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Enos, Jarom, Omni, Words of Mormon
Scope of this Lesson
Our goal for this particular lesson is to learn about the various record and/or sets of plates that have to do with the Book of Mormon. Often times keeping all of the plates mentioned is difficult and confusing. Hopefully this lesson will help straighten out any misunderstandings.
Metal Plates used to keep Records
The Nephites understood the importance of recording their sacred things on metal plates. The prophet Jacob wrote: “…and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away…” (Jacob 4:1,2)
As we come to understand and learn more about the various plates used by the Nephites or the Jaredites to keep their records, it is well to start with this particular quote from Brigham Young:
“I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and thee were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls.” (1)
Heber C. Kimball refers to this same experience, yet in a little different way:
“How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts , and keep the commandments.” (2)
Both of these prophets refer to this “place of records” which clearly relates to the cache of sacred records which was handed down from prophet to prophet, father to son, record keeper to record keeper for more than a thousand years and was finally deposited in a cave where they would be safe for future generations.
Let’s talk about the various plates we have record of and what we should understand about each of them:
- Plates of Lehi
- Large plates of Nephi
- Small plates of Nephi
- Plates of Brass
- Plates of Ether
- Plates of Mormon
- The Golden Plates
Plates of Lehi
We know little of this record except what we can piece together from Nephi’s writings and from the preface to the first edition of the Book of Mormon printed in Palmyra, New York, in March of 1830. Nephi abridged part of his father Lehi’s record into the first chapters of 1st Nephi which were recorded in the small plates of Nephi. A couple of references are of note: “And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing [the small plates of Nephi]; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work.” (1 Nephi 6:1) It is clear that Nephi recorded the record of his father Lehi on the large plates of Nephi: “And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophesies of my father…” (1 Nephi 19:1)
In the preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon the Prophet Joseph wrote: “As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me…” (3)
The plates of Lehi were recorded in the large plates of Nephi. Mormon abridged the large plates of Nephi and in process had first written The Book of Lehi. That book was contained in the 116 pages of manuscript which were stolen while under the stewardship of Martin Harris, and is currently not available to us.
Large Plates of Nephi
This is the first set of plates the prophet Nephi, son of Lehi, made upon which he kept a general history of the people of Nephi. Upon these large plates Nephi recorded: “a full account of the history of my people…[including] an account of the reign of the kings, and the wars and contentions of my people…” (1 Nephi 9:2,4.) This was a large set of plates and contained both the secular and the spiritual history of the people, although it leaned more heavily to the secular. The plates of Nephi became the generic term for all the records of the Nephites kept from the time of Nephi to the time of Mormon and Moroni. It was from this record, the large plates of Nephi, that Mormon made his abridgement. It probably consisted of numerous sets of plates that were referred to collectively as the plates (or large plates) of Nephi (see, for example, Alma 37:2; 3 Nephi 5:8-10; Mormon 1:4; Mormon 2:18; and Mormon 6:6). Upon these plates, as noted above, Nephi recorded the record of his father Lehi (see 1 Nephi 19:1). Upon these plates are recorded a detailed account of the journeyings of Lehi and his family in the wilderness (see 1 Nephi 19:1). It also contains many of the prophecies of Nephi.
Small Plates of Nephi
The small plates were made by Nephi thirty years after he and his family had left Jerusalem (about 570 B.C.). These plates were made by commandment of the Lord: “And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people” (2 Nephi 5:30). Nephi makes a clarifying note here in the fifth chapter of 2nd Nephi: “And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates [the small plates of Nephi]. And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates [the large plates of Nephi]” (2 Nephi 5:32,33).
The purpose of the small plates of Nephi was, in the language of our day, take “the best of” the prophesies and revelations of Nephi, Lehi and other prophets of their family, and gather them together in one place. It would be like going through your daily journal that you had kept for many years and just pull out all of your best spiritual experiences and record them into a separate journal.
When Mormon was in the “place of records” he was making the abridgement of the large plates of Nephi and the Spirit moved him to do a very interesting thing:
“And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgement from the plates of Nephi [the large plates of Nephi], down to the reign of this kind Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates [the small plates of Nephi], which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi. ”
“And the things which are upon these plates [the small plates of Nephi] pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass–
“Wherefore, I chose these things [the small plates of Nephi], to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi [the large plates of Nephi]; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.
“But behold, I shall take these plates [the small plates of Nephi], which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they [the small plates of Nephi] will be choice unto my brethren.
“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus if whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (Words of Mormon 1:3-7).
As students of the Book of Mormon, try to visualize what Mormon was just describing above. His task is to abridge the records of the Nephites and he is nearly finished with the entire record. He has already abridged the history from 600 B.C. to 124 B.C. (the time of Nephi until King Benjamin). The Spirit moves upon him while he is in “the place of records” and he is led to the small plates of Nephi. He reads it and the Spirit comes upon him. He does not feel to abridge this record at all. He is moved upon to physically attach this entire set of plates to his own plates, the plates of Mormon, even though this record covers the very time period he had already abridged. That means that there were two versions or full accounts of the period from 600 B.C. to approximately 124 B.C. When the Prophet Joseph was first translating the Golden Plates from April 12, 1828 until June 14, 1828, with Martin Harris as scribe, he had translated the abridgement of the record of Lehi, called the Book of Lehi, down to the reign of King Benjamin (see D&C 10:41). This material comprised 116 pages of foolscap paper and was what Martin Harris took with him to Palmyra to show to his family. This manuscript was stolen and never recovered. The Lord, knowing long centuries before that this debacle would take place, inspired Mormon to attach the small plates of Nephi to his record, so that when Joseph went to translate the record after the loss of the manuscript, it would be a different account than had been stolen. “And now,” the Lord revealed to Joseph, “because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi [the small plates of Nephi] is more particular concerning the things which, in my wisdom, I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account–therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; and behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi…” (D&C 10:40,41). The Lord also revealed this to Joseph: “Behold, there are many things engraven upon the plates of Nephi [the small plates of Nephi] which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi [the small plates of Nephi] and send forth in this work [the Book of Mormon]” (D&C 10:45).
It seems that the above discourse has been too lengthy or comprehensive, but after teaching institute classes for eight years, this emerges as one of the most confusing parts of Book of Mormon classes, that is, the understanding of what the small and large plates of Nephi are. A careful reading of the above, with scripture marking utensil in hand, will do much to straighten out any misunderstandings.
Plates of Brass
The plates of brass, never referred to as the brass plates, are the record of the children of Joseph of Egypt and are the plates Nephi and his brothers were sent back to Jerusalem to retrieve from Laban. The plates of brass are like unto our modern compilation of scriptures, the Old Testament, except that the plates of brass are much larger (see 1 Nephi 13:23). The plates of brass will yet be discovered, translated and go forth unto all nations (see 1 Nephi 5:18,19). The plates of brass were written in Egyptian or reformed Egyptian because they were likely made under the direction and inspiration of Joseph of Egypt: “For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things,” King Benjamin told his sons, “to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates [the plates of brass]; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time” (Mosiah 1:4). The plates of brass contain the prophecies of Joseph of Egypt that we do not have in the Old Testament. They contain the writings of many other prophets unfamiliar to the student of the Old Testament, including Zenos, Zenock, and Neum. The plates of brass kept the people of Nephi from falling into a state of apostasy or atheism for many, many generations (see Omni 1:17).
Plates of Ether
The records which were discovered by the people of Limhi around the year 121 B.C. are the plates of Ether. A select group of strong men set out on an expedition to find the city of Zarahemla, became lost, came upon a large battle zone where the nation of the Jaredites had been destroyed. “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” (Mosiah 8:9). These twenty-four plates, likely twenty four sets of plates (not twenty-four thin pages), contained a record of the people of Jared and the brother of Jared, dating from as early as 3000 B.C. at the time of the Tower of Babel (could be as late as 2200 B.C.) and running likely to about 400 B.C. The twenty-four plates were translated by King Mosiah, son of King Benjamin, by means of the Urim and Thummim (see Mosiah 28:11-19). Moroni abridged the record of Ether (the plates of Ether) sometime after the destruction of his people at Cumorah (see Ether 1:1-5).
Plates of Mormon and the Golden Plates
The plates of Mormon and the golden plates are the same thing. The plates of Mormon were made by Mormon. It was upon these plates that Mormon made an abridgement of the records of Nephi (including the large plates of Nephi and the attachment of the small plates of Nephi). The plates of Mormon were completed by Moroni. He, Moroni, made the abridgement of the plates of Ether (perhaps using King Mosiah’s translation) and included that in the record, as well as adding his own book called the Book of Moroni. Approximately two-thirds of the plates of Mormon were sealed and are yet to be translated.
- Journal of Discourses, 19:38.
- Journal of Discourses,4:105, emphasis added.
- Preface to The Book of Mormon, Palmyra, E.B. Grandin, 1830.