Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lehi’s Possessions When He Left Jerusalem

The Lord told Lehi to flee into the desert because the Jews sought his life (1 Nephi 1:20). We know from Nephi’s record that Lehi took tents, seeds, and what was needed to live in the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:4).

The question is, where did he get these items on the spur of the moment and why did he have them?

First of all, the tents of Lehi's day were not simple pup tents or camp tents like those of our time, but large, roomy, multi-roomed tents weighing around 500 pounds and requiring three donkeys (or camels) to transport—one animal to carry the roof, one the walls, and another the partitions. These tents were laborious to make, requiring a time-consuming process of weaving the fabric out of durable goats' hair. In addition, the Israelites were not tent dwellers, and when traveling throughout the land of promise camped in caves—tents were generally found only among desert dwellers like the Arabs, especially the Bedouins.

For an Israelite, possession of such tents would have had to serve some particular and reoccurring purpose for Lehi to justify their cost and size—since storage space in his time was minimal, especially within the city walls where houses were small, multi-storied and animals often were stabled on the ground floor. Nor would he have purchased these tents, even if they were available in Jerusalem, which is doubtful, since he would have not wanted anyone to know his plans. Some time later, after reaching the Valley of Lemuel and the sons returned for the brass plates, Nephi, after overcoming Zoram and convincing him to join the colony, makes this secrecy clear. "We were desirous that he should tarry with us for this cause, that the Jews might not know concerning our flight into the wilderness, lest they should pursue us and destroy us" (1 Nephi 4:36).

Obviously, this supports the fact that the provisions they took with them, including tents, animals and seeds, were not purchased in Jerusalem, but were on hand in the Lehi household. Lehi would have left Jerusalem with no one the wiser. When sending the brothers back for the plates, Lehi obviously warned Nephi not to let the Jews know of his whereabouts or destination. Despite the colony being two hundred miles from Jerusalem, separated by two kingdoms and numerous sheikdoms, Lehi still must have felt insecure for the hatred of the Jews toward those who preached of their sins was well known.

If Lehi had his home a few miles from Jerusalem, living on the “lands of his inheritance,” he would have to provide for his own food and sustenance. This would probably mean raising goats, sheep, fruits and "all manner of grains." This could have led to his supplying his abundance beyond his needs to one of the “sugs” or markets, in the old, walled city of Jerusalem, including grapes or wine, since planting vineyards and producing wine was considered part of a settled life.

Such merchandising added to his possible broker/merchant business with passing Arab caravans (trading for, or buying, merchandise along the king’s highway and taking them up to Jerusalem and brokering them with local merchants). So, if Lehi did transact business with Arab caravans who passed along the king’s highway at the base of the hills upon which Jerusalem was built and where Lehi evidently lived, he would have taken his tents and donkeys down the mountain and camped along the trail awaiting the caravans that traveled across the desert on the Frankincense Trail from near the Arabian Sea in present-day Oman where the olibanm incense was harvested. Obviously, these caravans used camels for their transportation, but camels never went into Jerusalem because the city was built on a mountain where shale deposits were found that cut into the soft underfoot pads of the camel’s feet—only donkeys went up the hill to Jerusalem.

All of this, of course, could account in part for his being a wealthy man, and as a planter, it would account for why Lehi had seeds of every kind on hand when told to flee the city (1 Nephi 16:11; 18:24), while being a broker/merchant, why he had tents for encamping along the king’s highway waiting for the passing caravans. Which would also explain why he had a pack of donkeys for both transporting tents and products up and down the mountain.

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