strtoupper('“W')e Did Take Our Tents”

Historical analysis: The phrase "we did take our tents and whatsoever things were possible for us" combined with the Lord's warning to flee suggests that this was not a peaceful, organized departure. The band took what they could, and left. They also do not explicitly say that they pitched their tents until after they had "journeyed for the space of many days." This also suggests that it was a hasty flight.

When the left, where did they go? Following the general geography Sorenson has outlined, the Lehites landed on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, and would likely have remained relatively close to the coast up until this time. With the separation of the families, the "Lamanites" would have stayed put, as it was the Nephites who were fleeing. While they might have gone up or down the coast, it is probably that such a route would have made it easier for the angry Laman and Lemuel to follow. Combined with later information about the Nephites, it is most likely that they went inland, into highland Guatemala. This would have required mountain ascents, and they were quite likely exhausted by the time that they were finally comfortable enough that they had left Laman and Lemuel safely behind to pitch their tents.

A word about tents is appropriate here. While we may presume a tent to be an easily portable temporary shelter, this may not be the meaning in this verse. In Sorenson's analysis:

" What was a Nephite "tent"? Would the crowd have been seated in sprawling shelters like Arabs? The term tent is used some 64 times in the Book of Mormon, so the question may deserve attention.

Biblical translators have usually rendered the Hebrew root 'hl to English as "tent"; however, it has a rather wide range of possible meanings. Sometimes it referred to full-fledged tents on the pattern of those used by desert nomads of southwestern Asia; but to semi-nomads like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the term could also mean "hut" as well as "tent." In later usage, as the Israelites became sedentary village or city dwellers, its meanings were extended further. For example, in Psalm 132:3 and Proverbs 7:17 the related word 'ohel means "canopy (over a bed)," while in the New Testament, John 1:14 says literally "he pitched his tent among us" to communicate the thought "he lived among us." A Hittite account has the god Elkunirsha living in a "tent" made of wood. In writings from South Arabia in Lehi's day and also in classical Arabic, languages closely related to Hebrew, the root stood for "family" or "tribe" as well as tent. In the related Semitic language of the Babylonians, a word from the same root meant "city," "village," "estate," or "social unit," and even formed part of the word for bed. An Egyptian equivalent could be read as "hut, camel's hair tent, camp." Furthermore, Dr. Hugh Nibley reminds us that "throughout the ancient world . . . the people must spend the time of the great national festival of the New Year living in tents." But for this occasion Israelites came to use makeshift booths made of branches, as fewer and fewer of their town-dwelling numbers owned genuine tents. The Nephites, of course, routinely lived in permanent buildings (see, for example, Mosiah 6:3). Alma's people "pitched their tents" after fleeing to Helam, but then they "began to build buildings" (Mosiah 23:5). Military forces on the move are said to have used tents (Alma 51:32, 34; 58:25), but it is nearly unbelievable that the entire Lamanite army referred to in Alma 51 lugged collapsible tents on their backs through tropical country hundreds of miles from the land of Nephi. Far more likely they erected shelters of brush or whatever other materials could be found in the vicinity, referring to those or any other temporary shelters by the traditional word for tent. Farmers in parts of Mesoamerica still throw together simple brush shelters when they stay overnight at their fields in the busiest work season, and at the time of the Spanish conquest, Bernal Diaz reported that the soldiers of their Indian allies "erect their huts" as they move on campaign. So when we read that Benjamin's subjects sat in their tents listening to his sermon, we should understand that they might have been under shelter a good deal different from what comes to mind when we hear "tent." (Sorenson, John L. AN ANCIENT AMERICAN SETTING FOR THE BOOK OF MORMON , p. 160).

Brant Gardner -

Brant Gardner

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon

References