Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How Did We Get to a Limited Theory for the Land of Promise Geography? – Part I

In the scriptural record, we learn that Lehi was commanded by the Lord to take his family into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:2). In doing so, we learn that Lehi went into the wilderness with “his family, and provisions, and tents” (1 Nephi 2:4), and headed toward the south, and “he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 2:5), near the area today known as Eilat, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern arm of the Red Sea. From there, Nephi tells us “he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:5) for three days (1 Nephi 2:6), when he came to a “valley by the side of a river of water” (1 Nephi 2:6) and pitched his tent.
Lehi’s journey into the wilderness from Jerusalem to the Valley of Lemuel

That distance from Jerusalem to Eilat is 198 miles. From Eilat to the valley that Lehi called Lemuel, was another three-day journey, about 100 miles further, making a total distance of about 298 miles from Jerusalem to the valley where he encamped—or approximately ten days of travel.
    Now, skipping ahead through the time spent in the Valley of Lemuel, Nephi tells us that after Lehi was “commanded on the morrow to take his journey into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:9), leaving the valley he called Lemuel, they “departed into the wilderness, across the river Laman, and traveled for the space of four days” (1 Nephi 16:12-13). They camped at this place, called Shazer, for a time, hunting and resting, before they left again on the second leg of this journey and “did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 16:14).
    On this second leg of the journey along the Red Sea, theydid travel for the space of many days, slaying food by the way, with our bows and our arrows and our stones and our slings. And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness. And after we had traveled for the space of many days, we did pitch our tents for the space of a time, that we might again rest ourselves and obtain food for our families” (1 Nephi 16:15-17).
Lehi’s travel from the Valley of Lemuel along the Red Sea

How long they traveled on these first two legs of their journey along the Red Sea is unknown, but after ten days to the first encampment, they traveled “four days,” then again traveled “many days,” before pitching tents and encamping for second time along the journey.
    One of the important factors to keep in mind is that westerners, when traveling, go from point A to point B, typically in the fastest way possible, or at a leisurely pace, but movement in a more or less direct line is the method used. Such has never been the case in the Middle East. Nomadic Jews, Bedouins, and Arabs, when traveling in the desert, do so with animals, tents and supplies meant to carry them over for lengthy periods of time, as they live off the grass and water available.
    It would be a mistake to judge Lehi’s travel down by and along the Red Sea according to the standards of a westerner’s travel. Instead, we have to understand the travel norms of the nomadic Middle Easterner.
    Generally speaking, they will stay in an area as long as the there is enough grass and both animals and humans are fully rested. Where grazing land is more scarce nomads roam across large swaths of empty plains, mountains and grassland, having to travel longer distances and pack up and move maybe ten or so times a year or as often as twice a week. Moving the animals around also allows the grass to grow back.
    It is also important to keep in mind that the process of setting up tents, cooking arrangements and the camp is a lengthy effort, generally handled by the women while the men hunted and took care of the animals. Tents were set up and arranged only when the group was planning to stay for several days or weeks. When they break camp for another trek, they take down and roll up their tents and load up their possessions on their camels and move on to place with food for their animals. Water is carried for people and the smaller animals, and before leaving, the camels are taken to a trough and encouraged to drink as much as possible before the trek begins.
    This is very different than spending the night along the trail during a travel of several days from water hole to water hole, as Nephi describes: “when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent” (1 Nephi 2:6); “after we had traveled for the space of many days, we did pitch our tents for the space of a time” (1 Nephi 16:17), and “after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again” (1 Nephi 16: 33). In such daily stopovers for the night, no tents are set up and the party sleeps out in the open under the stars with only blankets for protection. Cooking, if any, is kept to a minimum—often cold meals are eaten and the evening stopover is as brief as light and orientation allowed.
Setting up and taking down tents and establishing and breaking a camp area took time and was not done every night on the march but only after several days of journeying so the party and animals could rest

Thus, how long Lehi stayed in any encampment before traveling again is simply unknown; however, it has been the pattern since the beginning that such nomadic movement is based on the available grass or pasturing of the animals—vegetation in this desert makes up less than ten percent of the land—and the available water for both humans and animals, typically camels, sheep and goats. Of this sporadic travel from their first camp in the Valley of Lemuel to Bountiful, Nephi tells us they spent eight years in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:4)
    During one of these stop overs for a campsite, Nephi broke his steel bow and his brothers’ bows lost their spring (1 Nephi 16:18,21). After Nephi made another bow, hunted, and they ate and rested for a time, the party again continued their journey, “traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning, and after traveling for many days, they pitched their tents again (1 Nephi 16:33), that they might tarry for a time. After another lengthy rest they took their journey again, this time traveling nearly eastward (1 Nephi 17:1), before finally reaching the seashore, in the area Lehi called Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:5), where they pitched their tents by the seashore (1 Nephi 17:6).
    In this journey, which covered a distance of about 2164 miles from the Valley of Lemuel to Bountiful, or 2463 miles overall from Jerusalem to Bountiful, the entire trip was basically within the Arabian Peninsula. Perhaps to better understand this length of travel, the distance from the Valley of Lemuel to Bountiful is almost the same distance as from the northern border of Ecuador to the southern border of Peru. Stated differently, the distances covered by the Lehi party was not much different than the entire area covered in the Book of Mormon Land of Promise once Nephi reached the city he called Nephi.
    The point, of course, is that distances covered in the Book of Mormon are very misleading since we have only a glimpse here and there of such travel, and rarely any way of comparing that travel to a known distance. Because of this, the idea of a Limited Geography of the Land of Promise needs to be considered in the light of what takes place, not what a group of theorists want to claim so it will match their small area in Mesoamerica.
    It should also be kept in mind that the area through which Lehi traveled is only a narrow slice of land within the Peninsula of Arabia—that is, they did not cover the entire land mass any more than the Land of Promise in South America covers the entire continent, or that we have an understanding of the entire land mass of the Land of Promise from the meager descriptions of that land within the scriptural record.
    Theorists would do well to restrict their remarks and beliefs to what is within the scriptural record, not what they believe, or their models dictate.
    While it is true that in the early days of the Church, members in general thought the Land Northward was the entire North America, the Land Southward was the entire South America, and the Narrow Neck of Land was all of Central America, which of course the scriptural record’s descriptions do not justify within the restricted area of Lehi’s Land of Promise; however, to then discard the concept of the entire Western Hemisphere in favor of a very small area in Mesoamerica is just as mistaken.
(See the next post, “How Did We Get to a Limited Theory for the Land of Promise Geography? – Part II,” for more on this and the involvement of Hugh Nibley and John L. Sorenson moving BYU archaeology toward this assumption)

No comments:

Post a Comment