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Nephi's Eight Years in the "Wilderness": Reconsidering Definitions and Details

TitleNephi's Eight Years in the "Wilderness": Reconsidering Definitions and Details
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsEllis, Godfrey J.
JournalInterpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship
KeywordsAgriculture; Arabia; Bountiful (Old World); Exodus Motif; Jerusalem (Old World); Journey to the Promised Land; Nahom; Nephi (Son of Lehi); Nephi's Broken Bow; River Laman; Servitude; Shazer; Shipbuilding; Traditions of the Fathers; Valley of Lemuel; Wadi Sayq; Wilderness

A traditional reading of Nephi’s chronicle of the trek through Arabia relies heavily on two verses in 1 Nephi 17. In verse 4, Nephi states that they “did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.” In verse 5, he reports that “we did come to the land which we called Bountiful.” The almost universal interpretation of these verses is that of sequential events: eight years traversing the arid desert of Western Arabia following which the Lehites entered the lush Bountiful for an unspecified time to build the ship. A question with the traditional reading is why a trip that could have taken eight months ostensibly took eight years. It may be that Nephi gave us that information. His “eight years” could be read as a general statement about one large context: the “wilderness” of all of Arabia. In other words, the “eight years in the wilderness” may have included both the time in the desert and the time in Bountiful. In this paper I examine the basis for such an alternative reading.