Friday, April 10, 2009

Did Lehi pick up a second wife in the wilderness?

My beautiful and insightful fiancée brought this up to my attention.

Throughout his first book, Nephi refers to his mother (and the wife of his father Lehi) as "my mother, Sariah." For example 1 Nephi 2:5 "my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam"; 5:1 "my mother, Sariah, was exceedingly glad"; 5:6 "after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us";" and citing Lehi, 8:14 "I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi.
However, when writing about their trials in the ocean, Nephi writes 18:19 "And Jacob and Joseph also, being young, having need of much nourishment, were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother."
Now it could be the case that Nephi changed the possessive pronoun to emphasize the relationship indicated in each sentence - "my mother" (Nephi and Sariah), "your mother" (Lehi referring to the older brothers and their mother), and "their mother " (younger brothers and Sariah).
However here are three other factors that may lead us to believe that Jacob and Joseph had a different mother than their older brothers:

1- The age of Sariah. At the earliest, Nephi's mother could have been no younger 32 when they left Jerusalem. This would have required Sariah to have married Lehi when she was 13, had her first four sons in four consecutive years, and Nephi would have been merely been 15 when he went into Jerusalem to kill Laban and secure the plates.
If we change things up a bit and make them a little more realistic, we could have Sariah married at 14 or 15, give her six or seven years to have her first four sons, and have Nephi be 16 or 17 before he pulls his heroics. With these, Sariah is anywhere between 36 and 39 when she leaves Jerusalem with her family.
This of course assumes the (unlikely) chance that each of Lehi and Sariah's first four children survived until adulthood. (The chance for a child to survive to adulthood was 30-40%). If we add that perhaps Lehi and Sariah had one child between Laman and Nephi that did not survive into adulthood we end with a Sariah being anywhere between 37 and 41 when they left Jerusalem.
1 Nephi 18:19 seems to imply that Jacob and Joseph were both being nursed by their mother while on the boat to the promise lands. If we grant that Jacob was no older than two at this time (I have no idea what the average age to ween children was), then that would require that Jacob was born at least six years after Sariah left Jerusalem and Joseph born seven years after that time.
If Sariah was the mother of Joseph, she would have had to been at least 39, though more realistically she would have had to been at least 44 to 48 at the time - far beyond the average childbearing age which began to dramtically decrease after 30 during this time.

2 - The first-born in the wilderness. Three times in 2 Nephi 2, Lehi describes Jacob as being his first-born in the wilderness (as opposed to Laman, whom he simply calls his first-born (2 Nephi 4:3)). This distinction seems more likely to arise from them having different mothers than simply geographic location.

3 - Twenty years without a son? If we grant that Nephi was a mere 14 year old boy when they left Jerusalem, then that would have meant that Lehi and Sariah somehow managed to go 20 years without having any sons. While some of Nephi's unnamed sisters (2 Nephi 5:6) may have been born during this time, that they began with 4 consecutive boys and finished with 2 consecutive boys leaves a simply 20 year sonless gap highly specious.

4 - Was Jacob a product of polygamy? As some of you may know, my belief that the Book of Mormon is an account of historically real people leads me to a bit of a Foucauldian reading of the text which causes me to look for power structures behind the text that may have influenced it. In Jacob 2, the "first-born in the wilderness" is rebuking the generation following his father Lehi for their abominable practice of having multiple wives. He, however, adds: (2:30) "For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things."
If Lehi had taken on a second wife during their travels in the wilderness, this would explain a few things and provide a little bit of story behind Jacob's last comment. While the Nephites may have just assumed polygamy or copied it from their Israelite ancestors, if Lehi had participated in polygamy, it would explain better why the Nephites had so quickly adopted (and perversed) it. Furthermore, it can explain some of the motivation behind Jacob's clause for righteous polygamy. First, his clause defends the actions of his father by claiming that (unlike the current practice) his father's polygamy was divinely commanded. Second, Jacob's clause re-enforces his position of power by making him the intended product of his father's polygamy. In other words, Jacob is saying that if God commanded his father Lehi to take a second wife for the purpose of raising righteous seed, then Jacob would be that righteous seed. By making this claim, Jacob is both boosting his own self-esteem as well as establishing his religious authority over the rest of the Nephites.
While it may be the case that Sariah died in the wilderness and that Lehi simply remarried as a widower, the absense of any mention of Sariah's death in Nephi's wilderness narrative makes this doubtful.

Finally, where and when did Lehi find a second wife, and why isn't it mentioned. To the first, Lehi may have married one of Ishamel's daughters or have found his wife among others they met along their journey in the wilderness. To the second, because women are rarely ever mentioned in the Book of Mormon - Nephi doesn't even name his own wife - the absence of any mention of Lehi's new marriage would be rather normal for the BofM.

What think ye?


  1. I always love to see such interesting speculations like this!

  2. I have been reading recently in the BoM and began noticing these remarks about 'his mother' and then referring to Jacob and Joseph as coming from 'his father'. You put together an interesting argument. Good stuff. Also don't forget that in the beginning of the Book of Nephi (in Nephi's preface) he mentions the family that this is mainly following. He names himself, his parents and three brothers. Jacob and Joseph are born (or at least their births are mentioned) in Chapter 18 of 1st Nephi. He would have included them in that family listing if they shared a mother and father.

  3. I'm just rereading first Nephi and had the same thought. I think it is entirely plausible that God would have commanded Lehi - an Abraham figure- to marry another wife for the reasons Jacob describes: because of the upcoming division between children, Lehi needed some more kids who were righteous.


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