Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Another Interesting View – Part I

There has been much debate and considerable misunderstanding of the scriptural reference to the Jaredite barges and the instruction given by the Lord to the brother of Jared: “thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom” (Ether 2:20). Interestingly enough, discussion on this subject dates back to at least thirty-eight years after its publication in the Book of Ether, within the scriptural record. No doubt, it was discussed even earlier.
It was Orson Pratt (left) who very early defended what he called “God’s design” for the Jaredite barges in a speech he gave on December 27, 1868, in the Old Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, entitled “America a Choice Land—Its Aborigines,” on December 27, 1868 (Journal of Discourses, Vol 12, 65, pp338-346). He stated,
    "Now these vessels were so constructed that when furious winds should blow upon the face of the great deep, and the waves should roll mountains high they could without imminent danger plunge beneath the waves, and be brought up again to the surface of the water during tremendous hurricanes and storms.”
    Obviously, it was understood even in that early day that Moroni was discussing a submersible vessel in his abridgement of the Ether record. Also, at the time of Pratt’s statement, 99% of all vessels were made of wood—only nine years earlier, in 1859, France launched the first ironclad warship, the wooden-hulled, broadside ironclad La Gloire. The British followed with two armored, partially-plated, iron-hulled frigates in 1859-1861, the HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince.
Left: 1592 Korean Turtle Ship (Geobukseon), claimed to have had an iron clad roof over the deck to fend off fire arrows, and covered with iron spikes to discourage boarding; Right: The Japanese Kotetsu (Sphynx), ironclad ramship, built in France in 1864 and sold to the Confederacy as CSS Stonewall
    In 1862, the U.S. had both the Confederate Merrimac and Union Monitor fully-armored ironclads and while the British and France navies had a combined ten ironclads by 1868, the time of Pratt’s comment, the U.S. had forty-four ironclads and had taken control of the world’s oceans.
    In any event, in 1868, the idea of a vessel being able to submerge, especially one of wood, was as far fetched as the idea man would walk on the moon before the launching of Sputnik in 1957. Every wooden ship built up to, and including the time of Pratt and even later, leaked to some degree and had to have some type of pumping system or bailing operations to keep water overflowing the bilges.
    To promote the idea in 1830 that the Jaredites could build a wooden vessel in the twenty-first century B.C. that could be “tight like unto a dish” (Ether 6:7), while “many times buried in the depths of the sea” (Ether 6:6), and that “they would hold water like unto a dish” (Ether 2:17), was far beyond the belief of most people. Yet, Elder Pratt had a steadfast understanding of the truthfulness of the scriptures. He added, “Now to prepare them against these contingencies, and that they might have fresh air for the benefit of the elephants, cureloms or mammoths and many other animals, that perhaps were in them, as well as the human beings they contained, the Lord told them how to construct them in order to receive air, that when they were on the top of the water, which-ever side up their vessels happened to be, it mattered not; they were so constructed that they could ride safely, though bottom upwards and they could open their air holes that happened to be uppermost."
Many people envision the jaredites as making a hole in the top of their barges and one in the bottom
    This statement in the scriptural record, as much as any other, has drawn more criticism from mariners, ship designers and builders, as well as the overall critics. How could you have a hole in the “bottom” and a hole in the “top,” of a ship. As silly as that sounds at first glance, even in Elder Pratt’s time, such was in existence. According to his further comment, "Now all our ships at the present day are constructed with holes in the bottom as well as in the top. I have crossed the ocean twelve times, but I never saw a ship yet that did not have a hole in the bottom for the convenience of the passengers, and it is one of the simplest things in the world to have holes in the bottom of a ship if you only have tubes running up sufficiently high above the general water mark. These were so constructed that when the waves were not running too high, air could be admitted through unstopping the holes which happened to be uppermost.”
    Pratt's remarks deserve attention, of course, but we need to keep two things in mind. He was not speaking under any thought of inspiration, and the convenience he was referring to was that of ship and passenger waste (toilets).
How often people mis-understand this simple instruction of the Lord to the brother of Jared—cut a hole in the bottom. Do they really think the Lord meant the bottom of the ship along the keel? Consider what would be going on inside with people, animals, and food/supplies with a boat flipping upside down from time to time
    First of all, when it comes to gravity-flow openings, as Pratt was mentioning in the wooden vessels of his day, they are certainly not a new idea, but one that has been around for centuries; on the other hand, these are not ventilation openings, such as portholes or “windows.”
    Secondly, Elder Pratt misses the point by suggesting the holes in nineteenth century ships resemble that of the Jaredite barges. He speaks of these working with tubes and only when above the water mark. This description leaves us to assume the holes Mr. Pratt is talking about are on the lower side (keel) of the ship, not the bottom as was commanded by God.
    In 1828, the word “bottom” was defined as “The lowest part of any thing,” “the foundation or ground work of any thing” or “that which supports any superstructure,” or “the lowest end.” It was not defined as “the opposie side” or “keel.”
    As has been mentioned in these posts many times, the scriptural record says the barges were the length of a tree, and they were tight like unto a dish the entire length of the barge (or tree), and as far as a tree is concerned, it has a top and a bottom—or its “lowest end.”
    Another point the description brings up is that the barges were “small” (Ether 2:16). The question is, of course, "How small was small?" Certainly during the time period of this story the brother of Jared was not comparing these vessels with modern ship size, such as a battleship or aircraft carrier; on the other hand, the brother of Jared, who would have been the writer of the original record to this point, would very likely have been comparing their barges to the only other similar boat he would have known about or seen, and that would be Noah’s Ark.
Top: An artist’s vision of the Ark; Bottom: Comparison in size between the Ark, and Columbus’ ship, a Yankee Clipper, the Titanic and the Queen Mary II
    Using the common 18” cubit, the dimensions of the ark were 450-feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high; or using the Egyptian royal cubit, it was 520 feet 8 inches long, 86 feet 9.3 inches wide and 52 feet 0.8 inches high. When the brother of Jared said they were the length of a tree, which some place around one hundred feet, he would have been talking abut something one-fourth to one-fifth the length, and infinitely smaller around (inside space) than the Ark—so much so, that he obviously was referring to something quite small in these barges by comparison. Also by comparison, they would have been far lighter on the water than the Ark, the latter being loaded down with so much wood in construction, not to mention the animals it contained.
    For those still thinking a hole was made in the bottom of the barges, like along a keel, that would normally be thought to always be under water, see the next post, “Another Interesting View – Part II,” regarding these two holes stated in Ether 2:20.

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