Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Linen and Silk in the Book of Mormon

Linen and Silk
The Smithsonian Institution and others have declared that linen and silk were not present in the Americas prior to 1492. True linen is derived from flax which is native only to the Old World. Its uses were known in Egypt well before the beginning of Jaredite history. Linen was a common material used for many purposes including the wrapping of mummies. It has been claimed that linen was used by Egyptians dating back to 4000 B.C., and possibly earlier. Examples of this material being used by the Jaredites are found in Ether (10:24), and by the Nephites as found in Alma (1:29). A statement was made that both the Jaredites and Nephites, “…in all probability brought flax seeds with them on their trek to the promised land.”This is a reasonable assumption as seeds of every kind were brought with them to the New World. Although flax is a plant native to the Old World, it has grown well in many places in the Americas. Flax seeds are also useful as a source for linseed oil, another reason for their being transported. Even if flax seeds were never brought to the New World by Book of Mormon peoples, the references to linen by both Jaredites and Nephites can be explained. Today when the term “linen” is used, people commonly are referring to sheets and pillow cases. Yet in most instances these items are actually made from cotton – a native plant in the New World. Obviously some other cloth could have been used when reference was made to “linen.” It should be kept in mind when translating from one language to another, that meanings might not be the same when using a given word.
Silk, too, is another cloth that critics claim could not have been known to Book of Mormon people. But again, these people came from the Old World where this fabric was probably something with which they were familiar. It’s also possible that their “silk” might have been something different than what we regard as silk. “True” silk, known from China since nearly 3000 B.C., is produced from the mulberry silkworm (caterpillar), the larval form of the Bombyx mori moth. It is native to the Old World and apparently not present in the New World. However, a number of different kinds of moths have larvae capable of making cocoons from which silk can then be produced. Many of these are native to the Americas. It is also possible that the “silk” mentioned in the Book of Mormon is another material entirely. Many materials can be considered “silk like.” John L. Sorenson discussed this issue, and stated that fiber from the Ceiba (Kapok) tree of Mesoamerica can be woven into a silk-like material. He also reported that fine fur from the belly of rabbits can also be woven into a cloth which Spanish Conquistadors considered equal in finish and texture to silk. It should, therefore, not cause concern that silk was a fabric used by both Jaredites (Ether 10:24) and Nephites (Alma 4:6). In fact with the mention of “silks” in each of these scriptures, there is a possibility there was more than one type involved.   

1 comment:

  1. Learning about the different materials used to make "silk" was very instructive! Thanks for sharing.