Ships

(The curious evolution of nautical prowess)


     Ships have a curious history, both within and without scripture.
     Seas and ships first, and most famously, appear, within scripture, beginning with Noah's ark, which, as far as we know, had neither oars nor sails, making it actually a barge. But that's far from the end of the matter.
     According to our Book of Abraham 1:24, Egyptus discovered the land of Egypt while it was still under water (Isn't it just marvelous how these little details are thrown in for us?), implying both that something had to be visible above the water to alert them to their location (the method still preferred by sailors today), and that Egyptus and her sons must have been traveling by boat in order to have gotten within site of that landmark. And, given that they must have just recently parted company with the Ark's other passengers, one must wonder what manner of boat (or boats) they traveled on. Surely Noah didn't lend them the ark. Besides, it would have been grounded on the Mountains of Ararat. (Nor would the ark have had a lifeboat for them to borrow; it was a lifeboat!)
     Later Egyptians (or so we're told) would even bury boats around the great pyramids. And these boats had oars, but curiously lacked any sails. They must not have planned on going very far, and, yet, these were clearly designed to be trans-oceanic vessels. Again, without sails. One of those buried boats was even packed up like an Ikea bookshelf, as if for shipping aboard some other vessel. So, while it certainly lacked anything that we would call a lifeboat, did Noah's ark have instead collapsable landing craft? And were these then buried once uselessly stranded on land? Or were they ceremoniously interred by later generations, as archaeologists claim, in some sort of remembrance of their legendary arrival? Much as we celebrate the Pilgrims' presumed thanksgiving meal by preparing and eating foods unique to that holiday? Foods we think our ancestors ate?
     Or, perhaps it was a symbolic retiring of the boats God promised would never be needed again, a way of either showing faith in his word, or holding him to it. But why around the pyramids as opposed to somewhere else? Was it because it was these lighthouses (the word, pyramid, meaning fire in the middle) which guided them home? Above all, was it what they found in those pyramids which catapulted Egypt (aka Khemet, the black land ... Khem ... Ham ... the land of Ham) ahead of Sumer, Akkad, Hattusa, and the Indus Valley civilizations in practically every way? Just ask any Mormon what they might expect to find in a stone box hidden near the top of the highest hill in the area. Was it this which made Egypt the destination for anyone and everyone seeking induction into the mystery schools? Was this why Christ was taken to Egypt for perhaps a decade of his most formative years? (Note just how much of Egyptian practices we still employ today.) And that, surely, by boat!
     The Jaredites built many oarless, sailless barges prior to the eight they finally crossed the ocean in. They even attribute this to the tumultuous nature of the seas at the time. But we see no such seas today, except, perhaps, the North Sea. The Polynesians have been crossing the Pacific for many centuries in relatively small, open canoes with apparent ease. Thor Heyerdahl and his crew crossed the Pacific on a log raft! So what was going on back then? And is this why Noah's ark, built only a few centuries earlier, was also a barge?
     So, ships were originally barges, then canoes, then acquired small, auxiliary power sails. Later, the oars were jettisoned altogether in favor of more and bigger sails. But why did we have to go through this progression? Wasn't that a no-brainer from the beginning? Were our ancestors really so clueless as to fail to capitalize on the winds? Why didn't we just leap from barges to cutters? Were the seas still a bit too tumultuous to trust to sails? Or were the winds too erratic? Or unreliable?
     Later still, Nephi built a ship, and it, presumably, had sails, but no oars. Or, at least, that's the impression we get from the way the story is told, reading between the lines. Perhaps things had calmed down sufficiently in the 1,600 years since the Jaredites made the journey.
     Christ, too, was frequently near water, and even in ships, once even walking over water to catch up to a ship.
     Paul was shipwrecked twice.
     What's up with all this shipping? What's up with the evolution of maritime vessels and navigational skill? Could this be yet another of those allegories found throughout scripture, teaching us truths about God and/or ourselves via parallels with other things closer to home, things we understand better? Could there be a lesson in there that we're meant to learn? And, if so, why did none of the authors mention it? Well, if there's anything we learn from the Book of Mormon, it has to be that, as with the script of an intelligent movie, only a few of the more obvious points are underscored for us, and then only to set an example for us of how to approach the rest of the story. Maybe, just maybe, one of the purposes in episodes like the parable of the sower is to get us to look for less obvious allegories, allegories like the one I'm pointing out here.
     And, if there's a lesson to be learned from all this talk of ships and shipping, maybe it's this:
     All people, at all times, have believed in a God. Indeed, they have believed in many gods. And, while most of these so-called gods were really what we know of as angels, such as the one which troubled the waters of Bethesda, they certainly also knew of that God which created all things, and, through the intermediary of spirit, lived in all things, the elements being the tabernacle of God, and all things thus denoting God. But, what has not always been known by all, not even all prophets, was that this God would be veiled in flesh. To many, left to their own supposing, such a concept seemed downright sacrilegious, and they just wouldn't have it. And we see this in Helaman 16:15-18, when the people are rejecting the testimonies of Nephi and Samuel. It's this very argument that they latch onto. They were all very familiar with the allegory of God as a planet. Practically everyone believed that. Or even all the planets and space itself. But the idea that God could become a human was just beyond anyone's ability to grasp. Even King Solomon as much as declared it impossible, declaring that even an edifice as grand as his temple was really nothing more than a mortal tool for mortal needs, not the dwelling of God, saying, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?"
     (Wait ... what?! Heaven of heavens?! Oh, trust me, we'll be talking about that sometime.) (And, YES, you must ALWAYS pay close attention for/to such seemingly insignificant expressions, so easily ascribed to mere eloquence or poetic license.)
     Such ideas just didn't make sense to the ancients, and anyone trying to teach them such a doctrine was seen as a servant of the devil, trying to confuse and mislead people down strange roads. Even, Alma first heard these things from the great prophet, Adinadi, as recorded in Mosiah 15.
     1And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. 2And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son-- 3The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son-- 4And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. 5And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. 6And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. 7Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father. 8And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men-- 9Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice. 10And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed? 11Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord--I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are heirs of the kingdom of God. 12For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed? 13Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed. 14And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!
     And that also goes back to Abraham's argument to his own father, Terah. Abraham argued that it wasn't reasonable to think that something you made with your own hands could have created you. How is this connected? Because people were making terrestrial, earthly, and earthy vessels, ships, for what they believed God to be to inhabit here on earth among them precisely because they believed that God would enter into his own creation in some form. What they didn't understand was that even his tabernacle would be of his own creation, not theirs. (Matthew 22:45) Now how ironic is this stupifyingly obvious step of reason and logic in light of today's pseudo-scientific view of religion as nothing more than superstition, when, historically speaking, it was actually religion, and more specifically our religion, which argued from the position of reason and empiricism, aka science, against superstition? (Let Sir Frazer chew on that one!) Unfortunately, the same mentality that resorted to idol worship in the first place, eventually turned Abraham's argument on its head, concluding that a God who created everything would only ever stand outside his creation, observe it, command it, destroy it, perhaps even commune with prophets within it, but never, ever enter into it. This argument sees the hands of the idol-maker as the erstwhile instruments of God, wasting their time only because God would never enter into any tabernacle made by human hands. And this idea is peppered throughout scripture (Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49-50) as well as the church itself. Have you ever seen the temple at Adam-ondi-ahman? No. Of course not. There is none. Or rather none that you would recognize as such. It's a natural temple: A sacred grove. Built, without human hands, for a divine purpose.
     So it's not so far-fetched that anyone might react so negatively at the idea of a mortal messiah. They were doing the best they could with what they had. After all, even the Book of Mormon states unequivocally that one person can't be punished for another's crimes. So what point could there even be in a redeemer? But they were, as the scripture above said, relying on their own strength, their own powers of reason. And they were all about to run into greater light and knowledge.
     And not just in the Book of Mormon, as it turns out.
     There's a wise, old saying that, while it's true that a ship in a harbor is safe, this is not what ships are built for. Thus, every ship must sail. And every ship must then have a maiden voyage. And the builder of every ship traditionally attends this first voyage: To assert his ownership; To ensure he got his money's worth; To ensure his crew is properly trained and handling his property well; To see that the ship is on-course, and will serve the mission that he intended it for; To get it out of safe harbor ... like any other member of the crew or passengers. And this all makes the perfect analogy for why it was that Jehovah, the almighty creator of heaven and earth, and all things that in them are, entered into his own creation, as any another man traveling on the earth.
     And this is not to be taken for granted. We all do, of course, but, especially at this time of year, we really ought to pause, and consider with sobriety. Because this is exactly what we celebrate: The almighty creator of heaven and earth, the one who gave Adam his body, deigning to lower himself to our level, and inherit a body of his own from his ancestor, Adam. Jehovah entered time. Christ entered mortality. Jesus entered the world. As a baby. Of a woman.
     Curiously, even a Greek philosopher or two had already reasoned this necessity out long before it actually happened, and they were looking for this, not knowing really what to look for, or even what to call him, this unknown God. This anticipation on their part, this power of reason they mustered, this leap in logic, may well be why Paul went to the Athenians first of all as he took the gospel to the gentiles, having traveled there ... by ship.
     Unfortunately for us, the captain and officers rebelled against the owner, duped the rest of us into helping them mutiny, declaring the owner a pirate, and making him walk the plank.
     And they thought that was the end of it.
     They thought they now owned the ship.
     But that wasn't the end of it.
     He only swam to shore so to speak.
     And he's coming back to claim what's his.
     And the passengers and crew are going to be facing an inquisition over this.
     He still needs a crew. He still wants to ferry his true friends home. Some will be staying on board. Some will be going overboard.
     I've heard the question asked, if Christianity were forbidden by law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
     And while that sounds witty and insightful, I think it's going to go far deeper than that. I fear it won't be a question of whether we were bad, or even good, but whether we were valiant.
     Let us be valiant.


~~ Marcus Aurelius ~~


     Addendum: All Christ's parables are multi-tiered. Notice, for example, in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the number of each, the wait, the night, the oil, the lamps, the purchase, the rejection, and the wedding. And surely there is even more. Consider the parable of the sower, the birds (spirits/psychopomps), the soil (think earth), the seed (God was seen as the sower of life in the earth, and the earth as his bride), and, especially (those of you who have been taught) (but may have failed to even notice that/what you were being taught) the hand of the sower. So, what more can we glean from the parable of the ships? What do you understand about the role of water? Of traversing water? Of the land on the other side? And, yes, the ship? See: Joseph Smith's last dream.