I don’t get particularly animated about evidences for (or against) the Book of Mormon. But as there has been quite a bit written about the possible locations of Nahom and Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula I thought I would at least make a passing reference to it. For those who enjoy this kind of thing, I’ve found Jeff Lindsay provides a pretty reasonable approach to questions about Book of Mormon evidences and authenticity. He’s made a lot of his apologetic work freely available, including an introduction to several of the most up to date resources re. Nahom and Bountiful. For good measure, the FAIR guys also have pages on Nahom and Bountiful that include a couple of short videos that are worth watching if you have a spare couple of minutes. Additionally, the suggested site of the ancient Bountiful has garnered more interest recently following permission by the Omani government to do archaeological research there and the discovery of a proposed ancient sanctuary.
To the text. In the last post, I stopped after Nephi saved his family from starvation (echoing the role of Joseph of Egypt). At the end of chapter 16, we read the account of Ishmael’s death and the subsequent mourning and murmuring of Ishmael’s daughters. In a twist of bitter irony, the murmuring of Ishmael’s daughters about the death of their father prompts Laman and Lemuel to plot the death of their own father (and of Nephi as well). However, the voice of the Lord intervenes (see verse 39). What form this voice takes is unclear. We tend to think of Laman and Lemuel as great vacillators in comparison with Nephi’s steadfastness. In this chapter alone they have gone from genuine humility (v5), to murmuring exceedingly (v20), to humility again (v24), to fear and trembling (v27), to more humility and thanksgiving (v32), to murderous intent (v37), and finally to repentance (v39). But we should remember that Nephi may be covering several years of history in just a few verses. So while it may seem from the way Nephi wrote his account as though only the literal voice of the Lord (or perhaps the intervention of an angel) could stop Laman and Lemuel from carrying out their murderous plan, it may be that these few verses played out over many months or even years, and that their chastening and repentance was instead an internal, gradual struggle.
One final thought before moving on to chapter 17. Kent Brown has written that there is evidence in the text to suggest that at least part of the time the party were en route between the valley of Lemuel and Bountiful was spent in servitude to local tribesmen. He summarises his article with the following conclusion:
It seems reasonable that the years spent by Lehi and his family in crossing the desert were characterized by the not uncommon practice “in times of scarcity” of “the bargaining away of freedom—or part of it—in return for food.” Whether the “enemies” (referenced in Alma 9:10), the escape from destruction “in battle” (Alma 9:22), and the “bondage and captivity” (Alma 36:29) had to do with a single experience with desert dwellers is impossible to determine. Whatever the case, Nephi’s choice of the term to sojourn—commonly denoting servanthood in the Old Testament—when combined with Lehi’s touching remarks and the brothers’ bitter complaints about the heavy labor of their wives, likely points to a period of servility and conflict during the desert journey.1
If the party did spend at least part of their time in servitude, I think that makes the murmuring of Laman and Lemuel more understandable. They would have given up their comforts and privilege in Jerusalem for fear of Babylonian bondage only to find themselves in bondage to some desert tribal lord.
With that, here are some comments/questions from the first 22 verses of chapter 17.
v3: Unlike the ubiquitous ‘and it came to pass’ that marks progress in the narrative, ‘thus we see’ is an editorial aside by the author emphasising a specific lesson he wants us to learn from the text. It is a scriptural phrase that is unique to the Book of Mormon. It occurs 24 times and is predominantly used by Mormon. Nephi uses it only twice – in this verse and 1 Ne 16:29. Why do you think that Nephi feels the need to specifically draw the readers’ attention to these two lessons in particular, i.e. that by small means the Lord can bring about great things, and that the Lord will provide means to accomplish the things he commands? We are familiar with the lesson of this verse due to Nephi’s famous affirmation of faith in 1 Ne 3:7. There is a sense in which that declaration was made with some youthful naivety. But here, following the afflictions endured to get to this point, his ‘thus we see’ has a more mature conviction and a certain pathos.
v8–9: These verses illustrate again that although we often read the events in 1 Nephi as occurring in quick succession, actually the spaces in between the lines may account for a significant passage of time. Initially, these verse look like a simple dialogue between Nephi and the Lord. However, in verse 8 the Lord says that He will show Nephi how to construct the ship, i.e. future tense. But in verse 9, Nephi talks about the manner of construction that the Lord has already shown him, i.e. past tense, suggesting in between these verses the Lord revealed to Nephi how the ship was to be built. How long did it take for the Lord to reveal the manner of construction? Possible minutes, but possibly many days, even perhaps many months. If we read these verses quickly we might assume that the manner of construction was revealed to Nephi in an instant. But given that Nephi probably had no experience of ship building, I think this revelation may have required a great deal more thought, prayer and struggle than it first appears.
v11: Why do you think Nephi provides the details about how he made his tools (he made bellows from the skins of beasts, he made fire from smiting to stones together), but not the blueprint for the ship?
v13: This is written as a covenant between the Lord and Lehi’s colony and has echoes of Exodus 13:21.
v14: Here, Nephi draws on the Lord’s promise to Moses found in Exodus 6:7. For comparison:
After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem. (1 Ne 17:14)
…and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Ex 6:7)
This week I also wanted to cover Laman and Lemuel’s speech in verses 17–22 (their longest speech in the Book of Mormon), but there’s quite a bit there to look at so I’ll leave it till next week in order to do it justice. But here are a couple of questions to consider that I’ll pick up in the next post:
v18: Laman and Lemuel did not believe that Nephi could build a ship but would not believe he was instructed of the Lord. What’s the difference?
v19: Consider the phrase ‘canst not accomplish’. When else does Nephi use the word accomplish? Do you think his use of the word here is deliberate? Is this supposed to contrast with verse 3?
v20: How does this verse compare and contrast with the Israelite murmurings in Exodus 14:12?
P.S. Bonus points if you get what the title of the post is referring to.
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 17:23–55