Of all the miracles reported in the Book of Mormon, perhaps none has met with as much skepticism as the story of the glowing stones that provided light inside the Jaredite barges. After following the Lord's instructions to construct submarine-like barges, the brother of Jared, worried that he and his people would travel across the great ocean in darkness, "did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass" (Ether 3:1). He brought these before the Lord and pleaded, "Touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea" (Ether 3:4).
This appendix reviews ancient and medieval literature containing reports of glowing stones. It demonstrates that knowledge of the marvelous nature of such stones was widespread in earlier times and that traditions about glowing stones are known from Jewish and other Near Eastern sources.
Hugh Nibley calls attention to accounts from Jewish tradition of similar arrangements that were made for the ark of Noah,1 to which the Jaredite vessels are compared in Ether 6:7. Several early Jewish sources indicate that God told Noah to suspend precious stones or pearls inside the ark to light it; in some traditions, it is a jewel-encrusted heavenly book.2 The gem would glow during the night and grow dim during the day so that Noah, shut up in the ark, could tell the time of day and how many days had passed.3 This was the explanation given by the rabbis for the sôhar that the Lord told Noah to construct in the ark. The word is rendered "window" in the King James Version of Genesis 6:16 but "light" in some other translations.4
A similar tradition is found among the Arabs, who may have borrowed it from the Jews. Al-Kisa'i reported that when Noah made the ark, he put the name of one of the prophets (including those yet to be born) on each of the pegs, "and they shone like the stars, except for the one with the name of Muhammad, which shone as brightly as the sun and the moon together."5
Rabbi Eliezer told a similar story about the "great fish" the Lord had prepared "to swallow Jonah" (Jonah 1:17). He noted that Rabbi Tarphon said that Jonah entered the mouth of the fish in the same fashion that a man enters the great synagogue and that he stood inside it. The fish's two eyes were like windows of glass that gave light to Jonah. Eliezer further noted that Rabbi Meir spoke of a pearl being suspended inside the fish to give light like the noonday sun, and by this light Jonah was able to see all that was in the sea (see Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 10). Zohar Exodus 48a tells a similar story, noting that the eyes of the fish shone like the noonday sun and that its interior was illuminated by a precious stone.
The idea of pearls providing light is also found in Mandaean lore. Noted folklorists Robert Graves and Raphael Patai cite a Mandaean text that asks, "Who has carried away the pearl which illumined our perishable house?"6 The Mandaean Canonical Prayerbook 252 speaks of a "pure Crystal" containing arcana and guarded by an uthra (angel) and of a "Pearl that will enlighten darkened hearts."7 Another Mandaean document, the Diwan Malkuta, also speaks of "the Pearl which came and gave them light."8
A medieval Jewish text, Zohar Exodus 188a, claims that the Arabs called the sun "the god of the shining pearl" and made oaths by "Allah of the shining pearl."9 Jewish tradition also holds that Abraham constructed a city for the six sons born to him by Hagar and Keturah, with walls so high that sunlight could not enter therein. To compensate, he provided huge gems and pearls whose glow was more brilliant than the sun. These jewels would provide light on the earth when the Messiah comes to reign.10 The medieval Jewish text Bahir speaks of "the power of the precious stones that are called Socheret and Dar,"11 saying of the latter, "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."12 Abraham said that though he did not want the stone, he would "keep all the commandments that are included in it."13 The document further notes that the two stones are alluded to in Habakkuk 3:4 in connection with the "rays" (KJV "horns") coming from God's hand.14
The fourth-century Christian father Ephraem of Syria wrote a document called The Pearl, Seven Hymns on the Faith, in which he mentioned a glowing pearl that today seems to be a urim and thummim: "On a certain day a pearl did I take up, my brethren; I saw in it mysteries pertaining to the Kingdom . . . In its brightness I beheld the Bright One Who cannot be clouded, and in its pureness a great mystery." "It was greater to me than the ark . . . it was a daughter of light . . . this pearl fill[s] me in the place of books, and the reading thereof, and the explanations thereof." "Thou dost not hide thyself in thy bareness, O pearl! . . . thy clothing is thy light, thy garment is thy brightness . . . In the mysteries whose type thou art, women are clothed with Light in Eden." "The pearl itself is full, for its light is full." "They saw the ray: they made it darkness, that they might grope therein: they saw the jewel, even the faith: while they pried into it, it fell and was lost. Of the pearl they made a stone, that they might stumble upon it." "In the covenant of Moses is Thy brightness shadowed forth: in the new covenant Thou dartest it forth: from those first Thy light shineth even unto those last. Blessed be He that gave us Thy gleam as well as Thy bright rays."15
The description of the stones that provided light for the ark is reminiscent of another instrument from the Lord—the urim and thummim.16 At the same time that the Lord touched the stones for the brother of Jared to make them shine, he gave him two stones prepared for the interpretation of the record he would write (see Ether 3:22–24; 4:5). Two similar stones (if not the same ones) were in the possession of King Mosiah and were passed on with the Nephite records (see Mosiah 8:13, 19; 28:20; Alma 37:21, 24).17 Moroni sealed up the breastplate and the urim and thummim with the gold plates (see Ether 4:4–5) and delivered them to Joseph Smith (see JS—H 1:35, 42, 52, 59, 62; D&C 10:1). According to Doctrine and Covenants 17:1, Joseph received the same urim and thummim given to the brother of Jared on the mount. Joseph Smith is apparently the "servant Gazelem"18 to which Alma 37:23–25 refers:
And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations. And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying: I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.
This passage implies that the "interpreters," which some have called the urim and thummim, shone in the dark. The idea is confirmed by David Whitmer, who wrote that in order to use the seer stone, which operated like the interpreters, Joseph Smith would place it in a hat, evidently to exclude the light in the room. Then "in the darkness the spiritual light would shine."19 A similar description is given of the urim and thummim mounted in the breastplate of the Israelite high priest, through which the priest consulted the Lord (see Exodus 28:30; 39:6–7; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65).20 Josephus wrote that in addition to the twelve precious stones mounted on the breastplate (see Exodus 25:7; 28:17–21; 35:9, 27; 39:10–14), there was one stone like a button on the high priest's right shoulder from which rays of light would shine. He further claimed that the twelve stones shone whenever the Israelite army was marching to victory. He noted, however, that the breastplate and the sardonyx had ceased shining two centuries before his time because of the wickedness of the people.21 Some have seen, in the word "urim," a plural form deriving from Hebrew ôr (light).
In Zohar Exodus 234b we read, "The term 'Urim' (lit. light, illumination) signifies the luminous speculum, which consisted of the engravure of the Divine Name composed of forty-two letters by which the world was created; whereas the Thummim consisted of the non-luminous speculum made of the Divine Name as manifested in the twenty-two letters. The combination of the two is thus called Urim and Thummim. Observe that by the power of these sunken letters were the other letters, namely, the raised letters forming the names of the tribes, now illuminated, now darkened."22
In Jewish tradition, the stones representing the tribes of Israel on the high priest's breastplate alternately glowed or became dim to detect sins committed within the tribes. Thus the sin of Achan (see Joshua 7:14–26) was discovered by the fact that the stone of his tribe, Judah, became dim when Joshua looked at the twelve stones (see Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 38). The Samaritan version of the Joshua passage indicates that the stones on the breastplate grew dim when Achan's name was pronounced. Similar stories are told about other Old Testament events. When Jonathan unwittingly broke the oath his father had made for the people, all the stones in the breastplate except that of Jonathan's tribe, Benjamin, remained bright (see Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 38; Midrash Shemuel 17:96). According to Zohar Exodus 230a, the letters engraved in the stones glowed to spell out answers when the high priest inquired of God.23 The urim and thummim operated in a similar fashion.24 When David asked the high priest, Abiathar, whether Saul would pursue him (see 1 Samuel 23:6–13), Abiathar saw the letter yod in the divine name (YHWH) glowing, along with the letters resh in Reuben's name and dalet in Dan's name, producing the word yered, "he will pursue."25
Zohar Exodus 231b reads, "Observe that the ephod and breastplate were 'behind and before,' and so the Priest, when clothed in them, resembled the supernal pattern. As has already been said, when his face was illumined and the letters stood out brightly, then a message was thereby conveyed to him. For this reason the breastplate and the ephod were tied together; and although they had distinct functions, they had the same symbolism and were therefore united by the four rings that held them together, back and front."26 In Zohar Exodus 217b, Rabbi Simeon explained the passage in Exodus 39:30 about the plate of gold on the high priest's crown:
Why was the plate called z.iz. (lit. gaze, peep)? Because it was a reflector, mirroring the character of any man gazing at it. For in that plate were graven the letters of the Divine Name, and when a righteous man appeared before it the letters so engraved bulged out and rose luminous from their sockets, from which a light shone on the man's face with a faint sparkling. For a moment the priest would notice the reflection of the letters on the man's face; but when he looked more closely he would see nothing more than a faint light, like the reflection of shining gold. But the first momentary glimpse that the priest caught was a sign to him that that man was pleasing to the Holy One, blessed be He, and that he was destined for the world to come, inasmuch as that light was an illumination from on high and a mark of divine favour. On the other hand, if a man's face failed to show any such sacred sign when he stood before the plate, then the priest knew that that man was an evildoer, and in need of atonement and intercession.27
Three fourth-century Christian fathers knew the same tradition. Epiphanius noted that the high priest had two emeralds hanging from his left shoulder and possessed a light blue diamond that constituted the urim. The color of the stone changed when the high priest entered the holy of holies in the Jerusalem temple. When the people sinned, the stone became black in color; when God wanted to send them to war, it became red; and if it became bright like snow, the people were sinless and could celebrate. Epiphanius noted that the stone had become bright when Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, ministered in the temple.28 Saint Augustine noted that the color of the stone changed to denote adversity or prosperity when the high priest entered the holy of holies,29 while John Chrysostom described how the brightness of the stones foretold what would happen.30
Orson Pratt, referring to Doctrine and Covenants 130:6–11, suggested that "if a small stone or other material in Aaron's breastplate could be made, by the power of God, to shine forth and illuminate the vision of the Seer, then, by the same power, the whole earth could be filled with the Spirit of God, and be made to shine with celestial glory, like the sun in the firmament of heaven."31 He further described the urim and thummim as "a stone or other substance sanctified and illuminated by the Spirit of the living God, and presented to those who are blessed with the gift of seeing. All Saints cannot see by the illuminations of the Urim and Thummim."32 The description of the stone "illuminated by the Spirit" is similar to the Jaredite stones being illuminated by the finger of the Lord.
The glowing nature of the urim and thummim is also mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Regarding the sapphires and rubies of Isaiah 54:11–12, the Isaiah Pesher (4Q164 I, 4–5) says, "Its interpretation concerns the twelve [chiefs of the priests who] illuminate with the judgment of the Urim and Thummim [without] any from among them missing, like the sun in all its light."33 From a fragmentary text that Garca Martnez calls 4QLiturgy of the Three Tongues of Fire (4Q376), we read of "the anointed priest" with "urim" that "will provide you with light and he will go out with him, with tongues of fire; the stone of the left side which is at its left side will shine in the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after [the cloud] has been removed [ . . . ] and you will keep and d[o al]l [that] he tells you . . . in accordance with all this judgment."34
Joseph Smith described the interpreters (which later generations have termed urim and thummim) as "two transparent stones set in the rim of a [silver] bow fastened to a breast plate."35 The term "transparent" is used only two other times in the scriptures—in the descriptions of the glowing stones used by the Jaredites (see Ether 3:1) and of the streets of gold of the New Jerusalem that John saw descending from heaven (see Revelation 21:21). In both cases, the full description is "as . . . transparent glass."36 In this connection, it is interesting to note that the heavenly city has foundations made of twelve precious stones and also twelve gates of pearls (see Revelation 21:19–21). This reminds us of the twelve stones in the high priest's breastplate, and indeed, John noted that the names of the twelve tribes were inscribed on the twelve gates (see Revelation 21:12), just as the names of the tribes were inscribed on the two stones worn by the high priest (see Exodus 28:9–12).
John further wrote that the heavenly Jerusalem had "the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal" (Revelation 21:11, emphasis added).37 Because the heavenly Jerusalem will be lighted by the glory of God, it will have no night and will need neither sun nor moon (see Revelation 21:23–25). The heavenly city is very much like the residence of God and the future celestialized earth, as described in Doctrine and Covenants 130:6–9: "A globe like a sea of glass and fire . . . a great Urim and Thummim . . . like unto crystal." John saw a "sea of glass" that supported the throne of God (see Revelation 4:5–6). In Revelation 15:2, he described it as "a sea of glass mingled with fire." Joseph Smith explained that this was "the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state" (D&C 77:1). The crystal that surrounds the throne of God is mentioned by other prophets (see Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22, 26–28; 10:1; compare 28:13–16) and in various pseudepigraphic works.
After describing the celestialized earth, Doctrine and Covenants 130:10–11 notes that "the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one." Significantly, this stone, like the high-priestly urim and thummim and the precious stone foundations and gates of the New Jerusalem, is inscribed—not with the names of the twelve tribes, but with a "new name [that] is the key word."38 Zohar Exodus 240a–b, citing Isaiah 55:11, notes that the foundations of the future Jerusalem will be of sapphire that "will possess the radiation from the supernal light and will be embedded in the abyss so that no one will be able to loosen them. These are the sapphires that will shed their light above and below."39
Ginzberg mentions a story found in the Pesiqta Rabbati and the Pesiqta de Rab Kahana, according to which Rabbi Joshua, son of Levi, stood with Elijah the prophet on Mount Carmel and asked him to show him the precious stones from which the temple would be built at the end of time. Elijah agreed and the following miracle happened in response: A boat sailing on the high seas was caught in a whirlwind and was in danger. Elijah appeared to a Jewish lad on board and told him to do what he asked in exchange for the boat being saved. The lad agreed and Elijah told him to go to Rabbi Joshua in the city of Lod and show him the precious stones in a cave outside town. The boy went to Lod and had the rabbi follow him to the cave, where he showed him the precious stones. The whole of Lod was then illuminated by the brightness of the stones.40
The heavenly temple is also said to be constructed of jewels and pearls that glow.41 This is reminiscent of the eben shetiyah, which in Jewish tradition marked the center of the earth and the center of the sanctuary and was the foundation stone of the ancient temple. The stone was formed in Jacob's day, when God miraculously merged twelve gems.42 Either the name of the messiah or the ineffable name is engraven on the stone (see Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 35). Precious stones also play a role in the traditions of the Garden of Eden. After listing the precious stones of Eden43 in verse 13, Ezekiel 28:14 and 16 mention "stones of fire."
Of particular interest is "A Parable," published in Times and Seasons.44 In the story, a bride is adorned with "a crown with twelve precious diamonds" and holds "in her hand a reflecting rod45 by which the bright rays of the sun was [sic] brought to reflect upon the diamonds,46 giving light both day and night, so that she walked not in the dark, but as in the light of the noon-day sun, to guide her steps." She married the king's son, who is obviously Christ, and the king promised to "cause the rod of iron which was in the bride's hand to reflect light over all the kingdoms in the province." We are reminded that in John's vision, the heavenly Jerusalem is called the "bride" of Christ (see Revelation 21:1–2, 9–10).
The glowing rod can be tied to the rod given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, which, like the stone in Noah's ark according to some of the rabbis, was a sapphire (see Jasher 77:39–51). Conflict of Adam and Eve I, 29.6–8 informs us that golden rods had been brought by an angel from India so that Adam could put them in the cave in which he and Eve lived. The rods "should shine forth with light in the night around him, and put an end to his fear of the darkness."47 The eleventh-century Arab writer al-Kisa'i told of how, when brought by God to address the angels, Adam wore "a bejeweled crown of gold with four points, on each of which was a great pearl so radiant that the light of the sun and the moon was extinguished. . . . He radiated a brilliant light, which shone in every corner of Paradise. Adam stood on the pulpit in all that radiance, and God taught him all names and gave him a staff of light."48 Elsewhere, the same writer speaks of angels carrying "ruby staffs that lit the night like daylight."49
The glowing rod may also be tied to the urim and thummim, which, according to Joseph Smith's brother William, was held by a rod that attached to the breastplate given to Joseph Smith.50 According to the original wording of Doctrine and Covenants 8:6–9 (in Book of Commandments 6:3), Oliver Cowdery was to have the "gift of working with the rod," which he would hold in his hands and which would reveal truths.51 The wording was changed to "gift of Aaron" in the Doctrine and Covenants, in line with the rod of Aaron mentioned in Exodus and Numbers (see Exodus 7:9–10, 19–20; 8:5, 16–17; Numbers 17:6–10). Significantly, Doctrine and Covenants 8 is the revelation in which the Lord authorized Oliver to attempt to translate the plates comprising the Book of Mormon.
Brigham Young declared that "the breastplate of Aaron that you read of in the Scriptures was a Urim and Thummim, fixed in bows similar to the one Joseph Smith found. Aaron wore this Urim and Thummim on his breast, and looked into it like looking on a mirror, and the information he needed was there obtained. This earth, when it becomes purified and sanctified, or celestialized, will become like a sea of glass; and a person, by looking into it, can know things past, present, and to come; though none but celestialized beings can enjoy this privilege. They will look into the earth, and the things they desire to know will be exhibited to them, the same as the face is seen by looking into a mirror."52
The use of the term "mirror" to describe the urim and thummim is reminiscent of a term found in Mandaean documents. According to Mandaean tradition, the priestly vesture of Sislam Rba had twelve mirrors,53 bringing to mind the twelve stones in the Israelite high priest's breastplate, one for each tribe. In one Mandaean story, Hibil Ziwa went into the underworld, where he stole the hidden jewel (gimra) and mirror and brought them out.54 In the Mandaean document known as the Alma Risaia Rba (The Great First World) 199–201, we read that "the Lord of Greatness stretched forth His right hand to his great Treasure-chest of Radiance and to the waters with light within it, and took from it this polished mirror a beam of light which fires and enlightens all minds."55 Zohar Exodus 23b declares that "Moses was possessed of the 'luminous mirror,' which is above the 'non-luminous,' which alone is vouchsafed to others."56 Zohar Exodus 82b notes that "Moses derived his prophetic vision from a bright mirror, whereas the other prophets derived their vision from a dull mirror"57—a statement repeated in Zohar Genesis 170b–171a; Zohar Exodus 238b; and Zohar Deuteronomy 268b.
Despite the fact that most of the precious stones in the scriptures are jewels, the Book of Mormon clearly states that the brother of Jared "did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass" (Ether 3:1). In the Bible, the term "molten" is used in reference not only to metals,58 but also to images or idols (see Exodus 32:4, 8; 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 9:12, 16; 27:15; Judges 17:3–4; 18:14, 17–18; 1 Kings 14:9; 2 Kings 17:16; 2 Chronicles 28:2; 34:3–4; Nehemiah 9:18). It is in the context of molten images and glowing stones that we read an ancient Jewish legend about how the tribe of Asher hid seven golden idols of the Amorites beneath Mount Shechem. When they told the judge, Kenaz, that they hid the idols, Kenaz sent someone to find them. The precious crystalline stones of which the idols were made came from Havilah and shone as daylight during the night. This caused all blind Amorites to kiss the idols and touch their eyes to receive sight. Kenaz commanded the Israelites to put the men who worshipped the glowing stones, along with their possessions and whatever was found with them, in the river Fison (biblical Pison). But when it was discovered that the idols could not be destroyed by fire, dissolved in water, or broken by iron,59 Kenaz, following God's instructions, buried them with the Amorite books on Mount Ebarim beside the new altar. An angel of God cast the glowing Amorite stones into the depths of the sea. The next day, on the same spot, Kenaz found twelve other stones brought from the same place as the first by an angel and buried. Following God's instructions, he placed them in the high priest's breastplate and stored them in the ark of the covenant along with the tablets of the law.60 As he did so, they shone like the sun. God told Kenaz that when Israel would sin and the temple would be destroyed, he would take those stones and the Amorite stones and hide them at their source until the last days, when they would become a light to the righteous (see Pseudo-Philo 25:10–12; 26:1–15; Chronicles of Jerahmeel 57:1–23).61
In this story, the river Fison evidently corresponds to the Pison of Genesis 2:11, which is where, according to the rabbinic tradition, Noah found the stone that provided light inside the ark.62 The use of precious stones and pearls (which the rabbis said Noah hung in the ark) to manufacture idols is confirmed in 3 Enoch 5:7.63
In the Bible, the urim and thummim is associated with the ephod, and it seems that the breastplate in which the sacred stones were mounted was attached to the ephod that was worn by the high priest (see Exodus 28:28; 39:19–21). In Judges 18:14 we read of "an ephod, and teraphim, and a graven image, and a molten image," indicating that these were items of worship that were associated one with another (compare Judges 17:5). The prophet Hosea wrote, "For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim" (Hosea 3:4).
An 1841 article by W. W. Phelps refers to this passage and identifies the teraphim, which are usually considered to be "images" (see, for example, Genesis 31:19, 34, 35):
Aaron . . . took the Urim and Thummim as instrument, that was as old as Adam for all that is known in the bible to the contrary. In fact the word Teraphim translated into English from the Hebrew, "images," (Gen. 31:19,) might with more propriety, be rendered spectacles or spy-glass, and actually mean the Urim and Thummim; for neither Laban or Abraham are charged with worshipping "images," or idols. The Urim and Thummim, Seer stones, Teraphim, and Images, whatever name is given to them; are found in the United States of America. And when Israel according to the 3rd chapter of Hosea, shall seek the Lord their God in the latter days, the same instruments of the holy offices of God, will be used as formerly. We are coming back to the light ages.64
The concept was first introduced (also by Phelps) in the Evening and Morning Star in July 1832 and January 1833.65 It is supported by the fact that in the Bible, the teraphim are said to have been used for divination (Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2). The Pitaron (Explanation) to the Samaritan Asatir (Secrets) of Moses indicates that Balaam, the son of Beor (see Numbers 22–24), was a descendant of Laban and owned the teraphim. It implies that this is what made him a prophet.66
According to Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 37, the teraphim spoke when questions were addressed to them, and Rachel stole her father's teraphim so that they would not tell Laban that Jacob had fled. The passage cites Zechariah 10:2, which indicates that teraphim speak. The story is also found in other Jewish sources.67
The Samaritan Asatir 3.22–23 says that Nimrod "made a likeness of the sun and the moon of crystal and he put into the sun a golden luminous cup. And he put inside the moon a precious stone (shoham).68 The Pitaron adds, "And he made a sun and a moon in the midst of the four to give light. And he placed in the midst of the sun a luminous cup of gold, and he placed in the midst of the moon a precious stone Shoham. And he said unto Gifna, 'This beacon is the first which has been made in the world.'"69
Ancient sanctuaries often contained sacred stones said to have fallen from heaven (probably meteorites), but it is the stories of glowing stones that are of particular interest. Hugh Nibley has already drawn our attention to Lucian's account (in chapter 32 of his De syria dea) of the shrine of the goddess Astarte, whose crown contained a luminous stone called lychnos (lamp) that lit up the entire sanctuary at night but had only a weak glow during the daytime. He noted the tie to the Greek version of the flood story and wrote of the Indian stories of a glowing stone called Moonfriend that borrowed its light from the sun.70 To this we can add Pliny's report of the shining "emerald" pillar in the temple of Melkart at Tyre and the gleaming emeralds set in the eyes of a marble line at the tomb of King Hermias, which were so bright they frightened away fish (see Naturalis historia 37.17).
From an Egyptian tale about the legendary King Koftim, we read that "when he died his body was embalmed and placed in a cave in a rock wall where the breeze was allowed free passage and fragrant oils were burning day and night to freshen the atmosphere and spread light which reflected in the thousands of precious stones on the statues of girls which had moving hands with which they gently fanned the king during his eternal sleep. Thieves entering the cave would think the statues were alive and would run away, frightened of all the blinking eyes which were only diamonds."71
Another glowing sanctuary stone is noted by mineralogist George Frederick Kunz in The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, in which he writes that "the author of the [second- or third-century-AD] poem 'Lithica' says that the diamond (adamas), like the crystal, when placed on an altar, sent forth a flame without the aid of fire."72
Kunz also describes a number of other medieval stories about glowing stones. He notes, for example, that pseudo-Aristotle wrote of a "sleeping stone" that was luminous and a bright ruddy hue that gave off a bright light in the darkness.73 He further cites an account from Plutarch about a marvelous stone that could be found in the Lydian river Tmolus, which changed color four times daily.74 Kunz also notes Claudii Aeliani's account of a woman of Tarentum named Heracleis, who was rewarded by a stork she had helped a year before. Flying overhead, the stork dropped a precious stone in her lap, which she took into the house. She awoke at night and found that the stone illuminated the entire room.75 In another medieval story, the alchemist Albertus Magnus described a stone named orphanus set in the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire. According to tradition, the stone formerly shone in the nighttime but by Magnus's day no longer glowed in the dark.76
Kunz quotes an old English ballad that speaks of a princess who gave her lover a ring with seven diamonds. When far from home, the lover realized that the diamond had paled and, taking it as an ominous sign, rushed home just in time to prevent the princess's marriage to another. Kunz also refers to a fourteenth-century manuscript of an Old English romance that says the stone in a certain ring grew pale or red as a sign of misfortune. The text cites several similar tales of rubies and coral that lost their brilliance in times of misfortune and gained it again during good times.77
Another story that Kunz and Jones cite was told by Alardus of Amsterdam in his commentary on Marbodus, of the "chrysolampis," a luminous stone set in a golden tablet dedicated to Saint Adelbert. The stone was donated to the Abbey of Egmund (where Adelbert's body lay) by Hildegard, wife of Theodoric, count of Holland. The stone shone bright enough that the monks could read in the chapel at night by its light. One of the monks stole it and cast it into the sea, whence it was never recovered.78
A number of early stories tell of the glowing qualities of the carbuncle. Kunz writes of a luminous "carbuncle" at the shrine of Saint Elizabeth at Marburg, set above the statuette of the Virgin Mary, which reputedly glowed at night.79 William Jones cites a story from chapter 107 of the Gesta Romanorum in which a clerk in Rome found a hidden subterranean royal burial chamber illuminated by a shining carbuncle.80 He also reports from Hawe's Pastyme of Pleasure (1517) the story of an enormous carbuncle that lighted a room and noted that Chaucer's Roumant of the Rose also described a carbuncle that glowed at night.81 An Arab source reported that one of the rooms inside the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt was lit by an egg-sized carbuncle.82 Chalkhill's poem Thealma and Clearchus decribes shining carbuncles and diamonds that light a small room.83 In an Arabian tale, the History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, also cited by Jones, a group of knights entered a dark hall and removed their gauntlets so that the diamonds on their fingers could provide light.84 Medieval stories of Prester John say that at night his palace was lit by two carbuncles.85
Kunz notes that the ring of Saint Elizabeth was supposed to have glowed at night but did not do so when he saw it. He notes several similar tales of glowing gemstones,86 including that of a luminous ruby of the king of Ceylon mentioned by Chau Ju-Kua, a Chinese writer of the thirteenth century. Chau said the ruby shone in the night like a torch.87 When Henry II of France arrived at the city of Boulogne, a stranger from India presented him a luminous stone. De Thou indicates that the story was told by J. Pipin, who saw the stone and later described it in a letter to Antoine Mizauld, an occult writer.88 Kunz and Jones also note the failed plans of a parson to light a London bridge at night by means of carbuncles.89
Kunz further points out that in his Conte du Grail, Chrétien de Troyes indicated that the Holy Grail was made of gold and encrusted with jewels that shone with a brilliance that made candles in the room dim like stars when the sun appears, while in the account by Wolfram von Eschenbach (Parzival), the Holy Grail is said to be a stone that was brought down from heaven by a troop of angels. The Sacro Catino, preserved in Genoa and represented in the early sixteenth century as the cup or dish used by Christ at the last supper, was thought to be carved from a single immense emerald but was subsequently shown to be green glass. Its rival was an emerald-green dish or shallow cup, said to be the Holy Grail, kept in a monastery near Lyon, France, and noted in the fifteenth century by George Agricola.90
Of his visit to the palace of King Manual in Constantinople in 1161, Benjamin of Tudela wrote: "The throne in this palace is of gold and ornamented with precious stones; a golden crown hangs over it, suspended on a chain of the same material, the length of which exactly admits the emperor to sit under it. This crown is ornamented with precious stones of inestimable value. Such is the lustre of these diamonds, that, even without any other light, they illumine the room in which they are kept."91
Though the idea of stones that glow in the dark may seem strange to the modern mind, such beliefs were widespread in earlier times. The stones used to provide light in the Jaredite barges fit rather well into a larger corpus of ancient and medieval literature, including stories related directly to the biblical account. This essay does not attempt to explain what made the stones glow, and while some natural explanations might be presented, I can only say that the Book of Mormon account attributes their light to divine influence. This is the same explanation given in many of the early texts this essay has surveyed. One would do well to read the story in Ether with the eye of faith that earlier peoples demonstrated when they passed on these records.
This appendix is an expanded version of an article of the same name that appeared in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/2 (1997). It is included here because it discusses the urim and thummim, which Joseph Smith found buried with the plates, as glowing stones.