Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Lehi’s Route South-Southeast

As covered in the last post, when Lehi left Jerusalem, he would have traveled along the routes leading south. The most notable and direct travel as well as being the least likely to encounter other people because of its size and distance from the King's Highway, would have been along the Wadi Arabah, a largely sandy desert, broken up by cuts and runoff channels, which would have provided numerous places to be unobserved in any chance encounter.
Top: Looking southward down the Wadi Arabah. (Red arrow) Lehi’s line of travel toward (yellow arrow) the Gulf of Aqaba, a finger of the Red Sea, and the city of (white arrow) Eziongeber; Bottom: Close-up look at the Wadi Araba. (Blue arrow) Direction of Lehi’s travel southward
    This 200-mile route would have taken them near the port city of Eziongeber, which George Hourani in his book Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, identified as the present city of Tall al-Khulayfah, just west of al-Aqabah at the southern end of the Wadi Arabah and head of the Aqaba Gulf; however, it is likely Lehi would have avoided being seen there or anywhere around the busy port area, since they were fleeing Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:2).
The port city of Eilat today, along the same northern area of Aqaba as Eziongeber stood anciently. It is most likely that Lehi’s route would have taken him beyond the first row of hills and out of sight of the city
    Lehi no doubt knew of the Jews tendency to follow fleeing prophets and bring them back to Jerusalem, as they did Urijah who had fled into Egypt (Jeremiah 26:23) and was brought back to be killed by Jehoikim during Lehi’s time. Yet, despite this obvious need for secrecy (1 Nephi 4:36), many Theorists have suggested, including Sorenson, that Lehi would have stopped in the this port city on his journey into the wilderness, and for some reason Nephi would have investigated ships there to see how they were built. It is far likelier, however, that Lehi skirted this port city and any other habitation this close to Jerusalem and remained isolated along the desert trail where any passing caravan accidently encountered would not have known him, however, this route usually accommodated southerly travel, while the Desert Route (Moses Route--ther King's Highway) was the northerly travel.
    The importance of this port area and its connection to Jerusalem was significant at the time of Lehi. It was where Solomon had earlier built his ships, where gold brought from Ophir docked, where ships bringing goods from all over the region deposited their cargoes. At the time of Lehi, it was still an Edomite city (the Arabs would not gain control until after 550 B.C.), and was, according to Dr. Nelson Glueck of the American School of Oriental Research, a “phenomenal industrial site without anything to compare with it in the entire history of the ancient Orient—it was the Pittsburg of old Palestine and at the same time its most important seaport.” In fact, it was the hub of shipping from Africa and India and the Middle East’s major trade route, with caravans taking the ship-delivered goods north to Petra, past Jerusalem, and on to Damascus and Bosras. Others went west to Egypt and Palestine, and still other trade goods went from there south to Arabia.
    This area was also the world’s largest copper smelting center from the 10th to the 5th centuries B.C., with mines in Wadi Arabah. In his day, Solomon transformed this town into the largest industrial establishment ever known to that point in history, where his raw materials were turned into manufactured articles. He and his merchants became rich trading copper, iron, olive oil, and manufactured goods to Arabia in return for spices, incense, jade and other precious objects.
    Later, the town was occupied by the Ptolemies from Egypt during the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., and then the Nabataeans from about the 2nd to 1st centuries B.C. During Roman times (106 A.D.) the town was renamed Aqabat Ayla (Pass of Alia) and it housed a garrison of legionaries.
Top: A camel caravan out of Oman traveling toward Eziongeber; Bottom:  The caravan moving past Eziongeber and traveling along the Gulf of Aqaba and the Ile de Graye (Pharoah’s Island)
    This was such an important area in the last millennium B.C., that during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III of Akkadia, king of Assyria, who created the world’s first standing army, attacked Phoenicia and Gaza in 734 B.C. in order to gain control of the South Arabian incense trade about 135 years before Lehi left Jerusalem and later traveled along this 2,500-mile route. This early trade route brought spices and aromatics from as far away as Indonesia; frankincense and myrrh from coastal southeast Arabia; pearls, ebony, silk and fine textiles from far-off India; and later woods, feathers, animal skins and gold from Africa. Thousands of tons of frankincense in camel caravans traveled along the Incense Road from Khor Rori on the coastal hills of Oman that anciently connected the Arab world with the West, bringing the incenses through the Empty Quarter desert, to Arabia and the eastern Mediterranean for shipment to Greece, Spain and elsewhere.
    All roads met at the port city of Eziongeber—the Metropolitan center of commerce at the time Lehi traveled southward.
    This is the nature of the region around this port city—a crossroads of sea and land trade, it straddled a junction of routes connecting the Nile, the Red Sea and King’s Highway, which by its very size and importance to local and traveling traders, would have been an area Lehi would have avoided out of necessity. To think that Lehi would have stopped there, or even gone near it, is to misunderstand or discount the secrecy of their flight from Jerusalem.
The head of the Gulf of Aqaba, referred to simply as the Red Sea anciently, is near where the port city of Eziongeber was once located
    Once past the port city, Lehi would have traveled inland slightly, behind a long row of hills that stretched nearly to the main body of the Red Sea down a valley he named after his second son, Lemuel. When he came to a flowing river, he named it Laman and stopped to make camp. Here he would stay for quite some time, during which he would send his sons back to Jerusalem for the Brass Plates, then later send them back again for Ishmael and his family, and still later while five marriages were performed. Some have placed this length of time as much as two years, but it certainly would have been a year or more.
The Wadi Tayyib al-Ism is a narrow valley along that winds among the hills along the Gulf of Aqaba, and near the sea there were date palms and a continually flowing small river, an area considered by some to be the Valley of Lemuel 
Left: A crack in the mountains where the river exits from the Wadi Tayyib al-Ism as it empties into the Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea; Right: An aerial view of the wadi where it empties into the sea
    After their lengthy stay here in the valley of Lemuel, Lehi discovers the Liahona, which leads them "nearly a south-southeast direction" along the Red Sea (1 Nephi 16:13) until they eventually turn "nearly eastward from that time forth" (1 Nephi 17:1). 


  1. Del, why is it a certainty that they stayed in the valley of Lemuel at least a year? Do you have a previous post that does that math?

  2. Actually, it was in my book "Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica." The camp consisted of several activities, including the boys going back to Jerusalem to get the plates, going back a second time to get Ishmael and his family, and their getting acclimated to such a life with Lehi's family, time for Lehi to read the brass plates and preach several times to his family, and for five weddings which, under the custom of the day, would have taken some time to accomplish, make tents for new families, etc. Some, like the Hiltons, who are very familiar with the customs of the day, place this stay at two years.