Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Marrying of Lehi’s Sons – Part I

As covered in the last two posts regarding the ages of Lehi’s Family, we need to extend that understanding to include why Ishmael followed Nephi into the wilderness and down to Lehi’s tent near the Red Sea. Such an act would seem, on the surface, to be unwarranted and provide fodder for critics of then Book of Mormon. However, when considering the manners and customs of the Hebrews, where the ideal family was large and patriarchal, wives lived in their mother-in-law’s home (or tent), and life was built around the outdoors, which is typically quite difficult for the average Westerner (European, American, etc.) to fully comprehend. 
   In fact, the well-traveled English journalist, author and poet, Joseph Rudyard Kipling, who was born in Bombay, grew up in India, England and for a time in the United States (the latter a people he forever considered “foreigners”), and lived his later life in Sussex, wrote in his poem “The Ballad of East and West, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, suggesting, among other things, that those from the east are quite different from those from the west. “And never the twain shall meet,” or never the two meet, or see eye-to-eye on matters, is often borne out through a study of Hebrew manners and customs certainly bears this out.
The Middle East

Thus, we should keep Kipling’s saying in mind when we read the scriptures, for they were not written by Westerners, but by Orientals in the Middle East. As Sidney B. Sperry, Professor of Old Testament Languages and Literature at Brigham Young University, wrote in “Hebrew Manners and Customs,” Ensign Magazine, May 1972, “The Bible is actually an Oriental book. It was written centuries ago by Oriental people and primarily for Oriental people.”
    As we all know, the New Testament has come down to us in Greek, a European, western language; but, as Sperry insists: “Jesus and his apostles were Oriental, and they spoke in Aramaic, an Oriental tongue. Not only should we know something about the language of the Bible, but we should also know something about the manners and customs of its peoples if we are to understand it properly.”
    Since the Nephites wrote and spoke Hebrew, it is helpful, sometimes necessary, to understand the difference in this way of speaking and writing from our own. As an example, in thought and speech the Oriental is an artist, often speaking and writing in figurative language, painting a scene that is in effect true, but the details may be inaccurate, while the Occidental or Westerner, speaks and writes more literally, being like the architect, building one factual idea on top of another.
    To illustrate this, when the Lord said of the mustard seed that it was “less than all the seeds that be in the earth,” and the plant as “greater than all herbs” (Mark 4:31-32), we gain an understanding of what he meant—however, as any botanist knows, the mustard seed (black mustard seed [Brassica nigra], brown Indian mustard seed [Brassica juncea], or white mustard seed [Brassica hirta/Sinapis alba]), the latter of which Jesus spoke, though small, is not the smallest of all seeds, nor is the plant greater than all herbs. However, the Lord’s statement is completely understood for the intent of its meaning. It is just not the way a Westerner would think to speak, but would likely say something like: “Note the tiny mustard seed that grows into a large bush, with long, sturdy branches on which the birds can perch.”
    Many ancient manners and customs still exist in the Middle East, especially among then Bedouin and Jewish nomadic people, some of which still live in tents. Western sheepmen drive their sheep before them, and are called sheepherders. Oriental sheepmen lead their sheep and are called Shepherds, for theyh “called his own sheep and goeth before them and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice (John 10:3-4). And there is no question that Western newlyweds try to set up their own home as soon as possible after marriage; however, an Eastern couple follow the ancient pattern of living with the groom’s family.
The Household of Abraham as they caravan across the Valley of Shaveh. A wealthy man and prophet with a sizeable household of family and servants, Abraham chased not after wealth but after the Lord and became the “father of many nations”

In fact, the ancient Hebrew family was patriarchal by nature and the term used to describe it was beth’ab, the “house of one’s father,” who was the supreme authority over the family. In fact, “the family” also included non-blood relations who had entered into a covenant relationship (such as Zoram when he joined Lehi’s family), not to mention servants and retainers, such as those of Abraham’s house from whom he assembled 318 servants who were trained warriors to rescue Lot and his entire household from Chedorlaomer and the Elamite army.
    The Hebrew father was the supreme authority over the family and in earlier times, the father’s authority even included power over life nd death. Throughout Biblical history, when the father’s children grew older and his sons married, they and their children came also under his control.
    The Hebrew family was also known as a house. The founding of a family was to build a house. The use of the term house was very flexible and could include the entire nation (the house of Jacob or the house of Israel) or a segment of the people (the house of Judah or the house of Joseph).
    In Hebrew, the word “beth” ב, means “house or habitation,” “tent,” or “place.” The Hebrew family was also known as a house since the founding of a family was to build a house (not a structure), and as stated earlier, the father of the house or family administered justice between household members, and his words were not to be disputed. It is the reason that though Laman and Lemuel complained bitterly throughout most of their eight years of travel and time at Bountiful, in the end they were always obedient to their father’s position and place in their midst.
    It is interesting to note that along this vein, most of the complaints of Laman and Lemuel was directed toward Nephi (and by extension, to Sam), but not to Lehi, their father. Their murmuring toward Lehi was mostly that he was a visionary man and had taken hem out of the land of Jerusalem, leaving the land of their inheritance, and their gold, etc. (1 Nephi 2:11). Their murmuring was based on their not knowing the dealings of God, who had created them. But the threatenings, they directed at Nephi and anyone who spoke for him (1 Nephi 18:17).
    Normally, children and the entire household were expected to be obedient and reverent to the father, and sons did not sit in the presence of their father without an invitation, nor did they express opinions without permission.
    In the first four chapters of the second book of Nephi, we find Lehi preaching to each of his sons, the sons of Ishmael, and others, about the promises of the Lord, and calling his sons and those of Ishmael to repentance, and how they should conduct their lives, all without an utterance of objection or discord from anyone. But after Lehi’s death (2 Nephi 4:12), Nephi states that he “did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren. But behold, their anger did increase against me, insomuch that they did seek to take away my life” (2 Nephi 5:1-2).
    It should also be noted that after a father died, his place was usually taken over by the eldest son, who then became the father of the whole household, including its aged members. Unless he proved unworthy of his position, he received all the rights, loyalty, and privileges of his father before him. However, there are cases cited in the Bible where the father has designated a successor other than his oldest son. For instance, Joseph became the father of the tribes in Jacob’s stead after Reuben had proved unworthy, and Solomon was appointed by David to be his successor, and Nephi became the leader of the posterity of Lehi, a fact which angered the descendants of Laman and Lemuel throughout the history of the Book of Mormon.
(See the next post, “The Marrying of Lehi’s Sons – Part II,” for more on the customs and manners surrounding the marriage covenant in ancient Israel and among the sons of Lehi)

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