“River of Water”

Alan C. Miner

According to Hunter and Ferguson, it is only in the springtime that most of the stream beds in Palestine and the desert by the Gulf of Aqaba contain water. In fact, the writers note that the Hebrew language has one word, "nahar", for "river of water" (see 1 Nephi 2:6) and another for the dry stream bed, "nachal." [Milton Hunter and T. Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, p. 77]

“When He Had Traveled Three Days in the Wilderness He Pitched His Tent in a Valley by a River of Water - Hilton Theory”

The Hiltons determined how far Lehi might have been able to travel in three days. Using a pencil compass, they marked 60 miles, plus or minus, and made a sweep on the map that distance out from Aqaba, the place where Lehi would have first approached the Red Sea, to see if they might identify possible locales for the valley of Lemuel and the River Laman. They targeted al-Bad! (see illustration) [This would have been 60 miles "as the crow flies" however] In actuality, they traveled 18 miles south from Aqaba to al-Humaydah. There they turned east and then south through 58 miles of the Wadi Umm Jurfayn and Wadi al-Afal to al-Bad. [This makes an total of 76 actual miles.] [Lynn M. and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi: New Evidence of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia, pp. 49, 51]

1 Nephi 2:6 When He Had Traveled Three Days in the Wilderness, He Pitched His Tent, in a Valley, by a River of Water (Hilton Theory) [[Illustration]]: Modern Road from Aqaba through al-Bad. The modern highway mostly follows the ancient trail. Map from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Petroleum. [Lynn M. and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi: New Evidence of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia, p. 52]

“Valley by the Side of a River of Water”

Concerning Lehi's stay in the valley of Lemuel, Lynn and Hope Hilton write that here they may have stayed for as long as four very busy years, which would have included twice sending the sons back to Jerusalem on errands, travel time being a month each trip plus time needed to prepare for and recuperate from the journeys plus the days spent haggling with Laban and collecting the family's gold and silver. There followed long days of studying and digesting the teachings of the brass plates. How long would it take to read thoroughly most of the Old Testament, carefully thinking out its teachings, and then present them to a large family? And when Ishmael and his family joined Lehi's family, there would have been preparations for the five weddings, with the celebrations that followed.

It is also probable that Lehi would have used the time profitably by planting crops. This seems to be indicated by Nephi's statement when the colony was about to leave the Valley of Lemuel: "We did gather together whatsoever things we should carry into the wilderness, and all the remainder of our provisions which the Lord had given unto us; and we did take seed of every kind." (1 Nephi 16:11)

The Bible tells us that Midian (the name for the region where the valley of Lemuel was located) had supported an animal poopulation of over 800,000 head just 800 years previous. (see Numbers 31:32-34) Consequently, it must have been more fertile than the eroded landscapes that the Hiltons looked at as they drove through it. [Lynn and Hope Hilton, Discovering Lehi, pp. 54-55, 50, 70]


The Hiltons explain that the history of Arabia is written with water, not ink. Where there is water, there is life--that is the inescapable fact of Arabian life--and the great oases of the Arabian peninsula do not move from place to place. . . . As the Hilton's traveled through the Middle East, they never saw a fresh-water source devoid of people; where water is so precious, it is unlikely that many waterholes are unknown.

In the journey of Lehi's family through the wilderness, no waters are reported gushing miraculously from their own rocks of Horeb as Moses had produced with the touch of his rod. The family, therefore, must have traveled and survived as other travelers of their day did in the same area, going from public waterhole to public waterhole. Of course they also had the heaven-sent Liahona to help them find watering places along any route the Lord may have chosen, but the human-made wells so important in crossing the worst desert areas would have been only along established routes like the frankincense trail.

The frankincense trails were designed to follow the line of oases or ancient wells. On a modern map, drawn by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Natural Resources, the route shows 118 water holes at an average distance of thirty kilometers (eighteen miles) from each other. Lehi could not have carved out a route for himself without water, and for a city dweller to discover a line of water holes of which desert-dwellers were ignorant is an unlikely prospect, nor does the text suggest that the Lord took them to undiscovered water. [Lynn M. and Hope A. Hilton, In Search of Lehi's Trail, p. 27, 33]

1 Nephi 2:6 Water ([Illustration]): Old hand-dug water wells average every 18 miles on the Lehi Trail. This one was found in the Tihama of Saudi Arabia. [Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi, p. 109]

“When He Had Traveled Three Days in the Wilderness He Pitched His Tent in a Valley by a River of Water - Potter Theory”

The valley of Lemuel was "in the borders" (1 Nephi 2:8). This valley was also a journey of "three days in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 2:6). According to George Potter, if the meaning of "borders" can be correlated with mountains, and if the term "wilderness" is associated with Arabia and started at the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, then the search for the location of the valley of Lemuel becomes much more specific.

Frankincense trail expert Nigel Groom noted that a loaded camel travels "slightly less than 21/2 miles an hour" and "rarely exceeds 25 miles" per day. Alan Keohane, who actually lived and traveled with a Bedouin tribe for a year reports that they traveled up to 40 miles in a day when they were traveling to winter pastures. Reasonably speaking, Lehi's family could have traveled by camel on the good trails proposed anywhere from 25-30 miles a day. Potter records:

To be conservative, we felt we had to have an odometer reading of less than 75 miles. As our trail odometer read seventy-one miles from Port Aqaba, the Wadi Tayyib al-Ism changed course from due south to southwest and headed toward Jabel (Mount) Mazenfah and the Red Sea. At the seventy-three mile marker we came to the eastern-most grove of the oasis of the Waters of Moses. (see illustration) One mile further down the valley the Wadi Tayyib al-Ism narrowed into a spectacular canyon. In the canyon we came to the small [continuously running] river. (see illustration) [Amazingly we had duplicated what would have been a "three days" journey "in the wilderness" and come to "a river of water" which was "in a valley" (1 Nephi 2:6) and now we were about to set up our camp (or "pitch our tents") by that river. ]

When one thinks about it, Nephi's account is truly exceptional. There appears to be only one perennial river in all of Saudi Arabia, a country almost the size of Europe, and Nephi's words still lead to it. How could [Joseph Smith] have known the specific geography seen when travelling south along the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba? How could he have known the name of the mountains in Midian is "the Borders." How could he have known there are two mountain ranges in Midian, one near and the other nearer the Red Sea? How could he have known there was a good camel trail through the shoreline mountains of "Rocky Arabia," and that the trail led to [a unique] place--a river of flowing water. There can be only one explanation. Nephi [had actually traveled this trail.]

[George Potter with Richard Wellington, Following the Words of Nephi: Part One: Discovering the Valley of Lemuel, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999, p. 21, 32-34, 74]

1 Nephi 2:6 When he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent, in a valley, by a river of water (Potter Theory) [[Illustration]]: A Three Day Journey. A map adapted from a general map of the area of the travels of George Potter and Craig Thorsted. (George D. Potter, "A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, Num.1, FARMS, 1999, p. 58) [Alan C. Miner, Personal Collection]

1 Nephi 2:6 When he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent, in a valley, by a river of water (Potter Theory) [[Illustration]]: The desert stream that runs "continually" toward the Red Sea. [George D. Potter, "A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, Num.1, FARMS, 1999, p. 62]

“When He Had Traveled Three Days in the Wilderness He Pitched His Tent”

According to Daniel Ludlow, the exact distance of the Valley of Lemuel from Jerusalem is not made clear in the Book of Mormon. The superscription to the First Book of Nephi (wherein Nephi states that Lehi "taketh three days' journey into the wilderness with his family" from the land of Jerusalem) seems to indicate a distance between the two locations which can be covered in a three-days' journey. However, some students of the Book of Mormon interpret 1 Nephi 2:4-6 to mean that Lehi and his group traveled an indefinite number of days until they arrived "in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea"; then they traveled through that wilderness for three days to the Valley of Lemuel. [Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 92]

[1 Nephi 2:6]-7 When He Had Traveled Three Days in the Wilderness . . . He Built an Altar of Stones, and Made an Offering unto the Lord:

Nephi recorded of his father Lehi "that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness . . . that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God" (1 Nephi 2:6-7). According to David Seely, this statement may simply be due to the historical fact that Lehi and his family traveled for three days before they stopped for a significant rest. But the note on the three days' journey may also be Nephi's way of saying that Lehi and his family were acting in accordance with an understanding of the law of Moses found in Deuteronomy 12.

According to Deuteronomy 12, after Israel entered the promised land the place of sacrifice was to be confined to a single altar at the place where the Lord would choose to put his name (see Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 10-11, 13-14). While the temple in Jerusalem is not specified at the time of Deuteronomy 12, in biblical tradition that temple became the authorized place. When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he declared it to be the place where the Lord would put his name (1 Kings 8:29).

Yet even after the temple was built, sacrifices and offerings continued throughout Israel, most notably at the high places (1 Kings 12:26-33; 2 Kings 16:4), which were uniformly condemned by the prophets (Isaiah 57:7; Hosea 10:8; Amos 7:9). Matters changed during the reigns of two later kings of Judah. Hezekiah (715-687 B.C.) "removed the high places" and eliminated idolatry throughout Judah so that the religion in Judah was reformed (2 Kings 18:4). Later, Josiah (640-609 B.C.) finally centralized worship in Jerusalem according to the injunction in Deuteronomy 12 (2 Kings 23:7-9, 15). It should be remembered that during his reign a book was discovered in the temple that many scholars believe was some form of the book of Deuteronomy.

According to one of the Dead Sea Scrolls called the Temple Scroll, all nonsacrificial slaughter within the boundaries of three days' distance from Jerusalem were prohibited. Put another way, only sacrifices beyond a three-day journey from the temple in Jerusalem were acceptable under the law of Moses. Thus one might ask, Was Lehi conforming to a Mosaic requirement when he traveled 3 days in the wilderness before he built an altar and offered sacrifice?

Before one jumps to any conclusions, they need to consider the fact that the patriarchs of old, officiating with Melchizedek Priesthood authority, built altars and offered sacrifice in various locations. Furthermore, the Church of Jesus Christ builds temples throughout the world. This suggests that the centralized worship apparently prescribed in Deuteronomy 12 was either misunderstood or was part of the lower law. It is also possible that the injunction of Deuteronomy 12 concerning altars, sacrifices, and temples applied only to the land of Israel as suggested by Deuteronomy 12:1. [David R. Seely, "Lehi's Altar and Sacrifice in the Wilderness," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies , vol. 10, num. 1, 2001, p. 67]

Note* If Lehi held the Melchizedek Priesthood, and started his three day journey into the wilderness from the borders of Israel rather than from Jerusalem, he would have been free of any violation here. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

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