Nephite Money was Base 8 (and possibly Jaredite)

It appears that the number 8 was important to the Jaredites for some reason. This post is part of a small series where I talk about this interesting detail.

It looks like the Nephites used a base-8 monetary system. The smallest value was the leah. 8 leahs made 1 senum/senine/measure of grain. Their measure of grain was divisible into 8 equal parts. But it might not have stopped there.

Nephite Monetary System

Despite what the table says, I think the onti might have been worth 8 senums. Alma 11:13, after listing the values of the Nephite monetary denominations, says that “an onti was as great as them all.” Many interpret this to mean that the onti was the value of 1 senum + 1 amnor + 1 ezrom–the equivalent of 7 senums. But, as John W. Welch points out, “It is possible … that the onti also included the value of the three smaller measures as well, in which case the onti was worth seven and 7⁄8 senums, or 63 leahs” (1 leah + 1 shiblum + 1 shiblon + 1 senum + 1 amnor + 1 ezrom; see figure *). An onti being worth the same as all the moneys, even the smaller ones makes more sense to me; but what makes the most sense is that Alma 11:13 is being interpreted a wee bit too literally by scholars these days, and an onti actually equaled 64 leahs, or 8 senums. This would make an onti only ⅛ senum–or 1 leah–more than what John Welch suggests. Not a huge difference, and indeed would cover the “great as them all” criteria. If that’s the case, then the Nephite money looks like this:

  • 8 leahs = 1 senum
  • 8 shiblums = 1 amnor
  • 8 shiblons = 1 ezrom
  • 8 senums = 1 onti

Lots of eights. Everything can be divided into 8 parts. Everything is 8 of something.

Again, this shows the importance of the number 8 among the Book of Mormon peoples. Eight of one type of money facilitated the creation of a new type–a renewal of sorts. I’ve definitely heard in Church settings that 8 symbolized rebirth–probably because of 8 people being on Noah’s ark.

Now, I think that this monetary system, though mentioned in the records of the Nephites around 82 BC, has roots in Jaredite culture. Not only because we know that the Jaredites were the “fathers” of the later Nephites and Lamanites (see BOM title page), but also because a couple of Jaredite names show up in the money system. Shiblon/Shiblom was a Jaredite king (Ether 1:12, 11:4), and Esrom (ezrom) was the son of the Jaredite king Omer (Ether 8:4). Basing everything on their favorite number, 8, might have bled over into their math and money too. And then that math and money made its way into Nephite culture.

The base-8 numeral system is called octal. It’s interesting to note that the Wikipedia page for “Octal” includes this information about octal numeral systems among Native Americans:

By Native Americans

  • The Yuki language in California has an octal system because the speakers count using the spaces between their fingers rather than the fingers themselves.[1]
  • The Pamean languages in Mexico also have an octal system, because their speakers count on the knuckles of a closed fist.[2]

The Jaredites and Nephites lived in the Americas, so a connection with these people is totally possible.

And so again, I ask the question: Why were the Jaredites so fixated on the number 8? Any thoughts out there, internet?


Sources and Notes

John W. Welch’s ideas:

Pic of money table: https://byustudies.byu.edu/further-study-chart/110-king-mosiahs-monetary-system/ 

Base 8 math (octal), accessed 1/8/2022: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octal 

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