Bull’s-eye: Glass in the Book of Ether

In the Ether 3:1 we read:

1 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying:

In Joseph’s day, scholars didn’t believe that glass was known by civilizations as ancient as Jared’s, which was around 3000 B.C. Had Joseph been scouring the best scholarship of his day in order to write the Book of Mormon this would have been a major blunder. But, what at first appears to be a major blunder, turns out once again to be a bulls-eye. This pattern is familiar.

Hugh Nibley comments in his book Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There were Jaredites:

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.”50 and “plaques of turquoise blue glass of excellent quality” in the possession of one of the very earliest queens of Egypt.51 “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.” 52 We need not be surprised if the occurrences of glass objects before the sixteenth century B.C. “are few and far between,”53 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.54

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12 comments on “Bull’s-eye: Glass in the Book of Ether

  1. EditorJack says:

    The sixteen small stones aren’t the only mention of glass in the Jaredite record. Earlier, the Lord had to tell the brother of Jared that his barges could not have (glass) windows because they would be “dashed in pieces” (Ether 2:23) during their stormy journey. So even in thinking about the building of barges, the brother of Jared must have been planning for glass windows or the Lord wouldn’t have warned him against them. I think the brother of Jared must have been a glassmaker, which is why he came up with the solution he did to get light for the barges.

    Here’s more information that I picked up from the Corning Museum of Glass website:

    http://www.cmog.org/dynamic.aspx?id=5634

    Included is a recipe for glass taken from a cuneiform tablet from Mesopotamia (the location of the Tower of Babel from which the Jaredites were dispersed):

    ——————————————
    As early as 3,300 years ago, secret “instructions” for furnace building and glassmaking in Mesopotamia were written on clay tablets in a cuneiform script. These instructions were copied and recopied over the centuries. Furnace-building instructions from that time period have not been discovered. The cuneiform tablet pictured on the left of this page is probably about 2,700 years old. Typical instructions for glassmaking follow:

    When you set up the foundation of a good furnace to make glass, you first search in a favorable month for a day of good omen, and only then can you set up the foundation of the furnace. As soon as you have finished building the furnace you go and place Kubu-images there. No insider or stranger should enter the building; an unclean person must not even pass in front of the images. You regularly perform libation offerings before them. On the day when you plan to make (glass), you make a sheep sacrifice before the Kubu-images (religions statues); you place juniper incense on the incense burner; you pour out a libation (drink honoring a deity) of honey and liquid butter; only then can you make the fire in the hearth of the furnace and place the glass in the furnace.

    The wood that you burn in the hearth of the furnace should be thick, peeled poplar wood, which has no knots, bound together with leather straps, cut in the month of the Abu (July or August). Only this wood should be in the hearth of the furnace. The persons whom you allow to come near the furnace have to be clean; only then can you allow them to come to the furnace.

    If you want to produce zagindur-colored [blue] glass, you finely grind separately, ten minas [about one pound] of immanakku-stone [quartz], fifteen minas of naga-plant ashes, and 1 2/3 minas of ‘white plant.’ You mix these together. You place the mixture into a cold furnace that has four openings, and you arrange the mixture between its openings. You keep a good and smokeless fire burning. . . . As soon as the mixture glows yellow, you pour it on a kiln-fired brick and this is called zuk-glass. . . .

  2. James says:

    Jack,
    Thanks for the fascinating insight! I had never heard of that before.

    I think another possible way for understanding Ether 2:23 (windows “dashed in pieces”) is the way FAIR explains:
    —————————————————————————-
    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 (Gen. 6:16; Gen. 8:6).

    It seems likely that Eth. 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]

    • grego says:

      The FAIR explanation is pretty much the same as the one John Tvedtnes gives (funny how FAIR does that…) :

      From the same article dated April 21, 2008, found at: http://www.meridianmagazine.com/bookofmormon/080227misunderstanding.html

      “Heavenly Light
      Some have criticized the Book of Mormon because “the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: 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? (Ether 2:23). Glass is said to have been accidentally discovered by Phoenician sailors ca. 800 B.C., and glass windows did not exist anciently. This kind of reasoning again reflects how readers often try to impose modern ideas onto ancient texts.
      The term “window” is frequently found in the Bible, but it does not denote panes of glass. As its very name indicates, it was an opening in the wall through which the “wind” could pass. Even medieval castles had open windows without glass and sometimes without shutters. If the Ether passage is saying that the windows would be “dashed in pieces” because they were made of glass, it would be an anachronism. But I believe that the antecedent to “they” is “your vessels,” i.e., the vessels would be dashed in pieces of windows were cut into the sides.
      Each hole made in the hull would weaken the structure, and since the Lord told the brother of Jared that “the mountain waves shall dash upon you” (Ether 2:24), they would need some rather substantial barges. To be sure, there were holes for air that were plugged up when water entered therein (Ether 2:20), but Noah, too, had a window in his ark that he opened only after the forty days of rain had ceased (Genesis 8:6). [12] “
      -=-=
      My comments:

      (I covered a little of this on a blog post, but added more here, too–which I’m now going to have to post on my blog!–thanks for the post to make me think a little deeper):

      I prefer Nibley’s explanation! To me, it beats the pants off of FAIR and Tvedntes’.

      It’s possible, but I have a hard time imagining that the Lord would say, “don’t use open holes, because the waves might break the barges”; instead of “open holes in barges = you’ll drown, eh!”.

      Noah’s ark was huge–and I’m sure the window(s) were much higher up on the huge (tall) boat, than the windows on the barges that the Jaredites were on; I mean, I don’t envision barges that were the length of a tree, also being taller than a tree; does anyone?

      The windows’ main purpose was to provide air, but by being glass, they would also provide light at all times, not just when opened up all the way–which would be hard to do with shutters/ covers. If so, the brother of Jared was trying to kill two birds with one stone in his design.

      Though the antecedent problem (however strong… or weak it might be) is an explanation, there’s this verse, in Ether 3:1:
      “1 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as *TRANSPARENT GLASS*; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord…”

      It seems the Jaredites either had glass, or something similar that Ether/ Mormon/ JS (take your pick) used “transparent glass” to describe. Now, if it was the same, well, glass! If it wasn’t glass, but it was *just* “white and clear, even as transparent glass”, is it possible that… well…? close enough? Maybe a window or such from something…? ;)

      (Sorry I’m doing much of that off of memory, there might be a mistake or two…)

  3. James says:

    Hello grego. I appreciate your comments.

    Regardless of how we deal with the “windows” in Jared’s barges, I’m curious about your seemingly aggressive attitude toward FAIR. Am I reading too much into it? The quote from FAIR that I posted is from their FAIRwiki, which in turn is quoting a “FARMS Question of the Week”, which was most likely authored by Tvedtnes (considering he was a resident scholar at FARMS for many years).

  4. […] Hugh Nibley showed that glass was very likely already in existence at the time, and there wouldn’t be any problems with “glass windows”. […]

  5. Bryan says:

    Sure, ancient glass. But I would like to know when “transparent” glass became a reality. Just because they’ve found ancient glass beads and glass vases doesn’t mean they were transparent. And weren’t the Roman glass windows that came much later hardly transparent?

  6. James says:

    Bryan,

    I wonder if you are reading too much into the word “transparent”. This doesn’t necessarily need to mean that we can see objects on the other side of the glass. All it means is that light can pass through. I’ve found rocks on the ground that are transparent. It really isn’t that big a deal.

    • grego says:

      James,

      But if that were the case, why all the work and preparation by the brother of Jared, when he might have found the rocks just lying on the the ground? It doesn’t necessarily mean that, but to me it hints towards more than your definition of “transparent” here.

    • Mac says:

      So the rocks were clear and white and as transparent as glass, but the glass wasn’t exactly clear? That doesn’t make sense, that means the stones weren’t really clear or transparent… I mean if they were the writer would have said they were as clear as a mountain spring, or a cloudless night or anything but a piece of opaque rock.

  7. Mac says:

    Ancient glass beads, transparent glass beads, and Roman glass panes, and modern transparent glass panes are all ages apart as is the reasoning here. Too much maneuvering to make this work. 2+2=4, even if I sincerely believe it to be 5.

  8. Mac says:

    Glass lasts millions of years, it does not decay like wood as posited by Hugh Nibley in the above commentary. That is why we have found glass beads from Phoenician and Babylonian civilizations. These were ancient glass beads used for trading, deeply colored not clear. Early glass was not clear, but could be dashed into pieces. The oldest window panes ever discovered are from Roman times, 3300-3000 years after the Jaredites. The grammar thing, let’s not argue that. I can’t use windows they would be dashed into pieces… we all understand English. The real question here is why would the writer compare the clear stones to glass if glass of the time period wasn’t clear. And if the Jaredites did posses the skills to manufacture clear transparent glass why haven’t we found any evidence of this? Transparent as glass is a term that would be used by a culture that has lots of clear glass, so that this idea is widely understood within the society. Again 2+2=4 even if I sincerely believe it to be 5.

  9. zinc allory says:

    Love your words expression in blog and enjoy the beautiful pictures you match for yor words, a wonderful journey to enjoy your blog and I will be back!

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