Monday, April 15, 2013

Did the Nephites Build out of Stone? Part V

In the first four of these posts we have discussed the facts and scriptures surrounding the Nephite building materials. In the last post we have started answering the specific statements about not using stone and clarifying the point.
Comment #10: “Their [Nephite] preference for wood is stated or inferred a number of times by the various historians.”
Response: Historians are never the authority over scripture. The scriptures related on this matter are not supportive of choosing wood over stone, or any other material, but in recognizing that wood was (and is today) a very important building material and, in its absence, other sources have to be sought.
Comment #11: “About 570 B.C. Nephi tells us “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (2 Nephi 5:15).  He mentions wood and metals, but stone is conspicuously absent from the list.”
Stone is not conspicuously absent from these ancient Jewish houses and buildings in and around Jerusalem. Stone was plentiful, as was wood, and both were used in building homes, basements, walkways, alleys, streets, palaces, temples, synagogues, and other buildings in the last millennium B.C.
Response: Cement and ziff are also conspicuously absent. So are nails, or its equivalent, scales, levels, chisels, hammers, and all the other tools Nephi had learned to use under the tutelage of the Lord (1 Nephi 18:1-3). And if one is to look at the list by importance, then one can easily see that wood is the simplest material on the list to work with, going up to the more difficult items of gold, silver and precious ores. Nephi did not tell us which type of bellows he built, nor which ores the Lord showed him to find, or what the curious manner he worked with the wood in building his ship. Nor does he tell us the names of his two sisters, nor when they were born, or who Jacob and Joseph and his two sisters married, nor a thousand other things he could have written about but did not. When something as important as his mother’s death is not even commented upon, it is rather difficult to say that the absence of the word “stone” is conspicuous.
Comment #12: “When sources of wood became scarce, they reluctantly learned to build with "cement", but still retained a preference for wood. Some scriptural references will illustrate this point.”
Response: First of all, you don’t just learn how to work with cement. It is an acquired skill, one that takes certain knowledge since powder hardening into cement is not a natural phenomenon. It is made from limestone, clay, sand (shale), and when mixed with water, forms a binding substance that turns sand and gravel into a hard, solid mass. This was obviously not a case of those who traveled north in 46 B.C., got up there and found no trees and decided to make cement. It was a substance of which they knew and had worked with before, and now had to know how to build houses out of it—which they became quite expert at doing. Secondly, any builder will have a preference of working with wood, no matter what type of house they are building. Other materials take greater skills, cost more time and money to use, and longer in the building.
Today we pour concrete into temporary forms, called stem walls in construction; however, it is doubtful that the Nephites knew concrete in the same manner we do today. Their concrete likely was more like plaster or stucco and was applied on the outside of mud brick
However, to think that public buildings, temples, synagogues, palaces and other similarly-sized structures would be made of wood is not realistic. Wood does not span well, has limits to its use and requires other materials, such as iron and steel to supplement its strength. Even though Solomon built his stone temple out of finished rock, he sent off to King Hiram of Tyre for the famous Lebanon cedars and cypress wood for the framing of the construction. However, despite the comment, there is no reluctance shown to use cement—only a concern that they would have no future wood, which was essential as we’ve point out, in building.
Comment #12: ”Later King Noah "built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper; And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things. And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass." (Mosiah 11:8-10.)  Again stone is not mentioned.”
Response: Mormon describes many large, spacious buildings built by king Noah. Because of there size, these would obviously not be built with wood. They were framed and decorated with wood—with fine wood, which Mormon describes, and of the fine appointments of precious things, gold, silver, iron and brass. Mormon was illustrating that taxing people for his own aggrandizement was an evil practice, and shows what he used that money for and the waste of public funds on his own evil manner, very different from his father and son. As a side note, a few years ago we moved up on a ridge overlooking a large valley in Southern Utah. I personally designed and my wife and I personally drove every nail, cut every board, etc., in its construction. It is 7,400 square feet on two levels, with seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, a spacious sewing room and a large office, sitting room, library, two living rooms and two family rooms, huge laundry, craft room, large grandchildren’s play room, etc., etc., etc. In looking back over all my explanations of that achievement, never once did I tell anyone what the house was made of wood and rock, or any other substance. But I did tell them all the neat things we had in it.
Comment #13: “In 49 B.C. Helaman says: “And it came to pass that they [the Nephites] did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings. And they did send forth much by the way of shipping. And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.” (Hel. 3:8-11). Again in this instance we are told that their homes and cities were built of wood and cement. Stone is still not mentioned. They obviously preferred wood as they would ship it over great distances, to places where stone would have been more readily available. Even when they didn’t use wood, they didn’t build with stone, but with “cement”.
Response: Having at one time many years ago been in charge of designing and having built regional and local office buildings for a large corporation in the 11-Western States, I cannot conceive of building anything other than a wall without wood framing, structural and aesthetic design, support, highlights, etc. In the more than 250 buildings I designed, I cannot think of a single one where wood was not the principle material, or one of them, yet when the structure was complete, few would have thought it was made with wood, but rather with rock, brick, stucco and plaster. Few people understand how wood is used, even in metal and glass building. Even today, wood is choice over metal in small construction, such as residential houses: You can build a wood-frame house with ordinary labor (no welders, for example), less need for heavy equipment, fewer code requirements, fewer building department inspections, and without having to hire on-site deputy inspectors to overlook on-site welding.
An excavated house in Jerusalem at the time Lehi lived, shows several rooms, rock walls, paved patios, accessible roofs, and minimal use of wood other than for some framing (doorways, lintels, etc.) and decoration
A recent detailed cost comparison of two identical homes, one constructed with wood, the other with steel, showed that labor for wood construction cost about 25 percent less than for steel, and the material for the wood house cost about 6 percent less. The Nephites preferred to build their small houses out of wood rather than anything else. That should be understandable to anyone. On the other hand, they built their public buildings, their large and spacious buildings, their temples, synagogues and palaces, out of stone, as did the Jews in Jerusalem before them.
(See the next post, “Did the Nephites Build out of Stone? Part VI,” for more on the building of the Jaredites and the Nephites)

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