Dr. Einar C. Erickson
Ancient Document Mormon Scholar
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The archeons have the purpose of denying knowledge to man, there is even an effort to forbid him to eat out of the tree of knowledge. But unknown to the evil archeon, but unknown to them the Father was acting through them. It was the Father's intention that man should eat. Temptations seem to be that the father knew man would disobey and order by the Gods.

Instructions have been given to ponder and reflect upon the scriptures. (2 Ne 32:1,8) When one encounters details on weights and measures in the scriptures especially in Alma 11:3-19, shouldn't they be pondered and reflected upon also? Why did the abridgers, Mormon in particular, think is necessary to include that part of the record?  Is there some reason that might be discovered as such inclusions are pondered and reflected upon?  Is there perhaps some underlying discovery to be made in trying to understand and research this portion of the scriptures that might add to the horrendous preponderance of evidence that the Book of Mormon is an accurate record, and that Joseph the translator may have his integrity confirmed in subtle but serious ways?  One way to find out it to examine such inclusions carefully, sometimes there are modern discoveries that might shed light on what otherwise eludes one. Or perhaps ancient documents discovered since the Book of Mormon was published might be found that would shed serious light on the subject.


The Weights, measures, and monetary systems of the Nephites are unusual. Are they just arbitrary imagined systems or do they have historical reality? It will be interesting to compare those systems with those of Elephantine, the Jews, some eight Semitic civilizations, and elsewhere. The system as recorded in the Book of Mormon is not a continuation of the system known in the Old Testament.  The Book of Mormon makes it clear that their systems, particularly the monetary systems were different from that of Jerusalem. (Alma 11:4)  One might also note that the word for "coin" is absent from the Book of Mormon.  There must be an important underlining reason for the inclusion on the gold plates by Mormon of the detail found in the first half of Chapter 11 of Alma. We learn from the Book of Alma:

"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 who were at Jerusalem; neither did they measure after the manner of the Jew; 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 have 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 ezrom of silver, and an onti of silver. A senum of silver was equal to a sinine of gold, and either for a measure of barley." (Alma 11:4-7)  Note the emphasis on "either for a measure of barley." What is a measure of barley?

Gold and silver, the universal precious metals are linked here with barely, just as they are in ancient systems. "The Nephite system of weights and measures at the time of Mosiah is specifically outlined in Alma 11:5-19, presumably to underscore the moderate value of a bribe that Zeezrom offered to Amulek while Amulek was preaching in Ammonihah. Zeezrom offered six onties of silver, equal to one limnah of gold, or the equivalent of 42 measures of grain [also equal to 42 days of pay for a Nephite judge]; (Alma 11:3, 13), to Amulek if he would deny the existence of a Supreme Being. (Alma 11:22, Largey p. 609).  A pretty cheap offer; needless to say, Amulek declined the bribe.

Thus in Alma we find a number of important points for discussion. First, since the Nephites did not reckon after Jerusalem or any other known Mesopotamian Semitic  system, can one make a limited comparison with actual monetary equivalents and weights and measures with known post-exilic or pre-Diaspora Jewish systems, or any ancient Near or Middle Eastern system? One possible comparison can be made between an Egyptian system and the Nephite system, and this has been discussed in an interesting paper by Paul Richard Jesclard in 1973; published by the Society for Early Historic Archaeology (S.E.H.A.).


In his article Mr. Jesclard describes the Egyptian system of measuring grain and providing gold and silver as weights according to fractional sixty-fourths, based upon the hieroglyphic sign of the WEDJAT-EYE. Then by examining the fractional amounts of each measure described in the Book of Mormon it is possible to construct an amazingly similar chart of value equal to the Egyptian system. Both systems measured grain in terms of gold and silver. Since Lehi and his family were involved in trade with Egypt (Nibley 1, p 36) could they have been  aware of the wedjat-eye measuring system and took it with them to the New World? (FARMS p. 5)


Gardiner, in discussing the "Kinds of fractions; weights and measures. [used by the ancient Egyptians]...in their measures for corn and for land, the Egyptians appear to have preserved a more primitive kind of fractions obtained by halving. ...we will also deal with terms for weights ... the Corn-measure. The symbols employed in this, as shown [by a diagram of the, wedjat-eye] are derived from the ancient myth according to which the eye of the [ancient] Falcon-god Horus, often depicted on the monuments and tomb walls in the form [of a diagram of the falcon eye of the Falcon-god Horus] called the wedjat-eye, [which] was torn into fragments by the wicked god Seth. Later, the Ibis-god Thoth miraculously ‘filled' or ‘completed' ...[restored] the eye, joining together the parts, whereby the eye regained its title to be the wedjat-eye, ‘the sound eye' [complete eye].  In accordance with this myth the ‘sign' [the corner of the eye next to the nose] was used for 1/2, the  ‘O' [the pupil]  of the eye was for 1/4, the [eyebrow, or arch over the eye] for 1/8, the [upper corner of the eye] for 1/16, [the lower lid of the eye] for 1/32, and [the drooping flange below the falcon eye], on the eye symbol for Ra the symbol [under the eye] was for 1/64. (Gardiner p. 197) "The scroll symbol under the eye represents a tear drop, but the vertical symbol just below the middle of the eye is the ‘amakh,' the symbol for the right Eye of Horus," (Budge, p. cxvi) [telling whose eye it is] as noted it stands for 1/64.   "These fractions together add up to 63/64; presumably the missing 1/64 was supplied magically by Thoth." (Gardiner p. 197)  The astute reader will recognize this system as the binary system of halving used in computer science today.  Until this understanding arrived of the binary system progress in computer science was slow. Dr. Ranel E. Erickson, a Professor of Mathematics and computer science recognized this relationship between the computer binary system and the Book of Mormon-Egyptian system. While in Mexico he had purchase an ancient (or perhaps a copy) set of metal cups within cups, like the Russian Babuska dolls; dolls within dolls, exactly representing this system of halving. Chapter 11 of Alma is a real sleeper in subtle detail for the validity of the Book of Mormon. See the Wedjat-eye diagram with this series. But there is even more to be learned about weights and measures.

In the table provided below note that the Nephite system follows this fractional Egyptian system.  The wedjat-eye faces to the left, and is exactly, except for the sharp inner corner of the eye, the reverse of the right eye depicted on hieroglyphic murals of the divine ‘eye of Ra' The divine eye of Ra, however, does not have the inside V or corner of the eye [which stands for 1/2]  (Budge p. cvi) which faces to the right, the "amakh" symbol hanging below the eye, the Amakh, indicating the Falcon God is less emphasized and is more like "the tear drop of [the] divine eye." (Budge p. cvi)  So the little symbol hanging down from the middle of the wedjat-eye identifies the eye as that of the Falcon God, and the absence of the corner of the eye helps identify the eye as the divine eye of Ra. No doubt the entire myth and system was set up to teach and provide a way of remembering this system of measures and weights, but with a slight change so the eyes could identify each God.

Secondly, the name of the gold and silver weights is philologically related to actual measurements. For example, "onti is an actual Egyptian term, it means ‘small amount' or ‘short of an amount'." (Jesclard p. 2)  Sen, the root of Senum  (containing a hypocoristic suffix of -um),  is also Egyptian and means "one half" or "doubling".  This is interesting because a senum was doubled each time to make the next amount. (Jesclard  p. 2) Also see Smith. (Welch Chart 110) This is halving in reverse. Limnah on the other hand is Hebrew and is interpreted to mean "to count or weigh". (Jesclard p.2) All of this is outstanding subtle confirmation of the Book of Mormon system and names used in weights and measures.

Thirdly, in both the gold and silver standards four units were employed, for gold they were:  senine, seon, shum, and Limnah; and for Silver they were: senum, amnor, ezrom, and onti.  In the American system we use five coin types and numerous paper bills. Porten Points out that the system of exchange in Elephantine was also composed of four units: hallur, zuz, shekel, and Karsh. (Porten p. 62)  The shekel is used in most Semitic systems and has a specific weight in grams as discussed below. The shekel was not used by the Nephites. The names of the units and their probable values are different than those mentioned in the Book or Mormon, but then that is what is expected according to Alma 11.4.  Like the Nephite those at Elephantine came up with new or modified systems to accommodate their particular needs.  In part, value would be determined by the accepted value placed on each of the three commodities, barley, silver and gold. These values would change from time to time and place to place, so a relative comparison is perhaps all that can be made, but the value of gold or silver would be based on the going rate of value for a "measure" of barley. So, what was a measure of barley?  

Fourthly, there is no evidence to suggest that money in the Book of Mormon circulated in the form of minted coins accepted at face value. Dr. Nibley in his Book, Since Cumorah, explains the concept of money in the Book of Mormon:

"We still get lots of letters, especially from churchmen, protesting that the mention of money in the Book of Mormon is another crude anachronism. They all point out that coinage was first invented by the Lydians in the 8th century BC. [actually the jury is still out on the origins of coins, in China I saw round coins with square centers cut out that were 2300 BC in age]  That would make coinage available to Lehi, but the Book of Mormon says nothing about coins, but only money, which is a different thing.  The Egyptians and Babylonians had real money from a very early time - metal pieces of conventional shape and size whose exact value could always be determined by weighing and which often bore an official stamp or inscription. This old fashioned kind of money was favored by the Jews in Egypt even after the new modern coinage had been introduced...Now when Alma compares the value of different metals he used the expression ‘equal to': Thus ‘a senum of silver was equal to a senine of gold' and they both equaled a measure of barley, though of course they did not weigh the same (Alma 11:7), and ‘an antion of gold is equal to three shiblons (v.18), shiblons being a silver measure (v.15). But when he compares the value of the silver pieces among themselves he uses a different expression: ‘and an amnor of silver was as great as two senums. And an ezrom of silver was as great as four senums. And an onti was as great as them all.' (v.11:13) Here he is referring not to value, but ‘greatness.' .i.e., weight. Naturally a senum of silver, a senine of gold, and a measure of barely do not all weigh the same, but are equal in value; whereas the comparative values of pieces of the same metal would be exactly proportional to their greatness or weight. From which it would appears that the Nephites used the old-fashioned type of money." (Nibley 2, 255-256)  So, lets tabulate this information:

          CHART l


       ALMA 11:5-19



42 84 shiblon 6 onti   6 limnah

7      1:56 14 shiblon onti    limnah

4       l:32 8   shiblon ezrom      shum


2       1:16 4   shiblon amnor     seon

1.5    1:12 3   shiblon 3 shiblon  antion

1       1:8           2  shiblon-1 measure  senum    senine

½      1:4  shiblon-1/2 measure shiblon

¼      1:2  shiblum shiblum

1/32  1.05

1/64  1.025

(see Largey p.609-610) The system is rather elaborate, but complete and functional. See also Welch. (Welch Charts 110-112) The table does indicate that one measure is equal to two shiblons of barley, and one measure of Barley is equal in "value" to a senum of gold and senine of silver.  The system seems to have originated shortly after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem and arrived in the Promised Land, based on traditional usages of a measure of barely for a given amount of gold or silver, they may have continued to develop the system to the time of Mosiah. (FARMS p. 1-3)

For many centuries the ratio of value silver to gold was 16:1, during the past twenty-five years the ratio has changed so much that it has no applicability to past ratios, the present price of silver at this writing is about $7 per ounce and gold has a value of $425 per ounce, making it a about 60:1 ratio, but varies with constant rapid changes in the present commodity markets.   


We are informed that "the names [for gold and silver weights] are given by the Nephites, for they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews who were at Jerusalem; neither did they measure after the manner of the Jews." (Alma 11:4)  So a look at what systems the Jews used would be of vital interest as it would show a different system than the Nephites. Since the Nephite system is clearly related to the Egyptian system, then the Jewish system should be different in some major ways.

Recent discoveries of ancient records indicate that the Semitic System is traceable back at least to the Eblaitic Times (2350 BC), and was transmitted down from Ebla, to Akkadian, to Ugaritic, to Old Aramaic, to Official Aramaic, to Phoenician, and to Mishnaic Hebrew.  The consonantal  "PRS-terms [the consonantal elements in parsium] refer to either a unit of capacity or a unit of weight and that both usages go back to Ebla...and the values of these units remained remarkably constant over three millennia." (Wolters p. 236)  "Unlike any other language that we have surveyed, Mishnaic Hebrew has a PRS-term to refer to a measure of length [as well] ...Phonologically, it appears that all of the PRS-terms that we have surveyed can be interpreted as derivatives of either parisum or Parsum in Eblaite....There is direct phonological continuity [note the PRS elements in all that follows] between the parisum of Eblaite, [2300 BC] the Parisu of Western Akkadian and Ugaritic, the paris of Old Aramaic, and the Peris of Official Aramaic"  (Wolters p. 237-239)  and the prs of Israel [Hebrew]  and the peras of Mishnaic Hebrew [200 AD] is the same. "In Syriac the peris of earlier Aramaic has become perasa, which is no longer a capacity designation but retains the sense [of] ‘ration'" (Wolters p. 239).  Also the " capacity unit is always a dry measure used especially for grain rations." (Wolters p. 239)  The Eblaite parisum was 10 liters, the Akkadian parisu was 15 liters, the Ugaritic parisu was also 15 liters, the Old Aramaic paris was 10 liters, and the Official Aramaic peris was 14 liters." (Wolters p. 138)  A bushel is 35.24 liters.  For nearly 2500 years a Parsium was about l/5th of a measure of barley, varying a little from Semitic group to Semitic group down through time. Essentially the ancient Semitic system was also in part a halving system (Wolters p. 239), but was set up and treated differently than that which developed in Egypt. "Both in Aramaic and its cognate languages, when PRS [the consonant elements in parsium] does designate a half-unit, it is a very specific half, representing 50 % of a particular unit in a particular type of measure. (capacity, weight, or length.)." Wolters pp. 239-240) The Nephite system was patterned after the Egyptian halving system of the Wedjat-eye, and was no where near what the Jews or any other Middle Eastern Semitic group utilized.  How could Joseph Smith have known this?


An in-depth look at Ebla and the results of excavations in 1983 which resulted in the discovery of details of weights and measures is extremely informative:  "Ebla was situated at the center of a complex system of exchange which involved not only the coastal cities, (Ugarit, etc.) but also Anatolia [Turkey] and the eastern regions beyond the Euphrates. It is obvious that it was necessary to adjust its own weight system to those of other countries [because they were not exactly the same]." (Archi, p. 85)  A total of 49 different weights, some of polished basalt, granite, limestone, and other mineral material, and ground and polished into tubular, conical, oblate, round, and various other shapes, all showing extreme use, were found. (Archi pp. 63-66, 89) Archi provides photos of all of them, and detailed description along with weight values in grams. Weight No. 21 in that series represents the Unit Value of the System which was the Mina and it weighed 467.8 grams. [the Ugaritic example in bronze cast in the shape of a keeling bull]  weighed 468.5 grams, very close in deed. At Tell Sweyhat, on the Euphrates, about 64 km south of Karkemis [Carkemish] west of Ebla on the Euphrates, they used a limestone weight of 472.2 grams. While these are close, during exchanges and trade, differences, particularly when dealing with gold and silver, were required to be more than just close, they had to be exact to get proper exchange values. The standard for the region seems to have been that used at Ebla.  "The Ebla Mina was divided into 60 shekels, so the shekel was then about 7.8 grams." (Archi p. 48) Some of the weights are fractions of a shekel. Weight No. 1 was 1/5th of a shekel. No. 2 was ½ of a shekel, No. 11 was 2 shekels.  The very small amounts of gold represented by the small portions of a shekel may have been for determining the amount of gold for striking certain coins.

The Mina, as an established unit was also called the ‘Phoenician standard' it was widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean."  (Archie pp. 43-48) and continued in use for many hundreds of years afterward.  For exchange purposes, it is also apparent that the Mina was also divided by 50 which produced a five point scale: l Mina, l Mina and 1/5th, l Mina and 2/3rds, l Mina and 3/5ths, l Mina and 4/5ths, and 2 Minas. (Archi p. 48). But "the basic unit in use in the territory of Ebla [was] a shekel of about 7.8 grams." (Archi p. 49) or 1/60th of the Mina, which weighed about 468 grams.  The troy ounce is four times the shekel, or 31.2 grams. The avoirdupois ounce is 28 grams, a more recent unit of weight.  The 7.8 grams also had comparative value.  The 7.8 grams of gold is the accepted weight of a man's golden wedding band.  So enough gold to make a wedding band would be a shekel. The ancient Egyptians had mastered the art of hammering gold to extreme thinness, they could hammer gold into a leaf, thin sheets, so thin that it took 367,000 leaves to make a pile one inch in thickness. So a little gold could go a long way in ornamentation, explaining the weight of gold that was only l/5th of a shekel, or 1.56 grams.  Gold dust would probably have been weighed out with these small weights.  

"Ebla, then, used the system based on a unit of about 7.8 grams for trade within its territory and for all of northern Syria and as far [southeast] as Mari....[which] served as a link with the Sumero-Akadian area." (Archi p. 51) and south to the Persian Gulf. (See the maps for this series) The same standard "pushed even further east to Elam [Persia]" (Archi p. 51) and onto the gem resources of Afghanistan and India. Trade with Palestine and Egypt "made use of the system based on the shekel of 9.4 grams, which corresponds with the Egyptian qdt,  for which is registered a standard of 9.33 grams." (Archi p. 51) which Syria and Egypt used in their exchanges and trade. So the Egyptian shekel was not a duplicate or copy of the Semitic shekel in use elsewhere. In Ancient Sumer at the top of the Persian Gulf and where Babel was located, along with the Kingdom of Kish, the Sumerian Mina was 504 grams, which they divided by 50 in a decimal unit so the shekel was 9.40 grams, records of such trades were in the tablets recovered from Ebla, so trade in any direction would require adjustments in weights and trade activities. "Silver was used for votive offerings to the gods of Kish...and gold was sent as a gift to high personages of Kish in the form of ingots...l ingot of 40 shekels, 6 ingots of 16 shekels...six ingots of 10 shekels...one ingot of 40 grams...one ingot of 20 shekels...an ingot of 30 shekels-235 g. of gold." (Archi 2, p. 126) Lapis lazuli and carnelian were purchased in Kish...for 33 shekels-235 gr. of silver  ...a ratio of l:4 between silver and lapis lazuli, for a total of l kg of stones." Archi 2, p. 126). This is just as a hint of ancient weights and measures.  One objective of the ancient civilizations was how to find a market for agricultural bulk products that ultimately result in payments of silver. (Driel)     

Gold was the most frequently mentioned metal in Ebla's transactions with its trade partners. At that time "then there is a ratio of l to 5 between gold and silver." (Archi p. 76)  So it would take five ounces of silver to trade for an ounce of gold. Silver had much more value than silver today.  One tablet totaled "2,193 minas of silver, 134 minas and 26 shekels of gold, which means l,031 kilograms of silver and 63 kilograms of gold." (Archi p. 82)  So there was a great traffic in precious metals, and for the most part the Nephites seem to have had enough of the golden metal for their needs, which wasn't always gold plates.

Alma Chapter 11 has embedded in it most profound confirmations of the antiquity and correctness of the Book of Mormon.


Another point is in terms of weights, " Six of the ancient Semitic systems used the parisum and its cognates ...to designate a half-mina. ..the mina in [the] Mesopotamian standard appears to have been around 500 grams [about 15.5 ounces] ....the parsium [of ancient Ebla]  was 250 grams.  So one mina was two parsiums. This is confirmed by the actual mass of surviving Eblaite weight stones...on the other hand the Jewish standard reflected in the lead weights from the second century AD is geared to a mina of 800 grams." (Wolters p. 239)  David and Ezekiel (46:10-12) pronounced different certain standards. So a buyer often carried his own weights in a packet (Proverbs 16:11) so he could convert all transactions. Early on the gerah was .5 grams, one of the smallest units. 10 gerahs equaled l bekah ( 6 grams),  2 bekahs equaled l shekel (at that time 11 grams), 50 shekels equaled one mina (the 500 gram mina). Sixty Minas equaled one talent of approximately 30 grams (almost an ounce) But there were several weights for a Talent. The heavy, royal shekel weighed 13 grams, the heavy, double-standard talent weighted 60 kg, so the Talent could vary from 20 to 60 kgs.  And they also had a litra which was 327 gms, it was called a pound, which is close to the present English pound.  Only the litra and the varying Talent are mentioned in the New Testament. The dry measures are also interesting, as they confirm the defined measure above. The Saton was a bushel and a half or 13 litres. The Modios was a bushel of 8.7 litres. The log, or smallest amount, was .3 litres, the Kab was 1.2 litres, the Omer was 2.2 litres, the Seah was 7.3 litres, the Ephah was 22 litres. Five ephas equaled l lethech, which was half a homer, or 110 litres, and 10 ephas equaled one homer or 220 litres. (Alexander p. 104-107)  There is more to this little exercise than listing more of the Jewish system, and that is to point out that from the earliest times, a measure of barley was the fulcrum around which all other values were determined, and that measure remained constant through time and in more than eight Semitic civilizations.

So it is evident that the Jews even veered away from the standards of the Semitic predecessors and developed their own system; which as Alma stated, the Nephites did not copy, not had they copied or utilized any of the other systems, except for just the Egyptian's;  the system of the Wedjat-eye!    

Porten further substantiates the Book of Mormon's monetary method to be valid by writing, "Money at Elephantine did not circulate in the form of minted coins accepted at face value but in the form of silver weighed out in the balance. Throughout most of the Persian Empire, silver, in all forms, served as currency only by weight." (Porten p. 56) One only has to examine the published Babylonian texts (all from the Yale Babylonian Collection)  from the time of  Nebuchadnezzar to see the predominance played by barley, silver and gold, and the often reference to a measure of this or that. (Weisberg pp. 15-18) So both Jewish groups, as well as contemporary Babylonians, and earlier Mesopotamian civilizations used weight as the standard of measure; a significant parallel substantiating the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient Jewish document. The value would be whatever amount of silver or gold would be required to purchase a measure of barley.


Fifth point to be learned from Alma Chapter 11 is that the grain selected by the Nephites to be predominant in their monetary system is barley. Wheat is mentioned only once in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 9:9); whereas barley is mentioned four times and was the standard as described in Alma 11. (Mosiah 7:22, 9:9, Alma 11:7, 15).  This was also true of the Babylonians, where barely is the predominant grain, used for man and cattle, and a measure of barely was a specific unit. (Weisberg pp. 13-14)   

Barley was one of the first cereals cultivated by man.  "Grasses, [of which barley is one], provide the botanical basis for human survival. We depend on grasses, directly or indirectly, for over two-thirds of our nourishment. ...Among the 10,000 species in this diverse family are all of the major cereals such as wheat, rice, barley, and corn." (Soderstrom, Front piece) Early varieties of corn may have been a little earlier than barley, particularly in the Western Hemisphere where it was being used as early as 7000 years ago in Mexico. Barley grains were found in the depression west of the Nile, in Egypt near Al Fayyum, more than 5,000 years old.  Scientists do not know where barley originated, but they guess it may have been in Ethiopia and/or central Asia, but there were Western Hemisphere as well as Eastern Hemisphere varieties. There were three varieties of barley, of which two were important, before Colonists brought their European variety to the Americas in the early 1600's.  The Netherlands and Switzerland usually have the highest yields per acre.  (World Book Encyclopedia Vol. B).

It was Dutch settlers that brought varieties of barley from Europe.  The Plymouth Colonists, in part, came from Holland. Spanish colonists introduced North African varieties of Barley to the Southwest. But the southwestern Indians already had their cultivated types, linked to Central American varieties. And the Irish brought their particular barley for their barley-corn whisky. "The International Symposium on Grass Systematics and Evolution, [was] held 27-31 July 1986 at the Smithsonian Institution [the definitive work on grasses]." (Soderstrom p. xi)  "Change in nuclear DNA in grass evolution includes Hardeum (Barley) under Triticeae...two species examined in most detail are Secale cereal... and Hordeum vulgare." (Linde-Laursen 1984 in Soderstrom p. 76), particularly Hardeum arizonicum. (Linde-Laursen 1956)  An important aspect of the cereals is their flavonid content of thirty compounds.  Barley leads in seven of them, and ties in five others. Of the Dl-C-glycosides, only rice and wheat have this compound, so a variety of cereals is a preferred condition. Between wheat and barley most of the compounds would be available in a diet. Those two are the prevailing cereals for most areas except in the Asiatic regions.

"In the Scientific Classification, Barley belongs to the grass family, Gramineae.  It is classified as genus Hordeum, species H. vulgar. ...wheat, rye, and barley are recognizable from the genetic markers they carry." (Sederstrom p. 85)  There are some 1506 accessions [of barley] from the USDA world Barley Collection. ..[when assayed] They found that 28 alleles among the four loci clustered the collection into [three groups] Western (USA, European, Mideast, Australia, South Africa, India, USSR), Asiatic (Japan, China, Korea, Afghanistan), and Denmark subgroups; the Western subgroup was the least polymorphic. ..Western barleys were less diverse because they have been exposed to modern selective pressures for a longer period of time than the Asian barleys." (Soderstrom p. 101) "Palynological evidence...[pollen grain analysis] concludes that the earliest grass pollen dates from the early Tertiary, with less certain records from the [upper] Cretaceous [Tertiary boundary some 65 million years ago]."  (Soderstrom p. 161) During the early twentieth century "great numbers of fossilized grass fruits (so-called ‘seeds') were found in [younger] Miocene strata in Nebraska and Colorado. (Clark p. 3) So they have been around for a geologically long time. After all, the earth was prepared for man and it took a long time for some things.  "The decline of Mayan culture was probably linked to the incidence of grass weeds [beginning to dominate]." (Sederstrom p. 355)  Many of the most recent studies on the Maya and Meso-America have not taken this into consideration. At this writing it seems that no one has tried to trace Central American varieties of Barley back to the Mediterranean area, since Nephi says they loaded their ship with seeds. (l Ne 18:6) Did the seeds they brought with them include Barley? If so could genetic studies determine this?   

While discussing the standard of living among the Elephantine Jewish community, Porten points out the following:  "Wheat is mentioned but once in our papyri and was probably as rare in Elephantine as in Egypt generally during this period. The grain most commonly mentioned in the papyri was barley." (Porten p. 810), a striking similarity. Barley was frequently mentioned in the Elephantine papyri as the grain used to pay the soldiers, along with a measure of silver (Porten Chapter 3).  What an astounding parallel that barley should be so predominant among the main contemporary groups—the military colony at Elephantine, the Babylonians and early Mesopotamian Civilizations, and the people whose story is told in the Book of Mormon. Clearly such a practice and usage could not have been imagined by the young translator in 1829. Even the aspect that each type of grain was appropriately correlated one to another, and in association with silver and gold, mentioned in Alma 11:7, is also verified as Porten writes "that an equal measure of each grain bore a cost value one to another." (Porten p. 80)  All of the Mesopotamian Sargonic Texts found in the Louvre Musem and translated, none refer to any other grain than barley. (Gelb p. p. 12 and others) Barley is the most referred to grain in all the tablets available so far from the Middle East. Not doubt some other grains, including wheat are mentioned, but tablets referring to them are far and few between.  

Barley was the grain of major importance in Bible Lands, in fact throughout Palestine and Mesopotamia, and apparently in the lands of the transplanted Biblical peoples. The small Galilean loaves turned to miraculous use by Jesus were of barley (John 6:9) Israel in Egypt saw barley "smitten" in the ear by a plague (Ex. 9:31). It was to be one of the features of the Promised Land (Deut 8:8). Barley was sown as soon as the October rains had set in; furrows were upturned by the plowman, followed by the sower, who dropped the valuable seed by hand and saw them plowed in for protection (Matt. 13:3-8).  The barely harvest on the fertile Jericho Plain might be under way in March; later in the highlands near Jerusalem. The time of the barely harvest was specified, The First Month, Nissan, and the planting month was the Eight Month, Machesvan, (Alexander p. 114) and was familiar to people living near Bethlehem. The bread of life Christ was referring to, other than himself, was barley bread. The reaping and binding of barley sheaves usually lasted about seven weeks—from Passover to Pentecost.  The sheaves that were gleaned by Ruth in the fields of Boaz, were barley. (see Miller p. 61) The absence of any reference to barley in the Book of Mormon would have been a grievous omission.

Barley is the fourth most important cereal grain, it only ranks behind wheat, rice, and corn, but its production exceeds that of oats, rye, sorghum, and millet. Botanically, barley resembles wheat.  Their seeds grow in spikes at the tips of the stems. In the most common and used varieties, the single grains grow in three rows on each side of the spike. This is one of the features archaeologists look for when studying the cereals produced by ancient cultivators, along with pollen as evidence of their presence. And examination of the calendar of ancient Israel shows how dependent on the Barley Harvest the entire year was. Month 1, called Nisan, (early name was Abib) was the Barley Harvest month. (Ruth l:22)  On the 14th of Nisan was Passover, followed by Unleavened Bread. The 21st was the Firstfruits. (Alexander pp. 114-115)

Barley will grow nearly anywhere in the Temperate Zone, but it will thrive in cool climates in the far north and at high altitudes.  The three-generation Erickson team surveying Indian sites and ruins in the Kaibab Forest, Kanab Wilderness, and Saddle Mountain Wilderness areas of Arizona, have established by pollen analysis of valley and wash sediments, cut deeply by erosion exposing sediments that carry pollen from 8,000 BC to 1300 AD, evidence of corn and chenopods and other harvested items, especially from 900 to 1300 AD. While an effort is being made to try to find barley, so far in the areas surveyed barley has not been noticed. The elevation of the village sites in these regions range from 5,000 to 7000 feet. The hunt goes on; by 2005 some 1715 sites had been surveyed.  


But, what is a "measure" of barley? Information on the planting of barley provides a clue to what a "measure" stands for. Anciently, a measure of barley was the amount that was required to seed a given area; farmers often used 1.5 bushels of seed (63 pounds) per acre, or four dunams, or 3.7 bushels per hectare,  as noted above, or a saton equal to 13 litres [1.5 bushels]. (Alexander p. 106) This becomes a most useful tool in evaluating the Book of Mormon accounts when one learns that a bushel equals 48 pounds, or 22 kilograms. A measure would have been 1.5 bushels or 63 pounds. That would have been a lot of bread. It indicates that the robber barons had stolen a lot of barley to have on hand to offer bribes.  So, when Zeezrom offered Amulek six onties of silver, that would have been 42 measures of barley, or some 63 pounds of barley per measure, or a total bribe of 2,646 pounds of barley (Alma 11:25).  The judge in Alma 11:3 was paid a senine of gold for one day's pay.  A senine of gold was equal to l measure of barley [or 63 pounds]. So for any given time in history one can calculate the value of the barley-gold-silver system by just knowing what pay was given for the office of a judge for one day, or the trade value of gold. The bribe offered to Amulek would have been worth only 42 days pay, or the value of  2,646 pounds of barley.  Not really much of a bribe?  But perhaps in those days that would have been considered a large bribe.

When the saints came west they took with them a measure of barley, enough to sow an acre, which was 63 pounds.  This was generally available in a one bag amount. One can look up the frontier price for a sack or measure of barley seed to get a relative value. Today, Alberta, Canada, the largest producer of Barley, second only to Russia, produces upwards of 300,000,000 bushels of barley each year.  So at any given time in history, the measure and weight system for exchange depends on the price or value of the three main commodities, barley being the main one.  Silver and gold are now manipulated and do not reflect any stable intrinsic value.  It may be said that the world is on a gold exchange, depending on the value of gold based on a troy ounce of gold.  But by realizing how the measure was applied in Alma, one can get an idea of value, and how the system worked, and it is internally consistent as the table above shows.     


To bring this discussion full circle, for a moment, examine horticulture of the New World.  If barley was the standard among the Nephites, although other grains were used, then careful examination of the remains of ancient American peoples should demonstrate domestic barley. Some tourist into Mexico have been offered small weigh scale sets that seem to accurately reflect the Nephite system. But again, it would depend on the given value of barely or gold at any given time period to establish relative value. There are three types of wild barley native to the Americas according to Professor Howard C. Stutz of the Department of Biology at Brigham Young University, (Stutz  Update) but no domestic barley had been identified up to the time of his research.  For years this has been a sore spot among LDS scholars, and tenaciously held onto by Mormon ranters.

Then came the evidence that barley was known and grown by the ancient American Indians. It first appeared in an Article in the December 1983 issue of "Science". In this article barley was found in Arizona among excavations of the Hohakam cultures: An Indian culture near Phoenix, Arizona with links to Meso-America, dating from approximately 300 BC to AD 1450 [with new evidence that may even go back to 1400 BC, would this early presence be Jaredites?]  Stratigraphical evidence suggests the barley identified near Phoenix was at least cultivated around 900 AD; well antedating any possible Columbian or colonists influence. (Stutz)   As pointed out above, one of the barley species analyzed by Linde-Laursen, et al, (1986) was Hardeum (barley) arizonicum.   

This is a significant find for students of the Book of Mormon in support of domestic pre-Columbian barley as suggested in Mosiah and Alma.

It is difficult to imagine how Joseph could have invented such fine detail as all of the above, had he written the Book of Mormon with no resource library nearby, or access to all the records we now use, which were not to be published for a century or more after his death. The preponderance of evidence supports his claim that he translated a genuine record from gold plates and was himself not the original author. No other explanation could account for such subtle evidences, and a wealth of it, as set forth above.

So, ponder the scriptures, such as Alma chapter 11, who knows where it will lead.


Alexander, David and Pat Alexander, Eds. Eerdemans' Handbook of The Bible, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1977  

 Archi, Alfonso, Reflection on the System of Weights from Ebla, In. Elaitica: Essay on the Ebla Archives and Eblaitie Language, Ed. Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg, and Nathan H. Winter, Publications of the Center for Ebla Research at New York University, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana 1987

Budge, E. A. Wallis, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Vol. l. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York, c. 1921

Clark, Lynn G., and Richard W. Pohl, Agnes Chase's First Book Of Grasses, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1996

Driel, Gus van, Elusive Silver: In search of a Role for a Market In an Agrarian Environment-Aspects of Mesopotamia's Society, PIHANS 95, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Ind. 2004

FARMS, Staff, Weights and Measures in the Time of Mosiah, FARMS, BYU,  Provo, Utah 1983

Gelb, I. J., Sargonic Texts in the Louvre Museum, Materials For the Assyrian Dictionary No. 4,  University of Chicago Press, Chicago Illinois  1970

Gardiner, Sir Alan, Egyptian Grammar, Griffth Institute Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Oxford University Press, London 1957

Jesclard, Paul R., A Comparison of Nephite Monetary System With The Egyptian System of Measuring Grain, Newsletter and Proceedings of the S.E.H.A., 134:0 October 1973.

Nibley, Hugh, Lehi in the Desert,  The World of the Jaredites, Bookcraft Publishing, Salt Lake City, Utah 1952

Nibley, Hugh 2, Since Cumorah, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1967

Miller, Madeleine S., & J. Lane Miller, Harpers Bible Dictionary, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1059

Newsom Jr.  James D., By The Waters of Babylon, An Introduction To the History and Theology of The Exile. T&T Clark, Edinburgh 1979

Porten, Bezalel, Archives from Elephantine, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968

Wolters, Al, Metrological PRS-Terms form Elba to Mishna. In Eblaitica:Esssays on the Elba Archives and Eblaite Language, Vol 4, Eds. Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lke Indiana, 2002

Weisberg, David B., Texts From the Time of Nebuchadnezzar, Yale Oriengtal Serics, Babylonian Texts Vol. XVII, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1980

Welch, John W., J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon, FARMS, BYU, Provo, Utah 1999

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