The brother of Jared says to the Lord, “O Lord, thou canst do this.” Of course the Lord can do anything. The issue here isn’t what the Lord could or could not do, but rather what the brother of Jared understood that the Lord could do. The Lord could have created nuclear powered lights, but the brother of Jared didn’t think of that. The Lord could have created a torch that glowed, but didn’t burn – but the brother of Jared didn’t think of that. What did occur to the brother of Jared was stones that glowed. Why?
John A. Tvedtnes has recorded some of legendary material associated with lights in Noah’s ark:
“The book of Mormon describes how the brother of Jared prepared sixteen crystalline stones that the Lord touched, making them glow so that they could provide light to each of the vessels that would carry them across the ocean (Ether 2:22-3:4; 6:2-3). This story, too, is reminiscent of stories about the ark of Noah. Several early Jewish sources indicate that God told Noah to suspend precious stones or pearls inside of the ark to lighten it; in some traditions, it is a jewel-encrusted heavenly book. The gems would glow during the night and dim during the day so Noah, shut up in the ark, could tell the time of day and how many days had passed. This was the explanation given by the rabbis for the sohar that the Lord told Noah to construct in the ark. The word is rendered “window” in the King James version of Genesis 6:16 but “light” in some other translations.
A similar tradition is found among the Arabs, who may have borrowed it from the Jews. Al-Kisa’i reported that when Noah made the ark, he put the name of one of the prophets (including those yet to be born) on each of the pegs, "and they shone like the stars, except for the one with the name of Muhammad, which shone as brightly as the sun and the moon together.
Rabbi Eliezer tells a similar story about the “great fish” that “the Lord had prepared” to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17). He notes that Rabbi Meir spoke of a pearl being suspended inside the fish to give light to Jonah like the noonday sun, and by which he was able to see all that was in the sea (Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer 10). (John A. Tvedtnes. The Most Correct Book. Cornerstone, 1999. pp. 287-8).
When we remember that there are several places where the story of the Jaredite barges is made to appear similar to the story of the ark, the possibility increases that not only was the ark story known to Jared and his brother, but that perhaps the supernatural means of lighting the ark was also known, and served as a hint to the brother of Jared as to the nature of the light that they might have in their “arks.” The pearls that form the basis of the light in the rabbinic tales are certainly used because of their preciousness but also because of their appearance. While the molten stones would not have been precious, they would serve for the visual imagery of something that had special properties, properties that were to be brought to life by the touch of the Lord’s finger.
Of course the stones-as-light was a miracle, but it may not have been a miracle that completely violates known science:
“Many critics completely dismissed the Book of Mormon because they could not believe that such a light source was physically feasible.
Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have recently developed radioluminescent lights that invite some interesting comparisons with the Jaredite stones. These lights are intended to “serve needs for lighting where no electricity is readily available” Their life expectancy is about 20 years, and they are described as being “bright” and very “intense.”
The radioluminescent lights are made from a highly porous silica matrix – aerogel - in which a phosphor such as zinc sulfide is dispersed. The radioactive source of the lights is tritium gas, which when incorporated into the aerogel, actually becomes chemically bonded to the aerogel matrix. The radioactivity of tritium results in beta decay. The beta particles (electrons) “permeate through the open spaces of the aerogel and strike the phosphor particles, exciting them and causing them to emit light.” The majority of the light emitted escapes to the outside, whereas the beta radiation is contained inside the matrix. Therefore there is no appreciable external radiation.
Radioluminescent light is consistent with and supplies an intriguing parallel matching the requirements of the Jaredite stones: they are small, long-lasting, and physically harmless. It is possible that the Jaredite stones were created in a similar fashion, according to existing physical laws. Although making the molten rocks would most likely have boiled off any tritium present, it is conceivable that the Lord could have altered some other molecule in the stone to create the radioactive isotope that would produce the glowing effect. It is also possible that he could have simply infused the stones with tritium gas as the Sandia researchers have done. Interestingly, years ago Elder Spencer W. Kimball proposed that perhaps the Jaredite stones were illuminated “with radium or some other substance not yet rediscovered by our scientists.”
Of course we can only speculate about the process that led to the Jaredite lights, and even the Sandia researchers are quick to caution that scientific knowledge about radioluminescent lights is still in the early stages of development. Future discoveries and further developments may more closely illuminate the manner in which the molten Jaredite stones were caused to fluoresce, but for now this latest development certainly helps us appreciate that the Book of Mormon refers to realities we are only now rediscovering.” “New Light on the Shining Stones of the Jaredites.” Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon. Ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne. FARMS, 1999, pp. 254-5).