Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lehi's Family

Last night for family scripture study, Leann and I read in First Nephi, Chapter 18.[1] In this chapter Lehi's family boards the ship that Nephi and his brothers have built and begin their journey across the Indian and Pacific Oceans in order to reach the Promised Land on the American Continent.[2] Along the way they got into trouble when Laman, Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, and possibly Sam began causing trouble and incurred the displeasure of the Lord. Here are some of my thoughts about this chapter.
And after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days, behold, my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness, yea, even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness. (1 Nephi 18:9)
Singing, dancing, and rudeness? Sounds to me like they're drunk. Now the moderate drinking of alcohol wasn't forbidden to the Jews of that time, but drunkenness was considered an offense to God [3], which is why Nephi reprimanded them. But why were they making merry? They hadn't wanted to leave Bountiful with its abundant fruit (which they probably used to make their alcohol), to the point that they intended to drown Nephi.[4] My guess is that by this time they had already stopped at (or at least passed by) some tropical islands. Imagining the luxurious lifestyle they might enjoy on such an island, they began to celebrate.

At this point Nephi intervenes, Laman and Lemuel tie him up, the Liahona stops working, and a storm arrives soon thereafter (1 Nephi 18:10–13). Here Nephi writes:
And my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds. Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren, they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God; yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust; yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave. And Jacob and Joseph also, being young, having need of much nourishment, were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother. (1 Nephi 18:17–19)
First, Lehi and Sariah are "stricken in years". I think because of the Living Scriptures series and because of Arnold Friberg's illustrations we tend to think of Lehi and Sariah as being in their 60s or 70s, Laman and Lemuel as being in their 40s, and Nephi as being in his 30s.[5] However, it's incongruent with their culture for male children (especially of a rich merchant) to be unmarried in their 30s or 40s. Nephi, at the beginning of the record calls himself "exceedingly young, nevertheless…large in stature" (1 Nephi 2:16)—large enough that he could impersonate the warrior, Laban (1 Nephi 4). To my mind this puts him somewhere between 14 and 18 years old.[6] This means Laman and Lemuel were probably closer to 18 to 24 years old, and Lehi and Sariah were probably in their early 40s when they fled Jerusalem.[7] Thus when they reached Bountiful eight years later (1 Nephi 17:4), they were in their late 40s or early 50s.

Second, Jacob and Joseph were born in the wilderness (1 Nephi 18:7), but it sounds like they were born just before the family arrived in Bountiful. During the events on the ship, both children are distressed and lacking nourishment because of their mother's afflictions. In other words, they're both still nursing and apparently none of the other women are able to help out in this regard, though at least some of them have also born children (1 Nephi 17:1–2). To say that these two starving babies were "grieved" might be an understatement on Nephi's part.

Third, I see two possibilities for why Jacob and Joseph are nursing at the same time: either the Jews at that time nursed their children for several years, thus allowing for nursing children to overlap, or Jacob and Joseph were twins. I'm inclined toward the latter. Furthermore, given how inseparable and almost indistinguishable they are, I also suspect that Laman and Lemuel were twins. But if that's true, why is that fact never mentioned? Well, the word twins only appears six times in the Scriptures: twice in Genesis (25:24 and 38:27) and four times in the deprecated [8] Song of Solomon (4:2; 4:5; 6:6; and 7:3).[9]

About one person in 90 is a twin [10], which means there were plenty of twins during the rest of the period covered by the Bible. And yet no mention is made of them. It appears to me that the twin phenomenon wasn't noteworthy to the writers of the Bible. Since there are no mentions of twins in the Book of Mormon, it apparently didn't matter much to them, either. And if Laman and Lemuel were twins, that makes it four times more likely that Sariah would give birth to twins again.[11]


[1] You can read it, too, here. First Nephi is a book found in The Book of Mormon. For those who are unsure why Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have more Christian scripture, in addition to the Bible, I recommend you visit here and here, where you can learn more about LDS beliefs concerning The Book of Mormon. If you have more questions, ask and maybe I'll do a full post on the topic.

[2] The actual route isn't spelled out in the Book of Mormon, thus there is a minority opinion that Lehi's family rounded the Cape of Storms and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. By reading the date estimates for each chapter, it appears that it took Lehi's family up to two years to complete the voyage (though Nephi calls it "the space of many days"—1 Nephi 18:23). Consider that Thor Heyerdahl crossed half the Pacific (a little less than a third of the distance of Lehi's voyage) on a balsa raft in 101 days (source).

[3] See, for example Isaiah 5:11, 22; 28:1–8; Prov. 23:29–33; etc.

[4] See 1 Nephi 17:6, 17–22, 48.

[5] I also blame them for the inexplicable portrayals of Nephi running around topless while Laman and Lemuel were always dressed modestly.

[6] This would put him in his 70s when he died, around 545 or 544 BC (Jacob 1:12).

[7] Interestingly, if we assume that Sariah was 14 when she gave birth to Laman (not uncommon) and that Laman was 18 when they left Jerusalem, then she would be 32 when they left. Eight years later when they arrived at Bountiful, she would've been 40 which is easily pre-menopausal but during the Iron Age that was also close to her life expectancy. (I can't find any solid online references, but in my searching it looks like her life expectancy would've been between 30 and 50 years.)

[8] Latter-day Saints do not regard the Song of Solomon as inspired scripture, but it can still give us clues about Ancient Hebrew culture and history.

[9] I will, however, acknowledge that the New Testament name Thomas (Hebrew) or Didymus (Greek) means "twin".

[11] This is because they're more likely to be hyperovulators. See Note also that women who are near menopause (which I suspect Sariah was) and who have already borne many children (before Jacob and Joseph, Sariah had borne four boys and at least two girls—2 Nephi 5:6) are more likely to have twins. I'll admit that this site (blog) doesn't look very authoritative. I verified all the statistics I cite here but decided to keep this source since it compiles them all.

Image attributions:

Hurricane is by Jeff Schmaltz, available at


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights! Speaking of drunkenness, what causes a hangover?

    And speaking of twins, a lady I worked with before Josie was born was the mother of three sets of twins. She did have one child that wasn't a twin. Can you imagine? She said she didn't remember much from when they were little. I'm not surprised.

  2. According to this Wikipedia article, the cause is unknown. But possibilities include:

    · hypoglycemia (breaking down alcohol produces byproducts which interfere with your body's ability to make glucose)
    · dehydration (because alcohol makes you have to urinate more frequently)
    · acetaldehyde intoxication (because your liver breaks the alcohol down into acetaldehyde which is even more toxic)
    · congeners (alcohols other than ethanol which are produced during the process of fermentation and which are more prevalent in darker colored drinks)
    · glutamine rebound (your body overproduces glutamine after intoxication, resulting in an interrupted sleep cycle)
    · vitamin B12 deficiency (your body loses it during excess urination and also uses it up breaking down the alcohol)

    I'm betting that it's a combination of one or more of those.

  3. Neat. Can honestly say that I'd never even had the hint of the idea that L&L could have been twins or J&J (Yes, I did the initial thing just to keep from spelling their names.)

    What I like best is the description of the political maneuvering and possible undercover cops in Alma (I think.).

  4. Those seem like pretty plausible explanations for hangovers. I remember reading or hearing somewhere that it was because when you're drunk your brain is working so hard to function at a normal level that it hurts a lot the next day. Like a sore muscle, I guess. But I don't remember where I got that and have no source. It's an interesting thought anyway.

  5. Interesante, lo quiero. Saludos Crook!!

  6. Although the beginning of Nephi’s record only mentions sons, Joseph Smith says the record of Lehi in the 116 missing manuscript pages refers to at least two of Ishmael’s sons marrying Lehi’s daughters. Nephi himself mentions his sisters at the end of his record. As no mention is made of further births to Lehi and Sariah after Jacob and Joseph, the assumption can be made that these sisters are the daughters who married Ishmael’s sons. - Sidney B. Sperry, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/1 (1995): 235–38.