musings on Nephite money
by John McDonnell
monetary policy in Mesoamerica
The Book of Mormon - Restored Covenant Edition (1999) Alma 8:53-63
The Book of Mormon - The Earliest Text (2009) Alma 11:4-19
Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold and of their
silver, according to their value; and the names are given by the Nephites, for
they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews which were at Jerusalem;
neither did they measure after the manner of the Jews, but they altered their
reckoning and their measure according to the minds and the circumstances
of the people in every generation until the reign of the judges, they having
been established by King Mosiah. Now, the reckoning is thus: a senine of
gold, a seon of gold, a shum of gold and a limnah of gold; a senum of silver,
an amnor of silver, an ezrum of silver and an onti of silver; 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. Now the amount of a seon of gold
was twice the value of a senine; and a shum of gold was twice the value of a
seon; and a limnah of gold was the value of them all; and an amnor of silver
was as great as two senums; and an ezrum of silver was as great as four
senums; and an onti was as great as them all. Now this is the value of the
lesser numbers of their reckoning: a shiblon is half of a senum, therefore a
shiblon for half a measure of barley; and a shilum is half of a shiblon and a
leah is half of a shilum. Now an antion of gold is equal to three shiblons.
Now this is their number according to their reckoning.
Misrepresenting the Printer's Manuscript, the 1830 edition had ezrom for
ezrum and shiblum for shilum. If "the different pieces of their gold and of
their silver" applied to all of the pieces named, the shiblon, shilum, and leah
would have been of silver, in contrast to the antion of gold. Otherwise, these
"lesser numbers of their reckoning" were of other material.
In August of 2010, my renewed interest in The Book of Mormon prompted me to pull out from among my
collection of my writings an undated and unpublished typed manuscript titled "Monetary Policy in
Mesoamerica." Added to that manuscript were five undated handwritten footnotes. Footnote 5 indicates
that the manuscript was typed prior to the 1994 death of Mormon church president Ezra Taft Benson
and that the footnotes were added sometime after his death. References to The Book of Mormon employ
the RLDS system of chapter and verse numbering, which is different than the LDS system.
Accompanying "Monetary Policy in Mesoamerica" was this 1985 speech on Book of Mormon teachings.
Unforgiven, mentioned near the end of this 1985 speech, refers to a 1971 book by that title written by
Charles Walters. A 2003 revised and updated edition of Unforgiven is published by Acres, U.S.A.
Unforgiven is a great book on economics. Inspired by it, I wrote articles and letters concerning raw
materials economics that were printed in Acres, U.S.A. and other periodicals. Here is one that appeared
in the 1986 October issue of Acres, U.S.A.
A Wheat Currency
The glossary of An Acres, U.S.A. Primer describes biodynamics as "a valid form of eco-agriculture."
That is true as long as "eco" stands for ecologic. But what if "eco" also stands for economic?
Rudolf Steiner, who founded biodynamic agriculture in 1924, presented 14 lectures on world economy
in 1922. In the sixth lecture Steiner said that each worker should receive for his product enough
money for him to satisfy his family's needs until he will again have completed a like product. In the
seventh lecture he said that for this to be possible the various products must reciprocally determine
one another's value.
In the 14th lecture Steiner said, "It is from the land that everything ultimately comes." Money
should not be based on gold, but on wheat. "The real origin of the whole economic life will then be
made evident." Steiner said that people no longer understand the connection between nature and
money. "But we shall have it before us always, when the connection with nature is expressed in our
currency notes. Whatever we may do, the connection with nature is always there. Do not let us
forget it! It is reality."
With these words in mind we are better able to understand something Steiner said in the first of his
1924 lectures on agriculture. "Agriculture especially is sadly hit by the whole trend of modern
spiritual life. You see, this modern spiritual life has taken on a very destructive form especially as
regards the economic realm, though its destructiveness is scarcely yet divined by many."
If the United States established parity prices for its raw materials, raised its minimum wage to the
parity price of a bushel of corn, and initiated world equity of trade, the destructive economic form
that bothered Rudolf Steiner would begin to melt away. With parity economics established by law, it
would be helpful for governments to follow Rudolf Steiner's suggestion of issuing "nature-currency."
Was Zeezrom a collector of money having numismatic value?
The Book of Mormon RLDS Alma 8:68-78 LDS Alma 11:21-25
Now Zeezrom was a man who was expert in the devices of the devil, that he might
destroy that which was good; therefore he said unto Amulek, Will ye answer the
questions which I shall put unto you?
And Amulek said unto him, Yea, I will 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.
And Zeezrom said unto him, Behold here are six onties of silver, and all these will
I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a supreme being.
Now Amulek said, O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the
righteous yieldeth to no such temptations? Believest thou that there is no God? I
say unto you, Nay; thou knowest that there is a God, but thou lovest that lucre
more than him. And now thou hast lied before God unto me. Thou saidst unto
me, Behold these six onties which are of great worth, I will give unto thee, when
thou had it in thy heart to retain them from me; and it was only thy desire that
I should deny the true and living God, that thou mightest have cause to destroy
me. And now behold, for this great evil thou shalt have thy reward.
A judge received for his wages "a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver, which is equal
to a senine of gold" RLDS Alma 8:52 LDS Alma 11:3. Since an onti of silver was as great as
seven senums RLDS Alma 8:60 LDS Alma 11:11-13, six onties was the amount of money
earned by a judge for 42 days of service. A mere 42 senums of silver may not have been much
of a temptation to Amulek, who said of himself, "I have also acquired much riches by the hand
of my industry" RLDS Alma 8:5 LDS Alma 10:4.
Although we don't know the weight or capacity of the measure of barley that senines and
senums were equal in value to, a statement by Alma suggested that senines and senums were
not of great value: "And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the
church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor" RLDS Alma 16:41
LDS Alma 30:33. Also, in Jesus's teachings to the people of Nephi, senines were mentioned
in a way suggesting that they were not of great value: "Agree with thine adversary quickly,
while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast
into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, until thou hast
paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison, can ye pay even one senine? Verily,
verily I say unto you, Nay" RLDS 3 Nephi 5:73-75 LDS 3 Nephi 12:25-26.
Amulek had promised to "say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord." Therefore,
Amulek's misquotation of Zeezrom's offer, in which Amulek added the phrase "which are of
great worth" to Zeezrom's offer of six onties, may indicate that Amulek had visually seen that
the six onties were historical pieces of money that both Zeezrom and Amulek knew had great
numismatic value. Notice that Zeezrom did not just offer six onties. His words, "Behold here
are six onties" implies that Zeezrom was holding them up for Amulek to see. "And all these
will I give thee" implies that these specific onties would be given, and not just any six