Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Another look at Ziff – Part II

Continuing with our answer to a reader who commented about our un-informed response to his comment and reference to a book written by Jerry D. Grover, Jr.
Building made out of decorative Bismuth blocks 
    In trying to find the meaning of Ziff, Grover also searched English records from the 1500s to the 1800s; he also lists searching for Mesoamerican word or proto-word for ziff matches; however, ziff would not have been an English word, or derived from an English word, since it was taken directly from the original language in which it was written, either a Hebrew word or an Egyptian word; though Hebrew seems more the likely. And it certainly would not have been from Mesoamerica!
    Grover also spends considerable time searching and discussing Arabic words, but since Arabic, though having some cross words with Hebrew, those who wrote about Ziff, around 200 B.C., would have long been removed from the original Jerusalem inhabitants of Nephi, Sam and Zoram, who might have known Arabic—not one in 200 B.C. would have known that language and the word Ziff would not have come from that source.
There are 10 languages in Mesoamerica. Six major language families are Mayan, Oto-Mangue, Mixe-Zoque, Totonacan, Uto-Aztecan and Chibchan 
    It is interesting that Grover continues to center on some other New World language other than Nephite. Meaning, his indulgence with Mesoamerica and the belief that there were people living in Mesoamerica at the time of the Nephites who spoke different languages and were different peoples than anyone known in the scriptural record. To me, this is a line of research that is a total waste of time—We have been down that road numerous times over the past 30 years and never found a shred of truth in the idea, let alone any supportive evidence other than from the opinions of Mesoamerican theorists.
    Also, the metal bizmuth (bismuth) is nowhere in his 103 page article on Ziff, and he surmizes after all that work that Ziff had to be a “an ancient gold-gilded metal, often used to counterfeit real gold and sometimes with religious connotations, and was a gold-gilded copper.”
    Personally, I think that is a cop-out, and right out of Sorenson’s claim of Ziff in his book (p284). First of all, copper is used throughout the scriptural record and though the word ziff was not known to Joseph Smith, copper certainly was. And tumbaga was an alloy composed of gold and copper, and has a significantly lower melting point than gold or copper alone. It is harder than copper, but maintains malleability after being pounded. Again, Joseph knew copper and gold, words the Spirit could have given him rather than ziff. Grover also claims it was consistent with context of an apostate Nephite culture located in the Valley of Guatemala at the proposed time frame of 200-100 B.C. An interesting comment when it cannot be shown the Nephites were ever in Guatemala prior to Hagoth’s ships that voyaged north.
    As we wrote in an article in August 2011 on this blog: While we do not know for certain what metal ziff might have been, it is interesting to note that archaeologists have found that the ancient Peruvians used the metal bismuth as a decoration. Bismuth (meaning “white mass”) is about twice as plentiful in the earth’s crust as gold, and was confused in early times with tin and lead because of its resemblance to those elements. It was not officially discovered until the 8th century AD by the Muslim alchemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan (also known as Geber). Its many properties and uses were described by Basilius Valentinus in 1450, and demonstrated to be a separate metal, distinct from lead, by Claude François Geoffroy the Younger, in 1753, and since metal is often found with copper, silver and gold, and in early times often used in a similar manner, and occurs as a native metal in Peru, it seems likely there was a connection.
Today that Andean country produces the third highest amount of natural bismuth (left) annually throughout the world. In addition, bismuth was known to the Incas and used (along with the usual copper and tin) in a special bronze alloy for knives, and also as a decoration. It is also not surprising that the pre-Inca peoples knew of it and used it on ornamental items as a decoration.
    In ancient times, "artificial bismuth" was commonly used in place of the actual metal. It was made by hammering tin into thin plates, and cementing them by a mixture of white tartar, saltpeter, and arsenic, stratified in a crucible over an open fire. Today, the bulk of the world’s bismuth comes from South America, both in natural form and extracted as a byproduct from the smelting of some metals, especially gold, silver and copper. It is rather unique among the elements for having a liquid state that is more dense than its solid state, and is identified as Bi with an atomic number of 83.
    Bismuth did not become well known in the United States until 1900 (70 years after Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon), when it was found that the bismuth salts used in England for various ailments of the gastrointestinal tract, could cure a deadly disease called “cholera infantum,” which claimed the life of 2 out of every 10 children in the U.S. before the age of four, leading to the development of Pepto Bismo.
    Today, bismuth compounds provide the “frosty” look in cosmetics, hitting a high use in 1966—a big year for “pearlescence” in cosmetics—when manufacturers used several hundred thousand pounds of bismuth in lipstick, eye shadow, etc. It is also used for medicines, and in medical procedures and, as the toxicity of lead has become more apparent in recent years, alloy uses for bismuth metal as a replacement for lead in alloys and solder, have become an increasing part of bismuth’s commercial importance.
    Ziff, of course, might have been some other metal, and likely we will never know which exactly it was; however, the fact that the ancient Peruvians used bismuth in the same way described in King Noah’s time, as an ornamental metal, which is plentiful in Peru, and easily produced as a byproduct of the processing of other metals, like lead, copper, tin, silver, and gold, makes it a strong choice for the Nephite ziff, one far superior to tumbaga, a gold-gilded copper as Sorenson claims and Grover mirrors.
    While the Spanish conquistadors called everything they saw gold, much of it was considered tumbaga (gold and copper alloyed). However, if Ziff was tumbaga, then why did Noah tax it at 20% along with gold and copper? That sounds like double-talk—that is, when Mosiah wrote that Noah: “laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron” (Mosiah 11:3), he is saying, according to Sorenson and Grover: “laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their gold and copper, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron.” That hardly makes sense, neither do most of these crank ideas of theorists that are not well thought out and compared with the scriptures they claim to be using. 
   As another example, take Mosiah’s comment: “And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper” (Mosiah 11:8), again that is like saying in Sorenson and Grover's identification: “… and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of gold and of copper, and of copper.”
It might also of interest that bismuth has a long history of being used as a decoration in one way or another. Today it is found to work as a glaze on ceramics, but based on historical sources and analytical methods, anciently it was a paint (Left: Bismuth Yellow) used for a rich spectrum of boxes with its decorative colors, and showed up in numerous books for authors in the 14th and 15th centuries (Painted Wood: History ad Conservation, ed Valerie Dorge and F. Carey Howlett, Getty conservation Institute, Los Angeles, 1998, pp171-172). In addition, bismuth crystals have been used in decoration anciently as well as today. 
    We return here to the point in our earlier comment to the article—this is about Mesoamerica and much of the opinion stated has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon, etc. Grover’s conclusions are inaccurate and inconsistent with the scriptural record. Your use of the word ignorant toward our comment literally means “lacking knowledge or awareness in general, uneducated or unsophisticated.” It hardly seems that applies in this case, though it might well in others.

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