Saturday, March 14, 2020

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

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.
    As stated earlier, in answer to the question: “Were coins available in Jerusalem before Lehi left?” It is obvious that coins were used in Jerusalem from about 650 BC onward. We can also know that Lehi, Nephi, Sam and Zoram knew about coins and their purpose and values—after all, Lehi and thus his sons, were involved in commerce, buy and selling to the camel caravans that traveled along the King’s Highway below Jerusalem, and Zoram was the custodian of Laban’s Treasury.
    Thus, when Lehi reached the Land of Promise and Nephi founded the city of Nephi in the Land of Nephi (2 Nephi 5:8), eventually the need for standard monetary practices would have been needed as the Nephites spread out across the land (2 Nephi 5:13). Certainly by the time of the grandson of Nephi’s brother, Jacob (Jarom 1:3,8), the need for such a common monetary system among the expanding Nephite cities, based upon a common monetary unit. An example of this is the expanding Roman system that used the Aureus as the basis of their money.
The Aureus, the basic gold monetary unit of ancient Rome and the Roman world. It was first named nummus aureus (“gold money”)
Naturally, monetary systems require a division of a primary amount, such as the gold Aureus being the largest coin, and equal to 25 silver Denarii, with a Denarii equal to 10 bronze asses. A sestertius was worth one-fourth the value of a Denareii.
Such a monetary system was found among the Nephites where a senine of gold being equal to a senum of silver. As an example:
• A seon of gold was twice the value of a senine.
• A shum of gold was twice the value of a seon.
• A limnah of gold was the value of them all.
• An amnor of silver was as great as two senums.
• An ezrom of silver was as great as four senums.
• An onti was as great as them all.
That is like saying:
• A quarter is five times the value of a dime
• A half dollar is twice the value of a quarter
• A dollar is twice the amount of a half dollar
The Solidus, a relative nearly solid gold coin minted 60 to the Roman pound

In ancient Rome, a solidus replaced the Aureus and lasted as the main monetary coin of Rome for 1000 years—the word soldier is ultimately derived from solidus, referring to the solidi with which soldiers were paid. During this time, there was a one-half solidi called a semissis, and a one-third solidi called a tremissis.
    That is like saying the dollar replaced the eagle in the U.S. as the standard monetary value basis. It so far has lasted about 100 years. Once again, the problem is that most people are unaware of the many changes in coin rates and names of money have had evolved over the past centuries (see Part I of this series).
    There is another way to look at the Nephite money as coins and that is in the incident between Alma and Amulek and the lawyer Zeezrom.
    In addition, Mormon gives us an understanding of the value in purchasing power of the Nephite money. To do so, he equates the value to that of grain—probably the most common produce used at the time—such as barley. In fact, two grain crops are prominent in the Bible—barley and wheat, with barley being used as fodder (I Kings 4:28) and a major feed crop for domestic animals, however, its main use was as a staple food—as shown by the early immigrants into the Americas was barley. It was ground and baked into round cakes (Judges 7:13). Thus, it is only normal for Mormon to compare the value of certain coinage in the purchase of this grain: “A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain” (Alma 11:7). In addition, a shiblon is half of a senum; therefore, a shiblon for half a measure of barley” (Alma 11:15).
The Nephites set their monetary value on how much a measure of grain cost, thus, the coin was set at such a value, much as early coins in the U.S. were set at the value of gold they contained
As an example, in the Book of Ruth we find: “v’yamad shesh seorim” – “and measured six of barley, or “six measures of barley,” which is the first crop to mature, and since Christ was the first fruits of the resurrection, the grain of barley has long held a place in the comparison with the Jews (Ruth 3:17).
    It is likely that coinage circulation patterns varied from one area to another and it is certain that barter and other forms of payment were used side by side with coins in more isolated area of the Nephite nation. As an example, in Nephite times, a judge received a senine of gold for a day’s employment, or a senum of silver, both of which were equal to a senine of gold” (Alma 11:3). Now both a senine and a senum were equal to the cost of a measure of barley. Anciently, a measure was equivalent to 1/7000th of a pound Avoirdupois (16 ounces), which is 0.065 grams or 0.00229 ounces of dry wheat (or other grain). As an example, the British silver penny sterling was set at the weight of 32 wheat grains.
    Now, to better understand this, in the U.S. we have dollars, Euros in Europe and Riyals in Saudi Arabia, each the primary monetary amount—but they are not the same value. So what is the value of a senine of gold in Nephite times? In the U.S. today, a gallon of gas costs about 3.5 dollars, about 6 Euros in Europe, and about 3.70 Riyals in Saudi Arabia. However, Ruthby comparison, a gallon of gas today costs about $3.50 in the U.S., about $7.00 in Europe; but only .90¢ in Saudi Arabia.
    In trying to explain what the terms senine, seon, shum, limnah, senum, amnor, ezrom, onti, leah, shiblum, shiblon, antion meant, Alma launches into a system of values. So the question is, “If you were writing to a future people who would have no knowledge of your monetary system and its values, how would you describe your money?” Or stated differently, how would you explain in written form to a future reader what the words dollar, penny, quarter, dime, or nickel meant? How would you convey these terms so a future reader would grasp the meaning of them?
    Obviously, you cannot compare your current monetary system with theirs, since you do not know what their system will be. And since Alma gives us no comparison, other than a measure of grain (which measure could be just about any quantity since he does not describe it), we do not know how to determine value in the time of the Nephites.
    There are only two possible ways you can describe your monetary system to a future reader. First is to show how some of these coins were valued against one another. That is, ten pennies is the same as one dime; ten dimes is the same as one dollar; one quarter is the same as twenty-five pennies, five nickels is the same as one quarter, and one dollar is the same as twenty nickles etc., which is exactly what Alma did in his explanation of Nephite money (Alma 11:7-13) concluding with “an onti was as great as them all.” That is, a penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and fifty-cent piece, but a dollar is as great as them all.
Next, is to show the value of the coinage in regard to its buying power.

    In U.S. colonial times, a cow was worth $12.00; a bushel of potatoes cost 12¢; one acre of land (400+ acres) cost $2.00 per acre; a pair of sheets was worth $12.00 (which was more than 8 times the worth of a bed), a teacher earned $266.00 annually, a pair of pistols sold for $14.00; a double-barreled shotgun sold for $13.00; and a saddle for $9.00. This is exactly barley how Alma described the Nephite monetary system, by comparing its purchasing power to items of importance at that time: “A senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold, and either one for a measure of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain” (Alma 11:8).
While the above does not prove there were coins, the following should. When Amulek confronted Zeezrom, the latter offered him money on the spot—which would only be possible if the money in question were coins, for surely, he would not have been carrying some type of measure with him to scoop out some grain from somewhere. First of all, Amulek said, “Yea, if it be according to the Spirit of the Lord, which is in me; for I shall say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord.” At this point, Zeezrom answered saying, “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, emphasis added).
    Now six onti was a considerable amount of money, equivalent to 9 weeks (working 5 days a week) for a Nephite judge, the same as 48 days of earnings. It is interesting to note that this amount of money was being carried around by Zeezrom—as Mormon put it: “he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people” (Alma 10:31).
    The words “here are” denotes something in Zeezrom’s immediate possession. His followup statement “all these” denotes observable possession, and “will I give thee” describes current action. Thus, Zeezrom, a wealthy judge, reached into his “pocket” and extracted six onties of silver and held them out in his hand toward Amulek to tempt him with money. Note that Zeezrom did not say “I have six onties of silver that I will give thee” as a future action, but "Here are six onties of silver and all these will I give thee--" His offer was current and obviously observable by Amulek and those around them, for Zeezrom was obviously playing to the audience as well (Alma 11:35).
    Amulek’s reply is also significant for it shows that the offer of Zeezrom was immediate and of substantial temptation. Holding money in front of someone as an offer for wrongdoing is far more important and successful than merely talking about a bribe. Amulek said, “O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me?” (Alma 11:23). Obviously, Zeezrom was not talking about some grain or other equivalent of value in such an offer, but was t3empting Amulek by holding out the coins before him, and for all the people gathered around ot see,
    It seems disingenuous on the part of Mesoamerican scholars and theorists to deny the existence of coins in the Nephite monetary system Alma describes because it does not fit their model of the Land of Promise. It might also be noted that metallurgy has been found in the Andean area long before it was introduced into Mesoamerica.

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