“There Arose a Great Storm and We Were Driven Back Upon the Waters for Three Days”

Alan C. Miner

According to Potter and Wellington, accounts of sailing in the Indian Ocean reveal an important aspect about the nature of the happenings Nephi recorded concerning the first part of his voyage.

Along the Dhofar coast, the monsoon winds blow in summer from the southwest and in the winter from the northeast. The word “monsoon” comes from the Arabic mawsem meaning “season.” These winds are usually consistent in their direction, however Lionel Casson described some problems associated with using these monsoon winds for the journey between the Asian subcontinent and Arabia:

What made the routes possible were the monsoons, the winds of the Arabian Sea and western Indian Ocean that blow from the northeast during the winter months and then conveniently switch to the southwest during the summer. However, the division between the two is not clean and sharp. There are transition periods in the spring and autumn as one monsoon comes to a close and the other begins; at such times the wind ceases to be fixed and turns variable until the new monsoon takes hold.

Thus correct timing of the departure was essential to a successful trip to India (or China) from Dhofar utilizing the monsoon winds. It seems quite possible that Nephi’s party set off during the summer monsoon traveling the Indian Ocean via India and the Far East, to eventually cross the Pacific Ocean.

One of the most interesting proofs of the accuracy of Nephi’s account is that it seems to describe perfectly the weather conditions associated with a voyage from southern Arabia to the East Indies.

Let‘s compare Nephi’s account with that of Tim Severin, who sailed this ancient arab trade route to China in a replica of an ancient Arab sailing vessel. On his way from India to Sumatra his ship was caught between changes in the monsoons, and was hit by some rough northeast monsoon “squalls” and was driven back to the west. Before the southwest monsoons picked up, the Sohar was trapped in a doldrums for several weeks and almost ran out of drinking water. Without wind, Severin’s ship drifted hopelessly away from its destination. Finally the southwest monsoon returned and he was able to sail the Sohar again toward China.

Now compare Severin’s account to what we believe happened to Nephi. Nephi tells us “they put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind toward the promised land.” (1 Nephi 17:8) It would follow then that the harbor where Nephi built and launched his ship had to be large enough to accept a big ship and offer enough protection that the ship could put forth into the Indian Ocean during the southwest monsoon. They seem to have been driven by a prevailing wind for many days, presumably at least the 20 plus days necessary to round the tip of India (1 Nephi 18:9). At this time, apparently Laman and Lemuel bound Nephi and took control of the ship. Their compass, the Liahona, stopped functioning, and “they knew not whither they should steer the ship” (1 Nephi 18:12-12). It would seem that by steering a course of their own choosing Laman and Lemuel managed to turn the ship directly into a storm. It may be that at this time the wind temporarily shifted and they ran into a northeast monsoon squall. They finally untied Nephi, but now they were caught in the same post squalls doldrums that Severins experienced after the northeast monsoon squalls hit the Sohar. Nephi recorded that “the storm did cease, and there was a great calm” (1 Nephi 18;21). Fortunately, it appears that the southwest monsoons had not run their full seasonal course, and they started again, and thus Nephi notes that he guided “the ship that we sailed again toward the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22). [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering The Lehi-Nephi Trail, Unpublished Manuscript (July 2000), pp. 225-226]

We Were Driven Back Upon the Waters for Three Days

As cited in 1 Nephi 18:13-21, the weather pattern of prevailing winds, a storm blowing in the opposite direction, doldrums, and then the return of the original prevailing winds should be found at sea near the Nephi’s “land bountiful” in the Old World. According to Potter and Wellington, this bit of geographical information marks the 81st verifiable correlation that Nephi makes in his writings concerning his journey through the Arabian Peninsula and embarkation into the sea towards the promised land (the Americas).

These authors note that in their research they have concentrated on only 18 chapters of the Book of Mormon, a mere 42 pages of the Book of Mormon. Within his busy schedule, Joseph Smith translated the entire Book of Mormon in about 63 days, or just under 81/2 pages per day. In other words, all of the book of First Nephi would have been translated in about a week. Additionally, when Joseph translated he would dictate to his scribe passing through the text only one time.

By contrast Potter and Wellington note that they have been writing their book for four years. They have made numerous field trips each year to examine the terrain and the lands over which Joseph proposed the family traveled. Between them they have covered some 50,000 miles of desert. Each chapter has been written and rewritten and researched for accuracy, proofread and submitted for criticism, then rewritten again. They have had access to hundreds of works which they cite in the bibliography. Yet their work is only a commentary on Joseph’s original, which he wrote, with no time for outside research, in his “spare time” in little over a week.

After this, their first attempt at writing, Potter and Wellington would categorically attest that in their opinion it is absolutely impossible that anyone could have produced a coherent, accurate piece by this method and yet Joseph Smith did, and all this from “an unlettered farm boy,” as Joseph aptly described himself.

The authors found that Arabia and its history holds straight-forward and compelling evidence that Joseph Smith could not have authored the Book of Mormon. Rather the prophet had to have been amongst the greatest, if not the greatest, translator of ancient script who has ever lived. So perfect is the work that every First Nephi place-name in Arabia can now be readily identified with a potential site that fits the Book of Mormon narrative with complete harmony. eleven out of eleven identified with a high degree of certainty. Yet nine of these remote desert place names, The Borders, River of Laman, Valley of Lemuel, shazer, The Most Fertile parts, the More Fertile Parts, Nahom, Land Bountiful and Place Bountiful (where the ship was built) each would have been known only to the Arabs living in the immediate vicinity of each of these places in 1830. The authors had to travel in the desert back roads of Arabia for nearly five years to find these places, how could Joseph Smith have known about them in up;state New York in 1830?

They can only conclude that the first book of the Book of Mormon, First Nephi, contains detailed information about an actual journey across the ancient Arabian Peninsula. If Joseph Smith were a fraud Arabia would be the best place to prove his guilt since his ignorance would easily be uncovered. Yet in the course of their research, they have found some 81 points obtained from First Nephi pertaining to the geography or topography of the trail and his ship and voyage.

They ask, What is the chance that Joseph Smith could have guessed these 81 details of Arabia correctly and gotten them in the correct order and direction from each other? What is the chance of correctly guessing that a river exists in the desert of Saudi Arabia? 1 in 1,000? 1 in 1,00,000? What is the chance of guessing that wild bees exist on the south coast of Arabia? That a trail exists on the southern edge of the Rub’ Al Khali leading east? That two parallel mountain ranges run along the Red Sea in Midian? Let us be very generous. Let us assume that Joseph Smith had a one in two chance of guessing any one of these 81 points. This would mean that:

By the time they reached Shazer Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 8,388,608.

By the time they reached Nahom Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 140,737,488,355,328.

By the time they reached Bountiful Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 36,028,797,018,964,000.

By the time they were sailing to the Americas Joseph Smith’s chances of having guessed the details correctly would be 1 in 2,417,851,639,229,260,000,000,000.

This number is over 2.4 septillion, that also can be written 2.4 x 10(24) (2.4 with 24 zero’s after it.) Of course the number should be much higher than this because we only gave a 1 in 2 chance for each of these occurrences, and they should in fact be more like 1 in a million or higher. In this case the chance of Joseph Smith guessing these details would be incomprehensible, as if 2 septillion isn’t! To put this number into some perspective let us undertake a simple exercise. There are estimated to be 5 x 10(8) stars in our galaxy. The Hubble telescope, the most powerful yet available, has been able to site distant galaxies previously unknown to mankind. There are now estimated to be 5 x 10(8) galaxies in the universe. That makes 2.5 x 10 (19) stars in existence in all the known universe. (see illustration) The chances of Joseph Smith correctly guessing the details of the journey described in First Nephi would be far less than the chances of you ad I both pointing into the heavens, and unbeknownst to each other, pointing to exactly the same star in exactly the same solar system, in exactly t he same galaxy in the universe the chances of which, I think we would both agree, would be virtually zero. The chances would be far less. In fact the chance of Joseph Smith guessing all of these points in a row would be the same as you and I not only pointing to the same star in the Universe, but to the same star in a sky made up of 100,000 of our Universes, remembering that our Universe contains 25,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars! [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering The Lehi-Nephi Trail, Unpublished Manuscript (July 2000), pp. 281-283]

1 Nephi 18:13 (The chances of 81 consecutive correlations in Nephi’s journey through Arabia) [[Illustration] The Hubble “Deep Space” Shot. This “Deep Space” image was taken with the Hubble telescope. To get a perspective of the photo if one were to hold a dime at arm‘s length the size of President Roosevelt’s eye is the same size as the piece of space photographed here. This image represents only 1/45,000,000 of the sky. Essentially every shot of light you see here is a galaxy, each containing about 500,000,00 stars. Even the faintest speck of light is a galaxy! Even in this tiniest piece of our night sky man is now able to see some 1,000,000,000,000 stars. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering The Lehi-Nephi Trail, Unpublished Manuscript (July 2000), pp. 281-283]

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