Saturday, April 5, 2014

More Comments from Readers – Part VI

Here are more comments, questions and criticisms that have been sent in from readers of our blog, along with our responses. 
    Comment #1: “What is all this problem with the Nephites not understanding their directions in the New World? They had the North Star, which never moves, and could always show them where north was located” Forbes W.
Response: The North Star, Polaris, called the polestar, is a star of the second magnitude situated close to the north pole of the heavens, in the constellation Ursa Minor, and is the outermost star in the handle of the Little Dipper. It is the star toward which the axis of the earth points, and is a lodestar, meaning it is used as a point of reference, “a guiding star that shows the way.”
Polaris (white arrow) can be seen with the naked eye at night from anywhere on the planet north of the equator (and slightly south of the Equator because of atmospheric refraction), and unlike other stars, never moves in the sky, remaining virtually fixed. While your comment is well-founded today, Polaris was not located over the earth’s axis in 600 B.C. In fact, it was not in place (due to the procession of the equinoxes) until sometime around the 3rd century A.D. onward. It is understood that from 4000 to 1900 B.C., the North Star was the faint star Thuban (green arrow) in the constellation Draco (also a circumpolar system, meaning it never sets below the horizon and is always visible in the Northern Hemisphere, and cannot be seen in the Southern Hemisphere), though it was only one-fifth as bright as Polaris is today. Around the first millennium B.C., β Ursae Minoris (white arrow) was the bright star closest to the celestial pole, but it was never close enough to be taken as marking the pole.
The Greek navigator, geographer and explorer, Pytheas of Massalia, about 325 B.C. described the celestial pole as devoid of stars. While Timaeus, a contemporary of Pytheas, claimed to believe Pytheas’ story, Dicaearchus, also a contemporary, did not trust the stories of Pytheas. Depending on the varicity of these two men, there may have been no North Star during the Nephite period. But I like your thinking outside the box.
    As a footnote to your comment, the Land Southward in South America (Peru and Chile) would have been in the Southern Hemisphere, where no North Star, had it existed, been visible; and the Land Northward (ecuador), would have been in the Northern Hemisphere, where a North Star would have been visible had there been one.
    Comment #2: “We got into quite a discussion recently about directions in the Book of Mormon. I was amazed that a friend had such varied views on what is north and south, etc., in the record. What can I tell him?” Evan T.
    Response: The scriptural record was given to us for our understanding and benefit. Joseph Smith translated it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Since we know that God is not a God of confusion, it seems to be a “no-brainer” that the directions given to us in the scriptural record are, in fact, the directions we understand today. If they mean something else, then the Lord is a God of confusion, for it would be very confusing to read “north” and “northward” in the scriptural record and have it literally mean “west” and “westward” as Mesoamericanists claim.
    Comment #3: “What do we know about Laban?” Ginger P.
Response: We do not know much. He was a commander of a garrison of fifty soldiers, he met with the “elders of the Jews” in full battle dress and ceremonial armor (1 Nephi 4:19, 22), and was probably of the old aristocracy of the Jews with whom he met in secret at night, that he had a treasury which contained old records, was a distant relative of either Lehi or Sariah, and he was a large man, short-tempered, crafty, and dangerous, with much avarice. In addition, he was cruel, greedy, unscrupulous, weak and given to drink. Evidently, in the Lord’s mind, he was not a worthy servant, commanding Nephi to kill him.
    Comment #4: In class, the teacher was discussing the trials and tribulations that Lehi's family went through, including the differences in attitudes between Nephi and his brothers. This got me wondering for the first time about the ages of this family. What was the marrying age for a Jewish man in 600 BC? None of Lehi's sons were married. Assuming that they were 18-24 mos apart, Nephi may have been as young as 13, or even younger, with Laman and Lemuel not much older. In the attitudes shown in 1 Nephi, I see a Nephi and Laman and Lemuel in the middle of the mid to late teen hormone surge. Lehi and Sariah also had additional sons ‘in the wilderness.’ I think 20, as some have suggested, is way too old for Nephi at this time. I'd go with the 12-13 year old age for Nephi and 15-17 for the older two boys. They wandered around in the wilderness for quite some time before heading across the ocean. The boys do seem to be very teenager-ish. Very strong feelings, quick to react, slow to think, and needing wives” Nikole D.
Response: We make mistakes when we try to evaluate ancients by modern standards, or the Eastern world by Western standards. Within two years or less of leaving Jerusalem, all four brothers were married. Your Nephi would have been 15, and under Jewish law and custom, not available to take a wife. In addition, Jewish customs of the day required a man to be at least 25 years old before marrying and with his own trade or business so he could support a family, and 30 years of age was considered true adulthood—men could not even preach before they were 30 because they were considered too young and immature.
    Women on the other hand were as young as 15 when they married—certainly younger than 20. Keep in mind that the major reason Laman and Lemuel were against Nephi, was they thought he wanted to rule over them. Under Jewish law and custom of the time, the oldest son not only ruled over the family upon the father’s death, but received a double portion of inheritance so he could look after the family as the father had done (Primogeniture). Teenagers would not be concerned with this any more than Joseph’s older brothers were until they were nearing the age of “ownership” of the family holdings. There is nothing to suggest that teenagers in Lehi’s day were the same as teenagers today—and teenagers do not need wives, they need education, learning, experience, and to learn obedience. I suspect this was even stronger in Lehi’s time. You might want to revise your age estimates.
    Comment #5: “You claim that a Nephite would not cover more than about 25-30 miles in a day and a half, based on what man can do today. But what could man do in Mormon’s day?” Boyd P.
Response: According to Ogden and Chadwick, experts on the ancient Middle East, who have explored in and around Israel and the Sinia for several years, have written: “The distance from Jerusalem to the Gulf of Eilat [Gulf of Aqaba]via the Ein Gedi/Arabah valley route is just under two hundred miles and takes ten days to cover on foot, averaging twenty miles per day.” This is based on the Jews movement during the time of the Nephites. Taking their figure, 20 miles a day, x 1 ½ days, equals 30 miles. This route is on level ground over a flattened trail of great width, which the camel caravans used for millennia. I have shortened this figure to 25-30 to compensate for a raw land that may have been up and down, over obstacles, etc., of which we know nothing. (see D. Kelly Ogden and Jeffrey R. Chadwick, The Holy Land—A Geographical, Historical, and Archaeological Guide to the Land of the Bible, Jerusalem: BYU Jerusalem Center/HaMakor, 1990, p 39)

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