Ether 2:23. Windows in the Jaredite barges
The mention of windows that could be “dashed in pieces” in Ether 2:23 is anachronistic, since glass windows were not invented until Roman times.
The term “window” originally referred to an opening through which the wind could enter. It is found 42 times in the King James version of the Bible, but, of course, does not refer to glass windows as we know them. In one passage (2 Kings 13:17), we read that a window in the palace was opened, so ancient windows sometimes had doors or shutters. The same is true of the window that Noah built into the ark (Genesis 8:6).
Though the use of glass in windows is attested as early as 3000 BC,[i] as late as medieval times, windows were mere openings in the wall and rarely had glass, even in castles.
I do not believe that Ether 2:23 means that the windows in the Jaredite barges would break, but that the barges themselves, would break if they had windows built into them. This, as the Lord explains in the next verse, is because they would go through extremely tubulent conditions at sea, sometimes being buried beneath the waves. Windows would mean additional cuts through the wood which, even if shuttered, would weaken the wooden structure, making it more fragile and thus liable to be “dashed in pieces.” If we read only the sentence containing the word “windows” and read it out of context, then the antecedent of “they” would, indeed, be “windows.” But I believe that the antecedent is “vessels,” the last word in the preceding sentence.
The Book of Mormon often reflects Hebraisms, and in Hebrew antecedents are not always where we expect them to be in English. Nephi, for example, is not the antecedent of “who are his elder brethren” in 1 Nephi 16:37. For similar examples, see 1 Nephi 17:27; Genesis 18:27; Exodus 5:20; 12:27; Acts 16:21; 1 Timothy 1:12-13.
The “window” mentioned in Genesis 6:16 employs a different Hebrew term and refers to a light source.
Dan Klein and Ward Lloyd, eds., The History of Glass (London: Orbis, 1984), 9.