Source:Nibley:CW06:Ch19:4:Lehi's sacrificial altar

Lehi's Altar

Lehi's sacrificial altar

As his first act, once his tent had been pitched for his first important camp, Lehi "built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks to the Lord" (1 Nephi 2:7). It is for all the world as if he had been reading Robertson Smith. "The ordinary . . . mark of a Semitic sanctuary [Hebrew as well as Arabic, that is] is the sacrificial pillar, cairn, or rude altar . . . upon which sacrifices are presented to the god. . . . In Arabia . . . we find no proper altar, but in its place a rude pillar or heap of stones, beside which the victim is slain."42 It was at this same altar of stones that Lehi and his family "did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings; . . . and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel" (1 Nephi 5:9) upon the safe return of his sons from their dangerous expedition to Jerusalem. When Raswan reports, "A baby camel was brought up to Mishal'il's tent as a sacrificial offer in honor of the safe return of Fuaz," we cannot help thinking of some such scene before the tent of Lehi on the safe return of his sons.43 This is what the Arabs call a dhabiyeḥ-l-kasb, a sacrifice to celebrate the successful return of warriors, hunters, and raiders to the camp. "This sacrifice," writes Jaussen, "is always in honor of an ancestor,"44 and Nephi twice mentions the tribal ancestor Israel in his brief account. In the best desert manner Lehi immediately after the thanksgiving fell to examining the "spoils" (1 Nephi 5:10).
To this day the Bedouin makes sacrifice on every important occasion, not for magical and superstitious reasons, but because he "lives under the constant impression of a higher force that surrounds him." Nilus, in the oldest known eyewitness account of life among the Arabs of the Tih, says, "They sacrifice on altars of crude stones piled together." 45 That Lehi's was such an altar would follow not only the ancient law demanding uncut stones, but also from the Book of Mormon expression "an altar of stones," which is not the same thing as "a stone altar." Such little heaps of stones, surviving from all ages, are still to be seen throughout the south desert.
We have seen that the first thing the Jewish merchant in Arabia would do on settling in a place, whether a camp or town, was to set up an altar. 46 Bertholet has argued that since the family and the house were identical in the common cult of hospitality, to be received as a guest was to be received into the family cult, of which the center was always the altar.47[1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), Chapter 19, references silently removed—consult original for citations.