Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Were Lehi’s Family Mariners?

While records show that Jewish seamen cropped  up as early as the first century A.D., beginning with navicularii (shipowners) in Alexandria in 39 A.D., when cargoes of Jewish ships during the anti-Jewish riots were carried off and burned; and Augustine and Jerome both recorded encounters with Jewish mariners; and an intact lower hull of a boat dated to the first century A.D. was excavated on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, much of the record and writing of Jewish mariners is found from about the third century onward. When Solomon had his ships built in 900 B.C., he imported seamen from Lebanon to man them. In fact, there seems to be no evidence showing Israelites as mariners in B.C. times at all.
    Nor do we have any evidence that any member of Lehi's company had any experience at sea, nor in the building of ships. Both Ishmael and Lehi lived outside the city walls, in an area where agriculture fed Jerusalem, and merchants traded with Arab caravans along the Frankincense Trail (King’s Highway) and sold these goods to Jerusalem vendors who, in turn, sold them within the city where the caravans never traveled. Yet, when Lehi reached the area along the southern Arabian coast, which he called Bountiful, Nephi was told by the Lord, “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).
Looking down on the area that Lehi called Bountiful from a 2500-foot mountain top where Nephi may have received instruction from the Lord
    Nephi’s immediately response sets him apart from his brothers and the sons of Ishmael at an early point when he merely responded, “And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?”
    We also learn from that comment that the Lord, in telling Nephi he was to build a ship, showed him in a vision of some sort the ship he was to build—“after the manner which thou has shown unto me"—tells us Nephi, before he ever began, knew what the ship was to look like, its size, and overall appearance.
    Obviously, when Nephi told his father much earlier, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7), he knew to trust the Lord. Now, in the command to build a ship, Nephi trusts completely in the Lord, and in his word, and only needed to know how to go about it—first, he needed tools and asked where there would be ore that her could fashion them. Whether Nephi already knew how to make tools from metal ore is not told us, but either he did, or the Lord showed him how during that vision of the ship, or he trusted that the Lord would show him once he had the ore to use.
That Nephi had no experience in building, or knowledge of ships, also seems borne out by the reaction of Nephi’s brothers, who scoffed: “And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters” (1 Nephi 17:17). Obviously, the idea was so foreign to them and the entire family that it elicited this scorn—not only in the building of a ship, but in the idea of them all sailing across the huge ocean before them. Nephi adds that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael “did not believe that I could build a ship” (1 Nephi 17:18), nor that the Lord had instructed him to do so—which would have meant the design, fashioning of timber, and actual construction.
    Many have thought it was simply because the brothers were lazy and “were desirous that they might not labor,” but their incredulity in Nephi thinking he could not only build a ship but would know how to sail it was obviously beyond their comprehension.
    It seems accurate in understanding that neither Lehi nor any of his family had been around ships or been to sea in any way. Despite this, some Theorists point out Nephi’s comment when he said, “Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2), as proof that Nephi knew how ships of his day were built.
    However, Nephi also said, “we did work timbers of curious workmanship and the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1), and also “I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi18:2). It seems obvious that Nephi understood the difference because the Lord told or showed him how other ships were built in his day and how he would be building his ship differently. After all, when instructing someone how to do something they know nothing about, it is far easier to show them why building it like other ships would not work and why building it differently would work—otherwise, there are unanswered questions that can get in the way of doing it the right way during the construction.
On the other hand, it would not be realistic to think Nephi had never seen another ship. After all, he traveled within close proximity to Ezion-Geber, a ship-building and shipping port at the head of the Aqaba Sea (a finger of the Red Sea), and later, traveled along the Red Sea where he would have seen numerous Arabian fishing dhows sailing up and down the waters there, yet it would not be realistic to think Nephi knew how the ships were built merely from seeing them, even if he had a very close look.
    As an example, ships of antiquity (1000 A.D.) were built with plank on frame construction rather than the earlier method that had lasted for at least three thousand years. The old method consisted of first building the skin and then inserting framing pieces for added strength; plank on frame first built the framework and attached the planks to it, which allowed for stronger and larger ships to be built--for a novice, merely looking at a ship would not tell him that.
Dhows sailing along the Red Sea during the time of Lehi. Such ships could sail the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and along the coast of the Abrabian Peninsula, but were built to sail in blue-water, deep-sea conditons and would not last under the pounding of the deep seas, nor the gale-like force of winds in the Indian and Southern Oceans
    The point is, in 600 B.C., despite all the rhetoric to the contrary on the internet written by individuals who simply lack knowledge on the subject, man had not yet learned how to build a ship that could sail the deep waters and take the constant pounding against the hull, and the gale force winds that drove the sails of later ships—especially during the Age of Sail. And, too, Nephi tells us that his vessel, though steerable, was “driven forth before the wind,” meaning that the wind was the vessel’s propulsion and the ship was driven before the wind in the direction the wind blew.
    If one has never been in the deep ocean, or been involved in ship design, one may not know that in the high seas, the wave action and winds pound the hull of any ship from astern, the sides, and the bow—what is called a pounding “from every quarter.” Such pounding, especially in wooden vessels of antiquity, caused considerable damage and the reason why a ship would need to be repaired and refitted before each voyage, and a major refit was conducted every few years. By the time the Carrack (early 15th century) was designed for ocean-going sailing (improving the Naos, which had replaced the coastal Cog vessels), using both northern and Mediterranean building arts, an extensive refitting was not needed as frequently, and the even later Caravel (1450) design was smaller and far more maneuverable with its lateen rigging.
    The point is, ships had to be built to withstand the heavier seas in the deep oceans with their constant pounding. As an example, the RSS Discovery, a later three-masted wooden British research vessel, was “nearly pounded to smithereens” by a massive storm in the North Atlantic. Instruments on board measured the "significant wave height" (an average of the largest one-third of the waves) at 61 feet—“the largest ever scientifically recorded in the open ocean" (some spiked as high as 100 feet). The episode added to growing evidence about the prevalence of so-called rogue waves, which can rise up unexpectedly from much smaller seas.
Top: Pounding waves in the Southern Ocean, some have reached heights of nearly 100 feet; Middle: A trawler being pounded in high seas, its bulbous bow keeping it stable; Bottom: A wave crashing onto the flight deck of a U.S. Carrier with a deck 70’ foot above the water line
    The important issue here is that the Lord did not leave these inexperienced “land-lubbers” alone to the dangers of the deep ocean, to cope with the unfamiliar process of sailing a ship and maneuvering among the high seas. Nephi tells us that the Lord was involved not just in the overall design of building of the ship (1 Nephi 18:2), but in such minor details as “working the timbers” (1 Nephi 18:1), and whatever else was needed through the completion of the project (1 Nephi 18:4). We also know that Nephi “did go into the mount oft, and did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed him great things” (1 Nephi 18:3), which would have had to include how to outfit, sail and steer the ship.
    This obviously would have been done through the Liahona after they set sail and while at sea (1 Nephi 18:12, 21). However, no amount of instruction can give someone experience. Even during their rebellion, Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael "knew not where to steer the ship." It seems obvious, the course set for Nephi's ship would have been the more simple one, not involved in intricate maneuvers, landings, and steerage.

No comments:

Post a Comment