Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nephi's broken bow

Last Sunday I didn't go to church (which is pretty typical for me these days), so I missed my 12 year old son's first talk in Sacrament Meeting. While I now wonder if I should not have just gone to show my support for him on the one hand, on the other hand, I feel that I should also continue to make clear my objection to the things the church does and stands for (let alone to keep my sanity). I can do this in principle by not going to church unless I am specifically invited to come. And while it is hard to go when I am invited, I will go and put on a smile if I know it will mean something to someone I care about. Since nobody invited me this last Sunday, I didn't go. I guess I figure if it is important enough to want me to come and show my support, it is important enough to extend some sort of invitation to me. Of course, I am now wondering if I shouldn't just budge on that principle a little bit so I don't miss the little milestones in the lives of my family members. I don't know, I guess it is just something that I have to go on based on what I feel at the time...which may change at any time. Sometimes I am more firm in my adherence to principle and other times I am more lax and more interested in being involved if I feel that something is important to the ones I care about.

At any rate, placing all my issues aside, I now have heard praise and words of congratulations from some that were able to hear my son give his talk. Not from my wife or children so much (although I think my wife did say something briefly to me about it), but I heard it from an outspoken participant (whom I would consider a friend) of our basketball practice at the church on Tuesday night (my one area of continued church activity is religiously playing basketball every Tuesday night with my son). I heard from this individual that my son was articulate, announcing each word clearly, but that he spoke kind of fast. I also heard that my son's talk came across as well rehearsed and was entertaining at times and made a good point. This man was laughing with my son about having a broken bow (or not having a broken bow...I'm not sure). I kind of wish I were able to understand what the joke was about, but I am not really sure because I wasn't there. Regardless, I am very proud of my son and that he did a good job on his talk. I am sure he would get his ability to speak well from me and his mother. I am glad he seems to have this ability since having an ability to speak publicly (and not be too terribly afraid of it) is a pretty handy skill to have in life. I know I always enjoyed the chance to talk in church and think that these opportunities have definitely contributed to my lack of fear (and enjoyment) of public speaking now.

Of course, while I was glad to hear that this friend of mine thought that my son did a good job on his talk, it also got to a point where I was wondering if some of the kind words were not designed to invoke a sense of guilt in me for not being there to hear his talk. Then again, maybe this is just me over-thinking the matter. I don't really care what it was actually. The point I want to make here is that it is difficult to be in the position I am in. I don't need people trying to remind me of that...especially when they really don't have any idea what my issues are or what kinds of things have shaped my decision to not go to church each Sunday. I really wish people would attempt to find those kinds of things out before pursuing their own agenda of trying to make people feel guilty for not believing the same as they do. Again, I'm not sure that was my friend's intent, but it kind of came across that way after about the third time the subject was brought up in some variation while playing basketball with him. I guess I am glad my son's talk made such an impression on him that he felt the need to bring it up so much during basketball.

While I would really just love to sit down with my son and air all of this and talk about my thoughts surrounding the subject of his talk (I did briefly see the printed version of his talk, but I didn't get to read the whole thing because it didn't get saved on the computer), I have decided that this is not such a good idea. My reason for this is because I have learned that my son is a type of person that does not enjoy any potential conflict at all. He will work very hard to just avoid or prevent controversy or conflict so, to spare him the intense discomfort of attempting to point out my issues with the subject matter, I have decided to just leave it alone with him. I think my wife is likely to feel the same way as my son, so I just won't go there with her either. While this makes me kind of sad, it also makes me happy that I can be wise enough to place their needs (to have peace and avoid conflict) above my need to talk about things and resolve the controversy. To me resolving the controversy would mean getting to a place where a conclusion can reasonably be drawn to some degree of satisfaction based on logic and considering as much of the evidence as is currently available.

I guess that is where this blog can come in for me. Here I can attempt to outline the issues that I have with the subject matter. That way I can get it off my chest and not have to inconvenience my family with my controversial (even if they are my attempt to be as accurate as possible) views and questions.

So, from what I read of my son's talk, he indicated that his favorite story from the Book of Mormon was the experience of Nephi when he broke his steel bow while his family was wandering around in the wilderness. He indicated that he admired the faith of Nephi to pray and ask for guidance about what he should do without a bow to hunt for food with. That is about all I saw of my son's talk. Since I didn't see much more than that, I am not comfortable commenting on much more than that. When I saw this, my first question was; did steel even exist at that time (i.e. 600 B.C.E.)? Let alone "fine steel"? My next question was; what kind of bow would steel make anyway? And finally, I wondered whether or not this story would even make any sense based on the expected time-frame and region of the world Nephi and his family were traveling through at the time?

For my first question, I decided to do a search on the internet for the history of steel. From that I learned a few things;

1. I learned that remnants of steel artifacts may be hard to find because usually steel will be eaten through and consumed by oxidation in a relatively short period of time (historically speaking, steel artifacts may not survive more than a few hundred years at the most). In other words, the evidence of anciently created steel tools or bows or swords may not survive to be found unless there are special natural or artificial means of preservation extant. This fact could be invoked to explain why we don't find any evidence of mass battles on the American continent involving large amounts of steel weapons of war - because all the weapons have completely oxidized and turned to piles of rust. However, the more impressive evidence that does remain for the existence of such things is found in the process used to smelt and create the steel itself. If steel is made in a place or time, there will be easily encountered evidence of the foundry. In addition, large amounts of dross (the by-product/waste from the steel production) would also be found at the scene. These things are easy to find and have been well documented to establish pretty firm dates for when steel came on the scene in antiquity. The earliest steel artifact has been dated to 1800 B.C.E. from the area of western Turkey. However, it is assumed that the secrets for smelting effective steel weapons would have been a very closely guarded secret. This is because you wouldn't want to give your enemies the secrets to make the best weapons of war. For that reason it is assumed that steel weapons and tools would have been considered very valuable and very rare. We don't find much other evidence of steel production until after around 300 B.C.E. which came from India and China.

2. I also learned that steel is actually an alloy of iron and some other substance or metal (usually carbon) which combine to make a much stronger and useful tool or material. Since iron, by itself is brittle and not able to be used for things that don't easily break, the addition of other metals adds to the strength and usefulness of the item made from steel.

As far as evidence that steel may have existed around the time of Nephi, while it seems a bit unlikely that he actually had a steel bow, I guess it is not outside the realm of possibility. Of course, when taken with the knowledge that the Book of Mormon speaks of bringing this knowledge of steel making to the Americas, this idea just becomes another absurdity in the long line of anachronisms that can be found in the Book of Mormon.

My second question is where things get even more interesting. Who makes a working bow out of steel anyway? I know bows are usually thought of as being made of wood and, in our day, it is common to find them made of fiberglass, but steel, really? I would think steel would be a terrible material to make a bow out of. Especially if the steel could break. But let's look at the statement from the Book of Mormon; it says, "...I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel..." seems to indicate that this was not anything other than what it says.

I read an article on by common consent about this question. It basically talked about how "bow of steel" is mentioned in the Old Testament as well, and tries to decipher what this phrase might mean exactly, since I gather others have made the same observation (that steel may not make such a good material for a bow). While the possible interpretations of "bow of steel" are numerous for what is referred to in the bible (and based on the translation of the original words - that it might mean a wood bow with brass parts, or decorated with brass or copper ornamentation or that it meant shaped to look like a snake), the interpretation of the phrase in the Book of Mormon is not so easily explained. The best comment I saw in response to the article was made by commenter #3 (a random John) as follows:

"I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel

This strikes me as a little more problematic than "steel bow", "bronze bow", or "bow of steel". The emphasis seems to be more on how nice the steel was than on how nice the bow was. Nephi implies that it is different from the bows of his brothers, and also contrasts it with the wooden bow that he makes.

Saying that Joseph was so influenced by the KJV that he rendered the phrase in a misleading way seems to indicate that we should reword a certain article of faith to include the BOM under the 'translated correctly' disclaimer.

It also implies a method of translation that relies on a curious combination of the text on the plates, Joseph’s inspired understanding of that text, and Joseph’s understanding of the Hebrew that underlies the KJV of the OT.

I don’t claim to understand how the BOM was translated, but I really don’t understand the mechanism by which Joseph would elect to use a less accurate KJV rendering."

At any rate, considering all the other anachronisms easily found in the Book of Mormon, I personally would just chalk this phrase up to yet another goof on the part of Joseph Smith in authoring the Book of Mormon. And, while I could say this to my wife and son, it likely would not make much difference to them. I guess I am alone in my questions and study for the answers. Thus it is. Life will go on. Bows of fine steel will continue to be mindlessly referred to without any thought to the historical implications of such a statement. Promote the faith. Disregard the facts. Any questions? I didn't think so.


  1. Hey we don't know each other but I was just looking for a picture of Nephi Braking his bow and it came up with your blog. I am sorry that it is hard for you to go to church. Why do you think it is difficult for you to go? I remember when I was in high school I had the same view almost like going through the motions in sports is similar to how church is. Church seemed so loooonnnnnggggg and boring me to death but,one Sunday I felt inspired to share a comment in one of the classes. I testify that when i did share that comment I was feeled with such great joy. Each Sunday after that I would try to give a comment or two in church or if there were a lot of comments and I didn't get a chance, then I would bare testimony in my heart of what is being taught. Church went from being the most miserable 3 hours of my week to being a time that raised my spirits for the week to come. If you don't know what to comment on try to read any scripture or church material.
    If you have any questions my e-mail is

  2. There is so much uncertainty in the world, and as I look over to the side of you blog I see related posted attacking mormon views. Tons of questions without answers. I have felt that way before. I recently returned home from a conference that was all about how to be a disciple of Christ. Before this I was going through sort of an identity crisis. My life seemed to be in a slow downward spiral as doubts and disbelief filled the reservoirs that once housed faith. As I participated in this conference and listened to some inspired men, my perspective began to change. The disbelief melted away and I began to see the scriptures read through a different perspective. How could I not have seen them this way to begin with? I have read the Book of Mormon and Bible many times, I have taught the teachings and believed it, but how come in that moment I was able to see them differently? There is only one real reason that I have been able to conjure up for myself, it is something that I believed before but had forgotten. This is found in the introduction of the Book of Mormon: Concerning the record Joseph Smith said, "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, that by any other book." I truly felt nearer to God in that moment than I had in a very long time. I have come to know, through much study, fasting and prayer, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. Before I knew this because I knew the Book of Mormon was true, but now I know he is a Prophet independently. I also read the Book of Mormon on the daily. I have seen more miracles with that Book than I can ever deny in my life and in the lives of other people. I love Jesus Christ, and that's why I love that Book. Just thought I would share this with you, don't know if it will help at all and I have never commented on a blog before. But I hope you take what I say not as an attack but more to see that my testimony isn't based on facts because my faith isn't a knowledge. My faith is a strong belief that I have acquired. No one can take it from me, and I also can't give it to anyone, it's just something you have to find out for yourself. It take a ton of work but it's dang worth it.

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  4. Thanks for sharing Brayden! I'm glad you have found what you believe. You should practice being honest with yourself, however. In your comment you say you know certain things and then you say you believe them (or have faith in them). Honesty is the beginning of enlightenment. Don't say things because they are what you have heard others say, say what is accurate and honest. You either have faith OR knowledge, you can't have both regarding the same thing. Good luck in your endeavors.