“That We May Have Light While We Shall Cross the Sea”

The brother of Jared left his place of prayer but returned with a possible solution. He has, in some way, created sixteen small stones that are “white and clear, even as transparent glass.” We do not know what the brother of Jared created. We do know that there is a connotative distinction between the stones and glass. The stones are formed out of rock. This gives us an interesting set of contrasts. Glass is not stone and is not made from stone. The terminology used here does not define the natural features of whatever the brother of Jared presented to Yahweh.

While there might have been some ancient glass at the time of the Jaredites (see commentary accompanying Ether 2:23–25), no glass is known for Mesoamerica. Therefore, neither Mosiah nor Moroni would have used the term. The closest possibility would likely have been obsidian, given the properties and value of obsidian. We do not know what word was on the plates. Joseph Smith was familiar with seer stones as tools of revelation and, I hypothesize, tried to communicate the spiritual nature of these objects by using language from Revelation 21:21: “And the twelve gates [of the heavenly Jerusalem] were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” Of course, gold is no more “transparent glass” than stone is.

Historian Richard L. Bushman describes Joseph’s experience with seer stones:

Around 1822 Joseph had discovered a stone while digging a well with Willard Chase a half-mile from the Smith farm. The stone enabled Joseph to see things, as Lucy said, “invisible to the natural eye.” Emma Smith said it was “a small stone, not exactly black, but was rather a dark color.” In 1841 Joseph showed the stone to the Council of the Twelve in Nauvoo and told them, Brigham Young reported, “that every man who lived on the earth was entitled to a seerstone and should have one, but they are kept from them in consequence of their wickedness.”

Both the gold streets in Revelation and the brother of Jared’s stones are “glass” because, in Joseph’s world, one “sees” through glass. These are instruments of “seeing” and therefore are described as “glass” even though they did not have glass’s physical properties.

Culture: When the brother of Jared has a solution to take to Yahweh, he climbs a very high mountain they called Shelem. This mountain echoes Moses’s ascent of Mount Sinai to speak to Yahweh (Ex. 19:18–20). In the days before constructed temples, the ancients used mountains as natural temples. Jared and his brother had left a people who built towers as artificial mountains because mountains were a symbolic connecting point between humankind and deity. Mountains moved the ascender closer to God’s realm. If one were to meet God, it would be there—in the place of nature’s temple. The brother of Jared was therefore going up to his natural temple.

Linguistics: Nibley comments: “‘It was called Shelem because of its exceeding height.’ The original word of Shelem, Shalom, means ‘peace,’ but it originally meant ‘safe’ (safety, security) because it was a high place. The Shelem was a high place. It’s still the word for ladder: silma, selma, a sullam in Arabic. It’s a very high elevation.”

Variant: A correction in the printer’s manuscript eliminated a phrase in this copy before the 1830 edition was printed: “And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) therefore the brother of Jared went forth unto the mount.”

Brant Gardner -

Brant Gardner

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6