Tuesday, December 13, 2011

So-Called Book of Mormon Anachronisms: Cimiter Swords

Continuing from the last two posts, another issue critics claim is out of place in the historical time frame—an anachronism—is the use of the term “cimiter.” According to the critics, “Cimiters are mentioned about ten times in the Book of Mormon as existing hundreds of years before the term was first coined. And that the word "cimiter" was never used by the Hebrews (from which the Book of Mormon peoples came) or any other civilization prior to 450 AD.

Forgetting the word itself, the curved sword, and its use, did not originate with the coining of the word. Curved swords originated where horse warfare existed because of their relatively light weight when compared to larger swords—and their curved design was excellent for slashing opponents while on horseback. The Mongols used curved swords as early as the first century B.C., and some claim were traced back to the Iron Age production in China as early as 1200 B.C., and certainly were in use by the third century B.C. Curved swords have been used in warfare, among many peoples, and were part of the army of Alexander the Great.

There is no way of knowing at what historical stage a curved sword was first invented, but since its use has been tied to Egypt, Asia and Mesopotamia of antiquity, all in the area of Noah’s immediate descendants, and certainly coming down to the Arabs in the time of Lehi, as well as found in Egypt of that day, the knowledge of curved swords would have been known to the Nephites. The Khopesh, an Egyptian name of the Canaanite curved or sickle sword, dates to the third millennium B.C. and was called a Sappara in Assyria. A crescent-shaped 18th-century B.C. khopesh was found in shechem, Israel, showing such a curved weapon was known to the Jews—a weapon used for slashing, like a saber. The weapon has been traced back to the third millennium in Sumer (Mesopotamia) and many pharaohs were depicted with a khopesh, and one was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (1330 B.C.).

Obviously, Lehi and Nephi would have had some knowledge of the weapon as it was found among the ancient Jews. It cannot be said, then, that a curved sword would have been unknown to the Nephites. Thus, the claim of an anachronism has to do with the name “cimiter” and not the curved weapon itself. It should be noted that the word “cimiter” is not mentioned in the Jaredite record—but they did have steel swords: “he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for those whom he had drawn away with him” (Ether 7:9)—all other mentioning of “swords” is without description. Thus, the curved sword was evidently not used or known among the Jaredites.

Before delving into the name, let’s consider what a “cimiter” actually is. First of all, swords have always been with man from as ancient a time as has been recorded or found. Spears, swords, slings, and bows have long been in existence. So let us take a look at the sword itself. For simplicity sake, we might suggest that swords fall into two catagories—straight blades and curved blades.

Straight blades encompass such things as the golok and klewang, both machete-style broadswords; the Persian akinaka; the Philippine leaf-shaped Barong; the Chinese Dao; the single-edged Hwanduadaedo; Chinese Jian; Moro Kampilan; Indian Khanda; the Japanese Tsurugi; the Indian Pata; Visayan Pinuti; Korean Saingeom; the Roman Gladius, and, of course, the 62-varieties of straight swords of medieval Europe.

In curved swords, you have the kukri (khukuri), a curved long-knife sword; the 8th-century B.C. Xiongnu Kilij of Asia; the katana, tachi, wakizashi, tsurugi, odachi and nodachi, all Japanese curved swords, the Dha (Dhaw), a slightly curved Indonesian sword; the waved Kalis; the Ceylon Kastane; the Thailand krabi; the Indonesia wave-sword Keris, sabers around the world; the Philippine panabas; Afghan pulouar; Arab saif (sayf); the radically curved Shamshir; Indian talwar; and the flexible-blade Urumi.

In addition, swords varied in width from the cutlass and broadswords to rapiers and urumi, and in length from the Europe mercenary Landesknechte Flamberge to the Spanish Cogatas. There simply is no end to the number and types of swords that have graced the annals of history from ealiest times to the present.

Thus, we can see that the curved sword was a very common weapon, dating from earliest times (as early as 2000 B.C.), and over the centuries taken on various shapes. The problem is, that today we think of swords as being straight (like those of Medieval knights), and any curved blades as all being scimitars from Persia. However, the curved blade, referred to as a backsword, originated in the Middle East, and has been found in all countries where Middle Eastern influence progressed. The U.S. Army saber is actually a curved scimitar-stype backsword.

So the question arises, why use the term “cimiter” in the Book of Mormon?

(See the next post, “So-Called Book of Mormon Anachronisms: Cimiter Swords – Part II,” for the answer to that question and why Joseph chose “cimiter,” and why it was not spelled “scimitar”)

1 comment:

  1. It's unlikely that Mormon or Moroni would have, in abridging the Golden Plates, used the actual word "scimitar", or Joseph's apparent mis-transliteration of same. They'd have used whatever was the appropriate hieroglyphic expression in their "reformed Egyptian" script. It'd be interesting if we had that script, and could compare it to similar terms, if available, describing curved, bladed weapons known to the Ancient Egyptians.