Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mormon’s Abridgement Part VI – Driven Forth Before the Wind

Continuing from the last post with the many descriptions written about the Land of Promise by those who lived out their lives there and knew it so well. 
It was the Lord who 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). This tutelage, “after the manner which I shall show thee,” was obviously necessary for Nephi to be able to not only build a ship, which he had never before done, nor Lehi for that matter, having lived all his days at Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:4), as obviously had Nephi, but the Lord taught him how to build a ship that would “carry thy people across these waters.” This would be no small fete in that day and age, for sailing blue (deep) water oceans was unknown, for even the Phoenicians hugged the coasts on their voyage around Africa, and up the Atlantic coast to England.
    "These waters," the Lord mentioned, were those between the southern coast of Arabia and the Western Hemisphere, requiring the crossing of many thousands of miles. Obviously, this was not to be some simple raft, dugout canoe or little vessel similar to the dhows the Arabs sailed at the time in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Arabia. It had to carry all of Lehi’s household and all of Ishmael’s household, which amounted to at least eight separate families: Lehi, Sariah, Jacob and Joseph; Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi and their wives and children; at least two sons of Ishmael and their families; and probably Ishmael’s wife. There may also have been Nephi’s sisters at this time (2 Nephi 5:6). It is also possible that others might have been involved, for Nephi writes: “the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father” (1 Nephi 7:5, emphasis mine).
Jewish households in B.C. times usually included servants, both bond and free
    Household often meant those people attached to the family, such as male and female servants and their families, either free-born or slaves, with a bond servant contracted to work for a specific period of time. A Jewish “debt slave” was sold by his or her family to repay a debt and were released on payment of the debt, during Jubilee Year, or after six years of service (Leviticus 25:39-43, 47-55; Exodus 21:2-4; Deuteronomy 15:12). It was also an accepted practice to give servants and slaves as part of the dowry of a wealthy young woman—Lehi had five marriages during their wilderness trek (1 Nephi 16:7). These might either be domestic servants or agricultural laborers, and all members of the family were under the authority of the oldest male, which would have been Lehi and Ishmael, and just Lehi after Ishmael’s death, and had to abide by his decisions (the senior woman of the clan had legal power over the women and children of her family).
    The point is, Lehi and his “household,” and Ishmael and his “household,” may well have included several other people who Lehi would not have wanted left behind to tell of their departure and direction of travel. This was so important when Nephi encountrered Zoram, that he offered to take Laban’s servant with him into the wilderness (1 Nephi 4:37) rather than effect some more drastic solution, and when Zoram agreed to go, such fears ceased concerning him (1 Nephi 4:37).
    In addition to the number of people, which including children might have numbered 50 or so, and with servants as much as 70, there were provisions and tents (1 Nephi 2:4) that would be needed upon landing, their seeds (1 Nephi 16:11), along with “all things, much fruits and meat from the wilderness, and honey in abundance, and provisions according to that which the Lord had commanded us” (1 Nephi 18:6), and whatever tools and implements (1 Nephi 17:16) would have been needed, especially for building and planting their seeds upon reaching the Land of Promise.
Nephi’s ship would have been of some size, to hold both households and all their provisions at sea for a couple months or more
    Certainly space and special conditions would have been needed to keep their seeds dry since how seeds are treated during storage can have a large impact on their viability and vigor when planted. And when we consider that these seeds upon planting in the Land of Promise grew exceedingly and brought forth and abundant crop (1 Nephi 18:24), it seems likely that a special place and conditions were built into the ship for this very purpose.
    In any event, this ship would have been of some size. And when it was put to sea, was dependent upon winds and currents for its direction—especially leaving the coast of Arabia where monsoon winds and currents controlled in which direction they sailed. As Nephi told us twice, his ship was “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8, 9).
The Monsoon winds blow out to sea from October to May; however, as shown in the last post, when considering the Somalia Current moving northward, the currents do not line up until about December to January. In any event, they blow southward, not eastward, and any ship leaving the coast and dependent on winds would have had to go southward
    As mentioned earlier, these monsoon winds blow southward away from the Arabian coast and would have taken Nephi’s ship toward and past the Socotra islands, called “Sikoto Sinh” meaning the "Lion of Socotra" that constantly roars because of the high winds and high surf due to the Great Whirl transport (see last post).
    Obviously, Nephi’s ship was a sailing ship, for he gives us two bits of information to understand this: 1) He tells us they “sailed toward the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22, emphasis mine), and 2) and that the ship was “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8, 9,emphasis mine). The ship also had a rudder of sorts since Nephi also said, “I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22, emphasis mine).
At first, it would seem, Nephi and his brothers and the sons of Ishmael and their older sons, would have spent some time (and likely little progress) learning how to operate a sailing ship since none had ever been to sea before as far as we know. Very few Jews knew much about boats, other than small fishing vessels, and fewer still would have known about large sailing ships that could cross the blue (deep) water. It is also likely that some of the "great things"the Lord showed Nephi (1 Nephi 18:3) would have been how to sail the ship once it was built and launched.
    Nephi tells us that “after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days, behold, my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness” (1 Nephi 18:9). Why it took “several days” for them to feel like celebrating is not stated, but two reasons stand out: 1) they were learning to handle the ship successfully and feel secure in their abilities, and 2) they felt the ship would actually carry them safely across the great ocean before them. It is also likely that on this particular day, the weather had been great and/or they had been particularly successful in handling their unusual duties so they felt markedly effective.
Top: The swirling, spinning waters of the Great Whirl off the Socotra archipelago in the Arabian Sea. Bottom: The accompanying swirls or cyclonic whirls that accompany the Great Whirl
    In any event, by the time Nephi’s ship reached the area of the Great Whirl near the Socotra archipelago, he said the brothers “Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless, the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked. And it came to pass that after they had bound me insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work” (1 Nephi 18:11-12).
    So, as the ship came near the spinning waters of the Great Whirl off Socotra, the brothers suddenly realized without Nephi at the helm, they did not know what to do. Nephi says: “they knew not whither they should steer the ship,” and as they entered the massive vortex and the storm these whirling monsoon winds create, along with strong conflicting upwelling currents and racing waters, would be sufficient for non-mariners to believe they were “about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 18:15). Certainly, because of the spinning or whirling currents over several miles a ship would be turned in the current “and driven back upon the waters for the space of three days” (1 Nephi 18:13).
The southeast monsoon creates strong winds around the Socotra Gyre that results in strong currents and cross currents with water transport at extreme speeds and conflicting eddies and spinning. For a skilled mariner, it is a frightening experience, for the non-mariner Laban and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael, it would seem they were abut to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea
    And on the fourth day, Nephi says: “my brethren began to see that the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish save that they should repent of their iniquities; wherefore, they came unto me, and loosed the bands which were upon my wrist” (1 Nephi 18:15), and as soon as Nephi was loose, he “took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it. And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord; and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm” (1 Nephi 18:21). By this time the ship was turned back in the circular vortex and moved out of the grasp of the current, and Nephi says he “did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22).
After Nephi was freed, the Liahona again began to work and showed the way out of the Great Whirl and storm, and he was able to steer the ship back on course
    While the Lord uses natural phenomena for his own purposes, what is natural to the Lord is often seen quite differently to man. What man fears the Lord controls, and that control often appears as a miracle to man who, if religious, is grateful for the respite. Understanding this all too well, Nephi says, “Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions” (1 Nephi 18:16), while his brothers, who had been scared witless from the experience, “And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts; wherefore, when they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done” (1 Nephi 18:20).
In any event, the rest of the voyage was evidently peaceful and passed without further incident, for Nephi merely says, “And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:23).
    In looking for a location for the Land of Promise, it should be one that can be reached by the seasonal winds and currents beginning off the coast of Arabia all the way to the Land of Promise in the Western Hemisphere. One cannot just simply look on a map and say they went that way--winds and currents had to carry them to the Land of Promise and those winds and currents are constant upon the Earth, and would be the same today as then.
(See the next post for another of these Land of Promise factors described by Book of Mormon prophets that should help us to understand where the Land of Promise was located)

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