How Many Others Traveled with Lehi to the Promised Land?
“Lehi’s Family Leaving Jerusalem” by Scott Snow via LDS Media Library
September 6, 2018
KnoWhy #465
“Lehi’s Family Leaving Jerusalem” by Scott Snow via LDS Media Library
"And he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.”

1 Nephi 2:5

The Know

The Book of Mormon opens with an account of a prophet named Lehi who took a small group, including members of his family, into the wilderness to flee the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. The book of 1 Nephi records how Lehi’s group travelled through the wilderness, constructed a boat, and sailed for a “land of promise” in the New World.1 Based on the explicit textual details in the record, Lehi’s party consisted of at least the following members:

Party Member

Relationship

Reference

Lehi

Father/patriarch of the clan

1 Nephi header; 1 Nephi 1:4

Sariah

Mother/matriarch of the clan

1 Nephi header; 1 Nephi 2:5

Nephi

Son of Lehi and Sariah

1 Nephi header; 1 Nephi 1:1

Laman

Son of Lehi and Sariah

1 Nephi header; 1 Nephi 2:5

Lemuel

Son of Lehi and Sariah

1 Nephi header; 1 Nephi 2:5

Sam

Son of Lehi and Sariah

1 Nephi header; 1 Nephi 2:5

Zoram

Servant of Laban, adopted clansman by covenant

1 Nephi 4:35

Ishmael

Countryman and potential relative (?)2 of Lehi

1 Nephi 7:2

Unnamed wife of Ishmael

Wife of Ishmael

1 Nephi 7:6

Five unnamed daughters of Ishmael

Daughters of Ishmael

1 Nephi header; 1 Nephi 7:6

Two unnamed sons of Ishmael

Sons of Ishmael

1 Nephi 7:6

Jacob

Son of Lehi and Sariah

1 Nephi 18:7

Joseph

Son of Lehi and Sariah

1 Nephi 18:7

Two + (?)3 unnamed sisters of Nephi

Daughters of Lehi, sisters of Nephi

2 Nephi 5:6

 

In addition to these explicit statements made in the Book of Mormon, a careful reading suggests that others also travelled in Lehi’s party, or were at least encountered by his group. For instance, 1 Nephi 7:6 speaks of the two unnamed sons of Ishmael having “families,” suggesting grandchildren of Ishmael and his anonymous wife. Similarly, Nephi mentioned how the “women [of the group] did bear children in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:1) suggesting Lehi and Sariah had grandchildren in the wilderness, in addition to their sons Jacob and Joseph.

Llegada a tierra prometida by Jorge Cocco

Llegada a tierra prometida by Jorge Cocco

Another possibility is that Lehi took unmentioned servants with the party into the wilderness. If Lehi was a wealthy landowner, as the Book of Mormon portrays him as being (1 Nephi 3:16, 22, 24), then it seems very likely that he also owned domestic servants, something attested in ancient Israelite households.4 All told, after calculating both the known and inferred members of Lehi’s party, John L. Sorenson reasonably concluded that between 40–50 people entered the boat that carried the group to the promised land.5

Additional textual clues also hint that the party encountered outsiders during their travels in both the Old and New Worlds. For example, Nephi’s use of the passive voice to describe Nahom (“the place which was called Nahom” [1 Nephi 16:34, emphasis added]) as opposed to the active voice used to describe the other locations visited during the party’s travels6 suggests that he learned the name of the area from an undisclosed third party (perhaps members of the local Nihm tribe).7 Given the staggering physical labor that goes into constructing seaworthy vessels, it is also possible that local inhabitants of the area called Bountiful8 by Nephi and his family assisted in the construction of the ship that conducted them across the ocean.9 Textual evidence also points to the high probability that Lehi and his family encountered native inhabitants in the New World upon their arrival who were adopted under “Nephite” and “Lamanite” tribal designations (cf. 2 Nephi 5:5–6).10

The Why

Understanding the composition of Lehi’s traveling party is more than just interesting trivia. Rather, studying this topic may help readers answer important questions about the Book of Mormon; questions such as whether the demographics reported in the book are realistic,11 as well as how Nephi’s small colony could have built a temple “after the manner of Solomon” with, as it appears from a surface level reading of the text, only a handful of people (2 Nephi 5:16).12 Reconstructing the size of Lehi’s group and exploring the possibility of unidentified “others” in the narrative are important for assessing the historical claims made in the Book of Mormon.

Nephi's Temple by Jody Livingston

Nephi's Temple by Jody Livingston

Many readers today may wonder why more members of Lehi’s group aren’t mentioned by name. This is especially true for the women in Lehi’s party as well as the rest of the Book of Mormon.13 Aside from ancient cultural factors which likely shaped the structure of the account found in 1 Nephi,15 Nephi’s decision to focus on specific narrative and theological details at the expense of others may also account for why he did not provide more information about his family (1 Nephi 6:4–6). It might also explain the mere indirect mention of “others” interacting with Lehi’s party.16

Whatever the case, carefully studying the given and implied details of the composition of Lehi’s family proves how rewarding a close reading of the Book of Mormon can be. As is true in many other instances, a careful analysis of the Book of Mormon narrative goes a long way in adding depth and nuance to an already remarkable text. It also sheds light on historical questions which might otherwise remain unanswered.

Further Reading

John L. Sorenson, “The Composition of Lehi’s Family,” in By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley, 2 vols., ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1990), 2:174–198.

Sidney B. Sperry, “Did Father Lehi Have Daughters Who Married the Sons of Ishmael?Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, no. 1 (1995): 235–238.

James E. Smith, “How Many Nephites? The Book of Mormon at the Bar of Demography,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 255–294.