Insights into Ancient Nahom: Great Article from the Journal of Arabian Studies

Tonight I just found and read a terrific academic article on ancient Nahom, or rather, the ancient Nihm tribe of Yemen and its tribal lands, a region identified on several maps with names like Nehem, Nehhm, or Nahm. The article is “The Origins of the Nihm Tribe of Yemen: A Window into Arabia’s Past,” Journal of Arabian Studies: Arabia, the Gulf, and the Red Sea, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2014, by Warren P. Aston. You can order the article from the publisher, or view it for free via

Abstract: The 1999 excavation of the Barʾan complex at Maʾrib in
Yemen yielded identical Sabaean inscriptions on three votive altars.
These dedication texts list the donor’s grandfather as a member of the
Nihm tribe, definitively establishing the presence of the tribal name to
c.2,800 years ago. The name, rare in southern Arabia, can then
be traced through a variety of other inscriptional, topographical and
historical sources down to the present-day tribe and its lands. While
the consonants NHM refer to ‘dressing stone by chipping’, and may appear
in a variety of contexts, an etymological examination of its Semitic
roots yields interesting pointers to the possible origins of the name.
Multiple links in these roots to terminology such as ‘consoling’,
‘comforting’ and ‘complaining’ have led to the name being long
associated with death and the processes of mourning. This paper,
therefore, suggests the possibility of the name being specifically
associated with a place of burial, perhaps a connection in the distant
past to the extensive, still poorly understood, desert necropolis at the
ʿAlam, Ruwayk and Jidran complex north of Maʾrib. Being able to firmly
document, a specific tribal and topographical name for almost three
millennia is significant. Such continuity of a tribal name, perhaps
unique in Arabia, would have implications for our understanding of the
processes of tribal naming, structure, and movements in pre-Islamic
southern Arabia generally.

Aston reviews the three inscriptions, their meaning, location, and dating. Dating to before Nephi’s day, three altars have been found in Marib bearing an inscription mentioning the donor, a member of the Nihm tribe. They were given as gifts to a pagan temple in Marib, which is somewhat to the west of current Nihm tribal boundaries (the region marked Nehem or Nehhm on some maps), suggesting either that the Nihm tribe’s boundaries or scope of influence was larger anciently than it is today, or perhaps Marib had the nearest holy place to give these gifts.

Aston explores the etymology of the Nihm name in Arabic and in Hebrew:

In attempting to understand its possible origins, the first point to note is that the consonants NHM are exceedingly rare; they do not appear anywhere else in Arabia as a toponym. NHM is attested only rarely in southern Arabian writings as a personal or tribal name; it also appears a handful of times in northern Arabian Safaitic texts. NHM itself has two closely related Semitic roots: NH ̣M [that should be H with a dot underneath] and NHM. The first root, NH ̣M, has the voiceless pharyngeal h ̣ consonant, giving it the basic meaning of ‘to comfort, console, to be sorry’ and is used in Arabic (as nah ̣ama)to refer to a ‘soft groan, sigh, moan’. Likewise, in ancient Hebrew this root is commonly used in connection with mourning a death. Indeed, David Damrosch notes that:

It appears twenty-five times in the narrative books of the Bible, and in every case it is associated with death. In family settings, it is applied in instances involving the death of an immediate family member (parent, sibling or child); in national settings, it has to do with the survival or impending extermination of an entire people. At heart, nah ̣am means ‘to mourn’, to come to terms with a death.

The second root, NHM, has the simple voiceless laryngeal h and is also found in Hebrew where it means to ‘roar’, ‘complain’ and ‘be hungry’. In ancient Egyptian the root refers ‘to roar, thunder, shout’, which is similar to the Arabic meanings ‘to growl, groan, roar, suffer from hunger, to complain’. This association with hunger may be connected to the fasting that was often part of mourning for the dead in ancient Yemen and still in many cultures today. It is this second root, NHM, that appears in every known occurrence of the name in epigraphic South Arabian text, whether Sabaean, Hadramitic or Minean in origin. Here, it usually refers to ‘dressed masonry’ or the ‘dressing of stone by chipping’….

The ancient Nihm tribe’s wealth and influence may have been related to their expertise in stonework, demonstrated perhaps by the carved stone altars given by one wealthy man to the temple in Marib. That expertise may be associated with the vast complex of stone tombs in the ancient burial associated with Nehem. Aston notes that there are other ancient burial regions, much smaller than the huge ones to the north, that are in the present Nihm tribal boundaries.

Aston’s article has interesting insights for students of the Book of Mormon. One of the earliest Hebraic word plays recognized in the text is the one involving Nahom, a place named by others where Lehi’s family buried Ishmael. Immediately after Nahom is introduced at the end of verse 34 in 1 Nephi 16, we read of the mourning,  complaining, and murmuring of the daughters of Ishmael, whose complaints include the hunger that they have suffered, and their fear that they will now perish with hunger (1 Nephi 16:35,36). This connects nicely with the meanings that Hebrew speakers would associate with Nahom.

The Hebraic wordplay was interesting internal evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, long before the discovery by a BYU professor in 1978 than Nehem was actually on some old high-end maps of Arabia. Later we would recognize that this region is in exactly the right place for an eastward turn that could then lead directly to a remarkable candidate, nearly due east of Nahom as Nephi wrote, for the previously ridiculed place, Bountiful. I find that cool. That was before German archaeologists discovered the altars at Marib bearing the ancient Nihm tribal name, showing that the tribe was in the area and influential in Lehi’s era (well before, actually). So Nehem is not a modern name. It’s rooted in antiquity, with hard evidence chiseled in stone to prove it. I also find that to be cool.

Aston, as you may know, is LDS and well aware of the implications for the Book of Mormon, which he does not raise in this publication. While his interest in the Book of Mormon and Lehi’s trail is well known, other scholars and officials also recognize his academic passion for Arabia and especially for preserving and investigating the surprising region at Khor Kharfot and Wadi Sayq, a rare gem in the Arabian Peninsula that also is a leading candidate for the long ballyhooed place called Bountiful. Efforts are underway through his Khor Kharfot Foundation to increase research and preserve the biology of that delicate region, where modern diversion of its water supply is already jeopardizing some of the magnificent trees in the area. It’s a remarkable place, a biological and geographical gem in Arabia that needs your help. LDS or not, I hope you’ll consider making a donation to this worthy cause.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

30 thoughts on “Insights into Ancient Nahom: Great Article from the Journal of Arabian Studies

  1. This actually looks interesting, Jeff. I haven't read the full article yet, so I'm not yet prepared to discuss what this means for the historicity of Lehi's journey. But maybe LDS apologetics, for pretty much the very first time, has made some actual progress here. (I mean this in the sense that apologetics makes no progress at all as long as it is self-vetted only within the Mormon bubble — the bloggernacle, FAIR, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, etc.) Maybe now there's actually something worth discussing in the first place.

    First the basic facts have to be vetted by non-LDS academics via peer review, and only then can we confidently and meaningfully explore the relevance of those facts to the question of Book of Mormon historicity. Kudos to Aston for actually playing the game by the rules.

    I also commend Aston for demonstrating something I've been saying for a long time now: namely, that if LDS apologists really do have a good argument, they should have no trouble publishing it in a legitimate academic journal. All they have to do is take their evidence and logic outside of the LDS-apologetic framework, as Aston has done here, and frame them as a purely academic matter. It really can be done!

    I mention this because so many have repeated the copout that secular academia is so prejudiced against Mormonism it will never give these kinds of arguments a fair shake. It's good to see Aston proving otherwise.

    I look forward to someday reading Stanford Carmack's EModE argument in a legitimate linguistics journal. No more excuses.

  2. You fascinate me, Jeff Lindsay. The church is sloughing members and disenfranchising entire segments of the population, yet you continue to strain at gnats.

  3. With more time to think over some issues, I may have something meaningful to say later. On the other hand, I often don't feel a responsibility to blog about the hot topics everyone else is covering.

    For the record, I'm pro-family, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and accept the Proclamation on the Family as an inspired and meaningful document, while I am also sensitive (in my opinion, but probably hopelessly inadequate for you) to the struggles of those with same-sex attraction and gender identity issues. I don't have good answers for some complex questions, and am not ready at the moment to tackle the barrage of anger if I were to say something daring like, "Hey guys, maybe those guys in Salt Lake aren't being driven by mindless hate after all." If you are upset about the recent changes to the LDS Handbook, please first at least consider the explanation from the Church at the LDS Newsroom. It's a complex issue and there are many different approaches that people can advocate, but I'm disappointed to see those who proclaim themselves as champions of tolerance, understanding, and compassion showing none of that toward those who disagree on certain issues.

  4. About the journal, FYI, from Georgetown's page at

    The Journal of Arabian Studies: Arabia, the Gulf, and the Red Sea is the only internationally-refereed scholarly journal focusing on the Arabian Peninsula, its surrounding waters, and their connections with the Western Indian Ocean, from Antiquity to the present day.

    The Journal has been cited in the work of leading human development organizations, such as the U.N. agency, the International Labor Oganization (ILO), and for other important regional research.

    The journal is edited by the Centre for Gulf Studies University of Exeter in association with Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service in Qatar. Since 2011, Georgetown University's dean, Dr. Gerd Nonneman has served as Associate Editor of the Journal, which is published by Routledge (Taylor & Francis).

    The aim and scope of the journal covers a wide range of topics, in all disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities. It presents the results of new observations and original research, providing authoritative information in an accessible way to appeal to the general reader as well as the specialist.

  5. The church is not supposed to be popular……The church is not to bow to secularism……other religions have given in to secularism to keep members. Many other religions are losing greater number of members than the LDS church is. Many other religions are splitting and new congregations spring up because of women ordination and accepting homosexual marriage and other issues.
    I have a new neighbor that asked why the Mormon church is a hard religion to live. I said it isn't if one truly believes it is the restored church. God demands the best.

    It was said that in the latter days members will be tested, many will leave the church, what was called good will be called evil and what was called evil will be called good…….and much more.

    That is exactly what is happening today. We are witnessing the beginning of the latter days and still have a long way to go before Christ comes. I am grateful to be a member of the LDS church as it gives me comfort in these screwed up times.

    I have no doubts that as things get tougher people who left the church will be beating on the doors to be let in. Does the Parable of the Ten Virgins sound familiar?

  6. "the previously ridiculed place, Bountiful". Who ridiculed it? The last time u were asked this, u pointed to a lone evangelical biologist who was not ridiculing your specific location, but the Middle East coast in general, until he was corrected by his brother who visited the area. Like u, this evangelical biologist missed the whole point that this was all supposed to be a miracle.

    It is all kinda silly, kinda of like saying this link

    makes the BoM plausible because the women lived on raw meat for eight years and were able to give birth and breast feed.

    Next u will be saying u have found a plant or sea animal that Nephi could have eaten to electrify his rebellious brothers, not that they would actually wither and die, but just as a " confindence" trick like u claim w the translation stone.

  7. Thomas Key's famous publication "A Biologist Looks at the Book of Mormon" has been repeated and quoted for years, and actually still is. If you Google that title, the first non-ad link I get still has his famous, uncorrected critique right at the beginning: "1 Nephi 17:5 is a description of Arabia which is 'called Bountiful because of its much fruit and also wild honey.' Arabia is bountiful in sunshine, petroleum, sand, heat and fresh air, but certainly not in "much fruit and also wild honey", nor has it been since creation times." Can you point me to this biologists' humble retraction? Some critics seem to have missed that memo–I think we should help remind them!

    In my version of Google, after that comes his publication at Amazon, which I can't preview, and then comes an article posted by Saints Alive In Jesus (an anti group) at the Free Republic, still containing the "ridiculing Bountiful" passage: Very curious to know why they didn't understand Keys had humbly retracted his error. When did that occur, by the way? Was it after Mormons were pointing out the plausibility of Bountiful? I'm guessing so. If he did retract his error, it would be a welcome and refreshing sign of progress in any case.

    Various aspects of the Arabian details in Lehi's journey have been the targets of criticism for quite a while. An early example is an anti-Mormon critique called "The Doctrines of Mormonism" from the Religious Tract Society:

    Then, in the wilderness, three days' journey [after going by the Red Sea], we are told of a river, where there never was a river. Then this river is said first to empty itself into the Red Sea, and then into the fountain of the Red Sea! Evidently the ignorant man who wrote all this nonsense, or spoke it, knew nothing of the geography of the wilderness, and knew little about seas, and rivers, and fountains.

    See "Anti-Mormon Objections Answered," The Letter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, 20(15): 228-230 (April 10, 1858);

  8. By the way, the raw meat eaten during the difficult final part of the trip was probably dried meet, like our jerky.

  9. The classic anti-Mormon publication mocking Bountiful, still reproduced on various anti-Mormon websites, is the work of Dr. Thomas Key, "A Biologist Looks at the Book of Mormon," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, XXXVI 1, 2, June, 1985, as cited by Saints Alive in Jesus on their website (not currently active) at least as of 2009;

  10. Heh — the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (a Christian pseudo-journal)? The Free Republic (a right-wingnut site)?

    Well, Jeff, I've always thought that the LDS Church's biggest and most dishonest enemy was, is, and probably always will be conservative Protestant Christianity — not secularism, science, liberalism, or whatever.

  11. It is nice to see u concede that this lone evangelical who claims a Ph.D, but don't they all to quote u, is the only support for the persecution complex. U are free to search the prior threads where I provided u w Key's retraction regarding ship building in the Middle East.

    Again, this whole line of reasoning is as silly as saying that Las Vegas shows working w powerful lions makes Daniel and the Lions Den a plausible story.

    So please clarify for us all, was it or was it not a miracle? Did Nephi rub his feet on a carpet to give his brothers a shock in a sort of con man's trick or did an extra terrestrial force give Nephi the power to shoot lightening bolts out of his fingers like a Sith Lord. Did Nephi build a old fashion Hebrew bellows out of animal skins to make old fashion Hebrew metal tools to build an old fashion Hebrew ship, or did he build a ship not like any built by humans before, but rather a ship design by an extra terresial force? Did they use some sort Hebrew navigation device and give it a fancy name, or did they use an extra terrestrial navigation device that functioned according to the emotional state of the human beings around it?

  12. So please clarify for us all, was it or was it not a miracle?

    Apologetics work because you don't have to choose. When it isn't one, it can be the other. I find that the naturalistic explanations tend to be based on arcana, while the big, obvious problems that lay people can wrap their heads around tend to require more appeals to the miraculous.

  13. Mormography,

    Don't you have better things to do with your time? How about working on technology to get humans to live off-world? The sun's about half way through its life cycle, so it's probably a good time to start thinking about such things rather than wasting your time on something so insignificant as the book of Mormon — unless of course it's true (then I'd understand why you're so drawn to it).


  14. Jack –

    Aahhh the ultimate complement. I have so successfully exposed the flaws in reasoning u have to frustratedly try and scare me away instead of understanding.

    The contradiction is pretty simple. The BoM narrative is that journey to the New World was implausible wo devine intervention. Here Mormanity is contradicting that suggesting it was plausible wo Devine intervention, all while ignoring some really basic questions.

    Jack of course the BoM is true. So is the Koran and the writings of Buddha, Con. Etc. The pope is not a false any more than the Mormon prophet. But of course teaching people they will never go to the moon or that it was inhabited was a false teaching, one that prevents such things u have suggested is a better use of time. May be if that Utah company's employees spent more time telling the truth amount the defective O-rings instead obsessing w archeology and the BoM the Challenger would not have exploded.

    The odd thing is people that declare the Pope a false prophet are not declared anti. Odd isn't?

    This blog has very little to do w the BoM or its truth, but a community and their reasoning. Mormanity is not an apologist, burn rather an iconoclast and I like U often wonder if he spends too much time on this recreational activity as he does spend 100 times more time than I. But yes the amount time spent by people such as U and Mormanity, but yet still unable to answer really basic questions gives raise to the question of irrational forces involved here.

  15. Don't you have better things to do with your time?

    Debating what's true and what's not, whatever the specific topic, hardly strikes me as a waste of time.

  16. OB- I would not consider half of what you do debating… And it does seem like you are wasting your life here if you are convinced this is just quackery and you will die and never exist

  17. Anon – I think I see what u r saying. The irrational will never be persuaded by the rational, ergo it is a waste of time to attempt. Of course the opposite seems equally a waste of time attempting reasoning to persuade the rational to be irrational. But of course persuasion is not entirely your purpose, but rather to posit no one can claim ignorance. So if u believe this then OB (OK) has not wasted his time in that he has prevented u from using the ignorance excuse.

  18. The minute someone makes a claim to possess the one and only key to eternal life, I think that person should have a tremendous burden of proof placed upon him. Therefore I think that no amount of scrutiny and criticism is too much for the LDS faith. The very first Mormon pronouncement of all time was that all the pastors and creeds of Christianity were corrupt and abominable. That is the origin of the faith. It sprung forth from the idea that everybody is wrong. And then it began to be built upon slowing-evolving and shifting doctrines and practices. Five years after the Only True Church with apostolic authority was officially founded did it even bother to call 12 apostles. Five years! And by the time its founder died, it had embraced the common cultish practice of polygamy and it had also redefined the nature of God from an everlasting being to a highly-advanced human being. And it all began with, basically, this statement: "You are all wrong. We are right." This pronouncement was, at the very least, relayed to the rest of the world by a young man who was known for his scams and schemes.

  19. From your perspective, ebu, it was a human announcement, from another perspective, which you have dissented from, it was God's announcement, which you have misstated to a degree: "their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt;" (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Presumably you're trying to accurately criticize the matter, so it behooves you to take some pains to get it right.

  20. Anon – Presumably you' re trying to criticize ebu, though if ebu accurately criticized the matter, then ebu does not need to take further pains to get what you understood right.

  21. Quote from Daniel C Peterson:

    "It's just…you know, if you take a long enough list of place names, you'll find parallels, especially if you're "loosy-goosy" about it. You'll find parallels with just about anything. This is easily done."

  22. Another quote from Peterson:
    "It's an unexpected place. You don't expect to see a place like that in Arabia. Arabia's a land of sand dunes. You've seen 'Lawrence of Arabia;' you know what it looks like. And those are the pretty parts. But this is an actual area on coast of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, really, and it exists in exactly the right spot. And we can show that the land of Nahom, or the area of Nahom, from which you have to travel due east, we can show that that name was there at exactly the time of Lehi. It's a complex of finds. These things fit together. They're really wonderfully strong things."

    There's a difference between looking for a long list of modern names in random places which may or may not correspond to vaguely-described and unknown locations, and finding a single name, especially with an appropriate date and linguistic base, in exactly the right spot relative to a well-known, clearly defined location (Jerusalem).

  23. Quote from fairmormon regarding Appeal to probability:

    "This claim, like many efforts to explain away the Book of Mormon, commits the logical fallacy of the Appeal to probability. This fallacy argues that because something is even remotely possible, it must be true."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.