Lehi’s Trek to China and North America


Note: to see how this idea popped into my head and began to develop, read all the comments on the Selections from the Book of Laman post, beginning with this one.

Jerusalem to Lemuel

600 years before the coming of Jesus Christ, the prophet Lehi, who “dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days” (1 Ne. 1:4) left the land and “departed into the wilderness” (1 Ne. 2:4), coming “down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea” and “traveling in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea” (1 Ne. 2:5.) He “traveled three days in the wilderness,” pitching “his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water” (1 Ne. 2:6.) He called the valley Lemuel and the river Laman.1

Two trips back to Jerusalem

While in Lemuel, Lehi sent his four sons back to Jerusalem twice. The first time they came back with the plates of brass and the servant of Laban, whose name was Zoram. The second time they came back with Ishmael, his wife, his daughters, and his two sons, as well as the wives (Lehi’s daughters)2 and children of his two sons.

The Liahona appears

One night, after Ishmael’s family had arrived in Lemuel, the Lord commanded Lehi “that on the morrow he should take his journey into the wilderness” (1 Ne. 16:9.) The very next morning, Lehi found the Liahona upon the ground, which was “a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither [they] should go into the wilderness” (1 Ne. 16:10.) From this point on, the group followed the direction in which the Liahona pointed.

Lemuel to Shazer

From Lemuel (called after the son of Lehi), they “traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction” (1 Ne. 16:13) and camped at a spot they called Shazer (possibly the name of a son of Ishmael.)3

Shazer to the place where Nephi’s bow broke (Camp #3)

From Shazer they “did travel for the space of many days, slaying food by the way” (1 Ne. 16:15) and followed “the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea” (1 Ne. 16:14) until they stopped at the place where Nephi broke his bow. This was their third mentioned camping spot, or Camp #3. They had been traveling, up to this point, nearly a south-southeast direction.

It was at this place that the party learned the principles under which the Liahona both operated and ceased to function, which knowledge caused those who were murmuring against the Lord to “fear and tremble exceedingly” (1 Ne. 16:27.) When the camp had received food and in their joy had humbled themselves and given thanks to the Lord, they began again their journey, and this is what Nephi wrote:

Camp #3 to Camp #4 (somewhere close to the land of Jerusalem)

And it came to pass that we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning; and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time. (1 Ne. 16:33)

The words “traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning” do not mean “traveling nearly the same direction as in the beginning,” as it is typically interpreted, but they mean “traveling nearly the same path as in the beginning,” or, to be plainer, it means they retraced their steps. In other words, they first traveled nearly a south-southeast direction for the space of many days along the banks of the Red Sea, all the way down until they came to the place where Nephi broke his bow, and then they traveled nearly a north-northwest direction for the space of many days, retracing nearly the very same path that they had traveled downward, following the Red Sea up, until they came close to where they had first left the land of Jerusalem.

Ishmael’s death at Camp #4

Nephi wrote, “And it came to pass that Ishmael died” (1 Ne. 16:34.) It was here, at the camp that was close to the land of Jerusalem, that Ishmael died.

Ishmael’s burial at Nahom and the return to Jerusalem

“And it came to pass that Ishmael…was buried in the place which was called Nahom” (1 Ne. 16:34.) Ishmael was buried at an already existing place called Nahom, which was either in the land of Jerusalem or in the regions round about. If Nahom was in the land of Jerusalem, then after going to Nahom the party returned to their camp. But if Nahom was not in the land of Jerusalem, then after the party went to Nahom they also went to the land of Jerusalem and then back to their camp. Regardless of where Nahom was located, we know for a fact that the group returned to the land of Jerusalem after Ishmael’s death, because of what Nephi wrote.

Nevertheless, Nahom was likely the Ishmael family cemetery located somewhere in the land of Jerusalem. So, the entire camp (including Lehi) took Ishmael’s body back to the land of Jerusalem, to Nahom, and buried him there, and then possibly also obtained additional supplies for the next, very lengthy segment of their journey. For example, Nephi’s bow needed to be replaced, as well as the bows of his brothers, etc. After doing what they needed to do in Jerusalem, including dedicating Ishmael’s grave at Nahom, etc., which would have been the duty and privilege of Lehi to do, Lehi brought them all out of the land of Jerusalem and they came down into the wilderness to their camp.

Lehi brought the daughters of Ishmael out

Undoubtedly, Lehi revealed at this time, or by this time, the new plans, namely, that they were going nearly eastward of this point into a strange wilderness (into all the countries that were to the east, all the way to China.) Nephi then makes five statements of fact:

And it came to pass that [Statement of Fact #1] the daughters of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly, [#2] because of the loss of their father, [#3] and because of their afflictions in the wilderness; [#4] and they did murmur against my father, [#5] because he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem… (1 Ne. 16:35)

Notice that Nephi categorically states that “he [Lehi] had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem” (1 Ne. 16:35.) Keep in mind that this is Nephi’s statement of fact, not Ishmael’s daughters’ opinion. It is not, as many believe, Nephi’s observation of these girls blaming Lehi for his sons’ actions. If the daughters of Ishmael were merely playing the blame game, assigning fault to Lehi, Nephi would have worded it in a way that would have indicated that, for example: “they did murmur against my father, because they said that he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem,” in other words, he would have worded it as if it were not a literal fact. But Nephi does not state it from the girls’ perspective, but instead he states it as a literal fact, from his own perspective.

Question: Who brought the daughters of Ishmael out of the land of Jerusalem the first time? Was it Lehi?

Answer: No, it was the sons of Lehi. Lehi was at the camp of Lemuel when Nephi and his brothers brought the daughters of Ishmael out of the land of Jerusalem. Yet, here we find Nephi stating that Lehi brought the daughters of Ishmael out of the land of Jerusalem!

Question: Then when did Lehi bring the daughters of Lehi out of the land of Jerusalem?

The obvious answer: is that Nahom was a burial place in the land of Jerusalem and that after the burial, Lehi led the party back to their camp in the wilderness, so that Nephi’s statement is a literal occurrence, Lehi literally, not figuratively, having led them out of the land.

We must perish in the wilderness with hunger

Ishmael’s daughters complained that “after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger” (1 Ne. 16:35.) There was definitely food in Jerusalem, but the act of coming back down to camp in the wilderness meant having to resume hunting food again. Up until Ishmael’s death, they had had success hunting, although at the place where Nephi broke his bow, they came close to starving.

Why were they once again concerned with hunger? There were probably two reasons, one dealing with their current situation (see the Blessed again with food section below) and one dealing with the future. Regarding the future, it may have been that Lehi had already revealed to the family that, although they were now close to Jerusalem, they were not going to return to Jerusalem but were going to travel “nearly eastward” into a strange wilderness, one that no one was familiar with. Now hunger is back in their minds, for who knows how to obtain food in unknown parts?

The desire to return again to Jerusalem

Nephi wrote that the daughters of Ishmael “were desirous to return again to Jerusalem” (1 Ne. 16:36), which indicates that they must have returned to Jerusalem once before. In other words, they were led out of Jerusalem by the sons of Lehi, arriving in Lemuel, and then they returned to Jerusalem and were led out of the land of Jerusalem by Lehi, arriving in Camp #4, and finally they expressed a desire to return again to Jerusalem.

This shows that Nahom and Camp #4 were most definitely near Jerusalem, which means they retraced their steps back up the banks of the Red Sea. Ishmael, then, must have died near Jerusalem, and then the party must have taken his body to Jerusalem (returning to Jerusalem), buried him with his people (in Nahom), and then come back down to the camp outside of Jerusalem. Nephi’s words, then, make sense when he says that Ishmael’s daughters complained against Lehi and Nephi and desired to return again to Jerusalem.

Let us slay our father, and also our brother

The camp’s close proximity to Jerusalem (and its influences) explains why Laman conspired with the others to kill his father and younger brother. They were close to Jerusalem, yet Lehi and Nephi were determined not to return again to it. As the party was no longer “lost in the wilderness” down in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula, nor at the mercy of Lehi and his Liahona to make sure they were safe, Laman and the others, finally knowing where they were and how to get to Jerusalem, could kill Lehi and Nephi and return to the land of their inheritance without problems.

If Camp #4 and Nahom were, instead, at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula, as many scholars think, Laman’s conspiracy to kill would not make any sense, for if he had succeeded, the Liahona would have ceased functioning and they would have been lost in the wilderness and unable to obtain food or find their way back to Jerusalem.

Some strange wilderness

At Camp #4, Laman complained that Nephi was “thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness” (1 Ne. 16:38.) This is another indication that Laman and the rest of the camp were already aware of the new traveling directions, which were to be “nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Ne. 17:1.) Going into the far east from the land of Jerusalem may have definitely been considered as some strange wilderness, or lands completely unknown to the Israelites.

Blessed again with food

Ishmael’s death and the need to bury him at Nahom, must have interrupted the normal day to day (hunting) activities, and may have had the result of them not obtaining any or sufficient food for the entire group. When they returned from Jerusalem, having buried Ishmael at Nahom, Ishmael’s daughters’ complaints that “we must perish in the wilderness with hunger” must have been because the camp was starving. All the subsequent murmuring (and subsequent conspiracy to kill) must also have exasperated the situation so that they could not obtain any food, whatsoever.

In such a situation, and being close to Jerusalem where they knew there was food, it was natural for the daughters to desire to return again to the land of Jerusalem. It also is understandable that Laman once again saw Lehi (and Nephi’s) leadership as deficient, for they were yet again in a state of starvation. Also, as they had returned to the land of Jerusalem and seen that it still had not been destroyed per Lehi’s words, this might have given Laman and the others “evidence” of the falsehood of Lehi’s prophecies, giving them justification in killing the two “false prophets.”

The situation at Camp #4 does not make any sense if it occurred at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula. If they were perishing with hunger down there, instead of close to Jerusalem, it makes no sense to desire to return again to Jerusalem. In other words, if Camp #4 and Nahom were down there, then it took “the space of many days” to get there, which means if they had decided to turn around and return again to Jerusalem, they still would have died of hunger, for it would take “the space of many days” to return to Jerusalem, much too long a trip to survive without food. The record only makes sense if Camp #4 and Nahom were locations close to Jerusalem.

At any rate, the “voice of the Lord” was with the camp and it “did chasten them exceedingly,” so that they “did repent of their sins” and “the Lord did bless [them] again with food, that [they] did not perish” (1 Ne. 16:39.)

The journey to the east begins

From this camp near the land of Jerusalem, after being blessed again with food, they “did take again [their] journey in the wilderness” and “did travel nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Ne. 17:1.) Nephi also stated that they “did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness” (1 Ne. 17:4.)

They needed to start their journey far enough south to no longer be within the land of Jerusalem, yet also far enough north to miss running into a large body of water coming in from the Persian Gulf. This would, of necessity, place their starting location a little north of 30 degrees North Latitude, which helps to narrow down the paths they possibly could have taken. The map above has the eastern leg of their journey beginning at 30º 47’ 1″ North Latitude and gives them a straight path to the eastern coast of China and also to North America, missing every island in the ocean.

the space of many days” vs. “the space of many years”

They wandered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wander. (Mosiah 7:4)

To a Nephite, 40 days was “many days”.

Nephi always referred to the walk from Shazer to Camp #3 as requiring “the space of many days” (1 Ne. 16:17) and the walk from Camp #3 to Camp #4 as also requiring “the space of many days” (1 Ne. 16:33.) He never referred to these trips as lasting “many years.” But after they left Camp #4, they completely changed direction and then they were spoken of as traveling “for the space of many years,” not days. This indicates that the distance they traveled nearly eastward of Camp #4 was significantly farther than the combined distances they traveled between Shazer and Camp #3 and between Camp #3 and Camp #4, which is consistent with a trip to China.

Eight years of travel

Traveling “nearly eastward from that time forth,” beginning at a place close to the land of Jerusalem (Camp #4), they would have traversed the entire Asian continent, passing through Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Tibet and finally arriving at the eastern coast of China, stopping somewhere around the area of Xiangshan, Ningbo, Zhejiang, China, perhaps a little south of Bogushan Island. Using the standard 32 points of a compass, this means they were traveling either East by North4 (78.75º) or East by South (101.25º) or some other bearing even closer to East (90º) for eight years, without variation in direction, along a loxodromic line. The map above has a nearly eastward line with a bearing somewhere around 90.33º.

Eight years is 2920 days. The journey from Camp #4 to Bountiful was a little over 5000 miles, which averages to about 1.7 miles gained per day. Now, that might not sound like much distance covered, but when you consider the terrain they went through, the severe and rapidly changing weather conditions, and the fact that they couldn’t go around any obstacles, it starts to make sense. (Just take a look at the terrain of the path on the map above.)

On the other hand, eight years of travel does not make any sense for an Arabian Sea route. The eastward route that most scholars think Lehi took along the bottom of the Arabian peninsula would have taken most travelers “a matter of weeks, not years”.   To solve this apparent problem, it is assumed they spent an inordinate amount of time at one or more locations, one researcher even going so far as to suggest that the family must have been enslaved by other tribes for much of the eight years.

When you do the math for an Arabian Sea path, it just does not add up to what Nephi wrote. It is approximately 1200 miles from Jerusalem to the 19th parallel and another 800 to 1200 miles to the eastern shore of Arabia. If we add that together we get about 2400 miles. How many miles can a person walk in a single day? About 20 miles. So, traveling 20 miles a day it would take you 120 days to traverse the entire distance. Now, if it took them 8 years to do it, that would be 2920 days, of which 120 were spent walking and 2800 spent resting in camp! Now, does that sound to you like a grueling journey?

The daughters of Ishmael said, “We have wandered much in the wilderness” (1 Ne. 16:35.) Nephi described their wanderings in the wilderness as having “suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all” (1 Ne. 17:6.) Laman and Lemuel stated that “we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years” and that their women “suffered all things” (1 Ne. 17:20) and that “these many years we have suffered in the wilderness” (1 Ne. 17:21.) And many other descriptions such as these paint a picture of a lot of walking and suffering and very little rest, the exact opposite of what it should have been if they had been traveling to the Arabian Sea for eight years.

But if they were traveling to China, the need for 2920 days becomes apparent. Traveling to China, some days they might cover 20 miles, and other days, depending on the terrain, they might cover a whole lot less ground. Other days they would need to stop to rest, to obtain food, to wait for weather to clear, etc. The continent of Asia is so vast and varied and dangerous, the weather patterns so extreme and quick changing, that it makes perfect sense that it would take them eight years to traverse it.

Preaching and gathering converts along the way

During this eight year journey they undoubtedly preached the gospel to those with whom they came in contact and obtained converts who joined their journey to the promised land. Miracles attended them constantly, such as the miracle of the sweet meat as well as the miracle of the “light in the wilderness” (1 Ne. 17:13) that the Lord provided for them without fire. So, as they passed through these Gentile lands, word would have been spread by the inhabitants about the great magician Lehi and his “light without fire” and other miracles wrought by the party. Some would have fled the region, but others, out of curiosity would have sought the party out and perhaps have converted to the Lord.

By the time they reached Bountiful, on the eastern coasts of China, they probably had quite a number of people who had been added to their party, including Chinese converts. This might explain how the Eskimos arrived in America. It is widely believed they walked over from the Bering Strait, but perhaps their original ancestors were converts of Lehi from China and surrounding regions.

When they built the ship to cross the large waters, they entered into it “every one according to his age” (1 Ne. 18:6.) That’s kind of a strange way to enter a ship unless the party was vastly more numerous than just the families of Lehi and Ishmael. Which means that this ship was probably much larger than anyone has previously thought, requiring a special divine design to sustain the entire party upon the waters for the duration of the trip. Thus, it was not built after the manner of men.

Lehi, in the promised land, prior to his death, prophesied that “the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Ne. 1:5.) This was both a future and present prophecy (“should” not “shall”), applying to the converts they had already gained from other countries, who were led by the hand of the Lord over the ocean in the boat, as well as to any future foreigners.

When this numerous company arrived in the promised land, after Lehi died, Laman conspired to kill Nephi and assume control of the group. Nephi was warned to flee out of the land and take all those who would go with him. The record indicates that they had gained converts on their journey. In other words, that it was not just the two families of Lehi and Ishmael that came over in the boat:

Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words. (2 Ne. 5:6)

Sherem, the anti-Christ, is said to have shown up on the scene in America. “There came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem” (Jacob 7:1.)  He is never referred to as a Nephite, nor as a Lamanite. The China passage with converts model may explain why that is so. He may have been the son of one of the Gentile converts on the ship, gone to live apart from the two main groups (Lamanites and Nephites) and then, when Sherem was a man of age, he returned to the Nephite group preaching his message of lies. He had a knowledge of their language and their religion, so he must have had ties to someone that was on that ship.

Laman and Lemuel and the Liahona

In the trek eastward, there is no mention of any more murmurings from Laman and Lemuel. Even the women stopped murmuring because the Lord miraculously made them “strong, yea, even like unto the men” (1 Ne. 17:2), a necessity due to the tough terrain they were traversing. The whole party was entirely at the mercy of the Liahona. That device had to work in order for them to survive in the unknown wilderness in which they found themselves, so Nephi and Lehi were safe from the murderous intentions of Laman and Lemuel for the entire eight years of travel. Only at Bountiful, in its relative safety and as the camp settled into the beautiful surroundings and enjoyed the plentiful resources, did Laman again begin to oppose the plans of the prophets, because they did not need (nor want) to rely upon the Liahona for what they needed to survive.

In fact, at every location in which Laman and Lemuel threatened the life of one or both prophets, it was because they felt they could do without the Liahona. They tried to kill Lehi at Lemuel, which was three days’ walking distance from Jerusalem. They tried to kill Nephi on the trip down to the wilderness from Ishmael’s house. And they tried to kill both of them at Camp #4. At each of these locations, Jerusalem was within easy walking distance and they knew where they were. In other words, they did not need the Liahona to survive in those places. But at Shazer, at the place where Nephi broke his bow, and on the entire journey to China, they never attempted to kill them, because their very lives depended on the device working. Even upon the waters, in which they were in their wrath, they did not kill Nephi, only choosing to bind him. Why? Because if Nephi died, the Liahona would cease functioning and they would also die. Finally, at the promised land, with no more need for reliance upon the Liahona for survival, the way was cleared to finally kill Nephi.

Laman and Lemuel had a love/hate relationship with the Liahona. Although it kept them alive, which they loved, they hated having to rely upon it. They wanted to rely upon their own arm of flesh, and not upon the Liahona, which was a type of the word of God.

Bountiful, China

After eight years of travel, they came to the land of Bountiful and remained there “for the space of many days” (1 Ne. 17:7.) Some scholars, believing that Bountiful lies on the coast of Oman, on the Arabian peninsula, have created a list of characteristics of the area:

…the Book of Mormon goes further by specifying various characteristics of [Bountiful]:

1. Bountiful is “nearly eastward” from a place which was called Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1).

2. The text implies that the terrain and water sources from Nahom eastward permitted reasonable access from the interior deserts to the coast (1 Nephi 17:1-3).

3. Bountiful was a fertile region (1 Nephi 17:5-6).

4. It was a coastal location (1 Nephi 17:5-6).

5. Fruit and wild honey and possibly other food sources were available (1 Nephi 17:5-6; 18:6).

6. The availability of natural fruit (1 Nephi 17:5-6; 18:6) and the bountiful nature of the region suggest the availability of fresh water at this location.

7. Timber was available that could be used to construct a ship (1 Nephi 18:1).

8. A mountain was nearby (1 Nephi 17:7; 18:3).

9. Substantial cliffs, from which Nephi’s brothers might attempt to throw him into the sea, are near the ocean (1 Nephi 17:48).

10. Sources of flint (1 Nephi 17:11) and ore (1 Nephi 17:9-10) were available in the region.

11. Suitable wind and ocean currents were available to carry the vessel out into the ocean (1 Nephi 18:8-9).

(Taken from here.)

China is a perfect match for Bountiful and I am not the only one who thinks so.  The location on the eastern coast of China marked on the map at the top of this post has (or likely had 2600 years ago) everything that the scholars say Bountiful was supposed to have.

For example, here is a topographical map of China that shows that there are several mountain peaks in the vicinity. To the west of the city of Hangzhou, there is an 1873 meter peak (Lianhua Feng – Lotus Peak – 30º07’30″N 118º10’00″E). Northwest of that is an 1774 meter peak (Baimaijian). To the west of Lotus Peak is an 1474 meter peak (Lu Shan). To the south of Lotus Peak is a 2157 meter peak (Wugang Shan). And south-southeast of Lotus Peak is a 1921 meter peak (Huangmaojian). These latter two peaks are close to the beach location marked on the map at top. Nephi may have gone to one of these peaks to receive instructions regarding the construction of the ship.

There also appears to be highly elevated land (cliffs, perhaps) at the sea shore. In short, the topography of this area fits the descriptions of the topography of Bountiful. Ore, timber and flint are all in local abundance. The only thing that needs to be verified is whether wild honey and fruit grew there 2600 years ago.

The sea voyage to the promised land

Sailing “nearly eastward” from China at around 30 degrees North Latitude and keeping a straight course, Lehi’s group would have landed in North America at the narrow neck of land we know as Baja California.  The eastward trek of the map at the top has a path that leads directly to Bahia de Tortugas, Baja California Sur, Mexico (29º 38’ 42″ North Latitude and 114º 51’ 22″ West Longitude).

Answering an objection

The following is an objection based upon a purported revelation:

There’s a revelation given to Joseph Smith that explains the path Lehi and his family took as being a predominantly south/southeast route. The revelation even goes on to give the latitude at which they landed on the west coast of the South American Continent. It’s in Fred Collier’s “Unpublished Revelations” Vol 1, around section 30.

The purported revelation is quoted in the following online document:

The matter of Lehi’s landing site has been the subject of much debate, for obviously, pin-pointing the actual site where Lehi’s colony landed would tend to isolate the regions he and his family came to occupy. Knowing how important such a discovery would be, several sites have been proposed over the years, but none more controversial than one made by Frederick G. Williams who claimed Lehi landed in Chile. Unfortunately that theory was based on very shaky grounds, and thus the cause of much contention. The original theory was based on a lone statement by Williams, who, sometime between 1836 and 1845, wrote down a comment about Lehi’s party landing at 30 degrees south latitude in Chile during his association with the Prophet. It went as follows:

The course that Lehi traveled from the city of Jerusalem to the place where he and his family took ship, they traveled nearly a south, south east direction until they came to the nineteenth degree of North Latitude, then nearly east to the Sea of Arabia then sailed in a south east direction and landed on the continent of South America in Chili (sic.) thirty degrees south Latitude.[1]

(Taken from here.)

That doesn’t sound to me like a revelation given by the Prophet, but as mere speculation on the part of Williams. The same page continues:

We might be puzzled somewhat by the details contained in this statement which give it a certain air of believability, but we must remember that most of these directions were already given in the scriptures. For example, we learn of the direction Lehi and his family journeyed once they left Jerusalem in 1 Nephi 16:13, where we read they traveled in a south, southeast direction. (Continuing in that direction would have taken them to 19 degrees north latitude, another natural assumption.)

And that, I think, is the whole point. Everyone (including Williams) reads the Book of Mormon account, looks at a map, and assumes that they entered the water at the Arabian Sea. For more in depth analysis of Frederick William’s claim, please see the entire document.

A straight course

The Arabian Sea route does not work because if Lehi’s party turned eastward at a southern point on the east side of the Red Sea, and then traveled nearly eastward for eight years, they would end up zigzagging around. If they walked a straight course nearly eastward, it would not take them eight years to cross such a short distance.

Additionally, once they got to the Arabian Sea, built the ship and launched, they would not be able to travel in a straight course, but would have to navigate around India, Australia, etc., zigzagging around to get to the promised.

The Liahona was a type or shadow of the word of God, and it functioned in the same way as His word, bringing them in a straight course to the promised land. When they got the Liahona, it pointed south-southeast until they got to where Nephi broke his bow. Then it pointed in the opposite direction, towards Jerusalem. When they finally were ready to make the trip to the promised land, it pointed east, towards the promised land. Its course at this point, had to be a straight, not crooked, course or path, because it was a type of the word of God.

And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.

And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.

And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.

Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;

Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.

And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.

For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.

And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. (Alma 37:38-45)

Thus we see that the Arabian Sea route cannot have been the path taken by Lehi’s party, for when the Liahona began pointing to the promised land, it pointed to them a straight course. The course from their camp near Jerusalem to the eastern coast of China was straight, as straight as any arrow. And if you continue on that path into the sea, not deviating one bit, it points a straight course to North America, landing them in current day Mexico.

Now, we know that their path on the sea was straight, for Nephi states that “we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land” (1 Ne. 18:8.) And after Laman and Lemuel’s rebellion upon the waters, and the action of the storm driving them “back upon the waters for the space of four days” (1 Ne. 18:15), when the Liahona began working again, they “sailed again towards the promised land” (1 Ne. 18:22.) So, they sailed “nearly eastward” from the eastern coast of China in a straight course towards the promised land.

The Arabian Sea path would have had the ship sailing, at times, away from the promised land, or not towards it. Therefore, it cannot be the route they took, for such a route would invalidate the statements of the Book of Mormon itself, concerning how the Liahona worked.

With this understanding in mind, statements such as these make much more sense:

But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. (Alma 7:9)

For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight. I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore, his course is one eternal round. (Alma 7:19-20)

Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. And much spake my father concerning this thing. (1 Ne. 10:8)

And it may suffice if I only say they are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round. (Alma 37:12)

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (2 Ne. 9:41)

O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy. (2 Ne. 4:33)

The journey of Lehi’s camp to the promised land from Jerusalem was a type of our journey back to God. There was no deviation in the course, except insofar as they disobeyed the commands of God and were driven back or did not go forward, tarrying in one location because the Liahona would not work while they were slothful. Everything that was in their way—and if you look at the map above and click the terrain button, you will see that much of the land they passed through before arriving in Bountiful, China was impassable—was to be cleared by the Lord, whether by removing it, climbing over it, or simply making it disappear. At no point were they to go around obstacles in their path. The trip was designed to demonstrate the power of God to them. It was to be an impossible trip made possible by the miracles of God.

Nephi’s prayer in 2 Ne. 4 also demonstrates an undeviating course. When he pleads with the Lord to not place stumbling blocks in his way, he speaks from experience, having passed through the mightiest stumbling blocks of all, the exceedingly high mountains of Asia. He never prays to be given a path around his obstacles. The objects in his way are to go around him, not he going around them. When he pleads with the Lord to clear his way before him and not hedge his way, he is again speaking from experience, having seen the power of God make the earth “pass away,” and “cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places” (1 Ne. 17:46) to be broken up. Laman and Lemuel witnessed these miracles, too, which is why he said to them that “ye also know” (1 Ne. 17:46.)

All these things happened in their eight year trek across Asia, while following an undeviating, straight course to the promised land. Jacob said “that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea” (Jacob 4:6.) You can bet that such gifts came in handy as they plugged onward and eastward through the Asian continent. For, again, it was never the design of God that they go around obstacles, such as mountains, but to either go over them, or through them, or to use their faith to remove them from their path, that the course of the Lord would remain straight and that God could show forth His power to them, that they might glorify His name and that the whole journey would serve as a type.

How the Liahona worked

The Liahona contained two spindles, both of which operated in a miraculous manner. One spindle pointed to true north, differing from normal compasses, which point to magnetic north. Nevertheless, the Liahona was still called a compass despite its apparent violation of the laws of physics. The other spindle pointed the way the party was to go. When they were finally on the trip to the promised land, that spindle pointed nearly eastward, to an exact spot of land, the very place they were to land their ship on the western coast of North America. No matter which direction they turned the Liahona, each spindle always pointed to those two spots: one pointing to true north and the other pointing to the landing spot on the west coast of North America.

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them. And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things. (1 Ne. 16:28-29)

Alma said, “[The Liahona] was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness” (Alma 37:39), not the direction. Lehi’s party had to do two things with the Liahona: first, they had to give “faith and diligence and heed” (1 Ne. 16: 28) to the pointers (spindles), and secondly, they had to give “faith and diligence” (1 Ne. 16:29) to the writing that appeared upon it from time to time.

How the Liahona worked

Obeying the spindles

One spindle pointed to them the course, while the other spindle (which pointed to true north) allowed them to know the direction, they were to travel. The difference between course and direction is significant. The course is the path they were expected to travel and there was just one such prescribed path. If they did not travel on that specific course, the Liahona stopped working. And they were expected to go along the path and in the direction that the spindle pointed, regardless of the obstacle that may have been in their path. If they tried to deviate to go around an obstacle, the Liahona stopped working. If they tried to go around an obstacle, so that they were now on the other side of the obstacle, but in the apparent path that the Liahona had previously pointed out (when it was working), it still did not begin working. Any deviation was a sin, because they did not give faith, diligence and heed to the pointer and the path it pointed out.

To cause the Liahona to begin working again, they had to return to the point at which it worked previously, and then resume following the spindle from that point onward, through the obstacle they had attempted to avoid. Thus, it was impossible for them to find the promised land except by following the precise path that the Liahona pointed out to them. There were no short cuts. The manner in which they got the Liahona working again was also to serve as a type, for the repentance process. When we repent, we “return” to the Lord. When they repented from their course deviation, they “returned” to the point prior to where they had deviated from the course.

Obeying the writing

In addition to following the precise course pointed out by the spindles, they also had to follow whatever other instructions were written upon the Liahona from day to day. The spindles and the writings were designed to both test and develop their faith and diligence. The writings developed faith by giving instructions in order to have miracles happen, that they would be able to find food, warmth, light, healing and have the obstacles in their way overcome. The whole thing was miraculous, through and through. In other words, none of the instructions were mundane, or of a non-miraculous nature. Whatever they were instructed to do by the writings, was, essentially, impossible to do. But they were expected to do it anyway. In this way, “they had…many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day” (Alma 37:40.)

The writing part of the Liahona is what both Nephi and Alma referred to as “small means.” The writings were similar to how Elisha healed Naaman of leprosy, who was instructed to dip himself seven times in the Jordan. The whole premise of being healed in this way is preposterous, yet the miracle occurred anyway. Such were all of the written instructions upon the Liahona. Great and marvelous and miraculous works were accomplished by the party when they had faith in the writings and were diligent in following them precisely, despite the rational mind’s natural rejection of them.

When they did not exercise faith to make the Liahona work, the spindles (both of them) no longer pointed to their two locations. (Perhaps they just spun around or dipped or joined together or did some other thing that alerted the party that the device no longer worked.) And the miraculous writings stopped appearing, “and then those marvelous works ceased” (Alma 37:41.)

Both spindles were fixed

The direction of the spindle that pointed to the promised land was always fixed. It did not point to them a series of directions to get to the promised land, such as east, then northeast, then southeast, then east again, so that they could go around obstacles in their path, but it simply pointed a straight course to the promised land, or it pointed to the exact spot at the promised land that the Lord was leading them to, as well as the course they were to travel. It did this whether over land or over sea.

The Liahona operated in a similar way for the first leg of the trip, pointing to a spot nearly south-southeast of Lemuel, somewhere down the eastern coast of the Red Sea. When they got to that spot, it pointed nearly north-northwest to a spot close to Lemuel, then it pointed to Camp #4, which was close to Jerusalem, so that the party “traveled nearly the same course as in the beginning”, or retraced nearly the same path they had already traveled. Finally, it pointed to some exact location in North America. In each of these occasions in which it pointed to different, but exact places, it was a straight course. There was no crooked wandering involved, only wandering in a straight course, because this is how it worked, after the manner of the Lord.

The voyage over sea was also straight

When Nephi stated, “and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Ne. 17:1) everyone misinterprets him as referring only to that portion of their journey which was over land, and not to that portion which was over water. They assume that once upon the waters of the sea, the ship traveled a crooked path. But this assumption is taken only because everyone thinks they launched from the Arabian peninsula. The truth of the matter is that Nephi’s words apply to the entire journey, over land and sea, all the way to the promised land. They traveled “nearly eastward from that time forth” over both land and water.

The course of their travels.” (Nephi’s summary of 1 Nephi)

The Arabian Sea path theory is wrong because of the nature of Nephi’s account. Although the account is an abridgment, Nephi is giving us compass directions so that we know where they went. He tells us nearly south-southeast. Then he tells us they retraced their path, nearly to Jerusalem. Then he tells us that they visited Nahom (to bury Ishmael), an already existing place in Jerusalem, as if we ought to know where that place is. Then he tells us Lehi leads the party out of Jerusalem, to their camp. Then he tells us they went from that time forth nearly eastward. Nephi tells us these directions because it is enough information for us to figure out their path, both on the land and on the sea.

The Arabian Sea path theory, though, would have Nephi give us directions on the land only, and then when it comes to the sea path, well, then he does not tell us where they went, nor where they landed in America, because they zigzagged around on the water, supposedly. So, perhaps they landed in Chile, perhaps somewhere else. It is anyone’s guess.

In other words, the Arabian Sea path theory, which is false, defeats the purpose of Nephi in showing us the path they took.

Who cares that you launched from the Arabian peninsula, Nephi? We still don’t have enough information to know where you landed in the Americas!”

Of course, such is not case. We now know both the path taken by the party over land, over sea, and also the approximate spot they landed at the promised land. And the whole thing is consistent with the scriptures, without having to wrest what they have said about how the Liahona actually worked, etc.

Footnotes

1 The average daily walking distance for humans over level land is about 20 miles a day, however a loaded camel can traverse about 25 miles a day. This means that for the three days of travel, the family may have covered anywhere from 60 to 75 miles from the northern rim of the Red Sea. Owing that they were trying to escape an assassination attempt upon Lehi, they might have been in a rush to get as far away and as quickly from Jerusalem as possible, so their walk was very possibly quite brisk, which may have allowed them to cover more ground than average for each of these three days.

At the far end of possibilities, in terms of the distance they may have been able to cover in three days, lies Wadi Tayyib al-Ism, which is at the 75 mile mark, just about the right distance for loaded camel travel and which has all of the right characteristics for being the valley of Lemuel, as well as the “only observed continually running source of water in the entire region.” The stream technically empties into the Red Sea from underground, diving “beneath a gravel bed 600 or so yards from the shoreline,” though there is geological evidence that at one time in the past the water level of the Red Sea connected to the mouth of the river, so that it was actually observed to empty into it. This may be where Lehi made his first camp.

2 Charlotte wrote:

We know Nephi had sisters because they are mentioned in 2 Nephi 5:6 (“Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.”)

1 Nephi 2:5 lists the people that traveled in the wilderness with Lehi. (“And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.”)

I think it is commonly believed that the sisters of Nephi are not listed because they are female, and that answer satisfied me when I first asked the question as a young woman. However, that explanation is no longer satisfactory. I don’t think it makes sense when you consider that Sariah is a woman and she made it onto the list.

Some time ago, before I had really gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon, I decided to read it again, and that verse (1 Nephi 2:5) stuck out to me. At the time, I believed that the sisters of Nephi should have been listed, and I confess it started to kind of bother me. At the time, I felt like I had two choices: I could believe this verse was a flaw; that Nephi made a mistake when he left his sisters off the list; I could criticize the best book ever written and one of the greatest prophets this world has ever known; I could let that verse put doubt into my mind about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Or I could have faith that there is a perfectly good explanation.

I chose faith.

We always have a choice between faith and doubt.

And God blessed me for it.

There came into my mind a perfectly good explanation: the sisters of Nephi were perhaps already married to the sons of Ishmael and weren’t part of the household of Lehi anymore. I felt at peace and I went back to re-read the narrative to confirm that the idea was in harmony with the scriptures.

I found that the theory does indeed fit the scriptures, and that it actually helps to explain some curious parts of the story.

It helps explain why Ishmael’s household was willing to follow Nephi into the wilderness. I can just imagine the sisters of Nephi wanting to go with their mother and helping to convince their husbands that it was a good idea. Also, Ishmael was not just a family friend but was actually related to Lehi by marriage. Ishmael and Lehi perhaps had grandchildren in common. My husband and I were the first ones in our families to get married, and our families have always been close. Our families still have an Epiphany party together every January, and my father-in-law often has dinner with my parents, even though my husband and I live too far away to attend. There are other examples as well of how our families are close. Because of this, it is easy for me to imagine the strong connection Ishmael and Lehi might have had.

It’s one thing for a theory to make sense, but it’s something more for there to be scriptures that support the theory. Besides the sisters not being listed in 1 Nephi 2:5 but showing up in the story later, I have found a few more scriptures that help to convince me that my theory is right.

1 Nephi 7:1 mentions the need for Lehi’s sons to get married, but doesn’t say anything about his daughters needing to get married: “AND now I would that ye might know, that after my father, Lehi, had made an end of prophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise.”

One of the strongest verses in support of my theory is this one. When Nephi and his brothers were leading Ishmael and his household into the wilderness, some of the party rebelled against Nephi. 1 Nephi 7:6: “And it came to pass that as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the daughters of Ishmael, and the two sons of Ishmael and their families, did rebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters.” Notice that this verse says “the two sons of Ishmael AND THEIR FAMILIES.” This is a clue that the sons of Ishmael were already married at this point.

1 Nephi 16:7 lists several marriages that took place in the wilderness, but it doesn’t mention the sons of Ishmael getting married. “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife.”

There is no mistaking the fact that the sons of Ishmael were married at some point. Several scriptures mention their wives or their families (see, for example, 1 Nephi 7:6; 1 Nephi 16:27; 1 Nephi 18:9). I suppose there might be another theory that allows the sons of Ishmael to be married to women other than Nephi’s sisters, but there is some additional evidence that they were indeed married to Nephi’s sisters: Lehi calls the sons of Ishmael his sons (2 Nephi 1:28: “And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing.”), which makes the most sense if they were his sons-in-law. He does not call Zoram his son (2 Nephi 1:30: “And now, Zoram, I speak unto you: Behold, thou art the servant of Laban; nevertheless, thou hast been brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and I know that thou art a true friend unto my son, Nephi, forever.”) so I don’t think Lehi considered the sons of Ishmael to be his sons in a figurative sense.

If you believe Nephi’s sisters were married to the sons of Ishmael (no matter when they actually married them), you might notice that in 2 Nephi, when Lehi has died and the party separates into two groups, the story seems to imply that the sons of Ishmael go with Laman (2 Nephi 4:13: “And it came to pass that not many days after his death, Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael were angry with me because of the admonitions of the Lord.”) and the sisters of Nephi leave their husbands to go with Nephi (2 Nephi 5:6, quoted in full above).

All-in-all, I think the scriptures support my theory more than they support the idea that the sisters of Nephi traveled into the wilderness with Lehi from the beginning and married the sons of Ishmael later.

3 The average distance they could have traveled between Lemuel and Shazer would have been 80 miles walking and 100 miles with loaded camels. To recap: it took three days to get to the valley of Lemuel and four more days to get to Shazer. Shazer, then, was seven days’ walking distance (one week) from the land of Jerusalem, or between 140 (at 20 miles per day) and 175 (at 25 miles per day) miles away.

4 Using the Rule of Marteloio, for every 100 miles they traveled East by North (78.75º) or East by South (101.25º), it means that their position relative to East (90º) was as if they traveled 98 miles East and then traveled 20 miles either North or South. For a bearing of 91º or 89º, the Rule of Marteloio would put you 1 mile North or South for every 54.635 miles you travel East.

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