The November 2004 newsletter from the Nephi Project discusses some interesting tentative findings from the Arabian Peninsula involving the ancient Lihyan tribes of Arabia. George Potter points to possible correlations with the Book of Mormon. He has kindly given me permission to quote from his newsletter here.
Book of Mormon Names Among the Lihyanites in Arabia
By George Potter
When archaeologists prioritize the importance of documentary evidence, written records take top stage. Nothing is more compelling than to find a written historical record that an event transpired, everything else highly interpretive. The Doctrine & Covenants tells us that Nephi was a very successful missionary during his journey down from Jerusalem (D&C 33:7, 8). So why not ask the question, is there any written evidence that Nephi converted a large number of people in Arabia.
The obvious place to start searching for written evidence is the ruins of the Lihy Empire in Arabia. Lehi and Nephi passed through this same part of Arabia early in the sixth century B.C. Then shortly thereafter, late in the sixth century B.C., the Lihyanites came to power in northwest Arabia, and ruled a large area of the peninsula for over 300 years. Book of Mormon scholars Lynn and Hope Hilton were first to theorize that the Lihyanites were possibly the descendants of some of the converts of Lehi and Nephi (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, (Springville Ut: CFI 1966)). Since renaming families and tribes after exceptional leaders is a time honored tradition in Arabia, it would be feasible that the Lihyanite converts would both renamed their tribe after the patriarch Lehi and have named their children after the men they regarded as exceptionally righteous. The Book of Mormon identifies the righteous adult males in Lehi’s family during their crossing of Arabia as Lehi (Lihy), Nephi (Nafi in Arabia) and Sam (1 Nephi 2:17,7:6,8:3).
The name Lihy is found on inscriptions throughout the al-Ula valley, the valley in which the Lihyanite capital city Dedan was located. As noted in our book, Lehi in the Wilderness, and in our film Discovering the Most Fertile Parts, Dedan was along the part of the frankincense trail that was known from the time of Ramasees II (2nd Millennium B.C.) to Mohammed (6th Century B.C.) as the “fertile parts”. Nephi wrote that they traveled in the “fertile parts” (1 Nephi 16:14).
The name Lihy was also carried in the line of Lihyanite kings. Indeed, from the Lihyanite capital at Dedan (al-Ula), the name Lihy spread along the towns of the frankincense trail. Dr. Al-Anary writes “Liyhanite inscriptions were found along the trade routes in Tayma and Al-Fau (approximately 1,000 miles) In Tayma, a black obelisk mentions, “Fadju, shahro bin Malik Lihyan”, son of the king of Lihyan” . (‘an’ makes a word plural in Arabic) Pliny, who died in 79 A.D. referred to the Gulf of Aqabah as the “Gulf of Laeanitie”.
During our last visit to the ruins of the Lihyanite capital city (al-Ula), we meet a man at the farmers markets who bore that name Nafi (Nephi). That’s not surprising since there is a town named Nafi in central Arabia. The Hiltons visited that town and relate this interesting encounter:
“One day in the company of Delbert Madsen, we visited the town [Nafi]. It seemed like a miracle when we knocked on a door, and the Arab owner invited us in for supper and “o’nite”. He explained he was home for vacation for the University of Colorado, where he was a Ph.D candidate! When we declined his tea, he asked if we were Mormon. He said that once he was driving from southern Nevada to Idaho when he noticed the town Nephi, Utah on the map. He stopped there for gas and food and asked a man in the restaurant, “What is the connection between ‘Nephi’ in Utah and my home ‘Nafee’ in Saudi Arabia, since both are the same word?” The Utah man was reported to have replied, “Are you kidding?” So the Arab drove on to Idaho, never getting an answer.” (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, p. 87)
Of even more import is the Hiltons’ discovery that the Lihyanties used the personal name ‘Nafy’. The name appears in Lihyan script on a 3rd or 4th century tomb marker near al-Ula. (Hiltons, p. 89; W.F. Winnett and W. L Reed, “Ancient Records from the North Arabia“, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press: 1970)).
This year we found that Lihyanite inscriptions in the al-Ula Valley include the name ‘Sam’. This is interesting since the common Hebrew pronunciation is ‘Samuel’, and the Arabic traditional pronunciation is ‘Sami’, yet the Book of Mormon pronunciation is exactly the same was the Lihyanite articulation Sam!. We later discovered that the National Museum of Saudi Arabia with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History display on their joint internet site another Lihyanite inscription of the name ‘Sam’. (http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/e_pre-islamic/lihyanite.htm [URL updated by J.L.; the original URL was www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/english_version/html/e_lihyanite.htm]).
Here then, is more compelling WRITTEN evidence that the Book of Mormon is in total harmony with the history of Arabia. To suggest that Joseph Smith somehow could have known the Lihyanite names of Lehi, Nephi and Sam is naive, indeed. No westerner visited the land of the Lihyanites until it was discovered by Charles Doughty in 1876.
It excites me to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed that Nephi taught the gospel in Arabia, and that now, by written evidence, we know that the names of the adult male religious males of Lehi’s family were used among the ancient people of Lihy, who ruled a large portion of the Frankincense trail soon after Lehi’s passage down that very trail.
1- Al-Ansary, 28.
3- George Potter and Faisal Al-Zamil, 7 April 2004, central farmers
market in al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.
4- National Museum of Saudi Arabia and Smithsonian National Museum of
Natural History, “Written in Stone”, Inscriptions from the National Museum
of Saudi Arabia, Lihyanite Script, 1 of 2, http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/english_version/html/e_lihyanite.htm.
March 2004. (This URL no longer works. I believe the appropriate URL is now http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/e_pre-islamic/lihyanite.htm.
18 thoughts on “George Potter on Lihyanite Writing: More Clues from the Arabian Peninsula?”
WOW! I mean, wow! I am pretty much speechless after reading that article. AWESOME!
I must grant you, Jeff, that’s pretty compelling stuff (of course, assuming all the scholarship, facts, are in line–I have no way of checking, so I’ll take your and their word).
DC 33:7-9 can be interpreted narrowly or broadly.
7. Yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that the field is white already to harvest; wherefore, thrust in your sickles, and reap with all your might, mind, and strength.
8. Open your mouths and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness.
9. Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.
Previously, I thought that simile to Nephi was limited to “open your mouths and they shall be filled” as Nephi’s mouth was filled as he exhorted his family members.
That’s one of the limitations of versification of the scriptures. We tend to focus on each verse as an “atom” and not see how it relates to the overall context.
I knew that the surrounding verses were about missionary work. But now I also see how the simile to Nephi can be expanded to the surrounding verses, and not limited to only the first part of the sentence in which it is contained.
So it can be interpreted that he did missionary work as they traveled from Jerusalem in the wilderness.
I would like to see Potter defend his reading of D&C 33:7-8, rather than make the assertion and move on.
The scholarship of the Hiltons was questioned by David Johnson and Richard Jones more than twenty years ago in a letter published in the April 1985 Sunstone.
I am somewhat skeptical about the conclusion that Nephi made converts while journeying in the wilderness. It appears to me that the Lord took great pains to keep the journey of Lehi’s family secret. One of the apparent reasons he commanded Laban’s murder was to maintain secrecy. Zoram was brought along rather than left behind, seemingly for the same reason. (In fact, I think I see an unspoken threat behind Nephi’s promise to Zoram: he says, in essence, “IF you come with us, we won’t kill you.” Hmm.) The Lord didn’t allow Lehi’s family to have fires for a time, aparently because they would create smoke and attract attention. They traveled through the less-populated areas and seem to have stayed away from people as much as possible.
With this in mind, it looks to me like D&C 33:7-9 is more reasonably interpreted in the first way Bookslinger suggests–that when the Lord had something for Nephi to say to his brothers, the Lord filled Nephi’s mouth.
The material presented here nevertheless supports the idea that there were names such as Naffi and Lihy in the ancient near east. That is at least some support for the Book of Mormon, just as the occurrence of the name Alma in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I, too, find the given interpretation of D&C 33 to be HIGHLY questionable, for the reasons already given.
Yet the mere presence of Lehi’s tribal name which follows his proposed route (again, I’m making some assumptions that the frankincense route was the route he took) would indicate that he gained some followers.
The argument that the Lord sought secrecy demands more of a stretch than this argument, as we have no way of knowing the Lord’s motives in ordering Nephi to kill Laban, other than what is stated in the BOM (to get the brass plates). The Lord’s purposes seem pretty straight-forward here. Furthermore, while Zoram’s case would indicate a certain element of secrecy, that would only be due to his obvious connection to Jerusalem’s elite. Once they left Jerusalem and had gone into the central Arabia, they were far enough removed from Jerusalem to not worry about their safety. Even if a trader carried word back to Jerusalem, 500 miles is a long way to go chasing after some religious fanatics.
Lehi said that the brass plates would go unto every nation. Would not Nephi have wanted to do everything he could to bring that about?
The key to Potter’s reading is in the phrase “who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness.” The context SUGGESTS that Nephi’s journeying has a direct link to missionary work (otherwise, why would the Lord have included such a seemingly meaningless phrase of geography).
Certainly, Potter’s reading is but an hypothesis. The presence of Lehite names would suggest individuals had connected themselves to Lehi’s family (assuming Potter’s reading of the inscriptions is correct–I’m not an Arabist; I don’t know). However, I believe, as ltbugaf has stated, that the real point here isn’t about converts; it’s about linguistics. The fact that Lehi’s family names appear in Arabia is remarkable in and of itself.
The context of that passage from the Doctrine and Covenants is still about missionary work even if there was no preaching to the inhabitants of Arabia by Nephi. Was not Nephi a missionary to Lamen and Lemule?
While it is an interesting connection, it is by no means definative.
Wouldn’t parallelism between verse 8 and 9 suggest Nephi was laden with sheaves upon his back, because the Lord was with him? The parallelism in the first part of each verse at “Open your mouths” implying a parallelism in the second part. Laman and Lemuel would not qualify as a sheaf here.
I’m not aware of any studies of parallelism in the D&C.
Mark referred to the 1985 April 1985 Sunstone magazine which had a brief response from two people critical of the Hiltons’ speculations about the Lihyanites. They argue that the Lihyanites did not arise until at least century after Lehi’s journey and that the inscription allegedly from the Lihyanites in the 6th century B.C. was actually from the Dedanite kingdom of that time, contrary to what was stated in the Smithsonian Magazine. I’m not convinced that this argument from chronology still stands.
Take a look at the book reviews in the Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages, Vol. 23. Mo. 2 (1997), where we encounter Lukas Muntingh’s review of H. Lozachmeur, (ed.), Présence arabe dans le croissant fertile avant l’Hégire (Actes de la table ronde internationale Paris, 13 Novembre 1993). Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 1995. ISBN 286538 2540. An excerpt from the review is relevant to our present discussion:
F Scagliarini’s paper deals with Al-‘Ula/Dedan, in NW Arabia, some 110 km SW of Teima. The author proposes an adjustment to the accepted Dedanite and Lihyanite chronology; “Dedanite” is used for the older phase of the history of the oasis of Al-‘Ula, the Biblical Dedan. In reality, the difference between the two is conventional. The paleographic criterion which leads to different datings of the list of texts discussed here is arbitrary. It is, however, very interesting that the king, presented as king of the city of Dedan in the older period is later indicated as king of the Lihyan tribe.
The stink raised over the chronology in the Smithsonian’s publication and the Hiltons’ speculation may have little substance after all.
As I understand it, ancient Arabia was only partially civilized. Local tribes were very hospitable to (paying) travelers because they were vital to the economy. They were also generally unable to keep the local bandits under control.
Because of this, it would be entirely possible that Nephi met and talked with all kinds of friendly people in towns and caravans, while still having to watch his back on the road, especially at night.
Just because the names exist in the area and in the Book of Mormon is not a proof that the Book of Mormon is true. Both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages and if Joseph “borrowed” from Hebrew (we know he studied Hebrew) it would make sense that names may be similar. For example the word for rabbit is gah in Navajo and in Apache. Both of which are Athabaskan languages.
My memory is that Joseph Smith only studied Hebrew after the Book of Mormon was produced. Somebody can correct me if I am wrong.
With the names of similar area names is it a match, or just co-incidence?
Dale (FAIR Message Board Poster)
Everyone seems to be ignoring that the Lihyanites were named after Lihyan, not Lihy.
Also, is an really the plural?
I am confused , I know that lihyanite were names after a kingdoms of Lihyan..
I totally agree with George Potter's honesty and integrity in ALL his discoveries and his use of parallelism in his quest for the truth – THE BOOK OF MORMON and JOSEPH MACK SMITH, JR.- THE PROPHET OF THE 7TH DISPENSATION.
I know George in Saudi Arabia, and I told him that more paralelism could be found in the Philippines, Sumatra, Java, Malaysia,etc for the more than 300 words-places, word names found in these areas. Lehi's group passed through these islands(called SINIM at that time), before they reached the Pacific Ocean through the isles of the sea unto what is now called Guatemala, Peru, or South America as a whole.
If George is reading this, please contact me or shoot me an email, ASAP.
SALAAM ALAIKUM SADIQUE!
J Percival Borja