Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ether 6: The Incredible Journey

In the format of so many sacrament meeting talks, I'm going to begin by defining the subject I'm about to discuss.  This post is called The Incredible Journey not only because it's a fun little reference to a Disney movie from my youth but also because it's about a journey which aligns perfectly with Google's first definition of the word incredible:  impossible to believe.

And let's examine why this journey is so impossible to believe.

Problem 1:  Everyone Should Have Died
Verse 4 explains that these eight Jaredite barges were packed with enough food "that thereby they might subsist upon the water, and also food for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them...."

This is an insane amount of food.  These eight ships are basically miniature versions of Noah's ark, and the quantities of food required to sustain all the people and all the animals for a 344-day voyage is staggering.  But it's not the food that bothers me.

It's the water.

Since apparently we should make sure that each person has a minimum of one gallon of water to last a three-day period, this means that, for a 344-day journey, each person would have needed roughly 115 gallons on board.  115 gallons would take up a little bit more than 15 cubic feet of valuable barge space. Multiply that by whatever number of people were traveling (according to Ether chapter 2, it was Jared, his brother, their families, and their friends' families, which could be 20 people or 2000 people, considering that later in the chapter it sure sounds like these guys have bucketloads of children), and you start to run out of room in those ships pretty quickly.  The whole barge would basically need to be a giant water reservoir.  And that's not accounting for the "flocks," which, logically, would vastly outnumber the humans and would need plenty of water of their own.

Now, if this journey had actually taken place and God was really as intelligent and all-knowing as he's supposed to be, then maybe he would have taught the Jaredites how to get water from the ocean and make it safe to drink.  Think of the field day apologists would have if Ether predicted some kind of effective desalination technique long before non-Jaredite societies could figure it out.  That would have been a great thing to include here that could help validate the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon and lend a bit of credence to this most ridiculous part of the narrative while remaining relevant to the story at hand.

But no.  There's no way they would have had room for all the animals and all the food and all the water to last for so long on the open ocean.  Everyone should have died.

Problem 2:  Everyone Should Have Died
Verses six and seven destroy my attempt to give this story the benefit of the doubt.  A few chapters earlier, I admitted that, even though critics like to call these boats "Jaredite submarines," we hadn't yet approached any evidence, other than their weird design, to indicate that they actually submerged.  So much for that:
And it came to pass that 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 the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.
Okay.  So it looks like not only did these barges go underwater, but it they went wayyyy underwater, and they did it a lot.

I don't know what else these guys could have made their boats from if not wood, but this would have had to be an engineering marvel even by modern standards for anyone to have survived.  For a wooden submarine to remain perfectly airtight for almost a year and to survive repeated exposure to deep undersea pressure?  Whether from drowning or from being crushed in a wooden box, everyone should have died.

Problem 3:  Everyone Should Have Died
Since so much of these life-threatening problems are made so much worse by the sheer amount of time the Jaredites spent sailing, I think it's fair to list the duration as another reason why everyone should have died.  The duration, again, was 344 days, which could not have been stated any more clearly than it is in verse 11.  But it really shouldn't have taken that long.  Look at verse 5:
And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.
"There should be a furious wind blow" is terrible wording.  I can't tell if it's a grammar error or just remarkably poor phrasing, but it's definitely not right.  But that's not the important thing here.  With the actual events of that verse still in mind, let's review verse 8 as well:
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.
Okay, so an all-powerful God made sure that the winds and waves propelled the Jaredites toward the promised land without stopping.  So why the devil did it take nearly a year?  A journey from Yemen around southern Africa to the eastern coast of Mexico should be in the neighborhood of 11,500 miles.  Admittedly, we don't know specifically where the Jaredites landed, but it does seem that their territory and the later Nephite territories would overlap a bit.  Many LDS like to think that Book of Mormon events took place in North America, but some think it's more reasonable to assume Central or South America, so Mexico seems like a reasonable compromise.

But I'm getting sidetracked.  In this theoretical journey from the Arabian peninsula to Central America, a 344-day time frame would put the daily travel distance at around 35 miles.  That's little better than walking speed.  You'd think explicit divine intervention and manipulation of the waves and winds and currents would have beaten out walking speed by a considerable margin.  There is no reason why, with God in the mix, the Jaredites should have been crammed into their (probably) wooden sardine cans for almost a year.

And just maybe, if God had been miraculous enough and managed to shave their travel time down significantly (and also avoided sending them deep below the surface of the ocean) it wouldn't have been quite so unbelievable that everyone didn't die.

Problem 4:  Everyone Should Have Died
Okay, actually, this one has nothing to do with the sea voyage and nothing to do with death, either, but I had to keep the pattern going.

So once everybody gets to the promised land and starts their new lives, they decide they need some kind of government in place.  And, surprise surprise, monarchy seems to be the most prevalent suggestion.  And then we get this lovely exchange (verses 22-24):
And it came to pass that the people desired of them that they should anoint one of their sons to be a king over them. 
And now behold, this was grievous unto them. And the brother of Jared said unto them: Surely this thing leadeth into captivity. 
But Jared said unto his brother: Suffer them that they may have a king. And therefore he said unto them: Choose ye out from among our sons a king, even whom ye will.
Jared sure makes an eloquent argument deftly refuting his brother's concerns for a monarchy.  That's what you like to see, a prophet—one with so much faith that he could see the body of God himself—being so under-confident that he can only raise one feeble objection when his brother decides upon a system of government that this whole book of scripture cautions against.  Real balls there, Mahonri.  Way to stand up for what you believe in.

Seriously, that's all he says.  He says, "Hey, maybe this is a bad idea," and his brother says, "Naw, we're gonna do it," and then he just sits by and watches while they go ahead and set up a monarchy that, unsurprisingly, will lead to corruption and conflict and war.

So maybe, following the brother of Jared's pattern, the modern prophets of the church actually do make prophecies and impart essential information—they're just so meek and quiet about it that nobody notices and that's why society is in the toilet.

Makes perfect sense.


  1. How can anyone read this chapter and believe that it could have in any way actually happened?

    1. I mean, I did. Didn't you at some point? It sure seems crazy looking back, though!

  2. Yeah, I did, but I think it came down to the fact that my mom read the Book of Mormon to the kids and believed it all so firmly and literally that I didn't ever think there was even a remote possibility an alternative or that it could all be false. Hey, God can make anything happen, so he could guide them to the promised land in whatever way he wanted. When I gave up belief in the supernatural and these type so magical events, it was quite liberating to me and opened up my mind to a whole new world view. So I guess for me it totally came down to indoctrination.

    1. It did for me, too, and I'm sure for millions of others. It's surprising that anyone would buy into this without the indoctrination. Although I guess the missionaries make sure you've read Moroni 10:4-5 before you're baptized, but they don't make sure you've read Ether 6. Maybe a lot of people have already gone all in before they've taken a close look at crazy stuff like this.