New ideas keep cropping up. Here are a few of the more striking points that researchers have recently noticed.
Alan Goff has submitted a paper suggesting that the ancient Near Eastern practice of "breaking the bow" may shed light on the account of Nephi breaking his bow in 1 Ne 16. An article in the Jewish Quarterly Review 69 (1978) pp. 82-88, demonstrates that symbolic meaning was attached to the breaking of a bow. Kings would break the bows of disobedient vassals, and in Psalms God is asked to break the bows of the wicked. The bow was a symbol of power and leadership.
Nephi's report of his broken bow need not be read symbolically, but his brothers may have seen it that way in light of their ancient Near Eastern backgrounds. It was immediately after Nephi made his new bow and thus had the only bow in camp that his brothers complained that Nephi had "taken it upon him to be our ruler." 1 Ne 16:36.
Another observation bears out an odd but ancient practice reflected in Alma 17:39 where Ammon retumed to King Lamoni "bearing the arms which had been smitten off . . . of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done."
The practice of cutting off the arms of enemies, specifically as a testimony of the conquest of victims, is attested in Yigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, Vol. 2 (New York: McGraw Hill, 1963), p. 399 The extreme left of band 4 of the Gates of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.) shows the Assyrian troops cutting off the head, feet and hands of vanquished enemies. "In other reliefs, the artists of the Assyrian kings depict the military scribes recording the number of enemy dead in accordance with the number of severed heads, hands and feet which soldiers hold up before them."
Christopher Munson has conducted further research into the metal alloys known and used in the Near East at or before the time of Lehi. There are several interesting instances of steel.
A dagger with a gold hilt found in Tutankhamen's tomb is reminiscent of Nephi's description of the sword of Laban. "The haft of the dagger is of granulated gold, embellished at intervals with collars of Cloisonne work of colored rock crystal, but the astonishing and unique feature of this beautiful weapon is that the blade is of iron still bright and resembing steel."
A brittle, carbonized iron called Martensite was also commonly produced. Nephi's steel bow that broke may have been made of this alloy.
Regarding brass (an alloy of copper and zinc), Munson points out that bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) frequently contained small amounts of zinc as well. Although high quality brass contains a high percentage of zinc, lesser amounts of zinc would produce brass-like alloys which would be soft enough to inscribe - but more tarnish-resistance than common bronze. Lehi was impressed that the Plates of Brass would not "be dimmed any more by time." 1 Ne 5:19.