Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Value of Knowing History

There are numerous people who claim the Book of Mormon is a fraud, or something someone made up, or an error-bound work of little import. No matter the opinion people might have regarding the record, one thing is patently true and needs to be completely understood by those who read it—the information within its pages is fundamentally factual in every way with the Hebrew life of the time and supports completely what would have existed in that day and age and compatible with the circumstances involved as one would expect of as text written by people of that era.
    The problem lies in not what Joseph Smith translated, but in the knowledge of those who read it and try to lay claims to it that are totally and very obviously false. As an example, take Lehi’s travels through the desert of Arabia. With all that is known today about such travel, and not much has changed in the deserts over the centuries since Lehi trod them, we should find a lot of consistencies with modern travel since it has always been done in the same manner by the same type of people since Old Testament times. 
Take for example Nephi’s description of their moving through the desert for a few days, then resting for a few days, then traveling again for a few days, etc. It is, under western conditions, a very poor, time-consuming and inefficient way to travel, but to the eastern Beduoin, it is the only way to travel. As an example, “for the space of a time” (1 Nephi 17:6) is both a Hebrew expression, and a common explanation of desert travel according to William Gifford Palgrave, an Englishman, Arabic scholar and Jesuit, who convinced his superiors to support a mission to the interior of Arabia in the mid-1800s where he spent quite some time living as a Bedouin (Personal Narrative of a Year’s Journey Through Central and Eastern Arabia 1862-1863, London, 1866 [Hard Press Publishing June 2013]).
    He found that such travel was spent in frenzied movement for three or four days at an estimated pace of two and one-quarter to three and nine-tenths miles an hour, then pitching tents and resting for ten to twelve days, then striking tents, packing up, and moving out, resting along the way at night for a few hours over a cold meal with no fire for fear of distant rovers looking for signs of smoke or fire in order to attack unwary travelers.
Along with hunger and thirst, sheer exhaustion plays its part. The effort of travel in the desert entailed much fatigue, sufferings and afflictions, much difficulty and wading through much hardship. The difficulty of the terrain often made hard going, as is seen in the account of Lehi’s dreams, but behind everything one feels the desolation and exhaustion of a sun-cursed land. Where else would it be necessary for well-equipped and experienced travelers to suffer thirst? (1 Nephi 16:35).
    According to William John Phythian-Adams who excavated some tells along the Gaza Strip in the early 1920s for the Palestinian Exploration Fund and worked on Mt. Sinai in 1930, suggests that at times the Bedouin might camp for up to forty days under favorable circumstances between movements merely to rest up from the travel (PEF Quarterly, 1930, p199).
The usual thing was to camp as long as possible in one place until it was soiled by the beasts, according to Phillip J. Baldensperger, and the multiplication of fleas became intolerable, and the surroundings afforded no more pasturage, then the tents were pulled down and the men decamped (The Immovable East, PEQ). Johan Ludwig Burkhardt, son of a silk merchant and Swiss traveler and geographer, adds that these encampments lasted a whole month (Charles M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta, Academy, 1888).
Without the camel it would be impossible for the nomads to carry their tents and furniture over the vast sandy space were donkeys can pass only with difficulty and carry only a very small load. When Arabs migrate in earnest, they pack seed in big, black 150 to 180 pound sacks, two to a camel—at the very least there has to be enough grain either to make a worthwhile crop somewhere or to supply substantial food on the way. Obviously, these weights are not carried by men on foot as some writers would have us believe. Nor do camel breeders fear the waterless stretches of the desert as the sheep and goat raising Arabs do, and for that reason camel owners remain independent and free (Carl  Reinhard Raswan (Schmidt), Drinkers of the Wind, Creative Age Press, 1942, p129)
    We have wandered much in the wilderness,” the daughters of Ishmael complained on their father’s death, “and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger” (1 Nephi 16:35). Lehi’s sons confidently expected to meettheir death in the wilderness, and in despair their mother cried out to Lehi, “We perish in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:2). On the last long stretch they “did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness . . . and did live upon raw meat in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:1—2). 
From the first, they “suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all” (1 Nephi 17:6). At times their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness became so great that even Lehi began to murmur! (1 Nephi 16:20). While in the best Arab fashion they kept to “the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:16), and thus kept their animals in motion, for themselves a good deal of the time there was only meat, for they got their food by “slaying food by the way, with our bows and our arrows and our stones and our slings” (1 Nephi 16:15). So dependent were they on hunting for food that when Nephi broke his fine steel bow, and the wooden bows having “lost their springs” (1 Nephi 16:21), there was no food at all to be had, and the party was in great danger of starvation: “Being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food” (1 Nephi 16:19). When Nephi finally returned from a mountaintop with game, and “they beheld that I had obtained food, how great was their joy!” (1 Nephi 16:30—32).
All of this is so Bedouin, so typical of their desert ravings, complaints, curses, and fears. This brings us to the understanding that has been written by every Arab writing after visiting the Bedouin in the desert: “Life is hard, a ceaseless struggle for existence against nature and man,” and that “it is no exaggeration to say that the Bedouin is in the almost permanent state of starvation,” and that “many times between their waterings, there is not a single pint of water left in the greatest sheikh’s tent.” When on the move at such a time, with water before them somewhere along the trail, the admonition after a two or three hour rest stop, “If we linger here we all die of thirst” forces them on the move once again as they push on through the dark night with the constant probability of attack or plunder from roving marauders and riding throughout the day, and at about an hour before sunset they would stagger off their camels as best they could to prepare an evening feast of precisely the same meal as the forenoon of dry dates and half and hour’s rest on the sand.
    It can be seen that the Book of Mormon account of moving through the desert for a few days and then camping for the space of a time is exactly the way the Arabs move, i.e., “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning; and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time” (1 Nephi 16:13, 17).
There are those who read this storyline and ask, “If they had camels, why aren’t they mentioned?” However, to an Arab, the mention of a camel connected to travel in the desert is a superfluous statement. In Arabic, there are two phrases used to set out for a journey, “rahal” and “safar,” and both words mean “to set out on a journey” as well as “saddle a camel.” To the Bedouin, the wordage “to travel” means to go  by camel—there is simply no other way to do this, certainly not by foot! It would be like an American saying “I drove from Provo to Salt Lake City.” You don’t say “I drive from Provo to Salt Lake City by car.” It is akin to saying “we sailed to Catalina,” a trip of 26 miles over the ocean from Long Beach, California to the island of Catalina. If you sailed, you went by ship. It is a common understanding. An Arab traveled by camel when he went into the desert. The camel, after all, was as common a means of travel as a car is to us today.
    It is always easier to understand what we read and what it means if we have some knowledge of the historical events that existed at the time of the events of which we are reading. If we are going to understand the thinking of Arabs, Bedouin, Hebrews in 600 B.C., we need to know a little about that time frame and those people.
    As an example, “the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:16) when speaking of traveling down by the Red Sea has a specific meaning in that part of the world, especially anciently. Along the Red Sea, though a desert, and though referred to as a road or trail anciently (Frankincense Trail), it was nothing more than a wide area of maybe a mile or two in width over which people traveled from one water hole  or oases to another. Other than that, there was nothing to mark it or set it apart from any other area of desert. However, “the more fertile parts” were long rows stretching over the flat floor of the plain in long lines like hedges and were depressions of dried-up watercourses, sometimes hundreds of miles long. They furnished, according to Bertram Thomas, the life arteries of life in the path of Bedouin movement, the habitat of animals by reason of the vegetation—scant though it was—which flourished in their beds alone.
The more fertile parts of the desert were simply a sub-surface water bed where at certain times of the year, simple plants might grow. It doesn’t look much different than the rest of the area, bud there is moisture there and some minimal plant life if you know where to look

1 comment:

  1. Another excellent post; thanks Del! Understanding the history and background deepens my understanding of Lehi's family and deepens my testimony and love of the Book of Mormon.