Who was first to reach the New World? Many historians believe it was the Italian-born explorer Christopher Columbus who, on August 3, 1492, set sail across the Atlantic and, three months later, landed on an island in the Bahamas he called San Salvador. Others contend that explorers from the north country, the Vikings, actually arrived in the New World half a millennium before Columbus.
Text books and historians have been arguing the point for centuries, but what is interesting is that another group is completely ignored in this arena of debate. If Mormonism is true, then neither the Vikings, nor Columbus can lay claim as the discoverers of America. If Mormonism is true the New World was discovered, not by an Italian, nor Vikings, but by a group of people known as Jaredites.
The only record mentioning a people called Jaredites is found in the book of Ether (which begins on page 487 in post-1981 editions of the Book of Mormon). Ether, we are told, was a descendant of Coriantor, the son of Mormon.
Ether begins his story by telling of the “brother of Jared.” Though the Book of Mormon never gives us his name, Joseph Smith claimed by way of “revelation” that his name was Mahonri Moriancumer (Mormon Doctrine, 463). The brother of Jared lived during the time of the construction of the tower of Babel and asked God not to confound the language of his friends and family (Ether 1:37). Another request he made of God was to carry him forth to a land which was “choice above all the earth.” God apparently agrees and instructs the brother of Jared to gather his flocks, friends and family for their journey to a land that shall be free “from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.” Bear in mind that Mormons claim this story takes place well over 2,000 years before Christ was born. Ether 2:1 states that they settled in the Land of Nimrod.
To carry the Jaredites across the ocean, “barges” resembling ancient submarines were constructed under the continual direction of the Lord (2:6,16). Verse 17 describes their appearance:
“And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.”
Immediately the brother of Jared noticed vision, steering, and ventilation problems with God’s design. He complained:
“O Lord, in them there is no light; whether shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish” (2:19).
To solve the problem of ventilation, God suggested making a “hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.” It is inconceivable that the brother of Jared is getting the instructions from the all-knowing God of the Bible. Surely God would know that water would come in from a hole in the bottom of a boat.
Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt defended “God’s” design in a speech he gave on December 27, 1868. He stated,
“Now these vessels were so constructed that when furious winds should blow upon the face of the great deep, and the waves should roll mountains high they could without imminent danger plunge beneath the waves, and be brought up again to the surface of the water during tremendous hurricanes and storms. Now to prepare them against these contingencies, and that they might have fresh air for the benefit of the elephants, cureloms or mammoths and many other animals, that perhaps were in them, as well as the human beings they contained, the Lord told them how to construct them in order to receive air, that when they were on the top of the water, which-ever side up their vessels happened to be, it mattered not; they were so constructed that they could ride safely, though bottom upwards and they could open their air holes that happened to be uppermost.”
Pratt went on to say,
“Now all our ships at the present day are constructed with holes in the bottom as well as in the top. I have crossed the ocean twelve times, but I never saw a ship yet that did not have a hole in the bottom for the convenience of the passengers, and it is one of the simplest things in the world to have holes in the bottom of a ship if you only have tubes running up sufficiently high above the general water mark. These were so constructed that when the waves were not running too high, air could be admitted through unstopping the holes which happened to be uppermost” (Journal of Discourses 12:340).
Pratt’s remarks deserve comment. One, he appears to miss the point by suggesting the holes in nineteenth century ships resemble that of the Jaredite barges. Pratt speaks of these working with tubes and only when above the water mark. This description leaves us to assume the holes he is talking about are on the lower side of the ship, not the bottom as was commanded by God.
Pratt acknowledges that the Jaredites took with them a number of animals that included elephants and cureloms. While few Mormon authors and leaders venture to explain what a curelom is, Pratt does so. These mysterious creatures, mentioned in Ether 9:19, are described by Pratt as mammoths. We can only assume that baby elephants and cureloms were aboard since Ether 2:16 makes it clear that the barges were small.
The questions is, “How small was small?” Certainly during the time period of this story the brother of Jared was not comparing these vessels with aircraft carriers. No doubt “small” was relative to the size of ships known at that time. With what is known about ancient sailing vessels, even large barges would not be very big. Yet, these barges had to hold enough food and supplies to last a minimum of 344 days, or the time it took them to cross the ocean. It must also be taken into consideration that even if baby animals were taken aboard the barges, they would certainly grow to nearly an adult size in 344 days. Elephants reach half of their adult size in about a year (Mammals, 145).
Pratt insists that the design of the barges were such that, even while capsized, they would be safe. One only wonders how safe a person could be with the chance of elephants and mammoths falling on you while plunging into the depths of the sea and bobbing up to the surface upside-down. Cages perhaps is the Mormon answer. However, they would have to be extremely strong cages to support even the smallest of elephants and mammoths.
While some Mormons might point to Noah’s ark, it should be mentioned that many Bible scholars feel the design of the ark was such that it could never capsize even under enormous waves. Therefore, suspending the larger of the animals from the “ceiling” (as would be the case) would not have been a problem for Noah as it was for the brother of Jared.
Noah’s ark is described as a huge vessel. According to the size given in Genesis 6:15, the ark was roughly 450 long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall; a size quite capable of holding the many species of animals with plenty of room for the animals’ growth from the time God shut the door of the ark to the time the animals were set free (approximately 371 days).
Ether 6:5 states the Jaredite barges were propelled by a furious wind that “did never cease to blow towards the promised land” (vs.8). Ether 6:11 tells us the barges were “driven forth three hundred and forty and four days upon the water.”
The Mormon Church has never really given an official position as to the route taken by the Jaredites. Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley defended a Pacific Ocean crossing when he writes, “Whether the party moved east or west from the valley of Nimrod is not a major issue, though a number of things favor an eastern course” (Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites, 181).
Thomas Stuart Ferguson and LDS Seventy Milton R. Hunter speculated that the Jaredites came across the Atlantic Ocean. On page 36 of their book “Ancient America and the Book of Mormon,” a map shows the Jaredites arriving at the “land northward” above the narrow neck of land described by Hunter and Ferguson as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in central America (33-34).
Hunter and Ferguson draw their conclusions primarily from the writings of Mesoamerican historians Ixtlilxochitl (Eesh-tleel-sho-cheetl), and Bernardino De Sahagun. Sahagun writes of a group of people in “seven” ships who come from the direction of Florida and landed in the port of Panuco, near Tampico, Mexico.
Regardless of which theory a person advances, we find these people traveling a great distance to reach the New World. Whether they traveled from east to west around Cape Horn or west to east across the Pacific, we are talking about a distance no further than 15,000 miles. If we divide 15,000 by 344 days, we discover that the Jaredites traveled a little over 43 miles per day or just under two miles per hour. This is hardly the result one would expect if the barges were, in fact, driven by furious winds.
Some Mormons have tried to excuse this difficulty by claiming that the Jaredites did not travel in a straight line but in fact zig-zagged. This is not feasible since the narrative in Ether clearly states the furious wind “never ceased to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters” (6:8).
If Mormons believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, they must accept his claim that the Book of Mormon, including the Book of Ether it contains, is an accurate history. If that claim is true, then historians across the globe who credit either Columbus or the Vikings with the discovery of America are clearly misguided. If the Book of Mormon is true, the discovery of America must be credited to the Jaredites. If this isn’t so, then Joseph wasn’t a prophet …at least he wasn’t a true prophet.
For more articles on the Standard Works in Mormonism, click here.