Monday, May 18, 2020

What About Nephite Coins? – Part II

Amulek warned the people in the city of Ammonihah: "The foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges" (Alma 10:27). In the corruption and ensuing destruction of Ammonihah, Mormon and other Nephite historians may well have seen an anticipation, even a rehearsal, of the lawless circumstances that would lead to the annihilation of their civilization five centuries later.
    The corruption of Zeezrom and those legal officials may well have had something to do with the idea that Nephite judges had only recently become entitled to be paid for their services. Mosiah's new system of weights and measures accompanied a major political change from kingship to judgeship, a radical departure from past administrative practices. The new practice of paying judges had evidently soon led to abuse.
    It should be noted that ancient judges were not paid professionals. In the Old World, kings were generally responsible to ensure the equitable administration of justice throughout their kingdom. If officers were needed, if legal tablets were required, a king would typically provide them. With the abandonment of kingship at the end of the book of Mosiah, the legal system in the land of Zarahemla changed.
   Prior to the law introduced by King Mosiah around 91 BC, it is unlikely that any judges were paid for their services in Nephite society (2 Nephi 26:31, "for if they labor for money they shall perish").
Judges presided over legal hearings and rendered their judgment

There is no evidence in the Bible that Israelite towns or cities paid judges or judicial administrators. Over the years, the traditional Jewish understanding of the rule against bribery in Exodus 23:8 has held that it precludes the payment of judges in any form.
    As Mosiah fashioned his reform, however, he must have realized that his judges would need to be paid in some way if his new system was going to have any chance of succeeding without a royal patron, and one function of his system of weights and measures was to set the amount they would be paid.
    He chose to provide for them generously: "And the judge received for his wages according to his time—a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold; and this is according to the law which was given" (Alma 11:3).
    As well-intended as Mosiah's program was, it quickly led to abuse. Though the law itself seemed to contemplate that only a judge would receive wages, others soon made it a "business" and sought to "get gain" through this system (Alma 11:31–32). Although it may have gotten off to a rocky start, the reign of judges soon became stabilized, especially once the destruction of Ammonihah sent a strong message to any who would traffic in judicial corruption.
    It seems evident that promoting economic stability was a general goal behind Mosiah's royal system of weights and measures. The record clearly states that this system was "established by king Mosiah" (Alma 11:4). For many years, the Nephites had "altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances of the people, in every generation" (Alma 11:4). This fluid condition must have made commerce difficult in Zarahemla, as similar situations did elsewhere in the ancient world.
    In response to this generic problem, ancient kings often tried to provide standardization or curbs on inflation in their economies. The ancient world in Lehi's day knew virtually nothing of true coinage, established units of currency, or international currency exchanges. No ancient kingdom had banking regulatory agencies or federal reserve boards. Royal decrees offered the main hope for economic stability. Indeed, having Mosiah's new standardized system of weights and measures undoubtedly stimulated the Nephite economy. Beginning in the first year of the reign of the judges, in Alma 1, people in Zarahemla began counting their wealth, accumulating riches, and distinguishing the rich from the poor.
    While class distinctions and economic conditions surely had existed between the affluent and the poor in Nephite society in earlier years, a dramatic shift in awareness of wealth and riches enters the record beginning precisely with the commencement of the reign of judges at the beginning of the book of Alma. These reactions are exactly what one would expect of a society enjoying and adjusting to the use and exploitation of a new financial system.
King Benjamin

Ancient kings typically implemented their economic progress by means of official decrees. In this light it is interesting that King Mosiah's statute contains similarities to other ancient law codes antecedent to the Nephite system. For example, similarities appear almost effortlessly in the law code of Eshnunna, which was compiled about 1800 BC in a Babylonian city by that name that lay approximately 50 miles northeast of Baghdad in modern Iraq.
    In fact the similarities are rather striking. First of all, the opening lines in the law code of Eshnunna set out an important equivalency that becomes the basis for commerce: "one kor of barley is equal to one shekel of silver." A similar conversion between silver and barley was also used among the Hittites. Perhaps it is coincidental, but the law of Mosiah begins with a comparable ratio of value stated in similar phraseology: "a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold, and either for a measure of barley" (Alma 11:3, 7).
    It should be understood here that just because an amount of money is equivalent to an amount of food does not mean there were no coins or other bartering means. Today we can say dollars is the same as, or will purchase three gallons of gas, or when we were growing up many years ago, a nickel was worth a candy bar.
    Money, or coin, has always been seen for what it would purchase. In ancient times, its main purchase was in food, hence, certain weight (money) was worth certain grain (commodity). Types of grain being equal, people could trade one weight of wheat for the same weight of barley. However, if one was going to outright purchase the grain, it would cost him a certain weight of silver or gold. Now, since gold and silver were bulky and heavy to carry around, some type of equivalency had to be arranged i.e., a day’s labor was worth so much barley, or wheat, or corn.
    As an example, in Roman times, a soldier’s time of service was paid, in part, with salt, which was a scarce and expensive commodity and its value was legendary. It was necessary for food preservation and seasoning, and during the Middle Ages, salt was transported along roads built especially for that purpose.
    In fact, salt was a vital commodity to the Roman army and this demand was met by establishing military salt works. In 100 BC, a Roman soldier’s pay was ”two obols” per day, which was the same as one third of a denarius. Thus one pound of salt cost one twentieth of a foot-soldier’s daily wages.
Roman soldiers were one of the first standing armies in modern times

In the beginning of professional military service in Rome, Gaius Marius was paying ordinary legionnaires 225 denarii per year. It stayed at that level until Domitian some 180 years later increased it to 300 and another 120 years later Septimius Severus increased it to 500. Even though the Romans had coins, and some of the wages was paid with coin, much of it was provided in food, supplies, clothing, as well as for purifying water.
    Sometimes the soldiers would work in the pratas or territoriums, which were fields sewing land and collecting grain, some of which went for their pay, while the rest if their pay came in coins.
    Thus we see that coins were a part of the weights and measures of the Roman army and a typical system for payments and earnings. Those who claim the Nephites did not use coins is simply not aware and do not understand the ancient systems.

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