FAIR Study Aids/Gospel Doctrine/Book of Mormon/Lesson Five



A FairMormon Analysis of: Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual

Lesson 5: "Hearken to the Truth, and Give Heed unto It"

LDS Lesson Manual

Lesson 5: Hearken to the Truth, and Give Heed unto It

1. The Lord guides the families of Lehi and Ishmael according to their faith and diligence. (1 Nephi 16)

Helpful Insights

  • Timeline: The chapter begins with the family in the “Valley of Lemuel” (v 6). The journey from there to their final Old World location (Bountiful) should have taken about three months, yet a total of eight years will pass before they arrive in Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:4-5).

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  • Nephi and metalwork: Scholars have observed that Nephi, regardless of what his professional training was, had a clear fascination with metalwork. This is manifested twice in chapter 16 where he uses precious space on his plates to include adjectives describing metal objects. The first is when he describes the Liahona as being of “curious workmanship” (v 10), and the second is when he describes his own bow as being made of “fine steel” (v 18).

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  • The Liahona: The Liahona was a type of compass which included one pointer that indicated the direction they should go, and another pointer whose purpose is unknown. Scholars have made educated observations about the nature of the Liahona and the meaning of the word “Liahona”.
    • Robert F. Smith, "Lodestone and the Liahona," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992).
    • Robert L. Bunker, "The Design of the Liahona and the Purpose of the Second Spindle," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/2 (1994): 1–11. off-site wiki
    • Jonathan Curci, "Liahona: “The Direction of the Lord”: An Etymological Explanation," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16/2 (2007): 60–67. off-site wiki

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Faith Affirmations

  • Lehi’s Route through the Wilderness: The possible route that Lehi’s family took in the wilderness has received significant attention by LDS scholars. It is likely that Lehi’s family would have traveled south along the ancient Frankincense Trail, a well known (and relatively safe) route that would have brought them into contact with many inhabitants of Arabia. Nephi never mentions meeting other people along their journey, but they surely would have. Most scholars believe that Lehi’s family traveled south along this trail through Arabia, and then turned east after arriving at Nahom which is in modern day Yemen. They finally stopped and built their boat at “Bountiful” on the coast of Oman.

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  • The Naming of Places: As Lehi and family traveled through the wilderness they occasionally gave names to places, rivers, and valleys, sometimes naming them after members of their own family (ie. “the river Laman” of 1 Nephi 16:12). This practice is in keeping with ancient middle eastern custom, which Joseph Smith would likely not have known.
    • Eldin Ricks, Book of Mormon Commentary: Comprising the Complete Text of the First Book of Nephi with Explanatory Notes (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1953), 44.

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  • Shazer: Hugh Nibley suggested that the name “Shajer” (v 13) means “trees” in Semitic languages, and is pronounced as “Shazher” by many Arabs. The location of Shazer has been suggested to be the wadi Agharr which lies along the Gaza arm of the Frankincense Trail.
    • Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 101.
    • George Potter and Richard Wellington, "Lehi's Trail: From the Valley of Lemuel to Nephi's Harbor," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/2 (2006): 26–43. off-site wiki

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  • Nephi’s Broken Bow: After Nephi’s bow broke he crafted another one (1 Nephi 16: 18-23). Nephi also describes how he made a new arrow along with his new bow. Ancient arrows needed to be custom made to fit a specific bow (the arrows for his steel bow would not work with his wooden bow), a fact that Joseph Smith likely would not have known. Furthermore, the bow was an ancient symbol of political power. Nephi’s bow broke, and his brother’s bows lost their spring, but when Nephi fashioned a new bow for himself his brothers soon accused Nephi of having political ambitions (1 Nephi 16:37-38). It is probable that Nephi’s original bow was not made of “steel” in the modern sense of the word, but was made of some other metal which was more malleable and possible to break with bare hands. It may also be possible that Nephi's bow was not actually made of any kind of metal, but that Joseph chose the word "steel" during the translation after the manner of KJV translators (see Kevin Barney's article, linked below).

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  • Nahom: In recent decades scholars have discovered archaeological remains of a place called “Nahom” in the Arabian desert that neatly corresponds to the path that Lehi and his family likely traveled. The word “Nahom” appears to have been the name of the place before Lehi and his family arrived there, and has the possible ancient meaning of “to console” or “to mourn”. This is appropriate because it is the place were Ishmael died and was buried. This is a very significant discovery that supports the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

2. Nephi demonstrates unwavering faith by fulfilling the Lord’s command to build a ship. (1 Nephi 17)

  • Direction of Travel: 1 Nephi 17:1 indicates that after leaving Nahom the party traveled "nearly eastward", a change from their previous direction (southward). This new direction would take them across the barren "Empty Quarter" and the smaller Saba'tayn desert, areas very far from traditional travel routes and where they would not encounter many civilized peoples. This would have been the most difficult leg of their journey to Bountiful. The greatest need would have been to find water, and the Liahona doubtless guided them to the scarce water holes and standing pools that existed in this region. They were instructed to not light fires, possibly to avoid Bedouin attacks.
    • Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, "In the Footsteps of Lehi" (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1994), 20.

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  • Raw Meat: The image of Lehi’s family eating “raw meat” communicates great hardship to the modern reader who may imagine them eating freshly cut and bloody pieces of meat. However, modern Arabs still eat spicy, raw, and partially dried meat “bastern”. Lehi’s family probably ate something similar to this on their journey.

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  • Bountiful: Several candidates along the coast of Oman have been proposed for the location of Bountiful. Some LDS scholars believe that Wadi Sayq is the best candidate, while others believe Khor Rori is the likely location. Some of the requirements for choosing the location include "much fruit and also wild honey", a mount to which Nephi could retreat, a source of ore, and a place to construct and launch a ship.
    • Lynn M. Hilton and Hope Hilton, Discovering Lehi: New Evidences of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, 1996).
    • Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi's Journey across Arabia to Bountiful (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994). ISBN 0875798470
    • Noel B. Reynolds, "Lehi's Arabian Journey Updated," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997). ISBN 093489325X ISBN 0934893187 ISBN 0884944697. off-site GL direct link
    • Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "The Wrong Place for Lehi's Trail and the Valley of Lemuel (Review of: Lehi in the Wilderness)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 197–215. off-site

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  • Irreantum: Nephi tells us that upon reaching Bountiful they named the sea "Irreantum", and Nephi also tells us that this word means "many waters" (1 Nephi 17:5). This word is not a Nephite word, or Nephi would not have provided a definition of it for his readers. This word may be traced to a South Semitic etymology meaning "watering of completeness" or "watering of (super) abundance."
    • Paul Y. Hoskisson, "What's in a Name?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11/1 (2002): 90–93. off-site wiki

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  • The Exodus Motif in the Book of Mormon: Scholars have observed that Nephi frequently reminds his readers of the ancient Israelite Exodus as a literary device to establish his own family's journey as part of God's great work. In chapter 17 Nephi explicitly calls upon Moses' ministry to rebuke his brothers and call them to repentance.

3. Laman and Lemuel bind Nephi, who shows courage and gratitude despite this trial. After they free him, he guides the ship to the promised land. (1 Nephi 18)

Helpful Insights

  • "It was good" as a description of Nephi's ship: Nephi employs an Old Testament allusion when describing the ship when he says that his brethren "beheld that it was good" (1 Nephi 18:4). This is a key phrase that occurs seven times in the Old Testament creation account, and by recalling this phrase Nephi is suggesting that the ship is a creation of God, not of man.
    • David E. Bokovoy and John A. Tvedtnes, Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible (Tooele, Utah: Heritage Press, 2003), 51. ISBN 9780974342108

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  • Design of Nephi's Ship: Scholars of ancient seafaring have noted that in order to cross the deep and wide ocean Nephi's ship must have been constructed with a "deep, tall hull", a method that was not done regularly at the time of Nephi. This may be why Nephi says his ship was not constructed after the manner of men (1 Nephi 18:2). Nephi's ship also must have been equipped with two large rudders in order to guide the vessel through the open sea. The sails may have been similar to the sails of Nephi's day since Nephi doesn't mention them, but they would have been very large rectangular sails. The rope used on the ship may have been made from the "small dwarf palm" found in the Dhofar region of Oman which makes excellent cordage and strengthens when wet. Nephi's ship need not have been more than 35 ft long, and must have taken 2-3 years to complete.

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  • The Ship's Route to the Promised Land: Most LDS scholars believe that Lehi's family steered their ship eastward from their location on the coast of the Arabian peninsula. They would have clung to the coasts as much as possible (for safety, water, supplies, etc.) and so probably would have crossed the Indian ocean by navigating along the coasts of India, and then weaving through the islands of southeast Asia (modern day Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.). Crossing the Indian Ocean from west to east means they likely would have set sail around August and sailed that leg of the journey through the winter season, when the prevailing winds and currents would be moving that direction. The trip likely took a very long time, with many stops along the way. The last leg of the trip would be to cross the great Pacific Ocean, guided by the Liahona, until they reached the western shores of the New World (perhaps Guatemala). They possibly would have been aided by the easterly winds produced by El Nino to help them across this most difficult portion of the trip. LDS scholar Brant Gardner notes:
"While God can alter regional or even global climates if he wishes, typically, he acts more conservatively, using existing conditions in the world to accomplish his purposes. In this case, simply directing the party to leave around August would have placed them not only at a time of harvest, but also at the beginning of the monsoon season. Perhaps there was a divine reason for the eight years in the wilderness of which the family was unaware. Perhaps the Lord was waiting for the climatic conditions that would enable the journey."

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  • Arriving in the Promised Land: Most LDS scholars believe that Lehi's party would have finally ended their journey on the western coast of Guatemala in central America. The geography of Guatemala approximately matches descriptions that come later in the Book of Mormon. There is some indication that the prophet Joseph Smith believed that Lehi's party landed on the coast of Chile, although whether Joseph actually believed that has been questioned by later General Authorities (B.H. Roberts and John A. Widtsoe). Whether Joseph Smith actually believed this or not is not too important, because Joseph Smith never claimed revelation for his own best guesses about such matters. Furthermore, most LDS scholars believe that upon arriving in the New World Lehi's family would have encountered native inhabitants already living there.
    • John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 [1985]), 138.
    • John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land Did They Find Others There?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 1–34. wikiGL direct link
    • Matthew Roper, "Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography (A review of "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 15–85. off-site wiki
    • FAIR wiki: Book of Mormon geography resources

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Potential Criticisms and Faithful Information

  • Anachronistic items in the New World: 1 Nephi 18:25 lists a number of items which are not yet known to have existed in the New World before European colonists arrived. LDS scholars have pointed to a number of important possibilities in understanding this issue. One distinct possibility is that these items did exist but have not yet been discovered yet. For example, barley was discovered to have been domesticated in pre-Columbian times in Arizona, contradicting previously held views about the history of barley in the Americas. LDS Mesoamerican scholar John Clark has noted that as the decades have passed since the publication of the Book of Mormon the list of alleged "anachronisms" in the Book of Mormon has only gotten shorter, not longer, and significantly so (see here for a graphic of this fact).
Another possibility is that the names of certain items in the Book of Mormon are the result of applying a familiar name to something unfamiliar. For example, when Romans discovered the hippopotamus they called it a "river horse" (the literal meaning of "hippopotamus"). LDS scholar Brant Gardner notes the following:
"The Book of Mormon provides two possible occasions for such a mislabeling. The first is when the Lehites must describe animals they find in the New World. In this case, Joseph Smith would be accurately translating a label applied by the Nephites....The other possibility is that Joseph Smith is mislabeling unknown animals during the translation process according to his cultural expectations, regardless of the technical meaning of the terms on the plates."

Chiasms and Other Poetic Parallelisms in 1 Nephi 16-18

The Book of Mormon contains a number of literary structures called poetic parallelisms, chiasmus being the best known. While these are frequently used as evidence for the Book of Mormon’s authenticity, their real value is in helping shed light on the meaning and message in the text. The following passages contain examples of these structures from chapters being covered in this lesson. If you are planning on using any of these passages in your lesson, it may be worthwhile to check these structures to see if they help emphasize or focus attention on the message you hope to convey, or if they provide an alternative perspective you had not considered before which may enhance your lesson. For the sake of space, the references can only be listed here. To look at these structures, see Donald W. Perry, Poetic Parallelisms: The Complete Text Reformatted, which is graciously provided online for no charge (you have to go to the PDF file) by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.

  • Chiasmus: 1 Nephi 16:1-3; 1 Nephi 16:13-14; 1 Nephi 16:28-29; 1 Nephi 17:7; 1 Nephi 17:13; 1 Nephi 17:18-19; 1 Nephi 17:31; 1 Nephi 17:38; 1 Nephi 17:46; 1 Nephi 17:48-52; 1 Nephi 18:24
  • Other Parallelisms: 1 Nephi 16:7; 1 Nephi 16:8-11; 1 Nephi 16:20; 1 Nephi 16:35-37; 1 Nephi 17:19; 1 Nephi 17:31; 1 Nephi 17:35; 1 Nephi 17:36; 1 Nephi 17:37; 1 Nephi 17:39; 1 Nephi 17:45; 1 Nephi 17:47; 1 Nephi 18:2; 1 Nephi 18:7; 1 Nephi 18:5-8; 1 Nephi 18:11; 1 Nephi 18:18; 1 Nephi 18:22-23; 1 Nephi 18:25