Source:Echoes:Ch5:20:Nahom to Bountiful

Lehi's desert journey: Journey from Nahom to Bountiful

Lehi's desert journey: Journey from Nahom to Bountiful

The most important piece in this section concerns Nephi's note that "we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth," after events at Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1). This geographical notice is one of the few in Nephi's narrative, and it begs us to examine it. We first observe that, northwest of Marib, the ancient capital of the Sabean kingdom of south Arabia, almost all roads turn east, veering from the general north-south direction of the incense trail. Moreover—and we emphasize this point—the eastward bend occurs in the general area inhabited by the Nihm tribe. Joseph Smith could not have known about this eastward turn in the main incense trail. No source, ancient or contemporary, mentions it.90 Only a person who had traveled either near or along the trail would know that it turned eastward in this area. To be sure, the longest leg of the incense trail ran basically north-south along the upland side of the mountains of western Arabia (actually, from the north the trail held in a south-southeast direction, as Nephi said). But after passing south of Najran (modern Ukhdd, Saudi Arabia), both the main trail and several shortcuts turned eastward, all leading to Shabwah, the chief staging center for caravans in south Arabia.91 One spur of the trail continued farther southward to Aden. But the traffic along this section was very much less than that which went to and from Shabwah. The main trail and its spurs ran eastward, matching Nephi's description. Wells were there, and authorities at Shabwah controlled the finest incense of the region that was coming westward from Oman, both overland and by sea. It is the only place along the incense trail where traffic ran east-west. Further, ancient laws mandated where caravans were to carry incense and other goods, keeping traffic to this east-west corridor.92 Neither Joseph Smith nor anyone else in his society knew these facts. But Nephi did.

In a different vein, there are hints that this stage of the journey required the longest time and was the most difficult. Even though the distance from Nahom eastward to the seacoast—the party's Bountiful—was seven hundred miles or less, about half the distance that the party had already traveled from Jerusalem to Nahom, it seems that the party spent the bulk of its "eight years in the wilderness" on this leg of the journey (1 Nephi 17:4}. This observation should not surprise us. There is no clear evidence that, during the era of Lehi and Sariah, an established incense trail ran east of Shabwah, the major south Arabian city where caravans stopped to allow grading and taxing of incense coming from that general area. Instead, almost all goods reached Shabwah from the ancient seaport of Qana, which lay to the south.94 Hence, Lehi and Sariah could not even travel parallel to a route taken by camel drivers and their cargoes. Presumably their party followed a course that snaked eastward between the sands of the "Empty Quarter" on the north and the craggy landscape on the south.95 In addition, it is now known that the tribes in the region east of Shabwah were in a constant state of tension with one another and that a person could not cross tribal boundaries without having to negotiate afresh the terms of safe conduct. Such negotiations could and often did lead to temporary servility for the traveler among local tribes.96 Moreover, there were no assured sources of food in the region east of Shabwah except flocks and herds that belonged to tribesmen. Agriculture was little practiced.[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.