Response Page | Book Of Mormon Page

Lehi's travels in the desert

(See also a page by Jeff Lindsay)

One of the first accounts that we are given in the Book of Mormon is of Lehi taking his family and leaving the Jerusalem area. It turns out that the route which is described in the Book of Mormon matches very closely with an ancient trade route that was not known about at the time of Joseph Smith. In fact during Joseph Smith's day the Arabian peninsula was considered totally barren.

For example in Conder's Arabia (London, 1825), which was probably the most complete general guide available to Joseph Smith it describes the whole southern coastline as "a rocky wall . . . as dismal and barren as can be; not a blade of grass or a green thing." [1]

It was this type of information that led James Wellsted, a British naval officer who traveled in eastern Oman in the mid-1830s to write:

As we crossed these (oases near Minna), with lofty almond citron, and orange-trees yielding a delicious fragrance on either hand, exclamations of astonishment and admiration burst from us. "Is this Arabia," we said, "this the country we have looked on heretofore as a desert?" . . . I could almost fancy we had at length reached that "Araby the blest," which we had heretofore regarded as existing only in the fictions of our poets. [2]
The account in the Book of Mormon about the travels of Lehi and his family is not just a general account that says they travel south until they came to the sea, but instead it is a detailed account with many specific details. Over twenty details are specified and they correspond with the area that they traveled through:
"A quick review of these details: 1) The route south to Aqaba in an anciently primary way out of Jerusalem. 2) The ancient route, the Frankincense Trail, leaves the beach coast at Aqaba, so it is "near" the Red Sea; then it returns to it, so it is "nearer." 3) The location of a major oasis about three days' journey along the trail from Aqaba. 4) The location there of an impressive valley that could be used for poetic metaphor and 5) of a continually flowing river that 6) flows into an arm of the Red Sea called anciently a "fountain" and 7) is capable of supporting extended settlement and growth of crops. 8) Four days from this oasis, in a south-southeast direction, is another major oasis where 9) wild animals that can be hunted with bow and arrow begin to be available. 10) Further in the same direction, still along the Frankincense Trail that is in this whole area the only tenable route, with anciently dug or natural water holes at regular intervals. 11) the area (north and south of modern Jiddah) becomes more inhospitable, a source of "much affliction," with fewer water holes, 12) many sand storms and metal-destroying salt air and humidity where a steel bow would break and wooden ones lose their spring but 13) where there is excellent pomegranate wood for new bows and 14) a mountain where wild game is plentiful. 15)Many days further in the same direction is another major oasis capable of supporting a caravan through a growing season, and 16) this is where the Frankincense Trail turns sharply to the east and then 17) skirts the notorious "Empty Quarter," the worst desert in Arabia, another period of "much affliction" to the group and 18) a place where danger from Bedouin raiders could require traveling without firebuilding. 19) There is, exactly where the direct route east intercepts the southern Arabian coast, a unique fertile area of fruit and wild honey, with 20) a gently beach and yet nearby high cliffs dropping into deep water, 21) mountains nearby with iron ore for toolmaking, 22) sycamore-fig trees growing on the mountains that are excellent for shipbuilding and 23) strong monsoon winds used anciently for sailing to India and out into the Pacific Ocean." [3]
It is interesting that the place where Lehi's trail ends on the southern Arabia coast was the only place (about 20 miles long) on the entire fourteen-hundred-mile southern coast that would have fit the description as "bountiful" as mentioned in the Book of Mormon. 
[1] See Robin Bidwell, Travelers in Arabia (London: Hamylyn Publishing Group Ltd., 1976), p. 193-4

[2] R. H. Kiernan, The Unveiling of Arabia: The Story of Arabian Travel and Discovery (London: George G. Harrap and Co., 1937), p.196

[3] Eugene England "Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith Have Known the Way?" in Book of Mormon Authorship, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982) p. 156