by Douglas K. Christensen


QUESTION: I really enjoyed your comments today on the journey of the Jaredites.  I am having difficulty visualizing them traveling through the Empty Quarter.  It is clear that they built barges before they came to the sea where they set sail for the Promised Land.  Also the honey bee could not have survived the trip.  Barges and honey bees don’t seem to fit the environment of the Empty Quarter.  I would like to hear more.  Best wishes.  (Norm Hanson)

In an internet article by the Catholic Church titled Problems with the Book of Mormon we read the following: Scientists have demonstrated that honey bees were first brought to the New World by Spanish explorers in the fifteenth century, but the Book of Mormon, in Ether 2:3, claims they were introduced around 2000 B.C. The problem was that Joseph Smith wasn’t a naturalist; he didn’t know anything about bees and where and when they might be found. He saw bees in America and threw them in the Book of Mormon as a little local color. He didn’t realize he’d get stung by them. (

RESPONSE: George Potter in An Alternative Model for the Jaredite Trail writes the following:  Honey bees were not native to much of the ancient world.  The earliest Biblical record of honey is when Jacob (Israel) instructed his sons to take a gift of honey to the Egyptian (Joseph) to try to win the release of his two sons (Genesis 43:11). Yet hundreds of years earlier, the Book of Mormon records that the Jaredites took honey bees with them from Mesopotamia to the seashore where they built their ships.  Here the Book of Mormon is in harmony with what is known of the history of Mesopotamia (Sumeria).  From the 21st Century B.C. the cuneiform writings of Sumeria and Babylonia mention honey bees, including mention of bees in royal titles.

POTTER:  “The wild Apis Florea bees provide a fascinating aspect of the Jaredite trail.  Apparently the Jaredites left their swarms of honey bees at the seashore.  We can assume this for three reasons, 1.)  there is no specific reference to taking bees aboard their ships (Ether 6:4),  2.) they were traveling in the hulls of air tight barges where swarms of bees would have been poor shipmates, and 3.) Old World bees were not found in the New World.  The Dakakah trail would have led the Jaredites to the most suitable place to build their barges, at  the inlet of Khor Rori where Nephi probably constructed his ship.   Nephi wrote that “we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey, and all there things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish” (1 Nephi 17:5, Italics add).  Nephi seemed to realize that the Lord had prepared Bountiful with wild, not domesticated, honey.  Honey bees are not native to Arabia, an area the size of Europe, except in Oman.  The honey in Oman is still gathered mostly as wild honey, and the bees are still considered wild, being only “somewhat managed”. So how did these wild honey bees originally come to Oman?  Did they fly across the Persian Gulf or were they left by the Jaredites?

RESPONSE:   to George Potter's statement   “Honey bees were not native to much of the ancient world,” and then states that only in Mesopotamia is there a history of ancient bees. He then quotes the first appearance of bees in the Bible (Genesis 43:11). Contrary to this statement are the following by High Nibley: 

“Thus we have the founders of the two main parent civilizations of antiquity (Babylonia and Egypt) entering their new homelands at approximately the same time from some common center—apparently the same center from which the Jaredites took their departure,....the Egyptian pioneers carried with them a fully developed cult and symbolism from their Asiatic home. Chief among their cult objects would seem to be the bee.” (Hugh Nibley, The World of the Jaredites, pg 190)   'All the major migrations without exception, writes Eduard Meyer, which repeatedly in the course of world history have changed the face of the European-Asiatic continent...have moved into the distant regions of the west from a point in Central Asia. And of all these great waves of expansion the most important moved under the aegis of the life-giving bee.” (Nibley, pg 191)


Potter proposes that the Jaredites left their bees there on the seashore before they set sail for their promised land. He gives the following reasons for this assumption:



1.   POTTER:  There is no specific reference to taking bees aboard their ships."

RESPONSE:  The book of Ether is the shortest book in the Book of Mormon, covering 1500 plus years' history.  It can be excused for not giving specific details demanded by Potter. The Jaredites must have regarded their bees very highly, giving them a special name (Deseret) which Moroni considered important enough to include in his very short history. Does the lack of a statement that they took their prized bees on board their ships necessarily mean they didn't? They had already carried their bees for many years in their travels in the wilderness and when they arrived at the seashore they were there for four additional years. (Ether 2:13)  Why would they jettison their bees which were obviously very special to them and represented resurrection?


2. POTTER:    

They were traveling in the hulls of air tight barges where swarms of bees would have been poor shipmates."


RESPONSE:   I am certainly no apiculturist, but if they had found a way to bring their bees from Shinar (Babylon) to the seashore, crossing many waters and already having built barges identical to the ones they built to cross the ocean (Ether 2:16), it would seem they had the “bees in the barges” problem solved. The account specifically states that the barges were air tight only when the waters came in upon them, (Ether 2:20) which would have to be a small minority of time or all occupants on board would have suffocated. Lastly, it is abundantly clear that the Lord was in charge of this migration,  “The Lord did go before them and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud and gave directions whither they should travel.” (2:5) Additionally, they built their barges according to the detailed instructions of the Lord.(2:16) It would seem that, to the Lord, accommodating sacred bees would not be an insurmountable endeavor.

3. POTTER:  

Old World bees were not found in the New World

RESPONSE:   This statement assumes that the bees carried by the Jaredites were the apis mellifera (Old World) species. This is an assumption, and possibly a good one, but they may have carried with them the Asian bee melipona. J. Eric Thompson wrote that not only was the domestic bee in ancient America but that there were gods of bees and beekeepers (an example is found in a Mayan Codex). Honey was a real treat for the Indians. The existence of the bee, anciently, is also supported by Ignacio Bernal whose specialty was the Olmec civilization.” (Ignacio Bernal, The Olmec World, pg 20). When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century they discovered a thriving bee culture. Cortez wrote to the king of Spain about the extent of beekeeping among the Indians of Mexico. The bee of ancient Mesoamerica was most likely the melipona. (Ronan James Head, A Brief Survey of Ancient Near Eastern Beekeeping, Neal A. Maxwell Institute, volume 20, issue 1).  The Jaredites, however, may have brought the apis melifera which became extinct, or the melipona.  We just don’t know.


POTTER:   Potter proposes that the Jaredite migration from the Valley of Nimrod was South, doubling back on territory they had already covered and then down the Sinai Peninsula to what is modern day Oman.
RESPONSE:  I've not been in that part of the world, but I understand it can reach temperatures of 145 degrees in the day and then cold at night. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that the Jaredites continued Northward after they left Nimrod and then east which would have taken them across the Caspian Sea and possibly other large lakes, through Mongolia and thence southward into China and set sail from the Yellow Sea. I find several compelling reasons for this route as opposed to traversing the deserts of Saudi Arabia, not the least of which is that bees could not (and did not) survive in the deserts of Potter's proposed route.  
Domestication of bees, however, was practiced in several parts of the Levant in Jaredite times.  As noted by Hugh Nibley, there is the great length of the journey, “for this many years we have been in the wilderness.” (Ether 3:3) He notes that turning East would take them across the great Asiatic area which would be conducive to cattle-raising nomads and that this geographical area qualifies for the description “there never had man been.” Nibley further notes that the prevailing winds are westerly which almost demands a Pacific crossing, not Atlantic. (Nibley, pg 181-183) The scripture calls for a mountain of “exceeding height” near the point of embarkation which possibly rules out the coast of Oman and points toward the China coast which has many large mountains near the Yellow Sea coastline.

We know what the Jaredites looked like if we assume the giant heads discovered in the Olmec heartland are Jaredites or Jaredite/Olmec descendants. They are big people with Oriental features. To me, this is a clincher that the Jaredites met, converted and intermarried with Chinese before they sailed to the New World.    The Jaredites, in their long journey, had flocks of animals. Can you imagine trying to herd flocks down the Arabian Peninsula, let alone honey bees? In contrast, Lehi's group, who did travel down the Peninsula, had no flocks; or at least none are mentioned. The Steppes of Mongolia are an ideal place for flocks of just about any type domestic animal. (see Nibley, The World of the Jaredites, chapter three, Jared on the Steppes.)


One final point: It would seem to the author that it would be much easier to carry tanks of fish and hives of bees (which the record calls for) if we assume the Jaredites crossed the Steppes and left from China rather than traversing one of the world’s most difficult and unfriendly terrains.



What did the Jaredites do with their honey bees when they left for the promised land?  When the Spanish conquered Mexico and Central America, they found that native populations of Mexico and Central America were beekeepers. Yet, the New World bees were probably not the bees of the Jaredites, rather bees unique to the Americas.The European honey bee which Native Americans called “white man’s flies” were not introduced in the Americas until 1638. It is likely that the Jaredite honey bee was the warm climate dwarf bee Apis florea.  These small wild bees range in the warm climates of southeast Asia.  The bees of Mesopotamia could have been native, or brought there from India which had bees at that time and traded with Sumeria. 


Christensen, Douglas K.