Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Iron, Steel and Glass in the Book of Mormon

In my first blog relating to criticisms leveled against the Book of Mormon by Smithsonian archaeologists and others, it was indicated that a number of items mentioned in this Book were not in America before     being brought in by Columbus and those that followed him. The Smithsonian statement regarding this was, "Iron, steel, and glass were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron)."

The above statement was in response to the fact that items made of these materials are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. It has long been accepted, though, that these materials were possessed and had been used by Egyptians and a few other Old World cultures for several thousands of years. Since there was close contact between the Egyptians and the neighboring peoples of the Palestine region for much of this time, it stands to reason that there would have been interactions which included the trading of goods and technologies. Nephi’s bow of steel is something to which many object. But he was in the Old World when this bow was made. It was while Lehi and his party were near the Red Sea when Nephi’s bow of “fine steel” was broken.  

Philistine steel sword from near Jerusalem > 600 B.C.

Iron and steel are of course mentioned a few times when Book of Mormon peoples were in the New World.

Iron, from which steel is produced, is the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Its ores are present in every continent. Therefore, its mention in the Book of Mormon should not be a surprise. The ability to make steel from iron has been known since very ancient times, and in different cultures. A low grade of steel can be produced from molten iron by mixing it with the coals of a fire. After all, steel is the result of combining iron and carbon. It no doubt was independently discovered by accident in ancient cultures. With time refinements would have produced higher grades of steel. Some items of steel, including ones with a surprising degree of hardness on the Rockwell scale, date to at least 1000 B.C. Others of equally ancient date are known from Egypt. The fact that items of iron and steel have not been discovered in America during Book of Mormon times should not be taken as evidence they didn’t exist then. If Mesoamerica were the land of Book of Mormon peoples, the warm, humid conditions there would have long since destroyed any iron and steel. Even in the Middle East, with its very arid conditions, discoveries of ancient iron and steel artifacts are extremely rare. There is certainly no good reason for not believing that the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites did in fact possess iron and steel.

Egyptian glass beads c. 3100 B.C.

The objection to the mention of glass in the Book of Mormon is in fact a bogus one. In the very few instances where glass is cited, it relates to items in the Old World. Concerning the Jaredites, it is stated in Ether 3:1 that the brother of Jared, “…did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass.” Actually these stones were not turned into glass (as we understand glass), but just had a glassy texture. Also in the Book of Ether, when the Jaredites were preparing vessels to cross the ocean, the Lord said, “For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed to pieces …” (2:23). The assumption could be made that glass is inferred here. But other materials, such as isinglass, a clear, transparent 
 variety of the mineral mica, have also been used as windows. Even so, this event took place in the Old World.The only other reference to glass is found in 2nd Nephi where Isaiah is quoted. “The glasses and fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.” (Isaiah 3:23; 2nd Nephi 13:23). So nowhere in the Book of Mormon is it indicated that the people produced glass. Nonetheless, there is no reason they could not have done so. 

It is known that the Egyptian people had the ability to manufacture glass since at least 3000 B.C. With close contact between Egypt and neighboring Palestine, peoples in what is now Israel would certainly have known about glass and how to produce it. This technology could have been brought to the New World well before the time of Columbus.

1 comment:

  1. Highly informative! The ancient uses of steel and glass seem to be lost in the pages of history. This article sheds some much needed light on this topic.