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The Nephite Decimal System & Mesoamerica


scooby

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The Book of Mormon at various times seems to indicate that the Nephites, or at least their authors, used a decimal number system (base-10). I understand that's consistent with ancient Hebrew and Egyptian practice (correct me if I'm wrong).

I really have no idea how reliable or consistent numerical standards can be expected to be throughout Nephite history and among all its peoples, but could we use this to narrow down the Mesoamerican matching game?

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The Book of Mormon at various times seems to indicate that the Nephites, or at least their authors, used a decimal number system (base-10). I understand that's consistent with ancient Hebrew and Egyptian practice (correct me if I'm wrong).

I'm interested in your basis for saying this.

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John Welch stated:

There are a series of weights and measures which are binary they are twice as large or twice as small as the next weight or measure sometimes people criticize book of Mormon saying that it talks about Nephite coins and coin a coinage wasn't invented until after Lehi left Jerusalem but in fact Chapter 11 in the book of Alma does not ever use the word coin is these are weights and measures that are being used as they were used in mass in ancient Israel we even find that Babylonian and Egyptian weights and measures were binary and very much the same way as we have in the weights and measures according to ancient patters biking was I the second as he creates the new reign of judges it is important and that legal reform to create a standard of weights and measures because it was typically the role of the King to establish how much a shuttle was commonly shekels or equal to a certain measure of grain and without a king you need to know how the legislation that would create a system of currency of weights and measures not coins but standardized monetary values so the economy can operate that is what we have in this weights and mesic measure section and chapter 11 is the big picture of the legal reform that explains why those made weights and measures were needed at that time and they conform with what one would've expected an ancient Israel

Also, in Echoes and Evidences of The Book of Mormon, there is a chapter in there which explains this issue.

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I'm interested in your basis for saying this.

There are a number of references to groups of thousands and tens of thousands. A few examples:

Mormon 6:14
"And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; . . ."

Alma 3:26
"And in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world"

There is also this use of hundred by Mormon:

W of M 1:2
"And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son"

Also, 4 NEPHI 1:6-14 contains a pattern in the years it mentions as having passed away:

41

42

49

51

52

59

71

72

79

This pattern is decadally significant. A 10-year calendrical period is a non-astronomical arbitrary length of time strongly suggestive of a decimal system.

And, of course, that the Hebrews and Egyptians used the decimal system would also suggest that the Nephites used it.

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There are a number of references to groups of thousands and tens of thousands.

I wondered about the use of the decimal system as well. I think it is clear that it is used in the Book of Mormon, but I can't tell if it is used because of the translation or because there really was a decimal system. There are other features that suggest a different type of system (such as the possible baktun prophecies). I suspect that just as there is some emphasis on 5 in a decimal system, there would be on 10 in a vigesimal system.

I did find some numbers that don't behave the way we construct our decimal numbers. There is nothing conclusive, but it leaves me with the problem of not being able to defend what type of system the Nephites used.

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This same relationship is also found in the Old Testement. For instance in I Samuel 29: 2,5

2 And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands: but David and his men passed on in the rereward with Achish.

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John Welch stated:

There are a series of weights and measures (of gold and silver) which are binary (binary? Look, just because a number *can* be represented in 0,1 pattern doesn't make their system a binary system -- that's just Welch imposing a numbering system on it in an attempt to legitimate it. I personally thought the numbering system was base-8 because this one is twice that one which is 4 times that one -- how does that make it "binary"?) they are twice as large or twice as small as the next weight (unless it's "the measure of them all" which doesn't follow that pattern and doesn't really describe how the value is built by arithmetic operators) (wait, now go back there. Binary? How do you know it wasn't base-4, base-8, base-16, base-32, base-64, and on and on?) or measure sometimes people criticize book of Mormon saying that it talks about Nephite coins and coin a coinage wasn't invented until after Lehi left Jerusalem but in fact Chapter 11 in the book of Alma does not ever use the word coin (the blame therefore falls on our modern prophets, seers and revelators for misleading us on that point as if they used coins -- why don't they correct it? They've corrected the "principle ancestors" thingie, the "white & delightsome" thingie, the atrocious grammar thingie and other thingies.....There's little reason for them to not make the change.) is these are weights and measures that are being used as they were used in mass in ancient Israel we even find that Babylonian and Egyptian weights and measures were binary and very much the same way as we have in the weights and measures (wait, wait, wait. Just because two, er, actually many societies developed a similar system of weights and measures does not mean that they stemmed from the same source. The concept of "zero" was invented in two separate parts of the world -- by the Indians and the Maya. Using Welch's logic then the Indians and Maya should be related.) according to ancient patters biking was I the second as he creates the new reign of judges it is important and that legal reform to create a standard of weights and measures because it was typically the role of the King to establish how much a shuttle was commonly shekels or equal to a certain measure of grain and without a king you need to know how the legislation that would create a system of currency of weights and measures not coins but standardized monetary values so the economy can operate (did anyone else get lost in that unpunctuated sentence?) that is what we have in this weights and mesic measure section and chapter 11 is the big picture of the legal reform that explains why those made weights and measures were needed at that time and they conform with what one would've expected an ancient Israel (wait, wait -- apparently it requires a king to establish a system of weights & measures -- can someone show us the empirical data from the New World of a Native American, or Nephite, King who established the system of weights & measures as described in Alma 11?)

Also, in Echoes and Evidences of The Book of Mormon, there is a chapter in there which explains this issue.

Other thoughts:

I. I've just discovered a pattern in literalistic Book of Mormon apologetics:

1. interpret a pattern, secular, religious or otherwise among the Nephite people as described in the Book of Mormon. Usually works best when you take something specific, make it less specific and try to fit that "kind" around another demoted kind.

2. impose that ad hoc pattern among the Israelites, even if a multitude of other unrelated societies also match that 'pattern'.

3. claim victory.

II. I'd be more impressed if the line of reasoning identified a pattern in the Book of Mormon AND among Pre-Colombian Americans, not Israelites, and did so without going from the specific to the general in order to assert the similarities . And I'd be especially impressed if that match doesn't match anywhere else in the world except among some Native American society that also matched up with the rest of the Book of Mormon -- foods, domesticated animals, government, writing systems, economy, war history, battle implements, etc.

III. Among ancient Precolombian societies, which societies have used a base-2-4-8-16-etc. numbering system, and especially which ones have the weights? Shouldn't we have a whole bunch of empirical evidence to support at least that? Shouldn't their naming of those weights show roots in the types of gold & silver as described in Alma 11?

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There are a number of references to groups of thousands and tens of thousands. A few examples:

....And, of course, that the Hebrews and Egyptians used the decimal system would also suggest that the Nephites used it.

Thank you for sharing.

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This same relationship is also found in the Old Testement. For instance in I Samuel 29: 2,5

2 And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands: but David and his men passed on in the rereward with Achish.

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John Welch stated:

There are a series of weights and measures which are binary they are twice as large or twice as small as the next weight or measure...

You can go to your cupboards and find the same.

Question #1: why?

Question #2: how?

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I always figured it was base 2 or 8. The verses say that one is double another, and the next double that, and that the last is the sum of them all.

001 = 1

010 = 2

100 = 4

111 = 7

That seems to support it being a binary number system, or base 2 system. (Could also be base 8 or 64, because it goes in reverse by half's.)

Of course, this isn't completely valid, because imagine if I described the American measurement system:

"And 1 cup is a measurement of a day's worth of flour; and 1 pint is twice 1 cup; and 1 quart is twice 1 pint."

The Nephites just had the American measurement system.. Since we used this system, does that make us binary? The big difference is that the Nephites had a measurement that was "the sum of them all", or worth 7 of the original - if you can find a culture that has that stand out, that would be pretty significant. It also would be worthwhile to do statistical analysis on all ancient cultures to see whether the conclusion is significant, because there are a lot of fluke coincidences across the world.

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Finding base ten in the Book of Mormon is insignificant for a couple of reasons.

1. Joseph Smith used base ten.

2. One of the reasons that base ten is common among civilizations is that a normal person has ten fingers (counting the thumbs as fingers).

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The Nephites just had the American measurement system.

;)

The big difference is that the Nephites had a measurement that was "the sum of them all", or worth 7 of the original - if you can find a culture that has that stand out,

One can...in America.

that would be pretty significant.

:P

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Finding base ten in the Book of Mormon is insignificant for a couple of reasons.

1. Joseph Smith used base ten.

2. One of the reasons that base ten is common among civilizations is that a normal person has ten fingers (counting the thumbs as fingers).

What!! You mean I'm not normal? Man, avoiding Inigo causes you to miss a lot.

Yours under the strange oaks,

Nathair /|\

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What!! You mean I'm not normal? Man, avoiding Inigo causes you to miss a lot.

Yours under the strange oaks,

Nathair /|\

I have a little trouble counting too. I was a councelor in the bishopric when I had an accident that left me short a finger. One little guy in the ward was fascinated and was overheard in the hall telling one of his little friends that Brother R hurt his hand and got a finger cut off so he(me) would only be able to count to nine now.

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...One of the reasons that base ten is common among civilizations is that a normal person has ten fingers (counting the thumbs as fingers).

Makes sense.

The meosamerican number system is based on 20 not on 10, which matched some of the BoM counting practices....

That must be for those who looked down at their sandals and counted toes too.

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Makes sense.

That must be for those who looked down at their sandals and counted toes too.

Oh noooo! Doing that I get base 23. Did everyone know this but me?

Yours under the aberrant oaks

Nathair /|\

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III. Among ancient Precolombian societies, which societies have used a base-2-4-8-16-etc. numbering system, and especially which ones have the weights? Shouldn't we have a whole bunch of empirical evidence to support at least that? Shouldn't their naming of those weights show roots in the types of gold & silver as described in Alma 11?

A friend of mine who is from Guatemala has a series of small measures still used in the native markets there which range in size from a small thimble to a few teaspoons in these exact "denominations", and he teaches lessons about how these fit the measurements in the BOM.

I can provide further references if you like.

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I now like Druid humor even more. :P

Two Druids walk into a bar....

No let's try that again.

Two Druids turn into trees, and one says to the other...

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Two Druids walk into a bar....

No let's try that again.

Two Druids turn into trees, and one says to the other...

Hey, don't skip the bar. Many of my brothers and sisters find transformations go a little better with a tankard of mead. And how many bards can play without a little o' John Barleycorn?

Yours under the mind-bending oaks,

Nathair /|\

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A friend of mine who is from Guatemala has a series of small measures still used in the native markets there which range in size from a small thimble to a few teaspoons in these exact "denominations", and he teaches lessons about how these fit the measurements in the BOM.

I can provide further references if you like.

Please do.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Other thoughts:

I. I've just discovered a pattern in literalistic Book of Mormon apologetics:

1. interpret a pattern, secular, religious or otherwise among the Nephite people as described in the Book of Mormon. Usually works best when you take something specific, make it less specific and try to fit that "kind" around another demoted kind.

2. impose that ad hoc pattern among the Israelites, even if a multitude of other unrelated societies also match that 'pattern'.

3. claim victory.

II. I'd be more impressed if the line of reasoning identified a pattern in the Book of Mormon AND among Pre-Colombian Americans, not Israelites, and did so without going from the specific to the general in order to assert the similarities . And I'd be especially impressed if that match doesn't match anywhere else in the world except among some Native American society that also matched up with the rest of the Book of Mormon -- foods, domesticated animals, government, writing systems, economy, war history, battle implements, etc.

III. Among ancient Precolombian societies, which societies have used a base-2-4-8-16-etc. numbering system, and especially which ones have the weights? Shouldn't we have a whole bunch of empirical evidence to support at least that? Shouldn't their naming of those weights show roots in the types of gold & silver as described in Alma 11?

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There are indeed some very impressive patterns-in-common between the Pre-Columbians and the Book of Mormon, while not including in that pattern Classical Israel (or the Bible, to put it less broadly). The notion that this can be restricted only to two cultures worldwide is unrealistic, however, since most experts now accept evidence of profound cultural influence from Asia directly to the Americas. For example, the mythical Hindu Kaliyuga cycle of time, which uses 360-day years, began Feb 18, 3102 B.C. (Julian), which suggests the repetitive Mesoamerican Long Count cycle which began on Aug 11, 3114 B.C. and also uses 360-day years (see David Kelley, "The World Ages in India and Mesoamerica," SEHA Newsletter, 137 [Mar 1975], 3; A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India [Grove Press, 1954], 320-321; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., Macropaedia, 8:929).

This is important only because the systematic dating in the Book of Mormon includes a prediction that Jesus will be born 600 years after Lehi & Co. leave Jerusalem in the 1st year of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah (I Nephi 1:4, 10:4, 19:8; Helaman 14:2, III Nephi superscription, 1:1, 2:8, etc.). Since scholars maintain that Jesus could not have been born after the death of Herod the Great in early 4 B.C., and that Zedekiah's first year ran from the Spring of 597 to 596 B.C., only the 360-day year of the Mesoamerican Long Count can shoe-horn the requisite 600 years in that interval. Likewise, the claim that Jesus died in his 34th year and 4th day (III Nephi 8:5) can only be accommodated by the same 360-day year count if we accept that he is born on Jewish New Year's Day (Rosh haShana) in the Autumn. The Book of Mormon thus successfully correlates three separate dates in real time.

Without, however, being able to demonstrate a similar pattern with Mesoamerican weights & measures, one can show some quite striking parallels between the Book of Mormon weights & measures (Alma 11:4-19) and features of the non-biblical (archeologically recovered) use of Egyptian hieratic numerals and signs on Israelite ostraca and weights. Where, for example, we see an ancient Egyptian decimal sequence of 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 with those numerals written on Israelite shekel weights, the Israelites redefined them as 4, 8, 16, 24, 32 -- the proportion or ratio remaining the same, but the hieratic numerals redefined. Thus, an Egyptian 10 qdt weight was redefined by the Israelites as an 8-shekel weight = 1 Egyptian diban. Bill Dever has said that the 8-shekel weight is the "basic module" here (Dever in P. Achtemeier, ed., Harper's Bible Dictionary [sBL/HarperSanFrancisco, 1985], 1128-1129), so that we would want to call attention to the possible correlation of that module to the Nephite basic unit of value, the gold senine or silver senum, which is exchangeable for 1 measure of grain. Why? Because 7 x 8 shekels = 56, the number of leahs in the gold limnah or silver onti, either of which is equivalent to the Israelite mina-weight. Reynolds & Sjodahl long ago suggested that the limnah is Hebrew and means "to-a-mina" or the like, and they appear to be correct in that etymology. Book of Mormon senine and senum likely come from ancient Egyptian sniw (snw, snny) which was the Egyptian word for the basic silver unit of value in their commodity pricing system (J. Janssen, Commodity Prices from the Ramessid Period [brill, 1975], 102-109). This is merely a sampling of the sort of discoveries which have revolutionized our knowledge of the Book of Mormon in recent decades, i.e., why it and the Brass Plates of Laban were written in Egyptian has always seemed so odd -- until we find powerful evidence of professional Hebrew scribes regularly using ancient Egyptian hieratic (see Stefan Wimmer, Palaestinisches Hieratisch [Harrassowitz, 2008]; Anson Rainey, "The Saga of Eliashib," Biblical Archaeology Review, 13/2 [Mar-Apr 1987]:37, 39; O. Goldwasser, "An Egyptian Scribe from Lachish and the Hieratic Tradition of the Hebrew Kingdoms," Tel Aviv, 18 [1991]:248-253). The Bible said nothing about such a phenomenon, and the first inkling of such a fact only became apparent long after the death of Joseph Smith.

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