Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Did Nephi Mean “It was Good and Exceedingly Fine-Part I

It is interesting how often theorists, with answers right before their eyes, skip over what they consider of little import in their search for answers. When Nephi tells us, after all the doubt and rebellious attitudes toward his ability to build a ship, “And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (1 Nephi 18:4). 
    What was it that changed the mind of his rebellious brothers from mocking his ability and calling him a fool to think he could build a ship (1 Nephi 17:17),) and then saying it was good and exceedingly fine? And what led them to consider the vessel “good” and “exceedingly fine”?
First, we receive numerous inquiries as to why we favor Khor Rori over Khor Kharfot, since both inlets are along the southern Arabian coast, the former to the east of Salalah in Oman, and the latter to the west of Salalah in Yemen, and promoted by George Potter and Richard Wellington. Certainly both sites offer many of the pre-requisites Nephi mentions in his account of the ship building location; however, there are a couple of unique items that exist at Khor Rori and do not exist at Khor Kharfot that would make a world of difference to the circumstances of Nephi’s ship and its inexperienced crew.
    To begin with, there are only a few places anywhere along the southern Arabian coast where a ship the size of Nephi’s could have been built. Whether or not Nephi had help in building his ship other than his own party has and probably will be a point of discussion and disagreement among researchers and scholars for some time to come; however, since we do not know how many people were actually in Lehi’s party, including the households of  both Lehi and Ishmael, including servants, slaves etc., one could go down that path for quite a while as well—especially when we factor in that Lehi was leaving in secret and Zoram’s agreement to join them solved the problem of leaving someone behind and their “fears did case concerning him” (1 Nephi 4:35), so that anyone in the households of either Lehi or Ishmasel would not have been left behind.
    Some claim that it would have taken a well-trained crew of shipwrights to build such a vessel and also to crew such a ship across the ocean. However, the scriptural record seems to suggest that others were not included in this endeavor outside the original party, which was likely, as we have pointed out in earlier articles, much larger than most might think.
Consider just one point: any shipwrights building boats along the coast would have their own way of building that dated back hundreds, even thousands of years. They worked by experience and eye, not by drawings or plans, as they sat in the shade of a canvas awning chipping razor-sharp adzes against the 6-inch thick baulks of timber, which had been marked out for the frames by eye.
    The vast majority of their work was done with hammer and chisel; only very reluctantly did they pick up a saw or a plane. The soft iron chisel was their tool, and with it they could work wonders. They could carve a plank into delicate curves, or they could shape the 60-foot spar into a taper as if it had been turned on a giant lathe. They were craftsmen whose original caste in India had been carpenters. Their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and untold generations before that, had been carpenters.
    It would be hard to imagine that a young Hebrew, knowing nothing of ships, could have convinced any of them to depart from “the ways of man” as they had done for generations, and build “after the manner” Nephi showed them.
    There is simply no way Nephi, if he had employed experienced ship builders as many theorists claim, could have built his ship and not “work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men,” and neither could he have built “it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2)—no shipwright worth his salt, having generations of experience in the art of ship building along the southern Arabian coast, would have allowed some young man to tell them how to work the timbers other than what they had done throughout their lifetime.
    Any Arab ship builders would have been in their trade for centuries, originally learning the art from boat builders of India who first designed and built the dhow, considered to be an Arab vessel. In fact the dhow, or the boat of the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, which was considered an art passed down from one generation to another, unchanged for more than two thousand years until Europeans introduced the square stern to the previously double-ended vessel (pointed at both ends and called a boom). Thus, dhows with square sterns existed from the 16th century became known as gaghalah, ganja, sanbuuq, jihaazi

Left: The dhow with both ends pointed was the ship design for 2,000 years until (right) the Europeans introduced the square stern, which the dhow quickly adopted, and absolutely essential for deep sea sailing to prevent following seas from swamping the boat
    Nephi had inexperienced construction people in his brothers, the sons of Ishmael, and whoever else was in their party from the two households, such as Zoram, and any servants or slaves they could not leave behind to tell where they had gone.
    As for location, Khor Kharfot seems to lack a couple of important factors. On the other hand, Khor Rori not only meets all of the requirements listed in the scriptural record, but includes a couple that would be necessary given the conditions Nephi mentions.
    The first of these factors would be so-called “sea trials,” and the second would be getting the ship out of a bay or lagoon and into the open sea.
1. Sea Trials: As is the case with any new ship, sea trials are taken to make sure the ship is sea worthy, that leaks can be found and fixed, that the rigging is working, sails can be unfurled and taken in with ease and care, the right amount of ballast is involved, and the vessel handles well in sea conditions. As important as this is as a precautionary measure, sea trials allow the captain (Nephi) and the crew to work together in understanding how to handle the ship itself.
    Contrary to popular belief, since Nephi describes his ship as being “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8), we know several things that scholars seem to overlook:
• First: With sails unfurled, the wind moved the ship—thus, a vessel with fixed sail “runs” before the wind when the wind is behind the ship. With a rudder, you can make very minor corrections until the wind dies down and a small current allows a minimal change of course.
The top arrow shows the direction of the wind (from top to bottom), with the (red arrow) sailing ships “running” before the wind—or as Nephi called it, “driven forth before the wind.” The other ship directions would be related to “tacking”and not available options until 2000 years after Nephi sailed in a ship that was “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8,9) 
• Second: With currents and winds blowing and moving in only one direction, away from shore (monsoons), and no obstacles (islands, land masses, etc.) in the way, the ship required a “light hand” on the helm—a lack of sailing experience at this point would not be a problem as long as the steerage was handled by someone with a cool head, which would have been Nephi who had the Liahona and an undying trust in the Lord.
(See the next post, “Meaning of Words and Statements-Part XIV: That it was Good and Exceedingly Fine,” for a further explanation of what Nephi meant when he wrote the above)

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