In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Subtle hints of possible bondage for Nephi/Lehi while traveling in the wilderness

Nephi/Lehi and family traveling in the wilderness

So I recently happened upon an interesting article on the Neal A. Maxwell Institute website called, "A Case For Lehi's Bondage in Arabia" by S. Kent Brown.  In this article he shares points that make a case for Lehi and his family (including Ishmael's family) being possibly subject to the service of tribesmen while making their journey in the wilderness.  This could be something as simple as being employed by a specific tribe to being basically slaves to a tribe.  A timeline of Lehi's travels needs to be taken into consideration for a better understanding as to why this may be so.  If Lehi's family took 8 years to travel from Jerusalem to what they considered "the land of Bountiful" on the Arabian coast probably somewhere in Yemen or Oman (Wadi Sayq).  At most two of those years were taken in the expedition from Jerusalem to Nahom (probably less), I say this because as S. Kent Brown points out there are caravan traders nowdays who can preform this feet in a matter of months.  

Heading eastward from Nahom towards present day Wadi Sayq takes one through territory controlled by warring tribes.  Dr. Brown shows that this has been the way it has been for the last 2000 years.  "Its been a place of inhospitable tribes and slave trafficking. Modern explorers have learned about the hazards of crossing from one tribal area into another.  There is a system known as "rafiq" It means that travelers must be accompanied by a member of a tribe while they are moving throught the tribes territiory.  This is the only way for guarenteed saftey.  This also means bargaining with tribal leaders for safe passage and paying the agreed price for such protection and other services.  However, when travelers reach the tribe's boundary, they have to negotiate with the leaders of the next tribe, again paying an agreed price."

According to S. Kent Brown there are keys or subtle hints that can be found in the Book of Mormon that could lead one to believe or at least speculate that Lehi and his family could have spent a portion of their time while traveling from Nahom to what they considered Bountiful in “bondage” or “captivity”. As stated by Brown,

Arabian Map of Lehi's Travels
“This endlessly nettlesome situation, referred to elsewhere in the Book of Mormon seems to lie behind language about the trek such as “enemies” (Omni1:6; Alma9:10), “battle” and “bondage” (Alma 9:22), and being “smitten with …sore afflictions” (Mosiah1:17). If, of the eight years in the wilderness, only two had passed when the party reached Nahom, do the records themselves say that the party spent a disproportionate amount of time crossing the last 700 miles from Nahom, where they began to “travel nearly eastward” until they reached “the sea” (1 Nephi 17:1,5)?

The first key leading to this conclusion is in regards to Nephi’s use of the phrase, “to sojourn”. He stated that “we did travel nearly eastward…and wade through much affliction... [God] did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness. And we did sojourn for the space of …eight years in the wilderness.” Kent points out that the Bible term to sojourn usually refers to a servile relationship. This in the worst case scenario could be a slave and owner or best case scenario could be an employer and employee relationship. The fact that Nephi modeled his story on the Israelite slaves in Egypt is also a point of consideration. Dr. Brown also noted the phrases used in 1 Nephi 17 when Nephi stated, “we did…wade through much affliction”; “our women did bear children in the wilderness”; “our women have toiled, being big with child”; “it would have been better that [our women] had died” and posed the question of, “Do undocumented challenges lie within these lines?” To me this does bring up the question why did it take Lehi’s family (with Ishmael’s family and any others) 6 years to cross something that most Bedouin tribes can cover in a matter of months?

The next key is when Lehi is blessing his youngest son Joseph. When referring to his families sojourn in the wilderness he describes it as “the wilderness of mine affliction” and “the days of my greatest sorrow” (2 Nephi 3:1). As pointed out by Hugh Nibley, Lehi was more than likely a very prosperous trader and knew the life of traveling in a caravan and the dangers associated with being a trader in the desert. Although his family does complain about his visions they never complain about his ability to survive in the wilderness and this seems to be because it may have been his profession. So traveling through the wilderness shouldn’t have been the cause of his “greatest sorrow”. So we ask the question, was there more to Lehi’s sojourn in the wilderness that caused this sorrow? It seems to be the case. As a matter of fact the case seems to be supported when compared to the language used by Lehi when speaking to his children and grandchildren before his death. He uses language that recalls slavery such as “shake off the awful chains” by which they “are carried away captive,” being “led according to the …captivity of the devil”2 Nephi 1:13, 18).

Although Dr. Brown points to a few other keys some of the remaining keys leading to this speculative conclusion include the words of King Benjamin (as abridged by Mormon) both of whom had the full record of the account at their dispose. Both of whom were very familiar with the story. It is subtle hints such as in Mosiah 1:17 when in Mormons words, the party “did not… progress in their journey, but were driven back…and …were smitten with famine and sore afflictions”. These were things that we know did happen in the first two years of their mission but upon reaching Nahom there is no more mention of them being “driven back” and “not progressing” other than when Nephi broke his bow but they were not driven back though. Upon heading east from Nahom they would have found themselves in a more hostile territory with lack of water, lack of population, and little or no law. So the use of phrases such as “driven back” and speaking of “famine and sore afflictions” would fit right into a “sojourn” or “bondage of necessity” in these hostile lands.

The last key that I will touch on is noted in Alma 36 by Alma the younger (who also had access to the records and the full account of Nephi and Lehi) who compared a parallelism between “our fathers of Jerusalem” speaking of Lehi’s generation and that of “our fathers of Egypt” speaking of the Hebrew slaves and he states that the Lord has basically delivered them both out of bondage and captivity from time to time even down to this present day. (Alma 36:28, 29) Alma is speaking about both Lehi’s generation and the history of his people all the way to Alma the younger so the bondage in this statement may be questionable but parallelism is unquestionable.

When we look at the evidence being presented it should be obvious that something does not add up. There had to be something that delayed Lehi and Nephi’s group and caused them to take 6 plus years to cover 700 miles. Even when taking into consideration that they would have probably planted some crops and had to farm the territory to survive (if possible in this area) it still shouldn’t have taken more than two to three years. With that knowledge Dr. S. Kent Brown’s theory does make sense and would add clarity. Unfortunately we will have to put this in our speculation file and wait for further revelation or for the other two thirds of the plates to be translated to know for sure.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fortifications, Watchtowers and City/State Leadership found in Mayan Civilization and Book of Mormon

Rock Wall covered in vegetation used as a border
marker built by ancient Mayans

For those of you who know me you know that I have a fascination with archaeology and anthropology especially in correlation with Book of Mormon lands. So when I stumbled across an article by Zach Zorich entitled, “Defending a Jungle Kingdom” on I was quite impressed with some of the recent findings that have taken place on the Mexico/Guatemala border.

In the mountainous rainforest’s of Mexico and Guatemala the Usumacinta River forms a natural border. This border was crisscrossed by constantly moving borders and boundries made by different Mayan kings used to mark their kingdom territory. Although these borders were constantly expanding and decreasing due to the size of a kingdoms influence there is still very little evidence of these actual kingdom borders. Little was known until a recent discovery of a series of stone walls about three to six feet tall. These walls extend the better part of a four mile stretch through the rainforest separating the kingdoms of Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras and were used to protect Yaxchilan’s northern border. The team of researchers were able to better understand what they were looking at with the help of the Guatemalan park guides who actually used the same walls when then themselves were participating in the Guatemalan civil war that took place in the 80’s and 90’s (I can almost hear Hugh Nibley asking, then have we progressed at all in the past 1300 years?).I

n the article it states, “The rough terrain limits the routes that a person can easily walk through the area. Once the archaeologists knew what they were looking for, finding the walls became easy. Just outside of Tecolote, an ancient town 10 miles north of Yaxchilan, every path seems to lead to a stone wall between two hills. Evidence of watchtowers on top of the hills indicates that soldiers had a place from which to watch for approaching enemies. “They are not building one super-wall. They are building little walls between all these little hills that they can control very easily,” says Charles Golden of Brandeis University who is one of the research team who came to the region in 2003, “It creates an easy funnel. They can catch anyone going south or north through the valleys.” The walls themselves would block the path of the enemy’s advance. “It’s a natural control point”.

The use of watchtowers in Mayan warfare immediately triggers a knee jerk reaction to the use of these watchtowers in the Book of Mormon. For instance in Mosiah 19: when Gideon is about to slay the fleeing wicked King Noah who flees to the top of the tower where King Noah sees the Lamanites withing the borders of the land of Shemlon. Or in Alma 46:36 where Captain Moroni causes that the Title of Liberty be hoisted on top of every tower in the land. Now whether these towers be Mesoamerican type of pyramid temples or watchtower fortresses both would fit very nicely in a Mesoamerican setting.

Watchtower/Fortress built along Maya border fortifications
Also noted in the article it state, “Near the walls, the team has documented a series of these settlements: Chicozapote, La Pasadita, Tecolote, and El Tunel. The warriors who defended the border probably lived in these settlements with their families. The settlements were ruled by sajals, who were counselors to the king, administrators, and war leaders responsible for defending the border and leading attacks against the kingdom’s enemies.”These sajal’s or administrators to the king also fit very nicely into the Book of Mormon setting especially when we look at the story of Ammon and Lamoni. Lamoni being king in the land of Ishmael and upon his conversion helped Ammon to go to the land of Manti to free his brethren only to run into Lamoni’s father who was king over all the land. Here we see kind of a city/state relationship where Lamoni’s father is the king over all the state while Lamoni is king over the city or land of Ishmael.

Although there have been ancient fortress fortifications found in the new world and the city/state kingship is nothing new I think that the more these types of evidences surface the better our understanding of the Mayan civilization will become and the more correlations we will be able to see to those of the Book of Mormon.