Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Revisiting Ziff—a Miracle Metal

In Mosiah we find an interesting comment about ziff, a metal Joseph Smith did not know how to name, so used the original word Mormon used. In fact, we find out two very interesting things about Ziff in the scriptural record of Mosiah regarding King Noah’s building projects in the City of Nephi (Lehi-Nephi) and Shilom where he “built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the mdist thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold, silver and with precious things. One of those precious things was a metal called ziff
As Mormon wrote it: “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). Obviously, ziff was a metal that would be used somewhat like gold, silver or brass and had some unique attractiveness about it to be used to ornament buildings and the palace.
The second interesting comment is: “And he 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; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain” (Mosiah 11:3), thus showing that ziff was a valuable metal that, at least to t he Nephites, was heavily taxed like gold and silver.
    So we have ziff, a decorative metal of great value as it was used among the Nephites. As we have reported in these pages in the past, the Pre-Inca Peruvians used a metal called bismuth to decorate their temples and palaces anciently, as did the Inca after them. We have posted a few articles about this bismuth possibly being the Nephite Ziff, which drew some sharp disagreements among some readers.
    In further research, it is interesting to the possible word origin and etemology of the word ziff, something no one else to my knowledge has bothered to track down and it is interesting what we found.
    First of all, it started with the olive, perhaps the most important and revered fruit in all of Israel over the centuries. The olive, in ancient Israel was called “zayith,” which means “an olive,” but more accurately “yielding illuminating oil.” Now the word “zayith,” is related to the Hebrew word “ziv” (pronounced zeev’) which, means “to be prominent,” “brightnesss” “shining.”

It is related in the Prophets (I Kings 6:1) that King Solomon began the building of the First Temple “in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the House of God.” The Radak explains: “The Bible month Ziv is the Hebrew month of Iyar… traditionally just called the “second month” in the Torah, though later it was called Ziv (a Canaanite loan word), as our sages explain, because of the splendor of the trees, namely the brilliance of the flowers and buds. That is, “splendor” is the month of Ziv.
    The word Ziv “splendor,” “bright,” “brilliance,” “radiance,” or “glow,” and as stated, in this month of “brilliance” King Solomon “began to build the House of God.” Ziv is one of the thirteen synonyms for light in Hebrew, with Iyar (from “or,” the primary word in Hebrew for “light”), the two names of the month Ziv and Iyar are indeed two synonyms for “light.”
    They both relate to the special light that shines in this second month of the Jewish calender. In particular, Iyar refers to the light source (or to the light within and proximate to its source), whereas Ziv refers to the expansion of radiant-energy as it shines far from its source—Ziv, as the name of the second month was not changed until after the Babylonian exile, around 586 B.C., a decade or more after Lehi left Jerusalem.
    With regard to God’s Divine light, the Ziv is that radiance which descends from its source to shine on the Jewish soul as enclothed in a physical body on earth, and to awaken in it the desire to build a House for God (within the context of physical reality, far removed, as it were, from the source of Divine light).
Ziv” the name of the second month (April-May) is so named because of the various colors or flowers, combined with their brightness and shining. In fact, as a house of brilliance, it can be said that the name Ziv refers to the radiance that descends from the Almighty to shine on our Spirit and Soul even as it is enclothed in a physical body here on earth. Likewise, the ziv, i.e., God’s brilliance, awakens in our soul the desire to build a House for God within the context of physical reality, which seems to be far removed, as it were, from the source of Divine light. Indeed, the Bible relates that King Solomon began building the First Temple, “In the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month.” month.” The Radak, one of the classic medieval commentaries, explains: “The month Ziv is the month of Iyar… and, as the sages explain, it is called Ziv because of the splendor of the trees, namely the brilliance of the flowers and buds.” So, it is in the month of Iyar, the month of brilliance that King Solomon began to build the House of God.
    In my life, I have never seen anything natural in nature so perfectly named, since bizmuth fits the adjectives of perfectly named as “shining,” “brightness” “prominent” so well.
    It might also be noted, as pointed out in The Craft of Translation (John Biguenet and Rainer Schulte, Unversity of Chicgo Press, 1989, p112) that the word ziv is “difficult to translate out of Hebrew since it would dissipate that sense of a half-concealed revelation, and what could possibly render this unearthly brightness?” In addition, “translation would forbid the possibility of equivalence, since letter and spirit are not separable.” In the kabbalah, divine speech created the world—“God said, let there be light”—and that speech being Hebrew, the “bright word” Ziv patently identifies and even incarnates what no other word can.”
    The bottom line of this seems to be that in Hebraic, ziv is a word that transcends beauty and luminescence with a brilliance that seems unquestionably non-transferable, or incapable of being described by mere words in other languages.
One look at bizmuth of today would suggest that very thing. Thus, it just may be that ziff is a word that originated from the ancient ziv—it surely seems to fit, and thus bizmuth is the correct metal described in Mosiah. It was, after all, considered on a par with gold and silver, as well as copper and brass, and that Noah demanded one-fifth of the Nephites ziff, along with their gold and silver, etc. (Mosiah 11:3) in order to fund his building projects.
    Another interesting fact is that the word ziv is found in the more modern biblical renderings, such as the NAS, INT, etc., and spelled ziv; however, in the King James Version, the word is rendered zif (1 Kings 6:1; 37). It was possibly a loan word from Syriac, meaning splendor of royalty, or Assyrian “zimu” meaning brightness of appearance. As used in Daniel, it has more to the “brightness of countenance,” or “whose brightness was excellent.” Still, in its purest sense, it is considered Hebrew meaning “light” or “glow.” It is interesting that one Hebrew Publication lists the etymology of the name Ziv as זהה (zhh or ztt, the ה and the ת alternated over time, and meant to “adorn” or to “beautify.”
Another interesting thing about Bizmuth, is that it can he heated to a melting point at 525º, which is rather low for a metal, and once in liquid form, it is cooled to its freezing point where the frozen top is removed to expose numerous cellular designs, each color depending upon the point it reached in heating. The point is, it is simple to work with, makes extraordinary bright designs of splendid colors and would appear ancient as quite valuable, like gold and silver. Lastly, it is rather plentiful in Peru and anciently was used there for building ornamentation.


  1. Del,

    Jerry Grover has recently published a book on this topic. You can read it for free, here:


  2. No, Jerry Grover has recently published a book on the topic of a Mesoamerica model of the Land of Promise, and John L. Sorenson's work, which fails to match much of the descriptions of the Land of Promise which Mormon wrote about. A while back, I spent several years studying Mesoamerica and comparing it with the scriptural references involved in describing the Land of Promise and Sorenson's book in particular, as well as several other authors and their books on Mesoamerica (interesting how many different views of this single area there are, from people who all adamently claim to be correct), yet very few of their points match the scriptural record at all. Grover's work is extensive and art work very well done, but he is simply in the wrong area.

  3. Well, that's a pretty ignorant comment, frankly. I, too, disagree with Mesoamerica, but he did some great work in his book I linked to, in which mesoamerica has no relevancy whatsoever. You're being willfully ignorant of work that surpasses Abby specific geography. But hey, it's a free country.

  4. My response is far too large to place in this comment section. See upcoming article entitled "Another Look at Ziff"