“The Compass Which Had Been Prepared of the Lord Did Cease to Work”

Alan C. Miner

Although Nephi uses the term "compass" to describe the instrument "which had been prepared of the Lord" (1 Nephi 18:12), one might wonder concerning the ancient knowledge of what is now recognized as the modern compass. In his book, The Sindbad Voyage, Tim Severin also asks, "had the Arab navigators also used the compass to guide them?" He then writes the following:

Certainly by Ibn Majid's time in the fifteenth century the compass was in widespread use, but earlier texts make no mention of it. Once again, the answer must have been to use the stars. When I asked Saleh, who had skippered an Arab fishing boat, to tell me the Arabic names for the compass points, his answers were revealing. Most of his compass points were not as westerners use them, but were the names of stars. It was a relic of the day when Arab navigators steered by the direction in which the stars rise and set during the night. Through Sohar's night watches the skilled Omani sailors steered by the stars in the night sky. By day they were content to keep a correct general direction by watching the sun, and keeping the steady monsoon winds at the same angle to Sohar/s sails. (p. 94)

[Quoted from Tim Severin, The Sindbad Voyage, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1982] [For more excerpts see the commentaries on 1 Nephi 17:8; 18:6; 18:8; 18:13]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary