Friday, April 27, 2007

Metal Swords and the Book of Mormon

In one of my recent posts, I talked about the use of metals mentioned in the Book of Mormon and the difficulty of finding any evidence to support this claim. I also talked about the role of Mormon apologists in attempting to explain many of the anomalies regarding the Book of Mormon and archaeology. Today I am going to speak specifically on metal swords in the Book of Mormon.

"Swords" found in Mesoamerica

Since not a single metal sword has been found anywhere in Mesoamerica, some LDS apologists point to a weapon used in that region called a macuahuitl as the most likely candidate for the Book of Mormon sword.

The macuahuitl, as seen to the left was a weapon used by the Aztecs that is made of wood with obsidian blades embedded into slots that were sharp enough to decapitate a man. Although some people call it a "wooden sword", most weapons experts consider the macuahuitl as a type of club rather than a sword. You can't stab or pierce anyone with it, and you would most likely use it to knock people out like a club. You can't even slash a person's throat like a metal blade, to slice through skin, you could only use it in a chopping motion like you would with an axe.

That's the closest thing to a Book of Mormon Sword?

If the macuahuitl is the "most likely candidate" for the Book of Mormon sword, then I would hate to see the runner-ups. The "most likely candidate" for the Book of Mormon sword doesn't even closely resemble the descriptions of swords in the Book of Mormon.

Swords in the Book of Mormon are Metal

Nephi describes Laban's sword in specific detail and indicates that he used it as a model to make many more swords. It describes a golden hilt and a steel blade as seen in an artist's rendering of Book of Mormon battles.

1 Nephi 4:9:"
And I beheld his(Laban's) sword...and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel."

2 Nephi 5:14-15:And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords...And I did teach my people in all manner of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel"

We are also to assume that you could slash someones throat with Laban's sword using one hand. Nephi describes killing Laban with his own sword.

1 Nephi 4:18:"I...took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword."

This story sounds a lot like David killing Goliath with his own sword after taking him down with his sling.

1 Sam 17:51: "David...took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith"

However, plagiarism and the Book of Mormon is an entirely different topic for another day.

There is no doubt that a macuahuitl could decapitate someones head, however, the manner in which one would do it doesn't resemble the description in the Book of Mormon. One would most likely have to chop it off like chopping wood, rather than holding their head up by their hair with one hand and slicing the head with the sword in the other hand as described in the Book of Mormon.

Sword piercings, points of swords, hilts and rust

Alma 44:12-13 "one of Moroni’s soldiers smote it even to the earth, and it broke by the hilt; and he also smote Zerahemnah that he took off his scalp and it fell to the earth.... the soldier ... who smote off the scalp of Zerahemnah, took up the scalp from off the ground by the hair, and laid it upon the point of his sword"

Alma 44:18 it describes Lamanites being "pierced and smitten" by Nephite swords. There is no doubt that swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon are referring to metal swords as we know it today.

Mosiah 8:11: "And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust"

The swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon also mention hilts, which is a guard grip. To the right is a picture of what a hilt looks like. A macuahuitl doesn't have a hilt. Why would you need one on a macuahuitl? A macuahuitl is used as a club or an axe with a chopping motion, where you have no need of a hilt. However, metal swords have a hilt to protect from the skimming of a metal blade when fencing.

The Jaradites mention metal swords

The Jaradites were a civilization that lived in Book of Mormon lands a few thousand years before the Lamanites and Nephites. Here it is in black and white it says they were armed with swords of steel

Ether7:9:"Wherefore, he came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for those whom he had drawn away with him; and after he had armed them with swords he returned to the city Nehor"

How many swords were there?

There were enough swords lying around to kill at least 2 million people.

Either 15:2: "He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people"

LDS Apologists argue:

  • Just because no metal swords have been found in Mesoamerica doesn't mean they didn't exist
  • Rust in the Book of Mormon might not mean rust, it could just be a term used for 'decay'
  • Although Nephi says he made "Many swords" after the manner of Laban, it doesn't say "all" swords were made this way. They argue that 'many swords' at the time could have been a small handful, then years later, thousands of wooden swords were made.
  • Some of the swords in the Book of Mormon might be wooden because it mentions swords being "stained with blood" Alma 24:12-15
  • A 'Hilt' in the Book of Mormon might just mean the 'handle'
  • The number of people mentioned in the Book of Mormon might be greatly exaggerated, it is possible that there were only thousands of people killed by metal swords and not millions as the Book of Mormon says.
You can see my problem with these explanations. They either have to distort definitions, or contradict the Book of Mormon, particularly when it comes to defending the veracity of the Book of Mormon by saying it is incorrect. To say that the Book of Mormon is incorrect in the number of people killed by metal swords in an effort to prove that it is possible that the event happened means you have to discredit the Book of Mormon one way or another, and that is the paradox that is created.

Skeptical Mormon


Andrew said...

I appreciate it's a slow path to leave a religion once you have been indoctrinated into it, but you are doing well, "exceedingly".

I enjoyed this post on metal swords, it always struck me as absurd.

Anonymous said...

Laban was killed in Egypt, not in the Americas.And, yes, they had swards then. Did the have them in the Americas? On 2/3/08 Science Daily announced the first find of an Iron mine dating 2000 years ago in Nasca,Peru. By the way, the "hilt" of a sward is where the blade meets the handle. Also check out Scientific America on hardend copper and brass artifacts and tools from the same time period.

Anonymous said...

Just a general comment: I don't understand how people can be "skeptical" of the Book of Mormon record, but then accept without question the "findings" of scientists, etc.

Scientific "truth" is found and then superseded and discarded all the time. Just a hundred years ago, the physics of the time still believed in "ether." The whole "global warming" mess is being "proved" and "disproved" constantly.

By all means, be skeptical, but at least be consistent.

Zelph said...

That is a valid point, and in my personal experience, I am very skeptical at scientific research.

I think we SHOULD be skeptical and question everything.

I do not think there is such a thing as scientific "truth", I do not believe that science ever claims to answer "truths". There is only scientific "facts" and science is a process to interpret the facts and our understanding of science is always changing as more and more facts are discovered.

I appreciate your comment and I agree that one should be just as skeptical at science.

Regarding metal swords, I am not saying that there was never any pre-columbian metal swords in the Americas, I am simply saying that there is no evidence or proof of this outside of the Book of Mormon text.

Anonymous said...

Claiming that the BOM needs to be 'proven' correct in order for people's belief in it is a fallacy.

But to address your arguments about metal swords...First, as mentioned, Laban wasn't killed in America...or Egypt for that matter...that person was wrong as well. he was killed in Jerusalem ca 600 BC...a time when iron swords were in fact in limited use. If ANY hardening method was used on Laban's sword, it would fit the definition of steel.

Clearly some type of steel was in use by the Jaredites, and was perhaps less common among the Nephites. (I don't buy the 'Nephi made wooden swords using a steel sword as a pattern' BS either)I do find it plausible that the technology was lost in cultural degeneration. Southeatsern Mexico/Guatemala is not the best climate for the preservation of oxidizing artifacts either.

Also, the macahuitl or its Tlaxcaltec, Toltec, Mayan, etc. equivalent was in use throughout Mesoamerica in various forms and was by no means limited to the Aztec Empire. Some examples did in fact include triangular blades inset into their tips (similar to the tepoztopilli spear)...hence the 'point' of a sword.

As for hilts, indeed, you misdefine the term. The hilt does not exclusively refer to the quillons of a crossguard. The same Wiki article you got your pic from states, "The guard may contain a crossguard or quillons."

I don't agree with all the stuff that comes out of FARMS, etc either...but the shortcomings of an apologetic institution do not disprove the book.

Zelph said...


I do not believe that I ever made the claim that the veracity of the BOM needs to be proven in order for people to believe in it, or for people to believe that it is true.

However, I am making the claim that there is no evidence to support it.

I am also making the claim that I no longer see good feelings as sufficient evidence of its veracity, but that is a personal choice.

However, I am also making the claim that lack of evidence doesn't 'prove' that the BoM is false, because it is impossible to prove a negative. I always use the example that it would be impossible for you to prove to me that Santa Claus never existed.

It is also easy to get caught up in semantics, but I am convinced that it is abundantly clear that the text in the BoM is referring to metal swords.

Thank you for your comments and you have brought some interesting points.

Anonymous said...

"I am not saying that there was never any pre-columbian metal swords in the Americas, I am simply saying that there is no evidence or proof of this outside of the Book of Mormon text."

By extension, your claim is that there is no evidence (evidence = proof) that metal swords, existed in pre-Columbian America, and that this lack of proof is one of many reasons to doubt the voracity of the BOM. Therefore, belief requires proof ("evidence").

Also, if you were very far into the Church, I think you know that what you have felt in the past constitutes a bit more than 'good feelings.' I realize that at this point, trying to convince you that you've made a wrong choice would just be insulting. That is not my intention. I just think you should be honest with yourself. I have moments of doubt as well...but there have been spiritual experiences that are undeniable, even if I try to explain them away. ..and believe me, I have a very critical/analytical mind.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but looking for physical evidence as a prerequisite for faith seems oxymoronic.

Zelph said...


Looks like I am not the only night owl around here.

I liked your response, and yes, the veracity of the BoM requires proof, or evidence for ME, but that doesn't mean that I am saying it is required for everyone.

I got pretty far into the church. I was raised in the church, went on a mission and got married in the temple.

What I have felt are feelings, which are completely subjective. Does that mean feelings are less real than physical evidence? No, feelings are very real, but I believe that spiritual experiences are just emotional feelings, which do not prove that something is true.

One can have a very spiritual experience seeing a fictional but spiritual movie, like Testaments, but that doesn't make it a true story.

I have spoken with members of the FLDS church. They have born testimony to me that they have prayed to the same Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ and have felt the Holy Ghost testify to them that Warren Jeffs is the true prophet on earth today. One could say that what they felt was not the "real spirit" but how do you know? That is the point, you don't. You don't know what they feel, or felt, because as I said, the spirit is 100% personal and completely subjective to the individual. Muslims have the same conviction of the Koran.

Looking for physical evidence as a prerequisite for faith does seem oxymoronic, I agree with you.

However, looking for spiritual confirmation to know if something is historically accurate sounds just as oxymoronic. That is the point I am trying to make, it should go both ways.

The Book of Mormon is supposed to be a spiritual guide, but it also makes the claim that it is a physical history.

If someone feels a spiritual connection with the BoM, I can't argue with that.

However, if the church makes a claim that the BoM is a literal history, I CAN challenge that and ask for physical evidence, since it is a physical claim.

Anonymous said...

I like your thoughtful and respectful responses as well.

Of course you can expect evidence to support historical claims. But I don't think you can logically compartmentalize historical vs. spiritual claims, as there really is no such dichotomy...IF you hold spiritual beliefs at all that is.

In other words, if you believe there is a God and He/She/It created the world/universe, etc., that is a claim to both a physical and a spiritual reality...there is no separation of the two.

If you require physical proof of God's existence, you have to be an apologist: "God doesn't reveal himself because he requires us to have faith"...or "mortals cannot withstand His presence"....or "He allows us to do his work on Earth so we can learn." (etc. etc. etc.) People claim that the majesty and apparent order of the Earth and universe are proof there is a God, and yet there are other plausible answers.

In other words, it doesn't "go both ways." The very nature of faith transcends physical evidence. All faith in spiritual matters incorporates faith in the inseparability of spiritual and physical reality.

Zelph said...

Those are some good points and I agree with a lot of what you are saying. The truth of the matter is this whole ordeal has made me question Jesus, or even the existence of God.

Before, I knew God was real because we had the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Now, I am not sure if the Book of Mormon is real, so it snaps back the other way.

Growing up a member of the church, I was told to read the BoM and pray about it, then I would know it was true. However, sometime when I became around 25 years old, my brain started thinking more rationally and logically. What it comes down to for me is what is more reasonable.

Is it possible that the Book of Mormon is a true story? Absolutely. How could anybody say that anything is impossible? Is it very likely that the Book of Mormon is a historically accurate book? I don't think so. As one looks at the evidence, there are other explanations that are much more reasonable, and that is the point where I stopped believing, when I started asking myself what is more reasonable instead of what is possible.

That is the difference that happened in my life. The difference between asking myself what is possible and what is more reasonable.

jenny said...

I just heard about your sight today and I was so glad to know of it. I am a member of the LDS church, non-polygamist of course. I haven't read much of your info but I would like to ask you if you have found any other religion that makes better sense, even though you cannot find some of the answers about the church that you seek. I have not always been active but have always believed that the church has got to be Christ's truely restored church. We know the Catholics are very different than almost everything we read about in the KJ bible, so who do you think is correct?

Brother Zelph said...


Thank you for your comments and I look forward to hearing more on your point of view. I am currently skeptical of all religions and unsure if the Bible is true. I haven't found any other church that makes any more sense to me, as they all have similar criticisms.

Shaune said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shaune said...

I came across a very interesting quote by Hugh Nibley. He is a very knowledgeable man and yet this quote on "proving" the gospel is very profound: You'll never prove the gospel. You'll never prove the Book of Mormon or the Bible or anything else. Remember, people have been working on the Bible now for hundreds of years, and do people believe it? When is a thing proven in science or anywhere else? When you have had enough experience, enough observation, enough thinking, enough testing, enough personal impressions to convince you that it's so. That not convince another scientist at all. Equally eminent men may have the same evidence in front of them, and when is it proven to one? When he believes it's so. When is the gospel proven to you or anyone else? At the point at which you personally are convinced.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Bible, you may want to read the book by R.D. Gold called "Bondage of Mind" "how old testament fundamentalism shackles the mind and enslaves the spirit" "Toward a better understanding of the Religious experience" published by Aldus Books 2008. Since the B of M is based on the Bible, and the P of Great Price as well, you may find it interesting. My view is that the Church needs to come out and help the rational thinkers come to terms with scientific realities. We are spiritual beings and we need religion but we also need religion that incorporates truth, and the truth is coming to light. Scientists postulate that the Torah the basis of the the Christian Bible didn't come to exist until 458 BC. I think your view that the B of M and the Bible were written to create a religion is correct, and as far as them being very poor historical records, that is correct as well. We have to understand that we can have spiritual experiences and guidance from these books without having them be perfect on the historical details. The B of M even has that disclaimer in it saying that other plates have the historical record so we need to take that at face value. Good luck on your search, I am with you, and feel the same way.

JR said...

Are the Mormon apologists defense attorneys, desperately trying to create a shadow of a doubt? If so, the hangman would surely be a busy fellow. I've never heard such desperate stretches of imagination, trying to hold on to a completely false tale.

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog man, keep in mind that we're told by the writers of the BoM that what were getting is the spiritual stuff of the Nephite History -so we can come unto Christ. Like the poster above me said there are many records which contain the records of the kings and their wars etc. I'm sure we'll find much more historical "fact" in those other records when the time comes for us to have them.

Anonymous said...

g aside metal or not metal as an arguement, here are some facts on Central and North American, Pre-Columbian weapons.
The Macuahuitl was plenty sharp enough to cleve a man in two, as was written about in several sources, but the Southeastern Tribes, trading partners of the Mayans, also used flint maces, and drawings of enemy heads being held by the hair in one hand with the flint mace in the other pretty much shows that action. Also, flint sword were found all over the place. Anthropologists call them all ceremonial, but again, those shell gorgets show them being used as weapons. And those tips look sharp.

JR said...

In reference to the poster dealing with various weapons in the Americas at the alleged time of the BoM.

The "most correct" book on earth did not refer to flint swords or obsidian edged clubs. The word used was "steel"
Time to revise the BoM again, to better fit history.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm so late to this party, but I only happened upon it by accident.

As for the 'skeptical', have a look at that 'club'. Ever seen anything quite like it anywhere else? It's almost as if they had seen real swords, recognized their superiority, and were trying to mimic them. Sort of like Egyptian and Asian languages attempted to mimic Akkadian.

Then have a look at the Mayan Calendar Stone. See that hollow-ground, double-edge 'sword proceding forth from His mouth'? (... to cut asunder the joints of the wicked) (See: Mayan Moon Goddess Stone)

Clearly, whoever carved that stone knew what a sword was.

And, by the way, the primary purpose of a sword's hilt is to keep the blade out of your hand.

JR said...

And we have all seen pictures of dragons but does that verify their existence?
Row all you want. It won't keep the ship from sinking.

Anonymous said...

I asked a young missionary about the great civilizations which were supposed to have existed in the Americas and he was more than happy to state that they were the Aztec, Inca, and Maya. Being an archeaologist I had to ask how he justified the practice of human sacrifice and documented evidence of cannibalism. I also asked about the steel swords and he told me that They would have decayed to dust over time. This is the question I pose: how is it that Iron artifacts have been found dating back well before the time of Christ in Asia and Asia minor where very similar tropical conditions exist, yet they decay in less than 2000 years in the Americas. Also why is there no evidence of the societies described in the book. The surviving Mayan Codeces show absolutely nothing that collaborates the stories of the Book of Mormon and oral tradition does exist within the surviving Inacns and Mayans. Also how do you disprove that the aboriginal people of meso-America were polytheistic when there is physical evidence of their belief in many Gods?

JR said...

They will never find the remnants of pre-Columbian steel swords in North America with the possible exception of around L'Anse aux Meadows in Nfld Canada, the site of a Viking settlement. Of course then the Viking will have to become the principle ancestors of native North Americans. Time to revise the BoM again.

In the mean time I am going to start searching for artefactual remnants of the Easter Bunny possibly with calcified chocolate eggs.