Hugh Nibley is probably still best known for his ground-breaking investigations into the ancient Near Eastern backgrounds of Lehi and of the Jaredites. Those classic studies are contained in this volume-the first of several books to appear in the volumes of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley that deal with the Book of Mormon.
Dr. Nibley's broad knowledge of the ancient Near East, and especially his fluent Arabic, allowed him to reconstruct the probable cultural backgrounds of people like Lehi and Nephi and to read between the lines in the Book of Mormon to identify evidences of their cultural world. Much of that evidence is quite direct and strong; other times it is subtle and more remote. In either case, no one else has even thought of seeing such things; yet without such insights, the lives of Lehi and the Jaredites would "remain in the shadows," as Elder John A. Widtsoe said in his foreword to the 1952 publication of Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites.
This book began in 1948 with Dr. Nibley's article "The Book of Mormon as a Mirror of the East," which soon grew into three lengthy serials, "Lehi in the Desert" in 1950, "The World of the Jaredites" in 1951-52, and "There Were Jaredites" in 1956-57, all of which were published in the Improvement Era. In 1952, the first two serials were published as a book entitled Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites. That volume has enjoyed wide circulation for thirty-five years.