Saturday, January 2, 2016

And My Father Dwelt In a Tent

Valley of Lemuel. Artwork by Joseph Brickey
In the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon Nephi records his family's flight from Jerusalem into the wilderness.

According to his record, upon reaching the environs of the Red Sea the group continued their journey for three more days until they came across a suitable place to encamp for a time.

The Book of Mormon terms the place in which they camped a "valley" but it was not the kind of valley that many readers of the Book of Mormon might imagine. In all probability it was what is known in the Near East as a wadi, and what those in the modern English-speaking world might call a canyon or a ravine.

One of the distinguishing features of this stopping place was a river or stream that the Book of Mormon suggests may have been a perennial one - an exceedingly rare phenomenon in the Arabian Peninsula (see 1 Nephi 2:8-9).

Apparently the wadi and its stream were either unnamed at that time or Lehi and his party were unaware of its name because Lehi dubs the wadi as the "Valley of Lemuel" and the stream as the "River of Laman" (1 Nephi 2:8,14). The Valley of Lemuel would become one of the most spiritually significant stopping points on their journey to the promised land.

It was during their sojourn in the Valley of Lemuel that Lehi's sons returned to Jerusalem for the Brass Plates and Ishmael's family. It was also during this time that both Lehi and Nephi had their famous visions of the Tree of Life. Regarding their time in the valley, Nephi recorded a succinct, and much commented upon phrase, which later editors would assign as its own verse. This phrase is found as verse 15 of 1 Nephi chapter 2 in the Book of Mormon:

Bedouin tent, Syrian desert. Wikimedia Commons.
"And my father dwelt in a tent"

This phrase is also found in at least three other passages of the Book of Mormon all of which are found in the portion of the record describing their sojourn in the Valley of Lemuel (1 Ne. 9:1; 1 Ne. 10:16; 1 Ne. 16:6).

Daniel Peterson has pointed out how this phrase conjures up the imagery of das wandernde Gottesvolk ("the wandering of God's people") which may have been Nephi's intent. Indeed, Nephi's phrase places Lehi and Nephi in good company with other prophet-wanderers including Abraham (Genesis 18:1), Jacob (Genesis 25:27) and perhaps most importantly Moses (Exodus 18:7).

A number of articles in Latter-Day Saint publications have pointed out how Nephi's account of his family's flight from Jerusalem parallels the exodus1. An article in the April 1987 issue of the Ensign lists several parallels between the accounts. Below are listed most of the parallels (modified slightly) that are included in the Ensign article:
  1. The Lord's guidance: 1 Ne. 1:6; 1 Ne. 16:16 & Ex. 13:21
  2. Oppressive conditions: 1 Ne. 1:20 & Ex. 1:11-16
  3. The Lord's command to depart: 1 Ne. 2:2 & Ex. 3:7-18
  4. Sacrifice to the Lord after three days' journey: 1 Ne. 2:6-7 & Ex. 3:18; Ex. 15:22; Ex. 20:25
  5. Murmuring against the Lord: 1 Ne. 2:11-12; 1 Ne. 5:2 & Ex. 15:24; Ex. 16:2-3
  6. Dwelling in tents: 1 Ne. 2:15 & Ex. 18:7; Ex. 33:8
  7. Promise of a new land of inheritance: 1 Ne. 2:20 & Ex. 3:17
  8. Victory over enemies: 1 Ne. 4:12 & Ex. 17:8-13
  9. Rebellious desire to return: 1 Ne. 7:6-7 & Ex. 14:12
  10. Divine instruction on a high mountain: 1 Ne. 11:1-14 & Ex. 19:19-31:18
  11. Revelatory devices: 1 Ne. 16:10 & Ex. 7:9-21; Ex. 8:16; Ex. 14:16
  12. Miraculous provision of food: 1 Ne. 17:3-5 & Ex. 16:11-18
  13. Prolonged wandering in the wilderness: 1 Ne. 17:4 & Ex. 16:35; Deut. 8:2
  14. Afflictions in the wilderness: 1 Ne. 17:26; 1 Ne. 18:8-23 & Ex. 14:21-22, 29; Ex. 15:19
  15. Two sons born in the wilderness: 1 Ne. 18:7 & Ex. 18:3-4
  16. The Lord's providential wind: 1 Ne. 18:8 & Ex. 14:21
  17. Wicked revelry: 1 Ne. 18:9 & Ex. 32:18-19
  18. Threat of divine retribution: 1 Ne. 18:20 & Ex. 32:10
  19. Inheritance of promised land: 1 Ne. 18:23-25 & Josh. 11:23
Indeed, even the very region in which the Valley of Lemuel was located may provide a link between Lehi's family and Moses.

"Departure of the Israelites", by David Roberts, 1829
As a young man, Moses killed an Egyptian whom he saw abusing one of his fellow Israelites. In fear for his safety, he fled Egypt and went to the land of Midian where he was taken in by Jethro's family and where he married one of Jethro's daughters, Zipporah (Exodus 2:15-21). Moses' flight from Egypt may have prefigured Israel's flight, for once they left they may have crossed the Sinai Peninsula and found refuge in Midian like Moses. Therefore, there exists a significant probability that Mt. Sinai was located in Midian rather than the traditionally accepted locale of the southern Sinai peninsula.

Eminent Harvard professor and Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Frank Moore Cross said as much in an interview with Hershel Shanks, editor of Bible Review, in the August 1992 issue:

The ancient land of Midian lies in the northwest corner of
modern-day Saudi Arabia.
FMC: The notion that the 'mountain of God' called Sinai and Horeb was located in what we now call the Sinai Peninsula has no older tradition supporting it than Byzantine times. It is one of the many holy places created for pilgrims in the Byzantine period.

HS: So you would place Sinai in what is today Saudi Arabia?

FMC: ... Yes, in the northwestern corner of Saudi Arabia, ancient Midian.

The importance of the Israelites' stay at Mount Sinai cannot be overstated. It was at Mount Sinai where the Israelites, with Moses at their head, experienced many of their most spectacular miracles while in the wilderness. It was upon the mount where Moses conversed with the Lord for forty days and where he received the law (Ex. 24:18). It was at the mount where the plans for the tabernacle were revealed to Moses and where it was constructed (Ex. 25-30). There are more chapters in Exodus devoted to the Israelite's stay at Sinai than any other period of their wanderings.

Interestingly, the best candidate for the Valley of Lemuel also sits in the ancient land of Midian where Mount Sinai may have been located. In May 1995 LDS scholar George Potter was exploring Midian, which lies in modern-day Saudi Arabia, when he came across a wadi, called Tayyib al Ism that seemed a likely candidate for the Valley of Lemuel. Potter wrote about his discovery in a Journal of Book of Mormon studies article entitled "A New Candidate in Arabia for the 'Valley of Lemuel'". In the article Potter notes that Tayyib al Ism shares key characteristics with the Valley of Lemuel, as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, including:
  1. Both contain a perennial river or stream   (1 Ne. 2:6, 8-9).
  2. Both streams are located within a "valley" or wadi (1 Ne. 2:6).
  3. Both streams empty into the Red Sea       (1 Ne. 2:8).
  4. Both are located within a three-day walk or camel ride of the northeast tip of the Red Sea (1 Ne. 2:5-6).
  5. Both are located within a "wilderness" or an area that is generally devoid of people (1 Ne. 2:6).
Therefore, the most significant stopping place in Nephi's journey also may have been the most significant stopping place for the Israelites during their wanderings. A fact evidently not lost on Nephi. 

Additionally, both Nephi and Moses appear to have had similar visionary experiences while in this land. Both were "caught up into an exceedingly high mountain" (Moses 1:1; 1 Ne. 11:1) and Nephi began acquiring relics sacred to the Nephites and which may have been placed in a Nephite version of the Ark of Covenant while in Midian similar to how Moses began acquiring the sacred relics for the Israelite ark while in Midian.

Window in the Saint Denis Basilica (Chapel St. Peregrine). 
The Ark of the Covenant. Abbot Suger, 12th century.
Don Bradley, in a fascinating presentation delivered at the 2012 FairMormon Conference entitled "Piercing the Veil: Temple Worship in the Lost 116 Pages", suggested that perhaps some of the relics that were passed from generation to generation among the righteous Nephites and which ended up in the stone box found by Joseph Smith may have been deposited into a Nephite ark and were analogous to the relics found in the Israelite ark. Interestingly, as Bradley points out in his article, Martin Harris referred to the stone box found by Joseph Smith as an "ark". According to the Bible the Israelite ark contained the stone tablets of the law (Ex. 25:16), the pot of manna (Ex. 16:33) and Aaron's budding rod (Heb. 9:4). Perhaps the Nephite relics paralleled the Israelite relics in the following ways, according to Don Bradley:

The Tablets of the Law: The Lord instructs Moses in Exodus 25:16 to place the stone tablets of the law, which the Lord would shortly give him, into the ark of the covenant. Bradley suggests that perhaps the gold plates may have served as an analog to Moses' stone tablets. While this seems a reasonable suggestion, I believe the brass plates were the more likely analog for the following reasons:
  1. According to Joseph Smith's sister, Catherine, the brass plates were indeed included in the stone box on the hill near the Smith home (source).
  2. Like the tablets of the law, the brass plates also contained the law (1 Ne. 4:16), whereas the gold plates did not.
  3. The gold plates were a work in progress and would not reach their completed form until after the destruction of the Nephite civilization (WM 1:1).
  4. Like Moses's stone tablets the brass plates may have been a possession of Moses, as suggested by Dann Hone. If this were the case, then the brass plates would have provided the Nephites with a concrete link to Moses and his authority.
Aaron's Rod & the Pot of Manna: Bradley, in his presentation, suggests that these two objects from the Israelite ark together could have found their analog in the Liahona found by Lehi outside the door of his tent, while in the Valley of Lemuel (1 Ne. 16:6,10). Bradley points out that the language used to describe the discovery of the Liahona was similar to that used in the Bible to describe the discovery of the manna:
  • The manna: Exodus 16:13-15: “In the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing…. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna, for they wist not what it was.” 
  • The Liahona: 1 Nephi 16:10: “As my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship”
Also, as Bradley points out, the Liahona was used by Lehi's family to find sustenance (1 Ne. 16:30-31) and therefore would be a fitting substitute for the manna. In addition, the Liahona was a revelatory device, as was Aaron's rod, as Bradley points out, and thusly would have been a fitting substitute:

Aaron’s rod had been an instrument for divining God’s will. To settle dispute [sic] over who had right to serve in the priestly role in the Tabernacle, each of the twelve tribes placed a rod before the Ark. Aaron’s rod then budded, demonstrating that it was his family that had been chosen for these duties.

In addition to the items listed above, the Israelite temple contained other relics that seemed to have been vital to temple worship and which seem to have been paralleled by items found by Joseph Smith in the stone box containing the gold plates.

Israelite high priest
Urim & Thummim and Breastplate: In Moses' day the Aaronic high priest wore vestments that included a kind of breastplate. The breastplate contained a pouch in which the Urim and Thummim were kept "upon Aaron's heart" (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:6-8). The Urim and Thummim were evidently some kind of revelatory device and the Bible depicts individuals using them to ascertain God's will. (Num. 27:21).

The breastplate and Urim and Thummim found by Joseph Smith (JH 1:35) were described in similar terms to the Israelite implements by Joseph's brother William, and therefore may have been included in the Nephite priestly vestments:

A pocket was prepared in the breastplate on the left side, immediately over the heart. When not in use the Urim and Thummim was placed in this pocket, the rod being of just the right length to allow it to be so deposited. This instrument could, however, be detached from the breastplate and his brother said Joseph often wore it detached when away from home, but always used it in connection with the breastplate when receiving official communications, and usually so when translating as it permitted him to have both hands free to hold the plates. (J. W. Peterson in The Rod of Iron I:3 (February 1924), 7.)

Furthermore, like the Israelite Urim & Thummim, the Nephite "interpreters", as the Book of Mormon calls them, are unambiguously portrayed as revelatory devices (Mosiah 8:13).

Bradley, in his presentation, brings up yet another interesting idea which applies to the Nephite Urim & Thummim. Bradley points out that the tablets of the law were especially sacred as they had been touched by the finger of the Lord and were, as he points out, "literal touchstones with Deity" and "an embodiment of his presence". It's possible that the Nephite Urim & Thummim filled a similar role.

The Nephite Urim & Thummim did not originate with Nephi and his family, rather, they came into Nephite hands several centuries after the opening of the book. The Nephite interpreters were given by the Lord to the brother of Jared and presumably were two of the sixteen stones touched by God to make them shine to provide light for their vessels (Ether 3; D&C 17:1). Therefore, like the Mosaic tablets of the law, these two stones, touchstones, had been literally touched by Deity and served as an embodiment of his presence.

Michelangelo, David and Goliath,
Sistine Chapel, Rome.
Sword of Goliath: Bradley next turns his attention to another Israelite relic kept, at least for a time, within the confines of the tabernacle. Following his estrangement from Saul, David fled to Nob, just north of Jerusalem, and sought support from the priests who were the caretakers of Moses' tabernacle. The priests provided David with the showbread from the sanctuary and gave him Goliath's sword which was being kept with the ephod (1 Sam. 21:9). This sword, as pointed out by Brett Holbrook, became a potent symbol of kingly authority, and Nephi (of whom later Nephite kings took his name) used it as such (Jacob 1:9-11).

Among the items found by Joseph Smith with the gold plates was Laban's sword (D&C 17:1). Nephi obtained the sword after finding Laban drunk in the streets of Jerusalem and took it after killing Laban and putting on his armor (1 Ne. 4). While sojourning in the Valley of Lemuel Lehi had commanded his sons to return to Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates. Laban, the custodian of the plates, refused to hand them over and attempted to have Nephi and his brothers killed (1 Ne. 3:13; 1 Ne. 3:25). In telling this story Nephi uses language similar to that used in the account of David and ties himself to that story. Laban is portrayed as Goliath with Nephi filling the role of David as pointed out by Holbrook:

All of the thematic parallels exist in the same order in both narratives (Nephi/Laban & David/Goliath). First, we have the introduction of the antagonist, who is described in terms of his feats of strength and who inspires fear. Then the protagonist responds, claiming that there is no need to fear—the God who has historically acted on the protagonist’s behalf will again act to destroy this threat, not only to save the protagonist, but also to ensure that God is recognized in the future. Next the antagonist and protagonist meet, and the text announces to us that the antagonist is delivered into the hands of the protagonist by God. Finally, the antagonist is reduced to a helpless state, and the protagonist takes his enemy’s sword, pulls it from its sheath, decapitates the antagonist, and then gathers his foe’s armor as his own.

In conclusion, from all the evidence it seems clear that Nephi saw his family as a new Israel, and himself as a new Moses, being led by God into the wilderness to establish a new nation and to build a new temple. Nephi's sojourn in the Valley of Lemuel was of inestimable importance and the events that occurred both in the valley and while his family stayed there defined this small community. Nephi was cognizant of this and several decades later as he proceeded to record these events he constructed his record in such as way as to communicate his understanding of his new community.

See for example: Szink, Terrence L. "Nephi and the Exodus" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: DeseretBook and F.A.R.M.S., 1991); “Research and Perspectives: Nephi and the Exodus,” Ensign, April 1987, 64–65;

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