“He Did Travel in the Wilderness with His Family”

Culture: Nephi lists his parents and male siblings in this catalogue of his immediate family. It was a fairly common practice in Hebrew literature to ignore women unless they were central to the narrative, which probably accounts for Nephi’s mention of Sariah. She plays an important role in the story of retrieving the brass plates, but other women in the party remain unmentioned until Ishmael’s daughters join the expedition and until Nephi mentions his sisters (2 Ne. 5:6).

History: “Sariah” does not appear in the Bible as a woman’s name, although a male version, “Seraiah,” occurs nineteen times. Rather than a mistake that gives a woman a man’s name, the discovery of the Elephantine Papyri provides confirmation that Sariah was an appropriate female name. “The Elephantine Papyri is the collective name commonly given to several archives of documents belonging to members of a Jewish garrison community which inhabited the island of Elephantine (ancient Yeb), near Aswan in Egypt, between 495 and 399 B.C.E.”

As the matriarch, Sariah played an essential role in maintaining daily life. In Jerusalem, she probably, because of Lehi’s wealth, lived in comfort. Archaeology shows that wealthier homes from this time period were often multi-room, two-story houses. One such house included a servant’s wing, internal toilets, decorative arts, and functional furniture. While the Book of Mormon does not mention servants, it would not have been unusual for a wealthy family to have servants, as indicated by the servants’ wing in wealthy homes.

In running such a household, Sariah would have well-developed managerial skills, while life in the wilderness would have been a stark contrast to the relative comfort of her Jerusalem home. Her realm of expertise would also have been a dramatic contrast. She would have been the experienced manager in her home, but likely inexperienced with tent life. Women appear to have remained at home rather than traveling with caravans.

In spite of her inexperience, her position in the family would have naturally elevated her to a similar managing responsibility for the family as it traveled. She would have had to apply her skills rapidly in a new environment.

Geography: Potter and Wellington understand the “borders” to be a mountain range:

They “came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea” (1 Ne. 2:5), i.e., they traveled south by the borders, or mountains, so called because they formed the border between the settled peoples and the Arabs. (Again the word for mountain in the languages of ancient Egyptian [sic], Mesopotamia, Judah and Arabia, all meant borders.) They reached the borders… i.e., the mountains at Ezion-geber (today’s Aqaba).

Unfortunately, Potter and Wellington are not trained in Semitic languages and appear to have made a mistake in assuming that the word for “mountain” might equal “borders.” Potter and Wellington’s linguistic support for their reading of the borders “nearer the Red Sea,” cannot be accepted.

Brant Gardner -

Brant Gardner

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1