Friday, April 30, 2010

Lehi’s Possible Business

A few clues in 1 Nephi open up some interesting questions and perhaps shed light on the the type of business enterprise Lehi was engaged in that brought him “gold and silver and all manner of riches” (1 Nephi 3:16). As indicated in the last post, Lehi had a house outside the city walls. He was obviously a wealthy man with gold, silver and precious things (1 Nephi 2:4) in sufficient amount to make even Laban, the head of the treasury, drool in anticipation of acquiring (1 Nephi 3:25).

At the time of Lehi, Jerusalem was considered a “tourist” town, flooded by pilgrims on holy days. Consequently, its inhabitants would have had a variety of different occupations such as millers, bakers, weavers, barbers, potters, fullers, locksmiths, and jewelers, as well as inn keepers, priests, garrison soldiers, and specialized merchants selling all types of products and materials. However, since Jerusalem was situated on the top of a mountain far from the avenues of transportation, how did the merchants obtain their products and material to sell?

Obviously, there were enterprising men who transported goods from the King’s Highway east of the Dead Sea up the three thousand feet to Jerusalem since the caravans would not have climbed to the mountain top city, nor would their camels be led over the rocky, sharp flints of hills, which would have slashed the camel's large kluff, unhooved, cushion-like sole of their feet. This, obviously, would have given rise to people who transported goods, which would have need for donkeys and equipment, including tents, to travel down to the King's Highway, make camp and wait for passing caravans, haggle over and purchase goods, then return to Jerusalem where their goods were sold to merchants located within the city.

It is possible that Lehi was one of those who had some business away from the city, an area of the desert from which he transported goods and supplies back to Jerusalem for resale. Such an occupation, as opposed to farming, would have given Lehi the need to own tents, transporting animals such as donkeys, and have supplies for travel in his possession when the Lord told him to “take his family and depart into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:2-4). And since he was fleeing from those who wanted “to take away thy life” (1 Nephi 2:1), it is very likely the family left without anyone knowing about it or where they were headed.

Broker-Merchant was an occupation well known in the Middle East in Lehi's time. Such were called “tamkaru,” meaning “overland traders.” Not far south of the Dead Sea, near the city of Petra, which was originally just a stage point on the trade route along the edge of the Sinaitic peninsula, there was a caravan station called el-Hejr, now Medain Salih. Here, along this wide spot in the trail, traders came to barter for the goods out of Arabia, from as far away as Sheba and Salalah. In fact, the entire economic life of southern Arabia was originally founded on this international trade. Arabian perfumes were famous throughout the world, and were exported by sea or by caravan routes, which led to Palestine and Mesopotamia. Southern Arabia was the landing point of the Indian Ocean for trade with the Mediterranean, and traded with bases planted by the Sabaens (Sheba) on the coasts of India and Somaliland. Gold, myrrh, ornamental woods, perfumes and incense were the major trading goods exported to the north (Jerusalem and beyond). Before the conquest of Sargon II (714 B.C.) there was a Hittite city called Carchemish along the upper Euphrates beyond Mesopotamia control which held an important role in international trade that linked Mesopotamia with Arabia and the Mediterranean. All this shows that Jerusalem was an insignificant point along the main route from Arabia to Mesopotamia, hardly worthy of diverting a camel caravan off the King's highway to travel up the nearly three thousand feet to the walled city.

These caravans stopped along the way to sell their merchandise to the lucrative markets up in Jerusalem which they could not reach with their camels. An enterprising broker-merchant would travel down to the caravan route, camp along the way until a train passed, buy what merchandise he wanted, place it on donkeys that could negotiate the soils so injurious to camels, and then travel back to the city to resell the goods. Such a merchant would obviously take his sons, and whatever servants he had with him to assist in the loading and unloading as well as to teach his sons the trade.

If Lehi was such a broker-merchant, it would explain Nephi's comment that his father had “gone forth” out of Jerusalem, then returned to Jerusalem (1 Nephi 5:5,7), and it would also explain why Lehi gave his first two sons, Laman and Lemuel, Arab names since during that time he would have been in business with the Arab caravans. It would also explain why Lehi had tents available when the Lord directed him to flee into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:4). And, too, why he knew where to go and what would be needed on such a journey.

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