Steel Weapons in the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon frequently mentions steel weapon, such as the blade of Laban’s sword (1 Nephi 4:9) and Nephi’s bow of “fine steel” (1 Nephi 16:18), but such weapons were unknown at that time. Steel is an alloy that was not known to the ancients. One cannot simply “molten out of the hill, and [make] swords out of steel” (Ether 7:9), since steel is an alloy, not a naturally-occurring metal.
It is ironic that those who level this criticism at the Book of Mormon fail to take the King James Version of the Bible to task for its use of the term “steel” (2 Samuel 22:35; Job 20:24; Psalm 18:34; Jeremiah 15:12). The Hebrew word behind these passages is actually the term used for copper and its alloys, notably bronze.
The word “steel,” today used to refer to a specific range of iron alloys, did not always have that meaning. Steel as we know it had not yet been invented at the time the King James Bible was translated. In those days, “steel” referred to anything hard, which could apply to bronze or various other metals as readily as iron. Even in Joseph Smith’s day, one of the meanings given in Webster’s 1828 dictionary for “steel” was “extreme hardness,” while the verbal form means “to make hard.” The second entry under the noun “steel” says the word is used figuratively for “weapons; particularly of defensive weapons, swords, spears and the like.”
In Ether 7:9, we read that Shule “came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel,” but this was many centuries before Lehi’s arrival in the New World and such swords could, by our time, have corroded away in the alkaline soil of Mesoamerica. We know that the Olmecs (who, if they were not the Jaredites themselves, were at least contemporaries in Mesoamerica) had some objects of iron, including polished mirrors, but that later peoples had lost the technology necessary to employ this metal.
For a response to criticisms of Nephi’s steel bow, click here.
For a response to criticisms of Nephi’s use of Laban’s sword as a template for other swords, click here.