Sunday, May 21, 2017

Did Nephi Have Help Building His Ship? – Part IV

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, and also continuing where we ended in the last post, according to Agius, these shipwrights of today using the techniques of their great ancestors, use:

Top Left: Mango tree; Top Right: Mangrove trees; Bottom Left: Coconut Palm trees; Bottom Right: Honey-producing Al Sidir tree (sapling)
1. Mango (also known as bīfūn) for the ship’s planking and treenails (pegs and wooden fastenings);
2. Salt-tolerant mangrove trees, common to the area, used for the boat frame (Theophrastus—a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos and the successor to Aristotle—reported 2000 years ago that Mangrove was quite plentiful in this area);
3. Coconut tree (nargīl wood) was used for the hull, mast and rudder, as well as the lengths of rope;
4. Other local trees, the Delonix elata [Gul Mohur] and érîr, was used for the ribs, stem and sternpost;
5. Shalāmīn ayrīr or anīr, a tree that grows to 16 feet, and very pliable when laid underwater for six months, was used for bendable plank support, and if peeled could be used for rope nets;
6. Athab or ithebe (ficus) which grows up to 20 feet tall, was used for the frames;
7. Kilīt evergreen tree which grows up to 13 feet and used for oars;
8. The strong wood of the sidir tree (nebeq, Had nebk) was also used for the stem and sternpost;

When finished, tar was spread on the planks to hold them firmly in place and keep water out, then the outward planks were covered with fish liver oil (Dionisius A. Agius, Seafaring in the Arabian Gulf and Oman: People of the Dhow, Routledge, New York, 2005, pp31-33).
    Potter and Wellington further state that “I had finished the ship” (1 Nephi 18:4) certainly did not mean that he built it all by himself. History tells us that the hanging gardens of Babylon were built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife, but we don’t think that he was down on his hands and knees doing the work. Nephi does not tell us how many people worked on the construction of his ship, only that “we did work timbers” (1 Ne. 18:1), and that at least on one occasion his workers were his reluctant brethren (1 Nephi 17:18).”
    Funny, no one is suggesting Nephi built the ship all by himself. He had the help of at least five other adult men (brothers and the sons of Ishmael) and some teenagers who would have been the sons of Ishmael’s sons, and after eight years in the wilderness and probably at least a year at Bountiful, we are talking about several kids to do gopher work, seeing to the planting and harvesting of food, etc.

A modern crew building a dhow using traditional methods and materials, taking up to a year to construct
Today, while iron nails have come to replace the rope which held these floating vessels together in centuries past, and brass propellers and engines now help mobilization, the approximately year-long process of finishing a dhow has remained tried and true not only as a commercial enterprise, but as an Omani expression of art, craftsmanship, tradition and culture—it has remained tried and true with wooden beams being cut, manipulated and shaped with saws, hammers, bows, awls, and a lion’s share of the woodwork is done manually by hammer and chisel, and what one understands when visiting this shipping sanctuary, is that these laborious undertakings aren’t so much a task to complete, rather than a culture to preserve. Manual tools are used more often than electric, manuals don’t exist, and the best way to figure something out is to sit down with a decades-long veteran of this seaside workshop.
However, Nephi’s ship would not have taken as many people to build as some theorists seem to think. A typical standard medium sized 52 feet long 14 feet wide dhow, for example, takes one shipwright and four to five workers a total of only three months to complete using ancient building methods and materials. Building, a 100 feet long, 20 feet wide ship, which was about the size of Nephi’s ship, would have taken approximately 9 months to build with the same crew: one shipwright and 5 workers, i.e., Nephi, and Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and the two sons of Ishmael. Plus they would have had a handful of teenagers and older children to help do other things, plus women to make the ropes, sails, and other paraphernalia. However, for the benefit of the doubt, let’s add another three months or so since Laman and Lemuel would not have been working fast or really very willingly, and perhaps lacked some worker skills to the extent of slowing down the project, which could have taken a year and a half, if necessary. There was no time element involved of which we are apprised.
    Despite all the understanding to the contrary, and evidently with an extraordinary lack of understanding, Potter and Wellington sum this up by stating; “However, his brothers were not working on the ship when it was being finished (1 Nephi 18:4).”
    Now, other than wanting to limit the number of people helping him build the ship and further their view that outside workers were used, they misunderstand the simple meaning of Nephi’s words. After all, for a very long time, at least close to a year or perhaps even longer, Laman and Lemuel were working and grousing about their having to work on a project of which they had little, if any, faith, but in the end, when it was completed, they looked at the ship with a different view—it was finished and required no more of their effort, and it looked really good. Perhaps for the first time they realized that Nephi knew what he was doing. But to say they had not been working on the ship toward the end is without merit and has no supportive commentary anywhere in the scriptural record to suggest such a thing.

Notwithstanding the simple truth the scriptures tell us, Potter and Wellington, evidently unable to see beyond their own experiences to the work of the Lord and the capability of Nephi, state: “Still, it would have been impossible for a lone man to have outfitted and finished a large ship by himself. Simply lifting the heavy timbers would have required many men. If his brothers were not helping him build the finished ship, then who was? We believe it was imperative that Nephi needed at least one experienced shipwright to train and assist him, as well as, a number of other workers.”
    Their doggedly worrying that bone back and forth reminds one of the Mesoamericanists who insist that other people were in the Land of Promise before, during and after the Nephites even though there is not one single reference or suggestion in the entire scriptures to indicate such a conclusion. Again, even though no other people are indicated other than who was in Lehi’s party, Potter and Wellington mention “other aspects related to the ship, such as, having a trained crew to sail the ship, and how to captain and command the ship. We won’t take time to discuss them, but it is quite interesting what Nephi had to learn to be the Captain, and he probably hired on several experienced seamen for the journey, which would have brought other bloodlines to the New World.”
    One can only imagine at such creativity involving the scriptural record practiced by numerous theorists in order to make the scriptural record agree with their point of view and model.
(See the next post, “Did Nephi Have Help Building His Ship? – Part V,” for more information on this and a clearer understanding of why Nephi did not need outside help or assistance in building his ship and how much help he actually had)

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