If I could ask them one question . . .
Come Follow Me, Lesson 45
For Come Follow Me, lesson 45, Nov 16-22, Ether 6-11
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Does the Jaredite voyage strain credulity?”
Things to consider:
- The Book of Mormon tells us about the people of Jared (Jaredites) from the time of the tower of Babel (Ether 1:33). The Lord promised to take them to a new land (Ether 1:42-43). During their journey to the new land the Lord had instructed the Jaredites to make barges that they had presumably used to cross smaller seas (Ether 2:6, 16), but the Lord would have the Jaredites build barges to travel by sea one last time to go to their promised land. For this last voyage, “ … the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight (Ether 3:1), and the voyage would last 344 days (Ether 6:11).
- When the Jaredites asked about how they would breath in the barges for the long voyage, the book tells us, “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” (Ether 2:20). This would not solve the problem of ventilation. Since one hole would be under the water line and could not be opened*, only one of these holes could be open at a time. Later we are told they could not have windows (verse 23), so it would ultimately allow only one hole to be open at a time. That would provide almost no air movement. We are told there are people and animals aboard, all of which would consume oxygen and produce CO2. In addition, the aerobic bacteria decomposing the animal feces would consume oxygen and give off CO2.
(* If you assume the hole on the bottom of the barge could be opened because part of the bottom of the boat was above the water line, then you have to explain why this couldn’t be done to provide windows as discussed in the next bullet item.)
- They realized they would have no light in their barges, so the Lord told them, “ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces” (Ether 2:23). Critics claim this is an anachronistic reference to glass which wouldn’t be used for windows until a couple of millennia after the alleged time frame. Apologists rightly point out that it does not mention glass, and that wooden windows (shutters) could be dashed to pieces. At first glance, that could seem like a plausible explanation, but remember the hole on top and the hole on the bottom of each barge for breathing? Whatever they stopped the breathing holes with apparently would not shatter, so it could have been used to stop the windows if a non-transparent material like wood were being used. Therefore, the defense does not work. Joseph must have been thinking of glass when he referenced windows shattering.
- They had to bring food and water for themselves and “also food [and water] for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them” (Ether 6:4). Here are just some of the challenges food and water might present:
- Their herds must have included cows because there is no evidence for cows in ancient America, yet the Jaredites apparently had them (Ether 9:18). According to my research and calculations, one cow eating half of what a modern cow eats (cows were smaller back in the day) would need the equivalent of about 45 bales of hay which would weigh about 4,500 lbs. and take up the space of about 537 cubic ft. with modern hay bales. That would be roughly equivalent to a stack of hay bales 6 ft. high by 8 ft. wide by 11 ft. long. Measure that out in a room in your house. It’s staggering. They were living as nomads in the desert, and it would have been very difficult to get enough food to eat on a day-to-day basis, but for the 344-day voyage they would have to accumulate this enormous provision in addition to their daily needs. And, that’s just for one cow, and the cow would need water too.
- One person would need about 0.5 gallons of drinker water per day. That’s 172 gallons of drinking water per person for the trip. That much water would weigh 1,376 lbs. That’s just for one person and only for drinking water. There were more than 24 persons on the voyage (Ether 6:16). Even more water would be needed for cleaning and cooking.
- One cow of 600 lbs. might need about 6 gallons of drinker water per day if not lactating (Water requirements for beef cattle on pasture). That’s 2,064 gallons of drinking water per cow for the trip. That much water would weigh 16,512 lbs. That’s just for one cow.
- The drinking water needed for just one cow and four people then would be something near 2,752 gallons. If a room were 10 feet wide by 12 feet long, you could fill it with the 2,752 gallons of water to just over 3 feet deep. Add to that the water needed for washing and cooking. The washing needs would be great in part because of human and animal urine and feces.
- Considering the holes in the barges and the animals the Jaredites brought, another challenge dawned on me. As mentioned above, their herds must have included cows. Since there were only two holes per barge, it would seem that at least one of the holes (or a separate door?) would have to be at least big enough to bring a cow through. That’s a pretty big hole to stop up with something that would remain water-tight and not break.
- They travelled for 344 days in eight separate barges driven by fierce winds the Lord sent to take them to the promised land, and these winds and “mountain waves,” were so fierce, “they were many times buried in the depths of the sea” (Ether 6:5-6), hence the need for a hole on top as well as on the bottom of each barge for when it went bottoms up. What could possibly be difficult with that?
- All of their water, food, and provisions would have to be secured extremely well, including the cows, lest these things pummel the Jaredites to death.
- Securing food, water, and animal waste would have to be extreme. These animals would be relieving themselves in the barges, so contamination would be a major threat to the food and water supply. Remember how much water and hay one cow needs, and think of the amount of resulting urine and feces.
- Only one hole could be used at a time (when they were not under water) to expel waste.
- There were no cables then, and rope would not have been strong enough to secure the barges together. Even if they could have had cable, using it to tether the barges together would have caused them to slam into one another and possibly get tangled and set askew of having one of the two openings on top. Yet, we’re to believe that after a 344-day voyage, all eight barges landed safely in the New World within a relatively short distance of one another.
- Lastly, “… the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land … And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind (Ether 6:5, 8), emphasis added). They must have been travelling pretty fast then, right? But, keep in mind, it doesn’t say they had sails, so maybe they were averaging only 10 miles per hour or so (16 kilometers per hour). Think about it though—if they were moving a mere 3 miles per hour (4.8 kilometers per hour) because of the “furious wind” that “did never cease to blow”, in 344 days they could have traveled almost the entire circumference of the earth. If they had started out somewhere near Cairo, Egypt, and sailed through the Indian and Pacific Oceans to a place as far as Guatemala, they only would have had to average about 2 miles per hour (3.2 kilometers per hour). The maker of the Jaredite “furious wind” seems to have a poor track record guiding folks to their promised land.
- But, maybe my thinking about this voyage is not tight like unto a dish. I mean, you could argue that God can do anything, so the concerns I see would not have been problems for Him. The thing is, why would you be confident in someone’s ability to magically deal with the challenges of the 344-day Jaredite voyage when they couldn’t even contend with iron chariots 1,000 years later (Judges 1:19)?
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- It was circa 2,200 years BCE, and yet they had an idea that sovereignty belonging to a king was dangerous. That’s suspiciously similar to ideas that western society only began to practice much later in history (Ether 6:22-23).
- The population growth seems dubious (Ether 7:4-5).
- Most Book of Mormon references to swords seem anachronistic (Ether 7:9 and Ether 9:27), but this first reference claims there were steel swords near 2000 BCE, even though the evidence puts the earliest steel production hundreds of years later in the Old World (Ether 7:9 and “Who Invented Steel?”, see also my If I Could Ask … Lesson 31 about lack of swords in pre-Columbian America).
- A secret oath to cover a crime seems suspiciously similar to Masonic and Mormon death penalties (Ether 8:14, 19).
- The Lord forbids the shedding of blood (presumably in a murderous way), but that seems incongruent to the Lord’s command to Nephi to slay Laban (Ether 8:19).
- Linen and silk, oxen, cows, domesticated sheep, domesticated goats, horses, asses, and elephants all seem anachronistic (Ether 9:17-19, see also my If I Could Ask … Lesson 5 and If I Could Ask … Lesson 22 respectively about horses and sheep in the pre-Columbian Americas).
- For a righteous dude, Coriantum seems pretty creepy to me (Ether 9:24).
- Seems like an awful lot of snakes (Ether 9:31).
- Iron, linen, and silk seem anachronistic (Ether 10:23-24).
If you could ask believers questions about the scriptures for this lesson, what would you ask?
Have fun studying!
If I could ask them one question, Lesson 45