Saturday, May 23, 2009

Myriads of Soldiers

Over at mormonheretic someone made a comment suggesting that numbers in the Book of Mormon could mean specific units instead of an exact count. I was somewhat surprised and skeptical of that notion....Until I was studying some Xenophon today.

Xenophon's book, The Anabasis, recounts the story of Ten Thousand Greek soldiers that were trapped deep in Persian territory and had to fight their way out. In that book, the Greek root of the word myriad actually refers to a Greek unit of ten thousand men. I only mention it because today we use myriad in an adverbial sense, such as "the myriad fish in the ocean". And it can also be used as a noun, as in the "myriads of soldiers". In both instances the original usage of myriad, meaning ten thousand is lost and replaced with an approximate use of the word.

Now I can see a case where the Book of Mormon uses a reformed Egyptian word that has colloquial meaning, but Joseph Smith translates the term literally into a number. It would be as though a modern translator took the opposite of what happened to myriad, they took a phrase that now means "many people" and literally translated it to ten thousand.

Thus there is one more nuance added to our understanding of numbers in the Book of Mormon. There is evidence from classical western sources that a specific term for a military unit can change meaning through time. I appreciate Firetag for raising the original question and I hope to see some of his research soon.


Mormon Heretic said...

Thanks for the shout-out. I do remember asking a seminary teacher why the number 40 was used so much. It rained 40 days and nights, the children of Israel wandered 40 years, etc. My teacher said the number 40 also had the symbolic definition of "trials".

Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Morgan. Although I don't dignify what I did to make the suggestion as research. I know what it takes in the way of "self-cross-examination" to get something ready for peer review, which, again, is why I want the specialists to get involved in such questions and welcome the purpose of this site.


Anonymous said...

John E. Clark,"Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief"

"The final battle at Cumorah involved staggering numbers of troops, including Nephite battle units of 10,000. Aztec documents describe armies of over 200,000 warriors divided into major divisions of 8,000 warriors plus 4,000 retainers each. One battle involved 700,000 warriors on one side.[30] The Aztec ciphers appear to be propagandistic exaggeration; I do not know whether this applies to Book of Mormon numbers or not."

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks P.A. That is a good article.

Anne Kammeyer said...

John Kammeyer says: I went through the Battle of Cumorah from a logistical perspective, and concluded it could not have involved millions of Nephites. Using Iron-Age European farming practices, 2 million Nephites would need something like 10,000 square miles to live on, under the best of circumstances. Given the available acreage at the Cerro el Vigis, 230,00 people is more realistic.