Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Did Lehi Have Servants?

In the time of Lehi, many people, free and slave, provided personal services as laborers. These servants included household servants, employed by wealthy people, and did such work as cooks, maids, groundskeepers, tutors, or in helping to care for children. Loyal household workers were highly valued. Some served as midwives (Gen 35.16-18), doctors (2 Chr 16.12; Mark 5.25,26), and nurses.

Servants were considered part of the family, and their experiences varied not only over time but according to the size of the households in which they worked, the households' wealth and location in urban or rural settings, and the work servants were expected to do. It is likely that Lehi, and very probably Ishmael, had household servants, who were not mentioned in the scriptures because they possessed no rights as family members.

Household servants were considered part of the family in Israel in Lehi’s time, and were treated very different than servants today. Even slaves were part of the family and treated far differently that our attitudes of today would warrant. Certain statutes in the law of Moses protected household servants and slaves. According to the law, Israelite slaves were set free after six years of servitude, and often remained with the family.

Scattered throughout Israel were villages whose inhabitants rarely traveled outside their village and its environs. The main social unit was the household, which was more than just a family. The head of the household was the father, or "ab" in Hebrew. A household consisted of multiple homes built close together and usually comprised the "bet ab," his sons and unmarried daughters and any aging parent, uncle, or unmarried aunt. In most cases the homes surrounded an outdoor courtyard where much of the cooking and social activities took place.

Contrary to some assumptions, women were not considered property and had more rights in ancient Israel than is usually assumed. The mother of a household had significant authority and influence in the decision making. Both men and women had designated jobs that they performed. Women worked around the house making clothes, cleaning, cooking, washing, and raising the children. While the men were in the fields working, the women took charge of the household and made sure things ran smoothly.

While children were young, their mother provided most of their education at home. When a son was old enough, his father assumed the responsibility to teach him the Law of Moses and a trade (Deuteronomy 6:7; Alma 36–42). Trades were passed down through the generations. Many Israelites, not just the wealthy, learned how to write. However, most teaching was done orally as national traditions and religious stories and practices were passed down. In general, girls remained at home and received their education from their mothers in areas of housekeeping and learning their responsibilities as wives.

There was no dating—marriages were arranged and negotiated by the fathers of the bride and groom. Most marriages were arranged when the children were very young, and was considered an economic arrangement made between two families of the same or closely related tribes. This is not to say that love and romance do not exist in such a relationship, but these people were more focused on survival, perpetuation of their family, and family honor than on pleasure and sensuality.

In all, the family was the single most important unit in society. And a family consisted not only of the actual blood-line family, but also those who became part of the family, such as household servants. When Lehi abruptly uprooted his family and left his house and all his goods, he would not have left his family servants behind and uncared for—but would have taken them with him. And, too, when Lehi was about to die, he blessed his individual sons, then Zoram, and then the “sons of Ishmael, yea, and even all his household” (2 Nephi 4:10). “All his household” would have been those other than the individual children and families already mentioned—which would appear to be servants and their families that came out of Jerusalem with Ishmael.


  1. If servants were free after 6 years, as you say-then any servants who left with Lehi were free before they arrived in Bountiful.

    1. But, having no where else to go would have continued on with Lehi to survive.