prepared in the breast-plate on the left side immediately over the heart. When not in use the Urim and Thummim was placed in the pocket, the rod being of just the right length to allow it to be deposited. This instrument could, however, be detached from the breast-plate when away from home, but Joseph always used it in connection with the breast-plate when translating, as it permitted him to have both hands free to touch the plates. The instrument was too large for Joseph's eyes: they must have been used by larger men. (Saints Herald, March 9, 1932, p. 258)
Concerning the function of the Urim & Thummim, Cleon Skousen notes that the words "Urim" and "Thummim" appear to be individual names assigned to each of two transparent stones which were used by the servants of God from Adam on down, (1) to facilitate revelation (Numbers 27:21). The "interpreters" were used for revelation of all kinds (see Alma 37:21-25); (2) to give righteous judgments (Exodus 28:30); and (3) to translate ancient records written in an unknown tongue (D & C 10:1; Ether 3:23-24). (W. Cleon Skousen, The Third Thousand Years, pp. 643-646)
Paul Hoskisson writes that "Urim and Thummim is the transliteration of two Hebrew words meaning, respectively, 'light(s)' and 'wholeness(es)' or 'perfection(s).' While it is usually assumed that the -im ending on both words represents the Hebrew masculine plural suffix, other explanations are possible." (Paul Hoskisson, "Urim and Thummim," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, pp. 1499-1500)
According to Randall Spackman:
One of the most attractive, recent suggestions is that Urim is derived from the Assyrian u'uru, meaning "to send forth" and related to the noun urtu, meaning "a divine decision," Thummim may be related to the Assyrian noun tamatu, meaning "an oracle." Therefore the two terms might constitute a Hebrew hendiadys, a combination of "two formally co-ordinate terms -- verbs, nouns, or adjectives -- by "and" which "express a single concept in which one of the components defines the other." The order of the terms is immaterial. Given the foregoing approach, the phrase "Urim and Thummim" could read as meaning "a divine decision in answer to a question" or "sacred answer," denoting the use to which the object was put. (Randall P. Spackman, personal communication, see also Skousen, The Third Thousand Years, p. 643)
Concerning the origins of the Urim & Thummim, Bruce R. McConkie writes:
Undoubtedly the Urim & Thummim were in use before the Flood, but the first scriptural reference to them is in connection with the revelations given to the Brother of Jared. (Ether 3:21-28) Abraham had them in his day (Abraham 3:1-4), and Aaron and the priests in Israel had them from generation to generation (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65). There is no record that Lehi brought a Urim and Thummim to this continent, but king Mosiah had one prior to the discovery of the Book of Ether, and it was handed down from prophet to prophet. (Omni 1:20-21; Mosiah 8:13-19; 21:26-28; 28:11-20; Alma 63:12; Ether 4:1-7). (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 818)
A passage in the Book of Mormon speaks about the beginnings of these "stones" or Urim & Thummim and reads as follows:
And now he [Mosiah II] translated them [the 24 plates of Ether] by means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow. Now these things [the interpreters or Urim & Thummim] were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages . . . and whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times. (Mosiah 28:13-16)
The Book of Abraham also speaks concerning the history of the Urim & Thummim:
"And I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord my God had given unto me, in Ur of the Chaldees. . . . And the Lord said unto me: Now, Abraham . . . it is given unto thee to know the times of reckoning and the set time, yea, the set time of the earth upon which thou standest, and the set time of the greater light which is set to rule the day, and the set time of the lesser light which is set to rule the night . . . And it is given unto thee to know the set time of all the stars that are set to give light, until thou come near unto the throne of God. Thus I, Abraham, talked with the lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made; . . . (Abraham 3:1-11)
But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of the Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day. . . (Abraham 1:31)
Abraham's comments touch on the association of the Urim and Thummim with (1) a knowledge of all God's works related to the earth; (2) the idea that this knowledge was made known unto "the fathers"; and (3) the idea that the fathers made records which have been kept. If, according to Mosiah, the interpreters were "prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation," and they were given to the brother of Jared, who apparently took them to the New World, then how did they get into the hands of Abraham in the Old World? And conversely, if Abraham had them, how did they get back into the hands of Benjamin (or Mosiah)?
We have been taught that the gospel has revealed to man in each dispensation, and in each dispensation the people have become so wicked that the restored gospel has been taken from them. We also know that although it is always "the Lord" who directs the transfer of knowledge, sometimes He has angels who represent Him and speak for Him. We can assume that the Lord could make whatever number of Urim & Thummims He wanted to, however as we have seen take place in the restoration of the fullness of the gospel to Joseph Smith, the Lord works within the covenant order of the Priesthood wherever possible to restore powers from chosen individual to chosen individual. Thus, from Adam to Abraham and then to Jacob and Joseph and Moses in the Old World we have a connected line of Patriarchs. (See the illustration below) However, the fact that the potential for covenant gifts of God are restored in their fullness does not always mean that the people live in such a way as to receive of that fullness, or to even understand what that fullness could be. As has been mentioned before, in each succeeding dispensation after Adam, a restoration of covenant gospel knowledge was necessary, and apparently a record to verify that covenant and a Urim & Thummim to understand the previous convenant records. In the case of Ether and Abraham, we have the patriarchs of two different, but simultaneous dispensations: one in the Old World and one in the New World. Thus there was a need for two different covenant records, but the question is, was there a need for two different sets of interpreters also? Two general theories have been proposed.
According to Cleon Skousen, the fact that Abraham had a record from "the beginning" (Abraham 1:31) and at the same time had the Urim and Thummim (Abraham 3:1-4) implies that those instruments might have been in the possession of Noah (as Orson Pratt has stated--see Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16, p. 50) and also in the possession of all the patriarchs back to Adam. This seems rather strongly supported by the Book of Mormon which says that "these things (the interpreters) were prepared "from the beginning." (Mosiah 28:13-16) [Cleon Skousen, The Third Thousand Years, p. ]
In the chronology of the patriarchs, after the flood of Noah's time which came as a punishment for the wickedness of the people, Seem the son of Noah started anew by settling in the land of Mesopotamia. The brother of Jared lived some years after Seem at the time of the great tower when the Lord was cursing and scattering his people for their wickedness. The great tower has also been associated with the land of Mesopotamia. Abraham also came from the land of Mesopotamia and was a descendant of Seem.
Sidney Sperry writes that it is possible that during a period of apostasy, early in Jaredite history, the Lord may have taken the Urim and Thummim from the Jaredites (the descendants of Shem?) and delivered them to Abraham, another descendant of Seem, who received them while still residing in Ur of the Chaldees. (Abraham 3:10) [Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, p. ]
However, Skousen notes that we do not know exactly what happened to these two transparent stones between Abraham and Moses. They may have been handed down continuously through Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph but it is more likely that they were given and then taken back at times into divine custody. Between Abraham and Moses no mention is made of them until Moses is told to put them in the jeweled linen container (called a "breastplate") which Aaron wore on the front of his Priesthood vestment, called the ephod. The ephod was a multi-colored waistcoat with two large onyx stones on the shoulders. The names of six tribes were carved on each stone. From these stones hung woven golden chains which were attached to the linen container called the "breastplate of judgment." Concerning it the Lord said: "thou [Moses] shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the Lord; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually." (Exodus 28:30)
Later, these instruments were turned over to Aaron's son, Eleazar, and Joshua was told to get the word of the Lord through this means. The Lord said: "And he [Joshua] shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation." (Numbers 27:21) There is another lapse of around 400 years and then we are told, "when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets." (I Samuel 28:6) This implies that these sacred instruments were available but would not function during a period of apostasy.
Following the return of the Jews from Babylon (538 B.C.) the sacred instruments appear to have been lost from among them. "And the Tirshatha [Governor] said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, til there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim." (Nehemiah 7:65; Ezra 2:63) However, they appear to have been very familiar with these instruments so their disappearance may have been just before the captivity. [W. Cleon Skousen, The Third Thousand Years, pp. 643-645 ]
According to Sperry, there is a Jewish tradition found in the Babylonian Talmud, Sota, 48, a, to the effect that the Urim and Thummim were lost at the time of the destruction of the Temple. Since this is about the time that the Nephites left Jerusalem, we suggest the possibility that Father Lehi took them with him or that Nephi secured them along with the Brass Plates. If one of them did secure the instruments, we see that the Nephites had the sacred "interpreters" during all the years of their long history. Though this theory requires the Lord to transfer of only one Urim and Thummim from this continent, where the Jaredites were located, to Abraham in the Near East at Ur of the Chaldees, it is very attractive and fits very nicely into Nephite history. For according to Sperry, what happened to the Urim and Thummim among the Jaredite people after the death of the brother of Jared is not known. Nothing is said either about their use or about the names of the prophets to whom they were handed down. All we know is that the Urim and Thummim or "interpreters," as they were called by the Nephites (Mosiah 8:13; 28:20), eventually found their way into the hands of Nephite prophets and "were handed down from generation to generation" until they came into the possession of Moroni. Moroni hid them in the hill, where, about 1400 years later, they were acquired by the Prophet Joseph Smith (Ether 4:5). [Sperry, Book Of Mormon Compendium, pp. 26-29].
Paul Hoskisson writes that "in antiquity at least two different Urim and Thummim existed, and possibly three. ["Urim and Thummim," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1499-1500) Joseph Fielding Smith believes that the Urim and Thummim had by Abraham were "separate and distinct" from those had by the brother of Jared and brought by him to this continent (See The Improvement Era, Vol. 57:382; see also Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, pp. 222-226). If he is right, we are left with the possibility that one of the last of the Jaredite prophets managed to transmit the Urim and Thummim to an unnamed Nephite prophet.
According to Sperry, possibly Ether himself transmitted the Urim and Thummim at the Lord's behest to one of the Nephite prophets about the time of the last battles of the Jaredites. We remember that Ether hid the record that he had written about his people in such a manner that a branch of the Nephite people found them (Ether 15:33); the sacred "interpreters" might also have been hidden in such a manner that an inspired Nephite prophet would find them. (Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, pp. 27-29)
Additionally, the last words of Ether are intriguing: "Whether the Lord will that I be translated, or that I suffer the will of the Lord in the flesh, it mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God. Amen" (Ether 15:34) If Ether turned over the Urim and Thummim as a "translated" being, then it is easy to reconcile the bestowal of these instruments on any of the Nephite prophets from the time of his translation (approximately from the time of Mosiah1 forward to Mosiah2.