Friday, April 30, 2021

Nephite Weights and Measures Again

A number of years ago, Robert F. Smith compared the Nephite weights and measures with Horus-eye fractions from Egypt. One need not go into the advantages and disadvantages of such a proposal to note that another possibility presents itself. 

To review, the Book of Mormon lays out the following values (Alma 11:4-19):

2 leahs = 1 shiblum

2 shiblums = 1 shiblon 

2 shiblons = senum

2 senums = 1 amnor

2 amnors = a ezrom

At least as early as the third to fifth century BC, Southern Arabia had a system of values that also doubled in size.

2 kyš = 1 šśʿ

2 šśʿ = 1 tmrt

2 ʾtmr = 1 gms

2 ʾgms = 1 nṣf

2 ʾnṣf = 1 K

2 K = 1 ʾrbʿt 

We also have an idea of some prices from the time. A herd animal normally cost between 1 ʾrbʿt and 1 tmrt and 1 ʾrbʿt, 1 gm, and 1 tmrt.

(See Peter Stein, Die altsüdarabischen Minuskelinschriften auf Holzstäbschen aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München (Tübingen: Ernst Wasmuth, 2010), 1:79-85.) 

While we do not know the precise origin of the Nephite system, the South Arabian parallel may provide another possibility.