Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Was Nephi’s Ship a Mere Raft? – Part I

With my apologies to Shakespeare, “A raft by any other name, is still a raft.” When Lehi and his family and Ishmael and his family and any servants boarded the ship that Nephi built, John L. Sorenson would have us believe that it was a mere raft, even though a large one. In fact, numerous scholars want us to believe that this vessel was something that any inexperienced individual could have built with help in the time of Nephi. Most look to the type of rafts built in China and Vietnam in the late 1700s, or those sailed along the South American coast around the same time, yet Arab dhows, a vessel with a regular hull, mast and sail, had been sailing the Indian Ocean for centuries before then.
Left: An 1800 Ecuadorian raft; Right: A full ship the Arabs called a dhow
    Dr. Stephen L. Carr, who has written books and articles ranging from the birds found on Lehi’s trail in Arabia to the old railroads of Utah, has wrestled with the problem of Nephi’s ship for decades. Carr has stated that: “The boat or ship probably did not look like the well-known picture painted by Arnold Friberg, which has the appearance of a great Spanish galleon.”

Left: Frieberg’s painting of Nephi’s ship; Right: A 15th Century Spanish Galleon. Actually, the same God inspired or designed both ships
    Carr goes on to say, “The record states that [Nephi’s ship] was built using plans emanating from the Lord, [and] that doesn’t tell us much except that Nephi had no prior ideas of shipbuilding and the design was one that would safely deliver the group half way around the world.”
    However, Nephi tells us a great deal about his ship. But first, we should always keep in mind that the God who inspired shipbuilders in the 14th century Europe to build the sailing vessels, galleons, etc., is the same God that told Nephi how to build his ship. In addition, we need to keep in mind that while God is not limited in any way, man is limited in his knowledge, understanding, and the materials he understands how to make and use. As the Lord told Noah how to build his huge Ark, he also told Nephi how to build his ship. Exactly what it looked like we have no idea, but Nephi tells us it “was driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8), which makes it a sailing ship, and he also told us it could be steered (1 Nephi 18:13) and guided (1 Nephi 18:22), so it had some type of rudder.  His brothers and their wives danced in it (1 Nephi 18:9), which suggests some type of deck. There were also numerous families, at least: 1) Lehi and Sariah, 2) Laman and his wife, 3) Lemuel and his wife), 4) Sam and his wife, 5) Nephi and his wife, 6) Zoram and his wife, 7) Ishmael’s first son and his wife, 8) Ishmael’s second son and his wife, and probably Ishmael’s wife, and maybe even servants and their families of at least Ishmael's household (1 Nephi 7:5).
    The point is, there were at least eight different families, each with children (1 Nephi 17:1), which would have required separate rooms of some type, if not built with doors, certainly with curtains, for privacy for the month or two or three that it took to reach the Land of Promise, so it must have had at least a second level (above deck and below deck), if not more. In addition, there were “loading and seeds, and whatsoever thing we had brought with us” (1 Nephi 18:6), along with honey, much fruits and meat. Thus, there would have had to have been some type of storage area sufficient to hold several tons of food and provisions, some of which had to be stored in water-tight, insulated cabin(s). It would also seem that they would have had agricultural tools, if not brought from Jerusalem, certainly made in Bountiful to till the ground and plant, and also numerous Bedouin-style tents that each family would have had along the trail in the wilderness. They may even have taken some of their donkeys or camels along with them, though this is not mentioned in any way.
    Again, the point is, this ship would have had to be a large ship, sturdily built, and certainly its woodwork was not after the manner of men (1 Nephi 18:2). Of course, had it had the same workings as later period galleons and other sailing ships during the age of discovery, it would have had woodwork that in 600 B.C. would be considered “not after the manner of men.”
    How and when the Lord shows his children how to do things, it is not necessarily something that has never been done in all of earth’s history. Look at the Liahona. Nephi describes it as: “a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness. Now the simple question is, could something be made today that looked just like that? Of course it could. Man in the 21st century can make some miraculous items. As an example, how might a GPS, cell phone, iMac Computer, or an iPad, be described by a much earlier people?
I believe Nephi’s term of “a fine design of curious workmanship made of metal” would pretty well sum it up. And without the Lord instructing them how to use these items, they would be as “greatly astonished” by their appearance as was Lehi upon first seeing the Liahona
    When the Lord told Nephi, “Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters” (1 Nephi 17:8), he used the word “ship,” not “raft.” When the Lord told the Brother of Jared “Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built” (Ether 2:16), he used the term “barge” not “ship.” When the Lord told Noah “Make thee an ark of gopher wood” he used the word “ark,” not “ship.” Thus, we might conclude that the Lord was telling Nephi to build a ship—a word defined as “a vessel, especially a large oceangoing one propelled by sails,” and “a sailing vessel square-rigged on all of three or more masts.” Whereas a “raft” is defined as “a collection of logs or timber fastened together for conveyance by water,” and “a simple flat boat made by typing long pieces of wood together.”
    It would seem prudent that if the Lord wanted Nephi to build a “raft,” he would have said as much, but when he said “ship,” he told us this was a ship, denoting a large vessel and defined by all as something larger than a boat, and something different than a barge, ark, or raft.
A ship designed by Stephen L. Carr claimed to be based in part on the Kon-Tiki design of Thor Heyerdahl, however the Kon-Tiki had balsa wood deck and construction which allowed water to flow through over and into, thus making it unsinkable
    “There arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea” (1 Nephi 18:13), suggests a very heavy sea driven by a storm that forced the ship back the way it had come and “the tempest began to be exceedingly sore” (1 Nephi 18:14), and they “were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 18:15). One can only wonder in such an exceedingly terrible storm how any raft would hold up. After all, in any severe storm at sea, a vessel will ride up on the wave and crash down into the trough, at which time it is covered in the bow with tall waves that then break on over the ship. Waves reach 40 and 50 feet in height in such storms, and the waves hammer into the vessel with terrific force. Any raft in such a storm would be hammered continually, and the raft above designed by Carr would have had the sail, compartments, etc., ripped apart and likely the logs torn from their lashings.
(See the next post, “Was Nephi’s Ship a Mere Raft? – Part II,” for more on Nephi’s ship and how it could not have been a large raft)

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