Reassessing Lehi’s Trail

George Potter and Richard Wellington’s book, Lehi in the Wilderness (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2003) provides many interesting insights into Book of Mormon issues in the Arabian Peninsula, and I’ve been a fan of it for some time, but it suffers from some serious flaws, as I have just learned from a recent FARMS publication. The authors offer tantalizing finds, but in spite of their field work and abundant photographs and maps, they may have made some major errors at the beginning of the path they identify. While their candidate for the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman seem truly impressive, there is a good case that it is too far from the shores of the Red Sea and that the path required to reach it is implausible, as is discussed in the review, “The Wrong Place for Lehi’s Trail and the Valley of Lemuel” by Jeffrey R. Chadwick (FARMS Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2005). Chadwick proposes that Bir Marsha, a place easily accessed from the coast of the Red Sea and not distant from Potter’s candidate, may be more suitable for the Valley of Lemuel, though there may be several other good choices.

As for the River Laman, Chadwick believes that it only need have been a wadi flowing with water at the time of Lehi’s sermon to his sons, and that it need not flow continuously. Lehi said that it ran continuously to the Red Sea, not that it flowed continuously, and this can be fulfilled by a path for a wadi that goes into the Red Sea, regardless of how often the path has flowing water.

Much more to discuss – am out of time today.

Chadwick says that the book still has significant value, in spite of some incorrect locations, and I agree.

What’s especially interesting, though, is that there is a plausible candidate or two for the specific sites in the Arabian Peninsula that we find in the Book of Mormon – something that would be most unlikely if the book were forged based on what even the best scholars knew in 1930.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

8 thoughts on “Reassessing Lehi’s Trail

  1. I think the reviewer was unnecessarily harsh on the border/mountain Hebrew gebul question, since several of the standard lexica like BDB list both glosses. I may post on that.

  2. If the River Laman was indeed a wadi, then that would make it an even more apt symbol of Laman’s unreliable and inconsistent spirituality and personality. At times, a wadi will flow like a river, but at other times it will try up completely. Just like Laman – obedient and repentant one day, rebellious and wicked the next.

  3. Are they taking into account the shifting or even drying up of rivers? What about the possibility that the Red Sea was a bit larger at the time of Lehi’s journey and therefore not too far away?

  4. Mike,

    I get your point — that Lehi is giving Laman an aspirational standard to live up to, not trying to describe a weakness in his character, and that does make sense (especially given the unchanging nature of the parallel analogy used for Lemuel). Still, Lehi says “O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness.” I think it is at least plausible to read that as saying “O that thou mightest be like unto this river [the way it is flowing now], continually running into the fountain of all righteousness [and not like this river is when it dries up and stops continually running into the fountain of all righteousness, as we know sometimes happens with this wadi, and as I know often happens with you Laman].” It seems possible to me that Lehi’s subtext may be “Laman: you have to keep your river of righteousness flowing — it is not OK to let it dry up for a season, like this wadi does”.

    But even if Lehi did not intend that meaning, it is an ironic twist.

  5. Lehi appeared to be on his way to Yemen before being directed by the Lord to go eastward to Oman.

    There were good reasons why Lehi would have gone to Yemen left to his own devices. (1) According to Yemeni Jewish tradition, a group of wealthy Jews left Jerusalem for Yemen about 629 BC after they heard Jeremiah predict the destruction of the Temple. [] Some of these people would have been Lehi’s contemporaries; possibly even relatives. (2) Yemen was a land of oportunity. Some scholars believe that the Jewish presence in Yemen goes back to King Solomon’s time and that Yemen was an important link in the trading empire that made Israel rich in Solomon’s time. (3) Yemen would have been a good place to hire a ship. Lehi had no idea where the Lord was sending him. Hiring a ship may have seemed like a good plan.

    Interesting Facts about Jews in Yemen
    1. According to research (Shen 2004) about 15% of Yemeni Jews belong a rare branch of the Q lineage called Q-M323. Like the Native American Q-M3 lineage, Q-M323 is a branch of Q-P36 which is found in modern Jews and Native Americans.
    2. Yemen was once ruled by Jewish kings and many natives converted to Judaism in pre-Islamic times.
    3. The Jewish ancestors of the Lemba tribe in South Africa came from Yemen.
    4. Descendants of Jews from Yemen (the Lemba) participated in the construction of Zimbabwe.

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