Convenient to the village of Manchester, Ontario county, New York, stands a hill of considerable size, and the most elevated of any in the neighborhood. On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side, and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground, but the edge all around was covered with earth. (JS—H 1:51)
The Nephites consistently hid their sacred records in hills. Ammaron hid the records in the hill Shim (see Mormon 1:2–3; compare 4 Nephi 1:48–49), whence Mormon retrieved them (see Mormon 4:23). Mormon subsequently hid all but his abridgment of the records in the hill Cumorah and passed the abridgment on to his son Moroni (see Mormon 6:6). Moroni then hid the abridgment in the New York hill that came to be known as Cumorah.1
Chapter 6, "Hiding Sacred Relics," noted some stories in which sacred writings and other relics were hidden in mountains. Kenaz, for example, is said to have placed books and stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes on a mountain beside an altar, as God commanded him (see Pseudo-Philo 26:1–15; Chronicles of Jerahmeel 57:11–21). Jeremiah is said to have hidden the sacred implements of the temple in a cave on mount Nebo (see 2 Maccabees 2:1–8), though according to other stories he hid them in a cave on the Mount of Olives (see Chronicles of Jerahmeel 77:4–9) or, in Samaritan tradition, on Mount Gerizim.
In one of the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 (See XI,3 Allogenes 68.16–31), an angel instructed Allogenes to write in a book what the angel dictated and to place it "upon a mountain."2 Two of the Christian Gnostic books found in Egypt, the Pistis Sophia and the books of Jeu, are said to have been dictated to Enoch in paradise and then hidden on Mount Ararat, where Noah found them after the flood.3 The Book of the Invisible Great Spirit was similarly concealed on Mount Charax.4 The Cologne Mani Codex cites portions of the now lost Apocalypse of Enosh, in which an angel brought Enosh to a mountain and instructed him to write on bronze tablets and hide his record.5
Masonic tradition holds that the Lord revealed secrets to Enoch atop a mountain and that Enoch, knowing of the forthcoming flood, sought a way to preserve this knowledge. On the top of a high mountain, he erected one pillar of marble and another of brass, and on these pillars he engraved the sciences for the benefit of future generations. He also inscribed his revelation on a gold plate that he concealed in a temple he constructed inside a mountain.6
The eleventh-century Arab chronographer al-Tha'labi wrote of a group of Jews fleeing persecution who buried a copy of the Torah (law of Moses) in a mountain.7 Their choice for a burial spot may have been influenced by the fact that Moses had received the law on a mountain.
It is reported that in 1898 in the southern Russian German-speaking settlement of Franzfeld, the sons of Jacob Schaub found twelve small gold plates in a hill, each inscribed with a different animal representing each of the twelve months of the year.8
When the Israelites were assembled at Sinai, "the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God" (Exodus 24:12–13).
Terrence L. Szink, of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, suggests that the tables of stone given to Moses on the mountain may not have been prepared by God at that time but may have been hidden there earlier, under the Lord's direction, by a prophet charged with protecting the ancient records.9 The fact that the two tables had been "written with the finger of God" (see Exodus 31:18; 32:15–16; compare Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:22; 9:9–11) does not mean that he wrote them at the time that he spoke with Moses on the mount. After Moses broke the two tables (see Exodus 32:19; Deuteronomy 9:15–17), the Lord did not simply write up another set but had Moses prepare the new tables (see Exodus 34:1, 4). Moses then spent forty days with the Lord, during which time the prophet, not the Lord, wrote on the tables (see Exodus 34:28–29).
Exodus 34:1 JST informs us that the Lord wrote on the second set of tablets (as in Deuteronomy 10:1–5) but left out the covenant of priesthood contained on the first tablets. Szink notes that Abraham spoke of the covenant of priesthood (see Abraham 1:1–4), suggesting that this was the same record Moses originally received on the mountain. In one passage, Abraham noted that "the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things" (Abraham 1:31). But when Abraham introduced the information about the heavenly bodies and the creation (see Abraham 3:1–5:21), he noted that he had the urim and thummim, by which the Lord told him about these other worlds (see Abraham 3:4). Szink sees this as evidence that Abraham, like Joseph Smith, had to use the urim and thummim to translate the records of his ancestors, because they were written in a language that was unknown to him. It remains possible, however, that the instrument simply gave him additional information, as it did to Joseph Smith when he sought divine revelation.
Noting that the interpreters, or urim and thummim, were associated with—and even sealed up with—records in the cases of Joseph Smith (see JS—H 1:34–35, 52, 59) and the brother of Jared (see Ether 3:21–24, 27–28; 4:5–6; see also Mosiah 8:12–14; 21:27–28; 28:11–17), Szink suggests that Moses also received the urim and thummim with the records on Mount Sinai. The sacred oracle, first mentioned in Exodus 28:30, appears in such a way as to hint that it already existed before the high priestly clothing with which it became associated was made.
Szink's views are partially supported by several early Jewish sources. According to Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer 46, the tablets of the law given to Moses atop the mountain were heavenly in origin. When Moses was told to prepare a second set of tablets, God created a quarry of sapphires from which he cut the new stones.10 Significantly, the revelation is said to have taken place at a cave, which may have been the hiding place of the tablets. According to Abot de Rabbi Nathan 2, the tables containing the commandments were inscribed and put away atop the mountain during the six days of creation.
Midrash Rabbah Exodus 40:2 notes that as Moses was about to descend from the mountain, God "brought him the book of Adam and showed him all generations that would arise from Creation to Resurrection, each generation and its kings, its leaders, and prophets."11 According to Midrash Rabbah Genesis 24:3–4, the book in Psalm 69:28 from which one is blotted out is the Book of the Generations of Adam mentioned in Genesis 5, which contains the names of all the souls God made. The text notes that the royal Messiah would not come until all these had been born. This story is partially confirmed by one of the Nag Hammadi texts, V,5 Apocalypse of Adam 85.3–24, which notes that the words of God as revealed to Adam and passed on to his son Seth are to be found "on a high mountain, upon a rock of truth."12
A Falasha text, the Death of Moses, also suggests that the tablets already existed when Moses met God on the mount: "Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to pray to God and opened the Torah to read therefrom. He found five sayings which he was unable to understand. God called unto Moses and said to him: 'I wrote them with mine own hand, and I understand their meaning. Hearken and understand as I tell thee the first word.'"13
Additional support for Szink's theory comes from a study by Geo Widengren in The Ascension of the Apostle and the Heavenly Book, wherein he demonstrates that Moses' receipt of the tables of the law on the mountain (see Exodus 24:12) parallels Mesopotamian stories in which kings ascend to heaven to receive the "tablets of destiny" or "tablets of wisdom." In the Babylonian creation epic (Enuma Elish IV, 121–22), these tablets, "sealed" and fastened to the chest like the biblical urim and thummim, grant kingly power to the god Kingu and his successor, Marduk.14 Reminding us that some scholars believe that the urim and thummim were kept in a bag on the high priest's breast,15 Widengren cites a text in which Enmeduranki, king of Sippar, is called into the assembly of the gods, placed "on a great golden throne," and given "the tablets of the gods, the bag with the mystery of heaven [and earth]."16 He further notes the Samaritan tradition that Moses was seated on a great throne in the presence of angels while writing the law.17 The Arabic version of the Tabula Smaragdina declares that the sacred book, written in Syriac, the "primordial language," was found with "an old man sitting on a throne of gold."18 Wiedengren also suggests that the "testimony" given to the Israelite king by the high priest at the time of his anointing (see 2 Kings 11:12) consists of the tablets of the law.19
In modern times, several caches of documents have been found hidden in caves. The most famous, of course, are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in eleven caves in cliffs overlooking the northern end of the Dead Sea, not far from the city of Jericho. Only a few large scrolls were recovered, but fragments of more than eight hundred documents were found. The earliest date to the second century BC and the latest to the first century AD. They include books of the Bible, Pseudepigrapha, and other writings.
During 1951 and 1952, another cache of documents was found in two of four large adjacent caves in a canyon known as Wadi Murabba at, south of where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Among the finds was the earliest Hebrew papyrus found in the Holy Land, containing a list of names and numbers from the seventh or eighth century BC, written atop a letter of a slightly earlier date. Parts of several books of the Bible were also found, along with documents from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt (AD 132–35). In 1955, in another cave about a kilometer away, a scroll of the minor prophets was found. This scroll contained biblical books from the middle of Joel to the beginning of Zechariah, in the traditional order.
At the same time (1952), several caves in Nahal Hever and Nahal Se'elîm, to the south, were found to have caches of leather and papyrus documents, including fragments of biblical texts, dating from the first century BC to the second century AD. In 1958 a number of Old and New Testament books and other documents were found at Khirbet Mird, the ruins of ancient Hyrcania, on a peak west of where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The texts were probably from the Christian monastery that formerly stood on the site. Four years later a cache of fourth-century-BC papyri, many with their seals intact, was found in the Abu Shinjah Cave in Wadi Daliyah, about fourteen miles north of Jericho and twelve miles west of the Jordan River. Written in Samaritan, the earliest documents were written circa 375 BC, while the latest was dated 18 March 335 BC. They had evidently been brought to the cave by Samaritans fleeing the invading Greek army of Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Skeletons of about two hundred people were found in the cave, and archaeologists surmised that the people were suffocated by the smoke of a fire set at the entrance to the cave.
In about 1900 at Tuen Huang, in Chinese Turkestan, some fifteen to twenty thousand manuscripts dating between the sixth and seventh centuries AD were found after having been walled up in a cave since about AD 1035. The documents were written in Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and other languages.20 To this day, a religious group known as the Yezîdîs, who live in the Kurdistan area of Turkey, keep their most sacred texts in a box hidden in a cave.21
Ancient traditions also indicate that caves were used as repositories for records. Chapter 5, "Angels as Guardians of Hidden Books," noted the Jewish belief that Adam hid the Sepher ha-Razim (Book of Mysteries) in a cave, the location of which was revealed to Enoch in a dream, and that Enoch read the book and hid it up again. The eleventh-century Arab chronographer al-Tha'labi noted that an individual had found, in a cave in the Hadramaut region of southern Arabia, ancient gold tablets containing the history of a vanished empire. No one could decipher the text until a traveling artisan was consulted.22
In the pseudepigraphic Narrative of Zosimos, also known as the History of the Rechabites, we read that Zosimos, during his visit to the Rechabites, saw them write their history on stone tablets, which they then gave him (see Greek 7:1; 15:8; Syriac 8:1; 16:8). Chapters 18 through 20 of the Greek version indicate that when he returned to the cave in which he dwelt, Zosimos deposited the tablets beside the altar. When the devil came seeking to destroy him and the book, Zosimos warded him off with prayer. This is a remarkable parallel to the story of Joseph Smith, who was attacked by the devil during his prayer in the sacred grove (see JS—H 1:15–16) and later by men seeking to steal the Book of Mormon plates.
Chapter 6, "Hiding Sacred Relics," noted a number of early Christian stories in which Adam kept relics from the Garden of Eden in a mountaintop cavern called the Cave of Treasures. In Conflict of Adam and Eve I, 31.9–10, the cave is said to be a place "of concealment." After his death, Adam was buried in this cave, along with the treasures.23 Some accounts indicate that sacred records were concealed in the cave.
In Testament of Adam 3:6, Seth declared that he had written the testament, adding, "And we sealed the testament and we put it in the cave of treasures with the offerings Adam had taken out of Paradise, gold and myrrh and frankincense. And the sons of kings, the magi, will come and get them, and they will take them to the son of God, to Bethlehem of Judea, to the cave."24
One of the Nag Hammadi texts, the Gospel of the Egyptians 68.1–20, known from two copies (III,2 and IV,2), declares: "This is the book which the great Seth wrote, and placed in high mountains on which the sun has not risen . . . The great Seth wrote this book . . . He placed it in the mountain that is called Charaxio, in order that, at the end of the times and the eras . . . it may come forth."25 A companion text, V,5 Apocalypse of Adam 85.3–24, notes that the words of God revealed to Adam and passed on to his son Seth are to be found "on a high mountain, upon a rock of truth."26
According to In Matthaeum Homiliae II, a fifth-century document falsely attributed to St. Chrysostom, Seth, the son of Adam, wrote a book that was kept in a cave on a mountain named Victorialis.27 A similar story is told in Pseudo-Dionysius, which mentions a book containing revelations from Adam to Seth that was kept on Mount Triumphalis,28 where it was studied until the time of the Magi, who learned of Christ from its contents.29
Jewish tradition also suggests that Adam's book was hidden in a cave. In Zohar Genesis 117b–118a, Rabbi Jose walked with Rabbi Judah and discussed points of the law of Moses. When they arrived at a certain place,
Suddenly R. Jose said: "It comes to my memory that in this place I was once sitting with my father and he said to me: 'When you will reach the age of sixty years you are destined to find in this place a treasure of sublime wisdom.' I have lived to reach that age, and I have not found the treasure, but I wonder if the words spoken by us just now are not the wisdom that he meant. He further said to me: 'When the celestial flame reaches the spaces between your fingers, it will escape from you.' I asked him: 'How do you know this?' He replied: 'I know it by the two birds that passed over your head.'" At this point R. Jose left him and entered a cavern, at the farther end of which he found a book hidden in the cleft of a rock. He brought it out and caught sight of seventy-two tracings of letters which had been given to Adam the first man, and by means of which he knew all the wisdom of the supernal holy beings, and all those beings that abide behind the mill with turns behind the veil among the supernal ethereal essences, as well as all that is destined to happen in the world until the day when a cloud will arise on the side of the West and darken the world. R. Jose then called R. Judah and the two began to examine the book. No sooner had they studied two or three of the letters than they found themselves contemplating that supernal wisdom. But as soon as they began to go into the book more deeply and to discuss it, a fiery flame driven by a tempestuous wind struck their hands, and the book vanished from them. R. Jose wept, saying, "Can it be, Heaven forefend, that we are tainted with some sin? Or are we unworthy to possess the knowledge contained therein?" When they came to R. Simeon they told him what had occurred. He said to them: "Were you, perhaps, scrutinising those letters which deal with the coming of the Messiah?" They answered: "We cannot tell, as we have forgotten everything." R. Simeon continued: "The Holy One, blessed be He, does not desire that so much should be revealed to the world, but when the days of the Messiah will be near at hand, even children will discover the secrets of wisdom and thereby be able to calculate the millennium; at that time it will be revealed to all, as it is written, 'For then will I turn to the people a pure language, etc.,' the term az (then) referring to the time when the community of Israel will be raised from the dust and the Holy One will make her stand upright; then 'will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the Lord, to serve him with one consent.'"30
Even before the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls a few miles south of Jericho, there were reports of ancient records hidden in the caves of that region. The fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius reported that the church father Origen (AD 184–253) had found an ancient translation of the Book of Psalms "in a jar near Jericho."31
In AD 805 the Nestorian Syriac patriarch of Seleucia, Timotheus I, wrote to Sergius, metropolitan of Elam, that he had heard from converted Jews that an Arab hunter had found Hebrew scrolls ten years earlier in a cave near Jericho. The Arab hunter told some Jews from Jerusalem, who went to the cave and removed a large number of biblical and other Jewish texts. One of the converted Jews told Timotheus that they had found more than two hundred psalms of David and that some of the texts included the passages cited in Matthew 2:23; 1 Corinth-ians 2:9; and Galatians 3:13 that were missing from the New Testament. The patriarch, knowing of the tradition that Jeremiah had buried sacred temple implements prior to the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 587 BC, assumed that the newly discovered books had been placed in the cave by Jeremiah or by his scribe, Baruch.32
In 1878 a Jerusalem merchant, Moses Wilhelm Shapira, learned of some Arabs who, fleeing authorities, hid out in a cave in Wadi Mujib, to the east of the Dead Sea. These Arabs reported finding a number of old bundles of rags containing dark leather strips cut from scrolls with very faint writing on them. Shapira purchased fifteen strips. The inked text on the strips, written in paleo-Hebrew script, contained portions of the book of Deuteronomy, mingled with extracts from other books of the Pentateuch, though with some differences from the Masoretic Hebrew text. Shapira took the scrolls to Europe, where they were pronounced fraudulent, mostly on the grounds that the writing disagreed in some particulars with the standard text. Shapira was humiliated in the press and even accused of being the forger. (A few years earlier, he had been duped by some Arabs into purchasing some fraudulent pottery with Moabite inscriptions.) Thinking that he could sell the parchment strips, he and his family had gone into debt in anicipation of the sale. Faced with the humiliation and the possibility of losing all, he committed suicide in March 1884.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls six decades later prompted a reexamination of the Shapira story. Like the Shapira parchments, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found near the Dead Sea, some wrapped in cloth and some written in paleo-Hebrew script. In both cases, some of the biblical texts differed from what is found in later Hebrew Bibles. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to examine the original Shapira documents (some were sold at auction), for their whereabouts is unknown.33
Medieval (tenth to twelfth centuries) Karaite34 and Muslim writers wrote of the Magarians (Maghariya, from the Arabic word for cave), whose writings were discovered in a cave. Significantly, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Damascus Document, copies of which were found in caves, was first discovered in two medieval manuscripts, one from the tenth century and one from the twelfth century, in the genizah of the Old Cairo Karaite synagogue.35 The Karaite scholar Jacob al-Qirqisani, writing of the founding of the Jewish Sadducean party, noted: "About that time there appeared also the teaching of a sect called Magarians, who were so called because their religious books were discovered in a cave (magar). One of them was the Alexandrian [Philo], whose well-known book is the principal religious book of the Magarians. Next to it in rank is a small booklet called the Book of Yaddu'a, also a fine work. Of their remaining books none is significant; most of them merely resemble idle tales."36
Some of the best studies of the Arabic traditions of the companions of the cave are from Professor Hugh Nibley.37 He suggests that the companions, often identified with the Sleepers of Nejran, may have been the people of the Qumran community near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. He further points out that the companions sealed up in a cave something called in Arabic al-Raqim, which some scholars have interpreted as engraved metal plates.38 Nibley notes that one scholar suggested that the plates were sealed in a copper box. Of particular interest is the tradition Nibley cites from the Arab writer Baidawi, who wrote that the apostle Peter had discovered the al-Raqim documents and hidden them near Jerusalem.39
This chapter has shown that a number of ancient texts speak of books hidden on mountains or in caves, while some actual document finds have been made in caves or on mountain slopes. It is not surprising, therefore, to find such Book of Mormon personalities as Ammaron, Mormon, and Moroni hiding the sacred records of the Nephites on mountains. It was indeed an ancient practice.