Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More Comments from Readers – Part II

We continue to have comments, questions and criticisms being sent in from readers of our blog. Here are a few more with our responses. 
    Comment #1: “What is meant in 1 Nephi 2:15-17, that Nephi traveled ‘for the space of many days,’ and ‘we did pitch our tents for the space of a time’? Is he talking about days, weeks, months? And what fertile parts would there be in the desert?”
    Response: The Colony was traveling through the wilderness along the Red Sea. This area is mostly dry desert, but have unevenly-spaced fertile parts—that is, stretching over the flat floor of the plain in long lines like hedges are wadis where some water can be found.
Top: Yellow Arrow is the Dead Sea, Lehi traveled from there down to the Gulf of Aqaba, then along the eastern shore to the Red Sea; Middle: Much of this area is non-fertile desert, i.e., sand where little or nothing grows; Bottom: Along some of this path are trees and fertile areas
    These remains of dried river beds or watercourses sometimes stretch for hundreds of miles.  Bertram S. Thomas, an English civil servant and scientist, and the first Westerner to cross the Rub’al Khali (Empty Quarter), called these wadis (or Oasis) "the arteries of life in the steppe, the path of Bedouin movement, the habitat of animals, by reason of the vegetation–scant though it is–which flourishes in their beds alone.”  The only way to travel through such an area was for travelers to stay at a wadi for ten to twelve days, or until it was soiled by the beasts, and the multiplication of fleas became intolerable, as well as the surroundings afforded no more pastureage for the animals." Of course, if there was a chance of raising a quick crop, they might stay for several months.
Water can be found in the desert, but one must know where it is. That is why people travel the desert, especially before vehicles, along known paths where water holes exist. Some of these areas are large enough to plant a quick growing crop
    Throughout the Book of Mormon, the term “many days” appears, indicating a lengthy passage of time. In the case of crossing the oceans, or great deep, this could mean several months, in the case of trekking in the wilderness along the Red Sea, it might have meant a week or two. How long the colony stayed at these stopovers where they pitched their tents (a lengthy time-consuming activity) would have depended on the conditions, their health and energy, and how long it took to forage for wild fruit and hunt for game. It is a Hebrew idiom, something like our “awhile” i.e., “I saw him awhile back,” “Awhile ago we went to Cabo.” That is, neither phrase is specific, but a general statement showing a passage of time.
    Comment #2: “We were discussing the age of Nephi when he left Jerusalem and decided that he would have been between 16 and 20 years old when Lehi fled into the wilderness. When Lehi sent the boys back to Jerusalem after the brass plates, Nephi, though the youngest of the four brothers, took the lead and through ingenuity and bravery, obtained the plates–actually killing Laban in the process. Certainly he would have been near young adulthood. How much time would have transpired from the time they left Jerusalem until they were ready to embark for the Promised Land? Eight years in the wilderness, arriving at the seashore at age 24-28; finding the ore, making tools and constructing the ship–let’s guess four years–they would have began their sea voyage at age 28-32; the journey across the sea, establishing themselves in the new world, finding and preparing the ore for his sacred record. So, what would you guess? Probably around age 40 or so?” Ansel F.
    Response: You could be right about his being 16-20, however, I would place his age older than that, probably between 20 and 22 years. After all, he not only could wear Laban’s armor, and wield his sword, he was able to convince Laban’s chief steward of his treasury, a most trusted man and one who would have known Laban well, that he, Nephi, was indeed Laban, both in size, demeanor, and voice. It would be difficult for a teenager to achieve that kind of maturity. Think of the difference between a 19 year old going out on a mission and when he comes back at the age of 21—big difference!
In addition, about two years after leaving Jerusalem, the four boys and Zoram were married to Ishmael’s daughters. In the Jewish custom of the day, marrying age was in the late twenties, more often around 30 years of age (considered the age of maturity at the time). If Laman, the oldest was 30, Lemuel 28, Sam 26, and Nephi 24, that would have fit quite well with the times. Also, that would make Nephi about 30 years of age when they reached Bountiful and took on the building of a fairly large ship without any experience or expertise in the matter. Trusting to the Lord to show you how to build la ship is one thing—actually smelting ore, creating tools, shaping timber, stretching, bending, nailing or sewing the boards, etc., etc., etc., would still take some maturity to accomplish. That would then make him about 32 to 34 when reaching the Land of Promise, and probably about 34 to 36 when he was told to flee his brothers and established the city of Nephi. That would make him about 77 when Jacob took over writing the record (Jacob 1:1), and sometime shortly after that, Nephi died.
    Comment #3: “In a Sunday School class we were taught that the reason Nephi wrote his book (1 & 2 Nephi) was to be found in 1 Nephi 1:20, but I do not see that. Am I missing something?” Winon H.
Response: It sounds like this was misconstrued. One of the purposes, obviously, was to show what Nephi wrote, when he said, “I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” However, to suggest that this was the basic or sole reason seems a little confining. After all, Nephi wrote his record on the Large Plates, as did his father write his own record on those plates. Later, after being in the Land of Promise for some 20 years plus, 30 years after leaving Jerusalem (2 Nephi 5:28), the Lord told Nephi to make additional plates (2 Nephi 5:30), on which he abridged his father’s record, the Book of Lehi, and then abridged his own record up to that point. Much of this record had to do with a historical part of the family living, starting with a little at Jerusalem, then along the trail to Bountiful, and some aspects coming across the sea and their time at the area of first landing.
    We do not know how much was left off the small plates, but Nephi tells us that if we want to know more about his father’s record, to see it (1 Nephi 6:1), or the events he wrote, to see his other record, the Large Plates (1 Nephi 9:2-4; 10-1). Those large plates were the ones Joseph Smith first translated, and after compiling 116 pages, Martin Harris borrowed and lost them. The entire first and second books of Nephi on the small plates (what we have translated) takes up only 107 pages, with very little from Lehi’s book or record. However, Nephi himself talks about his large plates in which he says of the small plates: “concerning these plates, behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people; for the plates upon which I make a full account of my people I have given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates also are called the plates of Nephi” (1 Nephi 9:2).
    Thus, the Large Plates held the “history” of his people, the Nephites. Stated differently, Nephi wrote the history of his family, his descendants, and the overall Nephite nation up to the point of his death, which is a little broader than just showing the tender mercies of the Lord, which, of course, was included throughout.

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