Monday, April 9, 2012

Understanding Words in the Book of Mormon about the Land of Promise—Part VII

Continuing with George D. Potter comments of mis-intepretation of the scriptural account regarding the barges the Jaredites built to cross the great water, as outlined in Ether, Chapter 2:

• Potter’s Comment: "The Jaredite barges did not drift, rather they where under wind power. We know this because a ship cannot be steered unless it is under power. The Jaredites could steer their barges. (Ether 2:19) They had to have had an effective way of steering, otherwise how could they have kept together their eight barges."

Response—First of all, the use of a rudder is not dependent upon the vessel being under power—only that it is moving. A rudder works in a fast current even if the vessel is drifting in that current. Secondly, we have no evidence from the scriptures that the barges kept together by any power of the Jaredites. Secondly, the word “steer” has other meanings than piloting the course of a ship, i.e., for individuals to be directed or governed, to conduct one’s self, to take or pursue a course. While any interpretation might be debatable, let us look at the actual scripture:

“And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish” (Ether 2:19). It is obvious that the Brother of Jared had two concerns about the barges they had recently built—and both had to do with people and the interior of the vessels: 1) Light to see, and 2) Air to breathe. Neither of these are necessarily connected to the movement or path of the vessels in the water. Thus the word “steer” might have been directed toward the people in the vessel being able to see so they could govern the affairs within the dark confines of their barges, to do such things as prepare meals, take care of children, care for and feed animals, and all the other “household” duties for two or three families and animals per vessel involved in a year long voyage.

After all, the Lord had already told the Brother of Jared that the Jaredites could not cross the great deep unless He prepared the way (Ether 2:25), and also that “Ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea…Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea” (Ether 2:24). Therefore, the course of the vessel across the great ocean might not have been the concern of the Brother of Jared when asking for light for the reasons stated above. As Ether said, “And he did put the stones into the vessels which were prepared, one in each end thereof; and…they did give light unto the vessels. And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness” (Ether 6:2-3).

On the other hand, if the word “steer” was meant to describe piloting the vessel, and knowing the barges were submersible, the steerage might have been a method of bow planes, such as on a submarine, which steer the vessel up and down—therefore, when the vessel was pushed down into the depths of the sea, the planes could be maneuvered to “steer” the vessel back to the surface. A single rudder might have been placed at the rear, requiring the light at both ends. It is also possible that the “steerage” was accomplished by the use of a centerboard case—a retractable keel which pivots out of a slot in the hull. This could also be a pivoting center plate.

Rudders were always placed at the rear of the vessel, from ancient times to present day

All this is supposition, of course, but we cannot read the statement: “whither shall we steer?” and assume, as Potter does, and claim arbitrarily that two steering oars were placed in the bow of the barges to “pilot” the direction of the vessels. Besides, two bow steering oars would be such an intricate method of steering that much experience would be required. Also, the only reason for two such bow oars (or rudders) would be to turn the vessel sharply in one direction or the other—and then, only one oar would be used to turn right, and the other oar used to turn left—and never in tandem or together.

• Potter’s Comment: “If they simply drifted they would have been lost from each other within a few days. This meant that the barges probably had a primitive square sail to help them be “driven forth by the wind.”

Response—There are two issues here: 1) Lost from each other. For anyone that has ever seen a child place a stick “boat” in an irrigation ditch and watched the water take the stick along, even under walkways and streets, or around bends, the stick always makes its way to the end or place where a friend is there to retract it from the water. The child could place ten sticks in the water and they would all reach the same end place within moments of each other. Assuming the “furious wind blow upon the face of the water, towards the promised land,” was as strong as indicated (Ether 6:5), then the eight barges would have ended up in the same place at the end of their year long voyage, just like the sticks in the irrigation ditch. Barges or sticks do not move away from such a strong current, no matter how long that current runs unless there are obstacles in the path. And the winds and currents blowing south from the Arabian Sea, through the Indian Ocean, to the Southern Ocean and across to the Western Hemisphere have no obstructions.

It should also be kept in mind that an ocean current is a continuous, directed movement of ocean water generated by the forces of the wind and other, minor factors. Ocean currents can flow for great distances, and create the great flow of the global conveyor belt. Surface ocean currents are generally wind-driven and develop their typical clockwise spirals in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise rotation in the southern hemisphere of the imposed wind stresses. The winds driving these southern currents are always above 30 knots, and sailing vessels commonly have reached 27 knot speeds with instance reported of reaching 40 knots and even 45 knots. These winds and currents are constant and, in the case of the Circumpolar Current, which flows from west to east around the globe, it is constant and continuous.

2) The second part is that the barges “had a primitive square sail,” as has been mentioned earlier, such a ludicrous idea is without merit since these barges also moved beneath the surface of the water (Ether 6:10).

(See next post, “Understanding Words in the Book of Mormon about the Land of Promise—Part V,” for more understanding of Ether Chapter 2 and the mis-interpretations of George D. Potter)

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