Egyptian Brass Plates and a naming contest

April 22, 2008 | 9 comments
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If this is common knowledge I completely missed it. So I post this in memory of all those who also slept through indecent chunks of early morning Seminary.

Mosiah 1:3-4 reads as follows:

3 And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
4 For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; 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.

It seems to me that this strongly suggests that the Brass Plates were written in Egyptian of some kind. In which case, one wonders how widespread the practice was. I seem to recall that the Hebrews during that period were really big Egypt fans, much to the chagrin of the prophets.

Also, if you were going to have a semi-regular feature at T&S for short little things one notices in the scriptures like this, what would you call it? Winner gets a No-Prize.

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9 Responses to Egyptian Brass Plates and a naming contest

  1. A. Nonny Mouse on April 22, 2008 at 11:18 am

    The Mundane:
    Occasional Scriptural Insights
    “And now for another installment in our series of Occasional Scriptural Insights.”

    The slightly ridiculous:
    Times & Scriptures
    Or:
    Times & Insights

    The slightly maudlin:
    Hidden Treasures
    As in, “And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.”
    or
    Scriptural Gems
    (both of these with the byline “Brought to you by Times & Seasons”)

    The Nonny Spouse suggests:
    Timely Insights

    The Marvel-theme:
    Reading the Scriptures with X-Ray Glasses or just:
    X-Ray Glasses
    or
    Scriptural X-Ray Glasses

  2. Roland on April 22, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    The Gold Plates of Mormon were also written in “reformed Egyptian” according to the JS History. This is because writing Eyptian was significantly easier than writing in Hebrew.

    However in those days you must have been the quite the scholar to have and understand and record the scriptures, since the Nephite prophets did not use their native Hebrew tongue but Egyptian instead.

  3. Kevin Christensen on April 22, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Ben McGuire has an excellent paper on the extensive ties between Egypt and Judea in Lehi’s day:

    http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/LehiEgypt.pdf

    My personal theory is that the plates were prepared in during the reign of Jehoiakim. He had been installed as a puppet leader by the Egyptians after they defeated Josiah. Diplomatic ties with Egypt would necessarily be closer then that before, or after. It turns out that the Septuagint itself was commissioned by a later King of Egypt, Ptolomy II, for the Egyptian Royal Library. I think it makes sense to see the plates as commissioned for the same purpose by an earlier Pharoh. The contents of the plates, including prophecies of Jeremiah, argues for a late date. Jermiah was not called until the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. His earlier discourses strike me as critical of the Reformers, and unlikely to be taken seriously by Josiah’s people. And his most notable public sermon was his temple discourse given after Jehoiakim was installed, and Josiah’s reform in disarray. And had they been done for Josiah, the Deuteronomist reforms would be more favorably viewed. Ben also sees evidence that the Book of Mormon consistently refers to a proto-Deuteronomy, rather than the current MT. And his FAIR paper on the interesting disposition of allusion to the David and Goliath story points to other earlier sources than the MT. Sorenson argues for a Northern tradition influence, an E source. Noel Reynolds argues that the Book of Mormon presupposes a Genesis more like Moses and the MT. Margaret Barker told Kevin Barney that the key to everything is what is missing from Genesis. Also, Nibley noted that the Book of Mormon shows much affinity with Egyptian names and situations. (See “Something to Move Mountains” by Boyd Peterson in JBMS 6:2) And so we get Egyptian language plates done at that time to enhance the Eguptian library, and to provide a resource for training diplomats. William Hamblin has shown that the oldest extant Biblical quotations are written on metal in Jerusalem 600 BCE, and the next oldest are in Egyptian. It’s the right kind of thing to appear at that time and place.. Then, after the Egyptians were defeated by Nebudchadnezzar, with diplomatic ties severed, the plates waited in the Treasury for Nephi to come by with an alternate disposition.

    There is a very good paper by William Eggington on how nicely Reformed Egyptian would function as a high language. “Oral and Literate Cultures in the Book of Mormon.” By using conceptual ideograms, the spoken language could change, while the written meanings remained relatively constant.

    FWIW

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  4. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 22, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    How about “Timeless Seasonings”, subtitled “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly”, D&C 121:45)?

    Concerning the observation:

    The fact that the brass (really bronze) plates were a lineage record kept by descendants of Joseph (Nephi makes a point of sayng that both Lehi and Laban were “Josephites” and Lehi finds his genealogy on the plates) suggests they may have originated in a version of Genesis kept by Joseph, prime minister of Egypt. One assumes that the Israelites living in Egypt maintained scribal skills in that language and its various scripts among some of the most educated, including Moses.

    Perhaps each of the tribes originally kept a record, some of them lost with events like the Assyrian conquest of the Ten Tribes. Since Zenos’ parable of the olive trees prophesies of planting branches of Israel in distance places, and the Savior went to visit at least one other of them, it suggests at least one other dispersed branch of Israel also had with it its own lineage history to preserve its knowledge of God. On the other hand, there appears to have been no such record in the hands of the “Mulekite” group (the official record of Judah likely went to Babylon, perhaps even early on in the first captivity that took Daniel and Ezekiel).

    The alphabet of the Phoenicians is understood to be derived from a syllabary (in which a single symbol stands for a consonant+vowel combination, e.g. something looking like an eye atop two stepping legs being used to represent the sound “Ra” and then “R”) in which each symbol was used for its sound value rather than its ideographic meaning. “Aleph” (ox) and “Bet” (house) are among the easiest in which to see this transformation. All “alphabets” are thus a “reformed Egyptian” writing system.

    Since the original records were probably written (by Joseph?) in Egyptian script, it was necessary to learn Egyptian to read the record, and then it was natural to make additions in the same language, if for no other purpose than to stay in practice (the way Hugh Nibley kept notecards in multiple languages).

    A parallel evolution in writing systems happened in Japan, where the Chinese ideographic script was adapted (after 600 AD) to create some 46 symbols for syllables (ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, etc.), which are used in combination with Chinese characters to show the many Japanese participles and verb endings. The Chinese characters are sometimes read with Chinese-derived pronunciations, while at other times they are read with the Japanese words matching the ideas they represent.

  5. NJensen on April 22, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    How about \”Signs and Reasons?\”

    Does anybody know when Demotic Egyptian began to be used? I\’ve always found the transcribed characters to look more like representations than actual figures from hieroglyphs.

  6. Clark on April 23, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Some have also questioned whether various cyphers used especially in economics might not have been the script used. I think this becomes more difficult if it applied to the brass plates. But it makes sense for the gold plates. Further I have to admit that there are some remarkable affinities between the Anthon transcript and later cyphers from around 100 BC – 300 AD.

  7. Frank McIntyre on April 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks for the many interesting comments! This is not my area and so it is interesting to hear ideas new to me.

    As for the contest, I’ll have to mull it over. I don’t think I see any clear winners yet.

  8. Ray on April 23, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    “Snippets from the Scriptures” or just “Scriptural Snippets”

  9. Doc on April 23, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Would you consider “newly noticed nugget”?
    or maybe “mini-piphany”
    between the lines
    canonical cues
    scriptural seasoning
    viewed in verse
    in verse insights
    tidbit of holy writ– ouch, okay, I’ll quit while I’m ahead

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.