Monday, October 3, 2011

Locate the Land of Promise by Starting With the Scriptural Record

It is always interesting how people handle their beliefs. Early in their careers, both Hugh Nibley and John L. Sorenson, decided that the Land of Promise was located in Mesoamerica—no doubt because of the many ruins of ancient buildings found there. They then looked at a map and said, “This is the way they got there from Arabia.” From then on, they set about trying to determine which of the ancient city ruins in Mesoamerica would have been which city mentioned in the scriptural record.

Certainly, no one can fault their enthusiasm and efforts. Both have accomplished much in the development of our understanding of the Book of Mormon lands. Unfortunately, both erred in their initial assessment of using Mesoamerica as the starting point. Had they chosen to use the scriptural record as their starting point, they would have ended up in a different, truer location.

The problem with modern man is always thus—he looks at a map and says to himself, “that is the way they went.” However, travel in ancient times was dependent upon matters almost entirely unknown to modern man unless he, himself, is a “sheet” sailor and fully understands what it means to be dependent upon the wind and currents for course, direction, and reaching a destination.

In the book “Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica,” much of the first section is devoted to an understanding of winds and currents in the open sea, especially between Arabia and the Western Hemisphere. Those very same winds and currents that moved Nephi’s ship that was “driven forth before the wind” to its final destination in the Land of Promise.

The point is, that even into the mid-1400s (2000 years after Lehi sailed), the most experienced seamen, sailing in the most effective ships, sailed in sight of land, even though they found that coastal sailing was a slow and tedious business in their attempt to sail around Africa—to avoid running aground, they had to advance cautiously during the day, methodically dropping and raising a lead line to measure the depth of the waters they were passing through, and they always had to be on the lookout for a safe place to anchor at night. Each morning they stationed one man aloft and two in the bows of the caravel to watch for breakers that would disclose the presence of shoals as they continued on their voyage.

Note the triangular lateen sails allowing the caravels to sail into the wind on a zigzag course. With rudder in the back the ship could make sharp turns and steer more easily, and the shallow depth allowed exploration close to shore. These caravels were invented in the 1400s by Prince Henry’s ship designers who borrowed the best features from other sailing vesssels to create the fast and maneuverable caravel that could hold a crew of about 20.

This coastal sailing was necessary because they did not know how to determine latitude and could not sail offshore, out of sight of land, even though open-water sailing offered a chance to make much swifter progress. If the Portuguese could accurately determine the latitude of a given place—a river mouth, or a notable cape, or the site of a padrao (a monument of a discovery planted by a previous explorer)—then they wouldn’t have to hug the coast looking for it. Instead they could put out to sea, set a course south, and then sail for days at a time until the height of the pole Star told them they had reached approximately the right latitude. At that point they could turn east and head straight for land, keeping the Pole Star at a constant height in a practice known as “running down the latitude.”

However, once south of the equator, the North or Pole Star disappeared from view, falling below the horizon and there was nothing in the southern hemisphere like it. Eventually they would learn to use the Sun with an instrument that would become known as the astrolabe, but early in the 15th century, this was completely unknown; consequently, seamen sailed in sight of land so they would know where they were. Trying to determine longitude in the open sea was even more difficult and far beyond their ability, which continued almost up until Columbus set sail on his historic voyage. Sometime just before the end of the 15th century, seamen utilized astronomers, quadrants, and astrolabes along with the improved caravel ships which could not only follow the wind (driven forth before it) but also head into the wind. At this point in time, the Portuguese began venturing more confidently into open waters. The first actual globe ever made was created by Martin Behaim in 1492, just before Columbus sailed for the New World.

Therefore, it must be understood, that a sailing vessel before that time, and most certainly one in 600 B.C., was completely and totally dependent upon the winds and currents and, no doubt, why Nephi mentioned three times his ship was “driven forth before the wind.”

So, by starting with the scriptural record, one is far more likely to find the location of the Land of Promise by looking at where the Lehi Colony departed and what winds and currents exist(ed) there and simply follow them to the western hemisphere to the most logical landing site (i.e., where the winds and currents stop blowing and where landfall could be affected).

This is what was done in the beginning of the book “Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica.”

(See next post, “Ancient Maps and Their Significance”)

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