Timothy Sedor's Newsletter

"Photographs of the Month"

Timothy Sedor - 2009 - Washington

Book of Mormon Explorer

December 2009

This past year I wrote about Lehi's family eight-year journey across the Arabian deserts along the famed Frankincense Trail.

I illustrated each "Photograph of the Month" with photographs from our six-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

Lehi would have had no other choice but to have taken an authorized trail through Arabia, as there were no other trails.

Collectively, these trade routes were known as the Frankincense Trail. The incense trails started from places as diverse as the port at Gaza, the rich spice and incense markets of Damascus in present-day Syria, and ancient Babylon, in what is today Iraq.

These trails eventually ended at one of the major harbors in southern Arabia such as the frankincense harbor at Khor Rori on the coast of Oman. The Frankincense Trail got its name from the primary incense that was transported along it. Myrrh and other incenses and spices were also hauled by caravans along the same trail. In Lehi's time, frankincense grew only in the Dhofar region in southern Arabia; yet, vast amounts of it were used in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the temple in Jerusalem. An estimated 3,000 tons were sent to Greece and Rome each year at the peak of the incense trade.

One of the branches of the trail led to Gaza on the Mediterranean and from there to Egypt by another caravan where it was used to embalm mummies. Frankincense was also exported from Gaza on ships to Greece and Rome, where it was burned in the houses of the nobility and in their temples.

The Gaza branch of the Frankincense trail passed within 10 miles of the Valley of Lemuel and would have been known to Lehi.

This is the season of the year when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Christ and speak of the visit from the three Wise Men who bore gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Frankincense and Myrrh, is probably the most talked about incense from the Middle East and the least of fragrances to be experienced by those who celebrate the birth of Christ.

Fortunately, frankincense and myrrh is still available for purchase from the perfume and incense shops in the Middle East.

During the 20 years I lived in Arabia, I acquired a portion of frankincense and myrrh.

Hence, my "Photograph of the Month" for December is a picture of this famous incense.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

Merry Christmas

November 2009

The November "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 3rd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Three Discovering the Most Fertile Parts & the People of Lehi, we take you once again to the ancient city of Dedan for some more interesting speculation.

Last month we established that Lehi and Nephi may have preached the gospel to Israelites living in the city of Dedan and that the Lehyanites' (people of Lehi) capital city was Dedan.

According to the Saudi Ministry of Antiquities, the Lehyanites greatly influenced northwestern Arabian culture from about 450-65 B.C.

Dr. Hilton studied the remains of the Lehyanite temple that was built on a hillside terrace next to Dedan.

Today, the only object still preserved at the site is a large cistern called the Mahalmakkah.

The Saudi Ministry of Antiquities does not know what the cistern was used for only that it was carved out of a solid piece of rock.

The cistern appears to have held water but it was not a well, for it has a floor, and it had steps leading down into it.

The cistern is buried in the foundation of the Lehyanite temple.

If one were to stand in it they would be below the surface of the surrounding ground.

Arabic markings on the side of the cistern read in Arabic "Abu Moses" or "Father of Moses."

Dr. Hilton noted that the dimensions of the cistern at the temple in Dedan are nearly the same as the famous Brazen Sea font that was in the temple at Jerusalem.

As time and events passed, the temple was taken over by power-hungry Nabatean priests who worshipped the idol Ishtar.

According to the Saudi Ministry of Education, the Nabateans began sacrificing young boys in the Lehyanite temple. When they did, a strong earthquake struck the area, and the temple tumbled down, taking with it the lives of all the priests and worshippers.

Today, the temple remains a giant hill of small fist-sized rocks. Did Lehi and Nephi preach the gospel in Dedan? Did his converts call themselves after the patriarch Lehi? And does the Lord have a temple to redeem in Dedan when He comes a second time? According to the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord will visit those in Dedan in the last days. Jeremiah 49:8

October 2009

The October "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 3rd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Three Discovering the Most Fertile Parts & the People of Lehi, we take you once again to the ancient city of Dedan for some more interesting speculation.

Last month I suggested that Lehi was probably a wealthy merchant, well educated, and with possible business connections in the city of Dedan long before the family left Jerusalem.

Dedan was named after the grandson of Abraham. Historically, the city of Dedan had a sizable Jewish population who lived alongside the Arabs. It is believed that Jewish community at Dedan existed at least to the time of Lehi. Thus the city may have had an Israelite community to whom Lehi and Nephi could have taught the gospel.

The Doctrine & Covenants, Section 33:7,8 states "Yea, verily, I say unto you, that the field is white already to harvest; wherefore, thrust in your sickles, and reap with all your might, mind, and strength." D&C 33:7

"Open your mouths, and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness." D&C 33:8

These versus tell us that as Lehi journeyed in the wilderness from Jerusalem he made converts. There were only a few places in Arabia where Israelites were believed to have lived in Lehi's time. Dedan was one of them.

Is there evidence the Nephi and his father Lehi taught the gospel in Dedan? Perhaps.

Book of Mormon explorer Lynn Hilton was the first to point out that a group of people who called themselves the "Lehyanites" (which means in English, the People of Lehi) came to have great influence and power in the regions of northwestern Arabia.

The Lehyanites came to power shortly after Lehi passed through Arabia. According to the Koran, the Lehyanites were mono-theistic worshippers of one true god.

According to the Saudi Department of Antiquities, the Lehyanites greatly influenced northwestern Arabian culture from about 450 - 65 B.C. Their capital city was Dedan.

September 2009

The August "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 3rd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Three Discovering the Most Fertile Parts& the People of Lehi, we take you once again to the ancient city of Dedan for some interesting speculation.

We are confident that we have identified all of the "most fertile parts" (1 Nephi 16:14) written about in the Book of Mormon. They are located along the ancient Frankincense trail and included an important halt at city of Dedan. As we walked through the ruins of the city of Dedan, we wondered where Lehi lodged in this city and for how long he stayed in that the oasis. Exploring the city's remains, it was easy for us to imagine that Lehi had been the guest of one of the rich merchants of Dedan and discussed the gospel with his host on an upper balcony of one of the traditional houses in the city.

Dedan was named after the grandson of Abraham. Historically it had a sizable Jewish population who lived alongside the Arabs. This gives us reason to believe that Lehi spent some time in Dedan. It must be remembered that Lehi took 8 years to cross Arabia, a journey that normally took a caravan only three months. Thus, Lehi must have made several long stops along the way, including a lengthily stay in Dedan.

How did Lehi's family pay for their passage along the Frankincense Trail?

Coinage, symbols of value backed by a particular government or ruler would not become popular until more than a hundred years after Lehi and his family had crossed Arabia. Furthermore, we know that Lehi left his gold, silver, and other precious things in Jerusalem. For this reason, we believe Lehi and his family stopped at halts like Dedan to work to earn tribute and favor for safe passage, supplies, and shelter-the same things required of all those who traveled the Frankincense Trail.

Jeremiah wrote of the rich merchants of Dedan. Lehi could have exchanged his professional skills with one of these merchants in exchange for passage and provisions.

Our theory is contrary to the common erroneous concept that Lehi tarried along the trail so he could grow food. From what we gather from the Book of Mormon, Lehi was a wealthy man from the noble class and lived in an age when such a person would not be found working the soil. Furthermore, as S. Kent Brown noted, in Lehi's time one could not just stop in Arabia and lay down fencing and start farming. The few fertile places in Arabia would have already had a large number of claimants.

Lehi and his sons were highly educated for their day. They could read and write in several languages. These skills were in high demand in antiquity, for only the privileged would have had the time and resources to acquire them. Such unique skills would have made it easier for Lehi and his sons to have gained well compensated temporary positions as teachers in the courts of the local emir, the homes of local sheiks, or the households of the wealthy merchants of Dedan.

During Lehi's time, Dedan was an important trade center. It was located at a cross-road of trade from the then four corners of the world. At Dedan, trails from the rich incense lands of southern Arabia joined trails to India, Babylon, Damascus, and Egypt.

Since Lehi had knowledge of foreign languages, it is commonly believed that he was a wealthy merchant. If so, he could have had business connections with the merchants of Dedan long before he left Jerusalem. In this case, when he arrived at this beautiful oasis town he would have enjoyed the hospitality of old friends and business associates.

August 2009

The August "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 2nd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Two Discovering Lehi's Trail & Shazer, we take you to the Frankincense trail of Arabia.

A common belief in the LDS community is that Lehi was a caravaneer, a person who traveled the trade routes with packed camels to market. This notion came about because Lehi owned tents. However, digging a little deeper, you will find that caravans did not carry tents.

The camels in the caravan carried only trade goods and provisions, and the caravaneers slept on rugs under the open sky. However, tents were often used by wealthy land owners, like Lehi, who controlled their farmlands and pastures outside cities where they had their houses.

Circumstantial evidence of Lehi's inexperience in traveling can be found in the Book of Mormon account of the journey. For example, if Lehi was a caravaneer, then by Middle Eastern tradition, his eldest sons would have accompanied their father as he did his business. Even on the relatively easy short trip from Jerusalem to the Valley of Lemuel, Lehi's eldest sons became convinced that they would perish in the wilderness.

Furthermore, Sariah, Lehi's wife, complained bitterly when their sons were delayed in returning from Jerusalem. This hardly seems the temperament of a women whose husband and sons were accustomed to long trips away from home.

Finally, caravaneers knew how to use the stars to navigate their way across the desert.

In Alma 37:32 we read that the family got lost. If Lehi was a caravaneer, he must not have been a very good star navigator. Lehi needed the Liahona just to stay on the trail and not get lost.

For these reasons we assume that Lehi was probably a merchant who dealt with Egyptian traders, but that he had little or no experience as a desert traveler.

July 2009

The July "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 2nd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Two Discovering Lehi's Trail & Shazer, we continue to take you down the Frankincense trail of Arabia.

If Lehi knew where he was heading when left the Valley of Lemuel and journeyed in the wilderness, why did he need the Liahona?

As it states in the Book of Mormon, it was to show them the direction for which they should go.

Even with GPS (Global Position System) experienced explorers in Arabia still know how easy it is to get lost in the desert, even when they are driving along a known route.

The explorer Charles Doughty called the Frankincense Trail, "No made road. But a multitude of cattle paths beaten hollow by the camels tread."

In places the desert is figureless; in other sections it is divided by mountains running in every direction.

Even today, Bedouins who live in the desert get disoriented and lose their way.

Each year, the newspapers in Arabia carry stories of experienced Arab travelers who lose their way and end up dead from exposure and thirst.

Indeed, no single path formed the ancient Frankincense route, rather hundreds of camel paths, some leading toward the next well on the route, while other paths led into valleys where a Bedouin camped.

The Liahona would have pointed to the path that led to the next well along the route.

June 2009

The June "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 2nd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Two Discovering Lehi's Trail & Shazer, we take you again to the Frankincense trail in Arabia.

Lehi would have had no other choice but to have taken an authorized trail through Arabia.

Collectively, these routes were known as the Frankincense Trail.

The incense trails started from places as diverse as the port at Gaza, the rich spice and incense markets of Damascus in present-day Syria and ancient Babylon, in what is today Iraq.

These trails eventually ended at one of the major harbors such as Khor Rori on the coast of present day Oman.

The Frankincense Trail got its name from the incense that was primarily transported along it.

These included frankincense, myrrh, and other incenses and spices.

In Lehi's time, frankincense grew only in the Dhofar region in southern Arabia; however, vast amounts of it were used in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece.

An estimated 3,000 tons were sent to Greece and Rome each year at the peak of the incense trade.

One of the branches of the trail led to Gaza on the Mediterranean and from there to Egypt by caravan where it was used to embalm mummies or by ship to the Greece where it was burned in the houses of the nobility and in their temples.

The Gaza branch of the Frankincense trail passed within 10 miles of the Valley of Lemuel and would have been known to Lehi.

May 2009

The May "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 2nd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Two Discovering Lehi's Trail & Shazer, we take you to the Frankincense trail of Arabia.

Some authors have claimed that Lehi took a trail along the shoreline of the Red Sea.

This would have been impossible, as there was no trail at that time along the coast. Indeed, no known trail existed along the Red Sea coast of Arabia until the 10th century A.D.

Having no trail meant that there would have been no water, no supplies, no shelter from the wild animals roaming the area, and no protection from renegades or outlaws. Simply put, Lehi and his family would have perished in a matter of days.

Others believe that Lehi tried to make a secretive passage through Arabia, doing everything possible to avoid meeting people.

Arabia was well outside the reach of the authorities in Jerusalem, and once in Arabia, Lehi and Nephi had no need to fear for those who may have sought their lives back in Jerusalem. Besides, it would seem unlikely that a prophet of God would have tried to avoid people.

A secretive passage through Arabia would have been impossible. Why? The answer is---WATER.

Beyond the river of Laman, the only water available along their long journey to southern Arabia would have been the man-made wells. Water wells in Arabia were not public property but belonged to the local tribes who dug and maintained them. And in Lehi's time, most of the wells would have been guarded by forts with military garrisons called Kellahs.

In a land where water is scarce to begin with, Lehi would have needed to visit a well every few days.

Lehi would have had no choice but to seek water at the wells. Thus, his presence in Arabia would have been known to all local tribes during his entire journey in the desert.

April 2009

The April "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the 2nd film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Two Discovering Lehi's Trail & Shazer, we take you to the Frankincense trail of Arabia.

It would have been as unwise for a single family to cross Arabia in 600 B.C. as it would for a similar group to have tried to travel in a lone covered wagon across the North American west in the 1840s.

The ruling tribes along the trail naturally extracted payments for allowing caravaneers to use the trails of the Frankincense trade. Think of toll roads. As you can well imagine, the ruling tribes went to great lengths to maintain the wells along the trails and to protect the customers who paid them for permission to travel on their section of the trail.

For protection against outlaws, small groups such as Lehi's would have joined with other families before setting out from one village to the next.

Travelers who paid a tribute would have been welcomed as long as they obeyed the terms of passage. That is, staying on the authorized trails through tribally controlled Arab lands and paying tribute for passage calledQauwa.

Indeed, the desert trails in Lehi's time could be viewed as toll roads that crossed the private property of Arab tribes. In return for the tributes paid to the local Emir, the tribes would provide water, provisions, and at times guides along the trail. Without such organized trails, it would have been impossible to cross the harsh desert environment of Arabia.

Lucky for us, however, the Bible documents the trail, and we learned of three other groups of people that left Jerusalem and traveled through Arabia at the same time as Lehi.

The Jews of Cochin (1), the Jews of Yemen (2), and the Jews of Madina (3) all claim that their forefathers left Jerusalem to avoid the siege of King Nebuchadnezzar.

We see then, that the account of Lehi fleeing Jerusalem at the time of Nebuchadnezzar was no fictional story. It is in complete harmony with the history of Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah.

March 2009

The March "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the third film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Three "Discovering the Most Fertile Parts & the People of Lehi," we explain how the farms and villages along the northern part of the Frankincense trail were the "most fertile parts" [1 Nephi. 16:14] of the journey Nephi described.

As we discussed in Part One, in Semitic languages, the word "borders" means "mountains."

Nephi wrote that the "most fertile parts" were in the borders.

The Frankincense trail between the Valley of Lemuel and Medinah (the most fertile parts) runs between tall mountains.

Thus Nephi's reference that the "most fertile parts" are located in the "borders" is in harmony with the geography of this section of the incense trail.

Furthermore, the villages along this part of the trail have been known since at least 1200 B.C. as the "Mahajrin" which literally means; "the fertile parts" (see Nigel Grooms, Dictionary of Arab Topography and Placenames).

As we retraced Lehi's trail from Jerusalem to Oman, we found that this portion of the trail had the most fertile farms.

Since these farms were the "most" productive in the area he controlled, the Prophet Mohammed levied an extra tribute on these villages.

February 2009

The February "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the third film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Three "Discovering the Most Fertile Parts & the People of Lehi," we identify the farmlands along the Frankincense trail that Nephi referred to as "the most fertile parts."

Well before Lehi's time, this 215-mile stretch of the trail between Dedan and Medinah contained 12 caravan halts, each surrounded by rich farms.

However these halts were separated by several miles of barren desert but linked together by the Frankincense trail.

Surrounded by thousands of square miles of barren terrain, these cultivated areas stood out from the surrounding desert like pearls adorning a chain along the south-southeast course of the trail.

January 2009

The January "Photograph of the Month" is taken from the Third film of our 6-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail.

In Part Three "Discovering the Most Fertile Parts & the People of Lehi," we followed Lehi's trail south from the caravan staging city of Dedan.

As we drove along the ancient Frankincense route we passed through the caravan halts in the southern part of wadi (valley) Jizl and the three halts in the wadi Hamed before the trail reached Medinah.

Here again, as we followed Nephi's words through an otherwise barren desert landscape we discovered "most fertile parts" (1 Nephi 16:14) along the trail.

At every halt we found beautiful farms surrounding its well.

Medinah itself is legendary for its farms and date groves.

While the rest of northwest Arabia presents a barren landscape, Dedan and other villages with equally rich farmlands are found in the wadis Ula and Jizl.

According to Arabian tradition, Medinah was the first land cultivated by the descendants of Noah and it was there that the first date palm was planted.

 

 

 

 

 

 BACK