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Saturday
Mar262011

Nahom

The Book of Mormon narrative follows a group of Jews that left Jerusalem for the New World in 600 B.C. Along the way they stopped at a place called Nahom.

From Jerusalem to Nahom
The narrative suggests that after they left Jerusalem they traveled:
No proposed locations are recognized by the LDS church
While some Mormon apologists claim to have identified Bountiful, it's important to keep in mind that:
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not endorsed any proposed location. Until then, claims made by apologists remain personal opinion and speculative.
  • Much of the on-the-ground research provided by Mormon apologists have been conducted by non-professionals.
  • No non-Mormon researchers have independently confirmed the location of Nahom.


Nahom = Nihm?

Some apologists see a link between Nahom and the name of the Nihm tribe in Yemen. The Nihm tribe is located about 25 miles north of Sana'a, Yemen today. An altar inscription dated to the 7th-6th century B.C. reads: son of Naw'an the Nihmite, which may be evidence that the tribe goes back to 600 B.C.
  • This link is made on the basis that Semitic languages do not use vowels, therefore the consonant spelling of Nahom (NHM) can be compared to Nihm (NHM).
  • But a linguistic link is an assumption:
    The exact equivalency of the root letters cannot be assured. It is probable that the term Nahom was spelled with the rasped or fricative Hebrew letter for "h" (het or chet) whereas the name Nihm, both in modern Arabic and in the ancient Sabaean dialect, is spelled with a softer, less audible h sound... One has to assume, it seems to me, that when the members of Lehi's party heard the local name for "the place that was called Nahom" they associated the sound of that local name with the term *Nahom, a Hebrew word that was familiar to and had meaning for them.

    S. Kent Brown - director of the BYU Jerusalem Center
    Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol.8, Iss.1, pp.66-68
    *Note: Nahom is not a Hebrew word.
  • A linguistic link to a Hebrew word is also an assumption, as the Book of Mormon was allegedly written in Reformed Egyptian, which remains an unknown language.
  • The name of a tribe does not give us a place
    1 Nephi 16:34 says: the place which was called Nahom.
    • The next assumption is that the name of the tribe was also the name of a place.
      Modern Nihm Ancient NHM
      Today the Nihm tribe reside about 25 miles north of Sana'a, Yemen. But this is not evidence that a location with the same name existed in 600 B.C. The altar inscription dated to the 7th-6th century B.C. that reads: son of Naw'an the Nihmite, is not evidence that there was also a place called NHM in 600 B.C.
  • According to the Book of Mormon narrative, the location of Nahom is inextricably linked to being nearly westward of Bountiful, of which location itself is unknown.


Seven Years In The Desert

Arabian Desert The Arabian Desert as delineated by the WWFN. The Empty Quarter, considered impassable, encompasses the bottom third of the peninsula and is the largest sand sea in the world.
It is highly likely that a group of Jews traveling down the Arabian peninsula would have followed the ancient Frankincense Trail. It would have been suicide to abandon the trail's watering holes to cut east across the uninhabited Empty Quarter.
  • The narrative says that it took them eight years to reach Bountiful from Jerusalem (1 Nephi 17:4).
  • An apologist places the time it took them to reach Nahom at about a year.
    I believe that it took them about a year to go from their first base camp down to Nahom. The reason is because that's when Nephi mentions the birth of the first children.

    S. Kent Brown - director of the BYU Jerusalem Center
    Journey of Faith DVD [Video Clip - 8MB MOV]
  • If it took one year to reach Nahom, that means it took them seven years to reach Bountiful. That's seven years crossing the Empty Quarter. Apologists acknowledge how daunting travel through this desert is.
    Thomas G. Madsen They're going in an area that no one is his right mind would have gone. This space in the Arabian desert—out in a wilderness where you can barely survive four or five hours without water.

    Thomas G. Madsen, Journey of Faith DVD

Moving the turn nearly eastward farther south
To mitigate the absurdity that a group of Jews survived seven years crossing the Empty Quarter, apologists have been moving the spot where the Jews would have turned to head towards Bountiful, to get it below the Empty Quarter.
  • The earliest model, proposed by Hugh Nibley, has the turn around the 19th parallel.
  • The latest model, proposed by S. Kent Brown, has the turn around the 14th parallel.


Evolving Models

Apologists have offered different models over the years.

Nibley (1950)
Sources: Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, Improvement Era, 1950
Nibley - Nahom route
The late Hugh Nibley, a professor at BYU, and considered the foremost Mormon apologist of his day, offered one of the earliest models linking Nahom to Bountiful.
  • Proposes the Qara Mountains in the southern region of Dhofar as the possible site of Bountiful.
  • Proposes the turn to Bountiful near 19th parallel.


Hilton (1976)
Sources: Hilton & Hilton, Ensign, Sep. 1976, p.33, Oct. 1976, pp.34-35
Hilton - Nahom model
Lynn and Hope Hilton, a married couple, were approached by the Ensign, a church periodical, to photograph and investigate Nibley's model.
  • Proposes Al Qunfidhah, Saudi Arabia, a coastal village which sits along the Red Sea near the 19th parallel as the possible site of Nahom.
  • Proposes that the Jews continued traveling south-southeast through Abha to Najral, Saudi Arabia, before turning east toward Bountiful.
  • Proposes Salalah, Oman, which sits at the base of the Qara Mountains, as the location of Bountiful.
  • Proposes that the Jews would not have crossed into Yemen to avoid the Sabaean kingdom. All newer models ignore this concern.


Christensen (1978)
Sources: Christensen, Ensign, Aug. 1978, p.73
Christensen - Nahom model
Ross T. Christensen, a BYU professor of archaeology and anthropology, found a 1763 Carsten Niebuhr map which labeled an area "Nehhm" about 25 miles north of Sana'a, Yemen. This location generally corresponds to the present location of the Nihm tribe today.
  • Proposes that Lehi's route dipped down into Yemen to this general area and then reverted back up to meet the Hilton route.


Aston (1986)
Sources: Aston & Aston, Lehi's Trail and Nahom Revisited, Maxwell Institute; Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol.7, Iss.1, pp.4-11
Aston - Nahom model
Warren & Michaela Aston, a married couple from Australia, were intrigued by Christensen's model and visited Yemen.
  • Found a map at the University of Sana'a, Yemen, that corroborated Nieburh's "Nehhm".
  • Proposes Khor Kharfot, about 40 miles down the coast from Salalah, as an alternative location for Bountiful.


Brown (2003)
Sources: Brown, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol.8, Iss.1, pp.66-68; Vol.12, Iss.1, pp.111-12, Journey of Faith DVD
Brown - Nahom model
Scott Kent Brown is the director of the BYU Jerusalem Center.
  • Proposes that "Nahom" is a large region, possibly encompassing:
    • Marib, Yemen, about 73 miles southeast of the current Nihm tribal area, where the altar inscriptions were found.
    • Ancient burial tombs located about 25 miles north of Marib, which may be supporting evidence of Ishmael's burial (1 Nephi 16:34).
  • Proposes that the nearly eastward direction to Bountiful is not the route traveled, but rather the location of Bountiful in relation to Nahom.
  • Proposes that the Jews traveled as far south as Shabwah, Yemen, before turning east towards Bountiful. While this model keeps the Jews on the outskirts of the Empty Quarter, it doesn't fit the narrative that from Nahom they traveled nearly eastward from that time forth to Bountiful.


Conclusion

The evidences are insufficient to place Nahom with any certainty to any of the proposed locations. There just isn't much to work with here. We have:
  • One verse in the Book of Mormon that mentions a placed called Nahom.
  • A Yemeni tribe called Nihm
  • A 7th-6th century B.C. altar inscription that reads: son of Naw'an the Nihmite.

To make this fit we have to make several assumptions:
  • A linguistic assumption that Joseph's English Nahom, which he allegedly translated from an unknown Reformed Egyptian language, is connected to the Nihm tribe in Yemen.
  • An assumption that there was a place in 600 B.C. named after the Nihm tribe.
  • An assumption that a group of Jews that had lived in Jerusalem all of their lives could survive seven years crossing the Empty Quarter.

That the LDS church today will not endorsed any Book of Mormon location is telling.


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