Thursday, January 3, 2019

Our 10th Anniversary

Today begins our 11th year of publishing this Blog. In the past 10 years we have posted  3,197 articles and had 1,110,000 visitors. We thank you for your support! 

Were There Other People Available to Help Nephi Build His Ship in 600 BC? - Part I

Most members today, especially those who write about different theories regarding the location of the Book of Mormon, seem to be unaware of a question once asked by Brigham Young: “Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them, a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel this, it is your privilege to do so” (John A. Widtsoe, Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1941, p128). So important is this question, or more aptly, what it suggests, we would add, “If you do not, why not?”
    After all, how can one understand the fullest intent of the scriptural record if one does not insert oneself into the writer’s mindset to understand what the writer meant and intended. We have often suggested in these blog articles regarding the geography of the Land of Promise that it is extremely important when it comes to the meaning behind the description in 1 Nephi of the ship the future prophet built—as well as the circumstances connected to that event and the importance of the Lord’s involvement in its achievement. Next in importance comes the descriptions Nephi gives us of his actual sailing, course, landing and findings in the Land of Promise.
First, let’s consider the building of his ship. It is often suggested by theorists of all models that there were there others available for Nephi to call upon to build his ship other than his brothers and those in Lehi’s party? But were there? When looking at these events of which Nephi wrote about and described, can one really suggest that there were others available to him? After all, there is no evidence from the scriptural record, or the historical factors of life at Jerusalem in 600 BC to suggest that Nephi would have had any experience in such matters at all when it comes to building a ship, a boat, or even a raft.
    Jersualem, after all, is at 2,474-feet above sea level in the then heavily forested Judaean Mountains that reach heights of 3,366 feet, which make up the surface of a series of steep monoclinic folds. In addition, Jerusalem is inland from the coast on the top of the Judaean ridge in the area called Palestine, nearly surrounded by desert and rugged hills between the coastal plain and the Jordan Rift Valley. While much closer to the Dead Sea than the Mediterranean, this sea is 8½ times saltier than the ocean, fish are unable to swim in it, boats cannot sail on it, animals cannot survive around it, and the climate surrounding it is arid and parched. It would not have been a place for ship building or sailing in Lehi’s day or for two thousand years afterward.
    Yet, despite this lack of boat-building, sailing, ocean, or maritime experience, Nephi built a large sailing ship when in his mid- to late 20s capable of carrying some 60 or more people across thousands of miles of dangerous blue water, or deep ocean. Obviously, the “experts” cannot explain this under normal circumstances, and have to provide a way for it to be done, since all maritime science claims nobody could have done so, even with divine help.
    As one such skeptic stated: “While the Book of Mormon says nothing of the presence of others in the neighborhood of their Bountiful dry dock, we now know the help and sailing experience was not far away. Salalah was a busy port city even in Lehi's day.” However, this is not correct. The fact of the matter is that Salalah was not an independent settlement in 600 BC. Its history is tied to that of Sumhuram, a 665-foot by 164-foot fort built at Khor Rori in the last century BC and which thrived around 400 AD.
Salalah was a settlement on the sandy beaches along the south shore of the Salalah Plain. 27 miles to the east was Sumhuram, built in the last century BC within an area called Khor Rori, an inlet to the sea from a protected harbor

For some five centuries, Salalah’s history began in Sumhuram, which itself began some 300 years after Lehi left the area, in which Khor Rori was a port and the fort a meeting point connecting trade across the Ancient Roman, Egyptian, Indian, Persian and African empires. This history goes back to the days when Salalah was an important springboard for trade in frankincense and silk.
    Following Samhuram’s peak, Salalah itself was settled about 27 miles to the west and became a major port city along the Oman-Yemen coast. In BC times, the area of Salalah was unsettled and unoccupied until the last century, and no settlement of any size existed along the coast, with Khor Rori occupied only by Lehi in about 585 BC, and then only for about a two-year period. Otherwise the entire coastal strip was basically unknown on the peninsula except for a handful of farmers and herders who occasionally frequented the area. Even T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), who traveled all over the southern peninsula, came no closer to Salalah than Shisr 125 miles inland, across the mountains and within the Empty Quarter. 
    All of this means that Salalah itself was not founded until around 200 to 400 AD, with Samhuram and Khor Rori not built until 400/300 BC. Thus, there would have been no one in the area for Nephi to call upon for help, let alone anyone with maritime or shipbuilding experience.
    Another interesting comment made about Nephi and his building a ship, is stated in: “We generally assume that Nephi possessed no prior nautical knowledge to prepare for his role as shipbuilder. However, Dr. Sorenson suggests that we have not read the text with sufficient care. Nephi states (1 Nephi 18:2) that he did not build the ship using the method or design of men, implying that Nephi had some familiarity with those methods and designs.”
    First of all, accepting Sorenson’s comments without looking them up often leads to errors. Much of his information on this matter is inaccurate. As an example, the port of Khor Rori lies 27 miles to the east of Salalah on a hilltop on the eastern bank of a sweet-water outlet, called a khor in Arabic. Samhuram, the fort built around 400-300 BC, is about 1300 feet from the open sea, it dominates the khor which opens to the sea and served as a natural harbor.
    This area of Khor Rori has been identified as Moscha a port of classical geographical texts, where Indian seamen who had brought cotton cloth, corn, and oil to exchange for incense, set in waiting for favorable monsoon winds to take them home (Lionel Casson, The Periplus Maris Erythraei: A Translation (the third translation of the original work first printed in 1533 from the original work dated to between 30 AD to 230 AD), Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey, 1989, pp172-174).
Foreground are the ruins of Sumhuram, an ancient fort to guard the incense trade, established late in the last century BC—it was the only settlement on the Salalah Plain until the settlement of Salalah was established around 200 AD; Khor Rori is the name given to the sweet-water inlet

All known histories and records of this area show that the site of Khor Rori was first settled as a small fortified town and port for an outpost for the kingdom of Hadramawt in modern Yemen once the Nabataeans started to export frankincense from the Hymraite ports in the 3rd century A.D. However, it was actually settled or occupied as early as 400 to 300 BC, but not officially as an actual settlement until the 1st century BC,  when fort Sumhuram was built, as noted by the ancient Greek seafarer’s manual, Periplus of the Erythrean [Red] Sea, in which the inlet at Khor Rori is identified as Moscha) and describing navigation and trading opportunities in the area for mariners who might be sailing in that area—obviously, if it had been occupied for some 600 years or more by then, there would have been no need for his detailed instructions as to how to reach this inlet and where it was exactly located.
    Inscriptions at Khor Rori show that the town, called Sumhuram, was founded on a royal initiative and settled by Hadrami emigrants. Dhofar was the main source of frankincense in the ancient period, and it seems likely that the foundation of the settlement was in part motivated by a Hadrami wish to control the production of this valuable commodity. Most scholars identify Khor Rori with the frankincense exporting port of Moscha Limen mentioned in this region in the 1st century BC maritime guide Periplus Maris Erythraei.
North or backside of Sumhuram, enclosed within high walls, a fortress guarding the area of Khor Rori where the Frankincense trade shipments began

Considered the most important pre-Islamic settlement in the Dhofar region and in the center of the frankincense production areas, the earliest possible occupation comes from ancient records of south Arabian inscriptions that were carved along the monumental gate to the city, dating the location to the 3rd century BC. The actual area of Salalah, which is a few miles west of Khor Rori, along the shore, did not reach its peak until the 13th century AD. In fact, the successive ports of Khor Rori (4th/3rd century BC to the 5th century AD) and Al Baleed (8th century till 16th century AD) and an outpost close to the Great Desert Rub Al Khali, Shisr, about 125 miles inland, represent in a unique way the distribution of frankincense which was produced in the wadis of the coastal hinterland. All three sites were exceptionally fortified, and all dates after the 4th century BC—two hundred years or more after Lehi left the area for the Land of Promise.
(See the next post, “Were There Other People Available to Help Nephi Build His Ship in 600 BC? – Part II,” for more on the building of Nephi’s ship and whether or not he had local help in doing so)

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your 10 year anniversary. This blog is by far the most informative and interesting one of all the BOM lands. I look forward to reading your articles every day. Keep up the good work.