One question that I’ve had in my mind for a long time about the story in 1 Nephi is, "Why it took Lehi's people eight years to journey in the wilderness to the seashore at Bountiful?"
I ran across a chapter online recently called “Sojourn,Dwell, and Stay: Terms of Servitude” from the book From Jerusalem toZarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon by S. Kent Brown that makes a case from scattered references that Lehi and his family members were brought into servitude or under the domination of desert tribesmen either for protection or for food and this is what took up the eight years.
His evidences of this are built upon the following factors:
1) Nephi uses the term “sojourn” which is also connected in Bible text to the experience of living as a resident alien in territory where one owns no property. (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph in Egypt, and the children of Israel all sojourned at various points.)
2) Laman and Lemuel all speak in retrospect of their sufferings being so great that it would have been better to have died than to leave Jerusalem. (A difficult period of servitude would naturally cause this kind of evaluation, as it would be a definite drop in status.)
3) Lehi speaks of this period as “the wilderness of mine afflictions” and “the days of my greatest sorrow” even though he was well-equipped for desert living. Something even greater than family tensions and physical difficulties seems to weighed him down.
4) Alma speaks to his son Helaman about the necessity of remembering how the Lord brought their fathers out of Jerusalem and delivered them out of bondage and captivity, which suggests there was at least one incident of divine deliverance from bondage in the story of Lehi and Nephi and that it wasn’t referring to the much more reent deliverance from slavery to the Lamanites.
5) The time it takes a loaded caravan of camels travel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian ocean is measured in weeks not years, which suggested that they had to have stayed in one or several places for extended periods of time.
6) When Lehi teaches his sons in the promised land, he uses imagery of freedom and bondage to teach about the importance of choosing Christ . (I counted eleven major instances in 2 Nephi 1-2 where this is the case.) This imagery would lack power if they hadn’t experienced some sort of servility, but if they had experienced it, then Lehi’s admonitions would be all the more penetrating.
I have an additional supporting point. When Nephi confronts his brothers over their lack of faith to help build the ship, he uses in his arguments references to the exodus of the children of Israel out of bondage to counter their assertions that it would have been better to stay in Jerusalem or to have died than to have suffered as they had. He leaves this reference about the good of coming out of bondage hanging in the air without any textual attempt to liken it to his hearers, and if we assume that Lehi’s family never experienced bondage or servility, this seems off topic, but if they did experience it, then Nephi clearly expected his brothers to get his point without having to even say, “..and just like it was good for them to escape, it was also a good thing for us to get out of bondage!”
Brown's thesis makes a lot of sense to me and it sheds light on some things that were previously puzzling, but it also brings me to wonder why Nephi would have left such something so big out of his record. Perhaps it was featured more prominently on his first set of plates but he didn’t consider it as much a sacred thing to recount...? Maybe he wanted the room for his prophecies?
I don’t know. What do you think?