Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nephites Were Not Wanderers

Hugh Nibley said, “Throughout their entire history the Book of Mormon people remain either wanderers in the wilderness or dwellers in close proximity to it. The motif of the flight into the wilderness is found throughout the book, and has great religious significance as the type and reality of the segregation of the righteous from the wicked and the position of the righteous man as a pilgrim and an outcast on the earth. Both Nephites and Lamanites always retained their nomadic ways.”

It is disturbing that such a scholar as Nibley so blatantly states a situation that is not factual according to the Book of Mormon. First of all, Nephi tells us about his father and, thus, himself and his three older brothers: “my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days” (1 Nephi 1:4), and that “his own house” was at Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:7), telling us that Lehi and his family lived at Jerusalem until Lehi, himself, was at least fifty or, more likely, sixty years old before the Lord told him to leave. They wandered in the wilderness for 8 years (1 Nephi 17:4), probably two or three of those years in the valley he named Lemuel while he sent his boys back to get the brass plates, which he read and prophesized about, then sent the boys back to get Ishmael and his family, then make preparations for five weddings, etc., all of which would have taken some amount of time, before setting out on their trek to the seashore of Irreantum.

They settled along the seashore for up to two years while they built the ship that would take them to their final destination. There, in the Land of Promise, Lehi settled down to his permanent and last home before dying a few years after arriving. In effect, then, Lehi and his family lived at Jerusalem and, after a lengthy trip, in the Land of Promise—two locations. Nephi, himself, lived in only a third location after being driven out of his first home in the Land of Promise and traveling to a specific location, which he called the Land of Nephi, and constructed a city, called the City of Nephi.

None of this is indicative of a “wandering” or nomadic people.

Jacob, who Nibley quotes as saying “And it came to pass that I, Jacob, began to be old; and . . . I conclude this record, declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge, by saying that the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out of Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days” (Jacob 7:26), to indicate that Jacob thought of himself and his people as “wanderers.”

However, Jacob, born in the wilderness, really knew only one home, and that was the City of Nephi, which he lived in from the time he was perhaps ten, until he died. His comment, “wanderers, cast out of Jerusalem” is a metaphor, or figure of speech, since neither Jacob, nor anyone else during his many years in the City of Nephi knew of Jerusalem, or were cast out of it, other than Nephi himself. In this sense, Jacob was speaking of himself and the Nephites as prophets have always spoken of the House of Israel as a whole—not as individually involved.

Nibley adds, “The Nephites never ceased to think of themselves in those melancholy terms. Five hundred years after Jacob, Alma could write that his people were both blessed and sorrowful in their wandering state. Because of their isolation, he says, God gives them special revelation, and glad tidings "are made known to us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored" (Alma 13:23). God, he says, has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land (Alma 26:36).” Yet, again, Nibley misses the main point of such comments.

In this, Alma was speaking of the Nephites as a cast off branch of the House of Israel. He is not melancholy about not being in Jerusalem or Israel since he, nor anyone he ever knew, had any knowledge of Israel or Jerusalem as a place—only as a center of their religion, that is, where that religion began and was settled for a thousand years or more. It would be much like us on earth being melancholy for our original home in heaven and feeling we are “wanderers on earth.” It is metaphoric, not literal.

Nibley goes on to continue his dialogue about the “wandering ways” of the Nephites. Yet, they were a people who, from about 550 B.C., had one basic home—the Land of Nephi and the City of Nephi. Not until the Lord told Mosiah to resettle around 200 B.C., did they Nephites “wander” again, and then only for a short time until they reached the city of Zarahemla in the Land of Zarahemla, where they then remained until about 350 A.D. Of course, they spread out, occupying the entire northern area of the Land Southward, but not as wanderers, but as settlers. Yet, Zarahemla remained their capital city for some 550 years. Nor did they “wander” away from Zarahemla anymore then they “wandered” away from the City of Nephi, or earlier, from the area of their landing, but in all cases were driven out by the Lamanites and the wars.

Nibley can ask “What comfort did the Nephites take in their wanderings?” and “Why did the Nephites continue their wanderings in the New World?” but neither question is accurate, for at no time were the Nephites “wanderers.” Nor could they be considered “nomadic” under any circumstances. That the Lamanites obviously fit the latter label, it was not the Nephites who wandered from place to place—their entire history in the Book of Mormon reflects a stable people, who remained in their homeland without any interest of moving out unless they were driven out. Nor could their movement into the Land Northward be considered “wandering” or “nomadic” since they went there to “inherit the land,” that is, take control and settle in the land that was promised to them by the Lord.

No comments:

Post a Comment