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Lehi at home in Middle East
Lehi at home in Middle East
Lehi does not belong in the fantastic world that passed as the Ancient East a few years ago. He is at home in a very different kind of world, and a very real one. In the brief compass of Nephi's account, which is an abridgment of his father's own journal, whose type it imitates and continues (1 Nephi 1:2,15-16), we are given an amazing amount of information, both general and particular, regarding conditions in Lehi's day. From this it can be shown that Lehi has an excellent claim to being a thoroughly representative man of his time and place. First consider what the Book of Mormon says.
Lehi was a man possessed of exceeding great wealth in the form of "gold and silver, and all manner of riches" (1 Nephi 3:16; 2:4). He had "his own house at Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 1:7); yet he was accustomed to "go forth" from the city from time to time (1 Nephi 1:5-7), and his paternal estate, the land of his inheritance, where the bulk of his fortune reposed, was some distance from the town (1 Nephi 3:16,22; 2:4). He came of an old, distinguished, and cultured family (1 Nephi 5:14-16). The opening verse of the Book of Mormon explains the expression "goodly parents" not so much in a moral sense as in a social one: Nephi tells us he came of a good family and "therefore" received a good traditional education: "I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father" (1 Nephi 1:1). He was of the tribe of Manasseh, which of all the tribes retained the old desert ways and was most active in the caravan trade.1 He seems to have had particularly close ties with Sidon (for the name appears repeatedly in the Book of Mormon, both in its Hebrew and Egyptian forms),2 which at that time was one of the two harbors through which the Israelites carried on an extremely active trade with Egypt and the West. He was proud of his knowledge of Egyptian and insisted on his sons learning it (Mosiah 1:4). He was a meticulous record keeper, conscientious to a fault, and given to addressing long moral tirades to youth (1 Nephi 1:16-17 and elsewhere). From his sons Nephi and Jacob one gathers that Lehi must have been something of an expert in vine, olive, and fig and honey culture.
He and his sons were connoisseurs of fine metal work (gold, silver, "precious things," weapons, armor, plates, engravings, "curious workmanship," "fine brass," etc.), though they had to acquire the skill of making them after they left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 17:9-10;19:1; 2 Nephi 5:14-15); that is, their relationship to fine workmanship and precious materials had been that of handlers and owners but not of artisans and craftsmen.3 As we shall see, Lehi's behavior was a remarkable combination of courtesy and firmness, gentleness and toughness, caution and daring. Put all these things together, and you have a perfectly consistent and convincing picture of Lehi the merchant.