Wild beasts still stalk Lehi's route

Our recent Book of Mormon Sunday School lesson brought back a memory that has made 1 Nephi 7:16 very meaningful to us. Nephi says he was bound with cords, "for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts." What wild beasts were there in the desert south of Jerusalem that could devour a man?

A frightening experience in 1988 has made this scripture very real to us. One night my wife and I were camped on the Saudi Arabian desert near ancient For Olayah, eight kilometers from the Red Sea and halfway between Jeddah and Yanbu, where we lived. We were studying the antiquities and ruins of ancient civilizations that are found along the trail Lehi may have traveled.A full moon was shining on the desert sand, making dark shadows fall from the old fort's rock walls. The weather was hot in August, and we were sleeping in the back of our station wagon. The back hatch of the car was open, as were the four side doors. To our know-ledge we were alone. The last person we had seen was 12 kilometers back on the sand trail at the town of Rabigh, Saudi Arabia. We had no weapons and felt no danger until about midnight when we were awakened by terrifying, panting noises just outside the car.

"It is only some wild dogs," said my wife as she looked outside the car with half-opened eyes. "Throw some stones and they will go away."

A second look caused both of us to freeze with fear. There stood two huge, black hyenas, double the size of any dog we'd ever seen, and much larger than those brown-spotted hyenas seen in zoos. Their barrel chests were heaving, and their long tongues hung from gaping mouths as they panted from what we guessed was a long run across the desert to arrive at our camp. They had muscular shoulders which narrowed down to small rumps and short hind legs. They were wild, carnivorous beasts, fully capable of destroying a man. By the full moon, we could see them perfectly just 15 feet away. Their yellowish eyes gleamed in the dark, and their pointed ears were erect and directed toward us.

Unprotected as we were, we had to take some action. I got out of the car, gathered a few stones and started to yell and throw the stones. To our great relief, the hyenas backed away. I gathered some of the camp gear and jumped in the car, slamming all the doors, only to see not two but four wild beasts approaching us. We honked the horn, turned on the lights and started the engine, but the "devil dogs" ominously edged toward the car. But now we were safe, and soon the four of them lined up in a single file and started trotting out across the barren desert.

Later, we related this experience to a friend, Bill Rogers, who had worked in Ethiopia. He was amazed that we had survived. He said that in Ethiopia they also have large, black hyenas. The villagers fear them more than lions, for they are known to come into the natives' huts and compounds and carry away small children to devour in the desert.

Perhaps we felt the same fear Nephi had felt centuries before, for now we had a very good idea about the threat of being actually devoured by wild beasts in the wilderness.

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