Evidence #395 | March 6, 2023

East Wind, Hail, and Insects

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Abinadi warned King Noah’s people of an impending “east wind” accompanied by “hail” and “insects.” This three-fold prophecy accords well with weather conditions and symbolism in both the Old and New Worlds.

When preaching to the people of King Noah, Abinadi foretold that the Lord would “send forth hail,” and would also smite them “with the east wind” and that “insects shall pester their land … and devour their grain” (Mosiah 12:6). Famine and pestilence were also among the “sore afflictions” they would be required to suffer if they didn’t repent (Mosiah 12:4).

This appears to be the same prophecy Limhi referred to when he told Ammon about a prophet who had come among Limhi’s people and warned that if they “shall sow filthiness they shall reap the east wind, which bringeth immediate destruction” (Mosiah 7:31).1 According to Limhi, Abinadi’s dire prediction was fulfilled, and the people were indeed “smitten and afflicted” (Mosiah 7:32).

“East Wind” in the Ancient Near East

In an ancient biblical context, the “east wind” was sometimes called “the wind of the Lord” (see Hosea 13:15) because it was “viewed as an instrument of God’s judgment.”2 In Israel, the wind from the east (or southeast) originates from the Arabian Desert and is insufferably hot and dry, often bringing sand along that can darken the skies and irritate the skin and the eyes.

According to Dennis M. Swanson, such winds are typically called the khamsin or sirocco today, and are “capable of reducing green crops to dry, brown husks in a single day” and can “also spawn wildfires.”3 Hence, the Book of Enoch says that from the east wind “proceeds extirpation, drought, pestilence, and destruction” (1 Enoch 76:6).4

Even though these climatic conditions were specific to the region of Israel, biblical writers also used the “east wind” as a sign of divine judgment when talking about other regions of the ancient Near East. Hence, God sent a “vehement east wind” with the sun to bear heat down upon Jonah when he was outside of Nineveh (Jonah 4:8). Yet, in reality, an east wind would typically have brought refreshing rains in Assyria.5

Attribution Unknown. 

In Pharaoh’s dream that was interpreted by Joseph, it was an “east wind” that came and dried the crops, bringing seven years of famine (Genesis 41:6, 23, 27). The plague of locusts in the story of the Exodus was likewise brought by an “east wind” (Exodus 10:13). Yet in Egypt, it is southern (or southeastern) winds that bring both the dry, withering heat that kills crops, and locust infestations.6 “East wind” could thus be used to describe any hot, dry, devasting wind, regardless of which direction it primarily came from.7

“East Wind” in Mesoamerica

In ancient Mesoamerica, winds from all directions were viewed as “the quintessential evil force,”8 and could be “sent as a punishment from the gods for failing to make appropriate offerings or for engaging in impious behavior.”9 The east wind could be particularly destructive. As noted by Kerry M. Hull, “for various indigenous groups in Mesoamerica, an east wind can have numerous negative associations: as a hot or dry wind in some areas; as a wind tied to malevolent forces and sprits; and as a highly destructive wind that brings floods (i.e., hurricanes).”10 For example, some Maya in the Yucatan regarded the “east wind” as hot, and among the Itzaj Maya the “summer east wind” was especially feared for causing fires to get out of control.11 In both Belize and Chiapas, Mexico, “an east wind can be a scorching, drying wind.”12

Strong winds in Oaxaca, Mexico. Image by Jose de Jesus Cortes/Reuters.

In the southern Guatemalan highlands, where some scholars believe the land of Nephi was located,13 northeastern winds were hot and dry and could destroy crops and lead to famine, just like the “east wind” in Israel.14 When this dry northeastern wind clashed with the humid southern winds, it could cause hailstorms in the Guatemalan highlands.15 The dry northeastern winds could also drive the locusts, which typically swarm the Motagua River Valley, further south into regions unaccustomed to this pest.16

Thus, under the right climatic conditions, hail, east wind, and locusts—three things linked together in Abinadi’s prophecy (Mosiah 12:6)—could form a deadly combination in southern Guatemala, devastating crops and causing a famine.17 Given the destructive force of such a combination, it’s no wonder the Tzeltal Maya, of Chiapas, Mexico, specifically pray, “let no hail come; let no wind come; let no locust come.”18

Conclusion

In both the Old World and the New, the “east wind” (although not always from a strictly due “east” direction) was recognized as a destructive force that could devastate crops and bring famine, pestilence, and destruction. Under certain climatic conditions, it could even cause hailstorms and bring swarms of insects (locusts)—a convergence of calamities that correlates well with Abinadi’s predictions.

Kerry M. Hull, “An ‘East Wind’: Old and New World Perspectives,” in Abinadi: He Came Among them in Disguise, ed. Shon D. Hopkin (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 169–208.

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013), 489, 557–558.

John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 182–184.

Mosiah 7:31–32Mosiah 12:4–7

Mosiah 7:31–32

Mosiah 12:4–7

  • 1 For analysis of the relationships between Limhi’s statements and the words of Abinadi, see John Gee, “Limhi in the Library,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (1992): 61–64.
  • 2 Dennis M. Swanson, “East Wind,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 362. See also Kerry M. Hull, “An ‘East Wind’: Old and New World Perspectives,” in Abinadi: He Came Among them in Disguise, ed. Shon D. Hopkin (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 170–171.
  • 3 Swanson, “East Wind,” 362; Hull, “East Wind,” 172–175.
  • 4 See E. Isaac, “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols., ed. James H. Charlesworth (Peabody, MA: Hendricks Publishers, 1983), 55. A footnote indicates that some manuscripts read “death” or “heat” instead of “pestilence.” Cf. the translation cited by Hull, “East Wind,” 173–174, which reads “out of it [the easterly wind portal] comes destruction, dryness and heat and death.”
  • 5 Hull, “East Wind,” 177–178, 180–181.
  • 6 Hull, “East Wind,” 178–180. It is worth noting that the modern terms used to refer to the “east wind” in Israel—khamsin and sirocco—are used to refer to the southern or southeastern wind in Egypt, because it has the same effects as the Palestinian “east wind.” See Hull, “East Wind,” 172, 192.
  • 7 See Hull, “East Wind,” 192–193.
  • 8 Hull, “East Wind,” 185.
  • 9 Mark A. Wright, “Nephite Daykeepers: Ritual Specialists in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon,” in Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium, 14 May 2011, ed. Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson (Salt Lake City and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and the Interpreter Foundation, 2014), 248.
  • 10 Hull, “East Wind,” 193–194. Hull noted that the east wind also had positive connotations among some indigenous groups (see p. 190). Cf. Wright, “Nephite Daykeepers,” 256 n. 14.
  • 11 Hull, “East Wind,” 188.
  • 12 Hull, “East Wind,” 188.
  • 13 See John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 47, 141–148; John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013), 131–136, 545–578. See also V. Garth Norman, Book of Mormon–Mesoamerican Geography: History Study Map (American Fork, UT: ARCON and the Ancient American Foundation, 2008), 31, nos. 48, 60; Joseph L. Allen and Blake J. Allen, Exploring the Lands of Book of Mormon, rev. ed. (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2011), 719–743.
  • 14 See Felix Webster McBryde, “Studies in Guatemalan Meteorology (I): The Climate of Southwest Guatemala,” Bulletin of American Meteorological Society 23, no. 6 (June 1942): 259–261; Felix Webster McBryde, “Studies in Guatemalan Meteorology (II): Two Weather Types in Southwest Guatemala,” Bulletin of American Meteorological Society 23, no. 10 (December 1942): 400, 402. McBryde documents the dry, hot, desiccating wind as coming from the north, but more frequently the northeast, and refers to it in Spanish as the norte wind. As noted by Hull, “East Wind,” 182–185, Maya directional systems differ significantly amongst each other and from traditional cardinal directions. East and west are the most consistent, and most important directions, while north and south are secondary. Most Mesoamerican directional systems divide the world into quadrants based on the sun’s axis on the summer and winter solstices, thus the “east” quadrant would encompass all directions ranging from northeast to southeast. See Brant A. Gardner, “From East to West: The Problem of Directions in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 3 (2013): 119–153. Thus, a predominately “northeast” wind would be an “east wind” to pre-Columbian Maya. Furthermore, as pointed out above, biblical references to an “east wind” could be used to refer to any hot, dry, desiccating wind, regardless of which direction it came from. If Abinadi’s usage of “east wind” is drawn from this biblical tradition (from the plates of brass), then the effects of the wind may be more relevant than its directionality (cf. Wright, “Nephite Daykeepers,” 256 n. 14).
  • 15 McBryde, “Studies in Guatemalan Meteorology (I),” 261.
  • 16 See Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 183–184; Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 557–558.
  • 17 See Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 182–184; Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 557–558.
  • 18 Alfonzo Villa Rojas, “The Tzeltal,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, 11 vols., ed. Robert Wauchope (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1964–1971), 7:202. See also Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 489.
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