Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Where Exactly, Was Lehi's Land of Promise? – Part I

We have been asked several times to publish a brief and simple understanding of your ideas regarding the events of your blog about Lehi reaching the Land of Promise, and where exactly was the Land of Promise. In doing so much of the information is simple and could be gained from following the scriptural record of the details listed by Mormon. However, we will endeavor to do so below:

First of all, Nephi tells us the Lord leadeth away the righteous into precious lands (1 Nephi 17:38), and that Lehi was to inherit a choice land (1 Nephi 5:5), a land more choice than all other lands (1Nephi 2:20). This was to be Lehi's inheritance for his family (1 Nephi 5:4).

But where was it? To find out, we need to start at the beginning of Nephi’s record.

• Across the Many Waters:
We know this land of promise was many day’s journey (1 Nephi 18:23) by ship (1 Nephi 18:8) across the many waters they called Irreantum (1 Nephi 17:5).  Wherever this land was, it had to be isolated from other places, and unknown to the world, for Lehi says his land of promise was to be kept from other peoples at that time (2 Nephi 1:8), because if others knew of this land, they would overrun it and there would be no place for his family (2 Nephi 1:9).

• Landing on the Promised Land: Eventually, the Lehi Colony landed on the promised land (1 Nephi 18:23), and found beasts in the forest of every kind -- cows, ox, ass, horse, domesticated and wild goats, and wild animals -- and also found gold, silver, and copper (1 Nephi 18:25).

Certain clues suggest this land of promise was an island.

• The Promised Land is an Island: Nephi, recording the words of his younger brother, Jacob, says we are upon an isle of the sea (2 Nephi 10:20).  Based on an 1828 dictionary of American Language, isle is defined as:  a tract of land surrounded by water, or a detached portion of land embosomed in the ocean.  Jacob continues on to mention that others are on isles of the sea (2 Nephi 10:21).  He adds, wherefore as it says isles, there must neeeds be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren (2 Nephi 10:21).  Since Jacob says, wherefore it says, he must mean that he had something in his possession that was written, no doubt the brass plates, from which he was quoting or to which he was referring.  Nephi, himself, gives us a clue when he says, Yea, the more part of all the tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea (1 Nephi 22:4), which suggests that the brass plates indicated that the ten tribes had been led away onto islands, but whither they are none of us knoweth, save that we know that they have been led away (1 Nephi 22:4).

• Size and Shape of the Promised Land: It would appear, then, that others of the House of Israel had also been led away to islands, as the Lehi Colony had been.  In fact, Helaman tells us the Lehi Colony spread all across the land, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east (Helaman 3:8).  This island must have been rather narrow, for Mormon says that it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a person to travel from the west sea to the east sea (Alma 22:32).  He also says the land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water except for a narrow neck of land which separated the land to the north from the land to the south (Alma 22:32).

• Long and Narrow:
Configuring such a land that was large enough for the people to multiply and fill up in the numbers Helaman suggests (Helaman 3:8), yet was very narrow (Alma 22:32), suggests that Lehi's land of promise was long and narrow, connected at one end by a narrow land passage to a somewhat larger portion of the island to the north.

But where was this land? To understand this, we have to know how Lehi got to it.

• Direction of Travel: Nephi gives us a clue as to the direction they traveled when he said the ship he had built, which was not built after the manner of men (1 Nephi 18:2), was a sailing ship.  From his description of their locomation, this ship had a fixed sail designed to run before the wind (1Nephi 18:8,9).  Since the land Bountiful, from which the ship sailed, was along the south coast of the Arabian peninsula (see Bountiful, Chapter 17 Commentary), all we need to do is know the way in which prevailing winds blow in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, for these seas would have been the Irreantum mentioned, which means many waters (1 Nephi 17:5).

Winter Winds from the Northeast; Summer Winds from the Southwest


• Dominant Winds: A careful study of the Dominant Winds in the Arabian Sea show that from January to June, they blow south by southwest from the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, toward Africa and Madagascar.  As they passed Madagascar, they swirled to the south and southeast toward the southern portion of the Indian Ocean on the , where they flow into the Prevailing Westerlies that sweep to the east, passing south of New Zealand and out across the Pacific Ocean.  Since the winds in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean blow inland, in the opposite direction, from July to December, it would seem logical that the Lehi Colony could only have set sail during the first six months of the year.  Later, from  July to December,  the winds would have driven their craft back toward the land. 

• Time of Travel:  In addition to the dominant winds blowing southwest in the Arabian sea from January to June, there are monsoon winds that blow to the east of the African Coast and Madagascar.  These monsoon winds blow south from November to February, and north from April to September.  This suggests that the Lehi Colony would have had to leave Bountiful sometime between January and April.

• Driven Before the Wind: Since Nephi tells us his ship was driven forth before the wind from the first moment they set sail (1 Nephi 18:8) and that they were driven forth before the wind for many days (1 Nephi 18:9), it stands to reason that the ship followed the prevailing winds in that part of the world, which means they left the Arabian peninsula and sailed approximately south by southwest. 

• High Prussure Winds: There is a high pressure front reaching from 1017 to 1020 milibars in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, stretching nearly from Australia to Madagascar, both north and south of the Tropic of Capricorn.  This is the location of the South Equatorial Current.  Within this front the winds swirl in a circular direction, sweeping from a south by southwest direction to easterly, then up into a northeast and finally northerly direction.  Here, the winds flow into theTrade Winds which blow northwest off the Australia coast into the Arabian Sea all year long.  From January to June, the width of these trade winds is only about half that found from July to December, thus they can be bypassed more easily earlier in the year by keeping to a south by southwest direction from the Arabian Peninsula, past Madagascar and picking up the southeast winds of the Indian Ocean Gyre toward the Prevailing Westerlies. 

• Driven Back Upon the Water: A ship with a fixed sail, dependent solely upon wind direction for travel, entering and caught in this high pressure front, would be turned quickly around and end up moving back in the direction from which it had been originally sailing.  Interestingly, Nephi basically describes this very incident when his brothers tied him up and a storm drove the ship back upon the waters for the space of three days (1 Nephi 18:13).  How the ship got caught in the high pressure front, rather than sailing to the west of it, is also explained by Nephi who says the compass stopped working (1 Nephi 18:12) after he was bound, and his brothers did not know which way to steer the ship (1 Nephi 18:13).  It would have been a simple matter for the ship to have wandered slightly to the east here and been caught in the high pressure front.

Nephi tied up by Laman and Lemuel aboard their ship during a life-threatening storm


 • Nephi Regains Control: When Nephi was finally released on the fourth day (1 Nephi 18:14,20), he took over command of the ship.  After the winds stopped blowing and the storm died, there was a great calm (1 Nephi 18:21).  At this point, Nephi merely states that he guided the ship once again in the proper direction, along the course they had originally been sailing, which was toward the promised land (1 Nephi 18:22).  How did he know how to get back on their original course?  Nephi tells us simply, that after he was released, the compass (Liahona) began to work again (1 Nephi 18:21).  It is interesting, that these trade winds which blow northwest at over 25 miles per hour, flow into the major prevailing winds which blow 10 to 15 miles per hour to the southwest.  At this point, the winds fall to below 10 miles per hour, and ships are often becalmed.  It would be at this point , no doubt, that the storm died and a great calm occurred (1 Nephi 18:21).  Here Nephi could have picked up the slower winds that would take him back to the southwest and toward Madagascar, eventually to pick up the southeast winds that blow between 10 and 15 miles per hour past Madagascar, then pick up to 15 to 25 miles per hour to the west of the high pressure front, then into the Prevailing Westerlies of the Southern Ocean which blow above 25 miles per hour (over 5½  on the Beaufort Scale).

(See the next post, “Where Exactly, Was Lehi's Land of Promise? – Part II,” regarding this simple and brief points about the Land of Promise and how Lehi got there and where it was located)

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