Evidence #128 | December 22, 2020

Lehi's Departure

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Lehi’s exodus into the wilderness reported in 1 Nephi 2 contains a complex, and often subtle, array of parallels or allusions to the Israelite exodus from Egypt. Similar parallels can be found in a variety of Jewish writings, including biblical texts.

Nephi’s Account Was Modeled after the Israelite Exodus

Several studies have demonstrated that Nephi’s account of his family’s journey to their promised land, as well as several other Book of Mormon narratives, have numerous parallels to the Israelite exodus from Egypt.1 One of the first clusters of such parallels can be seen when comparing the details surrounding each group’s journey into the wilderness. 

Fleeing from Captivity and Danger

When the Israelites fled from Egypt, they were fleeing from bondage and from immediate danger from the Egyptian army (see Exodus 3:7–8; 14:4–23). Lehi’s family was fleeing from Babylonian bondage and immediate danger from the Jews (see 1 Nephi 1:13; 2:1).

Lehi's Caravan. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

A Three-Day Journey Near the Red Sea

After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, the very next reported travel detail is that they journeyed for three days into the wilderness: “So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, … and they went three days in the wilderness” (Exodus 15:22). Similarly, soon after Lehi’s family “came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea” they “traveled three days in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:5–6).

The Red Sea. Image via radissonblu.com.

A Three-Day Journey Connected to Sacrifices

A few passages in the book of Exodus state that the initial purpose for the Israelites traveling three days into the wilderness was to offer sacrifice (this was before they left Egypt). The Lord instructed Moses to say unto Pharaoh: “we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Exodus 3:18; cf. 8:27). Lehi’s sacrificial offering likewise follows after his family’s three day journey: “And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he … made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God” (1 Nephi 2:6–7).

A prohibition against sacrifices being offered less than a three-day journey from the temple at Jerusalem has been found in a temple text among the Dead Sea Scrolls,2 and scholars believe that this prohibition stems from or is otherwise linked to the abovementioned passages in Exodus.3 With this context in mind, Nephi’s statement may simultaneously recall the sacrifices mentioned in Exodus 3 and 8 while also affirming that Lehi’s offering was in compliance with the laws and customs of his day.4  

A Three-Day Journey Connected to the Discovery of Water

In the Israelite exodus, a three-day journey followed by the discovery of water at Marah are the first travel details reported after their passing through the Red Sea: “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah” (Exodus 15:23). Likewise, immediately after encountering the Red Sea and making a three-day journey into the wilderness, Lehi “pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water” (1 Nephi 2:5–6).

Songs about Water

Exodus 15 contains what is often referred to as the “Song of the Sea.”5 This song or poem celebrates Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh’s army as they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground, as detailed in the preceding chapter. Interestingly, a repeated “poetic couplet”6 can be found at the beginning and ending of this song:7

Exodus 15:1Exodus 15:21

I will sing unto the Lord,

    for he hath triumphed gloriously:

the horse and his rider

    hath he thrown into the sea. 

Sing ye to the Lord,

    for he hath triumphed gloriously;

the horse and his rider

    hath he thrown into the sea.

Lehi’s statements in the Valley of Lemuel (1 Nephi 2:9–10) also celebrate the presence of water—in this case the River Laman. In addition to characterizing Lehi’s statements in this valley as a “little song,”8 Hugh Nibley has noted that they show up in the form of a poetic couplet:9

O that thou mightest be like unto this river,

continually running into the fountain of all righteousness! …

O that thou mightest be like unto this valley,

firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!

Moses parting the Red Sea, by Robert T. Barrett.

A Name Is Associated with Water

Miriam, the sister of Moses, is twice mentioned in the verses preceding the discussion of Marah in the book of Exodus (see Exodus 15:20–23). Several scholars have proposed that the close textual proximity between the names Miriam and Marah is intentional and is meant to evoke wordplay concerning the bitterness of the waters.10 Similarly, in Nephi’s account, Lehi immediately connects the discovery of water with the name of one of his family members: “And it came to pass that he called the name of the river, Laman” (1 Nephi 2:8).

Fountain Imagery

The Waters of Marah were so named because of their bitterness: “they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah” (Exodus 15:23). Yet this bitterness didn’t last. In response to the murmuring of the people, “the Lord shewed [Moses] a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet” (v. 25). In other words, the Lord made a bitter fountain sweet.

The prophet Mormon used similar imagery when he taught that a “bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water” (Moroni 7:11). When speaking to Moroni, the Lord used fountain imagery in a similar context, declaring that “faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness” (Ether 12:28; emphasis added).11 When viewed in light of these and other related passages, Lehi’s comparison of the River Laman to a “fountain of all righteousness” can be seen as part of the same bitter/sweet fountain imagery evoked a Marah.12

The Water of Marah, engraving by Gerard Jollain, 1670. 

Affirmations of Belief

Based on Janzen’s analysis, Miriam’s song is likely what helped motivate the people’s (1) fear of the Lord and (2) their expression of belief in God and in Moses in Exodus 14:31: “And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (emphasis added).13

Similarly, Lehi’s poetic exclamation and additional words in the Valley of Lemuel also evoked both fear and belief—fear on the part of Laman and Lemuel who “did shake before him” (1 Nephi 2:14) and belief on the part of Nephi, who “did believe all the words which had been spoken by [his] father” (1 Nephi 2:16). Note also that Nephi immediately followed his own declaration of belief by mentioning that Sam believed in his words (v. 17).

Murmuring

The miraculous healing of bitter waters at Marah was initiated by the murmuring of the Israelites: “And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?” (Exodus 15:24). Likewise, Lehi’s poetic expressions at the sight of water were made because Laman and Lemuel “did murmur in many things against their father” (1 Nephi 2:11).

Intercessory Prayers

In response to the Israelites’ murmuring, Moses “cried unto the Lord” in prayer on their behalf (Exodus 15:25). In response to Laman and Lemuel’s murmuring and hardness of heart, Nephi similarly “cried unto the Lord for them” (1 Nephi 2:18).

Nephi praying by a stream. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Conditionally Promised Blessings

After healing the waters at Marah, the Lord offered a blessing of protection and healing to the Israelites that was conditioned upon their obedience: “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes …” (Exodus 15:26). After Lehi’s statements in the Valley of Lemuel, the Lord promised blessings to Nephi that were similarly conditioned upon his obedience: “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper .… And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren” (1 Nephi 2:20–22).

Conclusion

It seems to be no coincidence that Nephi’s three-day travel account specifically mentions (1) the discovery of water and (2) the offering of sacrifice—both of which are discussed in the book of Exodus in relation to a three-day journey. Although some of the additional parallels identified between these narratives are more subtle, they collectively offer an array potential connections. The likelihood of their being intentional increases when viewed in light of the many other known Exodus parallels found in the Book of Mormon.14

Similar textual allusions and parallels to the book of Exodus have been discovered in other biblical or Jewish writings,15 which means their presence in 1 Nephi fits what might be expected from the writings of an educated Jew in the 6th century BC. Conversely, readers may understandably question whether such correspondences were produced by Joseph Smith, who had limited education and literary experience when he translated the Book of Mormon in 1829.16

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 5–23.

Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi as Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 26–35.

Terry L. Szink, “Nephi and the Exodus,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1991), 38–51.

S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern of the Book of Mormon,” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998), 75–98, published previously in BYU Studies Quarterly, 30, no. 3: (1990): 111–126.

George S. Tate, “The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” in Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981), 245–262.

  • 1 See Don Bradley, “A Passover Setting for Lehi’s Exodus,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 119–142; Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), 121–156; Sara Riley, “‘Even as Moses’ Did’: The Use of the Exodus Narrative in Mosiah 11–18,” FairMormon presentation, 2018, online at fairmormon.org; Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, no. 2 (2005): 5–23; Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi as Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 26–35; Mark J. Johnson, “The Exodus of Lehi Revisited,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 54–58, published previously in Journal of Book of Moron Studies 3, no. 2 (1994): 123–126; S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern of the Book of Mormon,” in From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998), 75–98, published previously in BYU Studies Quarterly, 30, no. 3: (1990): 111–126; S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus: Seeing It As a Test, a Testimony, and a Type,” Ensign, February 1990, online at archive.bookofmormoncentral.org; Bruce J. Boehm, “Wanderers in the Promised Land: A Study of the Exodus Motif in the Book of Mormon and Holy Bible,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 1 (1994): 187–203; Terry L. Szink, “Nephi and the Exodus,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1991), 38–51; George S. Tate, “Nephi and the Exodus,” Ensign, April 1987, online at archive.bookofmormoncentral.org; George S. Tate, “The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” in Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal E. Lambert (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981), 245–262.
  • 2 See David Rolph Seely, “Lehi’s Altar and Sacrifice in the Wilderness,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10, no. 1 (2001): 65.
  • 3 See L. H. Schiffman, The Courtyards of the House of the Lord: Studies on the Temple Scroll, ed. Florentino García Martínez (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2008), 289, 306; Aharon Shemesh, “‘Three-Days’ Journey from the Temple’: The Use of This Expression in the Temple Scroll,” Dead Sea Discoveries 6, no. 2 (1999): 127; L. H. Schiffman, “Sacral and Non-Sacral Slaughter according to the Temple Scroll,” in Time to Prepare the Way in the Wilderness, ed. D. Dimant and L. H. Schiffman (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 77; Y. Yadin, The Temple Scroll (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1883), 1:317.
  • 4 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Offering Sacrifices Outside of Jerusalem,” last updated December 15, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; Seely, “Lehi’s Altar and Sacrifice in the Wilderness,” 62–69, 80.
  • 5 For analysis of how the Song of the Sea draws upon the Psalms, see J. Gerald Janzen, “Song of Moses, Song of Miriam, Who Is Seconding Who?” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54, no. 2 (1992): 216–218.
  • 6 Janzen, “Song of Moses,” 211: “Modern scholars have long been fascinated by the repetition in Exod 15:1 and 15:21 of [this] poetic couplet” (emphasis added).
  • 7 Formatting by Evidence Central staff.
  • 8 Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 5 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 88.
  • 9 Formatting by Evidence Central staff. For analysis of Lehi’s poetic couplet, see Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 84–92; Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Arabian Desert Poetry,” last updated September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 10 See Matthew L. Bowen, “‘That Which They Most Desired’:The Waters of Mormon, Baptism, the Love of God, and the Bitter Fountain,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 39 (2020): 271–272; David Nimmer, “Miriam’s Oasis,” Touro Law Review 34, no. 4 (2018): 987.
  • 11 It is hard not to see the Lord’s statement about a fountain in Ether 12:28 as being connected to the fountain imagery used by Mormon in Moroni 7:11, since both are given in the context of faith, hope and charity. Further support for such a connection comes from the way that Moroni extensively drew upon his father’s language and teachings in other chapters in the book of Ether. See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Do So Many of Mormon’s Teachings Appear in Ether 4 and 5? (Ether 4:19),” KnoWhy 239 (November 25, 2016).
  • 12 See Bowen, “‘That Which They Most Desired,’” 261–298, esp. 271–272.
  • 13 See Janzen, “Song of Moses,” 215–216. Note that Janzen proposes that Miriam’s song mentioned in Exodus 15:20–21 chronologically follows Exodus 14:26–29, but that its insertion was intentionally delayed, utilizing a literary technique called analepsis. It is possible that Nephi’s explanation in 1 Nephi 2:11 also constitutes a type of analepsis, with Nephi first giving Lehi’s statements and then backtracking to explain the narrative events (Laman and Lemuel’s murmuring) that led to those statements.
  • 14 See endnote 1.
  • 15 See, for example, Daniel Lynwood Smith, “The Uses of ‘New Exodus’ in New Testament Scholarship: Preparing a Way through the Wilderness,” Currents in Biblical Research 14, no. 2 (February 2016): 207–43; Francis M. Macatangay, “Election by Allusion: Exodus Themes in the Book of Tobit,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 76, no. 3 (2014): 450–463; Ha Young Son, The Background of Exodus 15 in Revelation 15: Focusing on the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb (PhD Dissertation, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2015); Amos Frisch, “The Exodus Motif in 1 Kings 1–14,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 25, no. 87 (March 2000): 3–21; Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1997); Pablo Richard, “Plagues in the Bible: Exodus and Apocalypse,” in Return of the Plague, ed. José Oscar Beozzo and Virgil Elizondo (London: SCM, 1997), 45–54; Samuel Cheon, The Exodus Story in the Wisdom of Solomon: A Study in Biblical Interpretation, Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 23 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997); C. J. A. Hickling, “Paul’s Use of Exodus in the Corinthian Correspondence,” in The Corinthian Correspondence, ed. Reimund Bieeringer (Leuven: Leuven University Press/Peeters, 1996), 267–376; Jay Smith Casey, Exodus Typology in the Book of Revelation (Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1981); David Daube, The Exodus Pattern in the Bible (London: Faber and Faber, 1963). Bernard W. Anderson, “Exodus Typology in Second Isaiah,” in Israel’s Prophetic Heritage: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg, ed. B. Anderson & W. Harrelson (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1962), 177–195.
  • 16 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Joseph Smith’s Limited Education,” September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Joseph Smith Compared with Contemporary Authors,” last updated November 2, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
Literary Features
Exodus Parallels
Lehi's Departure
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