Question: Could Lehi's group have made a transoceanic crossing as described in the Book of Mormon?

Table of Contents

Question: Could Lehi's group have made a transoceanic crossing as described in the Book of Mormon?

It is definitely possible to sail from Arabia to the Americas

The Book of Mormon, in 1 Nephi chapters 17 and 18, recounts that Nephi built a ship in which the Lehi colony sailed from the old world to the new. In June 2010 the History Channel aired a documentary, "Who Really Discovered America?" which claims that it would have been impossible for a ship made by Nephi to have successfully carried the people and necessary supplies in a transoceanic crossing.

It is definitely possible to sail from Arabia to the Americas. The only way to conclude that Nephi could not have done so is to insist that he must have built an inadequate ship, and this documentary is very specific in its assumptions about what Nephi must have built and why therefore the voyage could not have succeeded. There is no basis for accepting those assumptions except for a disbelief in the premise that God may reveal information to men and women.

What were the specifications of Nephi's ship?

In 1 Nephi chapter 17, Nephi recorded the circumstances of his instruction to build a ship:

And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been in the land of Bountiful for the space of many days, the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: Arise, and get thee into the mountain. And it came to pass that I arose and went up into the mountain, and cried unto the Lord. 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 Nephi 17:7-8)

And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship? (1 Nephi 17:50-51)

In 1 Nephi chapter 18, Nephi additionally comments on the exceptional nature of the ship's construction:

And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship. 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. And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things. And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord. (1 Nephi 18:1-4)

Nephi does not record the technical details of the design or construction of the ship, aside from that it was made of timbers, it sailed and was driven forth before the wind and so presumably had sails, and that it could be steered.

But Nephi did repeatedly specify that he did not design it himself, did not base it on the shipbuilding technology then available in his own and neighboring cultures, and that his work was not informed by any source except direct revelation.

The History Channel used false assumptions in reaching its conclusion

In "Who Really Discovered America?" the documentary presents analysis from a naval archeologist and an oceanographer, which assumes the following:

  1. That Nephi would have built a ship according to the naval technology then available.
  2. Therefore, Nephi's ship would have closely resembled a Roman ship of the time, with a "round formed hull," "thick ribbed," a square sail, and an "elevated bow and stern."
  3. Ships built in that Roman style were unable to travel at top sailing speeds.
  4. The Lehites would have launched from the Arabian peninsula, sailed eastward across the Indian Ocean, eastward across the Pacific Ocean, and landed somewhere on the west coast of the Americas.
  5. The voyage was non-stop with no replenishment of supplies.

The documentary thereby concludes that:

  • Known wind patterns and currents across those oceans would have prevented a Roman ship from making that crossing any faster than 580 days.
  • All passengers would have died on such a long voyage. The documentary does not spell out why this would necessarily follow; presumably he meant that the Lehites could not have carried sufficient supplies to sustain them for so long.

Of the assumptions used, the first three are directly contradicted by the Book of Mormon text. The fifth is not addressed by the text at all. The analysis is not a serious study of the available information and the conclusions are faulty.

The text instead states that Nephi built a ship from revealed designs and techniques, which were "curious" and not "after the manner of men." There's absolutely nothing to indicate that Nephi's ship had the hull, ribs, sails, bow and stern like the documentary says they must have been.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes



Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims