The Nephite monetary system is described in Alma 11. A judge earned a senine of gold or a senum of silver, both of which were equal to a measure of barley or any other grain. Now either our judges today earn way more, relatively speaking, than their Nephite counterparts did, or grain has become far less expensive than it was in Nephite times. Let me explain.
A Federal District Court Judge makes $176,000 per year. Assuming a judge works 46 weeks a year (two weeks off for holidays and a month off for vacation and other work absences), that’s 230 days each year, or $765 a day. Based on current pricing at the Church’s Family Home Storage Center, a 25 pound bag of wheat sells for $11.45. Ignoring the fact that wheat prices have increased 80% in the last 12 months, a judge’s salary for a single day can buy over 1,600 pounds of wheat. That covers the Church’s recommended amount of grain storage for a year for four people. I find it unlikely that the Nephite “measure” of grain Alma describes would be closest to our ton (2000 lbs). I imagine a Nephite measure of wheat to be roughly equivalent to a bushel basket (60 pounds). It kind of makes wheat seem like a really good deal, or our legal system seem like a really bad one.
Eight years after detailing Nephite coinage, Alma was distraught by the apostate Zoramites. Concerned they might unite with the Lamanites, he planned a missionary expedition to reclaim his disaffected brethren and prevent a political union that could endanger his people the Nephites. Interestingly, Alma’s son Shiblon, who accompanied him on the trip, bears the same name as the Nephite silver coin worth half a judge’s daily pay. That seemed odd until I recalled the name of LDS Congressman Buck McKeon.
The Zoramite worship system is described in Alma 31. A single person went up to the stand and thanked the Lord for granting them the blessing of being members of the true church: “we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren…which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.” (v. 17) They repeatedly attributed holiness to the Lord while giving thanks for the privilege of being his holy and chosen people: “And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.” (v. 18) When Alma and his brethren “heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure” because “every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.” (v. 23-25)
I wonder if Alma would be “astonished beyond all measure” at our Fast and Testimony meetings. Is it possible he might observe that “after [we] had all offered up thanks after this manner, [we] returned to [our] homes, never speaking of [our] God again until [we] had assembled [ourselves] together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after [our] manner”? (v. 23) It seems our midweek conversations are full of church-related themes like Cougar football, how one’s employment is proceeding, which sister most recently got (or is going to get) plastic surgery, or what financial or health problems members of the ward are having (not really to help, more just to be aware–the Home Teachers or Bishop will reach out if they really need it). I think talking about other’s misfortunes becomes gossip when you don’t do anything to help.
Their vacuous meetings reinforced doctrinal basics–they prided themselves on not getting carried away with speculative topics like things to come–”thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away…to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.” (v. 22)
Donning one’s “Sunday best” to show proper respect for the gravity and tradition of their weekly church meeting led to some unfortunate behavior. Fortunately Alma was there to see through the ruse:
“Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.” (v. 28) That sounds a lot like Isaiah’s condemnation of the daughters of Zion in the last days.
Can weekly church meetings provide just enough religion to vain and worldly people to believe they really are holy? And once you believe you are God’s holy people, then anything you do becomes righteous (or so it seems). Good thing we have the record of their failure to help us avoid the same pitfalls.
“And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Nephi 19:23)