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Jarom Writes on the Small Plates
1 Now behold, I, Jarom, write a few words according to the commandment of my father, Enos, that our genealogy may be kept.
2 And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; but I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written? For have not they revealed the plan of salvation? I say unto you, Yea; and this sufficeth me.
Where Enos appeared to have imitated Nephi in the opening of his book, Jarom does not. Jarom begins by saying that he really won’t be saying much. In his case, it is not because of unrighteousness, for he had received revelations and had prophesied. What he will write about is that those teachings, as those that Enos had described, do not appear to have been effective. Jarom will continue the theme of his fathers, who lamented the Nephite departure from the path of righteousness.
In verse 1, Jarom makes the interesting statement that his father commanded that the genealogy might be kept. Enos didn’t give a genealogy and Jarom will not either. The only time Nephi mentioned the genealogy of his fathers, he specifically said that he would not include it (see 1 Nephi 5:16 and 1 Nephi 6:1).
As with the complicated meanings that appear to surround the idea of being taught language, the idea of what genealogy meant in this context must be deduced. In this case, it probably indicates the family connection of writing on the plates. These plates passed from father to son, with some instances of brother to brother. That is the genealogy to be kept.
Confirmation that this is the intended meaning could be that the very next thing Jarom speaks about is writing on the plates. Thus, keeping the genealogy and writing on the plates were connected. The only link to family is the responsibility to write.
3 Behold, it is expedient that much should be done among this people, because of the hardness of their hearts, and the deafness of their ears, and the blindness of their minds, and the stiffness of their necks; nevertheless, God is exceedingly merciful unto them, and has not as yet swept them off from the face of the land.
4 And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.
The Nephite community is being divided between the righteous and the unrighteous. Jarom understands the promise of the land, and notes that it is only God’s exceeding mercy that has prevented them from being swept from the face of the land. Of course, there were also some who were righteous, and they also entered into God’s mercy in not yet allowing the destruction of the Nephites.
How did this happen so quickly? How does it begin in the lifetime of Nephi and Jacob, who were born in the Old World? In the ancient world there were no such things as religions that one would belong to. Those are more modern concepts. What we call “religion was simply the definition of the way things were. If the Nephites had firmly established the understanding of what was really behind the way of the world, we would not expect it to so quickly disappear. That is, unless they were competing with other ideas about how things ought to be seen.
Understanding the Nephites as a population that included unnamed, but inferred, others—provides the answers. Just as Nephi and Jacob brought with them the ideas of the Old World, these others would have brought their ideas about how things were from their own New World background. As they continued to live in the New World, and were surrounded by peoples holding to competing ideas, it is easy to see how those non-Israelite ideas might influence and tempt away the Nephites who now lived in that environment, and many of whom had been converted from it.
5 And now, behold, two hundred years had passed away, and the people of Nephi had waxed strong in the land. They observed to keep the law of Moses and the sabbath day holy unto the Lord. And they profaned not; neither did they blaspheme. And the laws of the land were exceedingly strict.
6 And they were scattered upon much of the face of the land, and the Lamanites also. And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites; and they loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts.
Reading verse 5 without also having read verse 3 might indicate that all was well with the Nephites. They observe the law of Moses and attempt to live correctly. Verse 3 had spoken of the hardness of the Nephite hearts and how it was only God’s mercy that saved them from destruction. Now, in verse 5, we have Nephites who appear to be faithful. The change occurred in verse 4, where Jarom had indicated “they are not all stiffnecked.” It is still a divided people, but there are those who follow the correct path.
The fact that Jarom mentions that they were scattered upon the face of the land is intended to indicate that they have prospered. Since he has already noted that the wicked are alive only through God’s mercy, he attributes this success to the righteous mentioned in verse 5.
He is also truthful in reporting that the Lamanites are also spread over the face of the land, and they “were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites.” The comment that the Lamanites loved murder and drank the blood of beasts continues the Nephite ethnocentric characterization of the Lamanites.
The fact that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous continues to demonstrate that, when the Nephites arrived, they intermixed with existing populations. None of the descriptions of the population of the Nephites or Lamanites could have existed this early without the infusion of large numbers of people who did not arrive from the Old World.
Frequent War between Lamanites and Nephites
7 And it came to pass that they came many times against us, the Nephites, to battle. But our kings and our leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord; and they taught the people the ways of the Lord; wherefore, we withstood the Lamanites and swept them away out of our lands, and began to fortify our cities, or whatsoever place of our inheritance.
8 And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war—yea, the sharp pointed arrow, and the quiver, and the dart, and the javelin, and all preparations for war.
9 And thus being prepared to meet the Lamanites, they did not prosper against us. But the word of the Lord was verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.
The intent of these three verses is summarized in the final sentence of the last of the three. Jarom states: “The word of the Lord was verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” When Jarom indicated in verse 7 that they were led by “mighty men in the faith of the Lord,” that tells the perceptive reader why they were successful.
Enos had declared in Enos 1:24 that he had seen “wars between the Nephites and Lamanites in the course of my days.” Jarom has also seen them, and perhaps they are becoming worse. The Nephites have had to fortify their cities and had to make all manner of weapons of war.
Perhaps more interesting is that as they spread upon the face of the land, they became rich. Specifically, they became “rich in gold, and in silver and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel.” The obvious intent of this list is to demonstrate that their wealth was dependent upon an expertise in metals. As with our discussion of Lehi, it is unlikely that they became wealthy by simply possessing these metals—even those that we modern people esteem as precious. The metals had value, but possessed true value in what was made from them.
The word machinery in verse 8 appears to be anachronistic. That is true only if we forget that levers are also machines. The use of the word need not refer to anything anachronistic.
10 And it came to pass that the prophets of the Lord did threaten the people of Nephi, according to the word of God, that if they did not keep the commandments, but should fall into transgression, they should be destroyed from off the face of the land.
11 Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.
12 And it came to pass that by so doing they kept them from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance.
Verse 9 listed the reason the Nephites had prospered. They understood the promise of the land. Verse 10 follows that declared reason by noting that this is what the prophets preached. It is interesting that for Lehi and Nephi the promise was stated as a positive. The Nephites would prosper if they obeyed the commandments. Here, the prophets warn the people that if they do not keep the commandments, they would be destroyed. These are the two sides of the same covenant and promise of the land, but apparently the negative statement was more relevant to the Nephites of the time.
What did it mean to live righteously? From the plates of brass, they understood that one part of the answer was to live according to the law of Moses. However, also according to the brass plates, but reinforced by Nephi, Jacob, and other unnamed prophets, was the idea that they should look to the coming atoning Messiah. Following those two teachings would prevent them from being destroyed.
13 And it came to pass that two hundred and thirty and eight years had passed away—after the manner of wars, and contentions, and dissensions, for the space of much of the time.
14 And I, Jarom, do not write more, for the plates are small. But behold, my brethren, ye can go to the other plates of Nephi; for behold, upon them the records of our wars are engraven, according to the writings of the kings, or those which they caused to be written.
15 And I deliver these plates into the hands of my son Omni, that they may be kept according to the commandments of my fathers.
All the book of Jarom is clearly written retrospectively. There is not a clear place where we could suggest that at a given point Jarom ended a writing event and started again. It is likely that this was all written as a single event. The fact that verse 14 mentions that he cannot write more, and that the plates are small, echo verse 2 which nearly says the same thing, suggesting that those considerations were there both before and after writing. The statements appear as bookends to the rest of the record.
Jarom has spoken of wars, but only in the context of the promise of the land. There are no details. As one who is obeying Nephi’s command for this set of plates, that is to be expected. Jarom knows of the large plates and what they contain, so he would clearly understand the distinction between these small plates and the larger collection, which contained more details of wars and contentions.
These plates are to be passed from father to son, for the most part. Jarom indicates that he will do so when he gives them to his son, Omni, for whom the next book is named.
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