Sunday, March 22, 2009
Origin of the Brass Plates
A few years ago I attended a presentation by Dann Hone who is connected with BYU and was involved in the building of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. The title of his lecture was "Possible Origin, History and Destiny of the Brass Plates from an Ancient Language."
His remarks about the origin of the Brass Plates were the most interesting part of the presentation for me. He began by talking about Moses. We know Moses spent the first forty years of his life in Egypt and was connected with the royal family (Ex. 2:10). Eventually Moses had to flee for his life into the Sinai deseret after taking the life of an Egyptian in self defense (Ex. 2:11-15). Moses joined a family of Midianites and spent the next forty years of his life among them.
This group of Midianites were led by a High Priest named Jethro (aka Hobab, Reuel or Raguel). Moses received the priesthood from Jethro (see D&C 84:6) and married one of his daughters (see Exodus 2:21).
There is some evidence to suggest that the Midianites were also known as the Kenites (compare Num. 10:29 with Judges 1:16). The name Kenite means "smith" or "metal smith". The Kenites are famous for working the copper mines of Timna and were particularly active there during Moses's time (see here for more information).
We learn from the story of the brass serpent found in Numbers 21 that Moses knew how to work metal(Num. 21:9). Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and presumably Moses learned metal working from the Midianites with whom he had been living for at least forty years. It seems likely then that Moses had made numerous other objects from brass prior to this time.
Exodus chapter 2 tells us that Moses was a Levite. When it came time for the children of Israel to enter the promised land Moses was taken to Heaven and Joshua took Moses's place. Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim (Num. 13).
Following the departure of Lehi's family from Jerusalem, the Lord commanded him to send his sons back to the city to retrieve the Brass Plates (1 Ne 3:2). At this time the Brass Plates were in possession of Laban who was a descendant of Joseph (1 Ne 5:16). The Book of Mormon does not give us any additional information about the origin of the Brass Plates. Later in the Book of Mormon we learn that the Brass Plates were written in the language of the Egyptians (Mosiah 1:4). Moses undoubtedly was very familiar with the Egyptian language from his time there.
Because of his skill in metal working it is possible Moses chose brass as a medium upon which to write the Torah. Perhaps this is the origin of the Brass Plates mentioned in the Book of Mormon. If Moses was the original author of the Brass Plates then they surely would have been passed to Joshua when Moses was translated. From Joshua they could have been passed down through the tribe of Ephraim until they came to be in the possession of Laban.
We have been promised that at some future time the Brass Plates will be translated and made available to the people of the earth (1 Ne 5:17-19). The possibility of the Brass Plates being the original record of Moses makes the prospect all the more exciting.