Monday, January 7, 2013

Ether Chapter 2


The Jaredites prepare for their journey to a promised land—It is a choice land whereon men must serve Christ or be swept off—The Lord talks to the brother of Jared for three hours—They build barges—The Lord asks the brother of Jared to propose how the barges shall be lighted.

1 AND it came to pass that Jared and his brother, and their families, and also the friends of Jared and his brother and their families, went down into the valley which was northward, (and the name of the valley was Nimrod, being called after the mighty hunter) with their flocks which they had gathered together, male and female, of every kind.
After they had prepared everything that the Lord had commanded, they commenced their journey to the north. As mentioned in chapter one, I believe this northern valley, which was known then as Nimrod, was the valley of the modern Kura and Aras Rivers in Azerbaijan which flow into the Caspian Sea. Because the Caspian is actually lower than sea level, this area would be “down” from any point in Mesopotamia. (Refer to my blog regarding this topic.)
Regarding the exodus of the Jaredites from Mesopotamia, Hugh Nibley makes an intersting comparison. "It is a remarkable thing that mention of flocks of any kind is conspicuously absent from the history of Lehi, though that story is told in considerable detail. What an astonishing contrast! The one group hastening away from Jerusalem in secrecy to live a life of hunting and hiding in the desert and almost dying of starvation, and the other accepting volunteers, as it were, from all sides, moving out in a sort of massive front, driving innumerable beasts before them and carrying everything from libraries to hives of bees and tanks of fish! It would be hard to conceive of two more diametrically opposite types of migration, yet each fits perfectly with the customs and usages recorded throughout history for the part of the world to which the Book of Mormon assigns it."  Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites.
Mongol invasion of Russia
showing size of Asian wagons
How did the Jaredites transport all this baggage?  Hugh Nibley again gives us an insight. "But how could the Jaredites have carried all that stuff with them? The same way other Asiatics have always done—in wagons. And such wagons! 'Measuring once the breadth between the wheel ruts of one of their carts,' William of Rubruck reports, 'I found it to be twenty feet over. . . . I counted twenty-two oxen in one team, drawing a house upon a cart . . . the axletree of the cart was of huge size, like the mast of a ship.' Marco Polo saw the houses of the Tartars mounted 'upon a sort of cart with four wheels.' Seventeen hundred years before Marco Polo, Xenophon beheld enormous wagons on the plains of Asia, drawn by eight yokes of oxen, and yet a thousand years earlier we have reports of how the Philistines rolled into Palestine with their families and their possessions loaded on huge, solid-wheeled affairs drawn by four oxen (ibid)." 
The illustration above is from a Ukrainian blog.
2 And they did also lay snares and catch fowls of the air; and they did also prepare a vessel, in which they did carry with them the fish of the waters.
In addition to the domestic animals that they took with them, it appears that they also caught wild animals to be used to populate the lands barren of animal life. Not only that, but they actually carried portable aquariums with them to transport fish. This had to be a very well organized and prepared exodus to accomplish all this.
3 And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.
The Territory of Deseret
Nibley discussed this verse in detail in chapter 3 of his book Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites. He pointed out that deseret was not only a reference to honey bees, but was also a religious symbol. It is of interest that the LDS church used this symbol in its early Utah history. It symbolizes unity, harmony, industry, and community—an appropriate metaphor for Zion. An alphabet was named after it. It was even the name for the territory first proposed by Brigham Young. It would definitely require knowledge and skill to transport hives of bees on the Jardite's journey. They would have been exposed to beekeeping in their homeland as the Sumerians were adept at these skills.
4 And it came to pass that when they had come down into the valley of Nimrod the Lord came down and talked with the brother of Jared; and he was in a cloud, and the brother of Jared saw him not.
When they arrived at the appointed place, the Lord appeared to Moriancumer. For Valley of Nimrod, refer to previous post.  This would have been similar to the vision Moses had on Mount Sinai (see Ex. 24). He only hears the voice of the Lord, but does not see Him.
5 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.
Up to this point, they had not known where they would be going. They were to go into the “wilderness,” or that region which was uninhabited, undeveloped, or unexplored. “Where there never had man been”--This probably refers to the time after the flood as the world would have likely been thoroughly populated prior to the deluge. No man had yet been to that region. The Lord went before them, guiding and protecting them, much as the later Israelites under Moses, who were led by the Lord in a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. The Lord communicated with them (probably with Moriancumer) from the cloud giving direction and counsel.
6 And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord.
Major land routes across Asia
possible Jaredite passage
They encountered many lakes and seas in their journey east across the steppes of Asia. Nibley, in The World of the Jaredites, claims that for hundreds of years following the flood, there were large residual bodies of water all across Asia . They had to cross these seas. They constructed boats, either being instructed of the Lord, or following patterns that they were familiar with in Sumer.  Using these barges they crossed the seas.  In doing this they were always directed by revelation from the Lord.
In the above map I would envision the Jaredites going up alongside the Caspian Sea where they first stopped.  Then crossing the sea with their barges and traveling overland to the east.  According to Nibley's thesis, the Aral Sea and Lake Bakal would have been much larger and would have required barges to cross.  
7 And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.
In this verse, the Lord only mentions one sea, so perhaps “many waters” only refers to this one large sea. His intent was not for them to stop when they had crossed this body of water, but they were to continue on until they reached the “promised land.” They probably did not know how far this would be, and as we shall see, after many years they wearied of their travels and wanted to stop. The promised land had been reserved for a special people.
8 And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.
The condition on which they could possess this chosen land was that they had to serve God and obey his commands, otherwise they would be removed.
9 And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.
Now we get down to our later days. Any nation possessing this chosen land must abide by the same conditions otherwise they will be destroyed just as surely as the Jaredites and Nephites were removed. This will come about when the fullness of the Lord's anger is vented upon them. And this will occur when they have “ripened in iniquity.” What does that mean? When they have degenerated in sin for several generations. When the newborn child has no chance of learning the truth. When human life is of no value. When secret societies run rampant on the land. We can learn of this condition by studying the characteristics of the late Jaredite and Nephite societies as recorded in the Book of Mormon. We can also study the people of Noah's time, or the Jews at the time of the Babylonian captivity, or the dispersion following the crucifixion of Christ. We may be approaching such a condition.
10 For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off.
11 And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.
Moroni issued this warning specifically to us later day gentiles. He is concerned that we will squander our opportunity for spiritual greatness and end up in the same boat as the Jaredties of old, or his people, the Nephites.
12 Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.
If we will but follow the conditions Moroni has outlined for us we can be free of the political bondage and slavery that have cursed mankind since the beginning. We can be a free people, subservient to no king, monarch, or other foreign power. But if not, the opposite will come upon us.
13 And now I proceed with my record; for behold, it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.
Moroni concludes his aside and resumes the Jaredite history. The Lord led the people through Asia until they finally reach the “great sea” in contrast to the sea (or seas) that the crossed before. They have been living in tents and now pitch them once again on the seashore. They name the place Moriancumer after their great leader following ancient custom to do so. Then they relaxed and enjoyed themselves on the seashore for four years. They probably knew that this lapse would not please the Lord.
14 And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.
The Lord comes and chastises Moriancumer from the midst of a cloud. It appears that he hadn't communicated with the Lord for four years. We don't know whether this meant that he hadn't even prayed during this time, or whether he just hadn't asked for further travel instructions from the Lord. Whatever the reason, the Lord wasn't happy with him. And if he wasn't happy with Moriancumer, he was probably more upset with the people in general. Apparently they were weary of travel and wanted nothing more than to just settle down and rest. But the Lord hadn't taken them halfway to the new world to stop at this point.
15 And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him. And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And these are my thoughts upon the land which I shall give you for your inheritance; for it shall be a land choice above all other lands.
If he had not realized it before, Moriancumer now recognized his sin of omission and and repented. He prayed for forgiveness for himself and his brethren. It seems that the blame was placed on the head of the men. The Lord forgives them their sin of omission and warns them not to repeat it. His Spirit will strive with man until he is matured in sin. If one sins until he is ripened in iniquity, the Spirit will completely withdraw and the person will be separated from the Lord's presence. The Lord reiterates the special expectations required of those who possess the promised land.
16 And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord. And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.
Crescent shaped moon
Pattern for Magur boat
What type of barges were these? Hugh Nibley suggests that they used what has come to be known as Magur boats. These are crescent shape vessels which had great religious significance among the ancients. A Magur boat was a crescent (like a crescent moon) shaped boat with upturned prow and stern. This feature gave the boat greater stability and prevented capsizing. Such boats would be “light on the water” like a floating bird.
The Sumerians were adept at boat building and used a number of different designs depending upon the purpose. Barges were used in the numerous canals, but would probably not be suitable for ocean travel. One common style of ship construction was that of the sewn (or laced) boat. This type of construction consisted of overlapping planks which were sewn or laced together with rope or cord made from a durable material such as coconut fiber or reeds. One might think that such vessels would not be seaworthy, however they have plied the sea for many centuries and were quite reliable. The sewn construction allows for more flexibility than normally built ships. Such vessels would be coated with asphalt or tar which rendered them impervious to water. This coating would last for about a year under normal use.
17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.
An Egyptian Magur style boat
When these ships were closed, they were completely air tight and imperious to water. They could have been used as containers to hold water, and as a result would also hold water out. We get an additional view of the Magur boat with peaked, or upturned prow and stern. They were the length of “a tree” whatever that means. Tall trees can average between 100-200 feet in height. The tallest redwood tree is said to be 379 feet tall. I would guess that the Jaredite boats were in the range of 100 feet long. For comparison, an Egyptian boat discovered from that time period measures 140 feet long.
Farther along in the narrative we are given an idea of how these boats functioned: “they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind. And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the1 Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters (Ether 6:6-7).”
18 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
Moriancumer has completed the work of shipbuilding that was commanded and directed by the Lord.
19 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.
Moriancumer presents the Lord with three problems with the ships and the proposed voyage: 1) It was completely dark inside the sealed ships. They would have to travel in total darkness the entire trip. 2) The watertight construction also made the ships airtight. There would not be enough circulation and air to breath. 3) How would they navigate and steer the ships? They would be at the mercy of the sea. Unless these problems were solved, they would undoubtedly die on the journey.
20 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
Regarding the second problem, the Lord instructs Moriancumer to make an opening in the top and the bottom of each ship. When the ships where above water, or not in severe storms, they could open the top hole and let air in. If water came in the opening, they could immediately close it. The reason for the bottom hole is not given. If the bottom hole were on the hull above the water line, it could also be opened and increase the circulation. On the other hand, it may have been under the water line and meant for the disposal of waste.
Hugh Nibley suggests a different interpretation of this verse. "'And the Lord said . . . thou shalt make a hole in the top thereof, and also in the bottom thereof; and when thou shalt suffer for air, thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air. And if it so be that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole thereof, that ye may not perish in the flood' (p. 542, Book of Mormon, 1st ed.) An exacting editor by removing those very significant thereof's has made it appear that when Jared wanted air he was to open the top window of the boat and admit fresh air from the outside. But that is not what the original edition of the Book of Mormon says. For one thing, the ships had no windows communicating with the outside—'ye cannot have windows' (Ether 2:23); each ship had an airtight door (Ether 2:17), and that was all. Air was received not by opening and closing doors and windows, but by unplugging air holes ('thou shalt unstop thehole thereof, and receive air'), this being done only when the ship was not on the surface—'when thou shalt suffer for air,' i.e., when they were not able to open the hatches, the ships being submerged (Ether 2:20).
This can refer only to a reserve supply of air, and indeed the brother of Jared recognizes that the people cannot possibly survive on the air contained within the ships at normal pressure: '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). So the Lord recommended a device for trapping (compressing) air, with a 'hole in the top thereof and also in the bottom thereof,' not referring to the ship but to the air chamber itself. Note the peculiar language: 'unstop' does not mean to open a door or window but to unplug a vent, here called a 'hole' in contrast to the door mentioned in verse 17; it is specifically an air hole—'when thou shalt suffer for air, thou shalt unstop the hole thereof, and receive air' (1st ed.) When the crew find it impossible to remain on the surface—'and if it so be that the water come in upon thee' (Ether 2:20), they are to plug up the air chamber: 'Ye shall stop the hole thereof, that ye may not perish in the flood.' This, I believe, refers to replenishing the air supply on the surface, lest the party suffocate when submerged—'that ye may not perish in the flood.'" Hugh Nibley, Strange Ships and Shining Stones, Maxwell Institute.
21 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.
22 And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
Following the revelation of the Lord, Moriancumer has resolved the second problem of the air supply. Now he addressed the first problem—that of light. They possibly could have traveled in complete darkness the entire trip, but it would not have been pleasant or convenient. He appeals to the Lord for mercy.
23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
Some have gotten the impression that the Jaredite ships functioned as submarines. This is obviously not correct. They were buried in the monstrous waves, it is true, but they were meant to float on the surface. We were previously told the ships “were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.” This does not sound like an underwater vessel. We are told that the Lord specifically created these extreme weather conditions, possibly to assist in transporting them across the Pacific Ocean. If these weather conditions followed normal patterns (and we cannot be certain in assuming normal patterns) the storms and winds would have gone in an easterly direction.
This verse may have some oblique reference to the third problem (steering), however, that problem is never really addressed in the narrative.
25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?
The Lord has taken great pains to prepare the people and the ships for this perilous journey. For they will be exposed to hurricane intensity storms that will bury them in mountainous waves, pound them with furious blasts, and toss them too and fro like a cork in a turbulent sea. The Lord warns of wind, and flood and waves. They obviously can't have windows or other fragile things to admit light. These would be destroy by the violent weather. Obviously, the Lord knows the solution (or possibly many other solutions), but he leaves it up to Moriancumer to solve the problem. As we shall see later, he has the idea of making luminescent stones to light the boats. Was this an original idea, or did he know of such things from past experience? Hugh Nibley informs us that Noah's ark was illuminated by such a device and Moriancumer was probably aware of that event. “But who gave the brother of Jared the idea about stones in the first place? It was not the Lord, who left him entirely on his own; and yet the man went right to work as if he knew exactly what he was doing. Who put him on to it? The answer is indicated in the fact that he was following the pattern of Noah's ark, for in the oldest records of the human race the ark seems to have been illuminated by just such shining stones.” Hugh Nibley, Strange Ships and Shining Stones, Maxwell Institute. (Nibley's paper has a detailed discussion of these ancient traditions.)


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