“All Those Who Would Go with Me”

This is PART 3 of 6 of an exclusive series for Times & Seasons on “The Tribes that Greeted the Lehites” by Mike Winder. Read Part 1 “A Land of Many Tribes” HERE. Read Part 2 “Lehi’s Thanksgiving” HERE.

As the Lehites increasingly mingled with the locals, there eventually arose a division, accelerated upon the death of their patriarch Lehi. Part of Lehi’s family (led by Laman) was attracted to a hunting and gathering lifestyle. Likely, this way of life was common among the Native Americans they were interacting with in the Land of First Inheritance. Laman and his clique possibly saw this as the easier way to make a living and adopted the ways of the locals.

Nephi looked down on those who preferred to merely “seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey,” viewing them as “an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety” (2 Nephi 5:24). In his eyes, his elder brothers and their family had “gone native.” Nephi clearly preferred a more “civilized” lifestyle, based on the domesticated life he knew in Jerusalem—farming, animal husbandry, and constructing permanent structures. Apparently, a number of the Amerindians they met were attracted by the promise of a more sophisticated Nephite lifestyle and converted to the newcomer’s religion. Temporal prosperity has long been an ally of effective proselyting. When the schism among the sons of Lehi occurred, Nephi led his followers “and did journey in the wilderness for the space of many days” until they came to a new land to begin their new settlement (2 Nephi 5:7).

And who followed Nephi when he left the Land of First Inheritance to what they called the Land of Nephi? We know that they were not the families of Laman, Lemuel, or the sons of Ishmael (per Alma 47:35). They stayed back and assimilated with the hunting and gathering natives they met. But in 2 Nephi 5:6, Nephi lists specifically his family, “and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me” (emphasis mine).

But who were “all those who would go with” Nephi since everyone else in the Lehi clan was already accounted for? They had to be the new friends that Nephi and his family had met in America and who he had converted through his massive missionary work after their arrival. Nephi goes on to explain: “And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.” This group of converts was a significant size, as we shall see. And isn’t it grand to envision Nephi as the powerfully effective first missionary to the Americas?

Nephi was proud of his people for their successful agriculture and animal domestication: “we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind.” (2 Nephi 5:11). Nephi led his people on an aggressive building campaign, including constructing a full-blown temple like Solomon’s (v. 15-16). It was like Solomon’s Temple in all manner of construction, except the materials weren’t quite as fancy. To build this, it would have taken a large number of workers, not just a few of Nephi’s nephews and grandkids. For his temple, Solomon utilized 30,000 laborers, 70,000 carriers, and 80,000 stonecutters, plus 3,300 foremen to supervise them all (1 Kings 5:13-18). Even if Nephi’s temple required a mere 10% of the construction team as Solomon, he would have been leading over 18,000 in building the American temple.

Therefore, the People of Nephi were most likely majority Native American converts, with a very small percentage being Jewish refugees that had come across the sea and their descendants. Intermarriages would have been inevitable, extending the gene pool beyond would have been just Lehite cousin inbreeding otherwise. “We began to prosper exceedingly,” Nephi wrote of this combined people, “and to multiply in the land,” (2 Nephi 5:13).

Because of their superior religious background, the family of Lehi became the priestly line. Jacob, and his (possibly twin) younger brother Joseph “had been consecrated priests and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi” (Jacob 1:18). They taught the People of Nephi in the temple (Jacob 1:17) and also by sharing the scriptures with them in their sermons and writings (Jacob 2:23, 7:10). We know of brass and gold plates, of course, but ancient Americans utilized bark-like paper in forms called amate, amatl, huun, and from agave. There also seemed to be an effort for at least some of the Amerindian converts to learn the Hebrew language utilized by these religious leaders (Jacob 7:4). 

Local indigenous languages seemed to dominate over Hebrew among the people, which makes sense considering how outnumbered the Lehites would have been in the Americas, and even those with heritage from Israel quickly adopted the local vernacular for day-to-day usage (Omni 1:17-18). Yet, the priestly line seemed to also remain literate in Hebrew for speaking and Reformed Egyptian for writing. Enos, growing up in this world, was especially grateful that his father “taught me in his language” (Enos 1:1), implying that this language was different from the native tongues his peers spoke. Likewise, King Benjamin caused that his sons “should be taught in all the language of his fathers,” (Mosiah 1:2). However, even these Old World languages were “handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech,” according to Mormon (9:32-33), and would have been greatly influenced by the more widely used local languages.

Mike Winder is the author of 14 books, including his newest, Hidden in Hollywood: The Gospel Found in 1001 Movie Quotes. Illustration by Image Creator from Microsoft Designer with prompts from the author.