Monday, January 12, 2015

Nibley, the Steppes, and the Baobab Tree – Part I

Suggesting the Jaredite barges were actually hollowed-out trees, by its very nature of oddity, raises more questions than the idea seems to solve, consequently, perhaps another look is in order at this unusual idea the Lord used to solve the problem of getting the Jaredites across the Great Deep before anything other than small fishing boats or barges had been invented.
Barges in ancient Mesopotamia, the home of the Jaredites: Top Left: A Kelek was a raft of inflated goat skins; Top Right: The circular Guffa (quffa), an ancient interwoven willow boat bound in hide; Bottom Left: A flotilla boat or barge on the Tigris; Bottom Right: A water raft barge made of small logs and reeds
    These “barges,” an ancient collective term encompassing all small boats, were well known to the Jaredites who lived near Babylonia, according to the scriptural record: “Which Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people” (Ether 1:33). They were not, as Hugh Nibley and some other Theorists claim them to be, “People of the Steppes,” which was an area some 600 miles to the north and east of Mesopotamia. Meaning, when they left their homeland, they left from Mesopotamia, not from the Steppes.
    These steppes, called the Eurasian Steppe, which later connected Europe, Central Asia, China, and South Asia via overland trade routes, at the time of the Jaredites (and later) were isolated from Mesopotamia because of the 2500-mile-long ring of mountains (Taurus, Caucasus, Elburt, Zargos, Alborz, Hindu Kush, Pamir, Tian) stretching from Turkey eastward between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and along the border of Iran and Mesopotamia from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arabian Sea. These Steppe peoples were bow-wielding, horse-riding nomadic warriors of Turkic or Mongol origin led by a khan, establishing khanates or empires in various areas across central Asia.
Red Arrow: Mesopotamia, home of the Jaredites; White Arrow: the closes point of the Steppes, shown in light red shading running the width of the map
    When Hugh Nibley claimed the Jaredites were People of the Steppes, he not only placed them 600 miles or more from their actual homeland, but between the Black and Caspian Seas. He then claimed that they crossed the Caspian Sea on their move eastward; however, this means the would have spent time building barges to ferry themselves and their flocks and animals across this sea when they simply could have walked around it over flat ground of the steppes.
White Arrows: If they were in the Steppes, the Jaredites could have just walked around the Caspian Sea on their way east rather than sail across the Caspian along a path Nibley claims they took. Red Arrow: Mesopotamia where the Jaredites were located at the time of their trek to the ocean of the Great Deep; Yellow and Green arrows: Nearly impassable mountains with high passes in snow covered mountains blocked their way north and eastward in any move toward the Steppes and an eastward trek from Mesopotamia
    The point is, the Jaredites were no where near the Steppes, were not Steppes people, and did not cross the Steppes to get to the Pacific Ocean since they could not have negotiated the 12,000 to 20,000 foot heights of the mountains between Mesopotamia and the Steppes with men, women, children, all kinds of animals, birds, fish and bees in their possession. The freezing cold temperatures of the mountain passes would have killed most of the animals, fowls and bees, not to mention babies and young children. Nor would they have traveled in the so-called Mongol house-wagons of the Steppe people Nibley claimed, which, by the way, were not even conceived for another thousand years or more and were only known to actually exist in the period around 400 B.C. onward.
The famed Station-House Wagon Farm of the Steppes, circa 1500 A.D. Obviously, this form of transportation would not have served the Jaredites crossing either mountains or deserts as Nibley and others claim they used
    The question is not whether the mountains blocking any pathway to the north or northeast in order to get to the Steppe area and an eastward journey, could have been climbed—man has always shown an ability for such difficult accomplishments. The question is could normal people in an ancient time without modern conveniences of portable oxygen, climbing boots, clothing, and equipment have scaled those mountains. Especially when considering that they were carrying barrels of water filled with fish, swarms of beehives, flocks and herds of every kind, birds, and seeds of every kind, as well as women, babies and children. This latter requirement from the scriptural record makes a huge difference in what kind of terrain the Jaredites would have crossed on their way to the sea and cannot be ignored.
It does not seem likely that a Jaredite party made up of the people, animals and supplies mentioned above could have negotiated these mountains that would have blocked their path from Mesopotamia to the Steppes and an eastward journey
    As has been pointed out earlier in this series, the only real option open to the Jaredites was to go northwest into the Mediterranean or southeast and then south toward the Sea of Arabia. This latter course would have taken them down the Mesopotamian Valley in a southeasterly direction to the great marshland that covered the entire delta of the Tigris and Euphrates where they entered the Persian Sea in in a much larger delta during Jaredite times only a couple of hundred years after the Flood waters began to drain off the land.
    And throughout the Lower Mesopotamia there were wetlands, marshes, interconnected lakes and rivers making up a large portion of the area all around where the Tigris and Euphrates once joined at the northwestern edge of the Persian Sea (now much small, and this shore some miles to the southeast of its earlier banks).
Left: A long Tarad bitumen-coated reed canoe used on the Mesopotamia marshes anciently when the marshes were much larger; Right: Today, the Marsh Arabs use much smaller canoes to haul cargo on the more restricted wetlands
    Consequently, to the Jaredites then as to many readers now, the idea of a tree being hollowed out and made into a “barge” to carry their number across a vast ocean they called the Great Deep, must have sounded like a very odd, if not impractical, idea.
    However, the Lord, who created the unusual Baobab tree in the first place, knew well its properties and chose it to fulfill his needs in transporting the Jaredites to a far-away land that he told the Brother of Jared man had never before been (Ether 2:5).
    Which brings us to the tree itself, which is meant to answer some of the many questions we have been asked about this:
    1. The Baobab tree tapers to a very large taproot that extends far into the ground. By digging down around the tree and severing the taproot, it could be more easily toppled; and also would be tapered or peaked at that bottom end as well;
    2. The bark of the Baobab tree is approximately four inches thick, quite deep for a tree bark that is usually an inch or less in most trees, and perhaps two in the thickest of trees. Below the bark is the cambrium, or stem, of the tree, and this can be variously folded and seemed from years of growth, sometimes growing encroaching inward in its unique convoluted manner to as much as two or three feet in trees of 20-foot girth and more.
The interior of a Baobab tree is not a smooth inner wall, but a maze of bulging cambrium or stem edges that can be very thick in places, even provide inner walls or separated areas
(See the next post, “Nibley, the Steppes, and the Baobab Tree - Part II,” for the additional information about the tree the Lord prepared for the Jaredite crossings)

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