Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean “All These Will I Give Thee”?

In understanding the meaning of words and statements in the scriptural record, scholars sometimes get their theories between themselves and the scripture. That is, in trying to determine meaning, a theorist whose mind is already made up in thinking he knows where the Land of Promise is located, is unable to see the forest for the trees—is unable to understand the meaning of a statement or phrase. Or, in the case of Zeezrom, sees wheat instead of coins, since ancient coins have not been found in Mesoamerica.
Zeezrom offering a bribe of six silver ontis to Amulek if he will deny the Christ
    In the offer above, made by Zeezrom, a very important clue is provided as to the meaning and type of monetary system the Nephites used and was in play at the time of Alma, though the event itself appears more to be used to illustrate the Nephite monetary system and the nature of those who practiced law at the time.
    First of all, in understanding this event, a man named Zeezrom, who “was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people” (Alma 10:31), makes Amulek, a descendant of Nephi, son of Lehi, an offer after Amulek and Alma had finished preaching to the people.
    Now Zeesrom was an attorney, perhaps one of the smartest and most successful lawyers among the Nephites, at least in the land of Ammonihah. And at this time, ”lawyers were learned in all the arts and cunning of the people, and this was to enable them that they might be skillful in their profession” (Alma 10:15).
    Among the audience to whom Alma and Amulek had been speaking were a number of lawyers, who were wise according to the people who had selected them (Alma 10:24), whose job it was to see that justice was done. As an example, “if a man owed another, and he would not pay that which he did owe, he was complained of to the judge; and the judge executed authority, and sent forth officers that the man should be brought before him; and he judged the man according to the law and the evidences which were brought against him, and thus the man was compelled to pay that which he owed, or be stripped, or be cast out from among the people as a thief and a robber” (Alma 11:2); however, the purpose of most of these judges was to get gain (Alma 10:32), i.e., make money in their profession.
    However, in order to get gain, or earn money, they had to have employment (Alma 10:32), therefore they often went among the people and stirred up one against another so that they could bring a case before them, and therefore have employment.
    Thus, the amount of time these lawyers and judges spent in this work determined how much gain they would get, or how much they would be paid. And Zeezrom, “who was one of the most expert among them, was the foremost to accuse Amulek (Alma 10:31) when he had completed speaking. 
Alma and Amulek preaching to a crowd of people that included Zeezrom
    On this day, the first day of Alma’s renewed effort after earlier having decided to leave the city, and now joined by Amulek, whom the Lord had arranged to be Alma’s companion, the two men became embroiled in a public dispute about whether the Messiah would really come.
    Most scholars of the scriptural record, especially those in Mesoameria, choose to find in the ensuing discussion, how the Nephites monetary system worked. In fact, they all determine that it was a weights and measures of basic goods that determined their system.
    At this moment, Zeezrom in a clever move to show his intelligence before his peers and in front of the people who had gathered, stepped forward to both accuse and, he assumed, trap Amulek in his spoken words.
    "Will ye answer me a few questions which I shall ask you?" Zeezrom asked Amulek (Alma 11:21), who was really in no position to avoid the confrontation.
    "Yea, if it be according to the Spirit of the Lord, which is in me," Amulek replied (Alma 11:22).
    Thinking to entrap Amulek, Zeezrom, no doubt with a hidden smile regarding his own cleverness, said: “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).
    Now, several things need to be understood at this point:
1. Zeezrom is playing to his audience, who were both other lawyers and judges, and people of the city;
2. Zeezrom intended to attract significant attention to his offer;
3. His expression: "all these" clearly signals that Zeezrom considered this sum to be impressive;
4. It must have been an impressive amount of money in order to attract the desired effect among his audience;
5. The term silver “onti,” or the value expressed by Zeezrom, was defined by Mormon “as great of them all,” meaning as great of all the names or coins or values previously expressed (leah, shiblum, shiblon, senum, amnor, erom, and onti).
    While Mormon takes this moment in the midst of a rather important discussion to go over and outline the Nephite monetary system, we need to keep in mind and not lose track of what is being said.

That is, Zeezrom (extending his hand?) said:
1. “Behold, here are six onties of silver…” Why would he say “here are” if he did not show them to the crowd by holding them out to Amulek, or up for the crowd to see. Obviously, the very words “here are” tells us they were visible. And to gain the fullest impact of his words on the crowed, Zeezrom would have understood, like any showman, that seeing what he held was all-important! He was, after all, playing to the crowd. By showing up Amulek, by trapping him into error, by “winning” the discussion would ensure Zeezrom of future business—after all, the business of legal defense, one would always choose the winner over a loser.
2. “…and all these…” Again,an obvious statement leading one to understand whatever it was under discussion was visible to the crowd, or at least to those immediately around Zeezrom and Amulek. The word “these” refers to the last mentioned, the last shown, or nearest in place of order. These, then, would refer to whatever Zeezrom had or held he called “ontis.”
3. “…will I give thee…” Again, Zeezrom is drawing attention to what he held out or up for all to see. In this case, Zeezrom is making it clear he will give to Amulek six ontis of silver for doing something yet undisclosed.
4. “…if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being.” There, the offer was made. Deny the Christ and you can have these six onti. 
    A lot of money for a simple statement. 
    Now, if Zeezrom was not in possession of six onti, his offer would have fallen on deaf ears as far as the crowd was concerned. It’s like saying as a kid, “I’ll give you ten bucks for that candy bar.” Everyone knows you don’t mean it and it carries no weight. On the other hand, hold a ten-dollar bill out in plain sight and say, “I am so thirsty, I’ll give you ten dollars for that Coke,” becomes more believable.
    But the main issue here is the gesture and words and what they mean. Despite all the rhetoric of the scholars and theorists regarding the Nephites not having coins, this statement and offer by Zeezrom makes sense only if coins were involved.
    However, as John W. Welch has written: “It should be clear from all of the foregoing that we are talking here about weights and measures, not coins. When the Book of Mormon speaks of "the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver," as well as naming them "according to their value" (Alma 11:4), we should probably not think that it is referring to minted coins. Rather, the term pieces most likely refers to metallic weights of some sort. The first coins known to history—at least coins in the modern sense—appeared in Lydia in western Asia Minor by the seventh century B.C., spreading into the Mediterranean region only after Lehi had left Jerusalem. As in other ancient cultures, the Nephites seem to have used weighted pieces of metal as payment for measured amounts of grain.”
    Now that was the viewpoint of a scholar. However, for the amount of money involved here (six ontis of silver, the largest amount of money known to the Nephites, equivalent to more than all the others combined), if we are talking weights for measurement, or the measured process itself, what value would that have to the crowd? One can easily renig on an offer that is not available or "on the block" at the moment. One cannot renig if the money is being held in hand and offered at the moment.
Here, Amulek, I just happen to have on my person six bushels of grain, I will give it to you if you deny the Christ 
    “I’ll give you these six ontis—six measurements.” Or even if it was translated into the weight—“I’ll give you these six bushels of wheat, six buckets of barley, six pecks of soybean.” Obviously, it would be silly to be offering the grain measured as Mesoamericanists would like us to believe—the mere size of the offering would preclude Zeezrom from lifting it, showing it, or even having it on his person. The same can be said of six ingots of silver.
    The question is, what would Zeezrom most likely to have on his person that he could immediately take hold of and show to Amulek or the crowd? Only a coin!
    While coins have never been found in Mesoamerica dating anywhere near the Nephite era, and obviously the reason why Mesoamerican theorists deny a Nephite coin monetary system, we cannot simply deny the Nephites didn’t have a coin monetary system. Money in hand, silver coins in this case, is the only thing that makes this situation work, and for Mormon to use it.
    And this entire monetary system really works only if coins are involved, i.e., that there were senine, seon, shum and limnah coins of gold; and senum, amnor, ezrom, and onti coins of silver. It is so much easier to read the scriptural record when one accept what is written and doesn't try to change it, deny its meaning, or alter what Mormon is telling us.


  1. I can imagine having pieces of precious metal of specific sizes being used for exchange. They would not have to have impressions on them. Is that not a possiblity?

  2. Money anciently was often not imprinted, beginning with such things as sea shells, etc. When gold began to be used as a monetary source, it was, as we find in the early western U.S., exchanged as nuggets, dust, etc. However, at some point, money took on names like our penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar, and that is the time we find in the Nephite era--in naming their money, they designated a certain size or configuration as a specific coin with a specific value. The first minted or stamped coins were from the Mesopotamia area prior to the time Lehi left Jerusalem, and since he had "much wealth" and was involved in a type of business where this wealth was exchanged and acquired, it seems logical that he would be familiar with coins, as would Nephi. The next logical assumption would be to consider that some type of stamped or minted coin was introduced into the community of Nephi by him at an early period. In any event, by the time of Alma, it seems definite that some type of coins were used since they had names and values attached to them and could be carried about on one's person.

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