Friday, January 27, 2006

Glowing Stones in Ancient and Medieval Lore

I found this publication, Glowing Stones in Ancient and Medieval Lore, in the wee hours of night on the BYU FARMS website. It is written by John A. Tvedtnes (M.A. in Linguistics and M.A. in Middle East Studies (Hebrew), University of Utah) a senior resident scholar with the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts at Brigham Young University. It is very intriguing; have a read at this link and tell me what you think.

He attempts to piece together oral traditions, cultural myths, as well as religious texts together from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam drawing common parallels on the topics of the Urim and Thummim, Glowing Images, the Teraphim, Sanctuary Stones, and Medieval Glowing Stones.

excerpt (used with permission Farms.BYU.EDU):

Though the idea of stones that can glow in the dark may seem strange to the modern mind, we have seen that such beliefs were widespread in earlier times. The account of the stones used to provide light in the Jaredite barges fits rather well into a larger corpus of ancient and medieval literature, including stories related directly to the biblical account. I have not attempted in this essay to explain what made the stones glow. While some natural explanations might be presented, I can only say that the Book of Mormon account attributes their power to divine influence. This is the same explanation given in many of the early texts we have surveyed. We would do well to read the story in Ether with the eye of faith demonstrated by those who passed on these records.

Other recourses by the Author and others:

The Author, John Alexander Tvedtnes, has also a slightly longer, revised version of the paper which is included as an appendix in his book The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness unto Light (Provo: FARMS, 2000) available at the BYU online bookstore.

Egyptian Etymologies for Biblical Religious Paraphernalia, paper by John A. Tvedtnes, published in Sarah I. Groll (ed.), Egyptological Studies (Scripta Hierosolymitana, Vol. 28; Jerusalem: Magnes Press of the Hebrew University, 1982). In November 1997

FARMS has previously published an article by Nicholas Read, Jae R. Ballif, John W. Welch, Bill Evenson, Kathleen Reynolds (now Gee), and Matt Roper, entitled New Light on the Shining Stones of the Jaredites, Insights 12/7 (July 1992).

FARMS publication Teraphim and the Urim and Thummim, Insights 20/9 (September 2000), by Matthew Roper.

Additionally, FARMS also published Mr. Tvedtnes' article More on Glowing Stones, FARMS Update No. 128, Insights 19/7 (July 1999), a follow-up to New Light on the Shining Stones of the Jaredites.

All of the last books are available to the public on the FARMS web site, just follow the appropriate links above for their location.


jtvedtnes said...

Here is a piece I have written that has not yet been published. I guess it won't carry over the footnotes.

Abraham and the Urim and Thummim

John A. Tvedtnes

The Book of Abraham informs us that Abraham “had the Urim and Thummim,” by means of which he “saw the stars.” “And the Lord said unto me, by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof” (Abraham 3:1-4).

The Bible associates the urim and thummim with the Israelite high priest, but never suggests that Abraham possessed this instrument of divine revelation. It is significant, however, that some early nonbiblical Jewish writings concur with the Book of Abraham on this issue.

The latter part of Esther 1:6 speaks of several types of stone, two of which are called dar and socheret. These are rendered “white” and “black” in the King James Bible, but the real meaning is unknown, since this is the only place the two Hebrew words are used in the Bible. Jewish tradition holds that they were precious stones (TB Megillah 12a). The Bahir, an early Jewish kabbalistic work, explains,

"This is the measure of all merchandise (Sechorah) in the world. It is also the power of the precious stones that are called Socheret and Dar. And upon what is the attribute of Dar? This teaches us that God took a thousandth of its radiance, and from it He constructed a beautiful precious stone. In it He included all the commandments. Abraham came, and He sought a power to give him. He gave him this precious stone, but he did not want it. (Bahir 190)

From Abraham 1:2, 4, we learn that the power that Abraham sought was the priesthood. It seems that the two stones he received were associated with that power. Bahir 192 continues,

[It is written that Abraham kept], “My commandments, My decrees, and My Torahs.” He said, “Since I do not want [the precious stone], I will keep all the commandments that are included in it.” What is the meaning of “My Torahs”? This teaches us that he knew and kept even the decisions (Horah) and discussions that are taught on high.

Abraham did, indeed, learn of discussions from “on high.” Abraham 3 records his vision of the heavens and of pre-earth life, revealed via the urim and thummim. Abraham 4-5 records his vision of the creation of the earth, including the discussions and decisions of “the Gods.”
The Talmud supports the idea that Abraham possessed a miraculous stone.

"R. Eliezer the Modiite said that Abraham possessed a power of reading the stars for which he was much sought after by the potentates of East and West. R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Abraham had a precious stone hung round his neck which brought immediate healing to any sick person who looked on it, and when Abraham our father departed from this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, suspended it from the orb of the sun." (TB Baba Bathra 16b)

Although the stone in question is said to have been used for healing purposes, it is interesting that it immediately follows a statement about Abraham’s astronomical capabilities which, according to Abraham 3:1, he acquired in part through the stones known as the urim and thummim. In this connection, we note that the translator of the Talmud passage indicated “A variant rendering: ‘He possessed an astrological instrument.’”

Jewish tradition holds that Abraham possessed glowing gems and pearls, reminding us that ancient texts also describe the urim and thummim as glowing stones.

The early Jewish texts that discuss Abraham’s possession of miraculous stones had not yet been translated into English in Joseph Smith’s day, and are hence valuable evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.

Geoffrey Kugonza said...

I had to Google this topic because I also had the same experience. When I was about 12 years old. I once came along these glowing stones in the night, they where about 8-12 stones all glowing in different beautiful bright colours. It was in the middle of the night, in a small foot path bushy road, I picked them up and put them in my pocket, but they where glowing so bright, and this scared me so much because it was so strange, in my village we had no electricity and I would easily be seen on a distance, I had to put them back on the ground because I was scared of what I was taking at home that night. That night I was coming from my grand parents home.