There are 26 thoughts on “Nephi’s Eight Years in the “Wilderness”: Reconsidering Definitions and Details”.

  1. Ellis makes an analytical argument for Lehi’s family making rapid crossing of Arabia. However, he does not fully consider the realities of a small family traveling in ancient Arabia. Historian Andrew Taylor writes in his book Travelling the Sands, “The challenges, of course, was more than the soft red sand and the blazing sun of popular imagination: apart from the dangers posed by hostile tribesmen, bandits, and occasionally obstructive governments, there were many different deserts to be conquered on the way across the Arabian peninsula.” (p. 7,8) There are also stand storms can last for days and prevent travel.

    Authors often make the same fallacy of comparing the duration it took Lehi’s family to cross Arabia to the short time it took a commercial caravan. The caravans sole objective was to reach the frankincense incense markets of Oman and return home within one cool season. They traveled as fast as possible to avoid the deadly heat of the hot months. They did not pitch tents at night and ate only dates and camel milk.

    For these reasons it probably took several cool seasons for Lehi to reach Bountiful:
    1.It is next to impossible to travel in Arabia on foot or camel during the deadly summer months. For six months, they needed to hold up in their tents or died of exposure.
    2.Lehi needed time to earn passage through Arabia. If Lehi attempted to pass through a tribe’s area without paying the mandatory fees, the family would have been killer or become slaves.[]
    3.Lehi’s family needed protection from outlaws. Jeremiah noted that the Arabs were notorious highway robbers (Jeremiah 3:2). Waleed al Mansour’s grandfather led caravans. He explains that individual families had to wait at each trail halt or town until there were other families who wanted to go from that town to the next one. They were then able to have enough men and enough funds to afford protectors.
    4.Carrying, delivering, and caring for babies and infants were serious concerns (1 Ne. 16:7; 18: 7, 19). We can assume women carried and gave birth to many children as they sojourned in the wilderness.
    5.“Space(s) of time” were needed for hunting and preserving meat 1 Ne. 16:17). In at least three places they hunted meat (1 Ne. 14,15, 16-31).

    6.Nephi taught the gospel as he “journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness”(D&C 33:7-8). This fact alone should dismiss the myth that Lehi’s family did not meet people during their time in the wilderness. Every water source in Arabia was a guarded fort (kella) or in a town. After conversion, further teaching and organizing is required.

    7.They did not always travel a direct course (Alma 37:41,42).

    8.“A space of time at Nahom” (1 Ne. 16:33,34) Warren Aston suggest that Lehi stayed at Nahom to grow crops.[ Aston, Warren, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, (self-published, 2015), 71.] Kent Brown proposed they spent long period at Nahom in a servile relationship.

    9.The family was in poor health. Where Nephi broke his bow, they pitched their tents “for a space of time, that we might again rest ourselves” (1 Ne. 16:17). The word “again” implying that they needed periodic halts to rest. At Nahom, Ishmael died. By the time Lehi and Sariah boarded the ship, they were upon their sickbeds. (1 Ne. 18:17). Compare Lehi’s family condition to a healthy British army captain. In 1914, William Shakespear traveled from Kuwait to Riyadh. By road it is a distance of less than 400 miles. Taylor writes of Shakespear: “The journey took him two months: there were nights of bitter frost, and days of blazing sun as he crossed the deep dunes of the Dahna desert…. the camels weak from exhaustion and lack of food and Shakespear himself rambling from sun stroke.” (p. 70) That is a mere 6 miles a day for a healthy soldier!

    Combining all these reasons for stopping for “spaces of time” along the trail, as well as, the health concerns for birthing mothers, the fatigued, the sick and the dying, I believe Lehi’s family average only a few miles per day, and that their traveling days were restricted to only the six cool weather months of the year. Allowing Lehi four to five years to make the journey seems realistic.

    • Thank you for reading my article with such care and attention. Thank you also for your comments. I take your comments as essentially agreeing with my analytical conclusions. My major point in the paper was that readers traditionally misinterpret what Nephi was telling us in 1 Nephi 17:3-4. In those verses he interrupted his account to exclaim his gratitude for the Lord providing means for them during their arduous time, not only in the wilderness of the desert, but also in the wilderness of Bountiful. The traditional interpretation of Nephi’s wording, based on the placement of his note, is that the 8 years he mentions in the “wilderness” must refer to 8 years in the desert prior to his comment. As I point out in the paper, there is no reason to draw that conclusion given that Nephi was recounting the journey some 30 years later and knew the ending from the beginning. He is praising the Lord for providing means for the 8 years in all of Arabia – the desert portion was only a part of those 8 years. The Lord also provided means in Bountiful.

      As both of us agree, it unrealistic to assert, as so many readers do, that the Lehites required 8 years in just the desert portion. You and I disagree only in how much less than 8 years the desert portion would have taken. I suggested 2 years, as did Bruce Chadwick in his article, “An Archeologist’s View,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15, no. 2 (2006): 74. In the last sentence of your comment, you suggested “allowing Lehi four to five years” and that your estimate “seems reasonable.” As I said in my Conclusions section, there is room for honest discussion. So, I estimated 2 years, and you estimated 4-5 years, but we both appear to agree that the traditional interpretation that Nephi was referring to 8 full years in the desert portion alone is unlikely.

  2. Wonderful paper, Brother Godfrey! Very thorough analysis which answered many questions I didn’t know I had. The alternate reading you present seems so logical I can hardly understand why I ever assumed it might be interpreted as chronological.

    Hope to read more of your work in the future!

    • Thank you for your kind comment. That article took a very long time to write and rewrite… and rewrite…. I’m glad it meant something to you. (BTW, there is a wonderful scholar named Brother Godfrey but I am Brother Ellis. LOL)

  3. A small correction. In the third paragraph, after discussing Lehi’s record and the text on the large plates, comes the statement: “All of that latter material was dictated by Joseph Smith and recorded on the 116 large manuscript pages that were later lost by Martin Harris.”

    That needs to be corrected. What was dictated to Joseph Smith was Mormon’s distillation of that information. Based on his later writings, Mormon didn’t quote much from the large plates although he used them for the historical backbone of his narrative. So yes, that material would have been on the large plates and there was likely some record from Lehi. Joseph never had access to those originals and only to Mormon’s text.

    • Thank you for pointing this out. You are, of course, correct. I guess I assumed that reader would already be aware that we are reading Mormon’s carefully crafted collection of teachings. I should have been more careful of my wording, though. Thanks

  4. The crowning blessing of collaborative research – new insights emerging – can be further illustrated by some of the material used in Godfrey Ellis’s paper. In another reading of it, two additional points relating to the Old World Bountiful jumped out at me:

    Firstly, as his paper amply documents (under the subheading, “Bountiful as a Part of the Wilderness”), the term translated as “wilderness” can be applied not only to the desert stereotype, but to a variety of terrains such as mountains, barren plains, an oasis, tropical rainforest and even, sometimes, the ocean. The term evidently was also applied to Bountiful, despite its abundance. The major determinants are clearly that wilderness suggests an undeveloped place that is, quote, “largely unpopulated,” and has a “limited human population.”

    That being the case, the isolated, almost certainly unpopulated wadi oasis of Khor Kharfot fits this definition, whereas Khor Rori with its busy port, fortified city and trade activities predating Lehi’s era does not.

    My second point concerns the timing of the various stages of the Arabian crossing. Under the subheading, “Travel to the Entrance to Bountiful (Wadi Sayq),” Ellis notes, as has any attentive reader, that the last stage, from Nahom to Bountiful, was the most difficult of the journey. He quotes an evocative 1876 travel account about the “cruelty” of a desert crossing – one made in summer it turns out. We do not know in what months the Lehite group made that final leg of the journey, some 700 miles between two deserts, but it is interesting to consider that if that journey of at least two months duration was made in summer, around June/July/August, not only does that give an additional reason for its difficulty, but it means they would have arrived at Bountiful in the September/October period.

    Why is that significant? I have noted previously in my writing that Nephi’s effusive description of “Bountiful” (1 Nephi 17:5-6) strongly suggests that the group arrived at the end of the annual monsoon rains (from May to early September), just when the oasis and surrounding hills are at the peak of their lushness and greenness. That would thus fit perfectly with a summer crossing for the Nahom to Bountiful stage.

    Piece by piece the puzzle is coming together.

    • Regarding your two points, I agree 100% with both comments. First, in my mind, there is only one candidate for Bountiful, and that is Khor Kharfot. Most scholars seem to accept that as the best candidate. Of course, those with different ideas have the right to have their opinions published, and Interpreter has done that and I’m sure will continue to do that. Second, that the Lehites traveled through the summer and arrived at the peak beauty and lushness of Khor Kharfot seems to fit the account perfectly, as you point out.

  5. I finally finished reading your article! I particularly noted your comments on the meaning of “wilderness”. With that alone it seems amazing that your alternate reading wasn’t accepted years ago. As I read I couldn’t resist looking for parallelisms. I may have found one:

    A Wherefore, he did provide means for us
    B while we did sojourn in the wilderness.
    B we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.
    A all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. (In the wilderness,
    including Bountiful)

    Since no punctuation, verses or chapters were provided in the original manuscript, only literary devices were available to aid the reader to understand what Nephi was communicating. The above chiasm would include Bountiful, showing the Lord did provide/prepare all things while they sojourned in the wilderness.

    And, as you point out Nephi is focused on how the Lord does provide “And thus we see…”, vs. 3.

    I’m no expert but I suggest you might ask Jack Welch if this simple ABBA chiasm is for real. I Nephi contains over 50 chiasmi out of more than 300 in the BofM.

    Thank you for providing much food for thought!

  6. It does seem likely that Jacob and Joseph were twins, as when on the boat to the promised land, both were still nursing to some extent (1 Nephi 18:19). From a Biblical typology perspective, Jacob being a twin is consistent with the Biblical type of Jacob and Esau, as well as the Biblical type of the mother Sariah corresponding with Abraham’s wife Sarai/Sarah, who bore Isaac at an advanced age. Sariah is also mentioned at the time of the boat incident as being “stricken in years” (Nephi 18:17). Sariah was still nursing after being on the boat for “the space of many days” (1 Nephi 18:9).

    • What an intriguing idea! I discussed that idea of twins this morning with my Institute class. It is interesting that their births were announced at the same time (1 Nephi 18:7) and not separately as we might expect if they were born two or more years apart. At that time, they were called “elder” and “younger.” Then, when he blessed them, Lehi called Jacob “firstborn” (2 Nephi 2:1) and Joseph “last-born” (2 Nephi 3:1). Neither statement precludes them being twins. As you point out, Jacob and Esau were certainly twins and, in their case, the issue of birth order (within minutes of each other) was an incredibly important differentiation. Then, too, as you also point out, both Jacob AND Joseph had “need of much nourishment [and] were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother” (1 Nephi 18:19) – not father – suggesting breast-feeding.ticle.

      • Oh I did forget to mention the issue of twins and Sariah’s age. Studies show that as a woman ages the chance of conceiving twins increases. Researchers have found that women over 35 produce more follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) than younger women, which may cause more than one egg to drop at ovulation. So Jacob and Joseph perhaps were fraternal twins instead of identical. Also
        with each pregnancy, the odds that a woman will have twins go up a little.

  7. On your definition of wilderness, you consistently state that it could include a variety of ecotypes, but you consistently say that it does imply that it is uninhabited and undeveloped. You state that Bountiful is likely Khor Kharfot. So are you basically saying that the Potter proposal is no longer to be considered by your analysis as it has Bountiful in an area that is both inhabited and developed? If so, how do you respond to all of his arguments related to wood for shipbuilding, etc.?

    • Thanks for your question. I tried to stay out of the hot debate of Khor Kharfot vs. Khor Rori as much as I could, though I much prefer the first candidate. In response to your main question, I guess I respond to Aston’s arguments related to wood by letting him speak for himself. He is definitely able to do so, and has done so. I have some of his comments in my paper. George Potter believes that much of the wood, especially the hard wood, was imported from India, a claim that seems questionable. If he is right, and the wood was imported to Khor Rori, why could it not have been imported to Khor Kharfot since, geographically speaking, they are next to each other in the Dhofar area? In any case, Aston believes that sufficient wood was available right there in Khor Kharfot.

  8. A brilliant study Godfrey – thank you for moving things forward and, in my view, convincingly settling a long-standing Old World issue. Another reminder, if we need it, that there remains plenty of depth in Nephi’s account still to probe.

    • Knowing that you are the foremost expert on Lehi’s and Nephi’s trek through Arabia, your comment absolutely made my day! It made my year!

      Knowing that I was trying to justify a different reading of a verse and assumption that is so widely read in one way, I couldn’t help but be apprehensive about how it would be received. When one spends 100 to 200 hours on an article, it is hard not be be uneasy about what others might say. So, thank you so very much for your kind words and encouragement.

  9. Regarding the seeds, they were probably sealed in small clay jars to prevent moisture from spoiling them, so I don’t think that their germination would be much different if it was 8 years or 12 years. Israeli scientists recently have grown date palms bearing fruit from 2,000-year-old seeds (6 seeds out of 36 germinated).

    Beside the seeds they had prepared to plant in the Promised Land, the Lehites would have had wheat and barley for bread, probably packed in sacks, which they could have planted at their stops. This could only have been in the winter rainy season and would have taken 4 to 6 months.

    • Thank you for your comment. I did mention that pots were a possibility but, to me, seem unlikely. First, they had to have enough seed for a wide variety (of every kind) in sufficient quantities for abundant crops to feed a by-now quite large colony with seeds left over for the next planting. There would have to have been many, many pots, meaning a huge camel caravan. Then, too, pots would have been better than sacks against moisture but were, by now means, totally insulating. I did address the Israeli seeds but only 6 of 36 even germinated and only 2 grew. It seems to me that would certainly suggest a preference of 8 years of age over 12 years of age.

  10. This revised reading makes more sense to me than any other I have heard. I could never figure out why they would take 8 years to travel to Bountiful. When I re-read the verses, it is easy to see how they could have been misinterpreted all these years. Good job on supporting this alternate reading with copious references and reasoning (almost too copious for me). This needs to be a presentation at FAIR and other venues.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. I was originally attracted to the Church because of its interconnected web of logic. I came from a church that had no logic at all and I was enraptured by finally finding answers to all my questions. And they were all interwoven. One could not accept the Book of Mormon without also accepting Joseph Smith as prophet, which means that Russell M. Nelson is also a prophet and the D&C is also true and tithing is a true principle and on and on. It all comes as a packet that one accepts as a whole or rejects as a whole. That’s not to say that the testimony of the Spirit is not the most important part of any conversion because it is. But the logic of it all is icing on the cake. I brought that same sense of solving puzzles to my reading of the story of Korihor and was blessed to have my “thinking out loud” published in Interpreter last year. The “copious references” is because I well know that readers and reviewers will have many, many objections and a myriad of counter-points. That’s why this article on Nephi’s 8 Years is so long – it attempts to answer objections before they are raised. And by the way, the article you read was version number 12!

  11. I am not sure the argument against Lehi and Nephi as farmers on pp. 319-320 really works, since as is pointed out in the footnote, they did successfully plant the seeds and reap an abundant harvest in the New World. Successfully planting and cultivating seeds in a totally new environment isn’t exactly something easily done by those who lack agricultural skills. Omitting this detail from Lehi and Nephi’s “staggering resume” feels misleading, when other activities in the New World were included. Clearly, this textual detail implies that someone in Lehi’s party was a highly skilled farmer–and who is to say it must have been Lehi and Nephi? Perhaps Ishmael’s family were agriculturalists? Given that somewhere upwards of 80-90% of people in ancient societies were peasant farmers, the odds are pretty good this was so just on random chance alone. It is also unfortunate that the Appendix on seed viability did not engage with Ball and Hess’s article in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem.

    That said, I don’t really have a strong opinion on whether or not they planted crops. Nor do I have strong feelings on the chronology of Lehi’s journey, at least not in the abstract. Any theory on explaining the 8 years is speculative, and this one is as plausible as any other–again, in the abstract. Where the rubber hits the road though is how you relate it to the historical references in the text. What is the first year of the reign of Zedekiah in 1 Nephi 1:4? When was the imprisonment of Jeremiah in 1 Nephi 7:14? And how will the 600 years between Lehi’s departure and the birth of Christ be calculated? How these questions are answered will impact how the chronology of Lehi’s journey is going to work, and they are some of the most vexing questions of Book of Mormon chronology.

    I don’t know if Aston and Potter have dealt with those issues (I don’t recall, off the top of my head), but Chadwick has several articles in BYU Studies setting out his views on these issues, and Brown co-authored an article on Jeremiah’s imprisonment.

    Without addressing these refences to external history, any chronology of Lehi’s journey remains purely abstract and theoretical–and its merits are difficult to judge without knowing how the author would resolve those questions.

    • Thank you for your attentive reading of the paper. My exact quote was, “There is simply little to no credible evidence that they had the knowledge or ability to conduct extensive farming in the Valley of Lemuel,” which was a desert. Assuming they planted the seeds in Central America, we are looking at vastly different soil, rainfall, and possibly labor pool. They were still not “farmers” but with many more workers and a more favorable ecosystem, we are told that they were blessed with a successful crop.

    • I am coming out with a book on the chronology and calendars in the Book of Mormon in a few months that answers all the chronological questions you have raised. If you would like an advance copy to review I would be happy to provide it. You can contact me through my website at

  12. Very thorough and reasonable.

    The only statement that I question is that “the ship had to be much larger and much more sophisticated than a Viking boat.” Viking ships were highly sophisticated for their day. They were constructed with overlapping planks (lapstrake technique) and had a unique hull design (similar to the North American Native war canoe), that allowed them to be light on the water and were peaked at both ends so they could sail or row up shallow rivers and land on any shore yet carry a large contingent of men and cargo across the angry seas of the North Atlantic. They were about 60 to 70 feet long and about 10 feet wide and held 25 to 60 men plus tons of cargo. It is estimated that it took about 24,000 man-hours to cut the wood and build a Viking ship. For a crew of 7, working 8 hours per day would be 428 working days. At 6 days per week would be 72 weeks or about 1-1/2 years. Allow another year for making tools and reluctant, novice ship builders, and maybe another year for drying the planks.

    My take-away from their 8 years in the wilderness is that the Lord was in no hurry to get them on the sea. They had to leave Jerusalem when they did, but the Lord was keeping them in the wilderness for an extended period for His own reasons.

    • There is no intention to discount Viking war boats. The point of that minor note was only that Nephi’s ship was likely larger than a Viking boat in order to sail all the way from the Red Sea to the coast of Central America. I probably should have written that it was “probably” larger and if it was not, that doesn’t change the conclusions in the article.

      As far as the Lord not being in a hurry to get them on the sea – perhaps not. As we all know, the Lord can do whatever he likes. He usually works through natural and logical means, however, and absent revelation on the subject, the best we can do is try to use our best reasoning. If the Lord wanted to, he could have kept them in Bountiful for 50 years, transported them to the New World without any ship at all, and spontaneously produced crops without any sees at all. It is my belief that He doesn’t usually work that way.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged. Individual authors are given the option to disallow commenting or end commenting after a certain period at their discretion.

Close this window

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This