Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Importance of the Ages of Lehi’s Family – Part I

Much has been discussed about the age of Nephi when he left Jerusalem. Theorists have claimed anywhere from the age of 13 to being a young adult of perhaps 21. However, some of the events Nephi describes of himself, and his thoughts and abilities, do not fit the younger age limit some claim was his age. To begin with, Nephi states that he was aware that many prophets came into the land “the very same year” Zedekiah was made king in 597 B.C. at the age of 21. This means Zedekiah was born in 618 B.C.
Pastoral life, outside the city, would have been both physically taxing and mentally relaxing. It is doubtful that a young teen would have been interested in or knowledgeable about what was going on politically in the city

It would be hard to reconcile that a 13 or even 16-year-old boy living outside Jerusalem in his father’s home where Lehi “had dwelt all his days” (1 Nephi 1:4). After all, Nephi’s main interest would have been centered around his father’s farm, planting, harvesting, working, taking care of the animals, etc. It is unlikely a teenager would have been interested in the political picture taking place in the city of Jerusalem.
    Nor would a teen likely have been aware much that his father “went forth praying with all his heart in behalf of his people” (1 Nephi 1:5). Nor would he have known much about “a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly” (1 Nephi 1:6). After all, teenagers are not generally that aware of anything their fathers are doing that does not related directly to themselves.
    Now, it could be argued that by the time Nephi engraved this information on the Small Plates (30 years after the events), he had read his father’s record on the Large Plates and was well aware of those early events. He does include in his own record the words “And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account” (1 Nephi 1:16).
    Thus, the entire first chapter of Nephi’s record on the Small Plates might well have come from Lehi’s record on the Large Plates. This is additionally shown in the next statement by Nephi: “But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life” (1 Nephi 1:16).
In the first year of Zedekiah’s reign as king of Judah, the Lord told Lehi to leave his home at Jerusalem and flee into the wilderness

So let us back up and consider the age and events of Lehi’s life and family to arrive at a more accurate age of Nephi. We know Lehi left Jerusalem with his family in the first year of Zedekiah’s reign as king of Judah (1 Nephi 1:4), and obeyed the Lord and departed into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:4) with his family, “which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam” (1 Nephi 2:5).
    It has been suggested by some historians that Lehi was born about 640 B.C., which would have made him 43 years old at the time he left Jerusalem in 597 B.C. If that were the case, and taking the marriage ages of the time, Lehi would have married around the age of 30, which would be about 610 B.C. (an odd age factor to our modern thinking, but necessary in that time since young men were apprenticed to their father’s to learn and develop a career, and did not marry until they had achieved the ability to support a wife through that work).
    Thus, using those ages for Lehi, we can see that Laman, the oldest son, would have been about 13 years old in 597 B.C. Obviously, that would not have been the case. Even if Lehi was born in 650 B.C., as some claim, that would have made Laman 23 years old, Lemuel 21, Sam 19, and Nephi 17.
    Now, the marrying age of women during this time was about 15, suggesting the earliest to have children would be when Sariah was 16 years of age (a difficult concept to our modern way of thinking, but none-the-less the facts of ancient Israel). That means she would have been 22 years old at the birth of Nephi, having been born about 635 B.C., 15 in 620 B.C., and 22 in 613 B.C. at the birth of Nephi.
    However, Apostle Erastus Snow said 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 abridgment 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, Vol 23, p184, emphasis added; Improvement Era 55, September 1952, pp642, 694; Answers to Book of Mormon Questions, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1967, pp9-11).
    This means that Lehi had two daughters older than Laman, making Laman only 19 years old, Lemuel 17, Sam 15, Nephi 13 when they left Jerusalem if Lehi was born in 650 B.C. Again, an obviously juvenile age for Nephi.
    Consequently, we need to extend Lehi’s birth date back to at least 660 B.C., which would mean that when they left Jerusalem, Lehi’s daughters were 32 and 30 years of age, would have allowed them to have families as Nephi states (1 Nephi 7:6).
    In this case, then, Lehi would have been 63 years old in 597 B.C., the year he left Jerusalem, 71 years old when they reached Bountiful after spending eight years in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:4-5), about 73 during the sea voyage from Bountiful to the Land of Promise. This older age would agree more with Nephi’s statement about Lehi’s age when he stated: “and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds” (1 Nephi 18:17), than if he was only in his early 60s or 50s, as some theorists claim about Nephi’s age would make him. Such an advanced age also makes more sense that Lehi died about two years after reaching the Land of Promise (2 Nephi 4:12).
    It is thought by some that the two sisters that Nephi mentions (2 Nephi 5:6) were the two older sisters that married the sons of Ishmael, which means that when Nephi separated from his brothers, these wives of the sons of Ishmael left their husbands and went with Nephi. However, under ancient Hebrew/Israel law as stated in the Bible, popularly called “ketubah” or marriage contract (considered an integral part of a traditional Jewish marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride), it was almost impossible for a woman to get a divorce, and the women, when married, moved to the husband’s home and family, and was thereafter part of that home and family, and it was extremely uncommon for the women to return to her own father’s home.
    Thus, it would seem unlikely that these two sisters were the two that married Ishmael’s sons, had families by them, and would have been married for at least 15 years or more. This means, then, that these “sisters” who followed Nephi and “those who went with him,” including Sam, Jacob, Joseph and Zoram, would have been two other daughters of Lehi, that had gone unmentioned in the scriptural record by Nephi until this point in time.
    Thus, if Lehi was born in 660 B.C., his life might be stated in years as:
660 BC – Lehi born at Jerusalem, presumably in the family home outside the city;
630 BC – married Sariah;
629 BC – first daughter born
627 BC – second daughter born
625 BC – Laman born
623 BC – Lemuel born
621 BC – Sam born
619 BC – Nephi born
597 BC – Nephi 22 years old; Zedekiah made king; prophets preach in Jerusalem; Lehi preaches in Jerusalem and told to take family into wilderness; leaves his home and heads toward the Red Sea;
596 BC – Lehi sends sons back to Jerusalem to get Brass Plates; sends them back again to get Ishmael and his family;
595 BC – Lehi’s sons marry Ishmael’s daughters; finds Liahona; leaves Valley of Lemuel with combined families and heads down the Red Sea;
594-589 BC – Jacob and Joseph born in wilderness;
589 BC – Lehi reaches seashore and calls the area Bountiful and the ocean the Irreantum Sea;
589-588 BC – Nephi builds his ship;
587 BC – Lehi preaches to his sons; Lehi dies;
586 BC – Nephi leaves brothers and area of First Landing with “all those who would go with him; reaches area they called Nephi and settles down and builds the City of Nephi. This is the same year that Zedekiah’s reign as king ends, his sons are captured and killed before him and he is blinded and taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar; Mulek escapes Jerusalem (Omni 1:15) and is led by the Lord to the Land of Promise where he settles in the land later called Zarahemla (Omni 1:16).
(See the next post, “Importance of the Ages of Lehi’s Family – Part II,” for more about the age of Nephi, both when he left Jerusalem and when he arrived in the Land of Promise, and its importance in better understanding the scriptural record and these events)

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