Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nephite Monetary System – Part I

Since coins of antiquity have never been found in Mesoamerica, nor metallurgy of any kind in B.C. times, they have concluded the early people of this land had no metal working capability during the first 500 years of the Nephites. This has prompted Mesoamerican scholars and theorists to come up with counter-answers since the Book of Mormon is quite clear that both the Jaredites and the Nephites had metal working capabilities from earliest times.

“And they did work in all manner of ore, and they did make gold, and silver, and iron, and brass, and all manner of metals; and they did dig it out of the earth; wherefore they did cast up mighty heaps of earth to get ore, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of copper. And they did work all manner of fine work” (Ether 10:12).

“And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (2 Nephi 5:15-16)

One of the responses of these theorists regarding coins is to claim the Nephite monetary system was based on weights and measures and not on coins. Their claim is that because the term “coin” is not specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon, then there were no coins. As an example, a judge received wages of a senine of gold for a day’s work. This was the same as a senum of silver. Someone today might say “I will pay you twenty dollars for a four hour job” which would be the same as saying, “I will pay you five dollars per hour for four hours.” It is also the same as saying, “This double eagle gold coin is the same as these twenty silver dollars.”

The problem is that coins are not readily understood by people who call them by different names. An American “buck” is the same as an English “quid.” Dollars in the U.S. were also called “greenbacks” at one time, as well as “greenmail,” “green,” and “dead presidents.” A “single,” “buck,” “bone,” or “bean,” is $1.00; a “deuce,” “Tom,” “Jefferson,” or a “T.J.” is $2.00; a “fin,” “fiver,” or “five-spot” is $5.00; a “sawbuck,” a “ten-spot,” or “Hamilton,” is $10.00; a “double sawbuck,” “dub,” or “Jackson,” is $20.00; a “Benjamin,” “Benji,” or “Franklin,” “C-note,” “Century note,” or “bill,” is $100.00; with two bills ($200) three bills ($300) etc. And a “grand” is $1,000, with “10K” for $10000. Modern bills are referred to as “Big Face” or “Monopoly money,” along with general terms of “cha-chingers” and “smackers.” Did you know that U.S. coins of half-cent, 2-cent, 3-cent, half dime (not a nickel), 20-cent, Quarter Eagle, three dollar piece, Half Eagle, Eagle, Double Eagle coins have been produced every year since 1792? Or that an American Platinum Eagle is the same value as a Double Eagle? Or that a Gold Eagle is the same value as a Half Eagle? Or that a Half Union is the same value as two Double Eagles and an Eagle in U.S. coins?

At the same time, there are the Euro, Yen, Pound Sterling, Canadian Dollars, Krona, Franc, Peso, Yuan, Riel, Centavo, Balboa, Rand, Puta, and numerous other coinage around the world. In Britain, there is the schilling, pound, quid, five and ten pence, and the one pound and two pound coins—with a five pound sterling coin the same value as twenty-five pence coin. There is also the half crown, florin, and farthing. In earlier times, two hundred and forty pennies equaled a British pound. In fact, it could be said that a British “gold sovereign” is worth the same as a “Pound Sterling.” It could also be said that one British penny equals four farthing in value. Further, a Florin is the same as two shillings. In earlier times, British coinage was produced in silver, bronze and brass. In addition, British coinage also carried names of Bob, mag, joey, tanner, two-bob bit, two-and-a-kick, tuppence, twenty-three pee, and pee-piece.

It should also be kept in mind that the term “coin” is rarely used in the U.S. monetary system other than to separate it from paper money. There is no difference in purchasing power between a silver dollar and a paper dollar or a gold dollar—all are $1.00. We do not say a dollar bill or a dollar coin—we simply refer to both as one dollar.

All this suggests that any one today trying to interpret the Nephite monetary system would have no clue as to what senine, seon, shum, limnah, senum, amnor, ezrom, onti, leah, shiblum, shiblon, antion meant in terms of money any more than agora, agorot, shekel coins of Israel; the rouble, kopeks, kopeyki, polushka, denga, semishnik, altyn, pyatak, grivennik, pyatialtynny, dvugrivennypotupoltinnik, or poltina coins of Russia, which could also be described as one pyatialtynnyis worth fivealtyn; one diugrivenny is worth two grivenniks, or one polujpoltinnik is worth one-half of a poltinnik.

Obviously, without a way to interpret the values compared with known money, the above and numerous other named coinage of other countries, is meaningless. As an example, one diugrivenny is worth two grivenniks in Russian money—but if you do not know the value of Diugrivennys or grivenniks, the information is meaningless. As in “The amount of a seon of gold was twice the value of a senine” is meaningless unless we can tie it into known currency of our day or its purchasing power.

(See next post “Nephite Monetary System – Part II” on how Mormon showed us the value of their money)

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