What Do We Know About the Jaredite Plates?

Like a play within a play, the Book of Mormon, an ancient record translated by the power of God, contains a story of another ancient record which was translated by the power of God.

The first mention of this record appears in the Book of Omni, near the end of the Small Plates of Nephi. King Mosiah, who had united the Nephite and Mulekite people and had taught the Mulekites the Nephite language, came into possession of “a large stone…with engravings on it.” He translated that text “by the gift and power of God.” The record spoke of a man named Coriantumr, the last of the Jaredites. Sometime afterward, the people of Mosiah found Coriantumr, and he lived among them for 9 months (Omni 1:20-21). There is no subsequent mention of this stone or its translation in the Book of Mormon.

During the reign of King Mosiah, a man named Zeniff recruited a group of people to form a colony among their enemies, the Lamanites (Omni 1:27-30, Mosiah 9:1-3). Two generations later, Mosiah’s grandson (who was also named Mosiah) sent a group of men, led by a man named Ammon, to find out what had happened to Zeniff’s people (Mosiah 7:1-3).

They found Zeniff’s grandson, Limhi, ruling over a city which was in captivity. They were forced to pay a large tribute to the king of the Lamanites. Limhi had sent forty-three people into the wilderness in search of the people of Mosiah. They had not found Mosiah’s people, but they had found the ruins of a large civilization. Among those ruins, they discovered twenty-four plates filled with engravings and brought them back to Limhi.

Limhi asked Ammon if he knew of anyone who could translate. Ammon told him that King Mosiah had that ability and that it was a gift of God (Mosiah 8:6-13).

After Limhi and his people escaped from the Lamanites, King Mosiah did translate the twenty-four Jaredite plates. He found that they contained a record of the Jaredite people from the time of the Tower of Babel until the destruction of their civilization. This record filled his people with joy and sorrow: joy because of the knowledge they had gained, sorrow because of the tragic end of a civilization (Mosiah 28:11-19).

Mosiah passed those records on to Alma, who was the first chief judge. Years later, Alma delivered the records to his son Helaman with a warning: Included in the twenty-four plates was a record of the secret crimes which had been committed among the Jaredites, protected by “paths and covnenants.” Alma urged Helaman to keep that portion of the record secret, so that their people would not be tempted to imitate those oaths (Alma 37:21-32).

Unfortunately, even in a pre-Internet age, it was impossible to keep information like that secret. Mormon tells us that Gadianton, who formed a band of robbers which protected one another in committing crimes, learned to administer the same oaths and covenants which were recorded on those plates. Helaman had kept the oaths secret, but Gadianton received them directly from their source: the devil (Helaman 6:25-30).

After the death of Mormon, his son Moroni wrote a history of the Jaredite people, using the twenty-four plates as his source (Header to the Book of Ether). The book does tell stories of crimes committed by people who had made oaths to defend each other (Ether 8:13-16, Ether 9:5-6). But it also contains spiritual experiences so sacred that Moroni was commanded to “seal them up” and keep them from his readers until they are ready to receive them (Ether 4:5-6, Ether 5:1).

So besides being a translation within a translation, the Jaredite record is also a story about privacy: withholding information, both good and evil, from people who are not spiritually mature enough to use it wisely.

There is no doubt that God values transparency. In fact, the oaths which Alma commanded Helaman to protect were designed to hide the truth and enable people to commit crimes in secret. God’s response was that all of those crimes would be known:

I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land (Alma 37:25).

Transparency is good, and people need to know that they cannot hide their crimes. However, there is also a place for privacy and protection of information. Knowledge is power, and it can be abused. Just as you would not trust a stranger with intimate details about your life or your family, God withholds some information from us until we demonstrate that we can use it responsibly. We gain His trust, and He rewards that trust with additional knowledge. As Alma taught in the city of Ammonihah:

It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full (Alma 12:9-10).

Today, I will remember the lesson of the Jaredite plates: God guards some kinds of information closely. He is willing to share, but only after we have demonstrated that we can be trusted with the information. Today, I will strive to be worthy of His trust, so that I can receive “the greater portion of his word.”

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