“They Were Brought Across the Great Waters”

Alan C. Miner

According to John Sorenson, since the Babylonians controlled the ports of Israel and Phoenicia at the time, going south to Egypt (among his father's allies) would be about the only possibility for Mulek. . . . The premier sailors of that era were the Phoenicians, who frequented Egyptian ports and were familiar with the waters of the entire Mediterranean. Since the Phoenicians possessed the finest seafaring vessels and the widest knowledge of sailing conditions, it is reasonable for us to suppose that one or more of their vessels became the means by which Mulek and those with him were "brought . . . across the great waters" (Omni 1:16). Perhaps travel through the desert to reach Egypt constituted the journeying "in the wilderness" spoken of in Omni 1:16 (evidently prior to the voyage), or perhaps a longer, more arduous trip was required to reach Carthage or other Phoenician cities of the western Mediterranean from which the actual voyage may have departed for America. It should be noted that Israel had only a minor seafaring tradition of its own, and there is no hint that the Mulek party received divine guidance in constructing a ship of their own as Nephi did.

If we suppose that Phoenician or other experienced voyagers were involved, we can inquire why such sailors would be willing to sail off into "the unknown." In the first place, as professional seamen, they would normally be willing to undertake whatever voyage promised them sufficient compensation (Mulek's party of refugees from the royal court could well have had substantial wealth with them). Furthermore, the Phoenicians had confidence in their nautical abilities; where they were told to sail may not have seemed as dauntingly "unknown" to them as the term implies to us. Herodotus tells that a few years earlier Necho II, Egypt's pharaoh in Mulek's day, had sent an expedition of Phoenicians by ship from Ezion-Geber on the Red Sea completely around the continent of Africa (Herodotus, The History, trans. David Grene, IV:42). [John L. Sorenson, "The 'Mulekites'," in BYU Studies, Vol. 30 No. 3 (Summer, 1990): pp. 6-8]

Omni 1:16 They . . . were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters ([Illustration]): Model ships in a museum in Haifa, Israel, illustrate types of vessels that could have been available to make an early crossing of the ocean to America. On the left is a Phoenician vessel of about 700 B.C. The ship on the right was used by Jews in the eastern Mediterranean in the third century A.D. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 225]

“Were Brought by the Hand of the Lord Across the Great Waters”

T.J. O'Brien notes the many cultural similarities between the ancient American Indians and the Jews. These seemingly endless similarities include the use of unleavened bread, reverence for sacred mountain tops, punishing of adultery by stoning, corresponding holy days, frequent bathing even in cold weather, a 52- or 50-year cycle along with a 360-day calendar and five additional unlucky days, flowing water from both sides of a sacred vase, use of the lion and jaguar as symbols of rain and power, belief in Satan (called Mictlantecuhtli in Mexico), the depiction of the five- and six-pointed stars of Israel, and a strong expectations of a coming Messiah. . . .

Kingsborough sees great similarities between the Aztecs, Incas and Jews in the traditions of their kings. Although similar practices can be found among other people of the world as well, he is certain that these, found in the Americas, were modeled after the Jews; the presiding of royalty at sacrifices, dancing at religious festivals, royal consecration at the hands of the high priest, the wearing of crowns and bracelets, many royal wives and concubines, removal of royal sandals upon approaching a temple, the practice of not looking the king in the face upon speaking to him, and elegant burials with incense and perfumes. . . .

If the above parallels weren't quite enough, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, in One Fold and One Shepherd, provides over 300 additional American similarities to Bible land cultures. His listings, along with those which have been summarized from Kingsborough (Chapters. VI-VII), Bancroft (Vol. V), Huddleston (1967), DeVaux (1965) and Dimont (1962), taken as a whole, are quite overwhelming--more so than for any other civilization yet examined herein. Many of these resemblances can clearly be supported by anthropological studies; others seem overly general, a few seem somewhat distorted or thin. Over the years the attempt to prove Israelite characteristics in ancient America has been so ambitious that in searching the vast literature it is difficult to discern even one missing trait. . . .

A stone (Phylactery Stela Tepatlaxco, A.D. 100-300, see illustration) now sitting in the Veracruz wing of the National Museum of Mexico displays two native men--near life size, wearing what appear to be false beards. One figure bows before the other. The taller figure wears some kind of cord, "Tefillin," wound around his arm seven times; it then surrounds his fingers. This strange practice was also used by the Hebrews. The author Von Wuthenau in Unexpected Faces in Ancient America (1975, 42), translates an entry from the Mexican Judaic Encyclopedia (1958) describing a similar performance by Jewish priests at early morning prayers: "A cord is wound around the arm seven times and three times around the middle finger." Above the head of the Veracruz figure, like the Jewish priest, can be seen a possible phylactery, or scroll upon which the Israelites wrote words from their law. [T.J. O'Brien, Fair Gods and Feathered Serpents, pp. 198-199]

Omni 1:15 The people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem ([Illustration]): Phylactery Stela Tepatlaxco, Veracruz (National Museum Mexico City, A.D. 100-300) [T.J. O'Brien, Fair Gods and Feathered Serpents, p. 199]

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