Jaredite Culture:
Splendor and Shame

Chapter 4

A World of Jails

The Jaredites, like their Asiatic relatives and unlike the Nephites, were thoroughgoing monarchists, and their monarchy is the well-known Asiatic despotism lacking none of the trimmings. Where could one find a more perfect thumbnail portrait of the typical Asiatic overlord than in the four verses that describe the reign of Riplakish? (Ether 10:5—8). The lechery and cruelty, the magnificence and the oppression are all there. That sort of thing was well known in Joseph Smith’s day—after all, Hajji Baba came out in 1824—but the book of Ether goes far beyond the conventional picture to show us institutions quite alien to the experience of Western people.

Such is the practice, mentioned many times in the book, of keeping a king prisoner throughout his entire lifetime, allowing him to beget and raise a family in captivity, even though the sons thus brought up would be almost sure to seek vengeance for their parent and power for themselves upon coming of age. Thus Kib was taken captive by his own son, begot yet other children in captivity, and died of old age, still a prisoner. To avenge Kib, his son Shule overcame the unfilial Corihor whom, however, he allowed to continue in power in the kingdom! Shule in turn was taken prisoner by Corihor’s son Noah, only to be kidnapped from his prison and restored to power by his own sons. And so on: “Seth . . . did dwell in captivity all his days; . . . Moron dwelt in captivity all the remainder of his days; and he begat Coriantor. And it came to pass that Coriantor dwelt in captivity all his days. And [he] begat Ether, and he died, having dwelt in captivity all his days.”1 It seems to us a perfectly ridiculous system, yet it is in accordance with the immemorial Asiatic usage. Thus when Baidu and Kaijatu disputed the throne of Asia, the advisers of the latter when he gained ascendency declared: “It is right that he [Baidu] should be yoked under service, and that he should be kept in bondage for the whole period of his life, so that his hand can never be stretched out to kill or commit any injury.” Kaijatu failed to heed this advice, to his sorrow, for presently his brother staged a coup and put him in a tower for the rest of his days, but refused to kill him.2 The expression “yoked under service” reminds us that in the book of Ether kings are made to “serve many years in captivity” (Ether 8:3; 10:15; 10:30). Benjamin of Tudela tells how the khalif, the spiritual ruler of all western Asia, arranged for “the brothers and other members of the khalif’s family” to live lives of ease, luxury, and security: “Every one of them possesses a palace within that of the khalif, but they are all fettered by chains of iron, and a special officer is appointed over every household to prevent their rising in rebellion against the great king.”3 Jenghiz Khan during his earlier career was put in stocks and carried about with the court of a rival prince as a permanent prisoner—his escape was almost superhuman. His descendant Timur and his wife were also made permanent prisoners and kept in a cowshed by a rival ruler.4 In an emergency the shah of Persia was unable to come to the same Timur’s aid as an ally because, he explained, “his nephew Mansur had robbed him of his army and thrown him into prison”—yet he was able to write letters.5 When Izzudin overcame his brother Alluddin in their fight for the Seljuk empire, he locked him up in prison; but when at the end of seven years Izzudin died, his brother was immediately released and put on the throne without a dissenting voice—he had been kept behind bars all that time just as a precaution!6 It was the custom of Turkish kings, as was long doubted by scholars but has recently been proved, to allow their defeated rivals to sit upon their thrones by day, but lock them up in iron cages for the night!7 These lords of the steppes, like the Mamluke ruler who brought an upstart general to heel by having him hauled to court in a cage,8 were following in the footsteps of much earlier kings. Sennacherib reports of no less a rival than the king of Babylonia that “they threw him fettered into a cage and brought him before me. I tied him up in the middle gate of Nineveh, like a pig.”9 And of the king of Arabia, Assurbanipal says: “I put him into a kennel. With jackals and dogs I tied him up and made him guard the gate of Nineveh.”10 Moving back to the earliest records of all, we find a large class of legends all over the ancient world telling how a victorious god in the beginning bound and imprisoned his rebellious relatives—not killing them, since they partook of his own divine nature; the earliest myths of Zeus and Osiris at once come to mind.11 You will notice that the imprisoned kings in Ether are all jailed by their relatives.

Related to the permanent confinement of kings is the institution of forced labor in prisons. Riplakish “did obtain all his fine work, yea, even his fine gold he did cause to be refined in prison; and all manner of fine workmanship he did cause to be wrought in prison” (Ether 10:7). Work in prison, we are told, was the alternative to paying ruinous taxes (Ether 10:6). Much the same system was used by the Assyrians from the beginning: Tiglath Pileser III tells how, “I laid tribute and taxes upon them; . . . [their horses, their mules,] their camels, their cattle and their sheep (and) workmen without number I carried away. . . . All the skilled artisans I shrewdly used to best advantage. Feudal dues, forced labor, and overseers I imposed upon the land of Nairi.”12 Note the combination of dues and forced labor—the same as in Ether. Even kings are made to serve, as we have seen was the case among the Jaredites: “The kings, their rulers, I brought in submission to my feet and imposed taskwork.”13 The later rulers of Asia continued the tradition, the Scythians considering all people their slaves, and their Parthian successors binding the inhabitants of huge areas to labor on their great work farms.14 While in western Asia, Alaric and Attila treated all men as their bound serfs,15 to the east the Wei conquerors kept a million captives working for a hundred years in caves to produce “all manner of fine workmanship.”16 “In a house erected for the purpose,” says Marco Polo, describing how it is done in one part of Asia, “every artisan is obliged to work for one day in the week for his majesty’s service.” 17 Each relative of the Great Khan “received a certain number of skilled workmen, artisans, artists and so on, who were at his entire disposal and whom he made settle where he liked.”18 Tamerlane kept such artists, especially goldsmiths and glass workers, for himself, forcing them to settle in prison camps at Samarkand in much the way Assur-Nazir-Pal had bound down the Aramaean workers 3000 years before.19 Even in our own day the Ja Lama forced everyone who fell into his power, “Tibetan officials, . . . Mongol pilgrims, lamas, . . . Chinese traders, . . . Kirghiz headmen,” as well as an innumerable host of soldiers and peasants “to work erecting buildings and constructing towers and walls” to his glory. 20

We must not overlook the ambitious building programs of the Jaredite kings, for nothing is more typical of the earliest rulers of the East, where even the prehistoric legends harp upon building with a notable persistence.21 Coriantumr “did build many mighty cities,” (Ether 9:23); the magnificent Riplakish “did build many spacious buildings” (Ether 10:5), and Morianton “built up many cities, and the people became exceedingly rich . . . in buildings” (Ether 10:12). It is a strange thing that warlike and nomadic kings should display a passion for building, but it is a fact in Asia as in America: “Cities sprang up like mushrooms in honor of the ruling Khan, most of them remaining unfinished and falling speedily into decay. Armies of handicraftsmen would be assembled for the purpose [another Jaredite practice]; . . . then the Khan would perish and of the intended glory nothing would remain but a heap of ruins.”22 A silly and wasteful procedure that often led to financial ruin and revolution, as we learn from the pages of Bar Hebraeus and also from the Book of Mormon example of Riplakish (Ether 10:5—8): “He did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings, . . . and . . . the people did rise up in rebellion against him, . . . insomuch that Riplakish was killed, and his descendants were driven out of the land.” I have discussed this strange passion for building in a recent article, but what I want to call attention to here is the exact resemblance of the Jaredite practice to that in the Old World. Incidentally, the wives and concubines are an important part of the picture, for they provided the main item of expense and the main cause of financial ruin among the rulers of the steppes, where the rule was that every king displayed his wealth and power by the number of his wives and concubines, each one of which had to possess a complete camp and court of her own.23

The particular care and expense bestowed upon the royal throne of Riplakish (Ether 10:6) is another authentic touch. The plan of the royal throne was said to have been revealed to Gudea, the famous patesi of Lagash, from heaven, and at all times there was a widespread belief in Asia that there could be only one true throne in the world, and that any unauthorized person who attempted to sit upon it would suffer grave injury.24 The importance of the throne 25 is well illustrated in the story of how the Mongol Baidu was “led into error by the flatterers, and he became proud and magnified himself. . . . He sent and had brought the great throne which was in Tabriz, . . . and he planted it in the neighborhood of Aughan, and he went up and sat upon it, and he imagined that henceforth his kingdom was assured.”26 Very famous is the story of how Merdawij of Persia, seeking to assume the title and glory of the King of the Universe in the ninth century, erected a golden throne after the pattern of the ancient Persian monarchs, and foolishly believed that it was the throne that gave him majesty.27 Of the throne of the Grand Khan, Carpini writes: “There was also a lofty stage built of boards, where the emperor’s throne was placed, being very curiously wrought out of ivory, wherein also was gold and precious stones, and there were certain stairs to ascend to it. And it was round at the back.”28 Something of that sort was the “exceedingly beautiful throne” of Riplakish, for it can be shown that the thrones of old wherever found, whether dragon throne, peacock throne, griffon throne, or even the Roman sella curulis, all go back to the old central Asiatic pattern.29

The Salome Episode

There is one tale of intrigue in the book of Ether that presents very ancient and widespread (though but recently discovered) parallels. That is the story of Jared’s daughter. This was a later Jared who rebelled against his father, “did flatter many people, because of his cunning words, until he had gained half of the kingdom. . . . [And] did carry away his father into captivity” after defeating him in battle, “and did make him serve in captivity” (Ether 8:2—3). In captivity the king raised other sons who finally turned the tables on their faithless brother and beat his forces in a night skirmish. They spared his life on his promise to give up the kingdom, but they failed to count on Jared’s daughter, an ambitious girl who had read, or at least asked her father if he had read “in the records which our fathers brought across the great deep,” a very instructive account of those devices by which the men of old got “kingdoms and great glory.”

     Hath he not read the record which our fathers brought across the great deep? Behold, is there not an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory?

And now, therefore, let my father send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say, I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king (Ether 8:9—10).

Historically, the whole point of this story is that it is highly unoriginal. It is supposed to be. The damsel asks her father if he has read “the record” and refers him to a particular account therein describing how “they of old . . . did obtain kingdoms.” In accordance with this she then outlines a course of action which makes it clear just what the “account” was about. It dealt with a pattern of action (for “kingdoms” is in the plural) in which a princess dances before a romantic stranger, wins his heart, and induces him to behead the ruling king, marry her, and mount the throne. The sinister daughter of Jared works the plan for all it is worth. Having got her grandfather beheaded and her father on the throne, she proceeds to marry the murderer Akish, who presently having “sworn by the oath of the ancients [the old system again] . . . obtained the head of his father-in-law, as he sat on his throne” (Ether 9:5). And who put him up to this new crime? “It was the daughter of Jared who put it into his heart to search up these things of old; and Jared put it into the heart of Akish” (Ether 8:17). At first she influenced Akish through her father Jared, but after Akish became her husband he would of course act directly under her influence to dispatch the next rival. According to the ancient pattern (for Ether insists that it all goes back to “the ancients”) Akish as soon as his successor became apparent would be marked as the next victim, and surely enough we find him so suspicious of his son that he locks him up in prison and starves him to death; but there were other sons, and so “there began to be a war between the sons of Akish and Akish,” ending in the complete ruin of the kingdom (Ether 9:12). Many years later the old evil was revived by Heth, who “began to embrace the secret plans again of old,” dethroned his father, “slew him with his own sword; and he did reign in his stead” (Ether 9:26—27).

This is indeed a strange and terrible tradition of throne succession, yet there is no better attested tradition in the early world than the ritual of the dancing princess (represented by the salme priestess of the Babylonians, hence the name Salome) who wins the heart of a stranger and induces him to marry her, behead the old king, and mount the throne. I once collected a huge dossier on this awful woman and even read a paper on her at an annual meeting of the American Historical Association.30 You find out all about the sordid triangle of the old king, the challenger, and the dancing beauty from Frazer, Jane Harrison, Altheim, B. Schweitzer, Farnell, and any number of folklorists. 31 The thing to note especially is that there actually seems to have been a succession rite of great antiquity that followed this pattern. It is the story behind the rites at Olympia and the Ara Sacra and the wanton and shocking dances of the ritual hierodules throughout the ancient world.32 Though it is not without actual historical parallels, as when in A.D. 998 the sister of the khalif obtained as a gift the head of the ruler of Syria,33 the episode of the dancing princess is at all times essentially a ritual, and the name of Salome is perhaps no accident, for her story is anything but unique. Certainly the book of Ether is on the soundest possible ground in attributing the behavior of the daughter of Jared to the inspiration of ritual texts—secret directories on the art of deposing an aging king. The Jaredite version, incidentally, is quite different from the Salome story of the Bible, but is identical with many earlier accounts that have come down to us in the oldest records of civilization.

Steel, Glass, and Silk

Before coming to grips with the grim and depressing military annals that make up the bulk of Jaredite history, as of all ancient history, it will be our pleasant duty to consider briefly the few casual references contained in the Book of Mormon to the material culture of this strange nation.

A few years ago your loudest objection to the Jaredite history would most certainly have been its careless references to iron and even steel (Ether 7:9) in an age when iron and steel were supposedly undreamed of. Today the protest must be rather feeble, even in those quarters “still under the influence of a theory of evolutionism which has been dragged so unfortunately in the study of ancient history.”34 Nothing better illustrates the hopelessness of trying to apply the neat, convenient, mechanical rule of progress to history than the present-day status of the metal ages. Let me refer you to Wainwright’s recent study on “The Coming of Iron.” There you will learn that the use of iron is as primitive as that of any other metal: “In using scraps of meteoric iron while still in the Chalcolithic Age the predynastic Egyptians were in no way unusual. The Eskimos did so, though otherwise only in the Bone Age, as did the neolithic Indians of Ohio. The Sumerians of Ur were at that time in the early Bronze Age though later they relapsed into the Copper Age.”35 The possibility of relapse is very significant—there is no reason why other nations cannot go backwards as well as the Sumerians. But scraps of meteoric iron were not the only prehistoric source, for “it now transpires that, though not interested in it, man was able at an extremely early date to smelt his own iron from its ores and manufacture it into weapons.” 36 But how can any men have made such a great discovery or perpetuated such a difficult art without being interested in it? We can only believe that there were somewhere people who were interested in it, and such people, as we shall presently see, actually dwelt in the original home of the Jaredites. Certainly there is no longer any reason for denying the Jaredites iron if they wanted it. A Mesopotamian knife blade “not of meteoric origin” and set in a handle has been dated with certainty to the twenty-eighth century B.C.; iron from the Great Pyramid goes back to 2900 B.C. and “might perhaps have been smelted from an ore.”37 Yet the Egyptians, far from specializing in iron, never paid much attention to the stuff except in their primitive rituals—the last place we would expect to find it if it were a late invention. While Wainwright himself found iron beads at Gerzah in Egypt that “date to about 3,500 or earlier, . . . actually Egypt was the last country of the Near East to enter the Iron Age, and then under an intensification of northern influences.”38 In fact by 1000 B.C., “Egypt still keeps on in the Bronze Age.”39 Having proved that the working of iron is as old as civilization, the Egyptians then go on to prove that civilization is perfectly free to ignore it, to the dismay of the evolutionists. It was the Asiatics who really made the most of iron. As early as 1925 B.C., a Hittite king had a throne of iron, and in Hittite temple inventories “iron is the common metal, not the bronze to which one is accustomed in other lands of the Near East.”40 If we move farther east, into the region in which the Jaredites took their rise, we find the manufacture of iron so far advanced by the Amarna period that the local monarch can send to the king of Egypt two splendid daggers “whose blade is of khabalkinu,” the word being usually translated as “steel.”41 Though the translation is not absolutely certain, literary references to steel are very ancient. The Zend Avesta refers constantly to steel, and steel comes before iron in the four ages of Zarathustra,42 reminding one of the Vedic doctrine that the heaven was created out of steel and that steel was the “sky-blue metal” of the earliest Egyptians and Babylonians.43 The legends of the tribes of Asia are full of iron and steel birds, arrows, and other magic articles, and the founder of the Seljuk dynasty of Iran was, as we have noted, called Iron- or Steel-Bow.44 The working of iron is practised in central Asia even by primitive tribes, and Marco Polo speaks of them as mining “steel,” rather than iron.45 Where “steel” may be taken to mean any form of very tough iron, the correct chemical formula for it is found in steel objects from Ras Shamra, dating back to the fourteenth century B.C.46 If we would trace the stuff back to its place and time of origin, we should in all probability find ourselves at home with the Jaredites, for theirs was the land of Tubal-cain, “the far northwest corner of Mesopotamia,” which, Wainwright observes in approving the account in Genesis 4:22, is “the oldest land where we know stores of manufactured iron were kept and distributed to the world.”47 It is to this region and not to Egypt that we must look for the earliest as well as the best types of ancient iron work, even though the Egyptians knew iron by 3500 B.C. at least.

The example of iron, steel, and bronze is instructive. They are not evolved by imperceptible degrees to conquer the world in steady progressive triumph through the ages, but appear fully developed to be used in one place and forbidden in another, thrive in one age and be given up in the next.48 The same applies to another product attributed to the Jaredites and believed until recent years to have been a relatively late invention. In Joseph Smith’s day and long after there was not a scholar who did not accept Pliny’s account of the origin of glass without question.49 I used to be perplexed by the fact that the reference in Ether 2:33 to “windows . . . [that] will be dashed in pieces” (emphasis added) can only refer to glass windows, since no other kind would be waterproof and still be windows, and they would have to be brittle to be dashed “in pieces.” Moreover, Moroni, in actually referring to “transparent glass” in Ether 3:1, is probably following Ether. This would make the invention of glass far older than anyone dreamed it was until the recent finding of such objects as Egyptian glass beads from “the end of the third millennium B.C.”50 and “plaques of turquoise blue glass of excellent quality” in the possession of one of the very earliest queens of Egypt.51 “Very little . . . is known,” writes Newberry, “about the early history of glass,” though that history “can indeed be traced back to prehistoric times, for glass beads have been found in prehistoric graves.” 52 We need not be surprised if the occurrences of glass objects before the sixteenth century B.C. “are few and far between,”53 for glass rots, like wood, and it is a wonder that any of it at all survives from remote antiquity. There is all the difference in the world, moreover, between few glass objects and none at all. One clot of ruddy dirt is all we have to show that the Mesopotamians were using iron knives at the very beginning of the third millennium B.C.—but that is all we need. Likewise the earliest dated piece of glass known comes from the time of Amenhotep I; yet under his immediate successors glass vases appear that indicate an advanced technique in glass working: “they reveal the art in a high state of proficiency; that must be the outcome of a long series of experiments,” writes Newberry.54

The finding of the oldest glass and ironwork in Egypt is not a tribute to the superior civilization of the Egyptians at all, but rather to the superior preservative qualities of their dry sands. We have seen that the Egyptians cared very little for iron, which was really at home in the land of Tubal-Cain. The same would seem to be true of glass. The myths and folklore of the oldest stratum of Asiatic legend (the swan-maiden and arrow-chain cycles, for example) are full of glass mountains, glass palaces, and glass windows. In one extremely archaic and widespread legend the Shamir-bird (it goes by many names), seeking to enter the chamber of the queen of the underworld, breaks his wings on the glass pane of her window when he tries to fly through it. The glass mountain of the northern legends and the glass palace of the immense Sheba cycle I have shown in another study to be variants of this. “Glaze and vitreous paste,” so close to glass that its absence in the same region comes as a surprise, were “known and widely used in Egypt and Mesopotamia from the fourth millennium B.C. onwards.”55 But such stuff, applied to clay objects, has a far better chance of leaving a trace of itself than does pure glass which simply disintegrates in damp soil—a process which I have often had opportunity to observe in ancient Greek trash heaps. This easily accounts for the scarcity of glass remains outside of Egypt. We now realize that the scholars who categorically deny Marco Polo’s claim to have seen colored glass windows at the court of the Grand Khan spoke too soon. A contemporary of Marco Polo “mentions that the windows of some of the yachts or barges had plate glass” in China, but the commentator who cites this authority adds that “the manufacture was probably European.”56 It is interesting that the earliest use of window glass in the Far East was for ship windows, but the fact that glass was scarce in China does not make this European glass, for it was not Europe but central Asia that excelled in glass production. A Chinese observer in central Asia in 1221 was impressed by the great native industry, which produced among other things windows of clear glass.57 We have noted the Great Khans had a special interest in goldsmiths and glass workers.

If glass and iron perish, what shall we say of silk? The “fine twined linen” of the Jaredites (Ether 10:24) offers no serious problem, since as I pointed out in an earlier letter, scraps of the finest linen have actually survived at prehistoric sites in the Old World. But the same verse speaks of silk. Since few substances suffer more complete oxidation than silk, it is not surprising that the only evidence we have of its early existence is written records. But these are sufficient to allow the Jaredites the luxury of their silken garments, if any credence is to be placed in the claims cited in the Encyclopedia Britannica that silk was worn in China in the first half of the third millennium B.C. and in India as early as 4000 B.C.58 The priority of India over China suggests a central distribution point for both of them, which would of course be central Asia, and indeed Khotan in central Asia was the great center of the Middle Ages. The making of silk on Greek islands at a very early date, and a legend of the Minoan Daedalus reported by Apollodorus which can only refer to silk culture, strongly indicate Asia rather than China as the prehistoric distribution center of the knowledge of silk in the world.

The Animal Kingdom

Like metal and glass, the animals of old have long been misrepresented by the settled preconceptions of the antiquarians. Up until five years ago—and perhaps still—the very best archaeologists were convinced that the camel was not known in Egypt until Greek and Roman times, and dismissed the Biblical account of Abraham’s camels (Genesis 12:16) as the crudest of blunders. Yet J. P. Free has been able to demonstrate the continued existence and use of the animal in Egypt right down from prehistoric times to the present, and that on the basis of evidence within the reach of any conscientious student. 59 We know that the horse, like the iron with which it is so often associated in conventional history, did not appear on the scene in just one place to spread gradually and steadily throughout the world, but was repeatedly introduced into the primitive Indo-Germanic culture-area, filtering in, so to speak, again and again.60 While certain prehistoric peoples (e.g., at Anau) had the ox and the horse before either the dog or the goat, others (like the Erteboellian) had the dog long before the others. “It is rather remarkable,” writes McGovern, “that we find no specific reference to the camel among the Scythians and Sarmatians, although . . . its existence and usefulness must have been known.”61 The moral is that we can never be too sure. Any naturalist would assume that the elephant has been extinct in western Asia for hundreds of thousands of years, for all the evidence the creature has left of itself: it is from written history alone that we receive the assurances that large herds of elephants roamed the temperate lands of Syria and the upper Euphrates as late as the XVIII Egyptian dynasty, when the Pharaohs hunted them there for sport, and that elephants were used by the war-lords of central Asia well into the Middle Ages.62 In late antiquity the wild variety disappear without trace, due perhaps to a change in world climate. I think it quite significant that the Book of Mormon associates elephants only with the Jaredites, since there is no apparent reason why they should not have been as common in the fifth as in the fifteenth century B.C. All we know is that they became extinct in large parts of Asia somewhere between those dates, as they did likewise in the New World, to follow the Book of Mormon, leaving only the written records of men to testify of their existence.

“They have plenty of iron, accarum, and andanicum,” says Marco Polo of the people of Kobian. “Here they make mirrors of highly polished steel, of large size and very handsome.” The thing to note here is not primarily the advanced state of steelworking in Central Asia, though that as we have seen is significant, but the fact that no one knows for sure what accarum and andanicum are. Marco knew, of course, but since the things didn’t exist in Europe there was no western word for them and so all he could do was to call them by their only names. It is just so with the cureloms and cumoms of Ether 9:19. These animals were unknown to the Nephites, and so Moroni leaves the words untranslated, or else though known to the Nephites, they are out of our experience so that our language has no name to call them by. They were simply breeds of those “many other kinds of animals which were useful for the food of man” (Ether 9:18). The history of the breeding of “animals which were useful for man” is an extremely complex one; to trace even such conspicuous breeds as the Arabian horse, the dromedary, or the ox is still quite impossible.63 Travelers in central Asia both from Europe and the Far East always comment on the peculiar breeds of animals they find there—camels with two humps (which are really no more like the Arabian camels than a llama is like a sheep), big-tailed sheep, and strange varieties of oxen and horses, for none of which it is possible for the travelers to find words in their own languages.64 So they call dromedaries and Bactrian camels both “camels” and kulans “horses,” just as no doubt the Book of Mormon designates as sheep and cattle breeds that we would hardly recognize. I find it most reassuring that the book of Ether, taking us to archaic times, insists on complicating things by telling about animals plainly extinct in Nephite days and breeds that we cannot identify.

The description of how people were driven out of a land by a plague of serpents that then “hedge up the way that the people could not pass” (Ether 9:31—35) may put a strain on your scientific credulity. I hasten to relieve it. Pompey the Great, we are told, could not get his army into Hyrcania because the way was barred by snakes along the Araxes, a stream that still swarms with the creatures.65 One of the chief philanthropic activities of the Persian magi was to make war on the snakes—a duty which must go back to a time when the race was sorely pressed by them.66 The Absurtitani were said to have been driven from their country by snakes, and Esarhaddon of Assyria recalls the horror and danger of a march by his army through a land “of serpents and scorpions, with which the plain was covered as with ants.”67 In the thirteenth century A.D. Shah Sadrudin set his heart on the building of a capital which should surpass all other cities in splendor; yet the project had to be abandoned after enormous expense when during a period of drought the place so swarmed with serpents that no one could live in it.68 It is interesting in this connection that the plague of serpents in Ether is described as following upon a period of extreme drought (Ether 9:30).

In the tenth chapter of Ether we read how great hunting expeditions were undertaken in the days of King Lib into the rich game country of the south “to hunt food for the people of the land” (Ether 10:19). Westerners are prone to think of hunting as a very individualistic activity; indeed, Oppenheimer insists that hunters operate “always either in small groups or alone.” But that is not the way the ancient Asiatics hunted. According to Odoric and William, the Mongols always hunted in great battues, thousands of soldiers driving the game towards the center of a great ring where the king and his court would take their pick of the animals.69 That was the normal way of provisioning an army and a nation in Asia as Xenophon describes it seventeen centuries before Carpini.70 Thousands of years before Xenophon, a predynastic Egyptian carved a green slate palette on which he depicted an army of beaters forming a great ring around a panicked confusion of animals being driven towards a round enclosure in the center. It is the royal hunt, Jaredite fashion, at the dawn of history.71 In these great hunts the king was always the leader, as among the Jaredites: “And Lib also himself became a great hunter” (Ether 10:19). “Kings must be hunters,” and every royal court must have its hunting preserve in imitation of the early rulers of Asia who invariably set aside vast tracts of land as animal refuges where habitation was forbidden.72 Here the Book of Mormon confronts us with a truly astounding scoop: “And they did preserve the land southward for a wilderness, to get game. And the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants” (Ether 10:21). The picture of the old Asiatic hunting economy is complete in all its essentials, and correct on all points.


1.   Ether 11:9, 18—19, 23; cf. 10:14, 31; 7:7; 8:3—4; 10:15, 30.

2.   E. A. Wallis Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), 1:495, 500.

3.   Benjamin of Tudela, Travels, ch. 56, in A. Asher, ed., The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, 2 vols. (New York: “Hakesheth,” n. d.), 1:95 (italics added); cf. ibid., 1:96: following a rebellion “it was decreed, that all the members of the Khalif’s family should be chained, in order to prevent their rebellious intentions. Every one of them, however, resides in his palace; . . . They eat and drink and lead a merry life.”

4.   Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire (London: Allen & Unwin, 1940), 424.

5.   Ibid., 448.

6.   Fikret Isiltan, Die Seltschuken-Geschichte des Akserayi, Sammlung Orientalistischer Arbeiten 12 (Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1943), 41—42. For some picturesque dethronements, see Budge, Chronography of Bar Hebraeus 1:147, 163, 176, 178.

7.   N. Martinovitch, “Another Turkish Iron Cage,” JAOS 62 (1942): 140, citing a number of instances.

8.   Budge, Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 1:471.

9.   David D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926—27), 2:155.

10.   Ibid., 2:314.

11.   A. B. Cook, Zeus, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914—40), and C. J. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East (London: Oxford University Press, 1948) treat this subject at length.

12.   Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:270—71, 288; 1:182.

13.   Ibid., 1:50.

14.   William M. McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939), 73. Cf. Herodotus, Histories IV, 20.

15.   Claudian, Bellum Geticum 11, 364—68; C. C. Mierow, The Gothic History of Jordanes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1915), 128—29; ch. 52.

16.   Henning Haslund, Men and Gods in Mongolia (New York: Dutton, 1935), 4.

17.   Marco Polo, Travels.

18.   B.Ya.Vladimirtsov, The Life of Chingis-Khan (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1930), 147—48; the quote is from 148. The theory is that “the conquered are the property of the conqueror, who is the lawful master of them, of their lands, of their goods, of their wives, and of their children. We have the right to do what we will with our own,” E. S. Creasy, History of the Ottoman Turks, 2 vols. (London: Bentley, 1854—56), 1:21.

19.   Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 131, 142, 175, 476. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1:182.

20.   G. N. Roerich, Trails to Inmost Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931), 232.

21.   Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 374; Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East, 6.

22.   Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 374.

23.   Under the subtitle “Mountain and Palace,” in Hugh W. Nibley, “Hierocentric State,” WPQ 4 (1951): 235—38. No empire was possible without a palace and city as its center; as in Jubilees 4:9; 7:14. In the most ancient times “every king built himself a new residence: upon mounting the throne,” says Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1909), vol. 1, pt. 2, p. 145, for the custom was “that every king possess his own ‘city.’ ”

24.   A. Wünsche, Salomons Thron und Hippodrom (Ex Oriente Lux 2:3), 9ff, 22—25. Thaclabi, Qiṣaṣ al—Anbiyya, 11—12.

25.   Part 7 of “The World of the Jaredites,” IE 55 (March 1952): 162—65, 167—68, began with this sentence.

26.   Budge, Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 1:500.

27.   Clément Huart and Louis Delaporte, L’Iran antique (Paris: Michel, 1952), 367; Adam Mex, The Renaissance of Islam, Salahuddin Khuda Bukhsh and D. S. Margoliouth, tr. (London: Luzac, 1937), 19—20. This golden throne was erected on a golden platform, before which stood a silver platform on which his princes sat in gilded chairs; some say the latter were silver thrones.

28.   Carpini, ch. 28, in Manuel Komroff, ed., Contemporaries of Marco Polo (New York: Liveright, 1928), 45.

29.   Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1928), vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 235; Hugh W. Nibley, “Hierocentric State,” WPQ 4 (1951): 240. The sella curulis was a gilt campstool used by the Roman emperor, but its name shows that it was originally mounted on wheels in the Asiatic fashion.

30.   At the Pacific Coast meeting in 1940, ARAHA (1940): 90.

31.   Hugh W. Nibley, “Sparsiones,” CJ 40 (1945): 541—43.

32.   Ibid., for a preliminary treatment.

33.   Budge, Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 1:182, “The sister of the Khalifah had a certain scribe, an Egyptian, in Syria, and he sent and complained to her about Abu Tahir [the ruler of Syria]. . . . And because her brother always paid very great attention to her, she went and wept before him. And she received [from him] the command, and she sent [it] and killed Abu Tahir, and his head was carried to Egypt.”

34.   Quotation is from P.Van der Meer, The Ancient Chronology of Western Asia and Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1947), 13. The quote does not pertain to glass, but is relevant to matters of historical prejudice.

35.   Gerald A. Wainwright, “The Coming of Iron,” Antiquity 10 (1936): 7.

36.   Ibid., 7.

37.   Ibid., 8—9.

38.   Ibid., 7, 23.

39.   Ibid., 22.

40.   Ibid., 14; emphasis added.

41.   Ibid., 18.

42.   Friedrich Spiegel, Ernische Alterthumskunde (Leipzig, 1873), 2:152. James Darmesteter, The Zend-Avesta, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1880—87), 1:93.

43.   This subject received some notice in Hugh W. Nibley, “Lehi in the Desert,” IE 53 (1950): 323—25.

44.   Sadr al-Din Abi al-Hasan ‘Ali b. Nasir b. ‘Ali al-Husayni, Akhbar al-Dawla al-Saljuqiyya (Lahore: University of the Panjab, 1933), 1. This might be regarded as a mere ornamental epithet were it not that the name Iron Arrow is fairly common and actually refers to such a weapon, Semen I. Lipkin, Manas Vielikodushnyi (Moscow: Sovietski Posaty, 1947), 24—25. The implications of steel bows are of course very significant for 1 Nephi 16:18.

45.   T. Wright, ed., The Travels of Marco Polo (London: Bohn, 1854), 53 (bk.1,ch. 14). Traveling through central Asia in 568 A.D., Menander was met more than once by primitive tribesmen from the mountains who tried to sell him their native ironware; Menander Protector, De Legationibus Romanorum ad Gentes 8, in PG 113:884.

46.   T. J. Meek, “The Challenge of Oriental Studies to American Scholarship,” JAOS 63 (1943): 92, n. 73, gives the formula for the Ras Shamra steel.

47.   Wainwright, “The Coming of Iron,” 16.

48.   “The art of forging iron must have been kept secret for a long time by the clans of forgers, in order to preserve their privileges.” George Vernadsky, Ancient Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), 43.

49.   D. B. Harden, “Ancient Glass,” Antiquity 7 (1933): 419; Pliny, Natural History XXXVI, 191.

50.   Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 419.

51.   P. E. Newberry, “A Glass Chalice of Tuthmosis III,” JEA 6 (1920): 159.

52.   Ibid., 158—59.

53.   Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 419.

54.   Newberry, “A Glass Chalice of Tuthmosis III,” 158; Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 420, cf. 426.

55.   Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 419.

56.   Wright, The Travels of Marco Polo, 179, n.1 (bk. 2, ch. 6). The existence of such windows has been hotly disputed, for no good reason. An early traveler “mentions that the windows of some yachts or barges had plate glass” in the East, ibid. It is interesting that the only proven use for window-glass was on vessels.

57.   Karl A. Wittfogel and Fêng Chia-Shêng, “History of Chinese Society Liao,” TAPS 36 (1946): 661.

58.   “Silk and Sericulture,” Encylopaedia Britannica, 24 vols. (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1960), 20:661.

59.   Joseph P. Free, “Abraham’s Camels,” JNES 3 (1944): 187—93.

60.   Fritz Flor, in Harentz, ed., Germanen und Indo-Germanen (Heidelberg, 1934), 1:111ff, 122.

61.   McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia, 77, cf. 27; Raphael Pumpelly, Explorations in Turkestan, 2 vols. (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1908), 1:41—43.

62.   James H. Breasted, A History of Egypt (New York: Scribner, 1909), 304; Wittfogel & Chia-Shng, “History of Chinese Society Liao,” 669.

63.   The principal authority on this subject is Max Hilzheimer. See Max Hilzheimer, “Dogs,” Anitquity 6 (1932): 411—19; and Max Hilzheimer, “Sheep,” Antiquity 10 (1936): 195—206.

64.   See for example Wittfogel & Chia-Shng, “History of Chinese Society Liao,” 662, Haslund, Men and Gods in Mongolia, 73.

65.   Darmesteter, Zend-Avesta, 1:5, n. 3.

66.   Herodotus, Histories I, 140.

67.   James A. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1934), 50.

68.   Isiltan, Die Seltschuken-Geschichte des Akserayi, 97—98.

69.   Odoric ch.13, and William of Rubruck ch.7, in Komroff, Contemporaries of Marco Polo, 241, 68. On Oppenheimer, see Nibley, “Hierocentric State,” 251.

70.   Xenophon, Cyropaedeia II, 4, 16—26.

71.   E. A. Wallis Budge, The Mummy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), plate 2, center.

72.   Nibley, “Hierocentric State,” 238-44; and Hugh W. Nibley, “The Arrow, the Hunter, and the State,” WPQ 2 (1949): 343-44.