“Fine–twined Linen”

Alan C. Miner

We are told in Alma 1:29 that the Nephites produced "fine-twined linen" (Alma 1:29). According to an article by John Sorenson, linen is defined as a cloth, quite stiffish and hard-wearing, made of fibers from flax or hemp plants prepared by soaking and pounding. Although the flax plant was apparently not known in pre-Spanish America, several fabrics in Mesoamerica were made from vegetable fabrics that look and feel much like European linen. One was made from fibers (called henequen) of the leaf of the ixtle (maguey or agave plant), but fibers from the yucca and other plants gave similar results. Conquistador Bernal Diaz said of henequen garments that they were "like linen." Bark cloth, made by stripping bark from the fig tree and soaking and pounding it, was common in Mesoamerica and also has some of the characteristics of linen. [John L. Sorenson, "Possible 'Silk' and 'Linen' in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 162]


In Alma 1:29 "silk" is mentioned. According to an article by John Sorenson, dictionaries define silk as a "fine, lustrous fiber produced by the larvae of certain insects." It refers especially to the fiber from which an Asian moth, Bombyx mori, spins its cocoon, but also to cloth more generally "something silklike." Silk from cocoons gathered from the wild in Mexico and spun into expensive cloth at the time of the Spanish conquest provides the most literal parallel to Asiatic "silk."

Silklike fiber (kapok) from the pod of the Ceiba (or "silk-cotton") tree was gathered in Yucatan and spun; this seems to be what Landa referred to as "silk." Father Clavigero said of this kapok that it was "as soft and delicate, and perhaps more so, than silk." Furthermore, the silky fiber of the wild pineapple plant was prized in tropical America; it yielded a fiber, "finer and perhaps more durable than agave (henequen), derived from the pita floja ('silk-grass,' aecmea magdalenae)."

Moreover, a silklike fabric was made by the Aztecs from fine rabbit hair. But even cotton cloth was sometimes woven so fine that specimens excavated at Teotihuacan and dating to the fourth century A.D. have been characterized as "of irreproachable evenness, woven . . . exceedingly fine," and "of gossamer thinness." [John L. Sorenson, "Possible 'Silk' and 'Linen' in the Book of Mormon," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 162] [See the commentary on Alma 4:6]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary