The last few days have been filled with activities that I was largely unaware of. A small group of Saints had come from the Salem Oregon Restoration Branch led by Brian Herren. I had been anticipating meeting them, but they were not to arrive here until Christmas day—today. Four youth (older) and four adults. Today being Christmas day and Sunday, the Kisumu Restoration Branch came to our center where the translation is going on. Of course we did not do anything but enjoy a special meal, preaching ministry and fellowship all day. There were about fifty people in all.
Now it is time for me to send out my special Christmas greetings. I have placed it at the end of an article that I've been working on in my spare minutes from day to day until I finished it last night. I had extra time last night after everyone went to bed. The article is about the Brass Plates and their purpose. I've named it "The Language of Our Fathers." It it is the only Christmas present that have to send to all of you on this Christmas day.
So, may you all have a blessed day and may God continue to bless His work through out the world.
Blessings to all,
"The Language of Our Fathers"
by Frank Evan Frye
In 1960 (?) the American nation was challenged to send a man to the moon and return him again alive, no one knew all of the good things that would be discovered in the process. In a similar manner, when it was decided to translate the Book of Mormon into the Swahili language, the resultant blessings that it would cause were also unknown.
Most Saints have heard of the promises in the Book of Mormon regarding the Plates of Brass (Brass Plates). There are two well known prophecies-one in the First Book of Nephi which was reported by Nephi when he and his brothers had just returned from Jerusalem (c. 600 B. C.) after their father Lehi had first examined the Brass Plates. He spoke under the inspiration of the Spirit of God and
1 Nephi 1:169-170 "these Plates of Brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, who were of his seed. Wherefore he said that these plates of brass should never perish, neither should they be dimmed any more by time."
The other is in Alma chapter 17 and is very similar-but much longer:
Alma 17:32-34 (and much more) "these Plates of Brass which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning. And behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers, that they . . . should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue and people, that . . . they will retain their brightness . . . that by small and simple things, are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances, doth confound the wise.
We should ask ourselves, "What is the importance of the Brass Plates? Why have they been preserved and why will God see that the message on these plates goes to every nation in the last days? I believe that the answer lies in their origin and what they contain, and perhaps even where they will be found.
One clue is found in 1 Nephi 1:167-168: "And thus my father Lehi did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records." As Lehi began to read the Brass Plates, he found that he was a descendant of Joseph the son of Jacob (Israel). Lehi also found that he was related to Laban who had kept these records until that time. The wording of the next phrase gives us the clue: "wherefore" Laban "and his fathers had kept the records." In other words, Laban and his ancestors had kept the records because they were descendants of Joseph that was sold into Egypt.
Another clue is found in 2 Nephi 3:1-5: "And now I, Nephi, speak concerning the prophecies of which my father hath spoken, concerning Joseph, who was carried into Egypt: For behold, he truly prophesied concerning all his seed. And the prophecies which he wrote, there are not many greater. And he prophesied concerning us, and our future generations; And they are written upon the plates of brass."
Even though we have a significant amount of information about Joseph in the Bible, we have nothing like what is described above. The Brass Plates contain a number of wonderful prophecies by Joseph about his descendants. Were those very ancient prophecies written by the hand of Joseph, or copied down by someone else as he dictated them? It is apparent from his responsibilities that Joseph had learned to read and write as he worked in Egypt.
Joseph was sold by his brothers to Ishmaelites who carried him into Egypt as a very young man, perhaps in his mid to late teens. When Potiphar purchased him, he eventually gave Joseph charge of his personal affairs until Potiphar's wife caused him to be sent to prison. However, even in prison, Joseph continued to excel in the area of management. He had to have learned very well the reading and writing of the Egyptian language. Later the Pharaoh placed him second in command of the entire country of Egypt. Joseph could not have been given this responsibility unless he was well educated in the written language of that country. If Joseph had written his prophecies on anything-papyrus or metal plates-what written language would he have used? Obviously the Egyptian language that he had learned.
Centuries later, Moses was raised in the Pharaoh's court and became a prince of Egypt. No one would question the fact that he received the best possible education in reading and writing the Egyptian language. Herein lies another clue:
1 Nephi 1:158b-161 "my father Lehi took the records which were engraven upon the Plates of Brass, and he did search them from the beginning. And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world; And also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents; And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah."
The Brass Plates contain the five books of Moses. When Moses wrote his five books, what written language did he know? It is possible that he could have learned some other written language from his father-in- law Jethro after Moses fled Egypt, but his first language was certainly Egyptian.
Without doubt the history of the world, the history of the House of Israel since Joseph, and the history of the Jews down until King Zedekiah were written in the Egyptian language. Is this just a theory? No. The Book of Mormon clearly teaches the same:
Mosiah 1:4-6 "And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the Plates of Brass . . . For he [Mosiah] having been taught in the language of the Egyptians, therefore he could read these engravings."
Here we are told that because King Mosiah had been taught the Egyptian language- "therefore" he could read the writings on the Brass Plates. Can this be any plainer? The Brass Plates are written in Egyptian! We are not told who first wrote on the Brass Plates or who started this precious record, however there is a possibility that Joseph of Egypt was that man. It could have been someone before or after him, but suffice it to say that his prophecies are on those plates.
Did they exist before Moses? Probably. Could these plates be the original records of Moses? Possibly-or Moses' records were copied directly from their originals onto the Brass Plates. Moses was a Levite and not of the house of Joseph. We saw above that the Brass Plates had been entrusted to the descendants of Joseph. Laban, a descendant of Joseph lived in Jerusalem along with Lehi. The Bible states that a portion of the house of Joseph lived in or near Jerusalem. So this Israelite record was kept by the tribe of Joseph. The Brass Plates could have been the official record of the entire nation of Israel, since within its leaves were: "the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah"- -including the prophet Jeremiah. The Lord chose to preserve them in a strange way, and perhaps for a strange purpose. If they had stayed in Jerusalem, they probably would have been destroyed with the people and the city by the armies of Babylon. Instead the Lord commanded
Lehi to take them with him to the "promised land." They were used to teach multitudes of people in New World for centuries until close to the time of the Nephite final battle when they were hidden up in the Hill Cumorah along with many other records. The promise is that they will come forth at some future time for "a wise purpose."
Most serious Book of Mormon students are aware of the statements made by Nephi and Mormon regarding the inclusion of the Small Plates of Nephi in with the final group of plates that were eventually given to Joseph Smith, Jr. to translate into the Book of Mormon. Both Nephi and Mormon state that this was done for a "wise purpose." Both were unaware of the purpose. Today we know that the translation of the Small Plates took the place of the 116 pages of manuscript that
were lost by Martin Harris. That was important-those plates may eventually be returned to someone in the last days for the great revelation which is contained in the "Sealed Portion" that was originally written by Ether on 24 gold plates and later summarized by Moroni to be revealed at some future date. It is similar to the sealed records kept by the Nephite spiritual leaders that Jesus commanded to be read when he came to the Land Bountiful in the end of the year that he
was crucified and resurrected. That sealed portion along with the plates that Joseph Smith translated will most likely be returned to the Lord's people in the time that the Lord chooses.
However, there is a greater set of promises regarding the Brass Plates. As Alma taught his son Helaman, he told him of the promise which is quoted above in Alma 17:32-34. Until recently I had regarded that prophecy and Lehi's prophecy (1 Nephi 1:169-170) to be the only two important prophecies about the Brass Plates. As I was re-reading the Book of Mormon earlier this year in preparation for several projects, I discovered that Alma did not stop speaking about the Brass
Plates in verse 34. In fact, he continued prophesying about them for nearly two more pages (verses 35-51).
Perhaps others have found this many years ago, but I've never heard anyone else speak or write about it. I had always assumed that those following verses referred to the Small Plates of Nephi because of the use of the phrase "wise purpose." However, Alma never stopped speaking about the Brass Plates and states that they also have been preserved for "a purpose" and that they will witness to future generations. The phrase "wise purpose" is mentioned four times in the context of
speaking about the Brass Plates.
Lehi explains that one of the reasons that his sons should return to Jerusalem to obtain the Brass Plates is so that "we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers." Another reason that their language should be preserved is that they may be able to read God's word and teach their children God's laws as seen below:
1 Nephi 1:82-83
"And behold it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers;
And also that we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time."
The importance of using metal plates to write upon cannot be over emphasized, because their records were to last thousands of years. Jacob, the brother of Nephi explained this clearly when he said: "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 3:1-2).
Some climates have preserved things as fragile as cotton cloth and papyrus-Peru and Egypt respectively have extremely dry climates and have preserved such things for thousands of years. However, the climate in which the Nephites lived would have destroyed most things except gold, silver, brass and copper. Jacob knew that where he lived only metal plates like he was writing upon would have survived the ravages of time. The records that Nephi and Jacob wrote have
lasted over 2500 years. A thousand years later, as Mormon was concluding his abridgment of the Large Plates of Nephi, he said that even the way they wrote Egyptian had changed according to their "manner of speech" (Mormon 4:98).
By the time of Christ, the Egyptian language had become a lost language. The meaning of the engravings and writings on temple walls and elsewhere in Egypt had become forgotten and seemingly impossible to understand. For over two thousand years, there seemed to be no hope of reading it again. Then in 1799 a large stone with inscriptions in three languages was discovered near the mouth of the Nile River in Egypt. In the mid 1820s a French Egyptologist named Champollion discovered the key to its translation. The bottom third of the Rosetta stone was written in Greek. Champollion speculated that the same message was written in all three languages. The other two being Egyptian hieroglyphics (top third) and Egyptian demotic (middle third). He is credited with deciphering the Egyptian language, however serious studies did not get underway until the mid 1860s. Today Egyptian can be read again.
The importance of this is great, because the language used to write the scriptures on the Brass Plates is an original form of Egyptian. When the Brass Plates come to light again, their language is no longer a lost and undecipherable text, but will be able to be read. It is for this reason that the Brass Plates will most likely be discovered by someone who is not connected with the Book of Mormon. The Lord provided a miraculous appearance of the Book of Mormon through angelic
ministry for those people who would believe and seek the Spirit of the Lord. This time, the world will be faced with an irrefutable artifact that will be found in the New World. It will be identified as a record of much of the Old Testament, but written in a language which will astonish the nations of the world. The text will not require a miracle to be translated. The fact that other ancient documents have already been found in Israel-the Dead Sea Scrolls-have already set the stage
for this ancient record. The Dead Sea Scrolls were, shall we say, captured by a tiny group of supposedly elite "scholars" who literally held them in secrecy for forty years while they individually did their own research and planned to publish their own books about this great archaeological find. The world is no better because of them. Later the scholars of the world made an agreement that we all hope will be firmly held to. That when other ancient documents or records are discovered, no one group of people will be allowed to "capture" them and hold them in secrecy for any significant amount of time again. They must be published to the world. So when the Brass Plates are discovered and made public, there will be many responses from people around the world. Questions that will be asked are: "How did this record arrive in the New World?", "Who brought it here, why and hen?", and "Why would a Hebrew record be written in ancient Egyptian?"
Many of the prophecies on the Brass Plates clearly witness of the Hebrew Messiah. They contain the Five Books of Moses, the story of Creation, the Flood of Noah's day, and many other prophets of the Old Testament. These things, found in such a manner, will challenge Bible scholars around the world. The Brass Plates will challenge the faith of people of many diverse and non-christian religions. Atheists will be put on notice. The Jews will learn of their Messiah from an original text of their own book that will be much clearer and complete than what they have. The Arab nations,
including many Muslims will be confronted with an original text of the Hebrew Old Testament that is written in Egyptian. Liberal Christians will be challenged by an uncorrupted text of the Old Testament that refutes liberal theology. The nation of Israel, where the Brass Plates came from, will find a new identity with their native American brothers of the New World. In short, these plates
and the library with which they are found will turn the world upside down.
During the month of December this year, I've been working with several teams of men here in Kenya to do a final review of the Swahili Book of Mormon. During that time, we have reviewed and analyzed every verse of what Nephi calls "these plates." We have come to call these first six books of the Book of Mormon the record of the Small Plates of Nephi. His "other plates" we now call the Large Plates of Nephi, and they contain a more complete history that Mormon used to
make his abridgment of the entire book. The Small Plates are written in first person and are not an abridgment, but are the actual writings of Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, etc. As we struggled to find the meaning of each word and put it in its proper place, it became very clear to me that these words were not written by anyone who speaks English, but they really are a faithful translation from another language. A number of the above ideas have been the direct result of the review of this translation.
Previously when I had worked with the translation teams, I was only a facilitator and teacher about how to translate and preserve the original text. This time, as part of the final review team, I am learning a great deal of Swahili, but most of all, as we review each verse, each phrase, each word, and especially as we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, new ideas have appeared and new ways of thinking of the words become apparent. It is a wonderful experience to work together like this!
Tomorrow will be Sunday and Christmas day, and the Kisumu branch will be meeting at the location where we are working. Additionally, a group of young people led by Brian Herren from Oregon will be meeting with us. A special meal is being planned and with all of the activities, we probably will not get very much done with the translation. We will enjoy the break as we have been working very long hours every day since we arrived here at the facility about three weeks
ago. We are approaching 25% of the text completed and my time runs out at the end of February, so please keep us all in your prayers.
Merry Christmas to all, and even though our Messiah's birthday is still several months away, may you all have a blessed day with your families.
"The Language of Our Fathers" by Frank Evan Frye
December 25, 2016