Timothy Sedor's Newsletter "Photographs of the Month"
Timothy Sedor - 2012 - Spokane Valley, WA
Book of Mormon Explorer
During these past years I have written about Lehi's family's eight-year journey across the Arabian deserts along the famed Frankincense Trail. I illustrated each "Photograph of the Month" with a photograph from our six-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail. Lehi would have had no other choice but to have taken an authorized incense trail through Arabia. There were no other trails.
The Frankincense Trail started in three ancient centers: the port at Gaza, which served the Mediterranean capitals; the rich spice and incense markets of Damascus in present-day Syria; and ancient Babylon in what is today Iraq. These trails converged in northern Arabia and continued on for nearly 2,000 miles to the the frankincense harbor at Khor Rori on the southern coast of Oman.
The Frankincense Trail got its name from the primary incense that was transported along it. Myrrh and other incenses and spices were also hauled by caravans along the same trail. In Lehi's time, frankincense grew only in the Dhofar region in southern Arabia; yet, vast amounts of it were used in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the temple in Jerusalem. An estimated 3,000 tons were sent to Greece and Rome each year at the peak of the incense trade.
One of the branches of the trail led to Gaza on the Mediterranean and from there to Egypt by another caravan where Frankincense was used to embalm mummies. It was also exported from Gaza on ships to Greece and Rome, where it was burned in the houses of the nobility and in their temples. The Gaza branch of the Frankincense trail passed within 10 miles of the Valley of Lemuel and would have been known to Lehi.
This is the season of the year when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Christ and speak of the visit of the three Wise Men who bore gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are probably the most famous varieties of incense from the Middle East, yet few Christians have actually experienced the scent of these fragrances that we refer to when celebrating the birth of Christ. Fortunately, frankincense and myrrh are still available for purchase from the perfume and incense shops in the Middle East. During the 20 years that I have lived in Arabia, I acquired a portion of both frankincense and myrrh. Hence, the "Photograph of the Month" for December is a picture of these famous incenses and one precious metal. (See photo: frankincense in the center and myrrh on the right).
Merry Christmas to all...
Lehi, the wealthy scholar, businessman, and, most important, religious leader, would have been highly regarded by the Bedouins.
It seems likely that even in the valley of Lemuel, miles from the main trail, Lehi often entertained curious locals in his tent.
We especially enjoyed our visits with the wonderful children of the Arabian desert.
We didn't always understand their words, but their message was clearly transmitted through their bright eyes and warm smiles.
We remember how when entering the small village of Maqna at least fifteen children climbed aboard the hood, runners and bumpers of the truck.
These were not beggars; none asked for money or candy.
They just wanted to shake hands of the "Ameriki" and tell us in English their names and how old they were.
In another example, there was a time when we missed connecting with members of our party/expedition who were joining us from different parts of Arabia.
We knew our lost friends would have to eventually pass through the town of Al Bada'a, so we parked our truck and perched ourselves on the hood where we could be seen.
We sat there for hours, but were never alone.
The hood of the truck became the main attraction in town, a park bench for dozens of children.
Some came and some went, but there were always three or four children standing watch with us on the hood.
After much time had passed, a group of children came running up to the truck excitedly shouting that they had spotted "Ameriki" coming into the town.
Here was Tim and John arriving in their Toyota Land Cruiser with big grins on their faces as they followed the children to our waiting truck.
We share this story to demonstrate the point that Lehi's presence would always have been known by people in the areas he crossed, and he would have been treated as a guest.
My "Photograph of the Month" for November is of a scene at a bakery/restaurant in the village of Al Bada'a that was selected from Part 1: Discovering the Valley of Lemuel of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
Professor S. Kent Brown of Brigham Young University notes that "in a desert clime all arable land and all water resources have claimants."
If so, how might Lehi have acquired the right to camp in the valley that was controlled by a local tribe?
There are several reasons why this may not have been a serious problem for Lehi. First, Lehi evidently had been a wealthy man and, though he left his gold and silver in Jerusalem, his family probably carried among their provisions some items that could have been exchanged for temporary camping privileges.
Another possible scenario is that Lehi's group appeared small and non-threatening enough that the locals required no payment of them.
The hosts may even have pointed out to Lehi where he could find water and a campsite out of their way in a side canyon whose lower reaches they did not use themselves. (Nephi did not write that his family "found" a river, but only that they pitched their tent next to it; see 1 Ne. 2:6).
This later possibility is enhanced when we note that Lehi apparently brought no sheep or goats with him into the wilderness. This would imply that Lehi had to acquire animals for his sacrifice from the local people. Lehi may have been treated as a welcomed, noninvasive tenant who, best of all, could pay, even only nominally.
A third possibility is that there were no inhabitants in this valley. This is true today. If the area was empty of people except for nomadic Bedouins, then Lehi was in no way beholden to the locals.
My "Photograph of the Month" for October documents the ruins of an ancient "encampment" on the upper portion of the valley whose artifacts date back to the time of Lehi; it was selected from Part 1: Discovering the Valley of Lemuel of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
The famous explorer Richard Burton described the Hijaz, the land between Midian and Madina, in these words: "Nowhere had I seen a land in which the earth's anatomy lies so barren, or one richer in volcanic or primary formations." This was the region of Arabia Lehi crossed through on the Frankincense Trail after leaving his camps at the Valley of Lemuel and Shazer. No westerner traveled the Muhajarin until 1876.
If Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon, one has to wonder what could have possessed him to state that there were "most fertile parts" (1 Nephi 16:14-16) in this type of landscape. In 1830 this would have made it appear that the Book of Mormon was a fraud. Yet what might at first seem to be a great flaw in Nephi's text is actually one of the most compelling witnesses for its historical accuracy.
Not only were most of the oasis towns in northwest Arabia located on the Frankincense Trail (al-Bada'a, al-Aghra at wadi Aghar, Shuwaq, Shagbh, Dedan, Medina, etc.) but each of these oases had a farming community associated with it.
The old name for this area is interesting in the light of the fact Nephi refers to it as "the most fertile parts." The Prophet Mohammed referred to the villages as the Muhajirun, which means "the fertile pieces of land" or alternative translation, "fertile parts of land."
When Nephi referred to the "most fertile parts," he appears incredibly to have been using the actual place-name for the area that they were traveling in, the Muhajirun, meaning the fertile parts of land.
The information confirms to us that Lehi's course is known. That is, he continued on the Gaza branch of the Frankincense Trail until he reached the main route to south Arabia at Dedan, and from there through the settled villages of the Arabs to the ruling influence of Medina.
My "Photograph of the Month" for September shows a portion of the oasis at Dedan or "most fertile parts" and was selected from Part 3: Discovering the Most Fertile Parts & the People of Lehi of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
Once Nephi's ship was built, he still had to acquire the knowledge and then practice the skills necessary to captain a ship successfully on a long, challenging, and dangerous voyage. Nephi must have realized that it was impossible to acquire these skills on his own. Thus, it appears the Lord led him to a place where a body of accumulated knowledge of sailing was already in place.
Who then were the great sea captains of their day who had the time to spare to instruct a young man from Jerusalem in sailing?
The Greek nautical record known as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, probably written in the first century A.D., instructs their captains to take their ships to the natural harbor of Khor Rori during the winter, for it was a safe haven for ships to hold up in the winter due to the lateness of the seasonal winds.
Undoubtedly the Greek captains learned to spend the winters at Khor Rori from the Arabs before them. Indeed, Khor Rori had the great advantage of having places to moor ships and cliffs to protect the ships from the monsoon storms.
This last, and perhaps most precious and important resource Nephi needed experienced captains who both knew how to sail a large ship across open seas of the Indian Ocean, and who had the time to spend teaching Nephi was to be found at the natural harbor of Khor Rori, the only place in southern Oman that has a large protected harbor and safe passage to the ocean.
My "Photograph of the Month" for August shows the calm waters of Commencement Bay in Tacoma Washington. The bay, a proper place to moor a ship, was selected from Part 6: Discovering Nephi's Harbor of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
Lehi's family could not have embarked from south Arabia without an experienced captain. The question remains, "How did Nephi learn to command a multi-sail ship and her crew?"
The captains that sailed the ancient waters of the Mediterranean stayed close to the shoreline, seldom venturing out of sight of land.
It has been written, "In the Red Sea, because of its dangerous shoals, all vessels sail only during the day, putting in toward nightfall at the nearest available anchorage."
Nephi needed to learn to sail in open seas.
There were dozens of different tasks Nephi needed to perform as the captain. He had to do them right the first time and every time or the ship would have been lost. Further, Nephi needed to know how to navigate in open seas.
It could be argued that with the Liahona, Nephi didn't need to navigate. As far as we know, for navigating, the Liahona only provided the direction that they should travel. However, the Book of Mormon suggests that Nephi knew how to calculate his position in the open sea, for he realized that during the "terrible tempest" they were "driven back" four days (1 Ne. 18:13, 14).
Undoubtedly Nephi learned the Arab's secret of navigation. In his day, the Arabs were the only people, who knew how to calculate latitude using either the angle of the sun or the position of the stars, The Arab captains who sailed from Khor Rori in southern Arabia, used their knowledge of latitude to sail from Arabia to India, from India to Africa, and from Africa back to Arabia.
How does one become a captain of a ship today? The California Maritime Academy, of the California State University of Engineering, Technology, and Marine Transportation, offers a degree in Marine Transportation. The curriculum includes thirty-seven courses on topics relevant to shipping. Upon completing the courses, the cadets become junior officers with many years at sea lying ahead of them before they can qualify to command a ship.
So how did Nephi learn to sail? He had to have learned it from the greatest sailors of his day, the Arab open sea captains of southern Arabia who were known to have wintered their ships at the harbor of Khor Rori where Nephi was building his ship.
My "Photograph of the Month" for July is a picture of an ancient seafaring Arab calculating his open-sea position using a device much like today's sextant and was selected from Part 6: Discovering Nephi's Harbor of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
There were only a handful of ports in Nephi's time where large ships were built for sailing on open seas. Of these, it appears the Lord selected the port of Khor Rori in southern Oman as the place where he could build a ship to take the family to the promised land.
It has been suggested that Khor Rori has been in use as a port as far back as 3000 B.C. In the year 2000, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Khor Rori as a World Heritage site noting the trade in frankincense as "one of the most important trading activities of the ancient world."
Khor Rori is a large waterway extending over 1 ½ miles inland. The khor has several natural places where ships could moor - making it the likely reason the Taqah/Khor Rori area was called Merbat (meaning "the moorings") anciently. As noted, a port with mooring, where a ship's hull could be outfitted and from where sea trials (see May "Photograph of the Month") could be executed was essential for building Nephi's ship.
Today, there is a sandbank across the khor, closing it off from the sea. This was not always present however. Scientists believe that a drop in the sea levels around the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries A.D. caused the closure of the harbor's mouth.
Micro paleontological evidence and carbon dating establishes that there was a stable and final closure occurring around A.D. 1640-1690.
Hugh cliffs line the entrance to Khor Rori. These natural breakwaters would allow a ship to sail out 500 meters into the Indian Ocean proper with protection from the high surf that is found along the Omani coast.
This was the great strength of Khor Rori as a port; the natural breakwater and surrounding hills provided protection from both the summer southwest monsoons and winter northeast monsoons. Thus the port could be used for shipbuilding and shipping all year, unlike any other place in this region of Oman.
My "Photograph of the Month" for June showing the breakwater entrance to Khor Rori in the background and an archeological dig in the foreground was selected from Part 6: Discovering Nephi's Harbor of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
Once Nephi finished constructing his ship, he had to learn how to sail her. It is likely that he learned how to command a ship from the captains who spent the winter season moored at Khor Rori waiting for the winds to change so they could return to their own home ports with their vessels laden with frankincense.
Even with a trained captain, Nephi's ship was going nowhere without a crew. The task of captaining a ship is a daunting task. To do so without a trained crew would be like trying to juggle a half-dozen bowling balls while standing on one leg as your nose was beginning to itch. You would not want to think about it.
Without a trained crew to handle the sails and riggings, Nephi's ship would have never left the port where she was built. Having a place to moor the ship would have provided another key element for Nephi's successful voyage: sea trials.
Sea trials are more than just a precautionary measure to make sure the ship is sound. They are the means by which the captain and the ship's crew learn to sail her, the process by which shipbuilders discover the proper amount of sail for different conditions, and of utmost importance - what should be the right amount and balance of the ballast to keep the hull stable and upright.
Before Nephi's family entered his ship for the voyage to the New World, they knew that the finished ship was "good," and the "workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine" (1 Ne. 18:4).
This implies that they must have already conducted successful sea trials. Otherwise, how could they have judged the ship's workmanship unless they saw that the hull was sound and watertight, that the ship rested properly and equally balanced in the water, and that the ship handled well in various seas?
Without sea trials, the words "good ship" would have been as meaningless as saying a "good airplane" before seeing if it could fly.
My "Photograph of the Month" for May is of an illustration depicting a ship's crew engaged in a very intense effort of setting the sail's rigging in a storm. The illustration is by Jose Flores and was selected from Part 6: Discovering Nephi's Harbor of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
We have received e-mails from interested individuals who believe that Nephi could not have built a ship in Southern Arabia, because there were no hardwood trees tall and straight enough for constructing a ship. It is a known fact that the trees in and around the coast of Oman are not suited for shipbuilding, as the woods are too soft and are not large enough to fabricate a ship that would be strong enough to make a trans-oceanic voyage.
Khor Rori is the only harbor or inlet in southern Oman that has an ancient shipbuilding and maritime lore. The Salalah Coastal Plain in Dhofar, where Khor Rori is located, is home to one of the most ancient ships built in Oman, the sewn sambuq (boat). However, building ships is no simple process.
It is likely that Nephi developed the needed shipbuilding skills at Khor Rori, perhaps under the tutelage of the Adite shipwrights. This knowledge would allow him to state from firsthand experience that he "did not work timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men." (Ne. 17:2)
Using imported lumber would not contradict Nephi's claim that he worked timbers. Nephi's text alludes to the fact that the timber they were working had already been cut somewhere else. "We worked timbers of curious workmanship" (Ne. 18:1). How could they have been curious to Nephi if they had logged the lumber themselves?
Apparently, some of the timbers Nephi used to construct his ship were precut in an unfamiliar manner. We know that the beams and rafters that were then being imported to Khor Rori from India would have been fashioned in a manner that was new to Nephi.
The "Photograph of the Month" for April showing a shipwright hand-shaping a very large timber was selected from Part 6: Discovering Nephi's Harbor of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
Joseph Smith could never have invented the Book of Mormon. For example, at Nahom the party changed direction and traveled "nearly eastward from that time forth" (1 Nephi 17:1). Therefore, Bountiful should be nearly due east of where the frankincense trail turns east in Yemen, where Nahom has been located. The natural harbor of Khor Rori, where we believe Nephi built his ship and where the trail ended, is only 3° off true east from where the party turned east in Yemen.
A long mountain range runs parallel to the southern coast of Arabia from Yemen to Khor Rori and beyond. In order to reach the coast from the inland caravan trail, Nephi and his family would have had to cross this mountain range. Camels laden with heavy tents, carpets. and provisions can only cross mountains on a prepared gently sloping trail. Maps of the ancient trade routes in southern Arabia show only one camel trail through the mountains of southern Oman to the coast which is the Salalah/Thammarit road. The road has been in use for many thousands of years to reach the coast from the inland trail and finally ends at Khor Rori.
After crossing the mountains, the family would have seen "Irreantum" or the "many waters." The entire southern coast of Arabia sits on the Indian Ocean. As Nephi looked south out over the ocean from the mountains, the next landfall would have been Antarctica.
While translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith would have been the first westerner to realize all that is described above.
The "Photograph of the Month" for March is a scene from above the Salalah coastal plain. The photograph was selected from Part 5: Discovering the Land of Bountiful of our 6-part film DVD,Discovering Lehi's Trail.
Last month, I described the scene Lehi's family would have witnessed standing above the Salalah coastal plain after having left the most inhospitable desert of all Arabia behind them.
Nephi repeats that they called the place Bountiful because of its abundant fruit. This bounty of fertile land continued right down to the shore. By the time the party of weary travelers descended from the limestone mountains on the well traveled caravan trail to the seashore, the rich bounty of this land became obvious to them.
We can easily imagine that the Salalah coastal plain had then, as it has now, groves of coconut palms bent down above the sands of the beach; abundant banana plantations, their leaves a rich deep green; mangoes and fields of sugar cane lining the edges of the fields.
Whatever the fruit species of this tropical paradise would have been in antiquity, most of them would have been totally new to the travelers from Jerusalem. As they stood on the beach, they may well have seen the fishermen bringing in their catch of snapper, kingfish, sardines, lobster, crayfish, and giant turtles.
Surely, to them, this was Bountiful, and they were no longer alone.
I call the "Photograph of the Month" for February "Surfs Up!" The photograph was selected from Part 5: Discovering the Land of Bountiful of our 6-part film DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.
After spending eight years in one of the most inhospitable desert landscapes on earth, imagine what Lehi and his family must have thought when they approached the edge of the limestone mountains overlooking the Salalah Coastal Plain. From there they could have heard the waves of the Indian Ocean caressing the beaches at the water's edge.
The birds sang in the trees around them as they stood on a carpet of lush emerald green grass. A thousand feet below them was a bustling society and a harbor where merchant ships settled in port. They could also see abundant plantations of the like that they had not seen since they left the land of Jerusalem
The dirt trail that led them out of the desert was well traveled, and the family easily made their way down the mountain side to the shores of the ocean. Today this dirt path that marked the Frankincense trail has been made into a beautiful highway.
We also stood and took in this amazing view and imagined what Lehi and his family must have felt at seeing such a beautiful vista of farms and the busy seaport town. We agreed that even a blind man would have called this land "Bountiful."
To start this New Year, the "Photograph of the Month" for January 2012 is a scene I call "The View." The photograph was selected from Part 5: Discovering the Land of Bountiful of our 6-part film DVD,Discovering Lehi's Trail.