“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map” is the tongue-in cheek title of my serious look at detailed criticisms of the Book of Mormon evidence from the Arabian Peninsula. The Interpreter (MormonInterpreter.com) kindly published it. Part 1 was out on Friday, and Part 2 will be published next Friday. The “Dream Map” theme is my take on the theories that claim Joseph Smith must have seen a high-end European map of Arabia that had the name “Nehhm” or “Nehem” on it. That scrap of information could have revealed the location of the Nihm tribe in Yemen, whose tribal lands are now considered to correspond with the place “Nahom” where Ishmael was buried in 1 Nephi 16:34. Not only is that region the perfect place–the right place–for Nahom, being nearly due west of the leading candidate for Bountiful on the east coast, the existence of that tribal name in the region in roughly the right time in antiquity has been confirmed by three amazing altars from a temple in ancient Marib bearing the NHM tribal name. It’s almost as cool as finding a Mesoamerican inscription saying “Welcome to Zarahemla, home of the Nephites.”
The details of what Joseph could have gleaned from the best maps of his day is covered in Part 2, but in Part 1 I point out that theories based upon a “Dream Map” or other theories with Joseph as fabricator fail to account for the crown jewels of the evidence, fail to explain how the maps or other resources could have guided the actual recorded path, and fail to explain why Joseph and his peers never tool advantage of the built-in evidence for the Book of Mormon that they allegedly created. If they used information from maps or books to build in evidence or “local color” for enhanced credibility, why was it never exploited? Why not arrange for someone to “discover” the Nahom evidence on a newly purchased map to support the Book of Mormon? When related evidence came out in other sources, it was highly touted in LDS publications. Why neglect the evidence from Arabia, unless Joseph and his peers had no idea it was there? The potential link to a real Nahom-related name on a map would not be noticed until 1978.
Writing this article was an enjoyable process of discovery for me. I feel that I discovered a few interesting things along the way that might not have been widely appreciated before. For example, one of the complaints about George Potter’s excellent candidate for the River Laman and the Valley Lemuel (see photo below) is its lack of a mouth, though Nephi says it has one (1 Nephi 2:8). Objections have also been made to the term “fountain of the Red Sea,” into which the River Laman “emptied” according to 1 Nephi 2:9. In response, here is an excerpt from Part 1 of the article (footnotes deleted):
Critics in the 1850s guffawed at describing the flow of the river as going into the “fountain of the Red Sea” and some continue to object to Nephi’s term. One can argue that fountain can have a broader meaning than a spring or subterranean flow of some kind, but the other uses of “fountain” in the Book of Mormon point to similar concepts: a physical or figurative source of a flow such as a spring. The Hebrew word typically translated as “fountain” (Strong’s H4599, mayan) has the meaning of a spring, and is also sometimes translated as spring or well, giving it a subterranean flavor. Interestingly, that more specific meaning may actually fit the physical reality Nephi experienced.
Potter and Wellington, in Lehi in the Wilderness, observe that “the river flows under a gravel bed for the last three-eights of a mile as it approaches the Gulf of Aqaba.” They observe that the river may have previously had much greater water flow, and that the canyon floor is believed to have risen since Lehi’s day, so perhaps it flowed directly into the Red Sea when Nephi saw it. On the other hand, I wish to suggest that even through the river flow may have been greater and the elevation of the canyon somewhat lower, what if the river still disappeared beneath the rocks as it approached the Red Sea in Nephi’s day? By disappearing into the rocks adjacent the Red Sea, the water is obviously not disappearing completely, but is flowing into the Red Sea through subterranean channels, joining the underground springs that feed the Red Sea. In other words, the River Laman is now, and possibly was in Nephi’s day, literally flowing into the fountains that feed the Red Sea.
If the river disappeared near the coast in Nephi’s day as it does now, arguably flowing into the “fountain of the Red Sea,” then perhaps this would also explain Nephi’s repeated use of the verb “empty” rather than “flow.” The river “emptied into the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 2:8), and again Lehi “saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 2:9). Waters disappearing, descending into the earth, could well be described this way. Perhaps Potter’s candidate for the River Laman fits the details of Nephi’s description even better than he realized, although it is difficult to know if the behavior of the river around 600 BC would be similar to its behavior today.
Another objection to the leading candidate for the River Laman is that it lacks a mouth flowing into the Red Sea, apparently contrary to 1 Nephi 2:8, which states that the river “emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof.” Chadwick emphasizes this repeatedly in his critique, claiming that without a mouth, we can rule this candidate out and be certain that Potter has been looking in the wrong place. One definition of “mouth” is:
something that resembles a mouth especially in affording entrance or exit: as
a: the place where a stream enters a larger body of water,
b : the surface opening of an underground cavity….
Another dictionary gives one definition for mouth as “the outfall at the lower end of a river or stream, where flowing water is discharged, as into a larger body of water.” If Nephi understood that the River Laman, as it sank into the ground, was flowing into the subterranean waters that feed the Red Sea, or the fountain of the Red Sea, then the place where that stream disappeared and entered a larger body of water (the subterranean fountain) would appropriately be called a mouth. The Book of Mormon does not say that the mouth directly contacted the Red Sea. It had a mouth and flowed into a fountain, the fountain of (meaning “belonging to” or “associated with,” I would argue) the Red Sea, and thus “emptied into the Red Sea,” via the fountain. This understanding resolves the primary argument Chadwick offers against this candidate, for the river does indeed have a mouth where it flows into a larger body of water. And, as noted above, it resolves the objection to calling the Red Sea a fountain, which is not necessarily what Nephi is saying. It is also consistent with the ancient concept of interconnected subterranean waters that feed rivers and oceans.
What I enjoyed most about writing the article was the need to dig more deeply into some of the best writings out there, especially Lehi and Sariah in Arabia by Warren Aston, his 2015 masterpiece. The DVD, Lehi in Arabia, also beautifully illustrates the wonder of Bountiful. Well worth the time to ponder! There are so many gems from Arabia that merit more reflection, more study, and more exploration (with the help of more funding, of course).