Thursday, May 18, 2017

Did Nephi Have Help Building His Ship? – Part I

George Potter and Richard Wellington wrote in their book Lehi in the Wilderness (published by Cedar Fort, 2003): “Building a ship required Nephi to learn from local tradesmen how to smelt ore to make tools, to cut stones to form anchors, to work wood within very tight specification, to weave sails, to fabricate rope, to mold pots for storing water, to tan hides for bellows and how to fasten the ship’s riggings. Culminating with the building of a great ship.”
Of course, we have in this blog, always maintained that Nephi did not have help outside his own family and that of Ishmael, along with whatever family retainers and household servants that accompanied them into the wilderness.  While the Potter and Wellington’s work of Lehi’s trek to Bountiful is probably the best explanation of that journey found in print outside the Book of Mormon, on this particular issue, like many others beyond Bountiful, we have a strong disagreement, partly because like most theorists, Potter and wellington go far beyond the scriptural record to intone their own and other's ideas, such as Nephi learning how to buiuld from men of his time; however, actually Nephi makes no reference, intonation, or suggestion of any type that anyone else was involved in that effort other than receiving direct guidance and instruction from the Lord.
    In all reality, Nephi lays it all upon the Lord. This means to me, that through the Liahona or Urim and Thumim, the Lord communicated with Nephi, as well as on the mount about which Nephi said: “I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things” (1 Nephi 18:3, emphasis added). What exactly the Lord showed him, we are not told, but it might have been anywhere from instruction to actual visions of how things were to be done, i.e., seeing wood worked, seeing wood cut and shaved to the clearance needed to make the vessel watertight, and so on.
    After all, the words: “the Lord showed unto me,” has specific meaning. In 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the word "show" is defined as: “to enable to see,” “to present to the view of others,” “to contain in a visible form,” “to teach,” “to point out as a guide,” and “external appearance.”
    Perhaps it was like a modern “You-Tube” where a viewer is shown quite quickly how to actually perform the steps needed to build a boat, sailing ship or whatever. After all, the Lord has said, “I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them. I did show them suddenly” (1 Nephi 20:3).
A You-Tube presentation on working wood during the construction of a boat. Note the step-by-step methodology used; surely the Lord can do better and quicker, by installing the images directly in the mind of the individual, such as in a detailed vision as both Lehi and Nephi saw earlier

    Potter and Wellington also stated that “It is probably a fact that when Nephi arrived at Bountiful, his knowledge of shipbuilding was nil.” In fact, Chief Engineer and Maritime expert Frank Linehan believes that to build his ship Nephi needed access to very skilled shipwrights. He believes that Nephi could not have developed the required expertise in Jerusalem, and while the Lord gave Nephi the instructions on how to build the ship, he did not give him the lifetime of experience that shipwrights need to perform their craft. Nephi built a ship that was large and of fine workmanship.”
    Under normal circumstances, of course, that is no doubt quite true—Lineham has been around the sea all his life with numerous harrowing experiences and would certainly know what it took to build a sea-worthy ship. On the other hand, it is amazing what an indomitable spirit can do in the case of building. In my own case, at the age of 64, I designed and built (along with my wife) a 7400-square foot, two-story home on 3 acres without one ounce of building experience of anything larger than a stereo set. The retirement home had six bedrooms, four baths, two kitchens, two family rooms, a library, child’s playroom, huge laundry room, huge pantry, formal dining room and living room, formal entrance hall, large game room, large craft room, with curved walls, recessed lighting, five-miles of wiring, including an indoor putting green, workshop and extra-large 3-car garage.  By the time we finished after 11-months, using a hired man to help with lifting of beams from time to time, the house appraised at five times what it cost to build, and in eight years, over ten times value. The point is, a person can accomplish great things if they are not too timid to try and willing to spend the time and effort to do the job.
In Nephi’s case, he not only was all of that, but also had an undaunted spirit and trust in the Lord: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). And in the case of Nephi, he would have been truly ungrateful had he not given credit to the Lord preparing a way by providing skilled workmen if Potter and Wellington were correct in their assessment, and Lineham in his beliefs.
    John L. Sorenson, another theorist who believed that Nephi had the help of other people, stated: “No hint can be found in the text that anyone in Lehi’s party had any knowledge whatever of nautical matters.” At the same time, there is no hint in the scriptural record that he had any help in building his ship other than who was in Lehi’s party. So again, we are led back to the Lord, who once again, Nephi said would not give any commandment unless the Lord provided a way for the command to be carried out.
Tim Severin in the Sinbad Voyage. The ship Severin built had moveable sails and was not "driven forth before the wind," since it could tack and sail into the wind--the skills just to move the sails about took great experience as Severin notes

Famous British explorer, historian and writer Tim Severin, who was the captain of the Sohar ship on its voyage from Muscat to Canton in China, in 1980-81 that covered 6000 miles in eight months, noted the skills required of the shipwrights who constructed his replica, and the seamen who had to learn “how best to adjust the sails to the wind and steer a steady course,” stated: “Whether cutting a foot-thick lump of timber to size, or shaping the finest sliver of wood for a delicate joint, 90 per cent of [his shipwrights] 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.”
In Severin's ship, when the mainspar hung vertical, its butt swept back and forth across the deck with the rolling of the ship like a lethal scythe--split second timing was called for . Also, in hauling in the mainspar, the crew readies to swing the great mainsail around the mast and set a new course--this is a type of sailing requiring enormous experience and had nothing to do with Nephi's ship as he describes it

These are skills, of course, that take many, many years to learn and execute to satisfaction. On the other hand, whatever the Lord showed Nephi, and whatever the young man learned in his building a ship, he then turned around a couple of years later and “I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance” (2 Nephi 5:15). Or, stated differently, evidently in that short time of building a ship, Nephi went through a lifetime of learning from the Lord and as a result, built a ship, and then taught his people how to build buildings, work with wood and metals, and precious ores.
He says nothing of learning that from anyone other than the Lord. So why do theorists keep insisting other people had to have been involved? 
    At the same time, Severin's type of vessel, a dhow, not what Nephi built for Nephi's ship was unlike that of men, required special handling because of the manner of the sails, mainspars and masts. While we do not know what the Lord instructed Nephi to specifically build, it obviously was not like that of other ships being built by men of that day; therefore, Severin's experience in his voyage would have had little or nothing to do with what Nephi's voyage experienced, especially in the physical handling of the ship.
    However, not to be swayed by the scriptural record, Potter and Wellington go on to write: ““To prevent leaks ... planks had to be planed to 1/64 of an inch in exactness. How could Nephi have learned to do this if not at the side of an experienced shipwright? The same can be said for sailing a large multisail ship. It takes years to learn and practice the skills needed to master a large sailing ship at sea.”
It is not that the Lord took away the responsibility of Nephi to learn and accomplish these things; he taught him not just by words, but “showed” him how it was to be done. As Nephi put it: “the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1, emphasis added). And to make sure we understood that he was “shown” how to do it, he added, “Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2, emphasis added). That is to say, the working of the timbers and building of the ship was of a different design than that known by men of that day, so what it required and how it was done, is simply something beyond our knowledge and perhaps even our understanding. What we do know and can accept without questions, is that whatever the Lord showed Nephi to do, it was something Nephi, and his brothers, etc., could master and do.
    What more on this matter needs to be said?
(See the next post, “Did Nephi Have Help Building His Ship? – Part II,” for more information on this and a clearer understanding of why Nephi did not need outside help or assistance in building his ship)

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