Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Journey to Bountiful and the Building of Nephi’s Ship – Part I

Lehi’s eight-year journey to Bountiful, in addition to recounting the many difficulties and encounters along the Arabian desert, down past the Red Sea and across the Rub’al Khali or Empty Quarter, culminates with the building of Nephi’s ship—a seemingly task of extreme difficulty for a family that not only had never been to sea, but knew nothing of ships and their construction as far as the scriptural record informs us.
After we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea”

Once in that ship, the course they took to reach the Land of Promise has elicited so much controversy over the years, that nearly every theorist has shied away from even trying to determine their path. Instead, just placing them somewhere that meets their belief and model location of the land of Promise.
    From what they write, it is almost as though the Lord picked them up on the shores of the Arabian Peninsula and set them down on the shores of the Land of Promise for all these theorists have written about the matter. While few even ask the question regarding this path and what was involved, John L. Sorenson has suggested: “The fragmentary information in the text has led Latter-day Saints to pay but cursory attention to the voyages and their significance for the history and culture of Book of Mormon peoples” (Sorenson, Transoceanic Crossings, Religious Studies Center, BYU University, Provo, UT, 1988, pp251-270).
    However, it seems that other reasons exist that have kept many theorists, even Sorenson himself, from detailing the scientific and factual information regarding such a voyage in 600 B.C. So let us consider the steps outlined in the scriptural record.
    First of all, this journey to Bountiful began because the Jews at Jerusalem, where Lehi preached (1 Nephi 1:18) sought to take away his life (1 Nephi 1:20), and the Lord commanded Lehi that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:2). As Nephi recorded, “The Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold, they have rejected the prophets, and Jeremiah have they cast into prison. And they have sought to take away the life of my father, insomuch that they have driven him out of the land” (1 Nephi 7:14).
    Of course, there was far more to the Lord’s reasoning than the deterioration of the Jewish community in Palestine that led to this departure. One that Lehi was eventually told, in that the Lord had given him a “land of promise” as a refuge and a reward (1 Nephi 5:5). A new land where he was to build up the Lord’s people with his posterity.
When, after eight years in the wilderness, and following some time crossing the largest sand desert in the world, Lehi and his party made their way through the Dhofar Mountains and breasted the ridges of the crescent-shaped Jabal al Qara, or Qara Mountains. Before them stretched the narrow coastal Salalah Plain about 5 to 7 miles deep and 28 miles wide, of green land facing southward into the Arabian Sea, backed by the steep escarpment of the mountains separating this well-watered, verdant region from the sand desert to the north. Since there is only one Pass through the limestone Qara Mountains to the Salalah coast, Lehi would have taken this route which goes through the Thammarit Pass and is now the modern Salalah/Thammarit road—a route that has been in use for thousands of years.
    The hills down which the party traveled were covered with waist-high grass and clumps of stately jumaise-sycamore fig trees, adjacent to the hills, all of which during the monsoon season are covered with mist and rain and the vegetation is luxuriantly tropical, as several flowing wadis empty into the sea across this plain.  Wild flowers and equally wild honeybees were pursuing their mutual duties over the hills and honeycombs were stacked almost carelessly in hollow trees and within nearby caves. Myrtle, white jasmine and acacia trees, along with the sycamore, fill the land, and almost hidden above khor Rori amidst a wonderland of waving jungle is a well-dressed green rolling meadow containing beautiful Lake Darbat, which curves northward for two miles and branches out to the south in various channels across the elevated meadows, making the entire area extremely fertile. Minosa, willow, and fig trees, along with luxuriant creepers covered the banks with waterhens, herons and ducks moving about the bullrushes.
    It is important to understand that this entire area was kept in complete secrecy to outside people with this entire area of Salalah and the Frankincense trees and production were completely unknown outside a small number of local Adites, who had garnered the Frankincense market. As early as 430 BC, Herodotus wrote that the incense trees somewhere in Arabia were guarded by winged serpents that hung about every tree and killed anyone who approached. As late as the first century AD, Pliny the Elder was claiming “only the aroma of the -----can drive the serpents away,” and about the same time Strabo wrote that Cattabania, in Arabia, produced frankincense, with myrrh and cinnamon forests in (Somalia) Africa.
    Stated differently, even the most knowledgeable writers of the period (last century BC to first century AD), had no clear idea where Frankincense trees grew and where the incense for market was produced. In fact, archaeologists claim that historic records and evidence available is insufficient “to date the early history of ancient South  Arabia, because the first absolutely reliable dating starts with the military campaign of Aelius Gallus in 25 BC, and the mention of the king Ilasaros (Greek name for El Sharih Yahdhib, 60-20 BC), who was of the Bakil federation, the largest tribal federation in Yemen.
So unknown was the location of the Frankincense trees and production area, that according to the Greek geographer Strabo, in the year 25 BC, the Roman Prefect Aelius Gallus started an expedition to Arabia Felix under orders of Augustus against Saba' (in Yemen), with the intent of capturing the Frankincense market. However, the expedition ended in critical failure and the Romans accused a Nabataean guide called "Syllaeus" of misleading them. Less than 100 Romans of the 10,000 sent, survived the expedition. This was done at the time Ilasaros was ruler of Hadhramaut (Yemen).
    Thus, we can easily conclude that Salalah had no ship building capabilities during the time of Lehi, and no ship manufacturing program to attract people and passing ships toward Oman ports, especially in the south along the Dhofar shore. To suggest otherwise, as so many theorists do, is to not understand the resistance of the Adite people of allowing any outsides into the area to discover the Frankincense operational region.
    Once the Adite Arabs, began and controlled the Frankincense trade, they limited the access of ships from the east (India, China, and later Greece) to sail no further than northern Oman or beyond the Persian Gulf, and those from the west (the (Mediterranean, Egypt and north Africa) to sail no further than the Yemen-Oman border, and none to reach Dhufar (Salalah)—making sure that no outsiders had any access to the producers of Frankincense.
    Thus, the map locations of these areas were little known, and seldom communicated. Even the descriptions of this area by classical writers and geographers, from the 4th century BC to the 2nd century AD, which include Arrian, Strabo, Erothasthenes, Polybius, Artemidorus, Galles, Pliny, Ptolomy, and Herodotus, were sketchy at best—and all their descriptions were based on second- and third-hand accounts. Only the unknown Greek author of the Peripus of the Enthyrean Sea gives an account of an actual visit to what we now know to be Dhofar and in doing so, nearly revealed its secret location.
    In fact such secrets of antiquity were held in high regard—we don’t even know today the location of Solomon’s gold acquisition known in Biblical times only as Ophir (Ofir). Despite its reported value of $60-trillion, the whereabouts of this gold mine region is simply unknown. The ancients kept valued property and resources so secret, its disclosure often meant the death penalty. When the Roman Emperor Augustus called Aelius Gallus in 24 BC to take his Roman army and capture the incense country, he sailed to Yemen, having been misled by false information from his Nabatean Arab guide, who was trying to protect his peoples’ secret source of wealth. Gallus attacked Najran, the wrong city, and eventually withdrew, but only a few Romans survived out of the 10,000 who began the march of conquest.
Even Marco Polo in the 13th century, wrote of the Frankincense trade, but did not mention its location. And an 1853 map in the Library of Congress, published by the Superintendent of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, stated of this area: “nothing known of this coast or of the interior.” Not until Dr. Wendell Phillips and his scientific expedition to Salalah, Dhufar in 1952, when “prior to this the history of Dhufar was unknown except for a few uncertain references,” was actual light shed on the beauty and greenery, the gushing streams, waist-high grass, and fruitful gardens of this paradise, where acres of ancient ruins at Robat were found adjacent to the small sleepy village of Salalah. Then in 1981, National Geographic magazine (Vol160, No.3, p369, September 1981) reported “the continuation of the annual monsoon rains at Dhufar which carpets the hills in green, the only such lush pastureland in all Arabia.”
    Thus, this area, completely protected by natural barriers, was unknown to the western world long after the publication of the Book of Mormon, that the present Dhufar, Oman, was first described as an isolated pocket of verdant, green country as well as the very source of the aromatic gum frankincense so priceless in trade in ancient times (D. H. Carter, “A Descriptive Account of the ruins of El Balad,” Salalah, Dhufar, Oman translations of the Bombay Geographical Society, Article XIV, Dec 1846, pp25-27).
    In fact, Salalah was the traditional capital of Dhofar, which reached the peak of prosperity in the 13th century AD because of the Frankincense trade, but by the 19th century had deteriorated significantly and was absorbed by the Sultanate of Muscat, and in the late 20th century Sultan Sayyid Qaboosa bin Said al Said, who was born in Salalah, moved the capital 550 miles north in 1972 to Muscat.
    Despite this unknown knowledge of the area of Salalah in Joseph Smith’s time, this inexperienced, unschooled and untraveled New England farmer described the area perfectly—a fertile green land separated from the huge desert. He wrote of this area: “We did come to a land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey (1 Nephi 17:5).
    Now, for those who keep talking about the area being populated when Lehi arrived, we should keep in mind when these successive ports were first occupied which was long after Lehi arrived and left: Khor Rori (4th century BC to the 5th century AD) and Al Baleed (200 AD till 16th century AD) and a contemporary outpost, Shisr (325 BC), about 105 miles inland, represent in a unique way the distribution of frankincense which was produced in the wadis of the coastal hinterland. Also the settlements of Salalah (200 BC), Sumhuram (100 BC), and Wadi Dawkah (100 BC).
(See the next post, “The Journey to Bountiful and the Building of Nephi’s Ship – Part II,” for the building of Nepih’s ship and their journey across the sea)


  1. What I find interesting is that Lehi crossed an area of the desert that was at the time controlled by two tribes, those of 'Ad and Thamood.

    In the Quran, the Islamic scriptures, there is a prophet named Hud that traveled amongst the tribes of Thamood and 'Ad, calling them to repentance, and they didn't listen. According to Quran both the local tribes perished due to the launching of sandstorms against them both.

    We read in the Book of Mormon, they weren't even allowed to light fires at night so as not to attract attention. They ate the meat raw. It is a hypothesis that Father Lehi is the Hud mentioned in the Quran.

    Hud in Arabic is a shortened form of Yehud, which means Jew. Not too many Jewish prophets went down into south Arabia to teach the people. Most Muslims associate Hud with Eber but there is lack of Biblical evidence that Eber went that far south. My hypothesis is that Hud is Lehi, given that he traveled through the same regions.