Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean “And Also His Household”?

After obtaining the brass plates from Laban, Nephi and his brothers were sent back to Jerusalem to obtain Ishmael and his family. As Nephi tells us: “And it came to pass that we went up unto the house of Ishmael, and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord. 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 7:4-5).
    So what was meant by “Ishamel and also his household”? To understand this, we need to keep in mind that living in the conditions we live in today and have for more than a century, it sometimes it is difficult to look beyond what we know and experience to what might have or did exist in a former time that had a significant influence on people and events.
Today, it is not acceptable to talk about slavery in a positive manner, or even servitude, yet both existed in 600 B.C. at the time Lehi left Jerusalem. In fact, the Jewish family at the time was made up of several parts not experienced in the U.S. in the exact same manner except during Colonial days. Not only were there slaves, but also servants.
    In the agrarian society of the Jews at the time, land was essential to survival. Furthermore, the promise that God gave to Abraham and his descendants was inextricably tied up with each Israelite family having a share in the land as God’s stewards. Two or three consecutive years of drought, crop failures, or other calamities could easily force someone to forfeit their land in exchange for goods to survive. Thus, effecting the ownership of the land and the societal breakdown of the Jewish family.
    As a result, we find considerable attention given to the protection of land ownership, most notably in Leviticus 25, but in other passages as well in the Hebrew bible. But a household wasn't just the land. A household estate “…would include fields, orchards, vineyards, pastures, livestock, and the tools and implements for living and working.”
    First of all, we need to keep in mind that ancient Israel was a patri-local society—adult sons, and their entire families, lived with their father. When they married (usually within the in clan) the bride came to live in the husband’s father’s house. A separate structure was often added to accommodate the new couple either attached to existing structures or adjoining a common courtyard. A group of households might typically be located together to form villages. In fact, most villages in Israel’s early history consisted of no more than about 100 people. By the time of the monarchy some urbanization had begun, that is, others moved into the village that were not directly related, yet the small rural village framework was present down to the time of Christ.
    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. The Israelites also had a strong sense of connectedness with their ancestors and with yet to be born descendants.
These latter parts of the family were understood to be a part of the household, clan and tribe as well. When someone died they were said to be “gathered with their ancestors.” As time went by, the ideas of clan, and particularly tribe, became somewhat fictive relationships without always having a strict biological connection involved. As this progressed, the village leader, the one who was once the family elder now became the village elder with less connection to everyone in the village than previously.
    In addition, as work increased at the family level, that is the family became more involved in increasing the size and productivity of the family agricultural production and later business, there was a need to supplement the biological family with an extended family of workers, either through the principle of slavery or of servitude.
    Initially, this servitude was on a family basis, i.e., individuals came to work for the family, either as purchased slaves or as indentured servants, or as paid workers. In return for their work, they were given some type of income, food and shelter within the family structure.
    The Lord made provisions for these individuals through providing them with specific legal status under the law, and with specific required treatment and care to be provided by the family (land owners) themselves.
So how did these notions of changing household and family influence their understanding of God and of their mission in the world? How did it change over time? The family automatically became a “household,” and included all those who worked within or for the household, such as servants serving the household (maidservants, cooks, tutors, groundskeepers, house servants and manager of the household), as well as those serving the fields—planting and maintaining the fields, harvesting, clearing, etc.; those taking care of the flocks and herds; then there were those who looked after, protected, and maintained all the property of the household. In an influential, wealthy and religious family in Lehi’s time, Jewish families hired or had servants (Shabbos goy—non-Jew) to perform household duties on the Sabbath that were not to be conducted by the family—such meager things as blowing out candles, milking cows, heating houses during winter.
    In looking at Lehi’s family, we need to consider that he lived “at Jerusalem,” that is, outside the city on a property that was his inheritance (1 Nephi 2:4), i.e., he inherited it from his own family in times past. It was to be handed down to his sons as part of their own inheritance in the years to come (1 Nephi 2:11) when we pick up the story of Lehi leaving Jerusalem. It is one of the reasons there was so much contention between Laman, the older son and the one with the right of primogeniture under the law, with his younger brother, Nephi (1 Nephi 17:21).
Now, understanding that Lehi was a wealthy man (1 Nephi 3:16, 22 25), and that he lived at Jerusalem and not within the city (1 Nephi 1:4), he undoubtedly had not only household servants, but field hands and others that worked and took care of his property, trusted ones that made investments, sold and re-invested his wealth, that were part of his household. No doubt, he also had female household servants as described.
    Also, when factoring in that the Jews sought Lehi’s life, wanting to kill him (1 Nephi 1:20), that he was told to flee Jerusalem and head into the wilderness with his family (1 Nephi 2:4), and that Nephi and his brothers fear of leaving Zoram behind to tell of their flight from Jerusalem (1 Nephi 4:36), it is likely that Lehi would not have wanted to leave any of his “household” (servants, slaves, etc.) behind to tell of his departure, and would simply have taken them with him.
    This is also consistent with Jewish law at the time that owners of slaves and elders of household servants, etc., were responsible for the welfare, care, and lives of their household—Lehi would have simply taken them with him rather than leave them behind to fend for themselves without means of income or care for their future.
    Thus it is likely, as many scholars have suggested (though not necessarily Land of Prolmise theorists), that Lehi took his household with him, as did Ishmael. This latter is especially borne out in the wordage when Nephi wrote: “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—compare the same usage of “household” in 1 Nephi 5:14 as applied to “Jacob, and all his household” as well as 2 Nephi 5:10, 12).
    Thus, it can be suggested that probably as much as twice the numbers of people were in Lehi’s party as most scholars conclude, which would put more people in Nephi’ temple-building workforce than most people have considered.

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