When Christopher Columbus returned to Spain, he was invited to a banquet where he was recognized as the guest of honor.
A jealous guest said to him, "Had you not discovered the Indies, are there not other men from Spain who would have been capable of the enterprise?"
Columbus replied by taking an egg and asking the people at the table to stand it on its end.
Columbus took the egg and tapped it on the table.
This left the end dented, but the egg standing.
The jealous man barked back that they all could have done it that way.
Columbus said, "Yes, if you only had known how, and once I showed you the way to the New World nothing was easier than to follow it."
Fortunately for us in this time, we had three exceptional sailors to guide us to a new candidate for the place Bountiful where Nephi built his ship.
First is Dr. Steven Done, an avid blue-water sailor, a student of wooden shipbuilding, and a close friend.
Our second modern Columbus is Frank Linehan, the Western Region Marine Surveyor for the United States Maritime Administration-considered an expert in hull construction and deep-water sailing.
Both Stephen and Frank are Latter-day Saints.
Third, we read all we could about Marine archaeologist Tim Severin's experience in building and sailing a replica medieval Arab merchant ship from Oman to China.
With information we received from these three sailors, we were able to reconstruct the maritime resources Nephi needed to build a ship.
Steve Done traveled to Oman to visit khor Kharfot-a site that some believed to be the place Bountiful-and returned disappointed.
He told us without reservation that it could not have been Bountiful.
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 any 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."
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 resources needed to build a large ship and a place to launch it.
Next month (June) I will continue with estimating the size of ship Nephi's needed to be by estimating the number of passengers that would be carried aboard her.
My "Photograph of the Month" for May comes from Part Six: Discovering Nephi's Harbor of our six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail from the bridge wing of the USS Cape Intrepid some 150 feet above the water looking aft showing the calmness of Commencement Bay in Tacoma Washington.
Frank Linehan commented that "Commencement Bay has the type of harbor conditions that Nephi would have needed for launching, outfitting his ship and loading provisions on it."
Click here for: "Timothy's Photographs of the Month" Archive from 2005-2015
Since it was only possible for Lehi's family to travel safely through Arabia using an authorized trail, we needed to establish what trails were in existence in Lehi's time that led from northern Arabia and ran south-southeast. Further, the trail needed to turn east (at Nahom [1 Ne. 16:34]) and lead to the Indian Ocean ("Irreantum" or "many waters" [1 Ne. 17:5]).
Fortunately, this task was made easy since only one trail existed from the Jerusalem to southern Arabia.
One might ask, "If they traveled along a trail, why did they need the Liahona to show them the way? They could have just walked along a road." One needs to understand that the Frankincense Trail was not a road in the sense that we are used to. There was no delineated trail along which to walk. It was simply a general course that would take one to the next caravan and water.
Over one hundred years ago Englishman Charles Doughty was given permission by the Governor of Syria to accompany the pilgrimage (hajj) to Madein Saleh. Doughty recorded of the Pilgrim road: "The Darb el-Hajj (Pilgrim road) is no made road," it was rather a "multitude of cattle-paths beaten hollow by the camel's tread." For this reason, Lehi would have needed a guide, and for those times that the family was traveling alone, the Liahona was capable of taking a guide's place.
In 24 B.C., an ill-fated Roman expedition of ten thousand men under Aelius Gallus set out to capture the incense kingdoms of Southern Arabia. They were guided through the Arabian Desert by the Nabataean named Syllaeus. The Roman ships landed on the Red Sea coast, and the expeditionary force moved inland to travel south along the Frankincense Trail. Even though the Romans had a guide and were traveling along a "trail," they took six months to reach southern Arabia. The services along the trail could not cope with such large numbers of travelers, and the Romans lost nearly one-third of their men.
The celebrated Greek geographer Strabo, historian of the expedition and a personal friend of Gallus, wrote some thirty years later, "The men . . . were lost not by war, but because of hunger, sickness, fatigue, lack of water and bad roads." Even though they were on a trail, they still suffered from "bad roads."
Not understanding the harshness of the land through which they traveled, some misinformed historians have accused Syllaeus of treachery, because Strabo informs us that he "proceeded to take them through the worst and most arid parts of it, so that large numbers died of thirst. "When we appreciate the nature of the trail, we can see that this would have been no jaunt down a well-marked highway.
Some suggested that Lehi was in the caravan business, because he had tents (Ne. 2:4). This is a false assumption, because caravans did not use tents. Ownership of tents seems to have been very common amongst the descendants of Lehi (Mosiah 2:5-6), yet the Nephites were neither nomads nor long-distance travelers.
The wealthy families of Palestine maintained vineyards and pasture lands some distance from the city where their urban homes were located. An example of this form of commerce is in the parable of the householder who planted a vineyard in a far-off place (Matt. 21:33-34). Householders, such as the house of Lehi, would have required tents and camels or donkeys for these operations.
Without question, Lehi faced an arduous assignment from the Lord. He had to cross a most forbidding landscape with two families of traveling neophytes. The most likely scenario is that after Lehi left the Valley of Lemuel, he stayed on the established trade route through the entire length of western Arabia.
My "Photograph of the Month" for April comes from Part 2, Discovering Lehi's Trail & Shazer of the six-part series DVD,
Discovering Lehi's Trail, of a graphic showing the possible trail that Lehi and his family followed through their desert journey.
Lehi and his family spent eight years in the wilderness. Eventually, Nephi (Mosiah 10:13) led Lehi's family to the shores of the Indian Ocean in southern Arabia.
We believe their camp in southern Arabia was located on the beach along the Salalah Coastal Plain where the Frankincense harbor was located at Khor Rori.
The book of Genesis in the Bible suggests that the Salalah Coast Plain was populated almost immediately after the great flood by the thirteen sons of Joktan (Gen. 10:26-30).
Joktan, son of Shem and the grandson of Noah, occupied the southwest corner of Arabia, and his sons branched out from there.
The name "Hadramaut", an area in southern Arabia, appears in Genesis as "Hazamaveth" (Gen. 10:26).
Lehi and his family would have passed north of this land during their journey to Bountiful.
Joktan's sons proliferated east as far as "Sephar, a mount of the east" (Gen. 10:30).
It is the land of Sephar, known today as Dhofar, to which Lehi's family turned.
They would eventually arrive at the place where the Frankincense Trail ended-the Salalah coastal plain.
In Nephi's time, Dhofar was a land of great wealth and natural splendor.
Undoubtedly it was well known in Jerusalem and was probably the site of Ophir where Soloman sent his ships to deliver and pick up precious items.
It is import to remember in the context of this location that the particular physical features of Dhofar had not yet been described by western explorers at the time the Book of Mormon was published.
The Rev. Charles Forster (Cathedral of Christ, Canterbury) carefully studied the explorations of southern Arabia, including the scant and inaccurate report of Niebuhr, and concluded in 1844 that "the ruins of famous Dhafar, . . . lie still unexplored."
As Lehi's family descended into the Salalah Coastal Plain, 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.
After eight years in the barren desert, they would have beheld the green Salalah plain and the Indian Ocean.
Nephi tells us upon arriving at Bountiful that they beheld the sea (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.
My "Photograph of the Month" for March comes from Part 5, Discovering the Land Bountiful of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail, showing the vista from the mountains above the Salalah Coastal Plain to the shores of the Indian Ocean.
The wadi Tayyib al-Ism appears to have all the natural attributes of the valley described by Nephi.
However, a key structure crafted by the hands of man-an altar of stones-still needed to be found in the wadi in order for it to have all the features of the Valley of Lemuel. One need not speculate on this point. Nephi wrote that his father built an altar of stones (1 Ne. 2:7).
The hills surrounding the canyon and upper valley at the wadi Tayyib al-Ism cover a large area. There are dozens of summits and peaks on which an altar could be found. After attempting several hikes in the mountains in search for an altar, we found a clue. While surveying the landscape in the easternmost grove of the upper valley, approximately one mile from where the river starts, we spotted a circle of stones.This was not an animal corral, but a nearly perfect circle about two feet in height with an entrance in the circle at one end. It gave us an impression that it had been used as a formal meeting place where people gather and sit. To one side of the circle was a leveled area of ground formed into a triangular shape that pointed toward the canyon.
Most curious still was a cavity in the cliff next to the circle.The cavity formed a small roofless chamber. We postponed our survey of the area and decided to climb the hill to look for signs of an altar. At the summit we found a pile of uncut stones, 14 by 8 feet at its base. The top of the pile had collapsed somewhat, but it was apparent that the top had been approximately 7 feet long by 4 feet and was It has the correct shape-a rectangle (four corners); it was positioned above the circles, and it was positioned at a high place-a flat area at the top of the hill where the first light of sunrise and the last light of the sunset could be seen.
"Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the LORD, until those days" (1 Kgs. 3:2).We know that Abraham's altar was upon a mountain (Gen. 22:2).
My "Photograph of the Month" for February comes from Part One: Discovering the Valley of Lemuel of our six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail showing George Potter and Bruce Santucci approaching the pile of rocks at the summit of the hill-one of our candidates for Lehi's altar.
Exploring the Gaza branch of the Frankincense Trail from Shazer [1 Nephi 16:14] (the frankincense halt known as Al-Aghra) to Dedan was a great challenge. Nephi indicated that they left Shazer and traveled in the "most fertile parts of the wilderness" (1 Nephi 16:14). There were no existing maps that accurately showed the ancient trail. We had to research the ancient route, then piece together its course. We knew of no westerner who had ever attempted to retrace the Gaza branch of the trail. We were on our own.
Abdullah Saud al-Saud noted in the Journal of Saudi Arabian Archaeology: "In order to make one's way from the main centers of (frankincense) production to markets (Mediterranean Sea), one had to avoid the mountains as far as possible and, at the same time, find enough water and food for men and animals."
We plotted the trail following his rules: save the camels, avoid the mountains, find water and food, and look for wells and oases. This proved a laborious process.
Once we had mapped the route, the final step was verification. We loaded the information into our GPS and entered the desert in search of the trail.
After leaving Baida, where that mayor had advised us that the road ended, we traveled east for 40 miles through a dry wadi, and dropped down into the wadi Jizl.
As we drove down the wadi, every few hours we came to a tiny settlement consisting of only a mosque, a gas pump, a shop, and a half-dozen homes.
We were still forty miles northwest of Dedan, yet a number of farms became visible in the wadi as it widened. Remains of palm plantations showed that the farms in the past used to extend even farther north out from Dedan.
We believe that two of the villages that we passed in the lower end of the valley were sites of the Frankincense Trail halts Al-Sarhatan and Al-Baida.
Today Al-Baida is a good-sized oasis with several square miles of farmland.
From Al-Baida we continued south-southeast through wadi Jizl until we came to a wadi that leads eastward across sand dunes into wadi Ula (Qura), the site of the ancient Dedan hegemony.
In ancient times this junction was the site of a fort, the purpose of which was to force those traveling down the wad Jizl to turn east to Dedan where they were required to pay tributes.
Lehi's party would have been no exception.
Myriads of palm trees now grow among the ruins, which are surrounded by cliffs of pink sandstone.
After the harsh and unforgiving sight of the desert, the greenery provided us not only cool shade from the midday sun but also rest for our tired eyes.
The abundant water and fertile valley soil made Dedan a verdant location.
If Dedan had just a fraction of its present beauty in Lehi's time, it must surely have presented a marvelous vista for the weary desert travelers.
Reaching the Most Fertile Parts was what we set out to locate as we also became the first LDS explorers to travel and retrace the Gaza branch of the Frankincense Trail.
My "Photograph of the Month" for January comes from Part Three: Discovering the Most Fertile Parts & the People of Lehi of our six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail, showing the lush farmlands of the most fertile parts.