Question: Are all swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon made of metal?

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Question: Are all swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon made of metal?

The Book of Mormon does indicate that at least some swords were made of metal

The Book of Mormon does indicate that at least some swords were made of metal, specifically, "steel." Some Jaredites are described with steel weapons (see Ether 7:9), and Mosiah 8:11 mentions Limhi's explorers finding the remains of Jaredite battles with blades that have rusted, suggesting that they were metallic.

Nephi1 also acquired an Old World steel sword from Laban (1 Nephi 4:9).

Critics make the unwarranted assumption that because some weapons—generally used by elite leaders—are described as being made of metal, we must therefore conclude that all Book of Mormon swords were made of metal.

In fact, what the Book of Mormon suggests is that some of the elite among the Jaredites and the Nephites had metal swords at certain times, but most swords and armor were not made of metal. Steel swords were exceptional and rare (and, because they were unusual, such weapons were mentioned specifically by the Book of Mormon authors).

Jaredite swords: "the blades thereof were cankered with rust"

The earliest reference to steel swords in the Book of Mormon is in a passage recounting the notable deeds of Prince Shule. Shule is described as "mighty in judgment" (Ether 7:8). We are told, "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, and gave battle unto his brother Corihor, by which means he obtained the kingdom" (Ether 7:9). Note here that Shule appears to be the one with the knowledge and skill to do this. "He did molten," he "made swords out of steel," "he . . . armed them." Did he pass this remarkable skill on to others? The passage does not say. It is interesting, however, that the next generation is nearly wiped out (Ether 9:12) and that there is no further mention of steel in the Book of Ether following this episode. Is this an indication that steel technology among the Jaredites was subsequently lost? In periods of social anarchy, valuable possessions tend to be stolen and lost or destroyed. They couldn't keep them (Ether 14:1; Helaman 13:34).

The other passage bearing on the question of Jaredite swords is the one describing King Limhi's search party. Although, they did not find the land of Zarahemla, the search party found ruins of buildings and bones of the Jaredites along with the 24 gold plates of Ether. "And also they have brought breastplates, which are large and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound. And again they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust" (Mosiah 8:10-11). We are not told if the blades were of steel or some other metal which can rust. The search party brought back the plates and the breastplates and the rusted sword blades "for a testimony that the things that they had said are true" (Mosiah 8:9). The fact that they brought the breastplates and rusted sword blades back to Limhi suggests that metal blades and breastplates of copper were rare or unusual.

Nephi, writing decades after these events, still considered Laban's steel blade to be "most precious"

After separating from the Lamanites, Nephi states, "And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us" (2 Nephi 5:15). Nephi also indicates that he taught his people various skills which included, among other things, working in various metals and some form of steel working (2 Nephi 5:15). One way to read this is that Nephi made other steel swords.

It should be remembered, however, that steel working is a difficult and multifaceted process. Nephi's knowledge of steel may have meant he was skilled enough to make long steel sword blades, or it could simply refer to steel ornamentation. It is interesting to note that Nephi, writing decades after these events, still considered Laban's steel blade to be "most precious" (1 Nephi 4:9). What made Laban's blade "most precious" decades after Nephi made swords for his people? Is this an indication that Nephi's skills with steel, whatever they consisted of fell short of making long steel blades?

Another way to read this is that Nephi made swords after the general pattern of Laban's sword—that is, as a straight shaft with sharp blades along both edges, rather than a one-sided sickle sword which was also common in the ancient near East.[1]

As William J. Hamblin observed:

The minimalist and tightest reading of this evidence is that Nephi had a steel weapon from the Near East. He attempted to imitate this weapon-whether in function, form, or material is unclear. His descendants apparently abandoned this technology by no later than 400 B.C. Based on a careful reading of the text of the Book of Mormon, there are no grounds for claiming-as anti-Mormons repeatedly do-that the Book of Mormon describes a massive steel industry with thousands of soldiers carrying steel swords in the New World.[2]

Notes

  1. Yigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands 1:10—11.
  2. William J. Hamblin, "Steel in the Book of Mormon," FairMormon link