“When They Had Traveled Three Days in the Wilderness - Christensen Theory”

Alan C. Miner

In contrast to the Hiltons’ theory which has Lehi’s group traveling an additional “three days in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:6) after reaching the Red Sea from Jerusalem, Keith Christensen proposes another scenario. According to Christensen, Lehi’s family entered the “wilderness” from near the land of their inheritance, which was well south of Jerusalem, and the total time spent to get to the valley of Lemuel (near Aqaba) was three days. The average rate of travel for a party such as Lehi’s would have been about 35 miles a day for a total of 105 miles. Camel caravan speeds are about 3 miles per hour with thirty miles being a good average for the day, and sixty miles being the absolute maximum. The usual estimate for a good day’s march is reckoned by Arab writers at between twenty-eight and thirty miles (Nibley, p. 60). So using round figures, the wilderness Lehi entered could have been about 100 miles north of the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba and his land of inheritance could have been somewhat further north. The idea of only a three day journey in the wilderness seems to be reinforced by the headnote summary paragraph for the book of First Nephi. [B. Keith Christensen, The Unknown Witness, pp. 45, 226, unpublished]

“When They Had Traveled Three Days in the Wilderness - Hilton Theory”

According to the Hiltons, after Lehi [and family] reached the “borders” of the Red Sea, they continued to travel for “three days” (1 Nephi 2:6) before they pitched their tents at the valley they called Lemuel. Nephi doesn’t mention how long it took them to travel from the city of Jerusalem to the Red Sea; however, we know that the trip covers over 200 miles. But how fast do camels move? Donkeys? For this information the Hiltons relied on the assistance of Salim Saad, an experienced camel rider and a former British Army officer. Stationed in the Wadi al ’Araba, he had become friends with many desert Bedouins. He explained that a loaded donkey caravan can travel twenty miles in six hours. Drawing on his astonishing library of Arab history, he showed us an example of a camel caravan consisting of thousands of camels averaging twenty-four miles a day on the Haj (Islamic pilgrimage) from Cairo to Mecca. The famous archaeologist Nelson Glueck, a novice camel rider, reported he personally averaged thirteen miles a day on a camel ride from Jerusalem to Aqaba. Pliny tells of a journey from Timna in Yemen to Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea coast in Palestine that required “sixty-five stages,” which presumably meant sixty-five days on the road. From Timna to Gaza is a distance of 1,534 miles, an average of twenty-four miles per day.

Thus Lehi’s family probably required nearly two weeks to get to the borders of the Red Sea. Another three days’ travel time was required to get them to the Valley of Lemuel. If we take into consideration the added time that might be needed because of adverse weather conditions of extreme heat or cold, and the slow movement caused by provisions, we might expect the journey to take at least two and perhaps three weeks. [Lynn M. and Hope A. Hilton, In Search of Lehi’s Trail, p. 49]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary