Sunday, February 9, 2020

What Does the Record Tell Us About Hagoth? – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding Hagoth and how Mormon’s description of the man, his work, and results have been misunderstood by Mesoamerican, Heartland and other theorist, and misrepresented him in their writing.
Regarding this, Mormon wrote:
2. What was the size and design of Hagoth’s ships? Some Mesoamerica scholars, such as John L. Sorenson, suggest that Hagoth’s ships were little more than very large dugout canoes with built-up sides or log rafts with sails, and certainly not complex planked vessels resembling European ships. However, the facts do not seem to bear this out. So according to the scriptural account, the ship:
An ancient single sail ship drive forth before the wind

• Was big enough to accommodate a very large number of men, women and children;
• Was, in addition to people, big enough for extensive immigrant provisions meant for colonization, which might have included domestic animals, such as cows, goats or sheep;
• Was built by a master craftsman who constructed other ships;
• Was seaworthy enough that after nearly a year at sea was immediately able to embark on a second, lengthy voyage, apparently without repairs.
    This hardly sounds like a dugout canoe or log raft, no matter how large. While a group of adventurers might undertake such a voyage upon a meager craft, such as Thor Heyerdahl and his group on Kon-Tki, and other raft vessel voyages, men seldom venture forth with their wives and children in such dangerous or tenuous circumstances.
    Consequently, since they were taking families and supplies on this voyage, and many people were involved, these ships had to have been quite large, and obviously more involved than simple dugouts or rafts. In fact Mormon calls they “exceedingly large ships” (Alma 63:5)
    It should also be remembered that the Nephites were an industrious people with skilled artisans and by 55 B.C., possessing over 500 years of experience in constructing buildings, working with wood, iron and steel, with precious ores of copper, brass, silver and gold (2 Nephi 5:15), manufacturing machinery and tools (Jarom 1:8), and building a temple to rival that of Solomon (2 Nephi 5:16). This is hardly a people who could only manage dugout canoes or log rafts.

Nephi and his brothers building the ship that would take them across the many waters to the Land of Promise  

In addition, the Nephites were experienced building ships and in the shipping business (Helaman 3:14), constructing extensive roads throughout the land (3 Nephi 6:8), and adapting to and using cement for the construction of houses, temples and synagogues (Helaman 3:7,9). These accomplishments, which amazed the Spanish Conquerors 1500 years later, who compared them to the achievements of Rome, should indicate that the Nephites were far beyond the native-style dugout canoes and log rafts found centuries later built by a far less advanced, far less industrious and far less divinely-guided people.
    From the very beginning, the Nephites knew about building ships beyond the capability of men of their day. Nephi, himself, tells us: “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 me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2). 
    The story of Nephi’s boat and the colony’s journey across “the many waters” would have been told and retold countless times down through the centuries—in fact, after 600 years, Ammoron, the King of the Lamanites, was still complaining about how the Nephites had stolen their birthright (Alma 54:15). No doubt, they all knew about their ancestors traveling across the waters in a large ship as well as its appearance and the special manner in which it was constructed.
Nephi taught his people how to work with wood, stone and metal 

When Nephi tells us he taught his people to work in all manner of trades, he obviously would have passed on the shipbuilding knowledge he gained from the Lord. Then, too, Nephi had help in building his boat, and at least Sam, Zoram, Jacob and Joseph were aware of the ship’s design and method of construction—which was certainly not a dugout canoe nor the deckless ships of the Near East typically seen in that era and many centuries after with their lateen sails. This appears quite clear from the scriptures: “My brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness” (1 Nephi 18:9. 
    Obviously, there had to be a deck of some type for dancing to take place on board the ship, as it would be extremely difficult for several people to dance in a dugout canoe, no matter how large its construction, or to dance and make merry on a log raft. Nor would a raft hardly be capable of crossing several thousand miles of ocean under the conditions and with the load indicated in the scriptures. Thor Heyerdahl made such a voyage, but not with women and children, and not with the numbers of people that made up the Lehi colony, nor the provisions they carried nor was the voyage anywhere near as long. The merry-making described in the scriptural record would take a plank-type deck. This is borne out by Nephi’s words describing the construction of his ship: “And we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1). 
    Scholars such as Sorenson can say that Hagoth’s ship “could hardly have been a complex planked vessel,” but since Nephi built a ship obviously far beyond the sixth century B.C. level of ability, and his descendants, who were involved in the shipbuilding business (Helaman 3:14), certainly would have developed advanced skills in this trade. However, because no evidence can be found of such ships, scholars claim no such ability existed among the Nephites and that current reed boats in use (as well as those found in picture-form on pottery) indicate that the ancients must have used such meager construction.
The building of Kon-Tiki in preparation for Thor Heyerdahl’s drift voyage from Peru to Polynesia

Even the famed Thor Heyerdahl makes such claims when building his raft Kon-Tiki from balsa and reeds. However, the remains of ships submerged in tropical waters and the chances of finding such remains is far less likely than those of northern latitudes like the Viking and European vessels that have been found. According to Douglas Myles, “contrary to well-established motion picture tradition, the intact hulls of such long-sunken ships are not to be found today by divers in tropical seas, though occasionally part of a keel or keelson or even pieces of frames are discovered.
    For the most part, the wood is gone, salt water action and the teredo worm having caused it to disintegrate long ago. The remaining metal objects are usually so thickly encrusted with coral and other forms of sea life as often to be unrecognizable until cleaned” (Douglas Myles, The Great Waves, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1985).
    Thus it would not be unusual to find no sign of the types of ships Nephi built and the Nephites used throughout their 1000-year history in the land of promise. In South American waters, the depth of the ocean off the coast of Chile and Peru is very deep, about 3,666 feet in depth, with constant swirling of upwelling waters from the Peruvian (Humboldt) Current, earthquakes and tsunamis hitting along the coastal areas, would make finding any antiquitous ship intact or partially intact buried in the coastal waters next to impossible.
    That later Lamanite occupants of the land of promise used a less advanced method of shipbuilding should not be surprising. It would certainly be expected that the Lamanites would not have used anything Nephite, for their entire purpose was to eradicate the Nephites and every sign of them from off the face of the earth. But Nephi, himself, tells us about his ability to build a ship—a ship, it might be remembered, that would have been similar to, but different from, those of the region he knew (1 Nephi 18:2).
    Thus, we can conclude that Hagoth’s ships must have been of a planked, deck- type construction, far ahead of the world’s shipbuilding expertise of the day, and large enough to make it profitable or worthwhile to transport hundreds, probably thousands of people by sea to a land which was northward.
(See the next post, “What Does the Record Tell Us About Hagoth? – Part III,” regarding this continuing article about Hagoth and the role he played in the Nephite immigration)


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  2. The use of the word “machinery” in Jarom 1:8 here is a good example of the value of referencing Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary. When I think of machinery I think of large electric machines in a production factory. Others likely picture something else based on their experience. But when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon it meant something more basic duch as using levers and pulleys.

    MACHINE, noun [Latin machina.] An artificial work, simple or complicated, that serves to apply or regulate moving power, or to produce motion, so as to save time or force. The simple machines are the six mechanical powers, viz.; the lever, the pulley, the axis and wheel, the wedge, the screw, and the inclined plane. Complicated machines are such as combine two or more of these powers for the production of motion or force.