1 Nephi Chapter 17
1 Nephi 17 Building the ship
This chapter contains the account of the sojourn in the land called Bountiful.
1 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness.
verse 1 "and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth" It is pertinent that from the ancient tribal area of Nihm (the likely location of Nahom) almost all of the ancient roads turned east, veering from the general north-south direction of the Frankincense Trail. The trail beyond Nihm was another part of the ancient incense trail that ran east-west.
"we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness" The main trail east from Nahom would have passed through the capitals of the incense kingdoms and ended in the port of Cana (Qana) (see the map of the Frankincense trail). The downside to this trail is that all of the capitals extracted a levy from the caravans as they passed and that route would have been "enormously expensive" (Kiernan, Unveiling of Arabia, 31). Consequently there existed a number of "shortcuts" or secondary trails. Though cheaper, these trails were more difficult going, with only a few wells and virtually no caravanserais or camps. Consequently these trails were not heavily traveled, in fact some were likely little used in Lehi's day.
During their crossing of this isolated section of the trail, Nephi will note that the meat was eaten raw. The Lord instructed the family not to make much fire (1 Nephi 17:12). Hugh Nibley studied the accounts of the early explorers of the Arabian sands and concluded that the family did not have fires because of fear of being raided by unfriendly Bedouin tribes ("Lehi in the Desert," Improvement Era [May 1950]: 382). The need to avoid the Bedouin raiders was imperative, as they were an aggressive and brutal people. Fires can be seen for great distances in the desert. While traveling south from Jerusalem, Nephi never mentions that they did not use fires. This earlier part of the trail, from Jerusalem to Nahom, was well used in Nephi's time, and payment of a toll guaranteed protection from the Bedouins. However, the trail that led eastward from Nahom to Bountiful was a different story. Apparently raiding by Arab tribesmen increased whenever there was an economic downturn (Salibi, History of Arabia, 31-32). As the Bedouins became impoverished they turned more and more to raiding which subsidized their already meager income (Ibid., 9-10). Historical evidence suggests that about the time Lehi was leaving Jerusalem, economic forces were driving the Bedouins on the northern part of the trail to increase their raiding. In response to their incursions, King Nebuchadrezzar II launched an attack in 599 BC on the Arab tribes (al-Sudairi, Desert Frontier of Arabia, 31). If the same conditions existed on the southern part of the trail, then we see why Lehi was told not to make fires.
This last leg of the journey would have been the toughest yet. Nephi informs us in this verse, "And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness." But after eight years in the wilderness, the family finally reached the land they called Bountiful where more drama would unfold.
It is worth mentioning that the culture of Arabia might well have had another influence upon Lehi and his party, particularly so upon Nephi. While it is possible to find in the Near East many examples of ancient writing on metal plates, those found in south Arabia are particularly relevant for comparative purposes. Recent decades have seen a number of discoveries of writing on hard surfaces from south Arabia (L'Arabie antique de Karib'ila Mahomet, 162-66). Examples come from ancient temples, indicating perhaps that people understood such writing to be connected in some way to the realm of the divine. They apparently chose hard surfaces-metal and stone-for writing because of durability. Skilled Arabian artisans had adopted and developed the skills to inscribe important records on metal surfaces. Of course, the record on the brass plates of Laban would have served as the chief model for Nephi's later efforts to keep records on metal plates. Even so, the artisans and scribes who created records on stone and metal in all the major centers of south Arabia may also have impressed Nephi, who wrote his narrative on metal plates only after passing through Arabia. As mentioned previously, there are indications that the party, particularly Lehi, kept a diary of the Arabian trek, but on a perishable material, not on metal plates.
2 And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings
3 And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.
verse 3 See the commentary for 1 Nephi 3:7.
To sojourn is to dwell.
4 And we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.
verse 4 The distance from Jerusalem to Southern Arabia then east to Bountiful is a distance of about 2,100 miles. Then you might add an additional 800 to 1,000 miles journeyed by the four sons in their two additional round trips from the valley of Lemuel to Jerusalem!
There are hints in the text that this next stage of the journey between Nahom and the ocean was not only the most difficult, but also required the longest time. The distance from Nahom eastward to the seacoast-the party's Bountiful-was seven hundred miles or less. This was about half the distance that the party had already traveled from Jerusalem to Nahom. However, apparently the party spent the bulk of its "eight years in the wilderness" on this leg of the journey.
There is no clear evidence that, during the era of Lehi, an established incense trail ran east of Shabwah (Shabwa), the major south Arabian city where caravans stopped to allow grading and taxing of incense coming from that general area (see the map of the Frankincense Trail). Hence, Lehi and his party may not have had access to a trail taken by camel drivers and their cargoes. Presumably their party followed a course that snaked eastward between the sands of the Rub' al Kahli (the "Empty Quarter") on the north and the craggy landscape on the south. In addition, it is now known that the tribes in the region east of Shabwah were in a constant state of tension with one another and that a person could not cross tribal boundaries without having to negotiate afresh the terms of safe conduct. Such negotiations could and often did lead to temporary servility (submissiveness) for the traveler among local tribes. Moreover, there were no assured sources of food in the region east of Shabwah except flocks and herds that belonged to tribesmen. Agriculture was little practiced.
Such challenges fit the vivid reminiscences of the party's troubles preserved by writers other than Nephi. These later Book of Mormon authors had access to the fuller account of the party's journey preserved on the large plates of Nephi. For instance, King Benjamin recalls that at certain points along the way party members "were smitten with famine" (Mosiah 1:17). We do have the account of the family's suffering from lack of food on the way to Nahom, but the word famine sounds a more ominous note. Alma writes of Lehi's party suffering "from famine" as well as "from sickness, and all manner of diseases" (Alma 9:22). Alma also records that party members "did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst" (Alma 37:42). We should probably understand most of these difficulties described by Benjamin and Alma to have befallen the group after they turned "nearly eastward" at Nahom (verse 1).
In almost identical language, both Amaron and Alma write of God's preserving Lehi's party from "the hands of their enemies" (Omni 1:6; Alma 9:10). Who were these enemies? The most attractive possibility is that they were people encountered on the leg of the journey between Nahom and the seacoast, even though Nephi himself does not mention enemies. Nephi's abbreviated account of crossing south Arabia from Nahom to the seacoast consists of only four verses, 1 Nephi 17:1-4. Alma seems to tie a recollection of ancestors who were "strong in battle" to Lehi's party, whom God "delivered . . . out of the land of Jerusalem" (Alma 9:22). If so, then we might well imagine that the party struggled against more than the harsh realities of the desert as they forged on toward the seacoast. One of their biggest challenges may have come in dealing with tribesmen whom they met. This impression matches what we know of tribal troubles in this part of Arabia (The peace brokered by the British representative Harold Ingrams, for example, in 1937 included the signatures of "1400 tribal leaders"-J. G. T. Shipman, "The Hadhramaut," Asian Affairs 71/2 : 159).
Presumably, Lehi's company used camels to carry their cumbersome gear and essential possessions as well as themselves. Traveling 20 to 25 miles a day, the capacity pace for laden camels, Lehi could have covered the distance between Jerusalem and suggested locations for Bountiful in weeks rather than eight years. The company obviously camped for lengthy periods or was otherwise detained during the journey. To account for some of the added years of "sojourning," S. Kent Brown has conjectured that Lehi's family experienced periods of servitude or bondage among larger desert clans and that the family may have traded food and water, or more likely their skills in reading and writing, for their freedom (From Jerusalem to Zarahemla, 55-67). Perhaps longer periods of camping and resting occurred during the women's advanced stages of pregnancy and subsequent childbirth. Nephi recorded that the women, including Sariah, gave birth to one or more children during their eight years in the wilderness (see 1 Nephi 17:1; 1 Nephi 17:18:7). One scholar described the desert birthing bed as "a mantle or tent-cloth spread upon the earth." Older women among the clan typically assisted the mother by taking her away from the camp-"apart in the wilderness," to be delivered (Charles M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta [New York: Random House, 1936], 268).
5 And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey; and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters.
verse 5 "much fruit and also wild honey" Among the classic writings on ancient Arabia are those of Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79). His book, Natural History (6.32) reports that "the Sabaei" people of south Arabia produced "honey and wax."
6 And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.
verse 6 The group has now arrived at a place called Bountiful which is likely on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. From its description it is a fertile place. Here Nephi will build a ship that will carry the group to the New World. In Joseph Smith's day, and for more than a century afterward, it seemed impossible that such a place could exist in barren Arabia. Today an ideal general location is known to exist on the southern coast of Arabia, the Dhofar region of southern Oman.
Is it possible for us to narrow our quest for Bountiful to a specific area within the Dhofar region? Before considering specific suggestions, let us summarize the characteristics of the place called Bountiful:
1. Bountiful was "nearly eastward" from Nahom (see 1 Nephi 17:1).
2. Overland access to Bountiful had to be possible from the interior desert. Access to the southern coast from the interior of Arabia is usually difficult and in some places impossible. The Qara mountains hinder access to much of the most fertile region of coastal Arabia where we would expect Bountiful to be situated.
3. Bountiful was fertile. The Qara Mountains form an abrupt transition "between two worlds." As Lehi and his family reached the top of the mountain pass, they would have left behind them the desert, and before them were the lush tree-lined slopes of Bountiful. Nephi describes Bountiful as yielding "meat" (perhaps small game that could be hunted), "much fruit," and "honey" (see 1 Nephi 17:5; 1 Nephi 17:6; 1 Nephi 17:18:6).
4. Bountiful had to be suitable for a long encampment and for shipbuilding. It would likely have taken Nephi and his brothers at least a year to construct a ship substantial enough to carry as many as thirty people two-thirds of the way around the globe. Thus, the site for Bountiful must have been capable of sustaining a small colony for at least one and perhaps a few years.
For several months each year during the monsoon, heavy seas, fog, and rain envelope the southern Arabian coastline, making outdoor activities like shipbuilding difficult. Presumably Nephi and his brothers stopped work on the ship during this period of the year or perhaps Bountiful offered enough shelter to allow them to continue.
5. Timber had to be readily available. To build his ship, Nephi would have needed access to sufficient timber of the right types and sizes to fashion a seaworthy vessel (see 1 Nephi 18:1; 1 Nephi 18:2; 1 Nephi 18:6).
6. A year-round supply of fresh water has to be available for the camp.
7. Bountiful had a prominent mountain. In the Book of Mormon text, Nephi refers to this mountain as "the mount" (1 Nephi 17:7; 1 Nephi 17:18:3) which was close enough to the camp-site that Nephi could go there to "pray oft" (1 Nephi 18:3).
8. Bountiful likely had cliffs overlooking the ocean. Laman and Lemuel attempted to kill Nephi by throwing him into the sea (see 1 Nephi 17:48). This seems to imply cliffs overlooking the ocean, since Nephi's life would not have been threatened by being thrown into the ocean from a beach.
9. Bountiful had a source of ore which could be smelted for the making of tools, along with flint used in starting fires (see 1 Nephi 17:9-11; 1 Nephi 17:16). Nephi did not need a large deposit of copper or iron ore for his tools. Fifty pounds or so would have met his needs. In February 2000, geologists from BYU discovered two large deposits or iron ore in the Dhofar region of Oman. And they both lie within a few days' walk of any campsite along the seacoast. Although iron ore in the amounts that make mining profitable do not occur in southern Oman, ore does occur in sufficient quantities that Nephi could easily have traveled to a substantial deposit and extracted enough to smelt for his tools. Thus, the natural occurrence of iron ore in the Dhofar area offered a clear solution to Nephi's need for tools.
10. Bountiful had to have suitable winds and currents to carry Nephi's ship out into the Arabian Sea and eventually into the Indian Ocean. Apparently at a particular season of the year, Arab voyagers from the Red Sea and the southern Arabian coast routinely sailed eastward to southern India and Ceylon. Nephi could have used the same winds to sail across the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, every few years the marine and meteorological phenomenon, popularly know as the El Nino effect, changed the pattern of winds across the Pacific so that travel in an easterly direction, even as far as America, becomes possible for a period of a year or two (George F. Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times [Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1951] and David L. Clark, "Lehi and El Nino: A Method of Migration," BYU Studies 30/3 , 57-65).
As to the specific site of Bountiful within the Dhofar region of southern Oman, two specific sites have been suggested:
The first was described by Warren and Michaela Aston ("The Arabian Bountiful Discovered?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 7, number 1, 1998, 4-11). It is Khor Kharfot ("Fort Port"), a unique and fertile place along the coastline of the southern Arabian peninsula. It lies at the end of a long, narrow ravine, the Wadi Sayq ("River Valley"). This wadi provides the only access from the interior desert to the coast through the Qara Mountains, though that access would have been difficult along this narrow and boulder strewn wadi. Let us compare this site with the characteristics of Bountiful outlined above.
Khor Kharfot is located almost due east of Nehem, the modern-day site which is the leading candidate for ancient Nahom (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:34).
Khor Kharfot is fertile. Trees grow naturally, some bearing fruit, and there are nesting birds, a variety of small animals, bees that provide wild honey (Oral report at BYU by Professors Terry B. Ball, Loreen Wolstenhulme, and Gary Baird on Friday, December 3, 1999), and abundant fish.
Ruins at Khor Kharfot, which have yet to be excavated, appear to indicate that at least one small community lived there for some time.
Numerous large trees are still found at Khor Kharfot almost down to the ocean, and they were certainly even more plentiful in the past. Drought in recent centuries has reduced the natural forests that formerly covered the sides of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Timber from several species has been identified at Kharfot-especially the sycamore fig and the tamarind, which would have been suitable for building a seagoing craft.
Khor Kharfot contains the largest source of fresh water on the Arabian coast. In this particular coastal area there are streams and springs which would have provided ample water.
And what of Bountiful's requirement for a mountain? Fittingly, at Khor Kharfot the highest and most prominent peak is isolated directly above the little western plateau where evidence of former settlement is most abundant and on which Lehi's family would have been most likely to camp. At Khor Kharfot, there are also dangerous cliffs averaging 200 feet high which overlook the ocean.
Preliminary investigations in Khor Kharfot have proved promising as to the availability of sufficient iron ore for the making of tools.
The Astons feel that another criterion for Bountiful is that it be uninhabited by other peoples at the time Lehi and his family camped there. At least the Book of Mormon text mentions no such interactions with other people. Preliminary investigations of archaeological evidences suggest only intermittent periods of human habitation at Kharfot. Because of the rugged coastline, overland travel to Kharfot along the coast is very difficult. This is probably the primary reason why such an attractive and fertile place as Kharfot has remained uninhabited for most of the time, including the present day. It is very isolated, and difficult to reach by any route, except the sea. This relative isolation of Khor Kharfot may be why Laman and Lemuel assisted with the shipbuilding and seem not to have objected to leaving Bountiful.
The second candidate for Bountiful is Khor Rori and was first described by George Potter and Richard Wellington (Lehi in the Wilderness, 121-37). It is located about sixty miles to the east of Khor Kharfot on the Salalah coast of southern Arabia. Potter and Wellington emphasize that at the time of Lehi, Dhofar was a land of great wealth due to the groves of Frankincense trees.
Potter and Wellington also suggest that Lehi and his family were probably not alone in Bountiful, but took their place there as part of a larger community of seafarers, farmers, business people, traders, and craftsmen. They write, "It would have been highly unlikely for Lehi to have entered southern Arabia undetected by the local inhabitants. Historian William J. Hamblin reminds us of the geo-political environment of Lehi's southern Arabia. He states that 'there they would have necessarily made contact with the local inhabitants, if only because every well in the region would have been owned by some tribe or city, and strangers would not have been allowed to drink from the wells without permission'" (Ibid., 124). The text of the Book of Mormon also appears to support the idea that Bountiful was populated and that the family had interaction with the inhabitants. The implication is that Nephi was working within a community that had carpenters and shipbuilders. A common definition of the word wilderness is an area devoid of signs of human life. Nephi never refers to Bountiful as a wilderness. Yet another indication from the Book of Mormon that Bountiful was populated is Nephi's use of the word land to define it, which connotes ownership and habitation, e.g., "land of Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 2:11), the land of Egypt (1 Nephi 5:14), and the "land of our inheritance" (1 Nephi 3:22). Every time Nephi uses the word land it is in the context of a people. Finally, Bountiful's "much fruit" implies cultivated fields and orchards. Most farmers will tell us that wild fruit trees do not produce "much fruit." Cultivated fruit trees do. A neighboring town to Khor Rori was Moscha (the modern-day Taqah)-see the map of the Frankincense Trail.
Let us now consider some evidences for Khor Rori's being the land of Bountiful.
As with Khor Kharfot, Khor Rori is approximately 3 degrees off true east from the point in Yemen where the eastward trail to Dhofar splits off the main Frankincense Trail.
A mountain range runs parallel to the southern coast of Arabia from Yemen to Dhofar, the Qara Mountains. In order to reach the coast from the trail the family would have had to cross the mountains. Camels with provisions would only have been able to cross the mountains on established trails through passes. The mountains in southern Oman are limestone mountains that have been eroded by rainwater into virtually impassable flowstone formations. Maps of the ancient trade routes in southern Arabia show only one pass through the mountains of southern Oman to the coast. This route goes through the Thammarit Pass and is now the modern Salalah/Thammarit road. This route is east of Wadi Sayq and has been in use for thousands of years.
The soil of the Salalah coastal plain is remarkably rich and is said to be capable of producing three crops in a year. There is evidence to suggest that the Salalah plain has been cultivated for thousands of years-dating back to the third Millennium BC (Doe, Southern Arabia, 13; Allen, Oman: The Modernization of the Sultanate, 21-25). Some of the tropical fruits and vegetables grown on the Salalah plain in older times were probably introduced through ancient trade. Omani sailors have traded with India as far back as 1000 BC (Tosi, "Early Maritime Cultures of the Arabian Gulf," 101). The Salalah plain has several khors, or inlets, and some of them are fresh water, being filled predominantly from streams and wells coming forth from the mountains. Irrigation from the streams that feed these freshwater khors might have been used by Lehi's family to irrigate their crops.
The reference to "wild honey" seems at first odd as we are used to bee-keeping as a more efficient means of collecting honey. In Dhofar, however, honey is still collected from wild bees. To this day, these Omani bees are considered only "somewhat" managed. The Salalah honey is not sold in shops, but rather in pharmacies. It commands high prices, being considered possessed of numerous medicinal properties. The honey from various parts of Dhofar differs in color and flavor depending on which flowers and plants grew where the bees feed. Bees are rare in Arabia, and the Dhofar coast is one of the few places they are found.
The Lord is specific about one particular mountain. Potter and Wellington have not been able to identify any specific peak from Nephi's account, but there are a number of possibilities. Closest to Khor Rori are the mountains of the Jabal Al Qara range, bounding Wadi Dharbat. Approximately 3,000 feet, it is the highest mountain in southern Oman and is mentioned by name in Genesis 10:30, where it is known as "Sephar, a mount of the east."
We do not actually know what type of ore Nephi was shown by the Lord. The two most likely possibilities are iron ore and copper ore. Bronze (a metal alloy containing some copper) tools have been found in Dhofar dating to 1100 BC (These are on display in the Salalah Museum of National Heritage and Culture). See the commentary on iron ore above.
Nephi tells us, "I did smite two stones together that I might make fire" (1 Nephi 17:11). Flint is usually the stone of choice for making sparks. Flint deposits have been found at Shisur (a town Lehi's family would have encountered on the trail before coming through the mountain pass). Nephi could have picked these stones up as he passed through the city.
Since large timbers are imperative for building a ship, Nephi had to acquire them. He had only two choices. One way was to purchase imported wood. The other way would be to find a locally grown source. Nephi needed large timbers made of hardwood to build a seaworthy ship. The hardwood species found on the foothills of Dhofar tend to be small and do not produce the large timbers necessary for the construction of large ships. However, there is one notable exception. In wadi Dharbat, a large upper valley to Khor Rori located about seven miles away, a unique combination of environmental factors-exceptional soil and high rainfall-have combined. They have resulted in the only large trees in Dhofar. Indeed, the locals call wadi Dharbat "the valley of the big trees." It may be that in Nephi's time, this small but ideal growing area produced enough hardwood trees for him to have harvested large timbers for his ship. Other possible sources of large timbers might have been mango trees or coconut palms.
Nephi used the skins of beasts to make a bellows. When loading the ship they took "meat from the wilderness," (1 Nephi 18:6). Perhaps there is a distinction between these two. Since "beasts" were different from "meat from the wilderness," it is possible that "beasts" were not wild. Dhofar is the only place in Arabia where cattle could have been found. The earliest settlers of Dhofar took cattle into that area long before Lehi's time (Clapp, Road to Ubar, 221-22). The mountains are now populated by a tribe known as the Jibalis, the mountain people. They speak a different language than the Arabs of Oman. They make their living by raising cattle and camels, and to this day their livestock still graze the mountains of Dhofar. It would appear to make sense that if leather were available for sale, it would be easier for Nephi to have used that than go off and hunt beasts, skin them, and then make a bellows.
Regarding the "meat from the wilderness," there are many wild animals in the Dhofar mountains. Dhofar contains twenty species of wild mammal. These include "the caracul, the leopard, the Arabian gazelle, and the ibex which appear in small numbers and are vulnerable to hunting" (Vine, Heritage of Oman, 50). Ancient cave art in wadi Dharbat shows large wild animals (Hanna and Al-Belushi, Caves of Oman, 100,103). The lakes in wadi Dharbat would have served as watering holes for the animals and an ideal place for Nephi to have hunted, only ten miles from the harbor in Khor Rori. Several species of wild birds also exist there.
We will read in verse 48, "And now it came to pass that when I said these words they were angry with me, and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea." This was no boisterous romp among loving siblings. This was an attempt on Nephi's life. There are cliffs near Khor Rori that are high and overhang deep water. They offer no beach where Nephi might have been able swim to safety, but only treacherous rocks where he would have been pounded by the surf. What truly separates the cliffs at Khor Rori from those of any other spot along the Dhofar shoreline is that they consist of an odd set of two giant rock promontories that reach into the sea some one hundred fifty yards from the natural shoreline. It is apparently the only place along the Omani coast where someone could literally be thrown into deep water.
Unlike the site at Khor Kharfot, in Khor Rori they would have discarded their tents and lived in a house among the other inhabitants of the area.
Perhaps the most compelling feature of Khor Rori is that it is a protected harbor where large ocean-going ships could be built and launched. Indeed, Khor Rori was the site of ancient Omani shipbuilding well before the time of Lehi. In Khor Rori, Nephi could find all of the resources for building a large ship including materials, help in learning the art of ship building and sailing, skilled labor, and especially an appropriate place for building and launching a large ship. A large sailing vessel simply cannot be built and launched from a shallow beach which characterizes the coast at Khor Kharfot. Ordinarily a hull of the ship is built on "ways," or greased logs. Once the hull was finished, the massive structure could be gently lowered along the ways into the water. The hull can then be checked for water tightness. Then the remainder of the ship-the deck, fittings, ballast, provisions, anchor, etc.-is built while the ship is floating on the water. Thus the building site has to be a harbor protected from storms. But how can we be sure Khor Rori is where Nephi build his ship? Could there have been other natural harbors in Dhofar where Nephi could have built a ship? George Potter and Richard Wellington (Lehi in the Wilderness) studied these questions by visiting ten inlets besides Khor Rori. Their findings were clear and definitive in showing that the strongest candidate for Nephi's harbor was Khor Rori. Apparently Khor Rori has been in use as a port as far back as 3000 BC. The great strengths of Khor Rori as a port include natural breakwaters consisting of huge cliffs and surrounding hills that provide protection from both the summer southwest monsoons and the winter northeast monsoons. Thus, the port could be used for shipbuilding and shipping all year, unlike any other place in Dhofar.
There is evidence to suggest that Dhofar was the same area also known as Tarshish. The expression "ships of Tarshish" was used in ancient times to denote ships of the largest size, suitable for long voyages. The frankincense port at Kohr Rori would have been a main port between India and Egypt.
Joseph Smith could have known almost nothing about ancient Arabia when he began translating the Book of Mormon. In 1830, it was known to people in the west as only a desert wasteland. Yet the narrative of the journey of the party of Lehi through ancient Arabia, written by their son Nephi, fits with what we know about the Arabian Peninsula literally from one end to the other, for their journey began in the northwest and ended in the southeast sector. Nephi's narrative faithfully reflects the intertwining of long stretches of barren wilderness with pockets of verdant, lifesaving vegetation. The Book of Mormon account shines as a radiant beam across the centuries, inviting us to adopt its more important message of spiritual truths as our own.
7 And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been in the land of Bountiful for the space of many days, the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: Arise, and get thee into the mountain. And it came to pass that I arose and went up into the mountain, and cried unto the Lord.
verse 7 "get thee into the mountain" Mountains have always served as natural temples when no temple is available. There, prophets have communicated with the Lord and have received revelation.
8 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.
verse 8 "that I may carry thy people across these waters" Some students of the Book of Mormon have paid particular attention to the use of the word people here instead of families. They have wondered if the traveling group included more than simply the families of Lehi and Ishmael and Zoram. Could they have with them others, especially household servants which had worked for them in Jerusalem? It would have been the norm for a wealthy man of Lehi's social stature to have had household servants, and it is hard to imagine Lehi's deserting them in a city that was about to be destroyed. There is some likelihood that Lehi took with him a large party, though they are never mentioned. Zoram was a servant who was mentioned. We may keep in mind that in that patriarchal society, servants were never mentioned. Zoram had been freed, and that may be why he was mentioned. Keep in mind that we never hear the names of Nephi's sisters, any of Ishmael's daughters, and even the name of Ishmael's wife is never recorded.
9 And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?
10 And it came to pass that the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore, that I might make tools.
verses 9-10 As has been discussed above, Nephi did not need a large deposit of copper or iron ore for his tools. Fifty pounds or so would have met his needs. In February 2000, geologists from Brigham Young University discovered two large deposits of iron ore in the Dhofar region of Oman (W. Revell Phillips, "Metals of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 : 36-43). And they both lie within a few days' walk of any campsite along the seacoast. Although iron ore in the amounts that make mining profitable do not occur in southern Oman, ore does occur in sufficient quantities that Nephi could easily have traveled to a substantial deposit and extracted enough to smelt for his tools. Thus, the natural occurrence of iron ore in the Dhofar area offered a clear solution to Nephi's need for tools.
11 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make a bellows wherewith to blow the fire, of the skins of beasts; and after I had made a bellows, that I might have wherewith to blow the fire, I did smite two stones together that I might make fire.
12 For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said: I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not;
verse 12 Why had they not been allowed to build fires in the wilderness? We have already discussed one reason. That is, by not building fires they may have remained less conspicuous, thus avoiding contact with unfriendly groups (Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 72-77). Another possible reason is that the Lord might have forbidden the use of fire to teach the traveling party dependence on him-that he was leading and protecting and enabling them. In the following verse, the Lord is quoted as saying, "Ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led."
13 And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.
14 Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.
verse 14 Shortly after the group arrived in the western hemisphere, Lehi informed them that he had seen in vision the destruction of Jerusalem, and he learned by revelation that if they had remained in Jerusalem, Lehi and his family would have perished (see 2 Nephi 1:4).
15 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.
16 And it came to pass that I did make tools of the ore which I did molten out of the rock.
17 And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.
verse 17 "he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters" It is not surprising that Laman and Lemuel, in their faithless state, were skeptical and frightened about Nephi's proposed voyage. Keep in mind that in that day people of the Old World must have had a profound fear of the great oceans. Doubtless many feared that one who ventured out onto the ocean was in real danger of never returning. Columbus would not dispel this fear, by making the journey from the Old World to the New, for another twenty-one centuries!
The seafaring people of Oman limited their sea voyages to India and Persia and the Mediterranean, and the seafaring crews usually kept land in sight. To head out into the great ocean was quite another matter. As far we can tell, Nephi would have been aware that this is something no one had ever done before! It might be compared today to being commanded to build a spaceship and setting out, with one's family, to Mars.
18 And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord.
verse 18 The thoughtful reader is now brought to a place where he or she must face the question of the practical realities of building a large boat adequate to carry Lehi and his party thousands of miles on open ocean to the promised land. One might argue that it was no problem at all; for the Lord could have simply supplied Nephi with all the materials, knowledge, and skills he needed on request. Potter and Wellington refer to this notion as the "storybook" version of Nephi's shipbuilding experience (Lehi in the Wilderness, 148-49). Of this storybook version, those authors write:
It is a scenario that we think grossly misrepresents how the Lord deals with his faithful servants and significantly undervalues what Nephi actually accomplished through applied faith and works, and it also leads to a mythological rather than factual understanding of the Book of Mormon. Besides, the storybook version makes no sense. If the Lord simply wanted to supply everything for Nephi, one miracle after another, why build a ship in the first place? Why not have them walk across the ocean?
The likelihood of the Lord-did-it-all theory seems even more doubtful if one considers the context in which the ship was built. Why would the Lord suddenly start intervening in every matter, after having Nephi and his group suffer great afflictions for eight years in the desert where they nearly died and having them later almost drown in a great tempest at sea? Nephi seems to have had to suffer through each ordeal the same as any man. The sun shone just as hot on him as anyone else; the rain fell just as wet on him; and the wind blew just as hard.
Like the desert journey, building a ship was part of Nephi's development under the hand of the Lord. He, too, would have had to learn line upon line, precept upon precept, as all who had gone before him or would go after. The Lord seems to have made a pioneer par excellence of the faithful Nephi who, on his journey, acquired all the basic skills necessary for the creation and settlement of a new society in the strangeness of the promised land.
Building a ship required Nephi to learn from local tradesmen how to smelt ore to make tools, to cut stones to form anchors, to work wood with very tight specifications, to weave sails, to fabricate rope, to mold pots for storing water, to tan hides for bellows, and how to fasten the ship's riggings. Culminating with the building of a great ship, Nephi's journey was, we might say, his university. In the New World he became a ruler and teacher, passing on to a new society a storehouse of knowledge that took civilizations thousands of years to acquire. Nephi personally taught his people the basic skills of metallurgy (2 Nephi 5:15), high quality wood working skills-manifested in the wilderness family's ability to construct a temple of "exceedingly fine" workmanship (2 Nephi 5:16), building construction, and to work in all manner of woods (2 Nephi 5:15).
Let us now acquaint you, the reader, with the practical problems that confronted Nephi as he began the project of building a ship large enough and strong enough to cross two great oceans. I will draw heavily from Potter and Wellington's book, Lehi in the Wilderness (149-62), for this material. They, in turn, have drawn from the experience of a marine archaeologist Tim Severin's experience in building and sailing a replica medieval Arab merchant ship from Oman to China (Sindbad Voyage). Even with advanced rigging and sails, it took him seven and a half months to sail from Oman to China, a distance of less than half that sailed by Nephi.
The first question is, just how large was Nephi's ship? We know it had to be large enough to carry the people and necessary provisions for the long journey. For a discussion of the size of the traveling group, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 18:6. The ship also had to be large enough to withstand the great storms the party would encounter. Nephi will describe his ship's being out of control and driven back for four days in a "terrible tempest" that became "exceedingly sore" (1 Nephi 18:13-15). A member of the Church, Frank Linehan, the Western Region Marine Surveyor for the United States and an expert in hull construction and deep-water sailing, was asked to calculate the needed dimensions of Nephi's ship. He wrote:
Parts of the voyage were in extreme weather from the description of the trip in the Book of Mormon. This would dictate a fairly stout vessel of at least 100 to 120 feet in length but could have been as small as 80 feet with a side beam, high freeboard or bulwarks and light tonnage of no less than 100 tons. [The vessel was] . . . most likely a split rig like a schooner rig or equal. That being the main mast aft and the mizzenmast being forward. A one-masted vessel would have been too tall and not so well balanced in heavier weather. She would have to be constructed above calm deep waters and built on "ways" [greased logs] so that she could be launched prior to outfitting i.e., stepping the masts, rigging, ground tackle etc. This rules out a launch from a beach with waves (Personal Communication with Potter and Wellington, the authors of Lehi in the Wilderness).
Now, let us consider some practical realities regarding the construction and sailing of such a ship:
1. Materials to Construct a Ship:
Large Timbers. In the commentary for verse 6 of this chapter, we mentioned the possibility that hardwood timbers sufficiently large to construct a substantial ship could have been found in wadi Dharbat. However, it is more likely that Nephi used imported hardwood, especially teak or even coconut. Tim Severin, whose experience building and sailing a replica Arab merchant ship from Oman to India we mentioned previously, explains, "Historically, nearly all materials for shipbuilding in Oman have been imported from the Indian subcontinent, Oman being lacking in suitable timber for large boat building" ("Construction of the Omani Book Sohar," 279-80). Frank Linehan, the LDS expert in large boat hull construction, stressed the need for large straight hardwoods. Severin, whose boat was probably smaller than that which Nephi would have built described his search for the right timber:
I carried a shopping list for my timber, an inventory of every plank, beam, and fame, its size and curve. All agreed that the keel of the ship was the key to its construction. The keel of a boom is long, straight, and massive; it is the very backbone of the vessel, and its dimensions dictate the remainder of the ship, for an Arab shipwright builds mathematically. The problem was that the keel piece to my replica needed to be 52 feet long, 12 inches by 15 inches in cross-section, and dead straight (Sindbad Voyage, 37-38).
Using imported lumber would certainly not contradict Nephi's claim that he worked timbers. Nephi's text alludes to the fact that the timber they were working had already been cut somewhere else. He wrote, "We did work timbers of curious workmanship" (1 Nephi 18:1). How could they have been curious to Nephi and his workers, if they had logged the lumber themselves? Apparently, some of the timbers Nephi used to construct his ship were precut in an unfamiliar manner. How could Nephi have paid for imported lumber? There were at least a couple of options for obtaining money. They would have arrived at Bountiful with camels that they no longer needed. These would have been eminently marketable at the end of the Frankincense Trail where camels were used as the principle beasts of burden. It is even possible that Lehi could have sold property and belongings in Jerusalem while he was in Bountiful. The tradesman's journey to Jerusalem took only about four months.
Coconut Rope. After Nephi acquired large timber, he still needed materials to affix the timbers together to form a stout vessel. He probably had two choices: nail the timbers in place, or sew the timbers together with coconut rope and wooden pegs. With the Lord's help, he had found a source of ore, so nails are not out of the question, but binding the timbers with nails would have required thousands of nails-probably more than twenty thousand. The other choice was that of sewing the ship together with coconut rope. This was the only way large ships were constructed in Dhofar in ancient times (Omani Ministry of National Heritage and Culture, Oman, a Seafaring Nation, 154-55), and is probably the method Nephi used to affix the timbers of his ship. Even if Nephi used nails, he still would have needed ropes for the ship's riggings. So where did Nephi acquire coconut rope? If he made it himself, he would have needed the precise knowledge of how to make good quality rope, a very complex process (Severin, Sindbad Voyage, 40). Tim Severin needed fifty thousand coconuts to make the forty miles of rope to build his replica ship (Ibid., 41). In ancient Dhofar, coconuts were imported from India.
Sails. Nephi's ship needed several sets of excellent quality sails to power it half way around the world. Tim Severin, in building his replica Omani ship, originally acquired sails of "very poor quality canvas," and they had to be replaced or his ship "stood little chance of reaching China" (Ibid., 102). Severin's replacement sails required two and one half tons of canvas. Traditionally, the sails on the Arab ships were woven from coconut fiber or palm leaves, or made from cotton cloth (Omani Ministry of national Heritage and Culture, Oman, a Seafaring Nation, 113). It probably would have taken Nephi, or someone in his party, as much time to weave the tons of quality canvas as it would have taken to build the rest of the ship.
Other Materials. Severin's list of items needed for the construction of a large sewn sailing ship is interesting and instructive. His list included a quarter ton of tree gum, mutton fat, a half dozen barrels of fish oil, a large quantity of sugar, a half ton of lime (Sindbad Voyage, 42). These materials were mixed into caulking and antifouling compounds. Without caulking, Nephi's ship would have sunk in the very harbor in which she was built. Without anti-fouling, shipworms would have destroyed the ship before it reached the west coast of India. Some species of tropical shipworms grow to six feet in length and attain the thickness of a man's arm (Morton, Wind Commands, 207). As an experiment, Severin's crew left unprotected timbers below the waterline to judge the impact of the teredo worms. The results were sobering. Within weeks, they became honeycombed with wormholes. One two-and-one-half-inch thick piece "snapped with one's bare hands like wafers" (Severin, Sindbad Voyage, 32). How could Nephi, with no shipbuilding knowledge, have found the proper ingredients for caulking and anti-fouling? If he made these compounds himself, how did he learn to prepare them? Any mistake in the formula would have been fatal. Without caulking the ship would have sunk at launching. Ineffective anti-fouling coating on the ship would have met with the same fate as Severin's unprotected wood within a matter of weeks.
It is probably a fact that when Nephi arrived at Bountiful, his knowledge of shipbuilding was nil. John L. Sorensen goes so far as to state: "No hint can be found in the text that anyone in Lehi's party had any knowledge whatever of nautical matters" ("Transoceanic Crossings," 257). Frank Linehan believes that to build his ship Nephi needed access to skilled shipwrights. Nephi could not have developed the required expertise in Jerusalem. While the Lord gave Nephi the instructions on how to build the ship, he did not give him the lifetime of experience that shipwrights need to perform their craft. Nephi built a ship that was large and of fine workmanship (1 Nephi 18:4). Tim Severin noted the skills required of his shipwrights: "Whether cutting a foot-thick lump of timber to size, or shaping the finest sliver of wood for a delicate joint, ninety per cent of the [shipwright's] work was done with hammer and chisel; only very reluctantly did they pick up a saw or a plane. The soft iron chisel was their tool, and with it, they could work wonders. They could carve a plank into delicate curves, or they could shape the 60-foot spar into a taper as if it had been turned on a giant lathe" (Sindbad Voyage, 207). To prevent leaks, Severin's ship's planks had to be planed to 1/64 of an inch in exactness. How could Nephi have learned to do this if not at the side of an experienced shipwright?
The same can be said for sailing a large multi-sail ship. It takes years to learn and practice the skills needed to master a large sailing ship at sea. Severin wrote of his shipwrights: "Their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and untold generations before that, had been carpenters. . . . They had begun work as soon as they were big enough to pick up a mallet" (Ibid., 58). Nephi's statement, "I had finished the ship" (1 Nephi 18:4) does not mean that he built it all by himself. Nephi does not tell us how many people worked on the construction of his ship, only that "we did work timbers" (1 Nephi 18:1), and that at least on one occasion his workers were his reluctant brethren. However, his brothers were not working on the ship when it was being finished (1 Nephi 18:4). It would have been impossible for a lone man to have outfitted and finished a large ship by himself. Simply lifting the heavy timbers would have required many men. If his brothers were not helping him build the finished ship, then who was? It was imperative that Nephi needed at least one experienced shipwright to train and assist him, as well as, a number of other workers.
3. Trained Crew and Captain to Sail the Ship:
A ship the size of Nephi's would need a trained crew of probably at least twenty men. We do not know if he hired experienced sailors for his crew. At a minimum, prior to leaving port, he needed someone to organize the crew and to teach every man aboard how to perform his responsibilities within the team. For the crew of his Omani replica ship, Tim Severin had a crew of twenty experienced sailors whom he described as having saved the ship on "several occasions." Without a trained crew to handle the sails and riggings, Nephi's ship would have never left the port in which she was built. It would also have been necessary for the crew and captain to test the ship on sea trials before actually launching for the Promised Land. Sea trials are more than just a precautionary measure to make sure the ship is sound. They are the means by which the captain and crew learn to sail her. They are the process by which shipbuilders discover the proper amount of sail for different conditions, and of utmost importance-what the right amount and balance of the ballast should be. Before they entered the ship for the voyage to the New World, Nephi's family knew that the finished ship was "good," and the "workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine" (Nephi 18:4). This implies that they had already conducted successful sea trials. Otherwise, how could they have judged the ship's workmanship unless they saw that the hull was sound and watertight, that the ship rested properly and equally balanced in the water, and that the ship handled well in various seas? Without sea trials, the words "good ship" would have been as meaningless as pronouncing an airplane "good" before seeing if it could fly.
Nephi was apparently the ship's captain. The question remains, "How did Nephi learn to command a multi-sail ship and her crew?" The captains that sailed the ancient waters of the Mediterranean stayed close to the shoreline, seldom venturing out of sight of land. In the Red Sea, because of its dangerous shoals, all vessels sail only during the day, putting in toward nightfall at the nearest available anchorage (Casson, Ancient Trade and Society, 187). Nephi needed to learn to sail in open seas. Today the California Maritime Academy, of the California State University of Engineering, Technology, and Marine Transportation, offers a degree in Marine Transportation. The curriculum includes thirty-seven courses on topics relevant to sailing a ship. Upon completing the course, the cadets become junior officers with many years at sea lying ahead of them before they can qualify to command a ship. Frank Linehan, a sailing expert, states it quite simply, "Even with the inspiration of the Lord, it was simply impossible for Nephi to have sailed to the New World without training."
In addition to having the Liahona, which appointed the direction the traveling group should go, it seems clear that Nephi knew how to calculate his position in the open sea for he realized that during the "terrible tempest" they were "driven back" four days (1 Nephi 18:13).
Let us now consider some of the practical realities of provisioning a vessel making such a voyage:
1. Food and Water for a Pacific Crossing. In describing his provisioning of the ship, Nephi used the phrases we "prepared all things," taking "much fruits and meat," "honey in abundance," "provision according to that which the Lord had commanded," "all our loadings and our seeds," and "whatsoever thing we had brought with us."
When marine archaeologist Tim Severin sailed his replica Arab ship to China, he covered a distance less than half that of Nephi's voyage, and he carried a crew of only twenty men. Severin describes loading his eighty-foot ship with provisions:
There was not enough room to store all the provisions for the entire journey. I calculated that we would carry a basic store of rations, and supplement our supplies with purchases made at countries along the route. . . . We had boxes of nuts and dried fruit, hundreds of eggs preserved in grease and wrapped in sawdust, sacks of onions, dried peas, rice, and packets of spice. For variety there was a selection of tinned foods and sauces. Our cooking would be done on deck over a simple charcoal fire burning in a tray of sand. . . . I watched a ton of dates being manhandled aboard in sacks. . . . The list of necessities was unending (Sindbad Voyage, 82).
Once past India there were few, if any, ports where Nephi could have restocked his ship. Presumably, they fished and collected rainwater when possible, but it is likely they stopped often along the way to search for water and food. Depending on the winds, the voyage to the New World doubtless took at least a year. It is certain Nephi needed to have taken on board large stores of food and water. He needed enough fresh water for 50-75 people who would have been exposed to hot tropical conditions.
Severin, with his crew of only twenty, rationed only twenty-five gallons of water a day for drinking and cooking. All washing was done in sea water, while the cooking water was diluted, half and half, with sea water. His ship carried a month-and-a-half supply of water, roughly eleven hundred gallons. It is reasonable to assume that Nephi's ship required a water reserve at least twice that size. Fortunately, Nephi's ship carried enough water for them to have survived the "great calm" that seems to have entrapped the ship between the time of the tempest and the time when there was once again enough wind to sail (1 Nephi 18:21-22).
2. Ship's Repairs and Tools. A wooden ship is in constant need of maintenance, an endless effort that once stopped dooms the ship. Nephi had to maintain his ship while on route to the Promised Land. Many of these had to be made at sea, though it is almost certain that Nephi beached his vessel a time or two for repairs. It is also probable that during the great storm in which his ship nearly sunk, the vessel was damaged (1 Nephi 18:13-15). Thus, he needed to carry with him all the tools and supplies necessary to maintain the ship, its riggings and its sails.
On route to China, Severin purchased many supplies along the way. Still he took aboard many maintenance supplies:
On board we would have to carry enough spare materials to maintain an early medieval ship at sea for at least eight months of voyaging. . . . The ship rapidly began to fill up with hundreds of items necessary for a sea voyage that would last seven or eight months. The forepeak was stuffed with bosun's stores-coil upon coil of rope of every size, from bundles of light lashing twine to 8-inch-thick spare halyards. There were dozens of extra blocks, each one lovingly carved out of a single chunk of wood and with their wooden wheels revolving on wooden pins. . . . There were spare sacks of lime for the day when we careened the ship in a foreign port and smeared on a new coat of the traditional antifouling. There were tins of mutton fat, rank and nauseating, to mix with the lime or to grease the running ropes and tackles. There were marlin spikes and mallets, chests of carpenter's tools, odd lengths of spare timber, bolts of spare sailcloth, spare oxhide, and the needle and thread to sew chafing patches (Sindbad Voyage, 81.)
The fact that Nephi's ship was new does not mitigate the need for repairs and maintenance. Severin's ship was newly built, yet it needed repairs before it reached its first stop on the west coast of India. Included in these repairs was a new coat of antifouling compound, which if not maintained allows the destructive teredo worms to eat through the hull.
3. Other Supplies. We can be assured that Nephi's ship needed several sets of sails, and so she had need of a large space to hold the extra sails. Sailing ships carried one set of sails for the night and bad weather, the other for day and fair weather. The wrong sail in the wrong wind conditions, can lead to a ship's being capsized. During one stormy day in the China Sea, Severin had five sails "ripped to shreads" (Ibid., photos).
Nephi's family took tents with them to the Land of Promise (1 Nephi 18:23). It is likely that these were the traditional Middle Eastern heavy goat and camel hair tents. There were at least eight married couples in the group. A folded 10 foot by 10 foot goat hair tent measures 3 feet by 3 feet by 6.5 feet or 58.5 cubic feet. Multiply that by eight families, and the tents form a stack 13 feet long 6 feet wide and 6 feet tall, not counting floor rugs, bedding, and at least a ton of tent poles and stakes.
At least one, and probably multiple, anchors would have been required. Ancient anchors have been recovered in Omani waters. They were made from stone and were, of course, heavy. A recently recovered anchor in Oman weighed twenty-two hundred pounds and was nine feet long (Anchors, Field report, Traditional Boats of Oman Project).
Other supplies would have included weapons (we know they had at least one sword-the sword of Laban), some form of fishing tackle, a sand pit for cooking, pots and other kitchen items, along with a large store of charcoal or firewood with flint. The brass plates of Laban, of course, were also on board.
19 And now it came to pass that I, Nephi, was exceedingly sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts; and now when they saw that I began to be sorrowful they were glad in their hearts, insomuch that they did rejoice over me, saying: We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work.
verse 19 It seems likely that Nephi was sorrowful because he was beginning to realize the hopeless spiritual plight of his recalcitrant brothers, Laman and Lemuel. Nephi's brothers obviously misinterpreted the cause of his sorrow. Quite another reason that he might have been exceedingly sorrowful is that he realized the enormity of the task ahead and was overwhelmed. He was about to attempt something that no one else had ever done-head out into the great ocean to an unknown destination. It could well be that this was Nephi's darkest hour. He may have been stuck with the awesome reality of what he was about to attempt. This may well have been a watershed moment for the great Nephi! He likely walked alone somewhere to contemplate his situation and to pray. It was in this setting that the Spirit touched his heart and mind, and he recalled the miraculous story of Moses's leading the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt (see verses 23-33). Perhaps this moment, as much as any other, was instrumental in changing Nephi from an ordinary man to a powerful and capable prophet of God who was forged in the fires of adversity. If we are to learn that which the Lord would have us learn from this great prophet, we must come to know his experiences as they actually occurred. We must never regard Nephi's journey from Jerusalem to the Promised Land as one which was made easy by the Lord's revelations. For Nephi personally, this was surely a refiner's fire like few people on earth have had to endure. And the end result was a magnificent and capable prophet of God fully capable of leading his people in establishing a new society in a new world.
20 And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.
21 Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.
verse 21 "yea, and we might have been happy" Isn't this a revealing statement in teaching us what happiness was to Laman and Lemuel and the others of the same mettle in the traveling company? To them happiness was what? Worldliness-what a man is able to amass and enjoy. Were Laman and Lemuel, though, really unrighteous in yearning for their "land of inheritance"? After all, their "land of inheritance" must have consisted of more than just property-land and a house. It also included a familiar culture, friends, and familiar surroundings! Is it really that bad to seek for this type of happiness? Worldliness consists of a dependence for happiness on material circumstances and material possessions. Joseph Smith taught that the key to happiness is " . . . keeping the commandments of the Lord"-whatever hardship, deprivation, or sacrifice is implied (TPJS, 255-256).
22 And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us.
verse 22 "And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people" The brothers' perception of the righteousness of the people in Jerusalem was colored by their misunderstanding of the "chosen people" concept. At the time, the Lord was allowing the Kingdom of Judah a period of relative peace and economic prosperity. Laman and Lemuel were smugly proud of the idea that the Jews and other Israelites were a chosen people and unconditionally favored of the Lord. Had the Israelites been truly righteous, of course, they would not have been crushed by Babylon.
Lehi will explain that the Lord judges the individual by his heart and not his label. One's righteousness does not consist in one's being identified with this or that nation or group or church. Brother Hugh Nibley pointed out that the Lord taught that the perfect example of a righteous person was "a man who was a member of the wrong nation, the wrong party, and the wrong church, who did a very unpleasant, messy, and inconvenient thing in helping a total stranger who, for all he knew and to all appearances, was a dirty, drunken, no-good tramp. At least two members of the right party and the right nation and the right religion . . . discreetly and quietly declined the awkward involvement, which could certainly lead to complications, by passing down the other side of the road (Luke 10:25-37)" ("Freemen and King-men in the Book of Mormon" a FARMS reprint).
verses 23-32 The story of Moses's parting the Red Sea and indeed the complete story of the exodus and sojourn in the wilderness is an important and appropriate motif in the Book of Mormon (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 4:2). Nephi could probably have recounted the story by heart since it likely had been taught to him since his childhood. Perhaps Laman and Lemuel had been similarly taught. Thus, the opening phrases of verses 25 through 29 contain the idea, "ye also know."
As you read this account, don't fail to note that you are reading an entirely separate account of the exodus story. In a very real way, this account corroborates the historicity of that found in the Bible.
In the past decade, there have been several reports on what has been called the "Exodus Pattern" in the Book of Mormon. Many comparisons have been made between the exodus of the children of Israel out of Egypt and the exodus made by the Lehites from Jerusalem. Some similarities have included the divine call of the leader accompanied by fire; the deliverance of the people on the other side of a water barrier involving the crossing of that barrier; the extended wandering; and the complaints and rebellion (George S. Tate, "The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon," in Literature of Belief; Terrence L. Szink, "Nephi and the Exodus," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon; S. Kent Brown, "The Exodus: Seeing It as a Test, a Testimony, and a Type," Ensign [February 1990] 54-57; S. Kent Brown, "The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30/3: 111-26; and "Nephi and the Exodus," Ensign [April 1987]: 64-65).
23 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, spake unto them, saying: Do ye believe that our fathers, who were the children of Israel, would have been led away out of the hands of the Egyptians if they had not hearkened unto the words of the Lord?
24 Yea, do ye suppose that they would have been led out of bondage, if the Lord had not commanded Moses that he should lead them out of bondage?
25 Now ye know that the children of Israel were in bondage; and ye know that they were laden with tasks, which were grievous to be borne; wherefore, ye know that it must needs be a good thing for them, that they should be brought out of bondage.
26 Now ye know that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work; and ye know that by his word the waters of the Red Sea were divided hither and thither, and they passed through on dry ground.
27 But ye know that the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea, who were the armies of Pharaoh.
28 And ye also know that they were fed with manna in the wilderness.
29 Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst.
30 And notwithstanding they being led, the Lord their God, their Redeemer, going before them, leading them by day and giving light unto them by night, and doing all things for them which were expedient for man to receive, they hardened their hearts and blinded their minds, and reviled against Moses and against the true and living God.
31 And it came to pass that according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them; and according to his word he did do all things for them; and there was not any thing done save it were by his word.
verse 31 "according to his word he did destroy them" Do you recall the incident in the exodus story that is being referred to here? Shortly after breaking the tablets containing the ten commandments, Moses ordered the Levites to go through the camp of Israel and slay the misbehaving men. By the sword, some three thousand Israelite men were thus slain (Exodus 32:26-29).
32 And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction.
33 And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
verse 33 The meaning of this verse is somewhat problematic. In some measure the difficulty hinges on the meaning of the words "this land." If it had read "that land," it would likely have referred to the land of Canaan at the time of Moses and Joshua. The "children of this land," then, would be the Canaanites who lived in Canaan at the time of the arrival of the Israelites. Then the verse would be easy to interpret. This interpretation seems most plausible.
Another possibility is that "this land" refers to the Promised Land that Lehi and his traveling group encountered in the western hemisphere. Keep in mind that Nephi was living in the western hemisphere when he wrote the record we are now reading. It would then imply that the Lehites had to wage war against the indigenous peoples in the land of promise before they were able to establish themselves. If there was such a battle, we have no mention of it in the Book of Mormon.
Yet another idea has been proffered. Brother Hugh Nibley regards this verse as referring to the desert tribes through whose territories Lehi and his people were traveling (Since Cumorah, 218). This seems a difficult meaning for your author to understand. After all, these desert tribes were not in a promised land.
34 Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.
verses 34 The "theys" in this verse refer to the inhabitants of the land of promise who dwelt there before the arrival of the Israelites. Nephi takes a swipe at the contestable righteousness of the Israelites. He asks, "Do you really think that the Israelites would have been regarded by the Lord as righteous if those who already inhabited the land of promise had themselves been at all righteous?" It was not the Israelites' righteousness that entitled them to be victorious as they moved into the promised land. Rather it was the relatively greater unrighteousness of their enemies.
Is the Lord prejudiced? Does he play favorites? Did he favor and help the Israelites just because they were Israelites? He is not racist. He is no respecter of persons. There is only one pertinent criterion by which his favoritism is meted out-that of righteousness. He favors those who keep his commandments: "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30).
Nephi's brothers had just reiterated the idea that the people of Jerusalem were a "righteous people" (1 Nephi 17:22), indeed a chosen people. Nephi could see clearly that the perversion of the "chosen people" concept among the Israelites had led to a harmful pride and smugness which had eventually led to their downfall and destruction. Nephi could see that his brothers had fallen into this same trap.
35 Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.
verse 35 "the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one" All men are subject to the same eternal laws. We will see in the ensuing verses that while he loves all his children, he favors with blessings those who obey and honor him.
"this people" The Canaanites of the Bible.
"they were ripe in iniquity" A people that is "ripe in iniquity" means that they have reached the stage of sin and evil which inevitably leads to a people's destruction. The Canaanites had rejected every word of God. Thus the Israelites were able to clobber them as they moved into the Holy Land. They may also be said to have reached a "fulness of iniquity" (Ether 2:10).
"the Lord did curse the land against them" As people are cursed and blessed for their wickedness or righteousness, so are the lands which they inhabit.
36 Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it.
verse 36 The Lord intends that righteous people have a land of their own whereon they can feel safe and secure. This verse also hints at the fact that the reason the earth was created was for the spiritual progression and ultimate exaltation of man (Moses 1:39).
37 And he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked.
verse 37 "he raiseth up a righteous nation" It seems unlikely that a specific righteous nation is being referred to here. Rather this is a statement of a general principle: Righteous nations are blessed, and unrighteous nations are not.
38 And he leadeth away the righteous into precious lands, and the wicked he destroyeth, and curseth the land unto them for their sakes.
verse 38 When we think of promised lands or covenant lands, we usually think of only Palestine and the Americas. Our vision is probably limited. When the truth is known, we will probably find that in the history of the earth the Lord has covenanted with many peoples concerning their lands of promise.
39 He ruleth high in the heavens, for it is his throne, and this earth is his footstool.
verse 39 This verse contains a thought that Nephi obviously borrowed from the writings of Isaiah on the plates of Laban (see Isaiah 66:1). The earth is the Lord's footstool in that he will again stand upon it (see D&C 38:17).
40 And he loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made; wherefore, he did bring them out of the land of Egypt.
41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.
verse 41 How would you interpret the verb "did straiten"? Here it is probably reasonable to interpret it as "disciplined."
Take a moment to review the colorful story of the Lord's setting fiery serpents upon the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. The story is found in Numbers 21:4-9:
And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for [there is] no bread, neither [is there any] water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against thee; pray unto the Lord that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
Notice the typological or symbolic reference to Christ. In the Book of Mormon the serpent is used on a few occasions as a symbol of Christ (see also 2 Nephi 25:20; Alma 33:19-21; Helaman 8:14-15). Each of these references refers to the same incident when Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness. The word "brazen" in this context means simply made of brass. Some have been confused by this symbolism since in the Garden of Eden the serpent was the symbol of Satan. Some have suggested that Satan, who was aware of the serpent symbol's being representative of Christ, took upon himself this identity because he is the great counterfeiter. It is also interesting that in Mesoamerican history, there is a legend of the white god that some investigators believe originated with Christ's visit to that land. This god is known as Quetzalcoatl, which means feathered serpent (Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 159-167).
It is interesting to note that a symbol in the scriptures can have dual even opposite meanings. For example, the shedding of a man's blood brings about physical death. On the other hand, the shedding of Christ's blood brings about spiritual life. In the Garden of Eden it was the serpent that represented the devil, the father of death and darkness. Later, however, it was the brazen serpent that represented the Savior, the source of life and light. The waters of Noah's day destroyed all but eight souls, yet the waters of baptism symbolically cleanse and save every soul who seeks eternal life. Fire is the token of punishment for the anguished in hell, but Isaiah spoke of the righteous who shall dwell in "everlasting burnings" (Isaiah 33:14; see also Revelation 15:2). At the second coming of Christ it is fire that will destroy the wicked, but in the interim it is the fire of the Holy Ghost that purges and edifies the spiritually repentant.
"the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it" In life the "easy way" is most always the wrong way. It offers no resistance and freedom from pain.
42 And they did harden their hearts from time to time, and they did revile against Moses, and also against God; nevertheless, ye know that they were led forth by his matchless power into the land of promise.
43 And now, after all these things, the time has come that they have become wicked, yea, nearly unto ripeness; and I know not but they are at this day about to be destroyed; for I know that the day must surely come that they must be destroyed, save a few only, who shall be led away into captivity.
verse 43 Between verses 42 and 43, a sudden transition is made of nearly seven hundred years from the time of the Israelites at the time of Moses (the Exodus occurred in about 1260 BC) to that of the Jews in Jerusalem in 600 BC. See the supplemental article, Chronology of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
44 Wherefore, the Lord commanded my father that he should depart into the wilderness; and the Jews also sought to take away his life; yea, and ye also have sought to take away his life; wherefore, ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them.
verse 44 "ye also have sought to take away his life" See 1 Nephi 16:36-37.
Do you suppose that eternal truths have always engendered anger and resentment among those who refuse to accept them?
45 Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.
verse 45 "Ye have seen an angel" See 1 Nephi 3:29.
"ye were past feeling" Laman and Lemuel had been witnesses to overt spiritual manifestations, yet their hearts were never lastingly softened. See the commentary for 1 Nephi 2:14. They never could "feel the words of the Lord."
The reader may wish to notice the example of antithetic parallelism contained in this verse (see the supplemental article, The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon):
Ye are swift to do iniquity
but slow to remember the Lord your God
46 And ye also know that by the power of his almighty word he can cause the earth that it shall pass away; yea, and ye know that by his word he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up. O, then, why is it, that ye can be so hard in your hearts?
47 Behold, my soul is rent with anguish because of you, and my heart is pained; I fear lest ye shall be cast off forever. Behold, I am full of the Spirit of God, insomuch that my frame has no strength.
verse 47 "I am full of the Spirit of God, insomuch that my frame has no strength." Apparently the process of being in tune with the Spirit can be physically enervating (cause a loss of strength). For other examples, see the following references: 1 Nephi 1:7, 1 Nephi 19:20, Alma 27:17, Daniel 10:8, Moses 1:9-10, and JS-H 1:20.
48 And now it came to pass that when I had spoken these words they were angry with me, and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea; and as they came forth to lay their hands upon me I spake unto them, saying: In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed; and he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him.
verse 48 This scene is reminiscent of a future experience of the prophet Abinadi when speaking before King Noah's court (see Mosiah 13:2-3; Mosiah 13:5). Most likely Nephi and Abinadi were transfigured and given special power by the Spirit in these situations of their righteous indignation. Bruce R. McConkie defines transfiguration as "a special change in appearance and nature which is wrought upon a person . . . by the power of God" (Mormon Doctrine, 803).
"and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed" There are a number of instances in original manuscript of the Book of Mormon where Dr. Royal Skousen feels that Oliver made a mistake in transcribing Joseph Smith's dictation. If a word or a phrase was unknown to him, he substituted a more common word or phrase (but with varying degrees of success). In each of these cases, the substitution is found in the original manuscript and was later copied into the printer's manuscript. It then was either corrected by the typesetter or appeared in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. This phrase offers such an example. In the original and printer's manuscripts, this phrase read "and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried weed [not reed]." Dr. Skousen feels that the reading in the present edition is the correct one.
49 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto them that they should murmur no more against their father; neither should they withhold their labor from me, for God had commanded me that I should build a ship.
50 And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.
verse 50 Here is a reminder that miracles of this sort can happen, but only if the Lord commands that they be performed (see D&C 24:13).
51 And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?
verse 51 One of the definitions for wrought in Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is, "effected; performed."
52 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said many things unto my brethren, insomuch that they were confounded and could not contend against me; neither durst they lay their hands upon me nor touch me with their fingers, even for the space of many days. Now they durst not do this lest they should wither before me, so powerful was the Spirit of God; and thus it had wrought upon them.
verse 52 Durst is the past, preterit tense of dare.
53 And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them, saith the Lord, and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God.
54 And it came to pass that I stretched forth my hand unto my brethren, and they did not wither before me; but the Lord did shake them, even according to the word which he had spoken.
verses 52-54 It is interesting that throughout the First Book of Nephi, Laman and Lemuel, notwithstanding their rebellious natures, were the recipients of so many miraculous manifestations of the Holy Ghost. Usually manifestations of the Spirit are given only to those who are prepared by righteous living to receive them. It would seem that the likely explanation for these unexpected favors shown to Laman and Lemuel is that they could not be allowed to thwart the Lord's purposes. It was consequently vital that their rebellious influences be held in abeyance at least until the group arrived in the promised land.
"I will shock them" I will cause them to shake or tremble.
55 And now, they said: We know of a surety that the Lord is with thee, for we know that it is the power of the Lord that has shaken us. And they fell down before me, and were about to worship me, but I would not suffer them, saying: I am thy brother, yea, even thy younger brother; wherefore, worship the Lord thy God, and honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee.
verse 55 Nephi's demonstration of the Lord's power was a bit too effective. His brothers fell down before him and were about to worship him.
"We know of a surety that the Lord is with thee, for we know that it is the power of the Lord that has shaken us" These words stand as a witness against Laman and Lemuel. Because of their subsequent openly rebellious actions, they stand condemned after this utterance.