Thursday, March 12, 2020

What Was the Value and Nature of the Nephite Monetary System? – Part II

Continued from the previous post, regarding the Nephite monetary system and its meaning in precious metal or weight of grain, such as wheat or barley.
    The problem with accurately understanding the Nephite monetary system is the constant insistence by Mesoamerican and other theorists is their continued claim that there was no coinage in the Nephite era, but merely a measurement of precious metals. This is necessary, since that was no metallurgy discovered in Mesoamerica before 900 AD (600 AD according to John L. Sorenson). In other cases, this misunderstanding has resulted from theorists placing modern as well as their own meanings into a scriptural context that alters or changes the meaning of the scriptural reference.
    As stated in the last post, there were, in the early days of the U.S., various coins of gold and silver, i.e., specifically there was a quarter eagle, half eagle, a gold eagle, and a gold double-eagle ($2.50; $5.00; $10.00; and $20.00) coins. These were not measurements of grain or other things that the money could buy—but the money itself. At the same time, we might purchase by weight or volume, such as saying: “I’ll take $10.00 of gas,” “$5.00 worth of peanut clusters,” “$7.00 worth of sliced ham,” “12.00 of stamps/postage,” or “$1,000 worth of shares.”
    We also would say, “a double eagle is more than the other three,” or a double eagle is the same value as two quarter eagles, a half eagle and an eagle of gold.”
    However, this can be better understood by comparing the language in Mosiah with contemporary and earlier usages of monetary exchange in the area from which Lehi came, i.e., Jerusalem. In fact, there is an ancient Near Eastern precedent for this kind of monetary standardization. We can look both to Egyptian weights and measures system on the one hand, and Mesopotamia systems on the other.
    First of all, in order for ancient economies to work effectively, kings spelled out the value of various commodities and established exchange ratios, especially between consumable goods and precious metals.
The Fertile Crescent and (Red Arrows) Trade route between the Persian Gulf and Jerusalem. From there, the route went south into Egypt and Southeast along the Red Sea. Note the (yellow type) Eshnunna along the trade route

For example, the Laws of Eshnunna, promulgated in Babylonia probably during the early 18th century BC, instituted a system of weights and measures, and a money system based upon their standardization.
    Eshnunna, modern Tell Asmar, was an ancient Sumerian and later Akkadian city and city-state in central Mesopotamia. It was situated in the Diyala Valley to the northeast of Sumer near Babylon and eventually absorbed into the Babylonian Empire with its defeat to Hammurabi—built along the main ancient trade route from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Red Sea, it controlled the well-established trade routes and economic stability for 250 years from 2012 to 1762 BC, gaining trade access to many exotic, sought-after trade goods, such as horses from the north, copper, tin and other metals and precious stones.
    The exchange of these goods resulted in a monetary exchange system for both Eshnunna and for the region round about. A few of the initial provisions stand at the head of Eshnunna's ancient law code. As an example:
• 1 kor of barley [she'um] is (priced) at [ana] n1 shekel of silver;
• 3 qa of "best oil" are (priced) at 1 shekel of silver;
• 1 seah (and) 2 qa of sesame oil are (priced) at 1 shekel of silver
    The hire for a wagon together with its oxen and its driver is 1 massiktum (and) 4 seah of barley. If it is (paid in) silver, the hire is one third of a shekel. He shall drive it the whole day (James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1950, p161; Martha T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, Scholars, Atlanta, 1995, p59).
    These laws in the kingdom of Eshnunna allowed people to deal confidently with barley, silver, oil, lard, wool, salt, bitumen, and refined and unrefined copper— an immense step forward from the much earlier bartering system, which had been a system of haggling over exchanges of value that advanced to haggling over the price once coinage was introduced, which is still a well-followed system of buying and selling in the Arabian world today.
    It is interesting that several parallels exist between these foundational parts of the law code of Eshnunna and the Nephite King Mosiah's economic system found in Alma 11:3-19. First, their basic forms are comparable, as seen in the standard phrasing "One kor of barley is (priced) at one shekel of silver" resembles "A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold" (Alma 11:7).
Coins of antiquity and still in a few places today, were anything but round

The important thing to keep in mind in understanding ancient coinage, is that not all coins were the same—that is they were not a standard, round coin of different sizes of gold or silver content, but irregular shaped pieces of metal. While most often the amount of precious metal within the coin was its determination of value, that was not always the case for sometimes the metal (or even stone) had a value in and of itself.
    While nations are on the gold standard today, or equate the value of their individual money to government held gold, this was not always the case. In 2000 BC in Babylon, barley began to be used as money, and the code of Hammurabi fixed its value to silver. It was declared legal tender and the penalty for merchants refusing to accept it was death. Corn, oats, wheat, rice, and most anything that could be grown or raised were used in different places and times.
    When a commonly needed or desired item began to be measured in units or standard weights and other things were given values in those standards, then they could have been adopted as the base for money. Initially, it was the grain, cattle, or item itself—then its value (weight, shape, size, volume) was calculated to represent the actual item and considered as currency. That is, a certain type of gold or silver coin was worth one cow, or a barrel of barley, or two of another coin, etc.
    When the ancient Romans were using cattle as currency, it took 10 sheep to purchase one cow.  Thus all trade items were given values compared to the value of a cow. Eventually, that value was translated into money that was initially struck with handheld dies, thus not every coin was perfectly centered unlike the coins we know today. Some ancient coins were struck with a base metal core and plated with a precious metal. Counterfeiters of the period used this method to imitate an official solid metal issue, as Celtic counterfeit coins called fourree coins, were made to fake coinage of the period.
In Rome, around 200 BC, the value of their coinage was:
• Aureus
• Quinarius Aureus (value of 1/2 Aureus)
• Denarius (value of 1/25 Aureus)
• Quinarius (value of 1/50 Aureus)
• Sestertius (value of 1/100 Aureus)
• Dupondius (value of 1/200 Aureus)
• As (value of 1/400 Aureus)
• Semis (value of 1/800 Aureus)
    Like coinage of today, Ancient Rome's coins represented portions of larger denominations. The As, the basic unit, functioned like our penny. And like our penny, through inflation it experienced a loss of buying power. During the time of the Roman Republic, you could buy a loaf of bread for ½ As or a liter of wine for one As. A year's pay for a commander in the Roman army around 133 B.C. was 10-2/3 Asses (about ½ Aureus) by Augustus' rule (27 B.C.-A.D. 14) 74 Denarii (3 Aureus), and by the reign of Septimus Severus (A.D. 193-211), it rose to 1,500 Denarii (20 Aureus).
    The point is, Nephite money as illustrated in Alma, had to do with gold and Silver coins and their representative value. As Mormon states: “And the judge received for his wages according to his time…according to the law which was given...A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley" (Alma 11:3,7). That is, the value of the senum and senine was the price of a measure of barley. Today we would say: “the value of four dollars is the price of a gallon of gas,” or “Gas is $4.00 per gallon.”
(See the next post “What Was the Value and Nature of the Nephite Monetary System? – Part III” on how Mormon showed us the value of their money)

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