Friday, May 19, 2017

Did Nephi Have Help Building His Ship? – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding what help, if any, Nephi had in building his ship other than his own family and those in Lehi’s party. 
    Nephi built his ship after the manner the Lord showed him. He mentioned no outside help, other than those of his family. After all, if Nephi was being shown by experienced shipwrights who were doing the technical work as Potter and Wellington claim, then why did Nephi’s brothers rebel as Nephi said: “And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord” (1 Nephi 17:18). Surely that would have made no sense if there were experienced ship builders giving the instruction and showing how it should be done.
    Isn’t it about time to accept the scriptural record the way it is written and not try to add things that are not included? It matters little what the common man can do, but what the common man can do with the help and aid of the Lord. Nephi’s experience, rather than to be belittled in such a manner, should be seen in the light of his great achievement under the tutelage of the Lord—a guidepost for us all!
    One of the more important things that had to be achieved in the building of his ship was for Nephi to make sure the planks of the ship were joined with such exactness as to prevent leaks.

Left: Oldest wood plane found, dated to the early Roman period and made of wood with a metal blade; Right Top: Egyptian plane; Right Bottom: Later early planes of Europe
    It is believed that such planning had to be within 1/64th of an inch of exactness. Of course, the question is always raised as to how could Nephi have learned to do this if not at the side of an experienced shipwright?
    It might be of interest to note that ancient wooden planes for smoothing wood planks has been in existence since B.C. times—exact tools with iron sole plates riveted to the wooden bodies, though most Roman planes were constructed of an iron cutter with a wooden body, push bar and wedge very similar to planes used today. Earlier Egyptian planes and other hand tools have also been found, along with the ancient adze, which early shipwrights used almost exclusively in building their small dhows.

Left Top: Hafted jade adz; Top Right: Hatchet hafted as an adz; Left Bottom: Hafted bone and stone adz; Hafted bone and iron adz
    The adze (adz) is a cutting tool shaped somewhat like an axe that dates back to the stone age. It can be any tool with a sharp cutting edge, used for smoothing or carving wood in hand woodworking, similar to an axe, but with the cutting edge perpendicular to the handle. Two basic forms of an adze are the hand adze, a short handled tool swung with one hand, and a foot adze, a long handled tool capable of powerful swings using both hands, the cutting edge usually striking at foot or shin level. The blade of an adze is set at right angles to the tool's shaft (like a hoe or plane) in contrast to an axe’s blade, which is in plane with the shaft.
    Most ancient ship builders used the adze, which is still used by old Omani shipwrights in Arabia today. Both ancient and modern adzes are hafted upon essentially the same patter—a short curved haft, the shape of which is sufficiently well indicated below, which was made of whale’s rib, deer antler, or shaped wood, as a sturdy tree branch.

Ancient Egyptian adzes dating to 2000 to 1500 B.C.
    The shipwright's adze is lighter, and more versatile than the carpenter's adze, and designed to be used in a variety of positions, including overhead, as well as in front on waist and chest level. It is imperative that the blade be extremely sharp, and the handle be the right length for the person using it, and one who is experienced using this tool can shape a piece of wood as easily as a baker ices a cake. Anciently, this took was almost used solely in all kinds of carpenter work, but especially by shipwrights in building boats and ships.
    It is also important to keep in mind that the adze was a household tool for any worker and would have been found on Lehi’s farm outside of Jerusalem, and obviously used by Nephi and Sam as well as Laman and Lemuel in their work around the farm in any type of wood working. To think that ancient man in such a farm situation for much of their lives would not know how to use such tools, as well as forging knowledge at least in the making of tools used each day is foolhardy. There were no local Wal-Marts or Ace Hardware store--tools were hand made on the farm and used there.
    It should also be understood that the Lord knew that Nephi would someday be called upon to build a ship that had to withstand deep ocean travel. During his early years, the Lord would have prepared him for that eventuality by seeing that he had the opportunity to develop such skills as would someday become necessary. Theorists seem to forget that the Lord has a Plan and operates that Plan, preparing those he needs to assist him in his work at different times well in advance so that when the time arrives, they are ready and able to carry out their roles. Moses was raised in the house of the Pharaoh for 40 years, then given another 40 years of preparation for his history changing task. Joseph Smith, and his father and those who came before underwent numerous trials in their preparation to mold him into the man needed to usher in the restoration.
    When it came time for Nephi to build the ship, he was ready. He did not concern himself with how to do it or if he could, after seeing the images of the ship he was to build and how it was to be built, all he wanted to know was where the ore could be found to make the tools (1 Nephi 17:9) “to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?” (emphasis added).
    This was not a new idea to Nephi. He had earlier been given a vision which he asked to see. As he stated: “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot” (1 Nephi 11:1, emphasis added).
    While there is no question that a person needs to have the skills needed in which to carry out the instruction of the Lord, he also can develop or increase his ability, by seeing exactly how it is to be done. As any communication expert today knows, a picture is worth a thousand words--and to the prophet, a vision is worth a thousand pictures.

Consider a picture of each and every step to be taken in the phrase: “And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1)
    The Lord did not just tell Nephi how to do something, as so many theorists seem to think, but he “showed” him all the things he had to do to build his ship. While Nephi had no knowledge of building a ship, he did have knowledge and experience in building around his father’s farm the items that such a farm requires. And though he may not have known why he was learning such skills, the Lord certainly did and made sure he had ample opportunity to hone those building skills to the point that would be needed.
    But theorists always miss the point. As Potter and Wellington argue: “One could argue that it was no problem at all for the Lord could have simply supplied Nephi with all the materials, knowledge and skills he needed on request. We refer to this as the “storybook” version of Nephi’s ship. It is a scenario that we think grossly misrepresents how the Lord deals with his faithful servants and significantly undervalues what Nephi actually accomplished through applied faith and works, and it also leads to a mythological rather than factual understanding of the Book of Mormon. Besides, the storybook version makes no sense. If the Lord simply wanted to supply everything for Nephi, one miracle after another, why build a ship in the first place? Why not have them walk across the ocean?”
    Such simplicity not only misses the point, but in and of itself ignores the training and development the Lord places in the path of those he needs to serve him in certain ways. When I was called to be on a stake high council right after being married, I didn’t even know what a high council was or how it operated—much to my chagrin because of the many protocol mistakes I initially made—let alone what work they did other than give talks in Sacrament meeting once in a while. But I had been prepared by the Lord to do certain things and develop certain skills which the Stake Presidency needed and utilized through me. And so it is with those the Lord calls.
    He knew what Nephi would be required to do, knew what skills and abilities he would need, and knew He had a willing subject with which to teach in  his developing years around his father’s farm. By the time those skills were needed, they were available, and with Nephi’s extremely positive attitude and trust in the Lord, he carried out his responsibilities without the need for outside help.
(See the next post, “Did Nephi Have Help Building His Ship? – Part III,” for more information on this and a clearer understanding of why Nephi did not need outside help or assistance in building his ship)


  1. The scriptures clearly state how Nephi learned how to build a ship- the lord showed him. To say he learned how from shipbuilders is contrary to scripture in my opinion.
    he later taught him how to build amazing buildings that could withstand earthquakes, and taught through vision or inspiration of the spirit a road system comparable to the romans, defensive forts and walls that were virtually impenetrable, terrace farming, irrigation, etc. He didn't get to the promised land and find building and road building experts to teach him how to build any more than he found shipbuilders to teach him in Bountiful.

  2. Well said. Why people want to restrict the Lord, who created worlds without number, and all that we see could not teach someone how to build a ship is beyond me.