Monday, November 17, 2014

What Did the Liahona Do?

In the valley Lehi called Lemuel, and by the river he called Laman, Lehi spent at least a year, probably two. At that point, near the Red Sea, after traveling several days south of Jerusalem, he had camped while his sons went back for the Brass Plates held by Laban, then went back again to get Ishmael and his family to join them in the wilderness. 
Nephi “took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife” (1 Nephi 16:7)
    At this camp they also had five weddings, and rested for some time. Then, one day, “The voice of the Lord spake unto my father by night, and commanded him that on the morrow he should take his journey into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:9). It must have been a busy evening as the nine families prepared their belongings for the next day's travel. These families included Lehi and Sariah, Ishmael and his wife, the two sons of Ishmael and their wives; Lehi’s four sons and their new brides, and Zoram and his new bride—if there were others in either household, we can not be certain for no mention of servants, or others, is given.
That next day, “As my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground 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” (1 Nephi 16:10).
    This round ball has been called by several names in the scriptural record: ball (Mosiah 1:16; Alma 37:38), compass (1 Nephi 18:12, 21; Alma 37:44), director (Mosiah 1:16; Alma 37:38, 45), and Liahona (Alma 37:38). In fact, Alma tells us that their fathers not only called it the Liahona, he also told us that word meant “compass” (Alma 37:38).
In addition, this compass also provided other functions: it gave general directions for travel (1 Nephi 16:10) as well as a compass heading (1 Nephi 16:13; 1 Nephi 17:1), also an exact route (1 Nephi 16:16), and where good hunting would be found (1 Nephi 16:30-31). It also pointed Lehi a straight course to the promised land (Alma 37:44), and in some way would point a person to eternal bliss (Alma 37:45). And not just on land, but it also pointed the way across the sea during the entire ocean voyage (Alma 37:44).
    Like the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona was a physical device that aided in the coming forth of revelation. It was made of fine brass, and within the ball were two spindles (1 Nephi 16:10) or pointers (1 Nephi 16:28; Alma 37:40) that mechanically gave directions. However, these spindles or arrows worked only by faith (1 Nephi 16:20). In addition, writing appeared on the ball (1 Nephi 16:26) that evidently contained sharp language, for Lehi “did fear and tremble exceedingly” upon reading it, as did Nephi’s “brethren and the sons of Ishmael” (1 Nephi 16:27) because of their earlier murmurings against the Lord (1 Nephi 16:25). But it also gave continued spiritual instructions (1 Nephi 16:29), that were “plain to read” and provided “understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.”
    Now from the time the Liahona, or compass, was discovered by Lehi, Nephi gives us compass coordinates of their continued travel, a fact he had not earlier included. After the discovery, he says “we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction” (1 Nephi 16:13), and after resting for a time at a place they called Shazer, they “did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction” (1 Nephi 16:14) and the ball “led them in the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:16).
    We cannot be certain the Liahona told Nephi the three cardinal directions he used, but it seems more than coincidence that after finding the ball and naming it a compass, that Nephi writes specific compass directions for their line of travel. This is especially seen, since at no time before this event, did Nephi give even a general compass direction, but on the two occasions of their different lines of travel, he mentioned them both (1 Nephi 16:13; 17:1).
    In addition, we need to understand that this Liahona or compass was not only made of fine brass (the best material of the day to make such things, since gold would have been too soft, and iron or steel not suitable for intricate work), but that it was very unusual in design and appearance. Nephi says it was “of curious workmanship” (1 Nephi 16:10). In this sense, the word “curious” in Joseph Smith’s time meant: “wrought with care and art; elegant; beautiful; curious work,” the latter is found in this same use in Exodus 28:8. It also meant, careful, exact, made with care, as in “curious arts,” the latter also in this use in Acts 19:19.
    We need to keep in mind that this compass was, once discovered, in Lehi’s possession throughout their trek in the wilderness, at Bountiful, and during the ocean voyage. This means that once into their ship and setting out into the Irreantum Sea (Sea of Arabia), they had the Liahona to guide their course within the limits of their ability to steer (1 Nephi 18:13) among the ocean currents while being “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8)--blown forward by a trailing wind.
The importance of this is understood by the incident when the Liahona stopped working (1 Nephi 18:12), and not knowing “whither they should steer the ship,” they became embroiled in a storm and such high seas that they thought “they must perish” unless they could get the Liahona working again. Once the mutineers repented and released Nephi, he got the Liahona working again because of his faith—and the compass pointed the way and Nephi “did guide the ship, that [they] sailed once again towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22).
    The fact that the Liahona was needed is better understood when knowing that sailing with the currents and winds (1 Nephi 18:9) was a general factor, but minor adjustments that might be needed in their course would be achieved through such steerage—an important need to stay on the exact track the Lord had in mind in guiding the ship to the Land of Promise, which Nephi was able to do with the aid of the Liahona (1 Nephi 18:22).
    Many Theorists write about Lehi following the same route the early traders used to sail to Indonesia, and then across the Pacific Ocean, however, two very specific factors show the fallacy of that. First and foremost are the winds. As an example, the trade winds (trades)—which are the prevailing pattern of easterly surface winds found in the tropics near the Equator—of the Indian Ocean do not move from Arabia eastward toward Indonesia, but northwestward (6 months of the year) from Australia and Indonesia toward India, Persian Gulf and Arabia and then southeastward (the other six months of the year) back toward Java, the Sawu and Timor Seas, and Australia.
The Trade Winds (not named for opening up trade, but for bringing warmer or colder temperatures) in the Indian Ocean, blowing (red arrows) northwesterly for six months and (blue arrows) southeasterly for the other six months, and are strongest between 10º and 30º south latitude (below the dotted horizontal line to the bottom of the maps)
    In addition, the coastal waters off Arabia, India and Indonesia have the monsoon winds that take precedence, blowing northeast into land six months of the year, creating damaging floods and great destruction, and then reversing themselves and blowing southwest out to sea from the land the other six months. When combining knowledge of the trade winds and the monsoon winds of the Sea of Arabia and the Indian Ocean, it becomes quite flippant when we see Theorists like Sorenson, Allen, et al make claims that Lehi just sailed through Indonesia and across the Pacific Ocean.
The Monsoon Winds (blue arrows) blow inland six months of the year, and (red arrows) blow out to sea six months of the year. The green arrows show the winds that blow through Indonesia from the Pacific all year round; (red curved arrow) is the westerly curve of the counter-clockwise Indian Ocean Gyre; (purple arrows) show the Prevailing Westerlies along the West Wind Drift of the Southern Ocean all year round
    While it is true that the trade winds were used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world’s oceans for centuries, and enabled the European expansion into the Americas, it was never a matter of going where one wanted. Along with the knowledge of all winds and currents patterns, this knowledge also enabled the exploring accomplished throughout the Age of Sail. The actual term “trade winds” is derived from the early 14th century word that meant “path” or “track,” first recognized by the Portuguese for their importance in navigation because of the consistency of these “wind tracks” throughout the year.
    While Europeans recognized such winds and currents in the Atlantic as early as the 13th century, they were unknown in the Pacific until 1565, when discovered by Andrés de Urdaneta, who was the first to plot an easterly course across the Pacific Ocean, called Tornaviaje (the return sea route from the Philippines to Acapulco).
    Consequently, when extremely experienced sea captains needed to learn how to fine-tune a voyage two thousand years after Lehi sailed, we might consider that the Lord would need to “point the way” across the “many waters” in a very specific means. And the Liahona was that means.
    Upon Lehi’s death, of course, the compass passed on to Nephi, who took it with him when he left his brothers (2 Nephi 5:12). No doubt the Liahona showed him where to go and when to stop and “pitch his tents.” In addition, the compass must have been with Mosiah when he left the city of Nephi and discovered Zarahemla, and no doubt was instrumental in showing the Nephites the way for “they were admonished continually by the word of God” no doubt as found on the writings on the ball, and “they were led by the power of his arm” no doubt by the pointers within the ball, “through the wilderness, until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla” (Omni 1:13).
Mosiah appointed his son, Benjamin, to be the next Nephite King who, in turn, conferred the kingdom on his son, Mosiah II—all three possessed the Liahona
    Mosiah, in turn, passed the compass on to his son, king Benjamin, for Benjamin passed it on to his son, Mosiah II (Mosiah 1:16). No doubt it passed from prophet to prophet along with the records, since it was buried in the hill Cumorah along with the plates Joseph Smith found, and was, along with the Urim and Thummim, brestplate and the sword of Laban, shown to the three Witnesses by Moroni (D&C 17:1).
    Thus, it can be seen that each of the prophets of the Nephite period had in his possession the Liahona, or compass, first given to Lehi. And that compass, both pointed the way of travel with one spindle, and no doubt pointed to a compass direction with the other spindle, for both direction and compass points were evidently shown by it. No doubt, the compass showed cardinal directions as well as pointed the direction of travel, as Nephi’s statements infer. And as such, it is improbable that Mormon was using a different compass than the one we know in general function, and well understood the cardinal directions as do we—and wrote about those directions (see Alma 22:27-34).
    To suggest otherwise—like having a so-called “Nephite North” different from our north in order to change the directional terms to fit maps of places like Mesoamerica and thus fit the scriptural record to preconceived ideas of Book of Mormon locations—seems beyond the point of reason and in opposition to the purpose and recorded function of the Liahona.


  1. Just found your site. Lots of work done here over the years, clearly! I'm having trouble finding anything that summarizes your theory of Book of Mormon geography succinctly...what is it exactly you are proposing? Could you provide a link to some kind of a summary?

  2. The entry at the beginning of this blog for January 22, 2010 may be a good start and give you a basic idea.

    For details, his first book is quite large and covers many points without being excessively wordy. While I am generally a quick reader, I was still surprised at how fast I was able to read through the entire book.

    A "summary" of everything covered would still be a lengthy item.

    This site summarizes some points in some parts and expands upon other topics in other posts.

    Mr. Dowdell,
    An index of topics covered, perhaps with their relationship to the location of similar information within the books would be extremely useful.

  3. Thanks Michael, I'll check out that article. It just seemed that most the links I was finding were (well reasoned) refutations of other geography theories, and even a long but quick read of a book should be able to have a brief explanation. For example, after looking around for a while I'm still not certain where the 'narrow neck of land' fits into this theory.

  4. The entry for April 7, 2011 may help you with that.

    I'm reading through the entire site, and it is taking quite a bit longer than reading through the first book.

    The site's search function is simple and, depending on the term, can bring up many entries that aren't quite what you are looking for. The above entry was about the 5th or 6th entry when I searched for "narrow neck", but it probably more directly informative than those higher in the results.