Lehi in the Desert, V

Hugh Nibley, Ph. D.

Lehi the Winner

A Word about Plates

We have seen how the ruler of Byblos, to score a point in bargaining with Wenamon, had his family records and accounts brought out and read to him. In the Amarna tablets, the Rabu of one Palestinian city writes to a neighboring prince: "But now behold [note the Book of Mormon style] the king causeth that his true city should go from his hand; let the king search in the tablets which are kept in the house of his father, and learn whether the one who rules Gubla has been his true servant." 1 Here as in Byblos the records were kept at the house of the ruling family; even in distant Rome in the time of Lehi the records from which the later annals were composed seem to have been preserved on tablets in the houses of the leading families. 2 At that time the practice seems to have been general around the Mediterranean. Where the record was one of real importance, plates of copper, bronze, or even more precious metal were used instead of the usual wooden, lead, or clay tablets. One of the most recent finds of this type from Palestine is "a metal tablet of copper or bronze" in Hebrew, dating from the twelfth century B.C., containing a message "of entirely secular, profane character," but "which must have seemed important enough to be engraved on the durable, though 'impractical,' material of metal." 3 More precious documents, such as the famous treaty of 1287 between the kings of Egypt and the Hittites, were kept on silver plates, and the royal record of the deeds of Darius deserved nothing less than gold, and have received considerable notice from Mormon writers. The mysterious "reformed Egyptian" texts from Byblos are on bronze plates, and the Demotic Chronicle of Egypt was kept originally on plates. There is an interesting account in Idrisi (1226 A.D.) of the opening of the tomb of Mycerinus in the third of the three great pyramids. The writer reports that all that was found in the tomb was a blue sarcophagus containing "the decayed remains of a man, but no treasures, excepting some golden tablets inscribed with characters of a language which nobody could understand." The tablets were used to pay the workmen, and the gold in each of them was worth about two hundred dollars. 4 We leave the reader to speculate on what might have been written on those plates of gold which one of the greatest of Pharaohs apparently regarded as the greatest treasure with which he could be buried.

From an unexpected direction comes new and possibly significant light on the subject of record-plates. Of recent years a considerable number of copper plates, inscribed, perforated, and linked together on metal rings, have turned up in India. We may take as typical (except that they are narrower than most) the Kesaribeda Plates: "The set consists of three copper plates strung together on a copper ring. . . . The circumference and diameter of the ring are about 7.4 [inches] and 2 [inches] respectively. . . . The plates measure roughly 7.5 [inches] in length and [one-fifth of an inch] in breadth each. The corners are rounded off. . . . The plates contain to their proper right hand a hole having a diameter of 1/5 [inch] for the ring to pass through." All plates are written on both sides. 5 The date of these plates is about 324 A.D. The contents, a charter of royalty, state the conditions under which the land shall be governed.

Farther east, but still within the sphere of Indian culture, inscribed plates of the same type, but which no one can read anymore, are handed down "from father to son" as ancient charms of supernatural origin, 6 showing how the idea of authority and sacredness clings to the plates long after men have lost the ability to read them. Among the Karens, such a plate, formed of two kinds of plates welded together back to back, the one of copper and the other apparently of gold, was actually "the talisman by which the chief held his power over the people," 7 which means that the right to rule the land was attendant upon the possession of these plates—possibly because the plates actually were originally a royal charter.

Now Hither India seems to be far removed indeed from the cultural world of Lehi, yet the ancient and modern writing of the area was actually derived from Aramaic and Phoenician forms, taken ultimately from the Egyptian. 8 Since the oldest writing known in India (not counting the prehistoric glyphs of Mohenjo-Daro, etc.) is that found on the plates, it is at least probable that the writing and the plates were introduced at the same time, and that the people who introduced the Semitic letters into the area kept their records on plates bound together with rings, the form being preserved by the Indians themselves in their oldest and most sacred records. The case of the Karens is particularly interesting because those people have displayed such astonishing cultural affinities with the Jews that some observers have even claimed them to be of Jewish origin. 9 If that is so, their history may have paralleled Lehi's in more ways than one. Many chapters of the Diaspora remain to be written. But what we want to point out here is that the knowledge and use of metal plates for the keeping of important records is beginning to emerge as a general practice throughout the ancient world. It will not be long before men forget that in Joseph Smith's day the prophet was mocked and derided for his description of the plates more than anything else.

Nephi was much impressed by Laban's sword: "The hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and . . . the blade thereof was of the most precious steel" (1 Nephi 4:9). Such ceremonial swords and daggers with hilts of finely worked gold have been common in the Near East throughout historic times. Many exemplars from Egypt and Babylonia repose in our museums, 10 but none is more famous or more beautiful than the fine steel dagger with its hilt of pure gold and finest workmanship, that was found on the person of the youthful King Tutankhamen. 11 It has even been suggested that this dagger was one of those two sent many years before by King Dushratta of the Mitanni to the then reigning Pharaoh as the most royal of gifts and described in a contemporary document as having hilts of gold and blades of steel. 12 Nephi's term "precious steel" is interesting, for in his day real steel was far more precious than gold, being made possibly of meteoric iron and of superlative quality. The famous Damascus blades, of the finest steel the world has ever seen, were always made of meteoric iron, according to Jacob—an indication of very ancient origin. 13 Even in modern Palestine swords and daggers have been "mostly of Damascus or Egyptian manufacture." 14 No Arab prince to this day is ever seen in native dress without his khanjar, the long curved dagger of Damascus steel with its gorgeous hilt of gold. These ceremonial weapons are often heirlooms of great antiquity and immense value. At any time from the Amarna period (15th century B.C.) to the present, then, Laban would be required by the etiquette of the aristocratic East to carry just such a weapon as Nephi describes.

The End of the Desert

In desert travel, the experts tell us, one day is depressingly like another. For thousands of years the language of the desert has remained virtually unchanged, employing the same words and expressions without alteration from century to century, because the things they describe have never changed. With perfect right Margoliouth uses the epic of the Bani Hilal to illustrate the migrations of the Children of Israel, thousands of years before them: "They do not migrate haphazardly" but send out scouts, and before making any move they are careful to determine the will of heaven by "various omens and auguries." That is just as true of Lehi's people, with their young men ceaselessly scouting and hunting. As to learning the will of heaven, what better device than the marvelous Liahona? The name suggests so many possible Hebrew and Egyptian interpretations (it is, "being interpreted, a compass," Alma 37:38) that one man's guess is as good as another's, and it does not concern us here since, as a miraculous thing, it has no parallel in everyday life. Such a parallel may easily be found on the other hand to Nephi's comment on the marvelous way in which the women seemed to thrive on the hard Bedouin way of life (1 Nephi 17:2), for this phenomenon has always impressed visitors among the Arabs, where, says Burton, "between the extremes of fierceness and sensibility, the weaker sex, remedying its great want, power, raises itself by courage, physical as well as moral." 15

There is no reason for Nephi to give us in his greatly abbreviated history a day-by-day account of a long and monotonous journey through the sands; he has given us a clear general picture, as we have seen, of the ill temper, the exhaustion, and the danger that make up the common tale of desert travel, and there is little more to tell than that. But he cannot conceal the excitement and delight of the journey's end.

After traveling a vast distance in a south-southeasterly direction (1 Nephi 16:13, 33), the party struck off almost due eastward through the worst desert of all, where they "did wade through much affliction," to emerge in a state of almost complete exhaustion into a totally unexpected paradise by the sea. There is such a paradise in the Qara Mountains on the southern coast of Arabia. To reach it by moving "nearly eastward" (1 Nephi 17:1) from the Red Sea coast, one would have to turn east on the nineteenth parallel. In The Improvement Era for September 1950 the present writer published a map in which his main concern was to make Lehi reach the sea in the forested sector of the Hadhramaut, and no other consideration dictated his sketching of the map. He foolishly overlooked the fact that Dr. John A. Widtsoe had published in the Era some months previously what purports to be a "Revelation to Joseph the Seer," in which it is stated that Lehi's party "traveled nearly a south, southeast direction until they came to the nineteenth degree of north latitude; then nearly east to the sea of Arabia." 16 By an interesting coincidence, the route shown in the author's map turned east exactly at the nineteenth parallel. This correlation of data from two totally different sources is a strong indication that both are correct. The only other possible route would have been down the western shore of the Red Sea from Necho's canal, and on such a course one cannot turn eastward until passing the tenth parallel, and then it is not the Arabian Sea that one finds but the Indian Ocean. Along with this, certain other rigorous conditions must be fulfilled which can only be met on the south coast of Arabia.

Of the Qara Mountains which lie in that limited sector of the coast of south Arabia which Lehi must 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. 17

Captain Thomas (whom Lowell Thomas calls "the greatest living explorer") goes on to describe the aromatic shrubs of the place, the wooded valleys, "the hazy rim of the distant sea lifted beyond the mountains rolling down to it," and the wondrous beauty of the "sylvan scenes" that opened to the view as he passed down through the lush forests to the sea. 18

Compare this with Nephi's picture,

And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey. . . . And we beheld the sea . . . and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit. . . . And . . . the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: Arise and get thee into the mountain (1 Nephi 17:5-7).

It is virtually the same scene: the mountains, the rich woodlands with timber for ships, the rolling yellow meadow a paradise for bees, the view of the sea beyond, and above all the joyful relief at the sudden emergence from the "red sandstone steppe," one of the worst deserts on earth. Thomas, of course, was not interested in finding honey, but for those who must live permanently in the desert there is no greater treasure than a find of honey, as a great number of roots and derivative words in the Arabic vocabulary make clear. 19 Much the same description might suit the mountains of Oman farther east and lying on the twenty-fifth parallel, the discovery of which came as a great surprise in 1838. 20 When in 1843 von Wrede gave a glowing description of the mountains of the Hadramaut to which Lehi came, the great von Humboldt and, following him, of course, the whole learned world, simply refused to believe him. 21 Thomas' delectable mountains were unknown to the west until less than twenty-five years ago. Though "the southern coasts of Arabia have admirable harbors," they appear not to have been used, with a few possible exceptions, until well after the time of Christ. 22

Watching Lehi's travel-worn band wending its way down the pleasant valleys to the sea, one is moved to reflect that they have come an unconscionably long way just to build a ship. Well, let the reader suggest some other route. The best guide to Arabia at the time of the writing of the Book of Mormon imagined forests and lakes in the center of the peninsula, while insisting that the whole coastline was "a rocky wall . . . as dismal and barren as can be: not a blade of grass or a green thing" to be found. 23 The Book of Mormon reverses the picture and has Lehi avoid the heart of the continent to discover smiling woodlands on the south coast. Where else could he have found his timber on all the coast of Arabia? "It is quite possible," writes a present-day authority, "that Solomon has to transport his ships, or the material for them, from the Mediterranean, for where on the shores of the Red Sea could timber be found for ship-building?" 24

And by what other route could Lehi have reached his happy shore? To the north lay enemy country, the Mediterranean was a world of closed harbors and closed seas, as dangerous as in the days of Wenamon, who was repeatedly stopped by enemies and pirates, the deserts to the east of Jerusalem swarmed with hostile and warring tribes, north and central Arabia were the classic grazing and fighting grounds of the Arabs, and so crisscrossed with trade routes in the time of Ptolemy "that there appears little left of the inaccessible desert. . . . 'In general Ptolemy knows of no desert.' " 25

Egypt offered no escape to one marked as an enemy by the pro-Egyptian party. Only one way lay open, the hardest and wildest, through the mountains that border the Red Sea and then due east over the western extension of the terrible "Empty Quarter" where the party saw so much affliction. They had to turn east when they did because the whole southwest corner of the peninsula comprised the kingdom of the Sabaeans, probably the strongest, richest, and most thickly settled state Arabia has ever had.

So, long and painful though it was, Lehi's itinerary turns out to have been actually the shortest and safest, if not the only one he could have taken. On the shore of the Arabian Sea the story of Lehi in the Desert properly ends. Though this time has been but a preliminary telling, still there is enough to justify certain reflections by way of summary.

Lehi on the Witness Stand

We have never been very much interested in "proving" the Book of Mormon; for us its divine provenance has always been an article of faith, and its historical aspects by far the least important thing about it. But "the world" insists that it is a gross and stupid forgery, a barefaced fraud perpetrated by an ignorant rustic who could hardly write his name. They have made the charge; let them prove it. That should be a very easy thing to do if they are right, a mere matter of riffling through a few pages and pointing out the swarming errors, since the accused has committed himself in no uncertain terms and at unsparing length. The nature of the document he pretends to be translating is so singular, and the conditions it must fulfil so unique and exacting, that its composer must certainly be convicted at a glance if he is lying. On the other hand, if his writing shows any tendency at all to conform to the peculiar conditions prescribed, its critics must be put to a good deal of explaining, and if it shows a constant tendency to conform to those difficult conditions, its critics will be bankrupt. We believe that this little study, tentative and limited as it is, nonetheless indicates such a tendency beyond reasonable doubt.

What has been proved? Simply that everything which the book of 1 Nephi says happened really could have happened. Not that it did happen: to prove that is neither necessary nor possible. Unique events in history can never be reconstructed with certainty; but characteristic related events—manners, customs, rituals, etc., things that happen not just once but again and again in familiar patterns—may be the object of almost absolute certainty. Hence they, and not particular events, are the hardest things to fake; in testing forgeries and identifying documents it is the general pattern that is all-important. This principle is well illustrated in Cheesman's criticism of Palgrave. Though the latter's descriptions of Hufhuf are so full of "sheer inaccuracy" and "blazing indiscretion" as to appear almost pure fabrications, and though "Palgrave's map of Hufhuf is so full of inaccuracies that I have not been able even to orient it," Cheesman nonetheless concludes that "The picture Palgrave painted of Hufhuf, its gardens, its archways, and its industries and people, . . . could only have been composed by an eyewitness." With all its imperfections the general picture presents objects that would not have been mentioned if they had not been seen. "It is only too easy," writes the same author, "however careful one may be, to fall into little inaccuracies in an endeavor to put color into one's description of a country, and it is easier still, as I found, to come behind and point out the shortcomings of a predecessor." 26 This is a powerful argument in favor of the sober and detailed account of Nephi, whose mistakes of detail we could pardon if we could discover them. In talking about Lehi in the Desert we have, as it were, put the old patriarch on the stand as a witness in the case of Joseph Smith versus the World. Smith has been accused (and how!) of fraudulent practices, and Lehi is a witness for the defense. He claims to have spent years in certain parts of the Near East about 2550 years ago. Is he telling the truth?

Generations of shrewd and determined prosecutors have failed to shake Lehi's testimony or catch him contradicting himself. That should be enough to satisfy the most critical. But now, behold, out of the East come new witnesses—Captain Hoshaiah of Lachish and a host of sunburned explorers returned from Lehi's deserts to tell us what life there is like; the ancient poets of the Arabs, crates and crates of exhibits A to Z, seals, inscriptions, letters, artifacts from Lehi's own homeland. Whoever dreamed that Lehi would one day be confronted with eyewitnesses to the very scenes he claims he saw? In the light of all this new evidence, the defense asks that the case be reopened.

So Lehi and the new-found witnesses are cross-examined together and their answers compared. The questions come thick and fast: What is your name? Don't you know there is no such personal name? (A shard is produced from Lehi's time and it bears the name Lehi, not an uncommon one.) Where did you live at the time? What do you mean, "the land of Jerusalem"? Don't you mean the city? (Defense produces an ancient letter showing that the territory around the city was all known as the land of Jerusalem.) Who governed Jerusalem? What kind of men were they? What did you do to turn them against you? Where did you get this great wealth your son talks about? How did you happen to learn Egyptian—wasn't that a waste of time? Why didn't you learn Babylonian, a language much nearer to your own? What was all the trouble about in your family? I have quite a list of names here—your purported family and descendants: Do you expect the court to believe these are genuine? If this is a genuine list, why does it contain no Baal names? You say you had dreams: about what? A river? What kind of river? What is this weird "mist of darkness"? Did you ever see anything like it when you were awake? (Dozens of witnesses testify.) Don't you think a dream is pretty slim pretext for leaving your home and country? In which direction did you flee? How could you build up a big caravan without being apprehended? What did you take with you? How did you travel—on foot? How did you manage to survive with women and children in a terrible desert? How did you escape being killed off by raiders? Don't you know that desert was very dangerous? What did you eat? Did you march continually? When you camped, what was the first thing you did? What kind of altar? What sort of game did you hunt? Where? How? Who did the hunting? Your son made a bow, you say; where in desolate Arabia could he find wood for that? What right had you to go around giving new names to places? Do you think any sane person would give a river and its valley different names? (Roar of protest from Arabs in the audience.) Whoever called the Red Sea a fountain? Don't you know there are no rivers in Arabia? This little speech you gave your sons on the river bank—isn't it a bit overdone? (More protest from the Bedouins.) Don't you think it rather silly to describe a valley as "firm and steadfast"? Where did your sons stay when they went back to Jerusalem? What about this cave? Aren't metal plates rather clumsy writing material to keep records on? Aren't fifty men a ridiculously small garrison for a city like Jerusalem? You describe nocturnal meetings between the elders and the commandant: Wouldn't it be much more sensible to hold meetings in the daytime? Do you want the court to believe that you actually carried grain with you on this long and exhausting journey? Are you trying to tell the court that you found a paradise on the southernmost rim of the most desolate land on earth?

And so on, and so on. The reader may add to the list of searching questions at will—there are well over a hundred possibilities indicated in our study, and most of them such questions as no one on earth could have answered correctly 120 years ago. The writer of 1 Nephi was confronted by a hundred delicately interrelated problems of extreme difficulty. The probability of coming up with a plausible statement by mere guesswork once or twice is dim enough, but the chances of repeating the performance a hundred times in rapid succession are infinitely remote. The world through which Lehi wandered was to the westerner of 1830 a quaking bog without a visible inch of footing, lost in impenetrable fog; the best Bible students were hopelessly misinformed even about Palestine. Scientific study of the Holy Land began with Edward Robinson in 1838, yet forty years later a leading authority writes: "Few countries are more traveled in than Palestine; and in few are the manners and customs of the people less known." 27 The official statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund ten years later was, "There is scarcely anything definite known about [the desert of the Wandering]." 28 The Bible itself, instead of clearing up problems, is the main cause for the "great discrepancies" in the reports of observers, according to Palmer. 29 The classic example of this is Dr. H. Clay Turnbull's Kadesh Barnea, recommended by high authorities in 1884 as the standard work on the south desert and "accepted by biblical geographers as the authority on the district," right down to our own day, when Woolley and Lawrence explored the area and discovered that this infallible guidebook was simply "fantastic." 30 As to Clarke's work on the same region, published a year after Trumbull's, the same critics content themselves with remarking: "We will not print comments on this." 31 As late as 1935 Colonel Newcombe could write: "I had several books on the subject of the Wanderings, but nearly all were written by idealistic but very inexperienced visitors. . . . Most of these books had entirely missed the truth from lack of knowledge of the country or understanding of the Beduin mind. Each seemed to exaggerate grossly his own little theory at the expense of any one else's." 32 So let no one suppose that access to the Bible would have made easy the task of composing the story of Lehi—it would only have complicated matters. Yet we find our guide confident and sure-footed, never retracing his steps to change his course, never hesitating a moment or seeking refuge in noncommittal vaporings, never begging to be excused or falling back on the old appeal to be understood in a "religious" sense only, never moving behind a smoke screen or becoming consciously or unconsciously confusing or involved.

Some Simple Tests

The present treatment of the Lehi story leaves much to be desired (we can afford to crave the reader's indulgence for using the term Jew too loosely or engaging in rather fuzzy speculation on language), but if only a fraction of our information has been sound, 1 Nephi cannot possibly be explained on the grounds of mere coincidence. To illustrate this, let the reader make a simple test. Let him sit down to write a history of life, let us say, in Tibet in the middle of the eleventh century A.D. Let him construct his story wholly on the basis of what he happens to know right now about Tibet in the eleventh century—that will fairly represent what was known about ancient Arabia in 1830, i.e., that there was such a place and that it was very mysterious and romantic. In composing your Tibetan fantasy you will enjoy one great advantage: since the canvas is an absolute blank, you are free to fill it with anything that strikes your fancy. So you should have no trouble in getting "smoothly launched into your narrative"—which Mrs. Brodie seems to think was the only obstacle confronting the author of the Book of Mormon. But there will be other obstacles, for in your chronicle of old Tibet we must insist that you scrupulously observe a number of annoying conditions: (1) you must never make any absurd, impossible or contradictory statement; (2) when you are finished, you must make no changes in the text—the first edition must stand forever; (3) you must give out that your "smooth narrative" is not fiction but true, nay, sacred history; (4) you must invite the ablest orientalists to examine the text with care, and strive diligently to see that your book gets into the hands of all those most eager and most competent to expose every flaw in it. The "author" of the Book of Mormon observes all these terrifying rules most scrupulously.

In your Tibetan epic you might get something right by happy accident once in a while but don't expect it. You may console yourself by turning to any good historical novel dealing with the ancient world and marking with a red pencil every anachronism, incongruity, and inaccuracy in the book. The result is carnage, but be merciful! To realize what difficulties confront the creative historian, one has but to contemplate the laborious production of the Book of Mormon's latest critics. It was all too easy for the present author, lacking the unfair advantage of either wit or learning, to show where Mrs. Brodie in composing a history of events but a hundred years old contradicted herself again and again. 33

A Victor Hugo or an Anatole France can tell a convincing story when he is near to his own land and time, but let any writer, even the most learned, slip back a couple of thousand years and a few thousand miles around the globe, and he finds himself in a treacherous terrain from which the only escape lies in taking to the wings of fantasy. It is not particular details so much as the general background and atmosphere of their stories that oblige Messrs. White and Douglas to wink knowingly and tell us it's all in fun. Any handbook of Greek or Roman antiquities can supply a writer with all the accurate detail he can possibly use, but no writer yet has succeeded in integrating a mass of such stuff into a simple, natural, and flawless whole. Thornton Wilder and Naomi Mitchison neatly avoid the pitfalls of historical reconstruction by concentrating on such timeless things as mountains, seas, and human emotions, and so make their tales convincing. But Nephi enjoys no such artistic luxuries or immunities; it is history he is writing, and he imparts his information in such simple, effortless, and matter-of-fact discourse that the reader easily overlooks the vast amount of detail that is woven into the natural and uncomplicated pattern. What writer of historical fiction has ever remotely approached such an achievement?

But haven't we been decidedly partial in dealing with Lehi? Of course we have. We are the counsel for the defense. Our witnesses have all been of our own choosing, but no one can deny that they are competent and unprejudiced. We invited the prosecution to examine them. To date they have not done so, but instead have brought their own witnesses into court, up-to-date intellectuals who can tell us just exactly what the accused was thinking when he wrote the Book of Mormon. Such evidence is not evidence at all—it is bad science, bad history, and even bad newspaper reporting and would be rejected by any court in the land. But it might impress the half-educated jury, and that is its purpose. We can best explain the new trend in Book of Mormon criticism by a little parable.

A young man once long ago claimed he had found a large diamond in his field as he was ploughing. He put the stone on display to the public free of charge, and everyone took sides. A psychologist showed, by citing some famous case studies, that the young man was suffering from a well-known form of delusion. An historian showed that other men have also claimed to have found diamonds in fields and been deceived. A geologist proved that there were no diamonds in the area but only quartz: the young man had been fooled by a quartz. When asked to inspect the stone itself, the geologist declined with a weary, tolerant smile and a kindly shake of the head. An English professor showed that the young man in describing his stone used the very same language that others had used in describing uncut diamonds: he was, therefore, simply speaking the common language of his time. A sociologist showed that only three out of 177 florists' assistants in four major cities believed the stone was genuine. A clergyman wrote a book to show that it was not the young man but someone else who had found the stone.

Finally an indigent jeweler named Snite pointed out that since the stone was still available for examination the answer to the question of whether it was a diamond or not had absolutely nothing to do with who found it, or whether the finder was honest or sane, or who believed him, or whether he would know a diamond from a brick, or whether diamonds had ever been found in fields, or whether people had ever been fooled by quartz or glass, but was to be answered simply and solely by putting the stone to certain well-known tests for diamonds. Experts on diamonds were called in. Some of them declared it genuine. The others made nervous jokes about it and declared that they could not very well jeopardize their dignity and reputations by appearing to take the thing too seriously. To hide the bad impression thus made, someone came out with the theory that the stone was really a synthetic diamond, very skilfully made, but a fake just the same. The objection to this is that the production of a good synthetic diamond 120 years ago would have been an even more remarkable feat than the finding of a real one.

The moral of this story is that the testimony brought out by the prosecution, however learned, has been to date entirely irrelevant and immaterial. It is hardly necessary to observe that it is also incompetent, since it is highly argumentative and based entirely on conclusions of the witnesses, who have furthermore already made up their minds, on other grounds, that the accused is guilty.

Another thing, the prosecution must prove their case to the hilt: it is not enough to show, even if they could, that there are mistakes in the Book of Mormon, for all humans make mistakes; what they must explain is how the "author" of the book happened to get so many things right. Eighty-odd years of zealous searching by the Palestine Exploration Fund have brought to light little or nothing proving the Exodus; to this day "of the story of . . . Saul, David, Solomon, or even of their existence, there is no trace whatever outside of Palestine." Yet this shortage of evidence by no means disproves the Bible. We should not have been disappointed or surprised to find all the records completely silent on matters relevant to the Book of Mormon; yet they have been far from that. If a man makes a mistake in solving a very complex mathematical problem, that proves nothing as to his ability as a mathematician, for the greatest make slips. But if he shows a correct solution for the problem, it is impossible to explain away his success as an accident, and we must recognize him, whoever he is, as a bona fide mathematician. So it is with the author of 1 Nephi: If we could find mistakes in his work, we could readily explain and forgive them, but when he keeps coming up with the right answer time after time, we can only accept his own explanation of how he does it.

One significant aspect of the story of Lehi in the Desert must not be overlooked. It is wholly, from beginning to end, a history of the Old World. There is in it not so much as a hint of the "Noble Red Man." Nothing in it ever betrays the slightest suspicion that the drama is going to end in the New World. Lehi's people thought they had found their promised land in Bountiful by the sea and were horribly upset when Nephi, who himself had thought the project impossible (1 Nephi 17:8-9), undertook by special instruction to build a ship.

From what oriental romance, then, was the book of 1 Nephi stolen? Compare it with any attempts to seize the letter and the spirit of the glamorous East, from Voltaire to Grillparzer, nay, with the soberest oriental histories of the time, and it will immediately become apparent how unreal, extravagant, overdone, and stereotyped they all are, and how scrupulously Nephi has avoided all the pitfalls into which even the best scholars were sure to fall. There is no point at all to the question: Who wrote the Book of Mormon? It would have been quite as impossible for the most learned man alive in 1830 to have written the book as it was for Joseph Smith. And whoever would account for the Book of Mormon by any theory suggested so far—save one—must completely rule out the first forty pages.


1. J. A. Knudtzon, Die El-Amarna-Tafeln (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1915; reprinted Aalen: Zeller, 1964) 1:372-73, tablet 74.

2. Livy, Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) VIII, 40, 4; cf. IV, 16, 3 ; kept on "boards'' (tabulae, pinakes) or sacred tablets (en hierais deltois), Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities I, 73, 1; I, 74, 3-5.

3. Julian Obermann, "An Early Phoenician Political Document,'' JBL 58 (1939): 229-31. Albright calls it "a Hebrew letter of the twelfth century'' on a copper or bronze plate. William F. Albright, "A Hebrew Letter of the Twelfth Century,'' BASOR 73 (February 1939): 9-13.

4. The Idrisi passage is quoted at length by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead (New York: Dover, 1967), xix, n. 3.

5. G. Ramadas, "Kesaribeda Copper Plate,'' Journal of Bihar Research Society 34 (1948): 32; 34-35 lists besides these the Mattapad plates of Damodaravarman 6 3/8'' by 1 1/2''; the Kauteru plates of Vijayaskandavarman 5 1/2'' by 4/5''; the Peddavegi plates of Salankayan a Nandivarman 6 4/5'' by 2 1/10''; the Koroshanda copper plates of Visakharvarma 7 1/2'' by 2''; the Chikulla plates of Vikramendravarma 7 1/8'' by 2 1/4''; the Komarti plates of Chandavarma 7 1/2'' to 7 5/8'' by 2 1/4'' to 2 3/8''.

6. Alonzo Bunker, "On a Karen Inscription-Plate,'' JAOS 10 (1872): 172-77.

7. It was 6 3/16'' by 2 1/ 8''. Ibid., 175.

8. See Fritz Hommel, Ethnologie und Geographie des alten Orients (Munich: Beck, 1926), 201-3.

9. E. B. Cross, "The Karens,'' JAOS 4 (1854): 308.

10. Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1928), vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 205; R. Maxwell Hyslop, et al., "An Archaeological Survey of the Plain of Jabbul, 1939,'' PEFQ (1942), 23, plate VII, fig. 14; An iron ceremonial weapon found recently had a finely worked handle of copper and gold. Theodore H. Gaster, "On an Iron Axe from Ugarit,'' PEFQ (1943), 57-58.

11. Gerald A. Wainwright, "The Coming of Iron,'' Antiquity 10 (1936): 17-18.

12. Ibid.

13. Georg Jacob, Altarabisches Beduinenleben (Berlin: Mayer & MĂĽller, 1897 ), 151-52.

14. Philip J. Baldensperger, "The Immovable East,'' PEFQ (1903), 168. Nibley continued in his magazine article: "The general question of steel in the ancient world is still unsettled. The Babylonians distinguished between eru (cf. our 'ore'), meaning iron, lead, or copper, and 'shining eru,' '' which meant copper or steel''. Fr. Lenormant, 'Les noms de l'Arain et du Cuivre . . . ,' Biblical Archaeological Society Transactions 5 (1876): 344-45. In Egypt a like distinction was made between ordinary iron, which was not only known but actually used for utensils as early as the Old Kingdom, and that type of iron known as tehazet, which some interpret as asiatic iron. Felix von Luschan, "Eisentechnik in Afrika,'' Zeitschrift fĂĽr Ethnologie 41 (1909): 47. Another type, benipe, is 'iron from heaven,' i.e., either meteoric iron or, as Von Luschan believed, sky-colored metal' (Metall von Himmelsfarbe), ibid., 48, which may well have been steel. Ceremonial swords in very old Egyptian tomb painting are colored blue to represent either iron or steel, according to the same authority, ibid., 49. While the problem of the origin and age of iron and steel remains unsolved, every step in the last forty years has been in the direction of proving a much greater antiquity and much more widespread use of those metals than was formerly believed to be possible.'' Hugh W. Nibley, "Lehi in the Desert,'' IE 53 (1950): 707.

15. Richard F. Burton, Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (London: Tylston & Edwards, 1893) 2:94, 141-42.

16. John A. Widtsoe, "Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?'' IE 53 (1950): 547.

17. Bertram Thomas, Arabia Felix (New York: Scribner, 1932), 48-49.

18. Ibid., 48.

19. Burton, Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah, 2:130.

20. David G. Hogarth, The Penetration of Arabia (London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1904), 137-39.

21. Ibid., 148-50.

22. James L. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1934), 71, 74 .

23. Josiah Conder, A Popular Description of Arabia, Modern Traveller Series (London: Duncan, 1926), 9, 14-15, 348-49.

24. Stewart Perowne, "Notes on I Kings, Chapter X, 1-13," PEFQ (1939), 200.

25. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible, 75.

26. Robert E. Cheesman, In Unknown Arabia (London: Macmillan, 1926), 67-71.

27. C. Clermont-Ganneau, "The Arabs in Palestine,'' PEFQ (1875), 202.

28. Edward H. Palmer, "The Desert of the TĂ­h and the Country of Moab,'' in Survey of Western Palestine, Special Papers (London: Palestine Exploration Fund, 1881), 4:73.

29. Edward H. Palmer, The Desert of the Exodus (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, 1871), 2.

30. Charles M. Watson, "The Desert of the Wanderings,'' PEFQ (1914), 18-23; C. Leonard Woolley & Thomas E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (London: Cape, 1936), 71-72.

31. Woolley & Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin, 73, n. 1.

32. S. F. Newcombe, "T. E. Lawrence- Personal Reminiscences,'' PEFQ (1935), 110-11.

33. See further Hugh W. Nibley, No Ma'am, That's Not History (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946).