Sunday, May 8, 2016

Zeezrom’s Bribe and Nephite Money

In a recent comment lately, a reader responded to any article about Nephite money stating: “Don't you think since the word "coins" is not used, they may be different than our experience with coins? Possibly they had no markings on them, but were recognized by shape, size, and material. We must not assume things that the book does not say, but on the other hand we often can make reasonable conclusions beyond what it says.” 
   What started out to be a simple response turned into a full article, which appears below:
    Joseph Smith translated Mormon's writing using the word "money" and "money" in 1829 when Joseph translated the word it meant, according to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language as: "Money: Coin; stamped metal; any piece of metal, usually gold, silver or copper, stamped by public authority, and used as the medium of commerce." The Spirit acknowledged that this was the correct word for the interpretation. “Money” is also used in an even more straight-forward way as we would use it today with the same understanding and meaning: ”he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money” (Alma 1:5); and again in Alma 2:20 “money” is used in this same manner; and also in the follow-up to the explanation of the money system:
“Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek” (Alma 11:20).
    Seems clear to me. A monetary system is interpreted to mean “money” or “currency,” or “cash,” and paid in the “currency of a country.” The 1828 definition includes: “Coin: Money stamped; a piece of metal, as gold, silver, copper, or other metal, converted into money, by impressing on it marks, figures or characters.” It would seem from all this, that Joseph Smith well understood the meaning of “money” and when interpreting Mormon’s word, used “money” to convey to his reader what it was Mormon was describing when he gave the breakdown of the money system by saying: “Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value.”
    Since their “pieces of gold, and of their silver” had a set value, one must either understand it was based on weight, or on pre-determined mintage, i.e., worth or rate. While a “shum of gold of” would obviously have a set value, as a piece of gold, it would have to weigh a certain amount, be of an exact size and thickness, or bear some symbol (stamp) to set it apart as a particular value, otherwise, a “piece of gold” would be ambiguous.
    As an example, gold does not basically combine chemically with other elements (it alloys with silver, platinum and mercury), has a malleable nature, and can be tested by hand, thus its basic purity can be seen and determined within a certain degree of value. Thus, when handing over a nugget (piece of gold), the only thing setting one piece apart from another, is its size and/or weight. So, when someone hands over several pieces of gold, how other than size and weight would one piece’s value, or all the pieces combined, be determined? This seems especially true based on the fact that there were four different values of gold pieces in the Nephite system: “a senine of gold, a seon of gold, a shum of gold, and a limnah of gold” (Alma 11:5).
Short of weighing them, which would be a bulky transaction each time gold pieces were exchanged in a commercial society (which Zeezrom’s society seems to be described by Mormon), so it stands to reason—far more than any other—that the gold was stamped or marked (coined) in some way to determine its value. So when it is said that a “senum” of silver was equal to a “senine” of gold, recognizing from the descriptions that gold and silver were of different value, therefore they had to be of different weights, if they used just pieces, the “senum” of silver had to be somewhat bigger than a “senine” of gold, etc., which makes the carrying of the pieces around to also be a problem of bulk, etc. As an example, how big would a “limnah” of gold have to be to be equal to the other three gold pieces combined? Whatever its size, in strictly pieces of gold or silver, the “onti” of silver would have to be much larger than the “limnah” of gold to be equal to the value of the other three pieces of silver.
    Since one “onti” was worth one week’s wages for a judge (Book of Mormon Seminary
Teacher Manual
, Seminaries and Institutes of
Religion Curriculum Services, Salt Lake City, 2012, Lesson 76), thus Zeezrom’s bribe of six “ontis” were equivalent to six weeks wages for a judge (11:3, 11-13). Consider carrying around six weeks earnings in your pocket—in silver—that would have weighed a goodly amount; however, in coinage, would have been only six coins, since an “onti” was worth the value of the three other Nephi silver denominations combined (Alma 11:13).

    The fact that Zeezrom had these six “ontis” on his person is borne out by the wordage “Behold, here are six onties of silver” (Alma 11:22). That is supported by the added comment, “And all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being” (Alma 11:22).
For this to have been any value to Zeezrom, the crowd, which had gathered around had to see that Zeezrom was serious with the offer, that he actually had the amount in his extended hand. For it to be of any value to Amulek, all he had to do was deny the Christ and he could have reached out and taken the amount offered. To have to trust to a future payment because of its bulk and impracticability of not being on Zeezrom’s person, would not have provided any incentive for Amulek to have acted on the bribe.
    The promise of a future payment is neither suggested in Mormon’s wordage, nor would it have been taken seriously by either the crowd of Amulek if it was not visibly being offered. This is even further borne out by Amulek’s response when he said, “O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me?” since the promise of some future payment is hardly a temptation—but a handful of money extended toward him at the moment, certainly would have been.
    Common sense tells us that in order to all these different pieces of gold and silver to have immediate understanding of value and be exchanged by hand in an open market, or exchanged for value across the counter (i.e., carried on person, as Zeezrom did), that the difference of these pieces had to be other than in their size and weight, which means they were coined or minted in some fashion.
Coins can be exchanged in the marketplace for goods—bulky sacks of grain or large amounts of metal pieces would be difficult to handle in such transactions—as would something that required a measurement on the spot
In fact, in coinage, we understand that the malleability of gold means that it can be formed into tokens or coins by force-hammering it into a mold, thus minting coins in this way could assure uniformity of size and weight, with low technology, i.e., would be an easy and simple manner to accomplish. In fact, the art of so minting by 2600 B.C. was shown from the excavation of a royal tomb at Sumerian capital city of Ur, and worked gold has been found as far back as 3000 B.C. in Iran/Anatolia. According to Herodotus, the actual stamping of gold coins as we know them dates from the 7th century B.C. in Lydia in Anatolia, where stamped lumps of metal of a specified weight and quickly spread to adjacent regions, such as Aegina, and soon after to the entire Mediterranean region through Greek trade, and were based on weights and standards set by the Attic Standard, Corinthian Standard, and the Aiginetic Standard.
Silver drachma from the island of Aeginas around 405 B.C.
     Though irregular in size and shape, these early coins were minted according to these and other strict weight-standard, running from one stater (14.1 grams) down through half-staters, thirds, sixths, twelfths, to 1/24th, 1/48th, and to 1/96th (about 0.15 grams). Silver, on the other hand, dates to 880 B.C., also in Anatolia, and were in full use by 580 B.C. in the Laurion district overlooking the Aegean Sea. The first coin horde ever found dated to 600 B.C., consisting of 19 coins placed in a small pot and buried alongside another 74 coins in the foundation of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The ancient Persions minted silver coins in 612 B.C.
    It is interesting to note that coins were minted and stamped in most of the Western World by kings, states and even cities by about 300 B.C., and much earlier, independently, in China. Certainly by 82 B.C. when Zeezrom offered his bribe to Amulek, the Nephites would have been stamping gold coins.
Why did Zeezrom say “here are” if he did not have his hand extended with the six onti in his palm?
    This brings us back to a practical point of view of Zeezrom’s bribe. Based on today’s value, the wage of the lowest paid judge (District Judge) is listed as just over $165,000 per year, which breaks down to about $13,75per month or about $3,173 per week. This means six weeks salary would be about $46,200. Using today’s salary equivalent, a Nephite Judge would have earned (Zeezrom would have earned) about $19,038 for six weeks work—the adjusted value of six “onti.” Carrying that kind of money around on your person would have been impossible, unless the “onti” silver system were coins, and all you would have had on your person would be six coins (six ontis). By way of example, if you had $100 bills in your wallet, you would need only 19, plus a $20, a $5 and three $1 to make the amount).

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