“My Father Dwelt in a Tent”

Alan C. Miner

According to Hugh Nibley, to an Arab the phrase "my father dwelt in a tent" (1 Nephi 2:15) says everything. "The present inhabitants of Palestine," writes Canaan, "like their forefathers, are of two classes: dwellers in villages and cities, and the Bedouin. As the life and habits of the one class differ from the those of the other, so do their houses differ. Houses in villages are built of durable material; . . . on the other hand, Bedouin dwellings, tents, are more fitted for nomadic life." An ancient Arab poet boasts that his people are "the proud, the chivalrous people of the horse and camel, the dwellers-in-tents, and no miserable ox-drivers." [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 51] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 16:6]


In the ancient Near East, to dwell in a tent was considered a great honor, especially compared to living in a house in the city. It represented living close to and trusting in the Lord. Also, the father's tent was considered the center of the whole community (see Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 243) [Cited in Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, p. 6]

1 Nephi 2:15 Dwelt in a tent ([Illustration]): A tent used by King Sennacherib near Lachish, Palestine, is supported by poles and cords. The upper canopy was designed to catch the cooling breezes, and imitates those built in Assyrian houses. Relief from Nineveh, 704-681 B.C. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, p. 1534]

1 Nephi 2:15 Dwelt in a tent ([Illustration]): Typical bedouin tent made of goats' hair. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, p. 1534]

1 Nephi 2:15 Dwelt in a tent ([Illustration]): The typical Arab tent, or beit shaar (house of hair) has not changed substantially with time. It provides cooling shade in summer and, with the sides down, warmth in winter. The tents are traditionally made of camel or goats hair that is spun and then woven into a fabric as thick as a carpet. Lehi's tents may have been like this, or they may have been more elaborate, with geometric panels like those we found on a tent in Cairo. [Lynn M. and Hope A. Hilton, In Search of Lehi's Trail, p. 70]

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