“The Lord Confounded the Language of the People”

Alan C. Miner

According to John Sorenson, in the spring of 1988, the Associated Press and New York Times, among other outlets, reported the discovery of a stone slab from the state of Veracruz in Mexico. It contained “inscriptions in an unknown language,” supposedly by some “mysterious people.” In reality, the actual discovery was in 1986, and the glyphs on the new find are in the same system used on the Tuxtla (Veracruz) Statuette, first published in 1907, which is related to other finds analyzed at length in a 1987 article by S. Meluzin. One important lesson from this is that although we live in an interesting time, when information about ancient American civilizations is expanding notably, and although we should learn all about these civilizations, we should be patient and refrain from commenting until those finds are proved genuine and until all the information is in.

Nevertheless, the Veracruz find indeed promises to be of major importance because of the length of its text (577 characters), its date (second century A.D.), and its location (in or near what many Latter-day Saints believe to have been a Nephite land at the time). [John L. Sorenson, “Latest Discoveries,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 111-112]

Note* The geographical area of this find (the Tuxtla Mountains of Veracruz, Mexico) happens to be the same area where most major Mesoamerican Book of Mormon models place the Jaredite hill Ramah (also the Nephite hill Cumorah), which was situated in the Nephite land northward. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

Omni 1:20 A large stone brought unto him with engravings on it ([Illustration] Monument No. 12 at La Venta Museum, Villahermosa, Tabasco. Joseph Allen correlates this stone somewhat with the idea of the large stone mentioned in Omni. [Joseph Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 57]

[Omni 1:20]: He Did Interpret the Engravings by the Gift and Power of God:

According to Amaleki, Mosiah1 interpreted the engravings on the large stone “by the gift and power of God” (Omni 1:22). This phrase, “the gift and power of God,” is very similar to the wording that Ammon used in telling king Limhi that “king Mosiah[2] had ’a gift from God,’ whereby he could interpret” the engravings on the 24 plates (Mosiah 21:28). Was Mosiah1’s interpretation of the large stone accomplished with or without the use of the Urim and Thummim? The Printer’s Manuscript and the first edition (page 200 -- now Mosiah 21:28) mention that Benjamin had the gift of interpretation. Was this a gift apart from the Urim and Thummim which eventually came into the hands of Mosiah2

According to John Sorenson, we cannot be certain [the instrument had by either Benjamin or Mosiah] was the Jaredite instrument … Perhaps “Mulekite” explorers had found the Jaredite interpreters on the battlefield near the hill Ramah (while missing the twenty-four gold plates found by the Limhi expedition?) There was some early exploration because they found Coriantumr. Another possibility is that King Mosiah (I) might have received the Urim and Thummim that originated with Moses from the people of Zarahemla, who had retained it as a sacred relic since Mulek’s time without being able to make it work. Perhaps someone in Mulek’s party had been inspired to carry it from the temple in Jerusalem immediately before that structure was destroyed by the Babylonians (“T.W.B.” in the Millennial Star [76:552-571] speculated that Mulek’s party took the Urim and Thummim from the temple and brought it to America.) [John L. Sorenson, “The ‘Mulekites’,” in Brigham Young University Studies, Vol. 30 No. 3 (Summer, 1990): p. 20]

According to Cleon Skousen, following the return of the Jews from Babylon (538 B.C.) the sacred instruments [Urim & Thummim] appear to have been lost from among the Jews: “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 Sidney 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. [Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, p. 28]

Verneil Simmons fills in some details… . While the biblical account is garbled as to time and place, it is certain that at Ramah, north on the road to Riblah where the king of Babylon awaited the captives, Jeremiah was not only freed but also given food and money and permission to travel where he chose. He was invited to Babylon where he would have been treated honorably, but if he did not wish to accept the king’s invitation, then he was to do whatever seemed good to him. In other words, he had complete freedom to move about the country at will (Jeremiah 39:11-15; 40:1-6)… .

Included in the captives that went to Babylon was the chief priest of the Temple, as well as the second priest and the three keepers of the door. With the captives out of the city, the conquering army was left in control and probably began gathering up the riches of the wealthy from their abandoned palaces, as well as removing the fabulous vessels from the Temple itself. Even the pillars of brass before the doors of the Temple proper and the twelve bronze bulls were broken up and carried away (Jeremiah 32:17-23)… .

But what happened to the most sacred objects of the Jewish people, the Ark of the Covenant and the Urim and Thummim? When the period of captivity was fulfilled and Cyrus, king of Persia, restored the Jews to Jerusalem, he went to the treasure-house and ordered the return of as many of the Temple vessels as still remained. In the book of Ezra it is recorded that all the vessels of gold and silver that were taken back to Jerusalem numbered 5,400. But neither in the account of the stripping of the Temple, nor in the record of what was restored many years later, is there any mention of the Ark of the Covenant or the Urim and Thummim, the objects of the innermost sanctuary of the Temple! It has been supposed that both objects were carried away as booty to Babylon and there destroyed. But according to II Maccabees and the Jews of Jerusalem in 175 B.C., Jeremiah served the Lord in preserving the Ark of the Covenant. He had been commanded of the Lord to Preserve the Ark of the Covenant as a witness against Israel in times to come. But what happened to the Urim and Thummim? The writers of the Book of Mormon tell us that Mosiah had them after he came into the land of Zarahemla, which Zarahemla was a descendant of Zedekiah through his son, Mulek. The king of Babylon had ordered his captain, Nebuzaradan, to grant any request made by Jeremiah. If the prophet had wanted access to the Temple during the time the city’s wealth was being removed, no one would have opposed him. The priests of the Temple had been taken captive and killed and undoubtedly lesser attendants had fled for safety. Jeremiah had the authority to order the taking forth of the Ark of the Covenant, that he might hide it. Only Jeremiah, and Gedaliah the new governor appointed by the king, had any real authority after the armies left… . Zedekiah’s daughters were not considered valuable as marriage pawns and were not even taken to Babylon but sent back to remain in the care of Gedaliah… . Was it possible that a “little one,” or an infant son was among those sent back? (see the commentary on Omni 1:16) Were these children returned to Gedaliah in the care of Jeremiah? Jeremiah had been told in his initial call that part of his work would be to “plant.” Ezekiel said the Lord would take an heir of the king of Judah and “plant” him in an eminent “mountain,” or nation. Is it possible that the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophetic statement occurred when Jeremiah preserved an infant son of King Zedekiah by arranging for his escape from the country. (see the commentary on Mosiah 25:2) [Verneil W. Simmons, Peoples, Places and Prophecies, pp. 94-95] [See the commentary on Omni 1:16; Mosiah 25:2]

Thus, it is also possible that the Urim and Thummim of the Jews eventually ended up in the hands of Mosiah1

David Palmer cites an interesting history of the Cakchiquel indians of Guatemala. He says that the Cakchiquels had a sacred object called the “rock of obsidian,” which was associated with their legendary migration across the sea. Their legend states:

Go my sons and daughters, these will be your obligations and the work which we give you to do. Thus speaks the rock of obsidian. Go where you see mountains and valleys. Oh my sons, there your countenances will become happy. These are the presents which I will give you, your riches and dominion over all. (Recinos, 1950:52).

[David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, p. 157]

These ideas certainly provide at least some options in explaining how the “interpreters” came to be in the hands of the king of the land of Zarahemla before he had the 24 plates of Ether. [See the commentary on Mosiah 8:11; 28:20; Ether 3:22-28; 4:5]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary