Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean “And did sail forth with much provisions”?

Continuing with our series on “What Did Mormon Mean,” we all too often skip over statements or phrases used in the scriptural record, that if we would dwell on them for a moment (contemplate their meaning, “ponder” them as Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Seventy stated in a Conference Talk in April 1982), we often get an insight into events and happenings that otherwise seem vague or unimportant to us.
"Pondering," as Elder Wirthlin explained, means to “weigh mentally, to deliberate, to mediate, and can achieve the opening of the spiritual eyes of one’s understanding.” Nephi wrote that he “sat pondering in his heart and was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 11:1), and the Lord told the Nephites, “Go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said” (3 Nephi 17:3).
As we ponder Mormon’s many meanings, there is no question we get a deeper understanding of what he was writing about. This is not the same as change the meaning, or injecting information not found in the scriptures as theorists do, but simply ponder what has been written—exactly what was written exactly the way it was written.
    Take, for example, Mormon’s comment at the end of the record of Alma regarding the emigrants that entered into the ship(s) Hagoth built and “did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward” (Alma 63:6).
    Over the years, with seven children and living in Southern California with most of our extended family in Utah, we made several trips by car with the family. Even in those days, with nine of us pulling into a restaurant (there were few fast food places along the freeway then), it cost a considerable amount to feed us all, especially with each kid having a different “like” than the others. So, often we would pack “provisions” for us to nibble on and sometimes eat our meals while driving.
Before air conditioning (yes, there was a time when we drove across the summer heat of the 120º of Death Valley, etc.), we also made sure we had sufficient water (I remember a time when we took extra water for the radiator [left]—an unheard of need today), made sure the spare tire had air in it (no tiny emergency wheels in those days), and other paraphernalia in case of an emergency.
    Today, we grab a couple of battles of water and hop in the car. There are In-n-Out Hamburgers all along the way, rest stops and restrooms everywhere, and cars are built to travel across the heat of the desert on long trips without a problem.
    One can only wonder at the “provisions,” Hagoth’s emigrants took with them. When it says much provisions, the emphasis is on “a lot.” In addition, these people were going somewhere they, and possibly others, had never been, so they could not count on supplies of any kind being where they were going, certainly no food stuff would be available wherever they went, other than what they took, and need to prepare for most kinds of needs and emergencies.
    Since the ship returned without them the following year, we can conclude two things:
1. They went a very long way (it took a long time for the ship to return);
2. They were not intending to return (had no future way of obtaining supplies).
    So their provisions would have been quite extensive, including seeds “of every kind” for planting; constructing tools to make houses, forts, cities, and other building needs; clothes, blankets, and other materials to see them through the winter, especially if this was a land they knew little about. In addition, they would have taken special plants, even the core of their culture, including food plants, fiber plants such as flax or hemp, cotton or husk fibers like coconut, medicinal plants and their ritual plants. The first settlers to an area might have found incredibly unique ecosystems, yet very little that could sustain them other than a marine ecosystem. Initially, of course, they would have looked for a place with abundant marine resources, fresh water, and rainfall to water the plants they brought.
    All of this would have required a vessel large enough not only for themselves, which included entire families, and provisions needed to sustain life, but also that which would have been required for the future success of a colony. In any type of a migration, people move prepared to take care of themselves, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively.
In a mass exodus from the Plains during the 1930s, poor migrants streamed out of the Dust Bowl area of the mid west and flocked to California looking for a better life. They often carried their entire belongings on the top of their cars. By 1950, one quarter of all people born in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas or Missouri lived outside their region with most having come like the above photos to make a new life in the west
    When taking passage on a ship to an unknown land in 55 B.C., in a time when survival depended on what you could take with you to build a new home would also have included tents, means of cooking meals, obtaining food in the wild, weapons for protection and tools for everyday use.
    The point is, all of this would have required much space and a type of vessel unlike those most theorists envision, even large, the high-sided canoes Sorenson claims Hagoth built would not have been sufficient.
    Certainly, there would have been a need for a lower deck where provisions, supplies, and all implements could have been stored during the voyage—a sort of cargo hold. In later European ships, there was an Orlopp deck like that, a low storage deck, right about the waterline, and typically filled with casks of stores for maintaining the ship and crew. Plus, a loaded deck such as that helped a vessel to be stable, otherwise it could be top-heavy with people.
Also, an important point that most theorists and especially academicians, often forget, is that from a financial point of view, there had to be a lot of passengers in order to compensate the owners of the ship for its use and their passage. Contrary to popular belief among certain historians and scholars, there has never been a time when people were not expected to work for their sustenance, and worked to support themselves and their families.
    Nobody builds a “very large ship” without expecting to be paid for its use or sale. No one opens up an emigration route by ship without charging for passage. And when we talk about taking along women and children (Alma 63:4), then we are talking families and all the needs, burdens and responsibilities families require; and when we talk about provisions, we are talking about life-sustaining needs for everything from eating to building to professions for continued earnings; and when we are talking about not returning, we are talking about taking with you everything you would possibly need to continue life, growth, and future.
    Thus, a lot of passengers requires a “very large ship,” which is exactly what Hagoth built and Mormon records: “Therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship” (Alma 63:5).

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