Monday, May 27, 2013

The Importance of Knowledge

If we are going to understand what Nephi told us, as well as all the others who wrote in the scriptural record, and what Mormon abridged, and Joseph Smith translated, we need to be less inclined to think we know more than those who wrote that record, and more inclined to take their words at face value and try to understand how that fits into the world then and now.
As an example, when Nephi tells us he was “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8), we need to understand:
1. Nephi’s ship had sails in which to catch the wind;
2. The wind blew his ship forward with the wind aft (or behind);
3. His direction of travel would be in the direction the wind blew;
4. That the wind was blowing in the direction he describes when they entered the ship and continued to do so;
5. The wind was blowing toward the land of promise, i.e., blowing the ship in that direction—or in a direction that would take them to the Land of Promise;
6. Those winds that blew him toward the Land of Promise when first setting sail, would continue to blow the vessel toward the promised land;
7. As winds blow, they are affected by the Coriolis effect, land mass, changes in temperature, pressure differences, and obstacles (mountains, etc.), on the other hand, when the temperature and pressure remain the same, when there are no obstacles, the winds tend to blow straight and constant—one of the few places in the world where this happens is along the Southern Ocean as the Prevailing Westerlies and West Wind Drift circle the globe where there are no temperature changes, no land or obstacles block the wind or cause changes;
8. Before the Age of Discovery (1300-1900 A.D.), sails were fixed on large ships and were dependent on the wind for movement; in some areas, especially in the Mediterranean Sea, vessels were augmented with oars to compensate for times when the wind did not blow in the desired direction;
9. Sails In the ancient world were square and were employed universally in the Mediterranean on the seagoing ships of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans.
10. Europe only knew of the square rig until late in the Middle Ages, and in India, square sails were used into at least the seventh century A.D.;
11. While square rigged sails had the advantage of providing stability on large ships and in heavy seas, they lacked the maneuverability of triangular (lateen) sails; however, square sails remained the main type of sail on European vessels until the last days of sail;
12. Not until the lateen sail was introduced into the Age of Discovery, could square-rigged sailing ships tack on rivers and in narrow waters. The fore-and-aft sail had an advantage in that it can keep much closer to the wind;
13. Prior to the Age of Discovery, ships were mostly light in weight and had flat bottomed hulls, so they could sail close to land, this is especially true of trade ships around Indonesia because of the numerous islands, shoals, and conflicting winds and currents;
14. Initially, up to the 15th century, Europeans were limited to coastal cabotage navigation using the barge (barca) or the balinger (barinel), ancient cargo vessels used in the Mediterranean of around 50 to 200 tons. These boats were fragile, with only one mast, with fixed square sails that could not overcome the navigational difficulties of Southward oceanic exploration, as the strong winds, shoals and strong ocean currents easily overwhelmed their abilities;
Top: light coastal vessels, capable of easy maneuvering in shallow seas, not strong enough for deep sea sailing; Bottom: Strong, deep sea vessels with fixed sails incapable of much maneuvering in coastal waters, but capable of deep sea sailing
15. Rudders on most ships allowed the vessel to be steered during winds only within a few degrees. Even during the Age of Discovery, rudders had minimal use other than altering a straight course until tacking came into use;
16. Large, deep ocean ships did not exist in 600 B.C. that were capable of withstanding the pounding of high seas. Even if they did exist, they could not have been used around land because of their deeper draft; thus during the Age of Discovery, before docks and piers were more common, most ships dropped anchor off shore in deep water and took small boats to shore. They certainly would not have been able to sail through Indonesia;
17. Trading vessels in the Arabian Sea, Andaman Sea, and Indonesian waters were small, coastal vessels—they were small for maneuverability among the many islands, shoals, and shallows where they sailed and set in. They were light weight for easy handling and quick passage. Any ship large enough to go into deep water would not have been involved along these trade routes;
18. The famous Polynesian sailors used outrigger canoes—some fairly large and capable of carrying as many as 20 people, though usually they carried ten or less; and were not involved in lengthy voyages and invariably sailed across currents (neither with nor against winds), and used tall, narrow sails on movable rope tie-downs, allowing movement of sails to catch cross winds, somewhat like the system Arabian sailors on dhows used for maneuverability in coastal and shallow waters;
The point of all this is that sailing in Lehi’s day was dependent upon the wind filling a fixed square sail (some were very large), and pushing the boat forward, propelling it across the seas—meaning the ship went where the wind blew. Thus, when Nephi wrote that his ship was “driven forth before the wind,” he is telling us that his ship went where the winds took him. So did Nephi know and understand that his ship was being propelled by winds, and that his vessel was dependent upon the winds for his direction? The only answer can be yes, since he tells us that he understood that the winds were driving his ship toward the Land of Promise.
And did Nephi know his directions? The only two times he states any direction at all in terms of compass points is during their several year trek along the Red Sea and across the desert to the Arabian Sea, and both times he was absolutely accurate, though he was in an area in which he had never before been (1 Nephi 16:13; 17:1). So if he knew his directions that well, why would he not have known the cardinal and ordinal directions when he landed in the Land of Promise? It seems likely that Nephi knew what he was talking about, and he made it crystal clear in his plain and simple language that he was moving toward the promised land, away from the Arabian coastline into the Arabian Sea (Irreantum Sea) under power of the wind in his sails. We should take his word for it and not try to find some other explanation.

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