Thursday, March 29, 2018

Tent Living in Lehi’s Day

While Lehi and his family lived in a house at Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:7), and Laban (1 Nephi 4), and the Jews living in Jerusalem, Lehi was not unfamiliar with tents. Nephi even describes his father as dwelling in a tent in such a nomadic fashion as suggesting he was both comfortable and well familiar with such as life style, a significant comment since in Lehi’s day, a well-to-do man of wealth would not have normally found such a thing of any worth, let alone comfortable.
    This is doubly important when one considers that in this time and area, the “home” or “tent” in this case, was the center of life, the hub of everything. It was the official central point of all administration and authority and the center of their universe, being the headquarters for all activities, discussions, and decisions. We even find that Nephi, his brothers, and Ishmael and his family congregated to offer sacrifice and burnt offerings at Lehis tent (1 Nephi 7:22).
Tent living in the Arabian and Canaanite deserts was a way of life for thousands of years, and still is among the Bedouins. This living consisted of mainly being outside the tent, where cooking, eating, lounging, working and other activities took placethe tent was merely a place for sleeping, and even that was done outside when weather was agreeable

In fact, living in tents for the Canaanite and surrounding peoples was of ancient origin and goes back before the days of Abraham. Even after the Jews moved into houses following their exodus from Egypt and occupation of Canaan, the pastoral tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh, still lived, at least in part, in tents, particularly east of Jordan (Joshua 22:8). Agriculture was often associated with tent life, as it had been in Isaac’s time (Genesis 26:12), and probably in Heber’s case (Judges 4:11-22).
    Hazerim חֲצֵרִים as found in Deuteronomy 2:23, is not a proper name, such as that of a settlement or city as some suggest, but means nomadic "villages" or "enclosures," a piece of ground surrounded with a rude fence, in which tents were pitched and cattle tethered at night for safety from marauders, as a tent settlement of Ismaelites; or as the Yezidee tent in Syria, a stone wall five feet high, roofed with goats' hair cloth raised on long poles. So Hazar-adder in the South and Hazar-erran in the North (Numbers 34:4,9) is not indicative of a name, but implies “tent” settlements, or a grouping of tents.
    The first reference in the Scriptures to tent life is concerning the man Jabal, of whom it is said, "he was the father of such as dwell in tents" (Genesis 4:20). Following the Flood we find, "God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem" (Genesis 9:27). The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived most of their lives in tents, in and around the land of Canaan. 
The number of tents that made up the encampment of Abraham, considered by many scholars as a wealthy tamkârum, or private merchant, must have been large, for in his warfare against the confederacy of kings that took Lot captive, it is stated that he used a band of three hundred eighteen trained soldiers born in his household (Genesis 14:14)
    Abraham "pitched his tent" in the vicinity of Bethel (Genesis 12:8), Isaac "pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar" (Genesis 26:17), and “Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem in the land of Canaan…and pitched his tent" (Genesis 33:18). In fact, the Children of Israel lived in tents during their forty years in the wilderness. Moses said of them, "The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp" (Numbers 1:52). And Balaam "lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes" (Numbers 24:2).
    For many years after the entering of the Promised Land, Israel still lived in tents. In the days of David it was said to the king, "The ark and Israel and Judah, abide in tents" (2 Samuel 11:11), indicating that many of the people at that time were tent-dwellers. Even at the time of the revolt of the ten tribes under Jeroboam and their separation from Judah, the cry went forth, "To your tents, O Israel" (1 Kings 12:16). When the tribes gathered together at such small places as Gilgal, and Shiloh, they undoubtedly brought their tents with them.
    After the temple was built at Jerusalem the people made their pilgrimages there to celebrate the feasts of the Lord, and many thousands of them slept in tents on the mountains surrounding the city. Today, like the Jews of old, the Bedouin Arabs and nomadic Jews of Israel, and especially those of Trans-Jordan, have been living in tents for centuries, and their manner of life is strikingly like that of the early biblical people.
    The scriptural record tells us that when Lehi was told to depart into the wilderness, “he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:4). In fact, to better describe his father to us, Nephi said of him, “And my father dwelt in a tent” (1 Nephi 2:15), a nomadic expression explaining that Lehi, though having been living in a house outside of Jerusalem, was both familiar with tent living and quite comfortable in such a life style.
    It is always important to keep in mind that the Bible, as well as the first few books of the Book of Mormon, had their origin in the East, and that each of the writers was actually an Oriental. Since this is so, in a very real sense the Bible may be said to be an Oriental Book; however, Westerners are quite apt to read into the Scriptures Western manners and customs, instead of interpreting them from the Eastern point of view.
    Thus, to better understand such significance of tents among the Nephites, and their settlement until Nephi built a city after fleeing from his brothers, it should be noted that new tents were very seldom made among the ancient Jews and Arabs, and even today’s Bedouins. About the only time this happened was when a young groom and bride set up housekeeping for themselves. 
The usual procedure was to accumulate the goat clippings of a year or so, and make a new strip with which to repair the old tent, which work the women were assigned. These strips, in fact the entire tent, was made of pieces of goat’s hair cloth, with pieces about three-quarters of a yard broad sewn together into large pieces parallel to the tent’s length, which makes the top resistant to the heaviest rains, making up the top and sides. In the case of repairs, the section of the tent roof that was most worn was ripped out, and a new piece of the cloth replaced it. The old piece was then used for a side curtain. Each year new strips of cloth replaced old ones and the "house of hair" was handed down from father to son without its being completely new or completely old at any one time.
    As the tent-dweller's family grew larger, or as he become richer and wished to enlarge his tent, he did so by simply adding another section to his old tent, very much like the Westerner would build another room on to his house; but there was this difference: instead of building a new tent they just continued patching. Isaiah (54:2) had this process in mind when he compared the prophetic prosperity of Israel to a such a tent. "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes" (Fred H. Wight, Manners And Customs of Bible Lands, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, 1953).
There is neither shade nor breeze on the plains of the Canaan desert, where temperatures often rise above 120 degrees F. The black tent of coarsely woven goat hair provides a breathing membrane as the black surface creates a deep shadow while the coarse weave diffuses the sunlight, creating a beautifully illuminated interior. As the sun heats the dark fabric, hot air rises above the tent and air from inside is drawn out, creating a cooling breezewhen it rains, the tiny holes in the fabric close, and the structure becomes tight

 These ancient tents were bulky and heavy, made of coarse goat’s hair fabric, which served to protect the family in winter from the cold winds and in summer from the heat, by lifting the sides so the breeze could pass through, creating a sunshade. The top itself was typically twenty to thirty feet, sometimes even forty feet in length, though that of a sheik could be one hundred feet long.
    Typically nine poles in groups of three were placed under the covering at intervals to hold it from the ground, being stretched over the poles by ropes of goat hair or hemp fastened to hard-wood pins driven into the ground. The ropes which hold the tent in its place are fastened, not to the tent-cover itself, but to loops consisting of a leathern thong tied to the ends of a stick, round which is twisted a piece of old cloth, which is itself sewed to the tent-cover. The ends of the tent-ropes are fastened to short sticks or pins, which are driven into the ground. The goat’s hair, when dry, was porous, allowing ventilation, but when wet, it became waterproof after the first rains, thus, “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar” (Songs of Solomon 1:5).
    Within, patterned draperies, hand-woven curtains made from dyed wool and goat's hair, partitioned the separate rooms or apartments. The interior contained pillows, carpets, goat hair mats, sometimes died with henna, and haps of cushions—the nomad did not sit in chairs as Westerners are accustomed, but sat cross-legged, typically on mats, or cushions. Even if a mattress or raised section was included, they still sat with their lower limbs crossed.
    When on the move, as Lehi’s party was for some eight years in the wilderness before reaching Bountiful, the main factor revolved around food for the animals and water for themselves, thus, groups always followed traditional movements that were determined by seasonal conditions, reaching pastures or water holes that were distributed in a regular fashion along known paths or roads, which were little more than a wide flat area, sometimes a mile or more in width, always looking for grass and sedge that sprouted  between sand dunes. Thus, when Nephi wrote that the Liahona guided them into the more fertile parts of the trail, it was a significant aide to the travel (1 Nephi 16:14).
    It is likely that Lehi passed nearby, but not necessarily had contact with, nomadic families on the move or briefly located along the “trail,” in their tents and settlements where grass and food for animals could temporarily be found. Most desert travel was at night where navigation by the stars was easier and temperatures more amenable. In fact, to those who traveled such trails, they did not find the desert fearsome nor mysterious, for it was home—they knew the barren hills, each bitter stretch between wells, and understood its signs and its peoples. In fact, Nephi talks about, as all those who travel such desert know, that they waded through much affliction in the wilderness, living upon raw meat, but that they were strengthened and bore their journeying without murmuring (1 Nephi 17:1-2). 
    How much more pleasant it would have been for them upon landing and “pitching their tents,” in the Land of Promise. For the moment, at least, they thought their position was permanent, and Lehi took the time to pointedly remind his family and party about their rebellion n the waters and the mercies of God in sparing their lives, and how the land had been set aside for them and promised to Lehi and his posterity (2 Nephi 1:2-9).

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