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Kosher Nephites & protein sources


Sandy Petersen

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I have been reading Brant Gardner's excellent commentary on the Book of Mormon (my wife got it for me for our anniversary; far superior to the 31 ounces of chocolate I gave her), and I started thinking about the Nephites living the Law of Moses in the New World.

Brant mentions the Meso-American hairless edible dogs as a possible Nephite foodstuff. He also comments on the fact the the Book of Mormon refers to horses as a food animal. It occurs to me that dogmeat and horsemeat are plainly violations of the Levitical law, at least as in the Torah we have today. So then I began wondering what foods WOULD the Nephites have been able to eat, if they followed strict Deuteronomist food laws.

As far as mammals go, Central America has hares, rabbits, pacas, agoutis, peccaries, alligators, tapirs, monkeys, deer in presumably plentiful numbers in Mayan times. Of these, only deer would be considered "clean" by a strict rabbi today. Did the Nephites basically go without mammal protein, except for deer meat? Or did they have a dispensation of different dietary laws? The Levitical law is clearly designed for the eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps the Nephites needed different rules and definitions for their completely different ecology?

On the other hand, Meso-americans clearly had a number of domesticated, or at least tamed, birds. Sorensen lists Muscovy and Tinamou ducks, plus quail, doves, partridges, parrots and even spoonbills. Maybe these birds are why the Book of Mormon so often refers to "flocks" instead of "herds" and even uses the weirdo phrasing "flocks of herds".

Water animals are another potential protein source. Though alligators, turtles, and snakes are all edible, presumably the Nephites would only eat fish (and not even catfish, at that).

Anyway I was pondering this and thought I'd see if wiser minds had thoughts on the topic.

Oh yes, another question for meso-american experts - what did the ancient Americans use for fats? Was there some kind of grain or fruit they could press oil from? It seems to me that deer fat wouldn't be that plentiful, nor would it keep, and they didn't have olives. Could ancient people press corn oil? Did they just never fry food?

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Thank you for the kind words, by the way.

I don't know how the dietary laws would have been interpreted in the New World. The best explanation I have seen for the Old World is that they prohibited animals "out of category." That may have been reformulated in the New World. There is no evidence at all in the Book of Mormon, so we are guessing (with even less evidence than I might usually guess!).

Most Mesoamericans did not eat much meat, if any. That was an elite food - or perhaps relatively rare. Their diet consisted of the triumvirate of bean, corn, and squash, from which they received a whole protein (combining the beans and corn). To my knowledge they didn't extract corn oil, but used the corn in every way they could imagine. They considered (and continue to consider) corn as the stuff of life itself. If I remember from having some Mexicans prepare tortillas for me, I don't think they used any oil on the comal - and the tortillas cooked quite well. I don't think that they fried things, but received their fats from the corn.

I confess that I haven't studied up on that aspect of Mesoamerica very well.

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Considering that the Nephites did not have Levites, they would have had to have adapted the Mosiac law considerably.

This assumes, of course, that the Nephites had the same Torah that we do, which I'm not convinced of. Possibly their Mosiac law did not include the extensive dietary restrictions that have been passed down to us.

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I think Grant is right. Even in ancient Israel meat was not a regular item, though with the extensive law of sacrifices they probably ate more than their neighbours. Lentils and fava beans were the main sources of protein.

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