Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nephite Monetary System – Part II

As indicated in the last post, the Nephite monetary system as outlined in Alma, chapter 11, does not preclude that it was coinage. No indication is given for or against the use of coins by the Nephites. Alma’s introduction of these coins and their value could apply to any type of system, but one of coins seems most likely, despite Mesoamerican scholars and theorists claims to the contrary.

In trying to explain what the terms senine, seon, shum, limnah, senum, amnor, ezrom, onti, leah, shiblum, shiblon, antion meant, Alma launches into a system of values. To understand this, one might ask today, “If you were writing to a future people who would have no knowledge of your monetary system and its values, how would you describe your money?” Or stated differently, how would you explain in written form to a future reader what the words dollar, penny, quarter, dime, or nickel meant? How would you convey these terms so a future reader would grasp the meaning of them?

Obviously, you cannot compare your current monetary system with theirs, since you do not know what their system will be. And since Alma gives us no comparison, other than a measure of grain (which measure could be just about any quantity since he does not describe it), we do not know how to determine value in the time of the Nephites.

There are only two possible ways you can describe your monetary system to a future reader. First is to show how some of these coins were valued against one another. That is, ten pennies is the same as one dime; ten dimes is the same as one dollar; one quarter is the same as twenty-five pennies, five nickels is the same as one quarter, and one dollar is the same as twenty nickles etc., which is exactly what Alma did in his explanation of Nephite money (Alma 11:7-13) concluding with “an onti was as great as them all.” That is, a penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and fifty-cent piece, but a dollar is as great as them all.

Second, is to show the value of the coinage in regard to its buying power. In colonial times, a cow was worth five pounds ($10), a pair of sheets was worth 50 shillings (which was more than 8 times the worth of a bed), a teacher earned 60 ponds annually, a pair of pistols sold for 3 pounds, 15 shillings and three pence, a double-barreled shotgun sold for 3 ponds, a saddle for 2 pounds, bushel of salt was 4 shillings, and a pound of butter for 4 pence. This is exactly how Alma described the Nephite monetary system, by comparing its purchasing power to items of importance at that time: “A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain” (Alma 11:8). A judge received a senine of gold for a day’s hire, as a school teacher in colonial times earned 60 pounds for a year’s teaching.

While the above does not prove there were coins, the following should. When Amulek confronted Zeezrom, the latter offered him money on the spot—which would only be possible if the money in question were coins, for surely, he would not have been carrying some type of measure with him to scoop out some grain from somewhere. First of all, Amulek said, “Yea, if it be according to the Spirit of the Lord, which is in me; for I shall say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord.” At this point, Zeezrom answered saying, “Behold, here are six onties of silver, and all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being” (Alma 11:22).

The words “here are” denotes something in Zeezrom’s immediate possession. His followup statement “all these” denotes observable possession, and “will I give thee” describes current action. Thus, Zeezrom, a wealthy judge, reached into his “pocket” and extracted six onties of silver and held them out in his hand toward Amulek to tempt him with money. Note that Zeezrom did not say “I HAVE six onties of silver that I will give thee” as a future action, but "HERE ARE six onties of silver and ALL THESE will I give thee--" His offer was current and obviously observable by Amulek and those around them, for Zeezrom was obviously playing to the audience as well.

Amulek’s reply is also significant for it shows that the offer of Zeezrom was immediate and of substantial temptation. Holding money in front of someone as an offer for wrongdoing is far more important than merely talking about a bribe. Amulek said, “O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me?” (Alma 11:23).

It seems disingenuous on the part of Mesoamerican scholars and theorists to deny the existence of coins in the Nephite monetary system Alma describes because it does not fit their model of the Land of Promise. It might also be noted that coinage and metal work has been found in the Andean area dating far back into B.C. times.

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