Saturday, July 7, 2018

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

Continued from the previous post regarding the journey to the land of Bountiful and the building of Nephi’s ship.
    It is interesting that so many theorists have wondered in their writings why Lehi had to build a ship, why not simply purchase one for certainly he was a wealthy man and could have brought some of that wealth with him for such a purpose.
Camel markets were set up along the King’s Highway around Jerusalem since there were no camels in Jerusalem and those traveling from there would exchange lesser animals once off the mountain for the superior camels

1. First of all, there seems little doubt that Lehi did bring some wealth with him, so that he could purchase camels from the camel markets once off the hills of Jerusalem, in exchange for his donkeys, since camels did not travel in and around Jerusalem. These desert animals were not found on the mountains in Lehi’s time and for centuries afterward, because the soil there was rocky with sharp flints that would have slashed their large, unhooved, cushion-like feet. This caused the camel caravans to bypass Jerusalem, forcing traders from the city to go down to meet the caravans as they passed Jerusalem to the east on the sandy roads (J. D. Douglas, ed., “King’s Highway,” The New Bible Dictionary, Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973, p700).
    Although there were camels in the city of Jerusalem once paved roads were built, (“Lawrence of Arabia” T.E. Lawrence requested 2000 camels from the British military for his Arab troops in the uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1916), Lehi would have had donkeys in 600 B.C., which were much better to negotiate the rocky paths and twisting alleys of Jerusalem, and fit beneath the overhanging arches and balconies.
    In this case, one donkey would have been needed to carry a single tent, with its poles, guy ropes, and pegs; another two donkeys to carry the walls, partitions, roof, rugs, and blankets, making three donkeys for a single tent—and there were at least three tents (1 Nephi 2:4;3:9), making at least nine donkeys for that purpose. Other donkeys would have been needed to carry household items, cooking pots and utensils, food, supplies, drinking water, fodder and grain for the animals, and bags of seed for future planting, including whatever furniture they might have taken, and perhaps one for Sariah to ride. It would have been a large family endeavor that left Lehi’s home outside Jerusalem. Evidently, to avoid notice, they probably left at night.
Trading donkeys for camels at the market along the road since the camels could carry much more and were better adapted to the desert

When they reached the valley and the King’s Highway or caravan route heading south toward the Red Sea, they would have encountered several camel markets where they would have traded and purchased camels to replace the donkeys, since camels are far superior and stronger pack animals and better fitted for desert travel than any other animal, including being able to carry more than donkeys—up to about 500 pounds per animal (closer to 350 pounds in hot weather and on a long journey). Very likely, they would have needed an additional camel or two that would be needed later when the women gave birth, it is likely that these women would have ridden a camel much of the time before and just after giving birth, very likely in large baskets tied on each side of the camel where, no doubt, young children would have also ridden during their eight years in the wilderness before reaching Bountiful.
    In fact, the unique qualities of the camel not only allow it to survive, but also to thrive under harsh desert conditions. With a leathery-type mouth, they are able to bite off and digest the thorny plants that grow in the desert that other animals avoid, store water and need little for days allowing for greater distance between stops, and with their long eyelashes can guard against sandstorms and close off their nostrils against the dust that injure horses and donkeys. They also have an acute sense of smell that makes them useful in finding sources of water.
A camel caravan across the desert had to follow the shortest path between water holes—often called a trail or road, it was not marked in any way and was essentially just a known route through the desert

Naturally, caravans like that of Lehi and Ishmael’s families, traveled when and where there was enough water and pasture land. South of the Dead Sea, Lehi would have entered the Arabah Valley divide, which is the southern extension of the Jordan Valley and part of the Great Rift as far as the Gulf of Aqabah. It is along this wadi Arabah in the southern part of the Negeb that Lehi traveled, where the soil lacks organic matter and liable to erosion. Called the reg, a form of desert pavement build-up that resists desert erosion, it is a vast, extreme desert flat, densely covered with angular rubble and pebbles. The soil that lies beneath this covering is fine-grained, and often rich in salt and gypsum, which due to its extreme dryness, is completely barren.
    In progress, a caravan averaged two to three miles per hour for eight to fifteen hours each day or, in hot weather, each night. In the case of Lehi’s passage, they traveled as Bedouins still do today, for several days with evening campsites, eating and sleeping out under the stars, and stopping after several days of this to rest up and pitch their tents and settle in for several days rest. This is seen in Nepih’s comment: “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 16:17).
2. Secondly, while Lehi “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), he would not have gone penniless, since any desert travel at the time would have required purchasing such things as protection and land use. After all, purchasing safe passage through land “claimed” by various tribes along the Red Sea was not only necessary, but vital. This was because all land in the desert was “owned” by one tribe or another, and they extracted fees for caravans and people stopping on their land. This would have been true in the valley Lehi named Lemuel, where they spent upwards of two years beside the small river and among the Acacia, False Fig and Tamarisk trees, while Nephi and his brothers acquired the brass plates, obtained Ishmael’s family, prepared for and conducted five marriages, and readied themselves for their long journey.
    In fact, in Abraham’s time, desert travel was so dangerous because of marauding groups, he bought slaves to use as armed guards for the movements of he and his large family and retenue. In Lehi’s time, the tribes that claimed ownership of certain areas, knowing how important it was for caravans to pass through because they brought goods and wealth to areas, guarded their portions of the route, charging a fee to those who crossed over it. In addition, we find that Lehi made sacrifices several times (1 Nepih 5:9; 7:22; 16:32) in those eight years and would have had to have purchased the animal to do so, since traveling across the desert with domestic animals is both difficult and time consuming.
Rain may not occur for years in some parts, with annual means less than an inch, yet the extensive sands provide more scope for plant growth than do some rock and gravel tracts in less arid northern Arabia
Finding grazing land for such animals is not always a simple matter, but quite difficult in an area where sparse desert scrub harbors a surprising variety of small birds, and short, woody shrub plants scattered across the desert—White Saxaul, Jointed Anabasis, Hammada salicornica and Santolina milfoil—provide an important food source for goats and camels, especially in the summer months, when the smaller succulent desert plants have all dried up.
    In this area, long-legged black beetles frequently tiptoe across the sand to keep its body off the hot ground, and eight variety of scorpions make the sand desert their home. Lizards, such as the Geckos and Agamas, can be seen basking on rocks in the sunlight and though there are snakes, they are infrequent and rarely seen when traveling through the desert; however, much of the land is plantless and where there is vegetation, it is found mainly in wadis where runoff moisture occurs.
    Likely, as not, Lehi did not bring much in the way of domestic animals with him, and the scriptural record does not suggest that he did. Thus, Lehi would have brought some money with him in order to make purchases and payments as required of him.
    As for the argument that some theorists make in not understanding why they had to build a ship rather than simply purchase one, it should be understood that while much time and labor would have been saved had they not had to build a ship, the work of doing so and the experience acquired, as well as having to rely upon the Lord for instruction, both toughened them physically, as well as spiritually, preparing them not only for the arduous voyage, but for the prospect of creating a new civilization in an unknown and empty world that the Lord had reserved for them—a task that would have required an ability to work together, rely on one another, trust in the Lord, and follow His direction. This opportunity was provided all in Lehi’s party; however, it did not take place or if it did at first, it did not last long among Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael. At least at first, there appears to have been a cooperative attitude among the more rebellious ones, as noted in “And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship” (1 Nephi 18:1).
    In addition, we have no knowledge of others being in the land that Lehi called Bountiful, as so many theorists claim. Even the scriptural record suggests there was no one around. If there had been, especially if there had been shipwrights in the area, and Salalah was a seaport town, it hardly seems likely that a specific revelation would be needed to show Nephi where to obtain ore and the effort needed to smelt it and then fashion the tools he needed.  He would not have had to rely on his brothers to assist him had local labor and expertise been available, nor frequent revelations about how to build the ship. Also, Laman and Lemuel could easily have returned to their beloved Jerusalem if they had merely arrived at the beginning of the incense trade route as some have suggested—instead, it appears from the scriptural record that they left willingly when the time came. But the truth of the matter is that there were no such seaports in the area—a little to the west in eastern Yemen existed a seaport town of Bi’r ‘ali, called Qanl’ (Kanê) anciently (Axelle Rougeulle, "Notes on pre- and early Islamic harbours of Ḥaḍramawt (Yemen),” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, Vol31, 2001, pp203–214). This seaport was part of the earliest shipping along the south Arabian Peninsula west of the Gulf of Oman, and did not exist until the first century AD.
    While there might have been a few farmers, and that is not even certain, there were no developments or settlements along the Salalah Plains of the Garbeeb, no structures that date to an earlier time than Lehi, nor even before 400 BC, two hundred years after Lehi left the area for the Land of Promise. And even if there had been, there is no reason to believe there would have been shipwrights in the area, since the Port of Khor Rori and the area of Salalah did not attract shipping and trade until much later as has been shown. After all, if there were any in the area who were familiar with such activity, surely Nephi would not have had to make fire by striking two stones together, nor would he have had to make his own bellows of skins to blow the fire (1 Nephi 17:10-11). With shipwrights I the area, he would not have needed to improvise such basic equipment if local people had such an industry.
(See the next post, “The Journey to Bountiful and the Building of Nephi’s Ship – Part IV,” for the building of Nepih’s ship and their journey across the sea)

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