The steel bow of Nephi and the sword of Laban
The Book of Mormon claims the existence of steel in or around Jerusalem before the invasion and captivity of Babylon.
Evidence of steel has been found in the Near East during the same time frame that is claimed by the Book of Mormon. This article addresses the following points:
Steel prior to the Babylon invasion (the steel bow of Nephi, and the steel sword of Laban)
Steel has been discovered in the Near East that dates to 2000 BC.
Earliest related discovery date: 1997
Steel in the Book of Mormon
Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon mention steel in relation to ancient Jerusalem.
According to the book of Nephi, which is the first book in the Book of Mormon, both Nephi and Laban had items that were made from steel. The related entries can be found at 1 Nephi 4:9:
"And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel."
and 1 Nephi 16:18:
"And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food."
This means that Nephi either brought this steel bow from Jerusalem or that he acquired it along the path that he had already traveled. Either way, the claim is made that there was steel in or around Jerusalem about 600 years before Christ.
Steel in the Bible
The Bible also references steel within this same time frame. We see this in 2 Samuel 22:35, which scholars believe was written between 630 BC and 540 BC. We also see it in Job 20:24, and while the date of the writing of Job is well debated, the latest time that most scholars place it is before 587 BC, just before the destruction of Jerusalem. Some place it prior to the time of Moses. We also find it in Psalms 18:34, which appears to be quoting from or being used to quote 2 Samuel 22. Either way, this means that the Bible claims that steel existed at least between 630 BC and 540 BC and possibly earlier.
How is steel made, and what is the difference between steel and iron
Understanding how steel is made is helpful here. Iron is the base for steel. The problem with Iron is that it is a softer metal that can corrode fairly easily. Steel however, is much more durable. Steel is created by infusing carbon into the Iron metal. This process does happen automatically to a small degree when forging iron using a carbon based fuel, like charcoal. Modern day steel has at least 0.2% carbon. Cast iron steel has much more, at a minimum of at least 2%. In ancient times, to really claim something as steel it needed to be more durable than its original iron counterpart.
There have been some apologists who have stated that any iron item found within the Arabian Peninsula could be counted as steel. The problem with this is that the Book of Mormon mentions iron and steel together in the same sentence. This means that the author was aware of a distinction between the two different metals. Both metals are used together in 2 Nephi 5:15:
"And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance."
The timing of this scripture is after Nephi and his family had arrived in the Western hemisphere. However, he clearly identified the sword of Laban and his bow as steel before he reached the Americas. If he did not learn of the difference between the two before now, he would have most likely referred to them as iron, as this would have been the more common metal. It would not make sense that someone would teach him the difference between steel and iron at this point, so he must have had this knowledge before he left Jerusalem.
An incredibly brief history of steel
While ancient steel is nowhere near as strong as our current day steel, the beginnings of steel started a long time ago. The oldest known steel was found in the area that is now modern day Turkey. It was dated to be from the 20th to the 18th century BC. Steel has been dated later in Africa and other areas of the ancient world.
There have been many discoveries of weapons and other metalwork from the Arabian Peninsula, and there have been a few apologists to quickly claim them as steel. However, as we go back to review the original scientific article, we find that the archeologists and scientists involved in the discovery are identifying the object as iron, and that it appears that the apologists are either mistaken, or attempting to make a decent stretch for the term steel. By now, you have probably noted that stretching for evidence is not ok with me. If I have to stretch for the evidence, then it's not evidence. While I may note such a minor possibility, I cannot use that in my judgment of its plausibility.
Real steel in the Near East
Between 1997 and 2004, archeologists from the Middle Eastern Culture Center unearthed 5 separate pieces of steel in the geographic area known as the Near East. This area includes Israel, Turkey, and parts of Iraq and Syria. The dig site is in modern day Kaman-Kalehöyük, Turkey. These items date as far back as 2000 BC. Four of them were worked to form specific shapes, and the fifth has been identified as slag.
Steel in Israel
In 1999, three bronze arrowheads were brought to light that had been discovered in Israel. These arrow heads had been engraved with an inscription that was "incised with a steel engraving tool." The original article actually emphasis the word 'steel.' These arrowheads date to 1000 BC.
What happened to all the metal in Jerusalem?
It turns out that finding ancient metals is actually a rather difficult task in Jerusalem. The problem is not that the materials didn't exist, but the problem is that the materials were made of metal, and therefore valuable. As armies invaded ancient Jerusalem, they would strip any metal object that they could find and send it back to their parent country, or melt the item down and forge it into something better suited for their army. You can see this in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 25:13.
Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged and attacked numerous times, and has exchanged hands several times. The fist destruction occurred just after the time period that we are examining in this claim. The majority of the metals that have been found have been preserved because they were hidden from the invading armies or they were insignificant at the time and then sealed up in one way or another to be discovered later.
|References according to the 1st edition Book of Mormon||Show|