Monday, March 26, 2018

Was the Liahona a Compass?

Most Mesoamerican theorists have argued vociferously that the Liahona instrument that Lehi found outside his tent, intended by the Lord to guide him in “his journey into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:9), from the Valley of Lemuel, where they had been staying for nearly two years, to Bountiful, where Nephi was to build his ship, was not a compass. That is, that it was not a magnetic compass with cardinal, inordinal and intermediate points and a pointing arm as we know a compass today. 
    The reason for this dismissal of a magnetic compass is found in the fact that Mesoamerican theorists have chosen as their Land of Promise the area of Central America that runs east and west through southern Mexico, Yucatan, Guatemala, Belize and western Honduras known as Middle America, or Mesoamerica. Of course, the direction of this area runs contrary to the scriptural record in which Mormon informs us in his description of north-south land directions (Alma 22:27-34) of the Land of Promise he describes.
    Obviously, if it was a magnetic compass, that is if it showed standard directions of north, south, east and west, it would not fit the Mesoamerican narrative that John L. Sorenson championed in his so-called 1985 “landmark” book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which most Mesoamericanists use as their “bible” on the landing site of Lehi, the home of the Nephites, and the overall directional makeup of the Land of Promise.
    This is what makes this instrument so important in the Nephi narrative, which allows us greater insight into where the Land of Promise actually was located. For if the Liahona did not show normal directions, then the Mesoamerican model may well have validity. However, if it was a compass as we understand a compass today, then the Mesoamerican model is easily debunked, since Mormon and the other writers would have known and well understood that the Land of Promise actually ran true northward and true southward as we would use the terms today, and not some obscure other direction as Sorenson and Mesoamericanists in general like to claim in order to justify their model.
    However, before looking at the meaning and use of the compass as described in the scriptural record, let us first give a little understanding to the name itself: Liahona. We also need to keep in mind that the Hebrews created new words by combining existing words in accordance with the circumstances in which the need for the new word arose. Thus, the first part, lia, means “guide or command,” as in “the one who guides” or “the one who commands.” Another word lahab, means to “point,” and still another is that “lah” may have reference to “rah,” meaning “our commander or guide,” or “steers” or “navigates.” 
    The second part, hona, may mean as Hugh Nibley suggests: “to God is the guidance,” or Liaho “to [or of] the Lord.” Both suggest “the direction of the Lord,” since “Li” (the letter lamed) for a contraction of “el, which in this case indicates the “possession” of something, or even “toward” something. Stated differently, the combination of ideas suggests a definition that the Liahona was an instrument that provided direction through the guidance of the Lord.
    As Alma told his son Helaman, “I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass" (Alma 37:38). Nephi described the Liahona as “a round ball of curious workmanship, made of fine brass” (1 Nephi 16:10), and Alma added of the workmanship that “there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship,” obviously suggesting that it was so far beyond those of that day to have made such a thing, it led to not only the understanding "that the Lord prepared it” (Alma 37:38), but that “it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness” (Alma 37:39).
    Alma also told Helaman that the Liahona worked “according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day” (Alma 37:40), and that from time to time because of their slothfulness and forgetting to exercise their faith and diligence, “those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey” (Alma 37:41), thus a trip that should have taken only months at most, ended up causing them to “sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:4). In fact, that lack of faith and diligence by Laman and Lemuel “that after they had bound [Nephi] insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work (1 Nephi 18:12).
    Now it should be kept in mind that the word compass did not exist in the lexicon which Nephi would have known in 600 B.C. In fact, in ancient Hebrew there was no such word as "compass," meaning an instrument that showed direction. The word atar עָטַר, meant to “compass,” but that meant encompass, such as “David feared that Saul and his men would compass he and his men round about, or surround (1 Samuel 23:26), literally “to encircle.”
    There was not, of course, any instrument like a modern compass until around 206 B.C. in China, and not for navigational orienteering until about 1040 A.D. during the Song Dynasty, or maritime navigation until 1111 A.D. So the word Joseph Smith used to interpret what Nephi wrote, was “compass,” which according to the Spirit conveyed the meaning of Nephi’s word. Thus, to Joseph Smith in 1829, the word “compass” meant an instrument “with the thirty two points of direction, fixed on a magnetic needle, that always points to the north,” used in “directing travelers in a desert or forest,” “or ascertaining the course of ships at sea,” and “an instrument for describing circles, measuring figures, etc.”
    As was typical of ancient languages and times, when something beyond their knowledge was shown to them in vision or person, they described its appearance and purpose for lack of a name or word to give it. They then sometimes connected words to form a name that described its purpose or appearance.
    Take as an example, the ancient prophets inability to describe in known terms items that would exist in the future, such as future communication systems: “Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, here we are?” (Job 38:35); or regarding public transportation: “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4), or “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” (Isaiah 60:8), or pornography on the internet, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” (Psalms 101:3), or microchips, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-18); or nuclear weapons: “And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth” (Zechariah 14:12), or tanks and personnel carriers in battle firing as they go: “A fire devoureth before them and behind them a flame burneth; the land is as the garden of Eden before them and behind them a desolate wilderness, yea, and another shall escape them. The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses, and as horsemen, so shall they run” (Joel 2:3), and helicopters, “Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains shall they leap,” and the firing of missiles, “Like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle array” (Joel 2:4-5; emphasis added to all quotes).
Thus, Nephi called the Liahona a “ball” or “director,” for it was circular in shape and looked like a ball, and its purpose was to direct them, as an example, “we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:16).
    Like with Moses and the Israelites being led out of Egypt, “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire” (Exodus 13:21), and with the Jaredites, the Lord “stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel” (Ether 2:5), so in the case of Lehi and his party, the Lord directed them by means of the Liahona, which is described as “within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:10). And while all means of assistance with the Lord are accomplished through faith, the Liahona was no different, for whatever its physical makeup and workings, “the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them” (1 Nephi 16:28).
    As for magnetic north and the 32 points of a modern compass, consider that Nephi, who had described their trek from Jerusalem to the Red Sea without the mention of a direction, even though they traveled east from Jerusalem to the king’s highway, and then south toward the Red Sea, then three days around into a side valley, etc., he did not ascribe any direction to their travel.
    Then, after finding the Liahona, the rest of their travel he gives us two directions ascribing their main direction along the Red Sea, then their direction into the desert to Bountiful, saying: “And it came to pass that we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place Shazer (1 Nephi 16:13, emphasis added); and “we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 16:14, emphasis added). 
    Then, when they changed direction after a lengthy travel in the same direction, he states: “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Nephi 17:1, emphasis added).
    It is unlikely that Nephi had ever been much to the south of Jerusalem, let alone to the Red Sea and down its length before, or Lehi, and for them to know the exact compass direction they were traveling has to be attributed to some other means in using an exact cardinal point and ordinal or intercardinal point in the two directions given after receiving the Liahona.
    In looking at the instrument the lord made, it had three significant points: two spindles (“And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” 1 Nephi 16:10), thus, these two spindles operated independently, since only one pointed the way; thus the other must have given a directional reading like a regular compass.
The third point was that it also had writing on the ball for Lehi was told by the Lord to “Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written” (1 Nephi 16:26).
    By the way, for those who know, understand and have used modern compasses, especially a military compass, you know that while the main needle points to north, there is a secondary needle or pointer which can be hand turned to point a direction. In the case of the Liahona, evidently the Lord worked all three of these points. But irrespective of the details of how it worked, it obviously pointed to north like a regular compass or Nephi would not have known about the ordinal direction of south-southeast, and was, therefore a compass. 
    To think that later prophets who had the compass, including Alma, Helaman and later Mormon, did not know the directions of their land is a foolish lack of understanding of what Mormon has told us.


  1. The Mesoamerican "gatekeepers" will present one thing that they say totally proves the Andes model wrong, and thus shut down any further discussion of it and its multitude of strong points. And yet their model has multitudes of "one things" (like the one this article shows) that seriously undermines their claims. They seem blind and self-serving.

  2. There are a few other letters or words that can be found in the Liahona too that are interesting in Hebrew. The description is roughly the same as what you've described. Here is another interpretation of the letters.

    The first letter is the letter L. The numerical value of this letter is 12. Twelve might bring to mind the idea the teachings of the 12 apostles. So it means to teach or guide.

    The next part of the word is –iah, which is usually written as yah in most places where it is written in Roman letters. This of course means Jehovah. It is also found in many words such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Josiah etc.

    The next part of the word is "On". On is Egyptian and means the sun. It is the name of the city where Joseph lived. Joseph married the daughter of the Priest of On. This was the word to which the prefix Zi- was added to make Zion. The use of the "On" without the prefix, however, means the same thing.

    That leaves the -a. it is not clear how the suffix is spelled in Hebrew and whether there are other letters like -ah or -y or something else. It is probably just -a or aleph as Joseph Smith wrote it here. Aleph stands for or represents God when it stands alone. If all these things are put together we get a description of the device. We have to add a few words in English to connect things together so that they make sense although we do not need to do so in Hebrew. We could then say: (Our) God Jehovah leads to Zion.