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Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Place Which was Called Nahom

The first book in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi) details, among other things, the challenges that Nephi and his family had to face while traveling through the Arabian desert. The hardships in the desert became so severe, in fact, that one member - a man named Ishmael - died. Nephi indicates that Ishmael was buried "in the place which was called Nahom" (1 Nephi 16:34).

This bit of information in the Book of Mormon constitutes one of its strongest evidences of authenticity. There are three points to this.

1. The root of the name Nahom - NHM (remember, there are no vowels in Hebrew) - means "consolation" or "to be sorry, console oneself." How appropriate that Ishmael was buried at a location that had a name such as this. Also, how appropriate that the daughters of Ishmael, following the old Bedouin tradition of mourning, choose here to proclaim their lamentations for the loss of their father (1 Nephi 16:35-36).
Of all the names that Joseph Smith could have choosen for the name of the place that Ishmael was buried if he was the author of the text, how did he know to pick such a befitting title? Joseph did not begin to learn Hebrew until 5 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.

2. In the late 1990's, a team of non-LDS German archaeologists discovered a group of limestone altars in the Nehem region of southern Arabia. On these altars was inscribed the name NHM, which can be constructed as Nehem/Naham/Nahom. These altars are older than the time in which Nephi says Ishmael was buried (circa 600-592 BCE) which shows that Nephi was strictly correct to note that Ishmael's burial site "was called" Nahom, since the location was older than the time of Nephi's narrative.

3. Nephi indicates that he and his family, after entombing Ishmael at Nahom, traveled "nearly eastward" (1 Nephi 17:1) until they hit the land that Nephi and his family named Bountiful, where Nephi built his ship that would take him and his family to the New World. Latter-day Saint scholars have shown that the most likely candidate for Nephi's "Bountiful" - a location today known as Khor Khafot - is indeed a simple eastward trek from Nahom, thus proving that Nephi's record is in strict accord with Arabian geography.

These three elements create an impressive evidence for the Book of Mormon's authenticity. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith was familiar with pre-Islamic Arabian geography, which makes him and unlikely author of the text of 1 Nephi. The only person who could have written it is someone who had a familiar understanding with Arabian geography (i.e. Nephi).

However, despite this impressive bullseye for the Book of Mormon (and there is plenty more from Arabia that I did not cover which are also impressive evidences for the Book of Mormon), it cannot be stressed enough that the ultimate proof for the Book of Mormon is the witness of the Spirit of its truthfulness (Moroni 10:4-5) which comes from personal revelation from the Lord through the Holy Ghost.

For further reading, consult the following:

"New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail" by S. Kent Brown (http://farms.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?bookid=8&chapid=61)

"Lehi's Arabian Journey Updated" by Noel B. Reynolds (http://farms.byu.edu/publications/bookschapter.php?bookid=41&chapid=195)

"Lehi in the Desert" by Hugh W. Nibley (http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/booksmain.php?bookid=59)

"Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith have Known the Way?" in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins by Eugene England

"New Light: "The Place That Was Called Nahom": New Light from Ancient Yemen" by S. Kent Brown (http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=187)

"Bountiful and Nahom in the Arabian Peninsula" by Jeff Lindsay (http://www.jefflindsay.com/BMEvidences.shtml#geography)