Source:Echoes:Ch5:16:Desert afflictions

Lehi's desert journey: Afflictions

Lehi's desert journey: Afflictions

It is important to add a few words about the kinds of vicissitudes that the party met along the way. Nephi said of their troubles that "we did . . . wade through much affliction," afterward characterizing the hardships less vividly as "afflictions and much difficulty" (1 Nephi 17:1,6). Later Book of Mormon authors who had consulted the full set of records added important details, speaking of the family's suffering from both "famine" and "all manner of diseases" while crossing the desert (Mosiah 1:17; Alma 9:22). Joseph Smith would not necessarily have known about either kind of difficulty.77

Modern knowledge of Arabia shows it to be a land of harsh deserts with agriculture only in certain spots. Charles Doughty calls northwest Arabia "this land of famine," adding that "famine is ever in the desert."78 In contrast, beginning with Theophrastus (372–287 BC), authors of the classical age, whose writings only savants in Joseph Smith's day would have had some access to, uniformly but incorrectly portrayed the region as one of agricultural abundance and natural, luxuriant growth, giving rise to the name Arabia Felix—Arabia the Blessed.79 Thus, Nephi's narrative agrees with what is now known of the Arabian Peninsula rather than with what was seemingly true about Arabia from ancient classical sources.

What about disease? To be sure, in both Strabo's account of the Roman military force that met disaster in Arabia in 25–24 BC and in a brief note in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea there is information about illness.80 But none of this information about the general climate of health was available to Joseph Smith. It is chiefly modern explorers who have documented the awful conditions that meet travelers. For example, Ahmed Fakhry speaks of a cultivated valley that only descendants of African slaves live in because of the high risk of malaria. Doughty writes of wells filled "with corrupt water" and "infected with camel urine," a common phenomenon. He adds that he and his fellow travelers had to strain out "wiggling white vermin . . . through . . . our kerchiefs."81 Hence, the Book of Mormon offers a portrait of difficulties compatible both with what has recently become known about desert travel in Arabia and with the ancient situation that has continued roughly the same into modern times because of unchanging travel and climatic conditions.82[1]


  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.