Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Number in Lehi’s Party – Part I

In the minds of many readers of the scriptural record and Nephi’s narrative, there seems to be confusion as to the size of the party Lehi led away from Jerusalem, through the wilderness, and across the ocean to the Land of Promise. Sorenson, in his many writings, seems convinced the numbers were few, yet the circumstances outlined seem to suggest a much larger party than what many have claimed.
Starting out with just Lehi and Sariah, and their four sons—Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi—listed in the record (1 Nephi 2:5), we know of no one else that left Jerusalem in the initial party, though sisters are mentioned, but we do not know when they came into the family—either before they left, during their wilderness travel, or while camped at Bountiful.
    However, Nephi evidently wants us to know that the population of their colony had been growing during the passing years. He tells us his father had received two fine sons from Sariah while encamped in the wilderness, the eldest he called Jacob and the younger Joseph (1 Nephi 18:7)—names that were quite appropriate at the time of his desert wanderings and the reading of the Brass Plates in which his ancestry through Jacob and Joseph of old is given (1 Nephi 5:14). In fact, earlier, when Lehi was undoubtedly involved with the Arabs in caravan trade, his two oldest sons, Laman and Lemuel, were given Arabic names. Later, when Lehi was involved with the Egyptians, perhaps in connection with the business of his wealth, and where he learned the language, two more sons were given Egyptian names: Sam and Nephi.
    Later, though we are not given any information of their birth or existence, Nephi mentions sisters (2 Nephi 5:6), which means at least two, who were dependent upon him and accompanied him into the wilderness after reaching the Land of Promise and escaping the wrath of his older brothers and the sons of Ishmael. How old these sisters were is not stated, but obviously they were reliant upon Nephi for their protection and sustenance, since to him fell the responsibility of providing for the unmarried women of his household until they had hereditary rights through marriage an d then became part of their husbands family. He would also be responsible for his mother, though there is no indication whether she was still alive at this time.
    This gives us Lehi’s family of 6 sons and 2 daughters, along with Lehi and and Sariah, makes a family of 10.
Now when Ishmael left his home, he took his family with him, which consisted of five daughters and two sons (1 Nephi 7:6). Both his sons were married and had families, which may have consisted of about three children each, or a total of 17 for Ishmael’s extended family.
    With the addition of Zoram, that makes 24 leaving the Valley of Lemuel (Lehi 6, Ishmael 17, Zoram 1), on their eight-year trek through the wilderness and across the Rub’al Khali. An additional four would be added sometime along the way, Jacob, Joseph, and Nephi’s two sisters, since we do not know when these four additional children of Lehi and Sariah entered the picture—but adding them all together, there would have been 28 at this point.
    In connection with this, it should be noted that “The prophet Joseph Smith informed us that the record of Lehi was contained on the 116 pages that were first translated and subsequently stolen, and of which an abridgement is given us in the First Book of Nephi, which is the record of Nephi individually, he himself being of the lineage of Manasseh; but that Ishmael was of the lineage of Ephraim, and that his sons married into Lehi’s family, and Lehi’s sons married Ishmael’s daughters” (Journal of Discourses 23:184). Elder Sidney B. Sperry acknowledged this fact, saying: “the record of Lehi in the 116 missing manuscript pages refers to at least two of Ishmael’s sons marrying Lehi’s daughters” (Improvement Era, September 1952; Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, Bookcraft, 1967).
    In addition, Hugh Nibley adds to this understanding: “The interesting thing is that Nephi takes Ishmael completely for granted, never explaining who he is or how he fits into the picture—the act of sending for him seems to be the most natural thing in the world, as does the marriage of his daughters with Lehi’s sons. Since it has ever been the custom among the desert people for a man to marry the daughter of his paternal uncle (bint 'ammi), it is hard to avoid the impressions that Lehi and Ishmael were related” (Lehi in the Desert, Deseret Book, 1988 ). In fact, regarding this Cleon Skousen (Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol 1, p 1067), suggests that with this intermarriage of Ishmael’s sons to Lehi’s daughters, “Lehi and Ishmael were therefore not only entirely familiar with each other, but were probably the closest of friends.”
    Another interesting point is, as Nephi tells us: “And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father” (1 Nephi 7:5). At this moment, Ishmael is ready to leave where he was located and make the trip into the wilderness. There was no delay in getting ready or making any preparations noted in the record—he and his family were ready to go, an unlikely scenario if Ishmael and his family were settled. While this may not seem unusual for the modern man, who often has tents and camping gear stored in his garage, the fact that the easterner in Lehi's time would have had such equipment suggests an entirely different set of facts, for permanent residents had no use for tents and such equipment, nor any room or place to store them. Yet, both Lehi and Ishmael had them available and were able to leave their homes immediately. Obviously, Ishmael was a desert family, not only able to go, but having tents and traveling supplies to make the immediate journey. This is the same as Lehi, who had tents, supplies, donkeys for transportation, and “seeds of every kind” that he could pack up and leave.
Again, as a matter of historical accuracy, at the time of Lehi’s departure Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians, except for a five month period between August 588 B.C. and April 587 B.C. During this time, "Jeremiah came in and went out among the people: for they had not put him in prison."  This respite from the siege allowed Jerusalem to open its gates and augment its siege provisions  During this time Jeremiah attempted to leave the city to go to the land of his inheritance at Anathoth, a village located a few miles north of the city.  At the city gate, Jeremiah was seized and charged with deserting to the enemy.  He denied the charge, but he was quickly brought before the princes, who beat and imprisoned him.  He was placed in a cistern and left to die. Through the pleadings of a servant in Zedekiah’s household, Jeremiah was saved from the muddy cistern, but he was kept in prison until after the city was sacked by the Babylonians on July 12, 586 B.C. (Jeremiah 38-39).
    During that five month moratorium, Lehi could have left the city area unobserved, his sons return to obtain the plates from Laban, left to get their father’s wealth in the homestead outside the city and returned. This was all prior to the Egyptian invasion of Palestine to attack the Babylonian army (Jeremiah 37:4). It is likely, then, that all four events: 1) Lehi’s departure, 2) the trip for Laban’s plates, 3) Jeremiah’s departure, seizure, and imprisonment, and 4) the trip for Ishmael’s family, could have been made during this five-month lifting of the siege.
    We can also add another number to the group since five new marriages, and the two sons of Ishmael already married, would have had children during the eight year journey. Nephi tells us that “our women did bear children in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:1, 20). So, figuring a child born to seven families every two years, we can safely add another 28 children by the time Lehi reaches Bountiful, which combined now brings the total of the party to 56.
    Now we arrive at the questions of “were there any others”? The one clue we have on this is that when Nephi and his brothers went back for Ishmael, Nephi writes of Ishmael “and also his household” (1 Nephi 7:5), rather than “and also his family.” In ancient Hebrew custom, the term “household” meant all who lived within the family house, which at this time would have included slaves and servants and sometimes their families.
(See the next post, "The Number in Lehi's Party-Part II," for more information on the size of this group by the time they reached the Land of Promise)

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