Land of Bountiful
Nephi makes a distinct difference in his wording in verse 16 compared to verse 14 of 1 Nephi Chapter 16. In verse 14 he uses the words, “most fertile parts,” but in verse 16 he says, “more fertile parts.”
As Lehi and his family traveled south, they encountered fewer and fewer oases and fertile places. Potter and Wellington discovered that in a distance of more than seven hundred fifty miles, there were only five oases. Obviously, Lehi and his people would have encountered some very difficult times by not having water available very often. It is pointed out that the mountains in this area of Arabia are called the Asir mountains, which means “difficult” for obvious reasons to the traveler. So Nephi records that they left the “most” fertile parts for the “more” fertile parts. (1 Ne, 16:14, 16.)
But from the “more” fertile place they continued on further south, where the trail would have covered a distance of almost four hundred miles with only two oases. It was probably in a place like this that Nephi spoke of when he wrote:
15. And it came to pass that we did travel for the space of many days, slaying food by the way, with our bows and our arrows and our stones and our slings.
16. And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.
17. And after we had traveled for the space of many days, we did pitch our tents for the space of a time, that we might again rest ourselves and obtain food for our families.
18. And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.
19. And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food. (1 Ne.16:15-19.)
Nephi Breakes His Bow
As verse 18 points out, Nephi broke his bow while hunting and was not able to obtain food for the people, and his brothers became angry.
Nephi recorded that things were so tough that not only his elder and rebellious brothers murmured against him, but his father, Lehi, also “began to murmur against the Lord his God...” (v. 20.) In verse 23 we find that Nephi made a bow and arrow out of wood, and then says, “...I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain.... And it came to pass that I did slay wild beasts, insomuch that I did obtain food for our families.” (vv. 30-31.) From all indication, it appears that this incident occurred in the southern part of Arabia, much further down the trail from the fertile valleys of Lemuel, Shazar, or Dedan, towards the country of Yeman.
Potter and Wellington estimated that it took place at Bishah, a high wadi of the Asir mountains. They stated, “When Nephi’s bow broke, he needed to quickly construct a new one. He would have needed a quality hardwood that had the unusual characteristic of remaining flexible when it was dead. Most trees in Saudi Arabia are generally short, brittle, and warped. Only a few hardwood species exist, yet Nephi could not have used any old wood to make a good bow. Over a century ago the notable English archer H. Walrond described the characteristics of wood needed to make a good bow: “The grain should be close, straight, and even; the line dividing the sap and wood should be clear, even and well defined, and it should be free from knots and pins. (Archery, 288.)
Most of the wood in this part of Arabia is brittle and breakes when dry, so could Nephi have found bow wood in the mountains, and if so where? While on the side of Mt. Jasim at Bishah, an Arab was asked where wood for a bow could be found. He pointed out the Atim tree. The Atim, or olive tree (Olea europaea), is found on both the western and eastern slopes in the Hijaz, Asir and the Yemen mountains. A person knowledgeable on the subject was contacted and it was found that the Atim was used anciently for bows, and that it was the best wood in the world. It is the hardest, closest grained wood of the area, and according to Theophrastus (Flowers of Greece and the Aegean, 115), wild olive wood was used to make hammers and gimlets; also for making arrows, staffs, throwing sticks, and spears (Plants of Dhofar, 216), and Olive seems to be the wood of choice for weapons in southern Arabia.
What is interesting is that on the western and wooded side of the mountain, very few of the Atim oil trees are found. But on the eastern side of the mountain, groves of Atim trees were found above the flats where the Frankincense Trail ran; the exact area west of Bishah where it is believed Lehi would have stayed for a while before traveling on. Another interesting thing is that the extent of where the Atim tree can be found is just a few miles north of Bishah and once the trail left Bishah it was headed away from the Atim groves. But the most abundant Atim olive groves are found just west of Bishah.
Over a thousand years earlier the Egyptians made bows out of Acacia, Tamarisk, and Jujube wood, but those woods are not as available as the Atim olive in this part of Arabia. So it is not known for sure, but could it have been this Atim olive tree wood from which Nephi made his bow and arrow? I am certain that the exact choice of wood is not all that important, but it does point out that, according to Arabs, the Atim olive tree is the best wood in the world for bows, tools and weapons; and that such a wood was available to Nephi at the time of his need in southern Arabia. (See LITW, pp. 99-105.)
If the previous suffering at Bishah, and before, were not enough, Lehi and his people were in for even more hazardous experiences as they reached a place called, "Nahom." Sometime after their arrival at Nahom, Nephi recorded:
33. And it came to pass that we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning; and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time.
34. And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.
35. And it came to pass that the daughters of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly, because of the loss of their father, and because of their afflictions in the wilderness; and they did murmur against my father, because he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, saying: Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger.
36. And thus they did murmur against my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again to Jerusalem.
37. And Laman said unto Lemuel and also unto the sons of Ishmael: Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi, who has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren.
38. Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.
39. And it came to pass that the Lord was with us, yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them, and did chasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins, insomuch that the Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish. (1 Ne. 16:33-39.)
Before Lehi left Jerusalem he persuaded the companionship of Ishmael and his family, comprised mostly of daughters, to travel with him. Lehi had sons and Ishmael had daughters, the logic of which should be obvious for the survival of a family. But after years of extreme hardship and hazardous travel, they settled for a while in even a more inhospitable place called Nahom. There it was that Ishmael died and was buried. (v. 34.) (Above right: Possible route taken by Lehi into the Wilderness of Saudi Arabia.)
And as the above verses point out, Lamen and Lemuel were at it again, rebelling against their father and younger brother, Nephi. At one point they claimed that he led them away into “some strange wilderness.” (v. 38.) They had already gone through much unbelievable wilderness as they traveled the Frankincense Trail down the length of western Arabia, so what was so strange about this particular wilderness?
The rebellious brothers even got the daughters of Ishmael to mummer against Lehi and Nephi, for they said, “Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger.” (v. 35.) What was so different about this place that would bring such a revolt? What was more “strange” about this wilderness that was different from the previous wilderness they had already past through?
This wilderness is where the southwestern part of Arabia, the Rub‘ al Khali, called the Empty Quarter, meets the northwestern part of Yemen, known as the Ramlat Dahm, the sands of Dahm. It is one of the most inhospitable places on planet earth, if not the most inhospitable. (Left: Ramlat Dahm, the empty quarter.)
Potter and Wellington commented about their first experience upon arriving at this point of their exploration: “We left the road and followed the old trail [old Frankincense Trail] along the foot of the mountains. Now heading south, we rounded the promontory of the last peak in the range and drove up to get a view of the trail. We were quite unprepared for what we saw. As far as the eye could see, great sand dunes formed in ranks, disappearing into the heat haze of the distance. This was Ramlat Dahm, the sands of Dahm, which marked the southwestern corner of the infamous Rub‘ al Khali, or Empty Quarter. ...”
“As we looked out over Ramlat Dahm, we were dumbfounded. We had never seen anything like this on the trail. This was the first time the trail came in contact with the largest sand dune desert in the world. ... To be lost here would mean almost certain death.”
In their book, Potter and Wellington pointed out that, “Even in this day and age, traveling through the Rub‘ Al Khali, even along established trails, is not without its perils. On August 21, 2001, the Arab News newspaper reported the death of fourteen people as they tried to cross the Empty Quarter.”
They continued by saying, “Here, then, is the possible explanation for the ‘strange’ wilderness of which LamanMap of main trade routes of Lehi’s time. and Lemuel spoke. After leaving Najran the family would have encountered the first huge dune desert on their journey. Southeast of Najran is Ramlat Dahm, an arm of the Rub‘ al Khali. The trail [old Frankincense Trail] skirts to the west of the dunes, hugging the side of the mountains... The sand dunes are huge and the soft sand quickly drains the strength of the traveler.” (Above right: Map of the main routes southern Arabia in Lehi’s time.)
The authors of Lehi in the Wilderness point out a very interesting thing saying that, “Nephi informs us that they tarried at a place that “was called Nahom.” (1 Ne. 16:34.) It has been suggested that the place already had this name since the family do not give the place a name, as they did at Shazer and the valley [of Lemuel]. In fact, there are a number of places in Yemen which bear the name “NHM” (more common variant spellings are: Naham, Nahm, Neham, Nehem, Nehhm, Nihm), which many feel could be identical to Nephi’s “Nahom.” In Arabic vowels are not written down, and while NHM does not have the same emphasis on the second syllable that Nahom does, the word may have been pronounced differently 2,600 years ago. In fact, one would be surprised if it weren’t!” (See LITW, pp. 107-112.)
Following the old Frankincense Trail, which hugs the side of the mountains and skirts around to the west of the deadly dunes of Ramlat Dahm, Lehi continues from Nahom into what we know as modern-day Yemen and Oman. This old trail helped direct Lehi and company south to the Indian Ocean (which Nephi called “Irreantum”) and the land he referred to as Bountiful, “because of its much fruit.” (1 Ne. 17:5-6.) Considering those verses we read:
5. And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey; and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters.
6. And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit. (1 Ne. 17:5-6.)
George Potter and Richard Wellington, authors of Lehi in the Wilderness, wrote about their experience as they crossed over the mountain and saw what Lehi and his family might have seen:
“As Lehi ‘s family turned south from Shazer, they would have passed near the groves of frankincense trees that were responsible for the great wealth the inhabitants of Dhofar enjoyed at the peak of the frankincense trade. The family began to climb the desolate inland side of the Qara mountains, and once at the crest of these mountains, they would have beheld the green Salalah plain and the Indian Ocean. Nephi tells us upon arriving at Bountiful that they beheld the sea (1 Ne. 17:5). We can only guess how they must have felt when they gazed for the first time upon the vast emerald waters of the Indian Ocean — Irreantum. Below them the forty-mile long plain stretched out to the white sandy beaches where they could see the thin white lines of breakers tumbling onto the shore. There may well have been huge groves of coconut palms near the beaches, just as there are today.
“As they descended the pass leading down the mountains, they would have been met with a view of the tree-lined slopes — quite the opposite of what they had seen as they ascended the dry inland side of the mountains. Acacia, wild cherry, olive, sycamore, fig, and baobab trees still flourish there, watered by the annual monsoon rains. After the rains, the hills become awash with green, and waterfalls cascade from the limestone cliffs. Further down the slopes, flourishing frankincense plantations would have been found.
“In contrast to the burning, desolate silence of the Empty Quarter Desert, sweet songs of birds would have filled the cool mountain air. As we walked the slopes of these mountains, we observed cinnamon-breasted buntings calling to each other from the treetops, and African paradise flycatchers sitting lazily on the overhanging branches before darting after insects. In the distant past, it is not difficult to imagine the same kind of birds being startled into flight by the dusty and weary party of travelers as they made their way along the well worn trail. After eight years in the desert, Nephi tells us they ‘were exceedingly rejoiced.’ (1 Ne. 17:6).” (Above right: What Lehi and company might have seen as they crossed over the mountain into Bountiful.)
Now that’s quite a change of scenery from where they had been for the previous eight years after leaving their homeland. This fertile area, known to us as modern-day Yemen and Oman, boasted of groves of banana and coconut palms, mangoes and sugar cane, and various other kinds of fruit, besides the abundance from the sea. And many of these were probably foreign from the fruit they were familiar with in Jerusalem.
In 1 Nephi 17, verse 5, Nephi stated that along with much fruit they had “wild honey.” However, in Dhofar, honey is still collected from the wild bees. Even today, those bees are considered only “somewhat managed,” and people still collect “wild honey,” which commands a high price. Bees are rare in Arabia, and the Dhofar coast is one of the few places they are found. (See LITW, pp. 121-122, 129.)
Once Lehi and company arrived they turned easterly to the land of Sephar, known today as Dhofar, to where the old Frankincense Trail ended at the fertile Salalah coastal plain of Oman. Of this part of the journey Nephi wrote, “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward ...” (1 Ne. 17:1.)
Once the old Frankincense Trail came over the Qara mountain from Ramlat Dahm, it veered easterly. But not exactly east, for the coast of Dhofar is approximately 3° off true east from where the eastward trail to Dhofar splits off the main Frankincense Trail. Isn’t it interesting that Nephi didn’t write that they traveled “east,” but that they traveled “nearly” eastward, as we just read. How in the world did Joseph Smith know this three degree difference in 1829? (See LITW, pp. 124.)
They Were Not Alone
Of course, Lehi and his family would not be the only ones in this area. This very fertile and fruitful area was well populated, for it had already been a center of trade and commerce for many years. It was on the coastline of the Indian Ocean where boats came and went from India and the Orient; to Persia (Iran) and Babylon (Iraq) by way of the Persian Gulf; to Africa, Egypt, and points in the Mediterranean; and, of course, the Frankincense Trail stretched toward Jerusalem and other points north.
Those in the Salalah plain have traded with India as far back as 1000 B.C., and the trip along th coast between India and Africa would have taken the sailors straight past Dhofar and the ports of the Salalah Plain. India is the homeland of the mango, muskmelon, rice and sugar, and bananas came from Africa. So many of the fruits considered modern may well have been introduced previously in the first and second millennia B.C. (See LITW, pp. 124.)
Nephi to Build a Ship
After their arrival in Bountiful, Nephi was commanded by God to build a ship to carry Lehi’s family over the seas to another land, and that God would show him how to build it. “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.” (1 Ne. 17:8.) But was this Bountiful, now modern-day Oman, the place where Nephi built his ship? In their book, Lehi in the Wilderness, Potter and Wellington said,
“Stephen Done traveled to Oman to visit khor Kliarfot — a site that some believed to be the place Bountiful — and returned very disappointed. He told us without reservation that it could not have been Bountiful. Why not? Because there were none of the raw materials one would need to build a large ship. Additionally, even if proper materials could have somehow been found there, the site is today an open beach with no protected harbor and there is no evidence that it was anything different in Lehi’s time. Stephen made it clear to us that a large sailing ship could not be launched in shallow water and breaking surf. The Bountiful story, he reminded us, ‘centered around the building of a great ship; one large enough and strong enough to cross two great oceans!’ His advice was, ‘If you want to find Bountiful, start looking for a protected harbor where Nephi could build and launch a large ship.’ He thus provided us with a paradigm shift.
“Everyone before us had been looking for a site that is/was green or ‘bountiful,’ but now Stephen had given us some concrete requirements for Nephi’s Bountiful. The essential ingredient for Bountiful was not fruit, but the resources needed to build a large ship and a place to launch it.” (LITW, pp. 140-141.) But was there large timbers suitable for building such a ship, and could there be such a protected harbor?
Wood for a Ship
Leading experts in Omani marine archaeology uniformly state that hardwood trees tall enough for building a large ship like Nephi’s have never grown in the wild in Oman. There are two exceptions, however, a German marine archaeologist, Norbert Weismann, suggested that such timber might have come from mango and coconut trees that were cultivated on the Salalah plain.
It was discovered that there is one notable exception, the large upper valley of Taqah, wadi Dharbat has produced an area capable of growing large trees, which are the only large trees in Dhofar. And the locals call wadi Dharbat “the valley of the big trees.” If Nephi had to rely on locally grown timber for his ship, Bountiful would have to have been located along the Salalah plain, the only place in Oman where these trees grow. He could have used, mango, coconut palms and large hardwoods from wadi Dharbat.
In the Book of Mormon Nephi wrote, “Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.” (1 Ne. 18:2.)
Historians tell us that the ships of Nephi’s time were “probably over fifty feet long, pointed at both ends with small or perhaps no decks. They used a quarter rudder, square sails, which were sewn together with coconut ropes instead of fastened by nails.” This style of boat was definitely not suitable for taking a large family over thousands of miles of unfamiliar sea ways. But Nephi did not build a ship as man did, the Lord gave him instruction on how to build it. (See LITW, pp. 124, 130-133,140.)
Ore for the Tools
Nephi inquired of the Lord where he could find ore to make tools with which to build the ship. "And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me? And it came to pass that the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore, that I might make tools." (1 Ne. 17:9-10.)
We are not sure what kind of ore was used by Nephi. In 1998 five researchers spent nine days in Oman researching ore in the country. They found very small deposits of Magnetite and Hematite. These small deposits would relate to Nephi’s needing help from God to find the ore. Professor Ronald A. Harris, said that, “The Dhofar region is one of the few places throughout the Arabian Peninsula where the ore deposits are exposed,” and Professor Jeffrey D. Keith reported, “These deposits occur in two areas along the southern Omani coast in concentrations sufficient to have enabled Nephi to make tools for building his ship.” (See LITW, p. 130.)
Two Stones for the Fire
Nephi said that after he made the bellows from skins of beasts to blow the fire for molting ore, that he “... I did smite two stones together that I might make fire.” (1 Ne. 17:11.) Potter and Wellington said that “Flint is usually the stone of choice for making sparks,” and that around two sites, between Shisur and Taqah, they found “flint lying in abundance on the surface,” which Nephi could have simply picked up off the ground. Of course this may not be any big proof of the story of Lehi’s, but to me it’s fascinating how it fits so easily.
A Harbor for Building and Launching
The ship that Nephi built must have taken quite a long time to construct, for it had to carry quite a few people, Lehi and his wife and five sons, Ishmael’s family, and all of Lehi’s grandchildren, and how many others might have been with them, such as servants, we do not know. But we do know that at least one other went with them, and he was Zoram, whom Nephi brought back from Jerusalem after Nephi obtained the brass plates from Laban (1 Ne. 4).
The ship had to be large enough to have an ample size deck so the people could dance (1 Ne. 18:9); large enough to carry enough food and water for a long and tedious crossing of seas they knew nothing about; large enough to carry their tools, extra material for sail and ship repair due to damage (vv. 13-15); tents, weapons, personal gear, etc. (v. 23); large enough to have living or sleeping quarters for all aboard; and large enough to survive large storms at sea (vv. 13-15). So for a ship of this size, where could a protective harbor be found suitable enough for its construction and launching?
A large survey was undertaken, and although there are other ports up and down the coastline, there is only one port adequate enough to have served a ship as large as was needed by Nephi’s ship. And that was a port near modern-day Taqah, the port of Khor Rori in southern Oman, called Moscha during Nephi’s time. It was stated that, “Our findings are clear and definitive in showing that the strongest candidate for Nephi’s harbor was Khor Rori. On the one hand, it is very doubtful that a large ship could have been built or launched at any of the other sites. On the other hand, Khor Rori had every resource and feature needed by Nephi. It has been suggested that Khor Rori has been in use as a port as far back as 3000 B.C. (LITW, p. 152-153; see pp. 139-160.) (Above right: Harbor where Nephi could have built his ship.)
It is figured that at the time that Greek ships traveling between India, Persia, Arabia and Egypt visited the harbor at Moscha, few places would have provided Nephi with such a wealth of maritime tradition of sea traveling and shipbuilding.
When Lehi and family crossed over the mountains into Bountiful, they saw “many waters” (the Indian Ocean) which they called Irreantum. “And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey; and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters.” (1 Ne. 17:5.)
Interestingly, based on ancient South Semitic language construction, a reasonable (though uncertain) theory for the origin of irreantum is “irre-an,” meaning “watering,” plus the root “-tm” or “-tum,” meaning “wholeness” or “completeness.” The combination “irre-an-tum” can convey the meaning of “watering of abundance” or, as the Book of Mormon puts it, “many waters.” So such a South Semitic construction from the area in which Lehi traveled makes sense. (“Irreantum”, with Brian Hauglid and John Gee, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11, no. 1 (2002): 90-93, by Paul Y. Hoskisson.)
In his work, Through the Arabian Desert, p. 152, Dr. Eugene England said, “Most startling, the Book of Mormon provides exactly all the details of Salalah.” And it is not only startling, but also amazing that Joseph Smith had the inspiration to record such a change in Lehi’s surroundings as stated in the Book of Mormon, so it perfectly agreed with the actual geography, fertility and bounty of the land.
So in summarizing this chapter, which is a continuation of the previous Chapter 2, lets present a few more inquiries, such as how did the unlearned Joseph Smith know that:
1. He needed to make word changes, such as when Lehi left the “most” fertile parts for the “more” fertile parts, and that it got even more difficult as they continued traveling south (1 Ne, 16:14, 16-19)? And that,
2. He knew that a wood suitable for making a bow and arrow was available to Nephi at the time of his need (1 Ne. 16:23)? And that,
3. This wood (Atim olive tree wood in this case) is most plentiful in that same part of Arabia in which Lehi traveled and probably stayed for a while? And that,
4. There was a place of extreme concern as Lehi and his people arrived at Nahom, which known as the Rub‘ al Khali (the Empty Quarter) where is found the Ramlat Dahm, the sands of Dahm (1 Ne. 16:33-39)? And that,
5. The name, Nahom, is a common form of a place name, with similar spelling, in Yemen? And that,
6. Joseph Smith had the inspiration to record such a change in terrain, from Ramlat Dahm to Bountiful, as stated in the Book of Mormon, so it perfectly matched the actual geography of the land (1 Ne. 17:5-6)? And that,
7. By having Nephi say they traveled “nearly” eastward, instead of just simply “eastward,” was to also prove out geographically (1 Ne. 17:1)? And that,
8. Calling the name of the place “Bountiful, because of it’s much fruit,” was to be justified by the actual presence of much fruit in that same locale (1 Ne. 17:5-6)? And that,
9. Joseph Smith’s mentioning the “wild honey” situation in Oman was to prove out correct (1 Ne. 17:5)? And that,
10. Good hard wood trees could be found to build a ship (1 Ne. 17:8, 18:2)? And that,
11. Proper metal ore, for Nephi to make tools, would be easily available (1 Ne. 17:9-10)? And that,
12. Finding flints, for striking fires, would be an interesting fit into Nephi’s story (1 Ne. 17:11)? And that,
13. There is only one place in the entire coastline suitable for building and launching a ship as large as Nephi had to build to cross the vast seas to the Promise Land? And that,
14. The use of the word, Irreantum, made sense considering South Semitic language construction (1 Ne. 17:5)? And that,
15. All of these things must agree, exactly, with the geography of southern Arabia and Oman about which Joseph Smith could hardly have known anything?
The majority of the information presented in this and the preceding chapter, and alluded to in the questions presented, was not known to most of the world in 1829, let alone to a young man of 24 years of age, raised in the rural backwoods of New York, with only a third-grade education — not known until years after his death. Could such a possibility be very likely? The thinking man with a logical brain to reason with will say, emphatically, No!
Of course I have heard some say that, the reason for all of this is that Joseph Smith was very cleverly inspired of Satan when he brought forth the Book of Mormon. But this same argument could be used by critics of the Holy Bible as well, or any other good book for that matter. Even though Satan can inspire man to do evil, that’s a cheap argument that can never hold water.
The same argument is often used against anything a particular critic can’t prove otherwise. This type of response is an emotional one based upon fear — fear that any rebuttal against the validity of the Book of Mormon being of God cannot be validated objectively. When one has no other grounds upon which to base a response, such shoddy retaliations as this is often employed.
There are many more examples that could be given to help establish the Book of Mormon as being inspired of God, but for the sake of time and space, the forgoing should be enough to satisfy the honest seeker of truth. The claims and scientific data should be conclusive and irrefutable, to the rational thinking mind, that the Prophet Joseph Smith had something more going for him, in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, than a fertile imagination, or that the devil made him do it.
In this study (comprising Chapters 2 and 3) at least thirty (31) points have been brought out concerning Lehi’s travels in the wilderness of western Arabia, into Yemen and Oman, and building and launching a large ship, about which Joseph Smith knew absolutely nothing, nor could he have.
Of course a few points he could have guessed at. But even if he was guessing, he was able to guess so accurately that he got all of those guesses right, with nothing having been proven wrong. So, objectively and scientifically speaking, what conclusions can be arrived at from the facts just presented in the forgoing two chapters? To my mind it is that Joseph Smith was, indeed, inspired of God to have had written such an accurate description of an area, on the other side of the world, about which he could not have known anything.
INCIDENTAL CONSIDERATIONS FROM POTTER AND WELLINGTON
For the sake of interest, I would like to present a very large quote from the book, Lehi in the Wilderness, for the sake of understanding the magnitude of what Nephi had to experience in getting his ship built, launched and sailed across the seas. Reference will often be made to someone with the name of Severin; this is Tim Severin, a Marine archaeologist, who built a replica of an Arab ship and sailed it to China. Now for the quote from pages 148-150 of Potter’s and Wellington’s book:
“It is probably a fact that when Nephi arrived at Bountiful, his knowledge of shipbuilding was nil. John L. Sorensen goes so far as to state: “No hint can be found in the text that anyone in Lehi’s party had any knowledge whatever of nautical matters.” Linehan believes that to build his ship Nephi needed access to very skilled shipwrights. Nephi could not have developed the required expertise in Jerusalem. While the Lord gave Nephi the instructions on how to build the ship, he did not give him the lifetime of experience that shipwrights need to perform their craft. Nephi built a ship that was large and of fine workmanship (1 Ne. 18:4).
“It takes many years of experience to take a ship’s blueprints and turn them into a sea worthy vessel. Severin noted the skills required of the shipwrights who constructed his replica:
‘Whether cutting a foot-thick lump of timber to size, or shaping the finest sliver of wood for a delicate joint, 90 per cent of the green shirts’ [his shipwrights] work was done with hammer and chisel; only very reluctantly did they pick up a saw or a plane. The soft iron chisel was their tool, and with it, they could work wonders. They could carve a plank into delicate curves, or they could shape the 60-foot spar into a taper as if it had been turned on a giant lathe.’
“To prevent leaks ... planks had to be planed to 1/64 of an inch in exactness. How could Nephi have learned to do this if not at the side of an experienced shipwright? The same can be said for sailing a large multisail ship. It takes years to learn and practice the skills needed to master a large sailing ship at sea.
“One could argue that it was no problem at all for the Lord could have simply supplied Nephi with all the materials, knowledge and skills he needed on request. We refer to this as the “storybook” version of Nephi’s ship. It is a scenario that we think grossly misrepresents how the Lord deals with his faithful servants and significantly undervalues what Nephi actually accomplished through applied faith and works, and it also leads to a mythological rather than factual understanding of the Book of Mormon. Besides, the storybook version makes no sense. If the Lord simply wanted to supply everything for Nephi, one miracle after another, why build a ship in the first place? Why not have them walk across the ocean?
“The likelihood of the Lord-did-it-all theory seems even more doubtful if one considers the context in which the ship was built. Why would the Lord suddenly start intervening in every matter, after having Nephi and his group suffer great afflictions for eight years in the desert where they nearly died and having them later almost drown in a great tempest at sea? Nephi seems to have had to suffer through each ordeal the same as any man. The sun shone just as hot on him as anyone else, the rain fell just as wet on him, and the wind blew just as hard.
“Like the desert journey, building a ship was part of Nephi’s development under the hand of the Lord. He, too, would have had to learn line upon line, precept upon precept, as all who had gone before him or would go after. The Lord seems to have made a pioneer par excellence of the faithful Nephi, who on his journey acquired all the basic skills necessary for the creation and settlement of an ancient society in the strangeness of the promised land.
“Building a ship required Nephi to learn from local tradesmen how to smelt ore to make tools, to cut stones to form anchors, to work wood within very tight specification, to weave sails, to fabricate rope, to mold pots for storing water, to tan hides for bellows and how to fasten the ship’s riggings. Culminating with the building of a great ship, Nephi’s journey was, we might say, his university. In the New World he became a ruler and teacher (2 Ne. 5:19), passing on to a new society a storehouse of knowledge that took civilizations thousands of years to acquire. Nephi personally taught his people the basic skills of metallurgy (2 Ne. 5:15), high quality wood working skills — manifested in the wilderness family’s ability to construct a temple of “exceedingly fine” workmanship (2 Ne. 5:16), building construction, and to work in all manner of woods (2 Ne. 5:15).
“Nephi’s account of building and sailing the ship is far from a storybook. As Shakespeare penned, “Ships are but boards, sailors but men.” Nephi and his helpers built an actual ship from timbers, and real men — not angels had to learn to sail it. Nephi himself taught this principle in terms of personal salvation: “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23).
“When it came time for Severin to build his replica, he had already constructed a small sailing ship and sailed it across the Atlantic. The shipwrights he found from the Laccadives Islands were effectively “the only men left in the world who still retained the ancient art of sewing boats of oceangoing size.” Severin wrote of his shipwrights: “Their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and untold generations before that, had been carpenters.... They had begun work as soon as they were big enough to pick up a mallet.” He also wrote:
‘The accuracy expected of the carpenters was extraordinary. Because the hull was being stitched together, it could not be caulked: that is, it would not be possible to stuff filling material into any small cracks between the planks before the ship was launched, as is the normal practice when building large wooden ships. The action of hammering in a filling material would merely stretch the stitching and force the planks wider apart. So the hull of the new ship had to be made a perfect shell before it was ever put into the water. This meant placing planks edge to edge, without even a hairline crack, along a length of as much as 80 feet.’
“Without a master shipwnight it seems impossible to envision Nephi building a complex sailing ship. Here is a very short list of some of the essential competencies exercised in building the Sohar: (1) Forming the hull from preshaped planks. (2) Wood working: Severin noted of the work it took to work just one twelve-foot-long garbord plank, “this piece was 3 inches thick, and it took us four days to twist, bend and chisel it into the right curve. (3) Rope-working and sewing timbers: Sevenin called the fifty-two-foot-long coconut hulk ropes pythons. These ropes were then stretched and sewn into place using more rope by teams of men working up and down the length of the planks. He noted that “the operation was very precise there had to be exactly the right number of strings and at the correct tension.” (4) Bending planks into exact shapes using steam boxes. (5) Caulking the ship and knowing how to mix the caulking compounds: Severin relates that his shipwrights “spent a week stuffing coconut fiber plugs into the stitch holes in the planking, a tedious but essential task. I estimate that we had drilled more than 20,000 holes in the planking, and if these holes were not pegged properly the ship would leak like a huge sieve.” (6) Oiling the ropes: Without oiling on the ropes of a sewn ship, the ropes and the ship will fall apart in a matter of months. (7) Antifouling coating: To protect against shipworms. (8) Outfitting the ship: Nephi needed to know how and where to anchor the masts. He then needed to install a complicated set of riggings and sails.
“This is only a partial list of the scores of skills Nephi needed to master in order to construct a large sailing ship. His statement that “I had finished the ship” (1 Ne. 18:4) certainly did not mean that he built it all by himself. History tells us that the hanging gardens of Babylon were built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife, but we don’t think that he was down on his hands and knees doing the work. Nephi does not tell us how many people worked on the construction of his ship, only that “we did work timbers” (1 Ne. 18:1), and that at least on one occasion his workers were his reluctant brethren (1 Ne. 17:18).
“However, his brothers were not working on the ship when it was being finished (1 Ne. 18:4). Still, it would have been impossible for a lone man to have outfitted and finished a large ship by himself. Simply lifting the heavy timbers would have required many men. If his brothers were not helping him build the finished ship, then who was? We believe it was imperative that Nephi needed at least one experienced shipwright to train and assist him, as well as, a number of other workers.”
Potter and Wellington mentioned other aspects related to the ship, such as, having a trained crew to sail the ship, and how to captain and command the ship. We won’t take time to discuss them, but it is quite interesting what Nephi had to learn to be the Captain, and he probably hired on several experienced seamen for the journey, which would have brought other bloodlines to the New World.