The Book of Jared

Small and simple things...

Small and simple things...

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

Visit any of the anti-mormon sites and one of the complaints you might find is that barley is mentioned in connection with Book of Mormon times and lands. FairMormon has addressed most areas of this issue, showing that not only was barley present in the new world before the Spanish arrived, but that it was fairly common (see article here).

The word barley appears four times in the Book of Mormon, twice in Mosiah, and twice in Alma. The ones that are most interesting to me are the ones in Alma, where barley is connected to the weights and measures used by the Nephites. In Alma 11:7 it states:

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.

I read this the other night, and something jumped out at me, namely the use of the word "measure" when talking about barley. It called to mind another book I had been reading called Civilization One by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler. In chapter four, entitled Sumerian Degrees, there is a sub-heading of Barley seed, and in that section, they discuss how "Mesopotamian cultures used a range of linear measurements at various times", but that the "kush" or "barley cubit" was the main unit of length among Sumerian cultures (Knight, Butler 2005). The kush, they explain is made up of 180 "se" or barley seeds, but an expert explained that these were not to be understood as literal barley seeds, but just as a convenient term for something small, "a convenient terminology used by the Sumerian scribes." They then go on to show that you can, in fact, make a kush using nothing more than barley seeds laid side to side (as opposed to end to end) and that threading them on a string gives the exact number expected, 180 se to a kush. This also allows for making cubes of 1 kush length on each side that correspond to weights used commonly throughout Mesopotamia.

What jumped out to me is that in two of the four references to barley in the Book of Mormon, we are talking about them being used as a measure, and that you could get a corresponding weight of gold, or silver, or any other kind of grain, all based on a measure of barley.

This is not something that Joseph Smith could have known, as even among modern historians it is not a commonly known concept, and some experts still believe that a se is nothing more than a convenient way to say "something small." Here we have, in a book which claims to be about a group of people from the same general region in Mesopotamia, and which was under the influence of Babylon, using the same grain for their measurements as was common in the middle east. Even if we take that the se is just a common measurement shorthand, the fact that it is mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being used specifically as a unit of measure.

Written by Jared on Friday December 16, 2022.

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