At the age of three, Liz Muir moved to the house just outside of Salt Lake City where she spent the next fifteen years of her life. At the age of five, she decided that her life goal was to know everything. Despite being confronted many times with the fact that this goal is not precisely realistic, she hasn’t stopped trying to obtain a generalist education in a specialist world. To that end, Liz is currently a junior at BYU, studying Chemistry and English, and in her spare time enjoys watching PBS (especially Nova), knitting things that by some definition might be sweaters, and theorizing on Harry Potter.
I’ll admit that I was pretty skeptical about the relevance of the Two Ancient Roman Plates exhibit that recently opened at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library. The interest in ancient metallic plates seemed like just another attempt to stretch for historical justification for the Book of Mormon–interesting as a speculation, but “like most speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them” (Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest). I was happily surprised to come away from a discussion with John Welch, the exhibit’s curator, with some interesting insights into the ancient concept of sealed documents, particularly some speculations (see above quote) about the relation of these ideas to the Book of Mormon. Three interesting principles I’ve gleaned from the discussion and the exhibit:
- Sealed documents contained a duplication of the original. The duplication might be word for word, or else a summary or expansion on the open document. The purpose was to provide security against alterations in the public copy of a document. As long as the seal remained unbroken, the document could be guaranteed to be authentic. I can see two possible applications of this principle to the Book of Mormon. First, the Book of Mormon itself acts as a sealed book, verifying the original doctrines of the gospel which have been lost or changed in the Bible. Second, the words in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon will act as a witness of the truthfulness of the translated portion. The sealed portion could be a duplicate copy of the translated text, or perhaps a more complete history of the Nephite civilization.
- Sealed documents could only be opened by a judge or other legal official. A judge would open the sealed document when verifying the completion of the terms of a contract or when judging a dispute. Again, this can be applied to the Book of Mormon itself–being opened by Joseph Smith as a prophet called to judge the people–or to the sealed portion–perhaps to be opened by God in the final judgement of what the saints have done with the Book of Mormon.
- Sealed documents usually had witnesses. This could possibly relate to Moroni 10. Moroni’s famous promise comes directly after his statement that he will seal up his record. Could his exhortation for the reader to seek confirmation from the Holy Ghost originate from his desire to provide additional witnesses to his sealed book, which would be invalid without them?
Perhaps this is all basic to the rest of you, but it was certainly a revelation for me, having previously thought of the sealed portion as containing doctrinal mysteries rather than as a verification of the translated portion. It’s an interesting line of speculation, if nothing else. It would also be interesting to think of these principles in reference to the seven seals in Revelation, but I’ll leave that to someone with more scriptural experience.
If you’re in the Provo area, I highly recommend the exhibit, which will be on display at the library until March 2008. I’m also anxiously awaiting the resource library of articles related to the topic.