Book of Mormon/Windows

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Windows in the Book of Mormon

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Question: Is the Book of Mormon reference to windows that can be "dashed in pieces" an anachronism?

It seems likely that Ether 2:23 means that the barges themselves would break if they had windows or openings built into them

Ether 2:23:

What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces;

The mention of windows that could be "dashed in pieces" in Ether 2:23 seems to be anachronistic, since glass windows were not invented until the late Middle Ages. However, the term "window" originally referred to an opening through which the wind could enter. It is found 42 times in the Bible, where it does not refer to glass windows as we know them. In one passage (2 Kings 13:17), we read that a window in the palace was opened. So windows sometimes had doors or shutters. The same is true of the window that Noah built into the ark (Genesis 6:16; Genesis 8:6).

It seems likely that Ether 2:23 means that the barges themselves would break if they had windows or openings built into them. In the next verse, the Lord explains that this is because they would go through extremely turbulent conditions at sea, sometimes being buried beneath the waves. Windows would mean weakening the wooden structure, by creating openings, making it more fragile and thus liable to be "dashed in pieces." If we read only the sentence containing the word "windows" and read it out of context, then the antecedent of "they" would, indeed, be "windows." But it is probable that the antecedent is "vessels," the last word in the preceding sentence.[1]


Hugh Nibley also offered some enlightening commentary:


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.[2] 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.”[3] and “plaques of turquoise blue glass of excellent quality” in the possession of one of the very earliest queens of Egypt.[4] “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.”[5] We need not be surprised if the occurrences of glass objects before the sixteenth century B.C. “are few and far between,”[6] 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.[7]

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.”[8] 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.”[9] 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.[10] We have noted the Great Khans had a special interest in goldsmiths and glass workers.[11]


Notes

  1. FARMS "Question of the Week," farms.byu.edu off-site
  2. D. B. Harden, “Ancient Glass,” Antiquity 7 (1933): 419; Pliny, Natural History XXXVI, 191.
  3. Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 419.
  4. P. E. Newberry, “A Glass Chalice of Tuthmosis III,” JEA 6 (1920): 159.
  5. Ibid., 158—59.
  6. Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 419.
  7. Newberry, “A Glass Chalice of Tuthmosis III,” 158; Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 420, cf. 426.
  8. Harden, “Ancient Glass,” 419.
  9. 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.
  10. Karl A. Wittfogel and Fêng Chia-Shêng, “History of Chinese Society Liao,” TAPS 36 (1946): 661.
  11. Hugh Nibley "Lehi in the Desert| The World of the Jaredites| There Were Jaredites" (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1988) Ch 5 - Jaredite Culture: Splendor and Shame off-site