The first nineteen verses of this chapter discuss the monetary system among the Nephites, including tons of made-up words and lots of unnecessary detail. This is yet another unimportant non-doctrinal section that no ancient prophet in his right mind would spend a second carving into gold plates to preserve for later generations.
Also it reads like a novel. Melville described different species of whales in great detail. Tolkien explored the histories of various races of Middle-Earth. Rowling set forth the rules of Quidditch. All their stories could have been told just fine without these things, but they wanted to flesh out the world in which their novels existed. They wanted to immerse the reader in it. They wanted the events to feel real and genuine and to have a solid basis. Describing the economy and currency of a society is not something you do if you're penning holy scripture—it's something you might do if you were trying to write a good story.
I also find it amusing that, in Alma 9:34, it says that "the words of Amulek are not all written, nevertheless a part of his words are written in this book." But a few pages later there's time to explain that a limnah of gold is equal to the sum of a shum of gold, a sheon of gold and a senine of gold. Does that mean that money is more important than the words of a missionary calling a city to repentance?
It's All About the Shiblons, Baby
The whole purpose of this rambling discourse on Nephite currency is apparently to illustrate that Zeezrom and his jurist friends are all greedy and that they like to instigate problems among the Nephites so that they can try more legal cases and get more senines and stuff.
Zeezrom offers Amulek (our current hero) six onties of silver to deny the existence of God. Because of the first half of the chapter, we can deduce that this is a decent sum of money. An onti is equal to seven senums of silver. A judge (which appears to be synonymous with "lawyer" for Ammonihah's purposes) earns one senum per work day. Zeezrom is pretty much offering forty-two days of earnings. Using a little math and the 2012 USA median income as a guideline, it's fair to say that Zeezrom is offering Amulek more than eight thousand dollars to deny God. And considering that Zeezrom is implied to be wealthy and accused of loving money more than God, it's probable that Zeezrom's income was significantly above the Nephite median. So pretty much, he offered Amulek a buttload of money to say that God did not exist.
Why didn't the Book of Mormon just say that? Why go through all the trouble to describe the monetary system when a simple "Zeezrom offered him a small fortune" would have sufficed? And why did we spend so much time learning about the different gold currencies and the measures of grain when all Zeezrom mentioned in his bribe was one single denomination of silver currency?
Zeezrom is a Bad Lawyer
In his attempts to twist Amulek's words, Zeezrom gives our new favorite missionary plentiful opportunities to bear his testimony. Look at the brilliant questions Zeezrom poses:
- Is there a God? (verse 26)
- Is there more than one God? (verse 28)
- How do you know? (verse 30)
- Will the Son of God come? (verse 32)
- Will the Son of God save his people in their sins? (verse 34)
- Is the Son of God the Eternal Father? (verse 38)
Then Zeezrom completely yields to Amulek, allowing him to go off into an uninterrupted (and, frankly, kind of tangential) sermon. And this is the guy that is supposed to be using his cunning and his trickery to make Amulek look bad? This is the guy that is such an "expert in the devices of the devil, that he might destroy that which is good"? Weak sauce.
God is Who on the What Now?
This sounds suspiciously like it's not current church doctrine (verses 38-39)
Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?
And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;The account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith History describes two beings appearing in the Sacred Grove--the Father and the Son. The Topical Guide entry on the Godhead begins with an explanation that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings. So how, exactly, is the Son of God the Eternal Father of heaven and earth?
This is not the first time that the Book of Mormon has been in blatant violation of approved church doctrine concerning the nature of the Godhead (see Mosiah 13, "Those Pesky Divine Identity Complications" or 2 Nephi 11, "Unlucky Verse Seven"). And I'm sure it won't be the last.
I've never typed "Zeezrom" that many times before in my entire life. The more I look at that word, the weirder it gets.