Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Journey to Bountiful and the Building of Nephi’s Ship – Part IV

Continued from the previous post regarding the journey to the land of Bountiful and the building of Nephi’s ship.
    When Lehi reached the sea and called the area Bountiful, we have already noted that after “many days,” the Lord called Nephi into the mountain where he instructed him on the building of a ship.
    It should be noted here the kind of ships that were available along the Red Sea and in the coastal area of the Sea of Arabia, as well as the eastern Mediterranean—the latter as early as the late 2nd millennium BC. These early vessels were of three types—all of which were coastal vessels:
Top Left: The Arab dhow fishing vessel; Top Right: Egyptian trading vessel; Bottom: Greek Trireme, with three levels of oarsmen

1. dhows, a small fishing boat used by Arab fishermen to sail along the coast while fishing; some of these could handle upwards of a dozen or so fishermen; some larger dhows were used for trade;
2) trade vessels, typically wide, slow, and capable of carrying large cargoes; early vessels used both oars and sail, later ones had difficulty sailing toward the wind, and still later ones were called Galleons;
3) Galleys. A type of ship from the 2nd millennium BC that was propelled mainly by rowing, with its long, slender hull, shallow draft, small square sail, and low freeboard. On the Mediterranean, these were fast and highly maneuverable, flat-bottomed, light-weight war ships, without ballast, such as the bireme, triremes, and the much larger quadriremes and quinqueremes, all of which, by the way, were not oared by slaves as movies show, but by freemen, Roman citizens from outlying provinces. Regarding size, the quinquireme was 147-feet long and 16-feet wide which was truly big for its time. It had 300 rowers with 90 oars on each side. Being heavier than the trireme (it would displace about 100 tons), it was also more stable in bad weather and faster. A 100-ton quinquireme ramming an enemy ship at high speed would totally pulverize the struck vessel.
    Building a ship (that would not sink) starting from the outer hull was quite a difficult task and required a lot of experience. Early shipbuilders built the outer hull first, then proceeded with the frame and the rest of the ship while the planks forming the outer hull were sewn together.
Connecting wood planks and joints in building ships: Top Left: nailing planks; Top Right: Locking pins (dowels) that are sawn off in completion; Bottom Left: Rope stitching or sewn planks: Bottom Right: The Tenon/Mortise method of joining the wood

From the sixth century BC onwards, the locked mortise and tenon method (where two woods are joined where one piece has a “rail” or tenon joint that fits into a mortise hole of the other piece) rather than the sewing method was used to join the planks together. Mediterranean shipbuilders shifted to another shipbuilding method which consisted of building the ship starting from the frame and then proceeding with the hull and the rest of the ship. This shipbuilding method (frame first, hull, then rest of the ship) is still the method being used today to build modern ships
    In Lehi’s time (and continued for centuries) there were two basic patterns of shipbuilding in the shipyards around the Red Sea and Sea of Arabia. In each case, the builders at Jiddah and Salalah laid the keel and fastened the ribs to it. The ribs were always made out of tree limbs whose curve provided the desired angle for the ribs. Planks were fastened to the skeleton either by nailing or by “sewing.”
1. Nailing. In the first method, the builder drilled through the plank and rib with an iron-tipped hand-drill. Through the hole, he drove a large iron spike with oiled hemp packing wrapped around the shaft under the large head. The spike was then bent over on the inside to cinch the nail in place. This nailing method was used in Jiddah, about halfway along the east coast of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia, and Yanbu.a few miles north of Jiddah.
“The Jewel of Muscat,” a replica of a ninth century Omani trading ship, sails into the harbor of Galle, Sri Lanka. Built in a traditional manner without nails and “sewn” with coconut fibers to hold the ship together, the vessel followed old routes used by Arab traders from the Gulf of Oman to far off India

2. Sewing. In the second method, the builder drilled a series of holes wherever the planks were joined together, then lashed them tightly together with hemp or coconut rope and waterproofed it. The planks were lashed to the ribs in much the same way—a method of construction that only existed in Yemen and Oman and dated far back in antiquity.
    Of course, Nephi did not build the ship “after the manner of men” but “after the manner which the Lord had shown unto” him. (1 Nephi 18:2), suggesting that neither of these two methods were employed by Nephi, but that the Lord showed him a different, and no doubt superior method of working the timber.
    It is mentioned here to show that theorists can go far afield by trying to determine the “why” of matters. As an example, it is suggested that by some theorists “for Nephi to have been acquainted with construction techniques was not extraordinary or unlikely—he built in an area where shipbuilding was known.” The problem with this thinking is there is no reason to believe Nephi knew anything about how ships were built in his day. Other than seeing some ships in passing down the Red Sea coastal area, his familiarity with ships would have been about the same as modern man’s knowledge of the building of a rocket ship that took man to the moon. We know what one is, and have a rudimentary knowledge of how it works, but have no idea how it was specifically constructed and built. To suggest that Nephi knew how the timbers were worked, how the planks were sewn or nailed, is unrealistic.
    Nor is it within the realm of reason to believe, as many theorists claim, that Lehi stopped at Eliat or Aqaba as they reached the Gulf of Aqaba (Gulf of Eliat) as part of the Red Sea, though geologically it is the southern end of the Dead Sea Transform fault system (Dead Sea Rift). We only need to keep in mind that several days or weeks later, Nephi, sent back to obtain the brass plates, encountered Laban’s servant, Zoram, and was fearful he would tell someone about Lehi’s departure and was relieved when Zoram agreed to go with them into the wilderness (1 Nephi 4:36). Consequently, Nephi and the others would not have stopped at a city where questions would be asked and answers expected as to who they were and where were they going. The idea that Nephi tarried in such a city to observe the building of a ship, long before he even knew he was going to have to build one, is without merit.
    Yet, the theorist goes on to write: “Even though Nephi’s ship was not ‘after the manner of men,’ Nephi likely used a number of the methods and elements of design or appearance that were known to the people of his time.” What Nephi knew about the methods and elements of ship building is not near as realistic as his knowing how to build things that would be necessary around a working farm, which is what he grew up on outside of Jerusalem. In addition, when the Lord told him how to build the ship, Nephi wrote: “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), we might understand that either the vision of the ship Nephi was to build was so radically different in viewing it from what he had seen on the Red Sea as they traveled through the wilderness, that he realized it was not built the same way, or, and most likely, the Lord told him he was going to show him a method of building the ship that was not the way men were building ships locally or in his time.
A map of the route Lehi took and the Valley of Lemuel beyond the mountains along the Gulf of Aqaba

It should also be noted, that for Lehi coming from the north toward this arm of the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba), he would have turned off to the east, away from the gulf and the cities, into the Valley Rum and then the wadi that runs parallel to the gulf but on the east of a mountain ridge that lies between. This would have taken him to the valley he called Lemuel, located somewhere between al Bad’ and Gayal at the lower end.
(See the next post, “The Journey to Bountiful and the Building of Nephi’s Ship – Part V,” for the building of Nepih’s ship and their journey across the sea)

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