Monday, December 8, 2014

The Number in Lehi’s Party – Part II

Continuing from the last post, the number in Lehi’s party at the time they reached Bountiful was set at 56. However, the question was raised whether or not there were “others” involved in the families that would have joined them on their journey away from Jerusalem. The only clue we have is that Nephi says that “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, emphasis mine).
In saying “household” and not “family,” there is some question whether or not others than Ishmael’s bloodline was involved, since “household” had a specific, larger meaning among the Hebrews. According to Perdue, Blenkinsopp, Collins and Meyers (Families in Ancient Israel, John Knox Press, 1997), the idea of family in ancient Israel was a more expansive concept than our modern one—it existed at three basic levels: First, there was the bayit, or the household. This was similar to our nuclear family of parents and children, as well as multiple generations, but it also included debt servants, slaves, concubines, resident aliens, sojourners, day laborers and orphans.
In its broadest definition, household would also include its servants (Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Walter A. Elwell, Ed., Baker Books, 1996). In reality, the family was the unit of society and the individual found his place in society through the family and its extensions. Abraham tells us that there were 318 servants “born in his household” (Genesis 14:14). In addition, in ancient Israel large families were deemed necessary to conduct the family business, to provide for the parents in their old age, and to carry on the family name. As a result, the large family was regarded as a blessing from God (Exodus 1:21; Psalm 128:3). Sons were especially valued (Psalm 127:3-5) to carry on the family name, though it is against rebellious sons, not daughters, that legislation was directed and proverbs were coined (Proverbs 20:20; 30:11,17 ). In fact, the father could sell his daughter as a servant or concubine (Exodus 21:7-11), or even pledge his sons as a loan guaranty, although these practices seem to have arisen more out of cases of economic necessity than from established custom (2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:1-5).
    Second, there was the mishpachah, which loosely referred to a clan and most typically in reference to residential kinship groups consisting of several households. Third, there was the mattah, or the tribe, which consisted of many clans.
In addition, there was polygamy among the wealthiest households, but is not clear how extensive polygamy may have been practiced beyond these contexts. So in a way, family can be viewed as concentric circles with the household at the center, the clan farther out, and the tribe existing out beyond the clan. But there is another dimension as well. As time went by, the ideas of clan, and particularly tribe, became somewhat fictive relationships without always having a strict biological connection involved.
    Perhaps to better understand Laman’s intermitten displeasure and threatenings against Nephi, the age of the children in ancient Israel determined their rank within the family, with the eldest having the position of privilege and with it, the responsibility of acting for his father in the father's absence. That Nephi seemed to be favored by his father (2 Nephi 1:24), and obviously held the morale high ground (1 Nephi 7:20; 17:15), and, as they thought, wanted to be a ruler of them (1 Nephi 18:10), constantly rankled Laman, and by extension, Lemuel, who plotted time and again to take away Nephi’s life (1 Nephi 17:48; 18:11; 2 Nephi 1:24; 5:2).
    The ancient Israel family was meant to provide for its own perpetuation and to maintain an atmosphere of emotional warmth and stability for rearing children. The harmony of the home was necessary to provide a stable environment for its functions. Accordingly, in the Mosaic legislation a number of provisions were made to ensure this harmony and to circumvent rivalries that would endanger it and cause the home to break apart.
    So we return to the question of “were there any others” than the immediate family members? Besides “and also his household” mentioned earlier, we also find that “all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent of my father” (1 Nephi 7:22).
    “All the house of Ishmael.” not "all the family of Ishmael." Again, the “house” or “household” in ancient Israel had a specific meaning, which at this time would have included slaves and servants and sometimes their families.
    Though not generally understood by modern westerners, it was customary in the ancient Near East and for Hebrews to possess slaves. Hebrew law permitted Hebrews to buy both male and female slaves of foreign birth or children of resident aliens. Hebrews themselves could be enslaved to other Hebrews, but only temporarily (Exodus 21:2). When Hebrews were enslaved, it was usually because they or a relative had been too poor to repay a debt. Apprehended thieves who could not repay what they had stolen were also sold as slaves to compensate the victim.
    Domestic slaves were usually regarded as part of the family and were protected and cared for accordingly. There are even examples of slaves inheriting their master's estate or marrying into a family and gaining freedom as a result.
    Again, when the word household, and even family, is used in the Bible, it usually means either the clan or the extended family group, and includes not only parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc., but also the people who worked with and for the group, and their families as well. A ‘family’ could very easily include as many as fifty to a hundred people or more.
   According to Elizabeth Fletcher, author of Women in the Bible (1997), and who both taught and wrote textbooks on Religious Education, lists five additional “family” members of the ancient Israel “household”:
    1. a free servant was paid in wages to perform specific tasks; free servants could be domestic servants or agricultural laborers;
    2. a bond servant was contracted to work for a specific period of time;
    3. a foreign slave had been captured in a war or a raid and was bought at market;
    4. a ‘houseborn’ slave was born of a woman who was already a slave within the household;
    5. a Jewish ‘debt’ slave was sold by their family to repay a debt; they were released on payment of the debt, during Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25:39-43, 47-55) or after six years of service (Exodus 21:2-4, Deuteronomy 15:12).
    Since Lehi was a very wealthy land-owner (1 Nephi 2:4), it is likely he had servants of some type in his household. It may be just as likely that Ishmael was also well-to-do and had servants of his own, for he was capable of immediate movement, with tents, supplies, and animals of his own.
    If this were the case, we can assign at least three and possibly four servants to each family, making the total of Lehi’s party between 62 and 64 that reached Bountiful after their eight years in the wilderness. With the death of Ishmael enroute, that number is reduced to 61 to 63. How long the party remained at this seashore camp is unknown, but to build a ship capable of carrying 60 or more people in at least nine different family family groups (Lehi and Sariah; Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi; Zoram; two sons of Ishmael; and Ishmael’s wife) across the deep oceans, would have required at least a year, probably more likely two. This would be especially true considering that none of these individuals had ever before built a ship of any kind.
    With this in mind, w can also see that at least five of these families, and likely the two sons of Ishmael as well, were still in child-bearing years. This means a two-year stay at Bountiful would likely have produced upwards of seven more children, making a possible grand total of 70 people entering Nephi’s ship. This figure corresponds closely with the estimate of Eldin Ricks, who uses the number 50 to 60, and Reynolds and Sjodahl, who claimn it was 60 to 80 (Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol 1, p218 and p185 respectively).

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