Category:Bedouin/Desert travel

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The characteristics of desert travel by Bedouins

Parent page: Bedouin

Matters of desert travel which match 1 Nephi

Turning now to the corpus of inscriptions, we find an eloquent commentary to Nephi's text. An inscription of Lehi's own contemporary, Nebuchadnezzar, tells us, referring to the deserts between "the upper sea" and the "lower sea," i.e., North Arabia, of "steep paths, closed roads, where the step is confined. There was no place for food, difficult roads, thirsty roads have I passed through."3 "O Radu," says one old writing scratched by some Bedouin in the rocks of Lehi's desert, "help Shai' in a country exposed to the sun!"4 Here Radu is a tribal deity, and Shai is the wanderer. Another writes: that "he journeyed with the camels in the years in which the heat of the sun was intense [?], and he longed for Saiyad his brother. So O Allat [a female deity] [grant] peace and coolness!"5 "O Radu," another prays, "deliver us from adversity, and may we be saved!"6 The word for "saved," nakhi, reminds us of what was said above of the feeling of dependence on God which the desert forces upon men. The constant feeling of being lost, and the realization that without help one can never be saved, is a real as well as a "spiritual" one in the desert. "O Radu, deliver us from misfortune, that we may live!"7 This inscription from the Thamud country just east of Lehi's route, sounds like scripture—but there is nothing figurative about it. "O Allat," another traveler prays, "deliver 'Abit from burning thirst!"8 "On a journey," Burckhardt tells us, "the Arabs talk but little; for . . . much talking excites thirst, and parches up the palate."9 No wonder they give the impression of being "a lonesome and solemn people!" "It is no exaggeration," writes a present-day authority, "to say that the Bedouin is in an almost permanent state of starvation."10 "Many times between their waterings," Doughty reports, "there is not a pint of water left in the greatest sheykh's tent."[1]

Camping and movement in the desert

Lehi's party is described as moving through the desert for a few days (three or four, one would estimate) and then camping "for the space of a time." This is exactly the way the Arabs move....
The number of days spent camping at any one place varies (as in the Book of Mormon) with circumstances. "From ten to twelve days is the average time a Bedouin encampment of ordinary size will remain on the same ground," according to Jennings-Bramley, who, however, observes, "I have known them to stay in one spot for as long as five or six months."15 The usual thing is to camp as long as possible in one place until "it is soiled by the beasts, and the multiplication of fleas becomes intolerable, and the surroundings afford no more pastureage, [then] the tents are pulled down and the men decamp."16 "On the Syrian and Arabic plain," according to Burckhardt, "the Bedouins encamp in summer . . . near wells, where they remain often for a whole month."17 Lehi's time schedule thus seems to be a fairly normal one, and the eight years he took to cross Arabia argue neither very fast nor very slow progress—the BanÄ« Hilāl took twenty-seven years to go a not much greater distance. After reaching the seashore, Lehi's people simply camped there "for the space of many days," until a revelation again put them in motion.[2]

The More Fertile Parts of the Wilderness

"The goal of the migration is always the watering place," we are told.18 "Ranging from one spring to another," writes Condor," . . . the nomads seem to resemble the Jews at the period when, for forty years, they lived in the wilderness."19 The resemblance was not lost on Lehi's people. Speaking of the wells which Abraham dug, "and which had to be re-opened by Isaac," Conder notes that they "were perhaps similar to the HÅ­feiyir, or 'pits,' which the Arabs now dig in the beds of great valleys."20 These were "the more fertile parts of the wilderness" (1 Nephi 16:16) of which Nephi speaks. "The wadis," writes Norman Lewis, ". . . actually simplify long distance travel. In the dry season they become natural roads of great length and in places are often several hundred yards wide. Their beds are firm and flat, and in them is to be found whatever moisture or vegetation exists in an arid country. For these reasons they are a boon to caravans, which often follow their courses for hundreds of miles."21 Not long ago Professor Frankfort wrote of the south desert, "The secret of moving through its desolation has at all times been kept by the Bedawin [sic]."22 Intrepid explorers of our own day have learned the secret, however, and Lehi knew of it too. Like a sudden flash of illumination comes the statement that Lehi by divine instruction "led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness" (1 Nephi 16:16). Woolley and Lawrence describe such "more fertile parts" as "stretching over the flat floor of the plain in long lines like hedges." 23 They are the depressions of dried-up watercourses, sometimes hundreds of miles long. They furnish, according to Bertram Thomas, "the arteries of life in the steppe, the path of Bedouin movement, the habitat of animals, by reason of the vegetation—scant though it is—which flourishes in their beds alone."24 In Arabia it is this practice of following "the more fertile parts of the wilderness" that alone makes it possible for both men and animals to survive. Cheesman designates as "touring" the practice followed men and beasts of moving from place to place in the desert as spots of fertility shift with the seasons.25[3]

Dangers to the solo desert traveler

Nephi mentions in passing the carnivora of the desert, which were one of the standard terrors and dangers of the way to the lone traveler. His brothers, he says, "sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts" (1 Nephi 7:16). Whether he was to be left living or dead (and both practices were followed),35 the danger would be the same, for in any case he would be left alone. Thus we read in the ancient inscriptions of the desert of one who "encamped at this water-place; then the lion wounded him."36 Another reports that he "came from perilous places in the year in which Ahlan was ripped!"37 Others tell of having their animals attacked by lions.38 Another tells how "there pursued him a wolf that continued a year to assault him from a hiding-place." 39 All these were lone victims, and it is being alone that Nephi says would expose him to the beasts.[4]

Nephi's hunting is accurate as to risks and game

Hunting in the mountains of Arabia to this day is carried out on foot and without hawks or dogs.41 Nephi's discovery that the best hunting was only at "the top of the mountain" (1 Nephi 16:30) agrees with later experience, for the oryx is "a shy animal that travels far and fast over steppe and desert in search of food but retires ever to the almost inaccessible sand-mountains for safety."42 In western Arabia the mountains are not sand but rock, and Burckhardt reports that "in these mountains between Medina and the sea, all the way northward [this is bound to include Lehi's area], mountain-goats are met with, and . . . leopards are not uncommon." 43 Julius Euting has left us vivid descriptions of the danger, excitement, and exhaustion that go with the hunting of the big game that abounds in these mountains, which are, by the way, very steep and rugged.44[5]

Eating raw meat in the desert

Nephi vividly remembers the eating of raw meat by his people in the desert and its salutary effect on the women, who "did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men" (1 Nephi 17:2). "Throughout the desert," writes Burckhardt "when a sheep or goat is killed, the persons present often eat the liver and kidney raw, adding to it a little salt. Some Arabs of Yemen are said to eat raw not only those parts, but likewise whole slices of flesh; thus resembling the Abyssinians and the Druses of Libanon, who frequently indulge in raw meat, the latter to my own certain knowledge."45 Nilus, writing fourteen centuries earlier, tells how the Bedouin of the Tih live on the flesh of wild animals, failing which "they slaughter a camel, one of their beasts of burden, and nourish themselves like animals from the raw meat," or else scorch the flesh quickly in a small fire to soften it sufficiently not to have to gnaw it "like dogs." 46 Only too well does this state of things match the grim economy of Lehi: "They did suffer much for the want of food" (1 Nephi 16:19); "we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 17:2).[6]

Route of travel in the Arabian desert

It is obvious that the party went down the eastern and not the western shore of the Red Sea (as some have suggested) from the fact that they changed their course and turned east at the nineteenth parallel of latitude, and "did travel nearly eastward from that time forth," passing through the worst desert of all, where they "did travel and wade through much affliction," and "did live upon raw meat in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 17:1—2). Had the party journeyed on the west coast of the Red Sea, they would have had only water to the east of them at the nineteenth parallel and for hundreds of miles to come. But why the nineteenth parallel? Because Joseph Smith may have made an inspired statement to that effect.47 He did not know, of course, and nobody knew until the 1930s, that only by taking a "nearly eastward" direction from that point could Lehi have reached the one place where he could find the rest and the materials necessary to prepare for his long sea voyage.
Of the Qara Mountains which lie in that limited sector of the coast of South Arabia which Lehi would have reached if he turned east at the nineteenth parallel, Bertram Thomas, one of the few Europeans who has ever seen them, writes:
What a glorious place! Mountains three thousand feet high basking above a tropical ocean, their seaward slopes velvety with waving jungle, their roofs fragrant with rolling yellow meadows, beyond which the mountains slope northwards to a red sandstone steppe. . . . Great was my delight when in 1928 I suddenly came upon it all from out of the arid wastes of the southern borderlands. 48
As to the terrible southeastern desert, "The Empty Quarter," which seems from Nephi's account to have been the most utter desolation of all, Burton could write as late as 1852:
Of the Rub'a al-Khali I have heard enough, from credible relators, to conclude that its horrid depths swarm with a large and half-starving population; that it abounds in Wadys, valleys, gullies and ravines, . . . that the land is open to the adventurous traveler.49
The best western authority on Arabia was thus completely wrong about the whole nature of the great southeast quarter a generation after the Book of Mormon appeared, and it was not until 1930 that the world knew that the country in which Lehi's people were said to have suffered the most is actually the worst and most repelling desert on earth.
In Nephi's picture of the desert everything checks perfectly. There is not one single slip amid a wealth of detail, the more significant because it is so casually conveyed.[7]

Restrictions on building fires in the desert

The key to the first of these is an enlightening comment on cooking and firemaking:
For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said: I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not; and I will also be your light in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:12—13).
It was only "as we journeyed" that the Lord restricted firemaking; there was no restraint once they reached the seashore, nor was fire ever forbidden absolutely, but only "much fire." Since there was nothing wrong with fire as such, why the limitation? "I remember," writes Bertram Thomas, "taking part in a discussion upon the unhealthiness of campfires by night; we discontinued them forthwith in spite of the bitter cold."1 Major Cheesman's guide would not even let him light a tiny lamp to jot down star readings, and they never dared build a fire on the open plain, where it "would attract the attention of a prowling raiding party over long distances and invite a night attack."2 Once in a while in a favorably sheltered depression "we dared to build a fire that could not be seen from a higher spot," writes Raswan.3 That is, fires are not absolutely out of the question, but rare and risky—not much fire, was Lehi's rule. And fires in the daytime are almost as risky as at night. Palgrave tells how his party were forced "lest the smoke of our fire should give notice to some distant rover, to content ourselves with dry dates," instead of cooked food.[8]

The Tent of Lehi

It is most significant how Nephi speaks of his father's tent; it is the official center of all administration and authority. First the dogged insistence of Nephi on telling us again and again that "my father dwelt in a tent" (1 Nephi 2:15; 9:1; 10:16; 16:6). So what? we ask, but to an Oriental that statement says everything. Since time immemorial the whole population of the Near East have been either tent-dwellers or house-dwellers, the people of the bait ash-sha'r or the bait at-tin, "houses of hair or houses of clay."32 It was Harmer who first pointed out that one and the same person may well alternate between the one way of life and the other, and he cites the case of Laban in Genesis 31:, where "one is surprised to find both parties so suddenly equipped with tents for their accommodation in traveling," though they had all along been living in houses.33 Not only has it been the custom for herdsmen and traders to spend part of the year in tents and part in houses, but "persons of distinction" in the East have always enjoyed spending part of the year in tents for the pure pleasure of a complete change.34
It is clear from 1 Nephi 3:1; 4:38; 5:7; 7:5; 7:21—22; 15:1; and 16:10, that Lehi's tent is the headquarters for all activities, all discussion and decisions.[9]

Thirteen desert motifs in Lehi's dream

In reporting his father's dreams, Nephi has handed us, as it were, over a dozen vivid little snapshots or colored slides of the desert country that show that somebody who had a hand in the writing of the Book of Mormon actually lived there:

1. The first is a picture of a lone traveler, Lehi himself, in "a dark and dreary waste" (1 Nephi 8:4-7); he has "traveled for the space of many hours in darkness," and in desperation "began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me" (1 Nephi 8:8).

Now if we turn to the vast photo-album of Arabic lyric poetry or to the actual photographs of inscriptions scratched on a thousand red rocks, we will find almost countless duplications of this particular snapshot-the lone wanderer lost in the darkness. Of all the images that haunt the early Arab poets this is by all odds the most common. It is the standard nightmare of the Arab; and it is the supreme boast of every poet that he has traveled long distances through dark and dreary wastes all alone.1 That the poetry is born of grim reality may be seen from the inscriptions. One fellow, many centuries ago, reminds us of an event that took place "in the year in which he walked the whole night in the mire."2 In the inscriptions a thousand lone wanderers send up, in desperation, prayers for help: "O Radu, help Shai!" "O Allat and Gad-'Awidh, grant protection!" 3 The great Abu Zaid said there was one prayer that he had learned in a dream which alone was his guarantee of safety in the desert: "Preserve me, O God; . . . guard me in my person and my property. . . . Cover me with the curtain of thy grace."4 Just as Nephi prays: "O Lord wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!" as he wanders "in the path of the low valley" (2 Nephi 4:32-33).

2. In the next picture we see "a large and spacious field" (1 Nephi 8:9), "a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world" (1 Nephi 8:20). This in Arabic is the symbol of release from fear and oppression, the state of being mabsūṭ or spread out. The Arab poet describes the world as a maidan, or large and spacious field,5 an image borrowed by the earliest Christian writers, notably the Pastor of Hermes and the Pseudo-Clementines, for the religious symbolism of the maidan is as old as it is obvious.6 Heroic literature is full of it.

3. The next picture is a close-up of a tree-"the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow" (1 Nephi 11:8), "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy, . . . most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted; . . . the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen, . . . desirable above all other fruit" (1 Nephi 8:10-12).

Where would one find such a tree in the poets? Only in the gardens of kings. The Persian King, and in imitation of him, the Byzantine Emperor and the Great Khan, had such trees constructed artificially out of pure silver to stand beside their thrones and represent the Tree of Life,7 and if the reader has a genuine Persian or Turkish rug in his home he may discover that the central pattern, though stylized almost beyond recognition, represents either a flowing vase (the water of life) or a tree. The naturalistic curves and tendrils that surround the tree and run to the ornamental border are nothing less than the garden of Eden, and the tree in the center is the Tree of Life. The rug pattern turns up on Cappadocian seals four thousand years old. Many hundreds of books and articles have been written on the Tree of Life as a symbol and a cult-object, but in no land on earth is the sight of a real tree, and especially a fruit-bearing one, greeted with more joy and reverence than in treeless Arabia, where certain trees are regarded as holy because of their life-giving propensities.8

4. In the next picture the man who has found the tree all by himself is looking for his family, that they too might be revived by the fruit: "I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; . . . and . . . I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family" (1 Nephi 8:12-13).

Perhaps the most common and most touching theme in the vast corpus of Arabic desert inscriptions is the theme of longing and looking for one's family. When the writer comes to water and rests, he wishes for his family, and is usually smitten with terrible longing to see them. The desire is often intensified by the sudden recognition of some long forgotten landmark, as in the poets, or by noting an inscription put there, maybe years ago, by the lost loved ones, or some other little reminder of an earlier and happier visit to the place. Thus: "N. encamped in this place yearning . . . and he yearned for Shal-bal." "And he found the inscriptions of A. and of his father, so he yearned for them."9 "And he found the inscription of his uncle, so he yearned for him." "And he found the inscription of his uncle, and he longed."10 "N. camped here . . . and he was looking out for his imprisoned fellows. So O Baal-Samin, rest to those who are distressed."11 "H. . . . found the inscriptions of his fellows and was sad."12 "N. N. laid a stone on the tomb of his brother who was killed. . . . And he was looking out for his two brothers."13

5. In the next picture we see the missing family resting at a spring and trying to decide which way to go. From the spring comes "a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree; . . . and I saw the head thereof a little way off" (1 Nephi 8:13-14). This is the authentic "scenery of a desert oasis, with its rivers springing miraculously from nowhere and emptying themselves again perhaps in the desert sands."14 The expression "river of water" is used only for small, local streams, 15 and here Lehi is so near the source of the little stream that he can recognize people standing there.

6. The next picture is largely a blur, for it represents a "mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost" (1 Nephi 8:23). We see other dim figures, guiding themselves to the tree by holding on to a rod or railing of iron as they "did press forward through the mist of darkness" (1 Nephi 8:24).

In the many passages of Arabic poetry in which the hero boasts that he has traveled long distances through dark and dreary wastes all alone, the main source of terror (the heat and glare of the day, though nearly always mentioned, are given second place), and the culminating horror is almost always a "mist of darkness," a depressing mixture of dust, and clammy fog, which, added to the night, completes the confusion of any who wander in the waste.16 Quite contrary to what one would expect, these dank mists are described by travelers in all parts of Arabia, and Al-Ajajj, one of the greatest of early desert poets, tells how a mist of darkness makes it impossible for him to continue a journey to Damascus.17 In its nature and effect Lehi's mist of darkness conforms to this strange phenomenon most exactly, always bearing in mind that this dream-mist was a super-mist, "exceedingly great." A very ancient Arabic tale recounts how when the Pharaoh of Joseph's time was on an expedition in the desert he found himself "in a dark valley, in which he heard a great outcry, yet he could see no people because of the thick darkness." There he did a strange thing-he built a great and wonderful castle of light, which was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Egyptian lands.18

7. This strongly suggests the picture of "a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth . . . on the other side of the river (1 Nephi 8:26). By now most of us have seen photographs of those wonderful ancient Arab houses (first "discovered" in the 1930s) built after the Babylonian design of Lehi's day, "ten-and twelve-story skyscrapers that . . . represent genuine survivals of ancient Babylonian architecture," 19 with their windows beginning, for the sake of defense, twenty to fifty feet from the ground. At night these lighted windows would certainly give the effect of being suspended above the earth. The eighth book of Hamdani's al-Iklil is devoted to describing the early castles of Arabia, "great and spacious buildings" which "stood as it were in the air, high above the earth." "And the castle of Ghumdan," writes Hamdani, of one of the most famous, "had twenty stories of upper chambers, one above another. There is disagreement as to its heighth and breadth, for some say each of its walls measured a thousand by a thousand (i.e., cubits: a "great and spacious building" indeed!), while others say it was greater, and that each of its stories was ten cubits (15 feet) high."20 In Arabic parlance the prime index of elegance and ease in any house or dwelling (including tents) is always "spaciousness."

8. The next picture shows a party going on in the big house: "And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit" (1 Nephi 8:27). As others came and joined the party they also joined in the mockery (1 Nephi 8:33). For "the large and spacious building, which my father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men" (1 Nephi 12:18). "And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw; . . . the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great" (1 Nephi 11:35-36).

Now speaking of the great castle of Ghumdan, the poet Al-A'asha tells us:

And never was there a more splendid assemblage of people than the people of Ghumdan when they gathered. But dire calamity befell them, even as a wailing woman who has been utterly bereft.21

Hamdani gives other accounts of this and other castles, whose legends and whose silent ruins all point to the same moral lesson-the magnificent gathering in the great and spacious building high above the earth is doomed to the destruction reserved for the haughty and the wicked, just as Pharaoh's shining "castle of light" in the desert was said to have been destroyed by the same conqueror who leveled the pride of Jerusalem and Tyre in Lehi's day.

9. The mockery, mimicry and finger-pointing that passed for sport among the smartly dressed people in the spacious house were directed at a poor little bedraggled band of wanderers, hungrily eating the fruit of the tree that stood nearby and terribly humiliated at having their poverty made an object of public merriment. "And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed" (1 Nephi 8:25), for all the fine people upstairs were "mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them" (1 Nephi 8:27-28).

"The Bedouin in a town appears to be a very different man from the same person in the Desert," writes Burckhardt. "He knows that the town's-people, whom he despises, entertain absurd notions respecting his nation. . . . The wandering Arabs have certainly more wit and sagacity than the people who live in towns; their heads are always clear, their spirits unimpaired by debauchery."22 What is more natural than that the "city Arabs" should "mock their desert cousins [whom they secretly envy] with every show of open contempt"? "The 'million' are educated in the towns," a recent observer reports, "and they have always despised the Bedouins, like a certain inhabitant of Jericho whom I met in 1947, who, though quite uneducated himself, made fun of certain poor desert Arabs who were passing by with all their baggage: women, children, camels, chickens, and the rest,"23 a funny sight indeed. While every visitor is impressed by the pride and nobility of the desert Arab at home and notes his contempt for sedentary life, this contempt is met by equal contempt, and "both sides would consider themselves degraded" by a marriage between the desert people and the dwellers in houses of clay.24 In town the Arab is, so to speak, on enemy ground, and keenly sensitive to his position. Nobody likes mockery-least of all the proud and touchy Arab.

10. As a result of being scoffed at, the victims beat a retreat in confusion and humiliation: "and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost" (1 Nephi 8:28). If this seems an extreme reaction to a little loss of face, we need only contemplate a touching inscription cut in the rocks by one who "encamped at this place . . . and he rushed forth in the year in which he was grieved by the scoffing of the people: he drove together and lost the camels. . . . Rest to him who leaves (this inscription) untouched!" 25

11. Our snapshots include a number of moving little pictures of parties lost in the desert. Because of the mist of darkness one group "who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost" (1 Nephi 8:23:{{{4}}}). Many on their way to the great and spacious building "were lost from his [Lehi's] view, wandering in strange roads" (1 Nephi 8:32). It is the devil, we are told, who "leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost" (1 Nephi 12:17).

Need we say that to get lost in the desert is the chief waking dread and most common nightmare of the Arab? The first westerner to explore Lehi's desert in modern times was Edward Robinson, who writes: "On a course N.W., we launched forth into the 'great and terrible wilderness.' . . . The desert however could not be said to be pathless, for the many camel-tracks showed that we were on a great road."26 To stray from that broad way, to become separated from one's party, is fatal. The religious imagery of "going astray" needs no long commentary. "[No one] will succeed in having his pilgrimage accepted," says Hariri, "who goes astray from the broad road of rectitude."27 It is pure insanity to strike off for oneself in a moment of vain glory and self-sufficiency. "He went astray and made a hasty journey," one inscription recounts, "and O Dusares, protect him!"28 Another man tells us how "he found traces of his fellows and longed for them," while being "heavy hearted on account of his brother and on account of his father and on account of his uncle, and he was afraid of the enemy."29 That is a sad little reminder of how families could get separated forever in the desert. Many of the personal inscriptions in the huge collection of Littmann are messages left behind in the desperate attempt to get in touch with relatives. Typical is No. 156: "By S. . . . and he found the inscription of his uncle, and he longed for him. So, O Allah, peace to him who leaves [this inscription untouched], and relief!" 30

12. To symbolize what is utterly inaccessible, Lehi is shown "a great and a terrible gulf" (1 Nephi 12:18), "an awful gulf" (1 Nephi 15:28), a tremendous chasm with one's objective (the tree of life) maddeningly visible on the other side; all who have traveled in the desert know the feeling of utter helplessness and frustration at finding one's way suddenly cut off by one of those appalling canyons with perpendicular sides-nothing could be more abrupt, more absolute, more baffling to one's plans, and so will it be with the wicked in a day of reckoning. Hariri describes death as "a chasm drear" which sooner or later confronts all mortals.31 Many recent photographs show us that Burton was not exaggerating when he described the "titanic walls, lofty donjons, huge projecting bastions, and moats full of deep shade" that are a characteristic of Lehi's desert.32 It is very much like the "red rock" country of our own Southwest.

13. One of the most remarkable of our snapshots is that of a "fountain of filthy water" (1 Nephi 12:16:{{{4}}})-"the water which my father saw was filthiness" (1 Nephi 15:27).

"And . . . many were drowned in the depths of the fountain" (1 Nephi 8:32). This was a typical desert sayl, a raging torrent of liquid filth that sweeps whole camps to destruction. In the year 960 A.D., according to Bar Hebraeus, a large band of pilgrims returning from Mekkah "encamped in the bed of a brook in which water had not flowed for a long time. And during the night, whilst they were sleeping, a flood of water poured down upon them all, and it swept them and all their possessions out into the Great Sea, and they all perished."33 Even a mounted rider, if he is careless, may be caught off guard and carried away by such a sudden spate of "head water," according to Doughty.34 One of the worst places for these gully-washing torrents of liquid mud is in "the scarred and bare mountains which run parallel to the west coast of Arabia. . . . The rainstorms break against this long ridge and produce almost in a moment raging torrents-the Arabic sail, spate-which sweep away all obstacles without warning and with loss of life of man and cattle."35 This was the very region through which Lehi traveled on his great trek.

"The situations [for camps] are not always, however, wisely chosen," one observer reports, "for, in more than one instance, a sudden thunderstorm in the hills has brought a flood down the great valleys, in the bottom of which the smaller groups of tents are often found, and the water has carried away and drowned the whole settlement, together with its flocks."36 Quite recently a visitor to Arabia has pointed to another interesting scriptural parallel:

A temptation exists to build villages to cater for the needs of the caravan traffic in wadis [the more fertile parts of the wilderness] which are thought to have permanently dried up. Thus it happens that the parable of the house built upon the sand still finds periodical illustration in actual fact. Recently, after many years of drought and consequent security, one such village near the Yemen road was suddenly obliterated when the wadi filled once again with a raging torrent of water from the mountain.37

The most minute and careful description of such an event is one recorded by a German engineer working in Palestine early in the present century. On May 18, 1913, there occurred a typical flash-flood in which "people from the Bedouin camps, camels, sheep, and also wild animals were swept away and killed by the terribly rapid rising of the floodwaters."38 The engineer visiting two valleys two days later was impressed more than anything else by the filthiness and mess of the thing. "Thick yellow mud, mixed with desert sand, clung to the bushes on the bank. . . . In the freshly-dried desert mud I found dead snakes, lizards, grasshoppers, beetles, shreds of blue cloth that belonged to the Bedouins, a piece of woolen rope and elsewhere small, half-petrified animals."39 Such storms as this, he says, occur about every ten or twelve years in the desert. Lehi had good reason to worry-and dream-about them! In the inscriptions we read of one who was "driven away from the watering-place of the camels by a torrent, in the year in which the tribe of Qadam drove away the tribe of Harim."40 Another inscription is "By A., and the sail drove him away at the water-place of the camels." 41 "By An., and the sail drove him away at Rass."42 Another "abode in the springtime in this valley, in the year in which the torrent passed along with his camels." To which Littmann appends a note: "It seems that a torrent took away the camels of Sawad. A sudden torrent sometimes tears down tents and seizes upon men and animals."43

Lehi's dreams are summed up in the words of a single brief poem by Rubah, who in a few lines describes the terror of loneliness of the long journey, in the mist of darkness (sultry and thick) the "awful gulf," the broad ways, and the paths that stray.44


Joseph Smith, Sr., according to his wife, once had the classic dream (as who has not?) of being lost and alone in a vast empty waste, only in his case he "could see nothing save dead, fallen timber."45 That is natural enough, for men dream by night of the things they see by day-that is what makes Lehi's dreams so convincing as authentic testimony. Only one who had actually seen those things would have dreamed them; only one who had been haunted by those fears and frightened by those situations would have been visited by them in a dream of the night.[10]


  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 18, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  2. 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 18, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  3. 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 18, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  4. 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 18, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  5. 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 18, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  6. 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 18, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  7. 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 18, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 20, references silently removed—consult original for citations.

Pages in category "Bedouin/Desert travel"

The following 27 pages are in this category, out of 27 total.