1 Nephi 16:18 — LeGrand Baker — “we did obtain no food”

1 Nephi 16:18  

18. And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, that was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.

The Hiltons described the climatic situation that would cause Nephi’s bow to break.{1}

But despite the dreadful weather in this area along the coast of the Red Sea, we were excited, for it helped us realize how Nephi’s steel bow might have broken and how the wooden bows of his brothers might have lost their springs. (For biblical references to steel bows, see 2 Sam. 22:35 and Job 20:24.) The bow-breaking incident occurred after the party had traveled “for the space of many days” (Nephi repeats that phrase twice, both in 1 Nephi 16:15 and in 16:17) and had pitched camp to rest for a season. This would have been natural for a party traveling at a speed dictated by the presence of women and children. Since Nephi says they again traveled “for the space of many days” (1 Nephi 16:33) to reach Nahom after leaving this camp of the broken bow, it may have been halfway between Shazer and Nahom. If so, the incident may have been roughly in the vicinity of Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, where the weather is a merciless combination of heat, humidity, sand, and salt–forces strong enough to destroy steel by rust. Between March and November the heat is pitiless. Even in late January the daytime temperature hovers around 85 degrees. Humidity averages about 60 per-cent year round, and in the more moist part of a fifteen-year cycle the humidity rises to a yearly average of 92 percent. Unpainted iron or steel simply cannot survive long in such conditions.

Might this also have happened to Nephi’s bow? Weakened by rust, it could have snapped in his hands when he drew it to its limit. The climate would also explain why his brothers’ bows lost their springs at or around the same time. Since they were wooden bows, they would have remained tensile and strong in the dry area around Jerusalem; but several years in the humid climate along the Red Sea’s coastal plain would inevitably have caused them to absorb moisture until they became as limber as saplings. In fact, acquaintances of ours reported moisture absorption in some of their wooden possessions.{2}



{1} For a discussion of ways Nephi’s bow might have been only partly steel see S. Kent Brown and Peter Johnson, Journey of Faith, from Jerusalem to the Promised Land (Provo, Utah, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, BYU, 2006),

{2} Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton, Discovering Lehi (Springville, Ut., Cedar Fort, Incorporated, 1969), 114.

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