Monday, September 19, 2016

What Are the Isles of the Sea?

Among some Theorists, there seems to be a misunderstanding of the word “isles” in the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon. While many claim the word “isle” as used is really not an island at all, but a “far off land” given that name out of either ignorance or generally understood terms, we can see quite clearly that all are trying to discredit the meaning of the word since their Land of Promise model is not now or never was an island, even though Jacob makes it quite clear that the land they landed on was an island in the midst of the sea (2 Nephi 10:20).
An “island” by any other name would still be an “island”

    As a result, we need to better understand the term “isle” in the Book of Mormon and its meaning. To do that we can look to the Old Testament and the use of “isle” in that writing to understand its general use in the Hebrew language. There are those who claim that the Hebrew word for “isle” means “to be habitable places, as opposed to water and in this sense it occurs in Isaiah 42:15, hence meaning secondarily any maritime district, whether belonging to a continent or to an island. Thus it is used as the shore of the Mediterranean, and of the coasts of Elishah, of Greece and Asia Minor.”
    This leads us to the need to truly understand the meaning of the word “isle” as used by Jacob, and as used by Old Testament writers.
    First of all, it is interesting that the Old Testament writers refer to “nations of the earth” (Genesis 22:18), and that they spread out after the Flood, “and these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32). On the other hand, these nations of the earth is a statement that differs from “the isles of the sea.”
    Obviously, we need to consider what the Isles of the Sea mean and why they are separately discussed from “nations of the Earth” as other lands generally were among the ancients. The world, after all, centered in Mesopotamia with the landing of the Ark forward, and sailing took place upon the eastern Mediterranean and down the Red Sea. The first knowledge we have of the “isles of the sea” appear in the Old Testament, which was written prior to anything sailing upon the oceans of the world.
    While it is true some shipping had been through the Gates of Hercules (Gibraltar) before the writing of Ykalm (Malachi)—though very little. Malachi’s writing is believed to have occurred sometime between 568 and 433 B.C., not much sailing into the Atlantic had occurred by the close of the Old Testament.
The Phoenicians, a maritime people, were traders, not explorers or adventurers, and their maritime purposes centered on trade and the opening up of trade areas. To open up trading centers on the other side of the world would have been costly and unprofitable and certainly not something Phoenician seamen would have been involved in--their sailing was much closer to home where they could set in, sell their goods, pick up more trade items and sail off to the next port

    We need to keep in mind that the Phoenicians were just then expanding into the Mediterranean, and founding Carthage (modern day Tunis in Tunisia) in 814 B.C. in the central (then considered to be the far western) Mediterranean and by 536 B.C. controlling the Phoenician colonies beyond that in the western Mediterranean (all the way to Iberia [Spain]). The Carthage explorer Hanno “the Navigator” sailed down the West coast of Africa in 450 B.C. and Carthage sailors reached the Azores by 300 B.C. Phoenicia was sailing to Gaul (France) and Briton by 352 B.C. to obtain tin and trade it in the eastern Mediterranean to caravans plying the Silk Road from China—tin was essential at the time to mix with copper to form bronze, and few regions had tin ore from which it could be mined. This secret trading with Gaul and Briton gave Phoenicia a leg up on the market of the period, supplying a most necessary product no one else had.
    Consequently, the known world of the time was the Mediterranean and its adjoining lands, mostly Arabia, Egypt and Ethiopia in the South, to Mesopotamia and Persia (Iran) in the east, as well as Syria and Lebanon, Annatola (Turkey) in the north, which included the Hitite nation, and to the west the unknown lands of Greece, Rome, and Iberia (Spain)
    While there are numerous islands associated with the Mediterranean, the vast majority are very small, and few were inhabited during Old Testament times. The main islands that were known to Old Testament writers would have been Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus (also known as Kamatur and Caphtor), Corsica, and Crete, none of which had kings in Old Testament times; there was also the islands of Mailorca, Menorca, Sicily, and Malta, which were all in the Mediterranean and not “far off lands” and none had kings—Mailorca, as an example, was ruled by Spain, and Menorca by Aragon, and Sicily was ruled by mainland Italy. Sardinia, Corsica and Malta were not inhabited during Old Testament times, so we can discount islands within the known world at the time. As for far-off lands, there were few such places known during Old Testament times, such as Maccedonia, Thrace, Assyria, Persia, Babylonia, Cappadocia, Galatia, and Egypt, none of which were islands or believed to be islands.
The known world around 600 B.C.

    So while far off lands, called “far off places” in Zechariah (10:9), or “far countries” (Isaiah 8:9), or “distant lands” (Zechariah 10:9), or “far from your lands” (Jeremiah 27:10), or “far off in all the countries” (Daniel 9:7), or how a distance comment is made: “as far as the border of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:21), we get the idea that “far off” in the Old Testament writer’s mind was not very far, and none ever mentioned as an “isle” or an “island.”
    On the other hand, there is a mention about islands “Now shall the isles tremble in the day of thy fall; yea, the isles that are in the sea shall be troubled at thy departure” (Ezekiel 26:18); and there is a mention of separating isles from the land in: “shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the isles of the sea” (Isaiah 11:11); and in Esther we see this same separation from land to islands: “And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea“ (Esther 10:1).
    Thus, we see that the Old Testament writers did not mix up lands with isles—they clearly understood the difference and so noted them as different.
    As Noah Webster proclaimed his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, “isle” means “A tract of land surrounded by water, or a detached portion of land embosomed in the ocean.” The Old Testament writers knew that an “isle” was an island and referred to “far off” or “distant” isles of the sea understanding from Isaiah that the Lord had led a portion of the House of Israel to far off islands. As Jacob stated quite clearly, “we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance; but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20). To make sure he was understood that they were on an island in the midst of the sea, Jacob added, “But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren” (2 Nephi 10:21).
And to this statement by Jacob, Nephi not only wrote it down, but also added, “And now, Jacob spake many more things to my people at that time; nevertheless only these things have I caused to be written, for the things which I have written sufficeth me” (2 Nephi 11:1). 
    In other words, while Nephi could h ave written down more of what Jacob preached, he did not, suggesting that after hearing Jacob’s comments, was satisfied with its importance and felt Jacob’s comment and explanation as to where they were on an island was sufficient.
    “An isle of the sea” has always been interpreted as meaning an island in the midst of the sea and can mean nothing else unless one changes the meaning of the individual words. It is a shame that Theorists will cloud the issues of simple interpretations because they simple do not agree with them. This, of course, does a terrible disservice to the meaning of the scriptural record and one’s understanding of what is being read.

1 comment:

  1. and let's not forget that 1 Nephi 19 also clearly states that the sign of his death, 3 days of darkness, was given to those who should inhabit the isles of the sea. So, later, when the Nephites write of the sign of the 3 days of darkness they experienced, it stands to reason that they were on an isle of the sea at the time.

    10 And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.

    11 For thus spake the prophet: The Lord God surely shall visit all the house of Israel at that day, some with his voice, because of their righteousness, unto their great joy and salvation, and others with the thunderings and the lightnings of his power, by tempest, by fire, and by smoke, and vapor of darkness, and by the opening of the earth, and by mountains which shall be carried up.

    12 And all these things must surely come, saith the prophet Zenos. And the rocks of the earth must rend; and because of the groanings of the earth, many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the Spirit of God, to exclaim: The God of nature suffers.