“Nahom and the ‘Eastward’ Turn” is a short note in from a 2003 Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. I missed it until now, but feel it adds an important new insight into the growing body of evidence from the Arabian Peninsula related to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. After mentioning the impressive archaeological finds supporting the existence of the ancient inhabited placed called Nahom, an interesting observation about Nephi’s eastward turn at Nahom is made:
The case for Nahom, or NHM, in this area is made even more tight by recent study. It has become clearly apparent from Nephi’s note–“we did travel nearly eastward” from Nahom (1 Nephi 17:1)–that he and his party not only had stayed in the NHM tribal area, burying Ishmael there, but also were following or shadowing the incense trail, a trading road that by then offered an infrastructure of wells and fodder to travelers and their animals. From the general region of the NHM tribe, all roads turned east. How so? Across the Ramlat Sabhatayn desert, east of this tribal region and east of Marib, lay the city of Shabwah, now in ruins. By ancient Arabian law, it was to this city that all incense harvested in the highlands of southern Arabia was carried for inventorying, weighing, and taxing. In addition, traders made gifts of incense to the temples at Shabwah. After this process, traders loaded the incense and other goods onto camels and shipped them toward the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian areas, traveling at first westward and then, after reaching the edges of the region of the NHM tribe, turning northward (these directions are exactly opposite from those that Nephi and his party followed). Even the daunting shortcuts across the Ramlat Sabhatayn desert, which left travelers without water for 150 miles, ran generally east-west. What is important for our purposes is the fact that the “eastward” turn of Nephi’s narrative does not show up in any known ancient source, including Pliny the Elder’s famous description of the incense-growing lands of Arabia. In a word, no one knew of this eastward turn in the incense trail except persons who had traveled it or who lived in that territory. This kind of detail in the Book of Mormon narrative, combined with the reference to Nahom, is information that was unavailable in Joseph Smith’s day and thus stands as compelling evidence of the antiquity of the text.
As we have previously discussed (see many related posts on this blog and also see MormonEvidence.com), the ancient burial place Nahom/Nihm/Nehhem/NHM is located just where Nephi says it is and, by following his eastward direction (deviating from his previous south-southeast direction after leaving Jerusalem), one can in fact reach an excellent candidate for the ancient place he called Bountiful on the shores of modern-day Oman.
The eastward turn at Nahom fits new information not available to Joseph Smith. It is one of many little clues suggestion that it may be premature to dismiss the Book of Mormon as an absurd fraud. I suggest it’s worth reading and investigating carefully.