Saturday, October 8, 2011

What About the Phoenicians?

With a rather flippant approach to history, many Mesoamerican and Great Lakes Theorists claim the Mulekites simply were ferried to the Land of Promise by Phoenician seamen in 600 B.C.

Phoenician Ship authentically reproduced. Note the shallow draft in the left photo and the limited size in the right photo. In addition, most Phoenician ships in 600 B.C. were oar driven and were coastal ships outside the Mediterranean

Perhaps a little understanding of history and seamanship might be of benefit in trying to decide if Pheonician seamen had the ability in 600 B.C. to make such a voyage across the Atlantic.

Babylonian Map of the World 600 B.C.

First of all, the maritime compass was not invented until sometime in the 12th or 13th century—both Chinese and Europeans take claim for such invention. However, wherever the compass came from, and however sailors began to adopt it, its practical uses were immediately obvious. Consider the situation in 1270 that confronted Louis IX, King of France, in launching the 8th Crusade, when he and his crew were blown off course while sailing southeast in the Mediterranean toward the Holy Land.

When the storm passed, their vessel sat at the center of a featureless circle of ocean the circumference of which was the horizon. With clouds still overhead, no sun or stars visible, he had no idea in which direction to sail. Anyone who has ever found himself in the middle of a large ocean with no features visible, may well understand Louis’ predicament.

Even the most rudimentary of magnetic needles would have allowed his ship’s navigator to determine the direction of the winds that had blown the ship off course, and thus to turn it back where he knew land would be. And once Sardinia came into view, they would have been able to compare its coastal features with what appeared on their chart, and then with the compass and their wind rose (cardinal points), would have been able to chart the course for the port of Cagliari.

Unfortunately, Louis did not have a compass on board. Consequently, he floundered for several days until a land feature just happened to come into view. Eventually, he was able to conclude his voyage to the Holy Land. However, had Louis been in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean—a far larger ocean than the Mediterranean—he might never have found his way, sailing endlessly into the vast open ocean until his water and food was depleted.

It was during this decade that European merchants had begun slipping through Muslim shipping lanes in the Straits of Gibraltar and out into the Atlantic on trading voyages to Portugal, Spain, England the Netherlands—all contiguous land masses. These voyages in the 1270s skirted the western edge of the known world, opening new oceanic horizons for European sailors and others from the Middle East who plied the waters of the Mediterranean.

In 1291, prompted by the lure of the open ocean that had not yet been conquered, two Genoese brothers, Ugolino and Vadino Vivaldi, came up with an ambitious plan. They fitted out eight galleys—provided by Pope Nicholas IV of the Papal empire—with food, water, and supplies; gathered up a crew, including two Franciscan monks, and in May set sail from Genoa for the open ocean. An entry in the Genoese Annals of that year describing their eventual destination in which they planned to sail “through the Ocean Sea to parts of India and to bring back useful merchandise.” Were they emboldened by their compasses and intending to reach India by sailing across the ocean to the west? Nobody knows, because the brothers never came home.

In the fourteenth century, the ship building abilities were expanded to include Carracks and Caravels, sturdy deep-hulled ships capable of moving out of coastal waters and into the deep ocean. With the advent of the compass, and later the astrolabe, such voyages were undertaken, first around Africa, and eventually with Columbus across the westward sea—the Ocean Sea.

To believe that 600 B.C. Phoenicians, with their coastal vessels and their limited experience in sailing back and forth across the Mediterranean, were capable of deep sea voyages is beyond the concept of any experienced seaman. There were no charts prior to about the 1200s, and as has been pointed out in previous posts, the world map consisted of a simple T-O model.

In addition, to think that any such accomplishment would have gone unnoticed within the sailing community of Europe and the Mediterranean nations is foolhardy. Even under penalty of death, early 16th century maps of Columbus’ and Vespucci’s voyages were smuggled out of Seville and Lisbon and could be purchased on the “black market” where seamen paid a very high price to obtain.

It is one of the reasons why places like Mesoamerica and the Great Lakes, etc., cannot be considered as locations for the land of Promise—the winds and currents which drove all shipping even into the 14th century A.D., determined where ships sailed and where they made landfall. The manner and route that all these Theorists claim brought the Lehi Colony to their supposed area of the Land of Promise simply was not possible in that era—1800 years later, man was still subject to sail “before the wind” and go where the winds and currents took him.

To find the location of the Land of Promise, we must first find out where a sailing ship “driven forth before the wind” would have gone, leaving the south coast of Arabia and heading to the Western Hemisphere. That is the first step—the only step—to first locate the place where Nephi’s ship landed!

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