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 had 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 the 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.
In the present volume, the work of the editors has been confined largely to technical tasks. The earlier texts remain substantially unchanged, but they have been edited lightly. All the information found in "The Book of Mormon as a Mirror of the East" (much of which was inserted into "Lehi in the Desert" in 1950) has been worked into the text and notes of "Lehi in the Desert." In addition, the series "There Were Jaredites" is included here for the first time, and all footnotes in this enlarged edition have been verified and make more readable.
The kinds of ancient Near Eastern facts and observations Dr. Nibley correlates with details in the Book of Mormon are drawn from areas of language and literature, archaeology and history, culture and politics. Taken alone, few single factors are overwhelmingly impressive, but all together they fit very convincingly into what Dr. Nibley calls "The Big Picture. "
As he writes at the conclusion of his findings: "There is no point at all to the question: Who wrote the Book of Mormon? It would have been quite as impossible for the most learned man alive in 1830 as it was for Joseph Smith."