Thursday, November 19, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean “An Eceedingly Large Ship”?

As has been pointed out in this series several times, it is important for us to understand what it is Mormon wrote and why he wrote it. In this case, he is describing the conditions of a man named Hagoth, and his shipbuilding enterprises and the ships he built. 
    Since the Land of Promise was an island (2 Nephi 10:20), and the Lord had made the sea a path for Nephi’s ship, they were obviously in the middle of the sea, on an island, with numerous waterways making up their land. This would obviously lead to a maritime society, and Helaman makes this quite clear that the Nephites were involved in both shipping and shipbuilding (Helaman 3:14).
    In fact, shipping must have been quite a business since the Nephites were involved in it for some type of trade or gain with those in the north: “As timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping” (Helaman 3:10).
    Now in order to carry timber, a ship has to be of some size. Likely as not, the timber shipped was in the form of raw timber or cut trees. Certainly, those in the north could have built their own saws and handled the raw timber and cut it into building lengths and boards—it would have been less expensive that way.
This coniferous tree was first found (left) in Lebanon, on the Mount Lebanon range at Sannine, Barrouk, and the eastern and western mountain chains, and almost completely covered the entire area; Right: The Egyptians used its resin to mummify their dead and thus called it the "life of death", and cedar sawdust was found in the tombs of the Pharaohs as well. Pharaohs and Pagans had the tradition of burning the cedar coming from Lebanon with their offerings and in their ceremonies. Jewish priests however, were ordered by Moses to use the peel of the Lebanese Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. According to the Talmud, Jews used to burn Lebanese cedar wood on the mountain of olives announcing the beginning of the new year
    On the other hand, when Solomon ordered trees shipped from Lebanon, he requested they be cut since “there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians” (1 Kings 5:6). These Tyrians, or men of Tyre, were far more skilled than anyone in Israel in the working of wood, specifically the cedars of Lebanon, so if Tyre would supply Israel with craftsmen, Israel would supply Tyre with corn (Ezedkiel 27:17) and “twenty thousand measures of wheat.”
    The mountains of Lebanon, with their snow-capped peaks, provided many other kinds of wood as well, including juniper, pine and oak—but the cedar was always the most treasured. Its superb qualities of beautiful color, hardness, exquisite fragrance, resistance to insects humidity and temperature, were prized above all other trees, and incited Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks and many others to use it extensively. In fact, the two dominant civilizations at the time—Egypt and Mesopotamia—had virtually no wood at all.
    The Phoenicians built their trade ships and military fleets from cedar wood as well as the roofs of their temples, houses and doorsills. Kings of neighboring and distant countries asked for this wood to build their religious and civil constructs; the most famous of which are the temple of Jerusalem and David's and Solomon's Palaces. It was also used in the temples and furniture works of the Assyrians and Babylonians.
    Cedars were first shipped to Egypt in the reign of the 4th dynasty king Sneferu (2613-2589 B.C.) for the purpose of boat construction, and later became highly desirable for the building in Iron Age Israel, and over the centuries, the cedar forests of Lebanon were severely depleted.
    In the time before Lehi, owing to the diminution of rainfall from north to south, from west to east, and from highland to lowland, these were exactly the directions in which the chief lumber traffic moved along the Mediterranean. Exceptions occurred mainly where choice woods from a limited area of production gradually acquired wide use, as in the case of the unsurpassed cedars of Lebanon. 
   These cedars were much heralded in the times of antiquity for their beauty, fragrance, commercial value, and utility in their strength for building.  Research derived from historical abstracts reveals the relationship between ancient Lebanese cedar trade for commercial and economic profit, and the denudation of the once beautifully forested lands of the Levant—it was the British railway system that finished off the cedars, using them for wood ties for their tracks.
Rough hewn timber cedar of Lebanon 
    Now when Solomon requested the timber, he said Now therefore command thou that they hew me cedar trees out of Lebanon” (1 Kings 5:6) Hewing timber is to rough cut it, without smoothing or finishing the surface. Thus, this timber was either logs or rough cut boards, but not finished lumber.
    With a precedent in world history of shipping timber to those areas without, we can look at the time frame of Hagoth, who built himself a shipyard “on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation,” and from this area he “launched the ships he built into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5).
    While Sorenson claims Hagoth went in this ship and was shipwrecked on the coast somewhere and there died, and most theorists want to put Hagoth as an explorer sailing in the ship he built, the scriptures tell us a different story.
    “And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships, and the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward”(Alma 63:7), noting that while the first ship had sailed, Hagoth was busy in his shipyard building other ships. He was not an adventurer or explorer, but a businessman and craftsman, a shipwright who built ships and not just any ships, but “exceedingly large” ships. In Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the word "exceedingly" is defined as "to a very great degree," "In a degree beyond what is usual," "greatly very much." Obviously, Hagoth built ships that were much larger than any others, at least at that time, great ships of large size capable of crossing the seas.
    Obviously, like any businessman, Hagoth was in business to provide a service and to make money as a result. While Sorenson goes far afield in his assessment of Hagoth, saying (p269), “The Book of Mormon itself, of course, says only that the man and his mates disappeared from the knowledge of the people in Zarahemla. For all they knew he might have died at the ripe old age on the west Mexican coast without a suitable vessel in which to make the return voyage. And neither do we know," yet we can see that this is simply not true.
    Hagoth was a builder of ships, and he built several--evidently continuing on during his lifetime building ships in his shipyard as any shipwright would do. Mormon takes the time to illustrate four specific ships, it is obvious that this was not the limit of Hagoth’s construction efforts, for he “built other ships” (Alma 63:7) and in a society that was involved in “shipping and ship building” (Helaman 3:14), we can see an entire business of some size since Mormon chose to single that one enterprise out from all the others mentioned in the writings of Helaman.
A plank barge built out of cedars of Labanon for Pharoah Khufu 4600 years ago
    Returning to Sorenson (p268), who wrote: “The ship of Hagoth, it it was like craft known later on the Pacific coast, was either a very large dugout canoe, with built-up sides or a log raft with sails. Whatever its form, it could hardly have been a complex planked vessel at all resembling European ships,” however, we find no reason to suggest that these ships were limited size and to such crude design.
    After all, there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward” (Alma 63:6), and when the ship returned, it was loaded again, “and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward” (Alma 63:7). How many ships or how many trips it took to move that many people is not stated, but that they all went by ship seems certain since Mormon lists it that way, later talking abut others who went overland into the Land Northward (Alma 63:9).
    Now, when men go to exploring or adventuring they often do so in limited means and among dangerous conditions. However, it is rare that men will place their wives and children in such danger, and typically when they travel with family, it is in far more comfortable conditions than when traveling among a company of men.
    When Mormon writes “an exceedingly large ship” we might want to consider that in earlier times, there were not always words available to convey extremes. Today we have “gargantuan," "humongous,” “immense,” "behemoth," “mammoth," "monstrous,” "stupendous" etc. But in earlier times, language was somewhat limited. It is interesting, however, if someone under normal circumstances said to you that something was “extremely large” it seems you would consider it quite large. So why do we find theorists trying to downplay “exceedingly large”?
These was a very large ship that Hagoth built, not oversized canoes or log rafts. And large ships have decks and internal structure to support its size. Whether it was built like a later European ship is not known, but that it had decks should be understood, for men, women and children, along with supplies, provisions, and whatever was needed to start a new life somewhere else was also among the cargo, including food, water, seeds, planting equipment, large tents, animals,weapons, and whatever else they deemed necessary to sustain life until they got settled, which is usually during the second year or more.
    It is a shame when theorists keep trying to lessen the accomplishments of the ancients so they can fit everything into their pre-determined models.

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