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TitleSilk and Linen in the Book of Mormon
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsSorenson, John L.
Issue Number4
Date PublishedApril 1992

Excerpt from Sorenson’s An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon giving archaeological support for the mention of silk and linen in the Book of Mormon. Native American plants and fibers were used to make cloth similar to silk from the Far East and European linen.


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Silk and Linen in the Book of Mormon

Some people have wondered why the Book of Mormon mentions silk and linen (see Alma 1:29), since silkworms and linen as we know them were apparently not known in ancient America. The answer may be that even though the worm that eats mulberry leaves and produces silk in its cocoon seems to have been restricted to the Far East, several ancient American peoples had cloth as fine as and similar to silk.

At the time of the Spanish conquest, natives in Mexico would gather cocoons from a type of wild silkworm and spin the thread into expensive cloth. People in the Yucatan would also spin the silky floss from the pod of the ceiba tree (or silk-cotton tree) into a soft, delicate cloth called kapok. The silky fiber of the wild pineapple plant was also prized in tropical America, yielding a fine, durable cloth. The Aztecs made a silklike fabric using hair from the bellies of rabbits. Some cotton specimens excavated at Teotihuacan, dating to A.D. 400, have been described as even, very fine, and gossamer-thin.

As for linen, the flax plant from which the cloth is made was apparently not known in ancient America. However, several fabrics that look and feel like European linen were woven from native plants. The yucca plant and the leaves of the ixtle (agave plant) both yield fibers that make fine, linen-like cloth. A cloth made by stripping bark from the fig tree, soaking it, and pounding it also has some of the characteristics of linen.

John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., and Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985), pp. 232, 365; Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics: Scholarly Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Horizon Publishers, 1986), pp. 23, 27–28; “F.A.R.M.S. Update,” Nov. 1988.