The plates from which the Book of Ether was translated is first brought to our attention in a report of an interview between Limhi, the king over a Nephite colony in the country of Lehi-Nephi, and Ammon, a messenger from Zarahemla. (Mosiah 8:9) The king related a remarkable bit of history. He had, he said, at one time, sent an embassy with an important mission to Zarahemla. The delegates, being without a competent guide, lost their way in the wilderness and missed their destination. Instead of finishing their journey in Zarahemla, they came to a country where there were many ancient ruins and other evidence of terrible devastation. In corroboration of their strange report, they brought back with them twenty-four plates of gold with unknown engravings upon them, besides other remarkable antiques. King Limhi now desired to know whether Ammon could interpret such writings.
The visitor from Zarahemla replied frankly that he could not, but he hastened to add that the king over the people in his homeland had that gift, because he had in his possession certain miraculous interpreters. (Mosiah 8:14)
In due time King Limhi and his people broke away from their servitude under the Lamanites and found refuge in Zarahemla. King Mosiah, the son of Benjamin, received them with joy and took care of their valuable records. (Mosiah 22:14) Afterwards the royal prophet, Mosiah, translated the twenty-four plates.
Not an accidental discovery. The twenty-four plates were called The Book of Ether after its author. (Ether 15:33)
The Visions of the Brother of Jared. Before the Jaredites left Moriancumer, their camp in the Old Country, the Brother of Jared was given indescribable visions on Mount Shelem. The Lord instructed him not to make them public during his lifetime, but to place them on record before his death, in the language commonly spoken before the building of the Tower of Babel but no longer known by later generations. This record was to be sealed. He also received two stones, prepared so as to magnify, or make clear, “the things which ye shall write.” These were also to be sealed. ( 28)
From the information given by Moroni, we know that King Mosiah, the son of Benjamin, had the writings of the Brother of Jared, and that he kept them in case the time for their publication should come. We also know that those writings, together with “the interpretation thereof”-the translation by Mosiah-had come into his (Moroni’s) possession, as also the interpreters. (Ether 4:1-5)
There is, then, no doubt that Mosiah, the son of Benjamin, was the custodian in his day of the Jaredite records and the stones of interpretation. (Mosiah 28:11-16)
The Jaredite record was part of the twenty-four plates of Ether which came providentially, into the hands of Mosiah through the expedition of Limhi. In all probability he received the interpreters from his father, Benjamin, who may have received them from Mosiah the First, his father.
Amaleki, the son of Abinadom, gives, in the Book of Omni, what is, perhaps, the correct clue to the question, how the stones of interpretation, originally given to the Brother of Jared, came into the hands of the kings in Zarahemla. He says that a large stone, possibly a monumental pillar or stele, was brought to King Mosiah the First, who interpreted the engravings by the “gift and power of God.” We may, perhaps, infer that this means that he had the interpreters. By this power it was found that the stone contained an account of Coriantumr and the slain of his people. (Omni 20:22) Undoubtedly, Coriantumr had brought this information to Zarahemla. May he not have carried with him the interpreters also? It must be remembered that this survivor after the battle of Ramah had usurped the highest ecclesiastical as well as the political offices, and that he, therefore, may have had the sacred instrument in his possession, although it was useless to him. Ether prophesied that he would not fall in war, but that he would live, to be buried by another people. The influence is not far-fetched that he was spared for the very purpose of bringing to the Nephites the story of the dealings of God with the Jaredites.
Mosiah disposes of the sacred objects. King Mosiah, the son of Benjamin, was the custodian of the twenty-four plates, his own translation of the contents, the interpreters, the Plates of Brass, and other records. (Mosiah 28:11-20)
The records preserved. At the proper time, Alma gave his son, Helaman, charge of the sacred treasures entrusted to him by Mosiah. (Alma 37:4)
Mormon instructed concerning the records. The great Nephite commander and leader, Mormon, relates that, when he was about ten years old, Ammaron charged him to go to the Hill Shim, in the Land of Antum, when he should reach the age of about twenty-four years. The sacred writings had been deposited there, Ammon said. He instructed Mormon to take the Plates of Nephi and complete the records from his own observations. The other plates and articles were to be left in the hill. ( 18)
Cumorah, the final place of safety. Mormon carried out his instructions. Later, he again went to the hill and “did take up all the records which Ammaron had hid up unto the Lord.” (Morm. 6:6)
Moroni finished the tragic chapter of the final battle of Cumorah and then hid “up the records in the earth.” (Morm. 8:14-16) a prophecy fulfilled through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Moroni gives one final reference to the miraculous interpreters, when he says: “But the Lord knoweth...that none other people knoweth our language; therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.” (D&C 17:1)
Only two Miraculous Interpreters. History knows of only two sacred instruments of this kind, also known as the Urim and Thummim, meaning “lights and perfections.” One was given to Abraham in the City of Ur of the Chaldees. (Pearl of Great Price, Ex. 28:30) It was finally lost sight of.
The other was given to the Brother of Jared. It was this that the Prophet Joseph had in his possession for some time.
“Urim and Thummim: According to the Hebrew, Ex. 28:30, the literal signification of these two words is lights and perfections, or the shining and the perfect. According to St. Jerome, doctrine and judgment. According to the Septuagint, declaration or manifestation and truth. They were worn in or attached to the breastplate of the high priest when inquiring of God.” (Cruden’s Concordance of the Bible)
During the Millennial reign of the Son of God, when the great temples shall adorn the Old and New Jerusalem, they may again be needed for new revelations; for then “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isa. 2:30)