Source:Echoes:Ch5:12:First camp to Nahom - Mountains

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S. Kent Brown: "Joseph Smith does not seem to have known of this natural barrier even though the Book of Mormon narrative offers clear hints that it exists"

S. Kent Brown:

A range of mountains, called Al-Sarat, runs almost the entire length of the west coast of Arabia and separates the coastal lowlands from the uplands of the interior. The peaks in the north rise to heights of five thousand feet while those in the south reach much higher. A limited number of passes and valleys offer access from one side of the range to the other.48 At some point the party had to cross the mountains before reaching "the place which was called Nahom," where the group turned "nearly eastward" ({{s|1|Nephi|16|34; 17|1). Otherwise, the mountains would have formed a major barrier to their eastward trek. Nephi's narrative offers hints that the family went into the mountains not long after leaving the camp.

The first hint is the amazing initial success of the hunters in the party.49 For after leaving a place they called Shazer, which lay four days' journey from their first camp (see 1 Nephi 16:13), they traveled "for the space of many days, slaying food by the way" (v. 16:15). This expression indicates abundant cover for hunters that one finds in mountainous terrain rather than in the open, flat region of the maritime plain that runs along the shore of the Red Sea.

A second clue has to do with the possible location of Shazer. Nephi reported that the party had stopped specifically to rest and hunt at Shazer after traveling for only "four days." Shazer lay in "nearly a south-southeast direction" from the first camp (vv. 16:13–14). Traveling this general direction would have kept the group near the shore of the Red Sea, at least initially. But after the family departed from Shazer, Nephi's account mentions the Red Sea for the last time, a significant point (v. 14). In this light, we can theorize two possible locations for Shazer. Both point to the family's leaving the Red Sea coast soon and traveling into the mountains. First, Shazer may have lain next to the coast a few miles from the mountains and may have been the party's last stop before they entered mountainous terrain, which would explain Nephi's last mention of the Red Sea. Second, it is also possible that Shazer lay inside a mountain valley not far from the Red Sea, a valley that led into and across the mountains.50 There are not enough hints in the narrative to determine which alternative may be correct.

The third clue has to do with the word borders. This term seems to mark a mountainous zone. Early in his narrative, Nephi had apparently used the term borders in connection with the mountainous region that runs along the Gulf of Aqaba farther to the north (see 1 Nephi 2:5,8).51 Then, as the party moved south from the first camp, Nephi wrote that party members traveled "in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea" (16:14). In this context, the term borders may well point to mountainous areas.52

A fourth clue has to do with "the most fertile parts of the wilderness." Such areas did not lie along the coastal plain immediately south of the base camp, because that territory has been known for centuries as a region that does not support much plant life.53 Hence, one would not expect to find large numbers of wild animals there either. Such "fertile parts," as Nephi described them, either lay in the mountains, perhaps in a season when there was rain,54 or consisted of the oases that lay on the eastern side of the mountain range.55 The oases were already populated but often lay a good distance from hunting grounds.

In sum, from hints in Nephi's narrative, it seems that the family went into the mountains not long after leaving Shazer.56 Importantly, Joseph Smith does not seem to have known of this natural barrier even though the Book of Mormon narrative offers clear hints that it exists. Joseph Smith's only known statement about the geography of Arabia and the route of Lehi's family shows no knowledge of the mountain chain, or other geographical features for that matter. He simply said that the party traveled from "the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean," a rather simple statement when compared to Nephi's complex narrative.[1]

Notes

  1. S. Kent Brown, "New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 5, references silently removed—consult original for citations.