CES Letter Mormon: Book of Mormon Evidence: Laban’s Steel Sword

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Have you ever wondered if Laban’s sword was really made of steel? So help me understand more about the sword that Nephi took from Laban, the same sword Nephi brought to the promised land. Yeah, the same sword that became an important artifact throughout Book of Mormon history. Yes, yes. What more did you do? Well, to start with, the idea that it’s made of steel. Did the Israelites even know how to make steel that many centuries ago? It was the Iron Age. I’ve heard some people call Laban’s sword an anachronism, something that seems out of time, right? Like finding a cell phone in an ancient pyramid. Does Laban’s sword really fit in Jerusalem around 600 BC? Well, let’s read the verse in question first. Nephi chapter 4, verse 9. “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.” Hmm, a sheath, a gold hilt, precious steel. Definitely not a peasant sword. Remember, Laban was a military commander, so his blade fits his status. Until fairly recently, little evidence existed of steel in the 6th century BC. However, scholars now believe that Near Eastern blacksmiths were using a process called carburization to make steel in Nephi’s day as well as hundreds of years before. One artifact is especially relevant: a steel sword discovered near Jericho, 12 miles east of Jerusalem, dating to the reign of King Josiah, a contemporary of Lehi. That looks pretty rusted. How do they even know that it’s steel? By metallurgical analysis. Israeli archaeologist Avraham Itan revealed that it was truly iron hardened into steel. So, blacksmiths of that era did have the technological know-how. They did. But hilts of pure gold? Latter-day Saints scholar John Tvedtnes published a study revealing that quite a few gold-hilted swords and daggers have been discovered since the Book of Mormon was published. And sheaths. Now, the text doesn’t say exactly what Laban’s sword looked like, but sheaths of gold and metal scabbards inlaid with gold have been found from ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia. In 2019, a Scythian dagger with a gold-plated hilt, cross guard, and sheath was unearthed in modern-day Ukraine, dating to the 6th century BC, the same time period as Nephi and Laban. It would seem so. So, steel blades, gold hilts, and sheaths do date to the right time, which means the idea of Laban having a steel sword in 600 BC isn’t an anachronism after all. That is what the evidence suggests. You decide. Very cool. With regard to the CES Letter Mormon, it’s worth noting that this historical context sheds light on some of the questions raised in the CES Letter.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

About Mormonism Explained

Mormonism Explained is a resource that was designed to provide objective and factual information about Mormonism, its history, doctrines, and policies. Our team of researchers consults experts and primary sources to present factual information on a variety of topics relevant to the Mormon Church.