Sunday, December 25, 2011

So-Called Book of Mormon Anachronisms: Silk

Continuing with the critics’ claim that silk as mentioned in the Book of Mormon is an anachronism and was not known in the Western Hemisphere in the first century B.C. These critics write:

"The Book of Mormon mentions the use of silk six times.“Silk” is commonly understood to mean the material that is created from the cocoon of the Asian moth Bombyx mori.

“It is a foregone conclusion that this material was unknown to the Americas before their discovery. Apologists argue the following to deal with this anachronism: ‘Mormon apologist John Sorenson believes that there are several other materials which were used in Mesoamerica anciently which could be the "silk" referred to in the Book of Mormon, including material spun from the hair of rabbit's bellies, the pods of the ceiba tree, or an unidentified wild silkworm.”

The term, “Fine-twined linen” is found in 1 Nephi 13:7-8; Alma 1:29; 4:6; Helaman 6:13; and Ether 10:24. In the Andean area, specifically Peru, textiles were well known and highly developed in B.C. times. Edward P. Lanning in “Peru Before the Incas,” wrote: “The most spectacular development of the early Peruvians was in the field of textiles. After the simple beginnings of the heddle loom, a growing artistry emerged in a profusion of styles and techniques. Gauze, tapestry, painted cloth, double cloth, embroidery, and pattern weaves were all being made on a basic loom that was not much different from that used by Andean weavers today.”

Practically all the aboriginal techniques of weaving were known in ancient Peru, and both cotton and the wool of the llama and the alpaca were extensively used. Textiles are better preserved in the south coast than they are in the north, and it appears that elaborate weaving was a specialty of the south coast at all times, and part of the south coast tradition. Tapestry, brocade, double cloth, gauze, warp stripes and weft stripes are all common, and twill was known, but the embroidery so characteristic of Paracas Necropolis was out of fashion. No textiles of this time have been preserved in the wet climate of the highlands, but spindle whorls and statues representing clothed figures give indirect evidence of their manufacture.

Silk is mentioned only four times in the eras of the Jaredites and Nephites, not six. It is used twice among the Jaredites regarding the people’s prosperity (Ether 9:17; 10:24). There are only two uses of “silk” described among the Nephites. The first is made about 90 B.C., “they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need -- an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth (Alma 1:29). The second is six years later when Alma discusses the prideful people of the Church (Alma 4:6).

The other two uses of “silk” are mentioned regarding that found among the “nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles” in Nephi’s vision (1 Nephi 13:7-8). Thus, if one is going to be a critic, one should be accurate in his use of the scriptural record.

First of all, There are many indigenous varieties of wild silk moths found in a number of different countries. Silk, as a product, was first discovered by the Chinese around 3000 B.C., and over thousands of years, they practiced sericulture (the production of raw silk by raising silkworms) utilizing all the different types of silk moths known to them. Eventually, they settled on the Bombyx mandarina Moore, a silk moth living on the white mulberry tree and unique to China. The silkworm of this particular moth produces a thread whose filament is smoother, finer and rounder than that of other silk moths. Finally, the Bombyx mori evolved into the specialized silk producer it is today—a moth which has lost its power to fly, only capable of mating and producing eggs for the next generation of silk producers

When critics writes that: “’Silk’ is commonly understood to mean the material that is created from the cocoon of the Asian moth Bombyx mori, is strictly an opinion adopted currently because that is the development of this silk in China. However, “a variety of wild silks produced by caterpillars other than the mulberry silkworm, have been known and used in china, South Asia, and Europe since ancient times.” In addition, Silk was produced year round in Thailand by two types of silkworms, the cultured Bombycidae and wild Saturniidae (shown below). Today we know there are numerous types of silk moths.

We do not know which silk worm (moth) was used by the Jaredites or Nephites. We only know that the word translated from both languages by Joseph Smith and confirmed by the Spirit was the word “silk.”

(See the next post, “So-Called Book of Mormon Anachronisms: Silk – Part II,” for more on the Nephite silk and how it was obtained)

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