Monday, October 10, 2011

What Sea Did Lehi Cross? – Part I

The controversy between Mesoamerican and Great Lakes/Heartland theorists rages over the different view of the oceans or seas surrounding the Land of Promise—specifically the West Sea where Lehi landed. In a recent posting on a website, a Heartlant theorist tries to discredit the idea of the Land of Promise being an island in the midst of the sea (2 Nephi 10:20). The author states several misconceptions that will be dealt with here one at a time:

1. “The Book of Mormon indicates that there was a western sea near the place of the American land of ‘first inheritance’ (Alma 22:28). There is nothing in the Book of Mormon indicating that this west sea was saltwater.”

Conversely, there is nothing in the Book of Mormon that says it is not saltwater. In addition Jacob says they were on an isle of the sea, the same sea they sailed on to reach their island (2 Nephi 10:20). Such a sea would normally be considered a salt sea like the ocean.

2. The biblical word “yam”, translated “sea”, doesn’t necessarily mean ocean.”

The word “yam” is a Hebrew word. The plates were written in Reformed Egyptian, and even the Nephites’ Hebrew was changed by them over the many centuries of their inhabiting the Land of Promise (Mormon 9:32-33). So what does it matter what a Hebrew word means when the scriptural record written in Reformed Egyptian was translated by Joseph Smith into English under the direction of the Spirit? According to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, written by Noah Webster who grew up 112 miles from where Joseph Smith grew up, defines the word “sea” as an “ocean.”

3. An early Mormon document in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams speculates that Lehi’s company “sailed in a southeast direction and landed on the Continent of South America in Chili [Chile] thirty degrees south latitude.”

The fact that anyone in the mid-1800s would choose the 30º south latitude as a landing sight should be considered significant. This area is the only place in the entire Pacific Ocean where winds and currents die down to nothing along a path from Arabia to the Western Hemisphere—where the wind would no longer drive Nephi’s ship which to that point had been “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8). It is also the only place where a Mediterranean Climate, matching the climate of Jerusalem, existed south of southern California, and an ideal place for “the seeds brought from Jerusalem” to grow “exceedingly” and provide an “abundant” crop (1 Nephi 18:24). How did Frederick Willaims, who was the second counselor in the First Presidency to Joseph Smith between 1833 and 1837, know this when such information was unknown in the U.S. at the time? One might wonder where Williams came up with that idea since most leaders close to Joseph Smith during his lifetime reflected on what he said rather than promote their own views.

4. “This document greatly influenced a tradition that Lehi’s family voyaged across the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the vast Pacific Ocean.”

Again, in the mid-1830s, such a course would be no more understandable than one around Africa and across the Atlantic. It was not until the early 1900s, that the winds and currents of that area became known outside the Indian Ocean. Such winds and currents that lead eastward out of the Indian Ocean not westward around Africa.

5. “Twentieth Century LDS Church authorities, however, called the Williams document into question.”

They did so because some were claiming Williams’ writing—long after his death—had been a revelation to Joseph Smith. The debate was over the authenticity of it being a revelation, not of its accuracy. More than one hundred years later, mariners have come to realize the accurate path stated in Williams’ writing for a sailing ship “driven forth before the wind”—and the only course the winds and currents move out of the Indian Ocean.

The list will continue in the next post.

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