1 Nephi 8
Through the Wilderness to the Promised Land
(1 Nephi )
1 Nephi 8:1 All Manner of Seeds of Every Kind:
Hugh Nibley claims that Lehi's party took grain with them and "all manner of seed of every kind" (1 Nephi 8:1). The Arabs, as we shall see . . . do this when they migrate in earnest, packing the seed in big, black 150- to 180-pound sacks, two to a camel. At the very least there has to be enough grain either to make a worth-while crop somewhere or to supply substantial food on the way--and who could carry such a load on his back? To pass through the heart of Arabia on the best camel in the world requires almost superhuman endurance--no need to make the thing ridiculous by carrying children, tents, books, food, furniture, weapons, and grain on one's back! [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 55]
1 Nephi 8:1 All manner of seeds (Illustration): We found in the market at Nizwa, Oman, wheat, barley, asfar, sugar, pepper, and other condiments. Foodstuffs such as these might have been the type of stores collected by Lehi's party as they prepared for their journey to the promised land. [Lynn and Hope Hilton, In Search of Lehi's Trail, p. 58]
1 Nephi 8:1 All Manner of Seeds of Every Kind:
According to the theory of George Potter, the valley at the southern end of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism was the valley of Lemuel. He writes that If the river portion of this valley was uncultivated at the time Lehi's family arrived, then this long thin strip of land might have been granted to the family to work, since there were many strong hands to work and relatively few mouths to support. The family could afford to farm an area that was not cost effective to others. This could have been a reason for Nephi bringing back "seeds of every kind." (1 Nephi 8:1). [George Potter with Richard Wellington, Following the Words of Nephi: Part One: Discovering the Valley of Lemuel, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999, p. 78]
1 Nephi 8:1 Seeds of Every Kind . . . Seeds of Fruit:
While journeying in the wilderness, Lehi dreams about a dark and dreary wilderness and a tree of life. Nephi records this dream and Lehi's ensuing concern for his children in 1 Nephi 8, beginning with verse 2. But in verse 1 of the same chapter he records, "And it came to pass that we had gathered together all manner of seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind." Why is the information of the seed-gathering recorded here? It doesn't seem to have anything to do with Lehi's dream--or does it? The reference to "fruit of every kind" prepares our minds for the central symbol of Lehi's dream: the fruit of the tree of life, a fruit "desirable above all other fruit" (1 Nephi 8:12). The "seeds" anticipate Lehi's concern for his own "seed" (verse 3); and the repetition of "every kind" foreshadows the variety of people and paths in the dream. [Dennis and Sandra Packard, "Pondering the Word," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, FARMS, Vol 8, Num 2, 1999, p. 57]
Note* The information concerning the gathering of "seeds of every kind" could well be linked to the story of Nephi and his brethren retrieving Ishmael and his daughters. For it puts a finishing touch on the beginning of the story in 1 Nephi 7:1-2, which says the following:
And now I would that ye might know, that after my father, Lehi, had made an end of prophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise. And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness.
[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 8:2 I Have Dreamed a Dream:
According to Hugh Nibley, Anti Mormons216 have written saying, "Well, Joseph Smith, Sr. had a dream like this. Once he dreamed he was in the woods, and there were a lot of stumps there." But this is the most common of dreams. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p. 170]
For the benefit of the reader, the following is the story referred to as told by Joseph Smith's mother:
In 1811, we moved from Royalton, Vermont, to the town of Lebanon, New Hampshire. Soon after arriving here, my husband received another very singular vision, which I relate:
"I thought," said he, "I was traveling in an open, desolate field, which appeared to be very barren. As I was thus traveling, the thought suddenly came into my mind that I had better stop and reflect upon what I was doing, before I went any farther. So I asked myself, 'What motive can I have in traveling here, and what place can this be?' My guide, who was by my side, as before, said, 'This is the desolate world; but travel on.' The road was so broad and barren that I wondered why I should travel in it; for, said I to myself, 'Broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leads to death, and many there be that walk therein; but narrow is the way, and strait is the gate that leads to everlasting life, and few there be that go in thereat.' Traveling a short distance further, I came to a narrow path. This path I entered, and, when I had traveled a little way in it, I beheld a beautiful stream of water, which ran from the east to the west. Of this stream, I could see neither the source nor yet the mouth; but as far as my eyes could extend I could see a rope, running along the bank of it, about as high as a man could reach, and beyond me was a low, but very pleasant valley, in which stood a tree such as I had never seen before. It was exceedingly handsome, insomuch that I looked upon it with wonder and admiration. It's beautiful branches spread themselves somewhat like an umbrella, and it bore a kind of fruit, in shape much like a chestnut bur, and as white as snow, or, if possible, whiter. I gazed upon the same with considerable interest, and as I was doing so, the burs or shells commenced opening and shedding their particles, or the fruit which they contained, which was of dazzling whiteness. I drew near and began to eat of it, and I found it delicious beyond description. As I was eating, I said in my heart, 'I cannot eat this alone, I must bring my wife and children, that they may partake with me.' Accordingly, I went and brought my family, which consisted of a wife and seven children, and we all commenced eating and praising God for this blessing. We were exceedingly happy, insomuch that our joy could not easily be expressed. While thus engaged, I beheld a spacious building standing opposite the valley which we were in, and it appeared to reach to the very heavens. It was full of doors and windows, and they were all filled with people, who were very finely dressed. When these people observed us in the low valley, under the tree, they pointed the finger of scorn at us, and treated us with all manner of disrespect and contempt. But their contumely we utterly disregarded. I presently turned to my guide and inquired of him the meaning of the fruit that was so delicious. He told me it was the pure love of God, shed abroad in the hearts of all those who love him, and keep his commandments. He then commanded me to go and bring the rest of my children. I told him that we were all there. 'No,' he replied, 'look yonder, you have two more, and you must bring them also.' Upon raising my eyes, I saw two small children, standing some distance off. I immediately went to them, and brought them to the tree; upon which they commenced eating with the rest, and we all rejoiced together. The more we ate, the more we seemed to desire, until we even got down upon our knees and scooped it up, eating it by double handfuls. After feasting in this manner a short time, I asked my guide what was the meaning of the spacious building which I saw. He replied, 'It is Babylon, it is Babylon, and it must fall. The people in the doors and windows are the inhabitants thereof, who scorn and despise the saints of God because of their humility.' I soon awoke, clapping my hands together for joy." (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, pp. 48-50)
Lucy Mack Smith was in her seventieth year when this history was dictated in 1845. Thus, the fine details and wording of this story might not be exactly as they were originally related by Joseph Smith Sr. nearly 34 years earlier. Nevertheless, it is interesting that in a parallel manner, both Joseph Smith Jr. and Nephi the son of Lehi were able to repeat the same phrase, "I saw the things which my father saw" (1 Nephi 14:29). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 8:2 My father [Lehi] spake to us (Illustration): In Stela 5, the reader should note the hat which the character corresponding to Lehi wears. This hat which he wears is very uncommon to the general forms of headwear seen in the remnants of Mesoamerican antiquity. While we must concede that a hat like this can easily resemble caps worn in various cultures around the world, it is also quite similar to the standard mitre worn by Israelite priests, which I illustrate with the following 19th century engravings, based on factual data concerning the dress modes and religion of ancient Israel: ---Consecration of Aaron According to Israelite Custom--- [Ammon O'Brien, Seeing beyond Today with Ancient America, p. 183]
1 Nephi 8:2 Behold, I have dreamed a dream (Illustration): Lehi's Dream [Steven Lloyd Neal, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 5]
1 Nephi 8: 2 Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision (Illustration): Lehi saw many people in his dream. . . . Illustrators: Jerry Thompson and Robert T. Barrett. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Book of Mormon Stories, p. 20]
1 Nephi 8:2 I dreamed a dream (Lehi's Dream) [Illustration]: Artist Conception of Lehi's Dream / Lehi's Dream Explained (1 Nephi 8, 11, 12, 15). [John D. Hawkes, Book of Mormon Digest, pp. 18-19]
1 Nephi 8:2 Behold, I have dreamed a dream (Illustration): Lehi's Dream. An Illustration of Lehi's dream. Artist: Greg K. Olsen. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 21]
1 Nephi 8:2 I Have Dreamed a Dream:
According to an article by John A. Tvedtnes, cognates are related words that come from the same root. For example, the English noun student is cognate to the verb study and the adjective studious. In Hebrew, a verb is sometimes followed by a noun that is a cognate, such as "wrote upon it a writing" (Exodus 39:30) and "she vowed a vow" (1 Samuel 1:11). . . Someone writing in English would be more likely to use "she vowed" or "she made a vow." One of the best examples of this in the Book of Mormon is "I have dreamed a dream" (1 Nephi 8:2).. That is exactly the way that the same idea is expressed in literal translation of the Old Testament Hebrew (see Genesis 37:5; 41:11). [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 80]
1 Nephi 8:2 I Have Dreamed a Dream; or in Other Words I Have Seen a Vision:
According to Daniel Peterson, when Lehi says, "I have dreamed a dream; or in other words I have seen a vision" (1 Nephi 8:2) not only is the first part of the sentence of Semitic construction (a perfect cognate accusative) but also the second part, "I have seen a vision" (though we lose something in English). You have to remember that English is based on two different languages. English is a hybrid of a sort of Latin or French with a Germanic language--the Anglo-Saxons and then the Norman Conquest, of course. So you have two different words for many things, a sort of low Germanic word and a high Latin-style word. . . . With the words "I have seen a vision"--what he's really saying is "I have seen a seeing." The Latin word seeing was related to the word for vision, and you have a related German word, sehen, or "I have seen a vision," using the Latin word. But in the original it was probably something like: "Behold I have dreamed a dream; or in other words, I have seen a seeing." so I use this verse in the Book of Mormon in my Arabic grammar class, just to make a point to the students. Now, I ask you how a nineteenth-century farm boy could have come up with something like that, which is a perfect illustration of an Arabic grammatical point. Probably he did a lot of his work in the graduate school there at Palmyra University--well, of course there wasn't such a place. And there was no such Joseph Smith. This came to him via another route, not through academic study. [Daniel C. Peterson, "A Scholar Looks at Evidences for the Book of Mormon," F.A.R.M.S., p. 30-31]
1 Nephi 8:2 I Have Dreamed a Dream:
Hugh Nibley states that the substance of Lehi's dreams is highly significant, since men's dreams necessarily represent, even when inspired, the things they see by day, albeit in strange and wonderful combinations. It is common for men in every age, for example, to dream of ships, but a man in Lehi's day must dream of particular kinds of ships, and no others will do. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 43]
In other words, the Book of Mormon student should pay careful attention to the imagery in Lehi's dream, for it reveals his cultural background. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 8:2 I Have Dreamed a Dream:
In 1 Nephi 2:11, Lehi states "I have dreamed a dream; or in other words, I have seen a vision." Brant Gardner notes that the prophetic mode of communication to Lehi [and Nephi--see 1 Nephi 11) was through the medium of dreams or visions. In the Old Testament this was one of a set of acceptable means of receiving communication from God. One of the most famous dreamers of the Old Testament was Joseph (for instance Genesis 37:5-10). Joseph not only received a dream which indicated that he would eventually rule over his brethren, . . . but he was also put in a position as dream interpreter for the king (of Egypt). [Brant Gardner, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 1Nephi/1Nephi 2, p. 1]
The Book of Mormon student should note that Lehi and Nephi were descendants of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:14), and in their prophetic callings they apparently held the keys to the birthright blessings of Joseph. That is, Nephi would rule over his brethren (both those of his immediate family (1 Nephi 2:22) and of the world) and would be the dream interpreter for the King (or the interpreter of God's plans for Lehi's children and the children of the world). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 8:2 I Have Dreamed a Dream (Potter):
When living in the Valley of Lemuel, Lehi "dreamed a dream" (1 Nephi 8:2) which became known as the dream of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8). Lehi's dream is filled with powerful images and forceful doctrine.
George Potter and Richard Wellington note that Nibley suggested that the elements of Lehi's dream scenery were made up of the images that surrounded him: "That is natural enough, for men to dream by night of the things they see by day--that is what makes Lehi's dream so convincing as authentic testimony."217 He explains:
Long ago Sigmund Freud showed that dreams are symbolic, that they take their familiar materials from everyday life and use them to express the dreamer's real thought and desires . . . the peculiar materials of which Lehi's dreams are made, the images, situations, and dream-scenery which though typical come from the desert world in which Lehi was wandering."218
The more time we considered the wadi Tayyib al-Ism the stronger the impression came to our minds that the location Lehi was describing in his dream was composed of many of the objects that surrounded him in the valley. Not only were most of the elements of the dream present in the valley, but they also occurred in the dream in the same order that one would encounter them walking down wadi Tayyib al-Ism.
Before we consider the individual elements of Lehi's dream it is best for us to briefly run over its contents as found in 1 Nephi chapter 8. It contained a number of images: Lehi dreams he sees a man dressed in a white robe who bids Lehi to follow him. They travel for many hours in a dark and dreary wilderness. Lehi prays for the Lord's mercy and immediately he sees a great and spacious field and then a tree with sweet, white fruit which is desirable to make one happy. He sees a river near the tree, with the head a little way off. A rod of iron runs along the bank of the river together with a straight and narrow path. Lehi sees a numberless concourse of people, many of whom are pressing forward to obtain the fruit but are lost in a mist of darkness. Others cling to the iron rod and find their way to the tree. A great and spacious building is filled with well-dressed people mocking those who seek the fruit, who as a result become ashamed and are lost. A third group pressed forward to the building and is lost in the depths of the fountain. Those who are partaking of the fruit pay no heed to those who mock them. Laman and Lemuel do not eat of the fruit. These elements are worth examination in the real-life setting of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 55-56, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:2 My Father (Lehi) Spake unto Us Saying . . . I Have Seen a Vision:
In an article about Lehi's vision, Alan Parrish explains that in the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ -is introduced in the twin visions of the Tree of Life given to the book's leading characters, Lehi and Nephi. Following these visions, they taught their families about the life and ministry of Christ. . . . The two accounts extend over sixteen of the fifty-two pages of 1 Nephi (31 percent). [Alan Parrish, "Stela 5, Izapa: A Layman's Consideration of the Tree of Life Stone," in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, p. 125]
This Tree of Life symbolism is extremely important for its doctrinal aspects (over 16 different references throughout the book). It is also the subject of a geographical and cultural correlation in Mesoamerica. Some years ago a monument was unearthed at the ancient ruins of Izapa, located on the Pacific coast between Mexico and Guatemala. Of the over 80 monuments, or stelas, in the area, this monument was to become the most prominent. Since Izapa was an important religious center between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400 (Book of Mormon years), there was added significance to the fact that on the face of this 15-ton stone was represented a very complex and detailed portrayal of what appeared to be a Tree of Life scene.
In 1951, Dr. Wells Jakeman, the chairman of the Archaeology Department at B.Y.U., proposed that this monument (Stela 5) was a representation of Lehi's dream. Jakeman theorized that if people wanted to portray Lehi’s account of the Tree of Life, with its many persons and movements, in complex interrelationship, they would have encountered some real problems, especially if attempting to portray it on stone. How would their artists have gone about it? The best method, probably, would have been for them to select a point in that account when most of the features were stationary; i.e., not the vision itself in actual progress, but the occasion of its telling by Lehi to his family. In a publication entitled Stela 5, Izapa, Chiapas Mexico, A Major Archaeological Discovery of the New World, Jakeman thoroughly analyzed the stone, basing his approach on a quote of Dr. Alfred L. Kroeber, a leading authority on anthropological theory and method, which states: "a complex device used in two or more parts of the world suggests a connection between them in very proportion to its complexity. A combination of two or even three elements might conceivably have been repeated independently, [but] a combination of five or ten parts serving an identical purpose in an identical manner must necessarily appear as impossible of having been hit upon more than once. One thinks almost under compulsion, in such a case, of historical connection" (pp. 76-77).
Jakeman identified 114 points of agreement in the 23 correspondences between the Stela 5 scene and the culture from which Lehi would have come from according to the Book of Mormon account.
In 1958, Wells Jakeman published a much more detailed reanalysis of the carving, along with a more extensive interpretation, entitled The Complex "Tree-Of-Life" Carving on Izapa Stela 5. While Jakeman's analysis was fascinating for its time, it lacked a more complete Mesoamerican perspective. However, because of its focus on links to the Near Eastern cultures of Lehi's time, it is worth reading.
Between 1961 and 1965, the New World Archaeological Foundation of Brigham Young University carried out large-scale excavations at the ruins of Izapa. Many additional sculptures came to light, which prompted the Mexican government to make the ruins an archaeological park, and the site is now conveniently accessible, from the nearby town of Tapachula, to tourists.
Between 1973 and 1976, Garth Norman added to the archaeological literature on Izapa an important interpretive study entitled Izapa Sculpture. It contains a 75-page chapter called "The Supernarrative Stela 5." With this work, and with subsequent research yet to be published, Norman has brought a much more detailed Mesoamerican perspective to the symbolism surrounding Stela 5.
According to Joseph Allen (Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 118), to this day, many consider Stela 5 to be the most significant discovery in relationship to the Book of Mormon.
1 Nephi 8:2 I have seen a vision (Illustration): Features of the Izapa Tree-of-Life Scene. Drawing reproduction by the writer. For a brief correlation of some of the more important figures: (1) Lehi with the jawbone nameglyph, (2) Sariah with a symbolic headdress, (3) Nephi writing on a book with a stylus, (4) Sam holding an umbrella (11) over the figure of Nephi as a symbol of rulership, (5) Laman with his back to the tree of life and with smoke from the altar blinding him, (6) Lemuel with his back to the tree of life, (14) the rod of iron leading to the tree of life, (15) the Tree of Life with its white fruit, (17 & 18) Angels or cherubim guarding the tree, (19) the heavens, (23) filthy water with the head a little way off. [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, plate 5]
1 Nephi 8:2 I Have Seen a Vision (Stela 5--Chiastic Structure):
According to Joseph Allen, the chiastic style of prophetic writing found in the Bible is also found in the Book of Mormon. What is interesting is that it also appears in Maya writings and engravings (see Illustrations: example 4,5). Although the chiasmus pattern is more immediately visible in picture form than in writing, it is easily apparent when the key words are placed in a picture-like structure. [Joseph L. Allen, "Hebrew Chiasmus," in Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. 1/1, Spring 1998, p. 3]
1 Nephi 8:2 I have seen a vision (Stela 5--Chiastic Structure) [Illustration]: Example 5: The Tree of Life Stone at Izapa (Stela 5) [Joseph L. Allen, "Hebrew Chiasmus," in Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. 1/1, Spring 1998, p. 3]
1 Nephi 8:2 I have seen a vision (Maya Tree of Life Chiastic Structure) [Illustration]: Example 4: The Tablet of the Cross [Joseph L. Allen, "Hebrew Chiasmus," in Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. 1/1, Spring 1998, p. 3]
1 Nephi 8:2 My Father [Lehi] Spake unto Us:
According to the analysis of Stela 5 by Wells Jakeman (Stela 5, Izapa), one of the seated figures on the left of the tree clearly represents an old man (the long full beard and hunched back), who seems to be saying something about the tree to the other persons seated nearby, just as we should expect ancient Nephite artists to have portrayed the prophet Lehi of the Book of Mormon. (p. 14)
The long, full beard (much heavier than expected) worn by this man strongly suggests that he as well as the other persons represent people of the Caucasoid race (p. 16).
He has a repousse nose, and wears long ear-pendants and a high pointed turban or mitre. This high pointed turban or mitre resembles the high pointed turban or mitre worn by ancient Judean Israelite priests (and to a lesser degree that worn by the Assyrian kings), even appearing to be draped with folds of cloth parted in front, just as the ancient Near Eastern mitres (pp. 16,17)
Obviously the principal person in the event here depicted, he sits apparently cross-legged oriental-fashion, on a cushion. . . . Facing the tree, he is evidently saying something concerning it to the five other persons seated nearby. He was very probably a man of special religious learning, since the tree he is evidently speaking about is the Tree of Life, one of the most sacred religious symbols of ancient America (p. 16).
He seems also to be of priestly authority, since he appears to be making while he speaks, a burnt offering upon an altar. We should note here that Lehi and his people are identified in the Book of Mormon as ancient Israelites of the Near East, a ceremonious people who frequently made burnt offerings upon altars; in fact small, portable, incense altars called "tables of offerings," somewhat like the altar shown here, were especially common in Israelite families at the time of Lehi (p. 17).
He seems to have an emblem of some kind held above him. This strongly indicates that it is a hieroglyph recording his name. Now this emblem--apparently a name-glyph--is unquestionably the cipactli or 'crocodile' symbol of ancient Mesoamerican hieroglyphics (p. 18). It was employed as a hieroglyph for the name of a certain old man of ancient times called by the Aztecs Cipactonal, who was held by them to have invented the calendar, with the help of his wife (p. 19). This old couple of ancient Mesoamerican tradition--the "great father" and "great mother" were reported to have been the ancestors of the ancient inhabitants of the Guatemala Quiche region after "the flood," i.e. the old man "Cipactonal" or “Ixpiyacoc" and old woman "Oxomoco" or "Ixmucane" (pp. 23-24).
The cipactli glyph here is not only the general name glyph, "Cipactonal," but more specifically a glyph recording the personal name of this particular old man "Cipactonal"--symbolically, by depicting its meaning- -as the Book of Mormon name Lehi. For the meaning of the name Lehi is the jaws--especially the upper jaw--in side view, i.e. "cheek." The cipactli glyph, held above the old bearded man, mainly depicts a pair of huge jaws (those of the crocodile)--especially the upper jaw--in side view, i.e. a great cheek! That is, this glyph is essentially a portrayal of what the name Lehi means. It therefore constitutes-- whether intended or not--a symbolic recording of that name (pp. 32-33).
According to Chiapan tradition, the twenty named days of the Sacred Almanac were so named by this "Cipactonal" and his associates in "Nachan" after twenty ancient "lords" the first of whom was "Imox" (or "Imix," i.e. “Cipactonal”), evidently the ancestor of the ancient peoples of Chiapas; i.e., the name of this ancestor and first lord was adopted as the name of the first day of the religious calendar which day became known as Imox (Imix)[Mayan] or Cipactli, "Crocodile,” [Nahuatl or Aztec](p. 34). A confirmation of this reconstruction is found in the fact that the name Mox (pronounced Mosh, the letter x in Mayan orthography having the sound of English sh given the first lord or ancestor of the ancient peoples of northern Central America in the Chiapan tradition, and the name Imox (Imosh) or Imix (Imish) given the cipactli or crocodile symbol of the first lord and also his calendar day in the Maya and Quiche Mayan languages, duplicate very closely in form and exactly in meaning the Egyptian word msh, "crocodile"! (pp. 16-33). [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, pp. 14-34]
1 Nephi 8:2 I have seen a vision (Illustration): Beautiful wood carving of Stela 5, a possible representation of the dream of the Tree of Life, discovered with 21 other stelae and 19 altars at Izapa in southern Mexico. In one of the earliest studies of Stela 5, an archaeologist, M. Wells Jakeman, found 22 correspondences and 114 points of agreement between the Izapa carving and the written accounts of Nephi and Lehi's Tree of Life visions. [Scot F. Proctor and Maurine J. Proctor, Light from the Dust, p. 31]
1 Nephi 8:4 A Dark and Dreary Wilderness:
Hugh Nibley explains that in his dreams Lehi finds himself wandering "in a dark and dreary waste," a "dark and dreary wilderness," where he must travel "for the space of many hours in darkness," lost and helpless (1 Nephi 8:4-8). Of all the images that haunt the early Arab poets this is by all odds the commonest; 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. Invariably darkness is given as 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. [See 1 Nephi 8:23] [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 43]
1 Nephi 8:4 A Dark and Dreary Wilderness (Potter):
According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, the land of Midian in the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia is a wilderness second only in barrenness to the great Rub'al Khali, or Empty Quarter, of the central Arabian Peninsula. Hardly a blade of grass breaks up the monotony of the terrain. Hugh Nibley pointed out that,
Lehi's dreams have a very authentic undertone of anxiety of which the writer of 1 Nephi himself seems not fully aware; they are the dreams of a man heavily burdened with worries and responsibilities. The subjects of his unrest are two: the dangerous project he is undertaking, and the constant opposition and misbehavior of some of his people, especially his two eldest sons.219
Lehi's concern here in Wadi Tayyib al Ism is real. The valley is in an isolated wilderness and does not lie on any known routes. Lehi would have been going into an uncharted desert wasteland with only a finite supply of water. Most of the year the temperatures are extremely high and the lack of protection from the burning sun would have forced the family to make their journey at night. What better description of the terrain and conditions that the family traversed in the desert of Midian than a "dark and dreary waste." In the hot months one cannot survive more than two days without water. Without shelter from the sun the family would not last even that long. In what appears to be an act of desperation, Lehi prayed that the Lord "would have mercy on me" (1 Nephi 8:8). After he had prayed he beheld a large and spacious field. The presence of a field in the midst of the mountainous wilderness was a miraculous find, one which would have indicated to Lehi that the Lord was with the group and would provide for them. He was echoing the words of Isaiah, "I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land spring of water" (Isaiah 41:18). [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 56-57, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:4 A dark and dreary wilderness (Potter) [Illustration]: Lehi traveled for the space of many hours in a dark and dreary waste. Midian is one of the bleakest terrains in Arabia, known as Arabia Petrae to the Romans (Rocky Arabia). This picture is looking back from the oasis at the entrance to wadi Tayyib al-Ism. Quite a stark contrast. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 68-69, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:4 A dark and dreary wilderness (Potter) [Illustration]: A normally hardy acacia tree lies dead in the wadi. Wadi Tayyib al-Ism is barren for almost its entire length. By this point, just before the "spacious field" oasis, Lehi would doubtless have been very anxious for the welfare of his family. His dream mirrors this as he offers a prayer in desperation. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, p. 12, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:4 I Saw in My Dream a Dark and Dreary Wilderness:
Brant Gardner notes that John W. Welch has described a document from antiquity which has interesting structural and thematic parallels to Lehi's dream. Welch's article is entitled "The Narrative of Zosimus and the Book of Mormon" (FARMS publication).
The "Narrative of Zosimus" was originally written in Hebrew "and appears to be at least as old as the time of Christ, and perhaps much older" (Welch, Zosimus, p. 311). Points of correspondence are the righteous man entering a desolate area (Lehi in the wilderness, Zosimus in the desert) and imagery prominently involving a tree and a river. There is also the correspondence of a spiritual guide, which is more prominent in Zosimus than Lehi, but yet present in each.
A major structural difference which Welch does not point out is that while both trees (Lehi's and Zosimus') have fruit, the fruit is the critical element in Lehi's vision, and only a side reference in Zosimus. The function of the tree in Zosimus is to lift him to a different plane, which uses the function of the tree of life as a conduit, but is not part of the fruit imagery.
The interesting part of the Narrative of Zosimus is that it is an example of Tree of Life imagery from antiquity which does not fit the expected mold of Judaic mythological tradition. In that way, it serves as an excellent model for the Lehi dream, which also borrows some of the tradition, but differs in other ways. [Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," 1Nephi/1Nephi8.htm, pp. 2-3]
1 Nephi 8:5 White:
Symbolism Which Can Help in Understanding the Scriptures
white purity; righteousness; exaltation (Example: Revelation 3:4)
black evil; famine; darkness (Example: Revelation 6:5)
red sins; blood (Example Revelation 6:4; D&C 133:51)
blue heaven; godliness
green life; nature (Example: Revelation 8:7)
amber sun; light
scarlet royalty (Example: Daniel 5:29; Matthew 27:28-29)
silver worth, but less than gold (Example Isaiah 48:10)
gold the best; exaltation (Example: Revelation 4:4)
[David J. Ridges, The Book of Revelation Made Easier, preface]
1 Nephi 8:5-6 I Saw a Man . . . Dressed in a White Robe . . . and [He] Bade Me Follow Him:
In Lehi's dream he saw a man who was dressed in a white robe and who came and stood before Lehi. Lehi says, "he spake unto me, and bade me follow him." According to Hugh Nibley, this is a person who is going to be his guide. Paralemptor is a classical word for the person who guides you through the ordinances of the temple. It is a man dressed in a white robe. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p. 171]
1 Nephi 8:8 According to the Multitude of His Tender Mercies:
The phrase "according to the multitude of his tender mercies" is a Hebraism meaning according to his great mercy (compare Psalms 5:7, "I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy"). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 16]
1 Nephi 8:9 I Beheld a Large and Spacious Field (Potter):
According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, since the tree which Lehi saw in his dream was the Tree of Life, we can conclude that the "large and spacious field" (1 Nephi 8:9) was a representation of the Garden of Eden. Corbin T. Volluz has outlined some similarities between the large and spacious field in the dream and the Garden of Eden. His comments are interesting in light of the fact that our proposed site for the "large and spacious field" in the upper valley of wadi Tayyib al-Ism has only one entrance and that is on the east end.
Abraham informs us that the tree of life was in the midst of the garden (Abraham 5:9; see also Revelation 2:7). Yet, when God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden he placed Cherubim with the flaming sword not in the midst of the garden, as one might expect, but "eastward in Eden" (Moses 4:312); Alma 12:21; 42:2; Genesis 3:24). . . . It is possible that the reason the Lord put the cherubim eastward in Eden to guard the tree of life which was located in the midst of the garden is because there was only one entrance to the garden and that entrance was located in the east.220
Thus in Lehi's dream the large and spacious field which contains the tree of life is a spiritual representation of the Garden of Eden. The upper valley would seem to contain a number of attributes that would make it a possible candidate for a type of the Garden of Eden. It is a garden situated in a "lone and dreary world." It has only one entrance and that is on the east end. It is fertile compared to the surroundings, seemingly "terrestrial" among the "telestial." It is enclosed by high mountains, making walls which would have given the impression of a self-contained, walled garden. It contains a river running through it. And it contains the palm tree, which is intimately associated with the Tree of Life, which represented the Son of God. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 59-60, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:9 I beheld a large and spacious field (Potter) [Illustration]: Entering the upper valley of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism from the east, its only entrance. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, p. 12, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:9 I beheld a large and spacious field (Potter) [Illustration]: After offering his prayer Lehi beheld a large and spacious field. Looking down wadi Tayyib al-Ism one can catch first site of the first of the palm groves in the distance. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 68-69, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:10 A Tree Whose Fruit Was Desirable to Make One Happy (Potter):
According to Dr. Abdul Hameed Al Hashash the palm has been the symbol of the tree of life in Arabia since ancient times.221 In the Qur'an it is written "And tall (and stately) palm-trees, with shoots of fruit-stalks, piled one over another as sustenance for God's servants; We give (new) life therewith to land that is dead: Thus will be the resurrection." (Qur'an 50:10) In the Middle East the idea that the palm was symbolic of life is illustrated by the fact that the disciples chose palm leaves to spread before the Savior on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as he was about to conclude his mission to conquer death.
It is easy to see why the date palm should be a symbol the Lord would use to represent to Lehi both the Savior and the Tree of Life. The fruit of the palm can be sweet and light, the date--the "true see"--becomes a "tree of life) springing up into everlasting life" (Alma 32:41). "The longevity of the Bedouins is often attributed to the nutritional benefits of dates." Help.Hotspot POPUP="za222" STYLE="3"-->222 Palm leaves are also a symbol of victory.
The everlasting nature of the palm tree is signified by the fact that it never looses its leaves, its roots placed deep in the aquifer draw from the waters of "everlasting life." Arab lore says that the ideal environment for date palms is "with their feet in the water and their heads in the fires of the heavens."
[George Potter with Richard Wellington, Following the Words of Nephi: Part One: Discovering the Valley of Lemuel, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999, p. 91 ] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:7]
1 Nephi 8:10 I Beheld a Tree, Whose Fruit Was Desirable to Make One Happy:
According to the analysis of Stela 5 by Wells Jakeman (Stela 5, Izapa), references to a "Tree of Life" symbol in the religion of the ancient civilized peoples of Mesoamerica have been known not only in the early Indian and Spanish writings of that area, but also in the religious arts of those peoples. The art representations show a fruit-bearing tree (fig. #15) . . . in the center, conventionalized into the form of a cross. Unlike the later versions from Mesoamerica, the Tree of Life is shown naturalistically, as a fruit-bearing tree, more like the Near Eastern representations than the cruciform. (pp. 5-6)
There is a bird perched on top (depicted, in some Maya examples, as a quetzal-bird with a serpent's head, therefore undoubtedly a symbol of Quetzalcoatl, the famed Life God of ancient Mesoamerica (p. 1). . . This bird seen perched atop the tree in the Mesoamerican portrayals also presents a rather close correspondence to the winged sun-disk above the Assyrian tree, since not only is it winged and placed above the tree, but in the Maya examples of Mesoamerica there can be seen a sun-symbol hanging from the quetzal bird's tail feathers (p. 3).
According to Jakeman, the representation of . . . cherubim was a practice of the ancestors of the Lehite people in Palestine, and was doubtless carried on by them, at least to some extent, in the New World. For example, sphinxes among the ivory plaques found in the ruins of Ahab's palace at Samaria were a prototype of the cherubim depicted in later Assyrian portrayals of the Tree of Life, and were frequently also represented in the Temple at Jerusalem (p. 12).
The two guardian personages (figs. #17 and #18, identified as the two largest figures seen standing facing the tree) are depicted on [Stela 5] much more like the two guardian personages seen in the Near Eastern portrayals than those seen in the other American representations: They are not only standing facing the tree on either side in an attitude of worship, like the Near Eastern--particularly the Assyrian--personages or cherubim, but they each seem to be bird-headed, as often likewise the Assyrian cherubim! . . . Observe that these Izapa figures have the same stance as the Assyrian cherubim: face more or less in profile, shoulders in full front or three-quarters view, but the legs and feet again in profile and in tandem, one advanced before the other. But the specific similarities do not end here. It will be noted that the personage on the right of the tree also appears to hold a tasseled baglike object with each hand, while the one on the left holds a pointed object raised towards the tree. In the Assyrian representations of the Tree of Life the guardian personages are usually also shown as holding a baglike object and a pointed object raised towards the tree. These bags might be bags for the fruit of the Tree of Life (pp. 6, 12). [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, pp. 1-12]
1 Nephi 8:10 Tree of Life (Illustration): Ancient Representations of the Tree of Life. From a Maya monument (the so-called Tablet of the Cross, Palenque) in the National Museum of Archaeology, Mexico; [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, pp. 3, 7]
1 Nephi 8:10 Tree of Life (Illustration): Ancient Representations of the Tree of Life. From an Assyrian monument in the British Museum. [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, pp. 3, 7]
1 Nephi 8:10,11 Fruit [Which] Was Desirable to Make One Happy . . . White, to Exceed All (Potter):
When Lehi describes the tree he pays particular attention to the fruit of the tree which "was desirable to make one happy" (1 Nephi 8:10) and "was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I have ever seen" (1 Nephi 8:11).
According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, the tree Lehi describes could well be the date palm, which grows throughout the Arabian Peninsula. It is easy to see why Lehi described it as "a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy." Here was the answer to his prayers, food for his family. Lehi received this dream in Arabia, where the "tree of life" is the date palm. In the Near East the date palm was a mainstay of survival.
There are a number of varieties of date palm. The color of the dates varies from the red khunayzi to the yellow khulask. The color and taste of the khulas is of interest since it is "considered one of the best commercial varieties of date in the world. It is a great favorite . . . especially in the rutub stage when it is pale yellow, touched with amber and filled with sweetness."223 The Arabs prefer to eat the dates when they are still yellow. In the west we never see the dates like this. When harvested for export the dates are left until they reach the Tamr stage, where they are all brown. The higher the temperature at which the fruit matures the more sweet it is. This is why the best dates in the world come from Saudi Arabia, where the summer temperatures do not drop below 90o F., even at night. Lehi would have been able to eat fresh pale dates which grew at higher temperatures than he would find in the Holy Land. It is not surprising then that Lehi states: "I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted" (1 Nephi 8:12). [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 57-58, Unpublished] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:7]
1 Nephi 8:10,11 Fruit [which] was desirable to make one happy . . . white, to exceed all (Potter) [Illustration]: In the field Lehi saw a tree with sweet, white fruit. The Palm tree, the tree of life of the Middle East is a type of this tree. The white dates were sweet and life giving, bringing joy to the hungry travelers. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 68-69, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:13 A River of Water (Potter):
In Lehi's dream he beholds "a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit" (1 Nephi 8:13). One should note that the river here is described as being both near a tree and having its head a little way off. It would therefore seem to be a life-giving stream which starts in a valley and does not flow into the valley from some other distant location. Nephi later tells us that this "fountain of living water" was "a representation of the love of God" (1 Nephi 11:25). According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, in the wadi Tayyib al-Ism, moving from the upper valley of the Waters of Moses to the canyon proper and about 200 yards into the canyon, a spring emerges and feeds a small river near some date palms. This stream runs toward and finally empties into the Gulf of Aqaba at the canyon's end. Commenting on Nephi's description of the river, Hugh Nibley writes:
This is the authentic scenery of a desert oasis, with its rivers springing miraculously from nowhere and emptying themselves again perhaps into the desert sands. The expression "river of water" is used only for small, local streams, and here Lehi is so near the source of the little stream that he can recognize people standing there.224
Thus, this real-life scenario of the river of water in wadi Tayyib al-Ism matches the symbols of Lehi's dream quite adequately. It is easy to see why the river represents "the love of God" (see 1 Nephi 11:25). Together with the date palms, it was essential to the survival of Lehi's family and its very existence in the middle of the wilderness and the fact that the family had been divinely led to it must have indicated to Lehi the love and concern the Lord had for them. But more than this, the river seems to be a representation of the Savior himself. The phrase "living water" (1 Nephi 11:25) is the same terminology the Lord used to describe himself in both the Old Testament (Jeremiah 2:13) and the New Testament (John 4:10). [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, p. 60]
1 Nephi 8:14 I Saw the Head Thereof a Little Way Off:
The word "head" is a literal translation of the Hebrew word rosh; one meaning is "the main division of a river or principal stream" (compare Genesis 2:10, "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads"). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 16]
1 Nephi 8:14 I Saw the Head Thereof a Little Way Off:
According to Hugh Nibley, for one to be able to see "the head thereof a little way off" is desert scenario. What is even more important, however, is that this desert scenario provides us with a typical case of a river of water coming out of nowhere in the desert [because of underground streams]. Of course, the inevitable tree is growing there; you always find that. And springs come out miraculously, aquifers, etc ["a fountain of living waters"]. Needless to say they are greatly appreciated because they save your life [that is the tree becomes a "tree of life"]. . . . That's the scene of the first psalm, isn't it? The righteous man "shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Psalms 1:3).
The word ra s is the word for spring and head in Arabic. That's where the stream originates, so when Lehi says, "the head thereof," he is using the proper idiom to designate the head, the beginning of the spring. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, p. 173,176] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 8:13]
1 Nephi 8:14 I Beheld Your Mother Sariah:
According to the analysis of Stela 5 by Wells Jakeman, the position and role of the person (fig. #2) seated directly behind the old man corresponding to Lehi and in attendance upon him, are much what we might expect ancient artists among the descendants of Lehi to have given Sariah, in a portrayal of the Lehi Tree-of-Life episode.
It will be observed that this person has an old-appearing but beardless face. Note also that only this person (the old woman) and the old man, among the six figures are shown seated on cushions; which indicates that these two were the elder members of the group (p. 12).
This figure wears a headdress that is most unusual for known Mesoamerican art representations: a tall crown or tiara, consisting of two contiguous roll-or band-like elements at the base, probably encircling the head, and what appear to be two tall feathers (or leaves?) rising upward there from side by side, enclosed at the bottom and sides by a pair of long horns. We find that this crown or tiara closely duplicates a certain crown seen in ancient Egyptian representations . . . which identifies the wearer as a queen or princess (e.g., as seen worn by the young wife of King Tutankhamen, in the latter's tomb; and by the last Queen Cleopatra, in a carving on the temple at Denderah) (p. 36).
It is therefore of considerable significance when the Izapa carving is viewed in the light of the Book of Mormon account. It constitutes a Near Eastern-like motif in the carving . . . Secondly, it confirms the indications brought out earlier in this study that the person shown wearing this crown was a woman ("Oxomoco" or "Ixmucane" of Mesoamerican tradition), as was the corresponding person of the Book of Mormon account, Sariah the wife of Lehi. Thirdly, its apparent identification of the person wearing it as not only a woman but a queen or princess is not improbably in further agreement with the Book of Mormon, since the corresponding person of that account, Sariah, may well have come to be regarded as a queen by the people of Lehi (having been the wife of Lehi, their first leader or ruler). Finally, its signification of "princess" closely agrees with the name of this corresponding person Sariah of the Book of Mormon account. For the meaning of the basic part of this person's name, Hebrew sarah, is also "princess"! (Sariah, "Princess of Yahweh"). In other words, this crown can be considered as actually a kind of name-glyph (derived from an Egyptian symbol, just as expected), giving the name of the person wearing it as the Book of Mormon name Sariah (p. 37). [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, pp. 12,18,36-37]
1 Nephi 8:14 I beheld your mother Sariah (Illustration): Horned-and-Feathered Crowns. Left: horned and feathered crown worn by figure 2 of the Izapa carving; right: the ancient Egyptian horned and feathered crown signifying 'queen' or 'princess' (an example of the crown worn by the young wife of King Tutankhamen, in a scene on the back of a throne found in the latter's tomb). [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, Plate 7]
1 Nephi 8:14 I Beheld . . . Nephi:
According to Wells Jakeman's analysis of the Stela 5 (Tree of Life) monument, there is a young man (fig. #3) seated in front of the old bearded man. (He is evidently young since he seems to have a small beard, and is probably of large stature and/or considerable importance, since he is shown larger than any of the other five; note especially the great size of his arms). He wears ear ornaments, and a complicated headdress with what seem to be leaves projecting backward and hanging down the back; and holds in his left hand a long pointed object, evidently a stylus or writing instrument, with which he appears to be recording what is being said about the tree. At the same time his right arm and hand are extended, in an apparent speaking gesture, towards one of the three other persons seated in front of the old man; while above him is held, by one of these other persons, what is quite clearly an umbrella or parasol (fig. #11). This person corresponds in character and role to Nephi of the Book of Mormon account.
In Mesoamerica, the umbrella--or "canopy"--held or placed above a seated ruler was regarded as a symbol of his rulership. Consequently, the more probable purpose was to indicate that the young man was not only the recorder of the discussion depicted here but also--surprisingly--a ruler (rather than the old priestly personage (Lehi) as might be expected) (p. 26). Incidentally, the umbrella was also a symbol of rulership in the ancient Near East as well as in eastern Asia, in the Old World (p. 27).
There is a rectangular object resting upon the ground panel in front of the large young man with the stylus. Its shape and position strongly indicate that it is a plate or tablet, upon which the young man is writing (p. 26). What we have here is the earliest discovered depiction in America of writing implements and the act of writing. In view of our dating of Stela 5 to the Late Preclassic period, this depiction also constitutes further archaeological evidence that hieroglyphic writing was in use in Mesoamerica in preclassic times (in addition to a growing body of actual hieroglyphic inscriptions dating from those times) (p. 34, 1958). [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, pp. 25-27, 34]
1 Nephi 8:14 I Beheld . . . Sam:
As discussed earlier, there is a figure not only in front of the old man, but behind and in attendance on the young man with the stylus. He appears to wear an oriental-like turban; and seems to be holding what is clearly an umbrella or parasol above the young man's head probably to identify him as a ruler. This person holding the umbrella corresponds somewhat to Sam (p. 28). In the Book of Mormon account, Sam is indicated to have supported Nephi in his rulership of the colony and kept the commandments of God. When Lehi blessed Sam, his blessing was connected with Nephi's blessing:
"(Lehi) spake unto Sam, saying: Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days (2 Nephi 4:11). [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, p. 28]
1 Nephi 8:17,18 Laman and Lemuel Would Not Partake of the Fruit:
According to the analysis of Stela 5 by Wells Jakeman, two of the four persons seated in front of the old man have their backs to the Tree of Life. The first (fig. #5) is seated directly in front of the old man (the logical position of the eldest son in such an episode as that recorded in the Book of Mormon. He wears a high pointed turban that has a pendant neck cloth at the back, and is seated apparently cross-legged oriental-fashion with his mouth open and hands extended as though discussing something with the old man. One should observe that this person, as well as the other figure with his back to the tree (fig. #6), are the two smallest of the six seated persons; just as we might expect Nephite artists to portray Laman and Lemuel. The second person (fig. #6) also wears a turban like the first. These turbans closely resemble a type of turban or headdress often worn in the southwestern Asiatic homeland of the Book of Mormon peoples, in its having a pendant neck cloth at the back. [Wells Jakeman, Stela 5, Izapa, pp. 28-29]
1 Nephi 8:20 Strait and Narrow Path:
The word "strait" has been recently restored from the Original and Printers Manuscripts. This restores the intended meaning of "narrow, limited, confining." The implication is that the path beside the rod of iron is wide enough for one person only. Thus, a person must have direct personal contact with the word of God [or their own personal testimony of the covenants of the Lord] in order to reach the tree of life. [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 17]
1 Nephi 8:20 I Also Beheld a Strait and Narrow Path, Which Came along by the Rod of Iron:
In his dream, Lehi beheld a "strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron" (1 Nephi 8:20). Hugh Nibley asks the question, What is the rod of iron? Nibley remarks that there is a statement in the Midrash about this. The temple mountain in Jerusalem has been flattened off artificially to make a place for the Dome of the Rock that stands there today, the great mosque of the Moslems. Before then it was really quite steep where the temple was originally built in the time of David, and in the Jebusite city. The sacred way that went up to the temple was steep and narrow and went zigzag up the side. You can see this in Athens at the Acropolis. The sacred ways always go up that way. It was slippery and it was on the rock. When it would storm, you could fall off--with old, feeble people, etc. So there was a railing that went up, and you could follow it. It was iron, and it rusted away in time. It was replaced with a wooden railing. They had to cling to the iron rod to get up to the temple so they wouldn't slip and fall on the rocks.
Another example is at Adam's Mount in Ceylon, the most sacred place in the East. That's where Adam is supposed to have landed when he descended from the other world and came here. They show a footprint there, etc. From there he went wandering, and didn't find Eve until he got to Medina. But when he got to Mecca, he made an imitation of the original temple. The Angel Gabriel came and showed him how to build it out of sheets of light, etc. But here we have the sacred rod. There was originally a railing that went up, and it has been replaced by a brass chain that people pull themselves up by. . . . Sometimes it's a chain, sometimes a rope, sometimes a cable--anything they can get to make it and pull themselves up to the top. It's an omphalos. Every ancient temple, every ancient world shrine had an omphalos, which means an umbilicus [connecting cord] and the temple represented the center of the world--the birthplace of creation. . . . So the idea of holding to the rod and pulling yourself up is a very common one. And also the idea of a "strait and narrow path." [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, pp. 174-175]
1 Nephi 8:20 A Strait and Narrow Path (Potter):
George Potter and Richard Wellington note that in Lehi's dream, "a strait and narrow path" (1 Nephi 8:20) leads along by the rod of iron and extends along the bank of the river. It leads to the tree, the head of the fountain and the large field at one end and to the great and spacious building at the other.
One should note that the spelling of the word Nephi uses to describe the path is strait. This does not mean that the path runs in a straight line but rather a "narrow, limited, confined or confining" path.225 What better description could there be for the smooth natural gravel walkway that runs beside the river nearly four miles through the wadi Tayyib al-Ism canyon? The path is confined by the towering walls of the canyon which are seldom more than forty feet apart at the base, and there are no side canyons or exits. There are no side turns that can be taken, just one confined path that leads from the upper valley all the way to the Gulf of Aqaba.
Almost without exception the wadis in the land of Midian are wide and open and one is free to take any path one wishes . The narrow and confining nature of the canyon in wadi Tayyib al-Ism is unique, in our experience of traveling in Arabia, inasmuch as it is the only placed we have explored where confining walls allow the traveler to walk along a narrow path and nowhere else. The Lord taught that "narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:14). Clearly the path too is a representation of Him: "Jesus saith . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 14:6). [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, p. 17, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:20 A strait and narrow path (Potter) [Illustration]: Level footpath runs along the river the entire length of the canyon. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, p. 17, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:20 The Rod of Iron (Potter):
In Lehi's dream, the image of a rod of iron seems to be figurative since it is not something one would expect to see in a natural setting of a tree, a narrow path, and a river. But what would make Lehi think of such a thing? If a rod represents something that one might hold on to in order to keep oriented, and if iron is something hard and durable, then we might look for something natural that would represent such qualities. In wadi Tayyib al-Ism the granite walls of the canyon themselves may be the natural manifestation that inspired Lehi. Granite is one of the hardest rocks on earth and the solid walls of the canyon would contrast sharply with the soft sandstone walls of the rest of the wadi. If the purpose of the rod of iron was to lead those struggling through the mists of darkness to the tree of life, then these canyon walls serve the same purpose. Anyone wishing to find their way up or down the canyon in the dark need only place their hand on the wall and walk. This might explain why Lehi tells us that the multitudes were "feeling their way" (1 Nephi 8:31) or "pressing forward" (1 Nephi 8:24). The phrase "pressing forward" not only implies pressing on the walls, but it also implies large numbers of people moving forward in a confined space, such as the narrow canyon. It is interesting that Nephi, in talking about the awful gulf (or gorge cut between the vertical canyon walls) which separated the righteous from the wicked was a result of the "word of . . . God" (1 Nephi 12:18). "The word of God" is also the meaning that Nephi gives to the symbolism of the rod (1 Nephi 11:25). The idea of a granite canyon wall inspiring the image of the rod of iron makes sense in the context of these two definitions. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 61-62]
1 Nephi 8:23 An Exceedingly Great Mist of Darkness (Potter):
In Lehi's dream "there arose . . . an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way" (1 Nephi 8:23). According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, in wadi Tayyib al-Ism the lower end of the canyon opens onto the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. They observed thick fog in the canyon which is caused by the cool air descending from the mountains mixing with the moist warm air circulating from the Red Sea. This would presumably have been a cause of concern for Lehi and Sariah as any young children could easily become lost in the mist. Under such conditions, the only way to find their way back up the canyon would have been to hold close to the granite cliff walls, using them as a guide "feeling their way" back to the upper canyon. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 62-63]
1 Nephi 8:23 An exceedingly great mist of darkness (Potter) [Illustration]: The sun sets over Egypt in the distance. The combination of warm water in the Red Sea and cool air from the mountains can make thick fogs, which only affect the coast, reminiscent of Lehi's mist of darkness which blinded people who were lost in the gulf. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 68-69, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:23 A mist of darkness (Illustration): The brightness of the afternoon sun is nearly obliterated during this sandstorm in the Arabian peninsula near the borders of the Red Sea. Driven by winds in excess of seventy miles an hour, sand particles cut with abrasive power any object or life form they touch. [Scot and Maurine Proctor, Light from the Dust, pp. 36-37]
1 Nephi 8:24 I Beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron (Illustration): The Rod of Iron and the Tree of Life. Artist: Greg Olsen [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Ensign, March 1995, p. 14]
1 Nephi 8:26 A Great and Spacious Building:
Hugh Nibley asserts that when Lehi dreams of the vanity of the world, he sees "a great and spacious building" (1 Nephi 8:26), suspended in the air out of reach and full of smart and finely dressed people. That is exactly how the Bedouin of the desert, to whom the great stone houses of the city are an abomination, pictures the wicked world; and as the city Arabs still mock their desert cousins (whom they secretly envy) with every show of open contempt, so the well-dressed people in the big house "were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers" (1 Nephi 8:7) at the poor little band of bedraggled wanderers, hungrily eating fruit from a tree, and duly abashed that their poverty should be put to open shame. One is reminded by Lehi's imagery of the great stone houses of the ancient Arabs, "ten-and twelve-story skyscrapers that . . . represent genuine survivals of ancient Babylonian architecture," with their windows beginning, for the sake of defense, fifty feet from the ground. At night these lighted windows would certainly give the effect of being suspended above the earth. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 44]
1 Nephi 8:26 A great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth (Illustration): A great and spacious building in the days of Lehi may have been like the palace of Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, with towers reaching to a great height and windows throughout. Located in Marib, Yemen, this palace was the crossroads of the ancient capital of Sheba, one of the wealthiest cities in Arabia in Lehi's time. [Scot and Maurine Proctor, Light from the Dust, pp. 24-25]
1 Nephi 8:26 A Great and Spacious Building (Potter):
In Lehi's dream he describes
a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. 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 8:26, 27)
According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, the scenery of wadi Tayyib al-Ism could have added much to Lehi's image of "a great and spacious building." If one continues down the canyon of wadi Tayyib al-Ism, the walls of the canyon continue to rise and reach over 2,000 feet in height. Obviously one cannot know what the building looked like that Lehi saw in his dream. In most pictures the building is normally represented as some type of skyscraper with its base above the ground, floating in the air. It has been suggested that this building recalls the multi-storied houses of Southern Arabia,226 that the family might have encountered later in their journey./227 This may well be the case, however some alternative perspectives might be worthwhile here.
At one point in the canyon, the rock walls form a gothic arch high overhead, appearing to almost overlap and block out the sky, reminiscent of the great Cathedral of Canterbury or the Abbey of Westminster, but on a much grander scale (see the illustration below). Here the natural acoustics allow very little chance for sound waves to dissipate and noises seem amplified. It is similar to the whispering gallery of St. Paul's Cathedral in London or the Tabernacle of Salt Lake City. It took 7 seconds for a loud shout to subside, indicating that the sound waves traveled between the walls of the canyon upwards of 200 times. If the members of Lehi's party mocked him in this location, could the amplified sound of such laughter and derision have played on Lehi's mind?
It is interesting to note that Nephi later mentions that the building falls (1 Nephi 11:36). This arching of the canyon walls is the only location where there are large rocks on the floor which have come crashing down from high above. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 63-64] [See the Potter commentary on 1 Nephi 12:18]
1 Nephi 8:26 A great and spacious building (Potter) [Illustration]: Canyon walls near opening, George standing in the lighted area of the canyon floor. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, p. 18, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 8:27 And they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit (Illustration): Details of Lehi's Dream. Artist: Greg Olsen. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Ensign, March 1995, pp. 14, 12-13]
1 Nephi 8:32 Many Were Drowned in the Depths of the Fountain:
[See the commentary on 1 Nephi 12:16]
1 Nephi 8:32 Wandering in Strange Roads:
According to Hugh Nibley, when Lehi dreams of people gone astray, they are lost in a trackless waste, "wandering in strange roads" (1 Nephi 8:32) or blundering "into broad roads, that they perish and are lost" (1 Nephi 12:17) because of the "mist of darkness" (1 Nephi 8:23). Losing one's way is of course the fate that haunts every desert dweller sleeping and waking, and the Arab poets are full of the terror of "strange roads" and "broad ways." [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 45-46]