While in law school I had the chance to talk with Jack Welch about the kingmen in the Book of Mormon. From that discussion in 1980, I started to apply the tools of deconstruction to the text of the Book of Mormon. There is an amazing amount of perspective that can be found by taking the Book of Mormon as what it claims to be and then looking into the text to see what the text says for itself.
For example, 1 Ne 2:4 points out that Lehi took only his family, provisions and tents (and worlds have been written about the importance of tents). Yet Ishmael took his household, not just his family (1 Ne. 7:5). How large could a household be, how much difference could that make?
Well, Abraham’s household was large enough to include at least 318 warriors trained from birth to no other task (Genesis 14:14). Tradition puts his household at well over three thousand male adults.
It is possible that when Ishmael joined Lehi that he took not only his children and their extended families but that he took bondservants, servants and slaves with him as well. The total group could easily have broken three hundred people. That is a far different image from the twenty or so most people envision when they think in modern terms (not I’m not saying it is necessary, but that is a probable household for a wealthy house).
The way one reads parts of the text becomes much different if you are thinking of 15-20 people vs 300-400 people. Take the story of Nephi’s bow.
15-20 people and everyone thinks of hunting in terms of a modern deer hunt. 300 or so and you are back to a more historically normative hunt with beaters driving all the game towards the hunters who wait in a kill zone.
In such a context, possession of a bow is not only functional, but symbolic. Which is why they hunted with slings and bows and why, interestingly enough, Ishmael’s sons are never mentioned, nor is Zoram. Note that while Nephi took his sling when he went back out hunting, he also took the bow that he made. That he also made an arrow (singular) to go with his new bow is also highly symbolic.
That also changes the context and the meaning of his consulting his father before he goes out.
I will visit this in additional places, building a boat, how Jacob’s people could have concubines that their wives and children were unaware of, “he made us slaves in the wilderness” (they spent eight years, at seven a Hebrew has to choose between freedom and permanent slavery), etc. Just some thoughts about alternative approaches to go with studying the Book of Mormon this year.