Sunday, September 11, 2011

Zeezrom's Bribe

One of the events recounted in the Book of Mormon [1] concerns a visit by the prophet Alma to the city of Ammonihah. The people reject him, so he starts to leave, mourning for the wickedness of those people. But he is stopped by an angel and sent back to the city. This time he runs into a man named Amulek, who has also been visited by an angel. Amulek takes care of Alma for several days [2] and then they go out preaching. The people of Ammonihah are fairly unhappy to see that Alma is back and that he's brought company.

One of the men in the crowd, a lawyer named Zeezrom (pronounced zee-EHZ-rum; mouse over for IPA) tries to bribe Amulek:
And Zeezrom said unto him: Behold, here are six onties of silver, and all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being. (Alma 11:22 [3])
The specific amount that Zeezrom offers to Amulek, six onties of silver, is defined earlier in the chapter:
A senum of silver was equal to […] a measure [4] of barley, and also for a measure of every kind of grain.
And an amnor of silver was as great as two senums.
And an ezrom of silver was as great as four senums.
And an onti was as great as them all. (Alma 11:7, 11–13 [3])
I see two ways to interpret this [5], but for the purposes of this post, I will interpret this passage literally: an onti of silver is equal to seven senums of silver or seven measures of grain. A little earlier than this we are told that the daily wage of a judge was one senum of silver per day. The Nephites lived by the law of Moses, so we can assume that a week's wages were six senums, or almost one onti. That means that Zeezrom offered Amulek the equivalent of 7 weeks of a judge's pay.

To put that in perspective, the average annual salary of a district court judge in the state of Utah is about $175,000.[6] That works out to a weekly salary of $3,365. Thus a seven-week bribe, in modern terms, would be about $24,000—at least in Utah. Granted, that's more than my current annual salary. But when offered to someone to entice them to publicly denounce their Creator, it's a rather paltry sum.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending, at least for Zeezrom: he finally gets smart and starts believing in God.[7]


[1] For those who are unsure why Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe we have more Scripture which complements the Bible, like the Book of Mormon, I recommend you visit here and here, where you can learn more about LDS beliefs concerning sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you have more questions, ask and maybe I'll do a full post on the topic.

[2] I find it amusing that after the angel speaks to Alma, he "returned speedily to the land of Ammonihah" (Alma 8:18), but once he's there, he "tarrie[s] many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people." Perhaps he was instructing Amulek in the proper way to preach the Gospel.

[3] The italics do not appear in the original passage. I inserted them to indicate words which Joseph Smith transliterated because there is no equivalent word in English which he could use as a translation.

[4] We do not know the equivalent of a Nephite "measure" in any of the modern dry weight systems.

[5] The progession seems to be that each coin is worth twice the value of the next smallest coin. Thus the argument could be made that an onti is worth two ezroms (=8 senums), rather than one ezrom + one amnor + one senum (=seven senums).

[6] See I arrived at the average by guessing, based on the numbers I was seeing, not by actually calculating it.

[7] See Alma 14:6–7; 15:3–12.

Image attributions:

Silver tetradrachms are by Xuan Che, available at

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