Monday, December 20, 2010

Nephite Monetary System – Part III

One more point needs to be made about the Nephite monetary system (see last two posts) and that is of the word “measure,” which, according to Mesoamerican scholars and theorists suggests that the Nephite system was based upon weights and measures.

While "measure" means quantity, such as the bulk or a portion, like in a measure of grain, our early system of coinage was based on weight of the metal included—the famous gold Double Eagle, as an example, was worth $20.00 in the minting period between 1877 and 1907, and were struck in 90% fine gold, containing a net weight of .9675 ounces of pure gold. This concept of weight in coins is not a measure, such as a bushel, peck or dry gallons, based upon the mass of a single seed of a cereal. In medieval times the average masses of wheat and barley grain were used to define units of mass, with the troy grain based on barley (troy weight is a system of units of mass customarily used for precious metals in which there are 12 troy ounces to the pound rather than 16 used in the more common avoirdupois system—meaning “goods of weight,” referring to a class of merchandise that were sold in bulk and weighed on large balances. However, the weight in coinage is quite different.

Today, when we carry coins around with us, the idea of a coin being a measure of something valuable is not involved. Prior to the last change in content, coins were thought of as containing so much silver or nickel, etc. And before that, of containing so much gold. We do not think of money as directly tied to some measurement of a product, such as wheat, barley or cloth. We think of it as a value in obtaining and paying for something we want. Money was always thought of in this manner. In Nephite times, the purchase of food (grain) was mighty important, and value was associated with that: “A shiblum is half of a senum; therefore, a shiblon for a half a measure of barley” (Alma 11:15) while “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 11:7).

Thus we might say today, “Five dollars is worth an hour of baby sitting,” ”Three dollars will buy a gallon of gas,” or “Two dollars for a loaf of bread.” This, of course, does not mean we are measuring anything because our purchasable goods are already packaged or dispensed in a different manner than anciently. But the concept is the same. A pound of ground beef, a gallon of ice cream, a ton of sand, all have a price. The produce is a measurement, and the price of it is fixed, and we buy it not with another measure (unless we are bartering), but with coin that has monetary value.

The ancient Nephites had numerous coins as Alma illustrates, and each had a different purchasing value. “A leah is the half of a shiblum” or “A fifty cent piece is half of a dollar.” And three dollars will buy a pound of flour, as a senum of silver would buy a measure of barley.”

In the case of Zeezrom (see last post), he earned an onti of silver for a week’s work as a judge, therefore, six onties of silver amounted to 42 days of work, or about a month and a half salary. When he offered Amulek six onties of silver, he was offering what to him was a significant amount of money. By today’s standards, for a person making $50,000 a year, he would be offering about 11% of his annual salary or $5,555.00. By Zeezrom’s comment, “all these” would suggest he thought the amount he was offering was an impressive amount of money.

It should be obvious to any reader that such an offer by Zeezrom amounted to coinage, money he had on him and was worth a lot. It did not represent a measurement of grain, or an ambiguous measurement of something, but actual money he thought would impress Amulek enough to sway him to his point of view. “Here are six onti, and all these will I give thee” (Alma 11:22). Sounds the same as saying “Here are six double gold eages, and all of them I will give you.” It would not be possible for Zeezrom to have had some type of measure on him, such as 3 pounds of silver ingots, two silver bars, etc. Whatever the coinage was, Zeezrom had it on his person and offered it to Amulek for all to see and, more importantly, for Amulek to see it. In fact, Amulek, seeing the coinage, replied “these six onties, which are of great worth” in repeating Zeezrom’s offer (Alma 11:25), again suggest a physical exchange of coinage.

But Amulek himself was a wealthy man, and not impressed by the sum. In fact, he was so appalled by the show of coinage meant to buy his integrity—and so appalled by the physical offer in front of others who saw such an amount that they probably would have considered worth selling their integrity for, Amulek found it offensive and reacted as such.

It might also be kept in mind that bribery was against the law (Exodus 23:8) and Amulek well understood the law and its purpose (Alma 10:27). Consequently, any bribe Zeezrom offered would have been obvious and blatant—not some ambiguous amount of grain. Nor would he have had that much weight in silver or gold on him, but he would have had coin as we carry cash with us in our monetary system. In addition, Zeezrom at least knew of Amulek and would have known him to be a wealthy man, therefore, it seems more likely he was playing as much to the audience as to Amulek to show his great wisdom and means as a judge, and offering a visible amount of money that would impress them.

1 comment:

  1. wrell i guess it deos go up and down but we needto get it done and the right one .
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