Book of Mormon/Animals/Criticisms

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Criticisms related to animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon

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Question: Is it possible that Joseph Smith simply added the Book of Ether to the Book of Mormon as an "afterthought" in order to explain the variety of animals in the New World?

The story of the destroyed civilization to the north was an integral part of the Book of Mormon narrative from the beginning

It is claimed that the story of the Jaredites, as described in the Book of Ether, was added by Joseph Smith as an "afterthought" in order to account for the variety of animals present in the New World at the time of arrival of Lehi's group.

The story of the destroyed civilization to the north was an integral part of the Book of Mormon narrative, and can be seen to have been incorporated by Mormon into his abridgment from the beginning. It was Moroni who decided to transcribe and add a short abridgment of what was contained on the twenty-four plates in order to supplement the record that his father, Mormon, had already produced. The story of the Jaredites was clearly used in the Book of Mormon as an example for the Nephites of a people who were destroyed for their wickedness. The idea that Joseph Smith casually "dictated a terse history" during the "last weeks of writing" in order to tie up some loose ends involving animals is a gross oversimplification of the story of the Jaredites and its relation to the greater Book of Mormon narrative.

The critical claim

Critics suggest that the Book of Ether was simply an "afterthought" added by Joseph Smith to the Book of Mormon in order to explain the presence of a wide variety of animals in the New World at the time of the arrival of Lehi's party. The verses used by critics to support this assertion are Ether 2:1-3:

1 And it came to pass that Jared and his brother, and their families, and also the friends of Jared and his brother and their families, went down into the valley which was northward, (and the name of the valley was Nimrod, being called after the mighty hunter) with their flocks which they had gathered together, male and female, of every kind.

2 And they did also lay snares and catch fowls of the air; and they did also prepare a vessel, in which they did carry with them the fish of the waters.

3 And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind. (Ether 2:1-3)

Critic Fawn Brodie postulated in her biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, that "[t]his little detail regarding cargo, flung casually into the story, partly settled the question of how animals had come to America, a problem men had puzzled over for three centuries." [1]:71

The verses in Ether are sufficiently vague that it is really not possible to pin down exactly which animals the Jaredites brought with them to the New World

Hugh Nibley offered his opinion on Brodie's assertion:

Again, the barges of the Jaredites "contained everything which the settlers might need on the new continent," like any Chinese junk, Viking ship, or the Mayflower itself; in fact, ships have a way of carrying with them whatever the personnel will need. Brodie, however, knows that the whole thing is a dishonest adaptation of Noah's ark. [2]

The verses in Ether are sufficiently vague that it is really not possible to pin down exactly which animals the Jaredites brought with them to the New World. Brodie goes on to claim that "Joseph did not trouble to explain the presence of wild animals in America, and he was careless in his choice of domestic beasts. He had the Jaredites bring horses, swine, sheep, cattle, and asses..."[1]:72 Brodie is referring to the belief that the animals mentioned were not present in the pre-Columbian New World, which is addressed in a separate article: Book of Mormon anachronisms. The issue that we address here, however, is whether or not it is valid to claim that the story of the Jaredites was added simply to explain the presence of animals in the New World.

The Book of Mormon does not say that the Jaredites brought horses, swine, sheep, cattle and asses with them

In Ether 9:19 we find,

And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.Ether 9:19

Contrary to Brodie's claim, the Book of Mormon does not say that the Jaredites brought horses, swine, sheep, cattle and asses with them. Some of these domestic animals no doubt were brought with them, however the book only specifies that they brought "their flocks," without indentifying specifically what the "flocks" were comprised of. For example, it is not specified whether the Jaredites brought horses with them or whether the horses mentioned in Ether 9:19 were already present in the New World. More to the point, one would not reasonably expect the Jaredites to have brought elephants with them on their boats.

The Book of Ether is integrated with the complete Book of Mormon narrative

Brodie claims that at some point during the process of producing the Book of Mormon, that Joseph felt the need to add the story of the Jaredites in order to clean up some unanswered questions. The question is: Is this a reasonable assumption? This raises two questions:

  1. How intricately are elements from the Book of Ether woven into the rest of the Book of Mormon narrative?
  2. Does the order in which the books were translated have any bearing on this?

The first indication of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon occurs in Mosiah 8:8-9:

8 And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.

9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.

The Jaredites are again alluded to in Alma 37:21

And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters.

If the books in the Book of Mormon were translated in a linear fashion, as indicated by witnesses, then the claim that the Book of Ether was added as an afterthought becomes difficult to explain. The Book of Ether wasn't something that could simply be appended to the end of the record to tie up some loose ends. Even if one takes the position that the translation continued onward from the book of Mosiah after the loss of the 116 pages of manuscript and then finished with the books of Nephi through the Words of Mormon, the first reference to the Jaredites still occurs in the early part of the translation timeline.

There are other indications of integration between the two narratives as well. For example, the name "Moroni" appears to be related to the name of the Jaredite city "Moron." The name "Moroni" appears many time in the Book of Mormon, beginning in the book of Alma. The name "Moron" only appears in the Book of Ether. It is, of course, possible to assume that Joseph simply created a Jaredite city name based upon the name of one of his earlier characters, but this then assumes, if one take's Brodie's perspective, that Joseph was trying to use the Book of Ether to "explain" an item in Alma that didn't really require an explanation. It is more reasonable to assume that traces of Jaredite influence survived to be integrated into Nephite culture. If one subscribes to the theory that the Nephites and Lamanites are related to the Maya and Olmec, this fits well with the known influence of Olmec culture on that of the Maya.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Fawn Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (New York: Knopf, 1971)
  2. Hugh W. Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass: The Art of Telling Tales About Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Vol. 11 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by David J. Whittaker, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991),3–52. ISBN 0875795161. GL direct link