Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 Now at MormonInterpreter.com

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). 

Author: Jeff Lindsay

130 thoughts on “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 Now at MormonInterpreter.com

  1. "Almost as cool"? Well, really it's still a huge jump from Jewish wanderers hacking around Arabia to a Nephite civilization in the Americas. But I don't really take you to be denying that. A little hyperbole is allowed to mark the occasion of a publication.

    I'll try to read your article before too long. My teaching semester is starting soon, so it may be a while before I can make any intelligent comments.

    I do agree that your point about Mormon apologists ignoring Nahom until 1978 is a solid one. I wouldn't put it past Joseph Smith to grab "Nehem" from a technicolor map and put it into his fake ancient book for realistic flavor, but I admit that there would be nothing gained by that for Smith unless someone noticed it, and so it is (for the fraud theory) a bit odd that a master manipulator like Smith-according-to-fraud-theorists never found an opportunity to score the points from Nahom=Nehem.

    One can argue that he might just have been too careful to prompt anyone to come forward waving the technicolor map, for fear of thereby prompting the suspicion that he himself had seen the map. An armchair fraudster's ideal con artist might be cool enough to make finesse plays like that and just let them go if no-one independently took the bait. But this strains credulity a bit for me. I don't think of Smith as a Platonic ideal of con artists, but as a rough-and-ready practical crook. So even just from reading this post, and not yet reading your article, I'm rethinking how I might account for Nehem, other than by a technicolor map.

    I don't feel starved for other explanations, including simple coincidence (with only three letters). But you may well have succeeded in effectively shooting down the technicolor map theory — which is your article's specific goal. I don't have to be a Mormon to applaud progress in narrowing down likely explanations for the Book of Mormon by pushing previously plausible hypotheses down in probability. Or to applaud good work.

  2. Jeff, you did a fine, thorough job. In the course of your discussion you directly and indirectly demonstrated that RT was the one who overstated his position many times. We are accustomed to that approach by now. The critics, who accuse the apologists of bad apologetics, engage in bad counter-apologetics more often, on average, than the apologists. They frequently overstate positions using phrases like "simply impossible" when it is not impossible. Thus you did an excellent job of exposing two critics' faulty argumentation.

    It was also enlightening to learn how biblical minimalists now simply transfer their assumptions, as if they are a given, to the BofM. Because they are ideologically dug in, no amount of evidence, even high-quality evidence, can change their minds. That is the case with RT and Jenkins, and also with Anglin. One must be willing to change one's mind based on the evidence. In the specific case of the BofM, if someone rejects that any text can come directly from God, then that person is ideologically dug in. The many, varied witnesses of the plates and of the dictation, the chiasmus, the obsolete English usage, Nahom, Bountiful, and many other pieces of evidence cannot sway them. Only a difficult, extremely unlikely naturalistic explanation is accepted. On that basis I am led to conclude that they either lack sound judgment and right reason or that they are set in their views because of prior assumptions and firm ideologies.

    In an interaction I had with RT on the matter of the Mulekites' language being unintelligible to the Nephites', I found that RT would not admit that his position on the matter — that unintelligibility was impossible in the textually indicated time — was an extreme, unsupportable position. Even English has an example of relatively rapid language change from the end of the Old English period to the beginning of the Early Modern era. This change would have caused unintelligibility between an English speaker of the year 1100 and an English speaker of the year 1500. In the case of the Mulekites (Mulochites) and Nephites, their language would have diverged, and the Mulochites' language probably would have changed more. Unintelligibility in just over 400 years was possible, especially because both groups experienced migrations and disruptive events in the interim.

    I noticed you did not use the Yale edition in your Shazer quote (now available at bookofmormoncentral.org). I counted at least three small differences (besides punctuation) in the passage. Also, you did well using dictionaries besides the OED, but older meaning is possible, and you may not get it using other dictionaries. Your arguments in these areas could have been richer had you used the OED. I also thought your initial response to Jenkins#1 — ("Nahom is a remarkable find, far more than just a random place name, as discussed below.") — needed some succinct substance right off the bat. Before stating that Nahom is remarkable, I thought you could have briefly specified three or four things that make it remarkable, right before indicating that it would be discussed more thoroughly later in the article. Cheers.

  3. Thanks. I did consult the Oxford edition for many passages, actually, but didn't find anything that seemed interesting. But in doing so, I usually took the shortcut of consulting the Appendix at the end of the Yale Edition where "significant" changes are listed. Based on that, I didn't see a need to cite the OED, but perhaps I should have.

    Yes, more substance to Jenkins #1 would have been good. That part was actually written last, in response to a reviewer request to deal directly with some of the further arguments from the two critics, so with all the "remarkable" content having already been discussed in what follows, I was afraid that it would make the paper even wordier and more redundant to again recite the gist of that evidence there. Perhaps another poor choice! Appreciate the helpful input to help me with future works.

    The issue of Early Modern English, BTW, does crop up briefly in Part 2, with a cite to a recent Carmack paper. The work of another Carmack, a critic, is discussed in more detail also, for those scanning Part 2 who might be confused by multiple Carmacks coming from different angles.

  4. James, your biases against Joseph are so strong, so heavy. You've made up your mind that he was a con man, a fraudster, and every action and every utterance, no matter how inspired or divine, will be seen through that dark and warped lens. Christ was depicted in the same way by early critics and some modern ones. He was a magician, a con man, a scurrilous lout deceiving the common people with magic who was such a threat to society that he had to be put down by the authorities, and yet his fellow fraudsters from the lower classes kept the deception up with the obviously fraudulent resurrection myth. Smart people said this, but they were dead wrong. The vastly inferior and imperfect Joseph was called as a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon is a powerful witness of that, no matter how much you dislike any specific thing from his life.

  5. Jeff, are you saying the verifiable acts Smith are lies? Employing a seer stone for treasure digging, marrying other men's wives, fleeing town in the night after his bank failure, burning a critical newspaper press to the ground, inventing translations from Egyptian papyrus.
    And these were not regretted failures of an imperfect man but were instead defended, promoted and excused as righteous. If you could ever lay down your own bias and look at Smith objectively you might see where others are coming from

  6. "The vastly inferior and imperfect Joseph was called as a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon is a powerful witness of that, no matter how much you dislike any specific thing from his life."

    So where do you draw the line in ignoring non-repentant character issues? Because I've never seen a list like Smith's. The unrepentant things he did mentioned in the post above has to at least give you some pause as to whether or not he can be trusted as a true prophet.

  7. "Because I've never seen a list like Smith's."

    This is an example of overstating things. Also, burning press to ground. From Wikipedia: "Fearing the newspaper would bring the countryside down on the Mormons, the Nauvoo city council declared the Expositor a public nuisance and ordered the Nauvoo Legion to destroy the press.[144] Smith, who feared another mob attack, supported the action, not realizing that suppression of the press would sooner incite an attack than libel would.[145]" Also, employing a seer stone for treasure digging should be culturally situated, and Smith's motivation and intent can be argued at length from both sides. Etc.

    Each interested person needs to make a determination, based on reasonably impartial evidence, where they stand on these matters. Does the use of a seer stone for treasure digging preclude the receipt of a revealed text at a later time with the same seer stone? Do later questionable acts on the part of Smith mean that prior acts were not godly? Most things do not bring us close to being able to comfortably make definitive determinations. Biases play a large role. Believing one way or another is possible based on personal predilections. Everyone must rely on their own sound judgment in weighing evidence and coming to conclusions. This will ever be so as Smith is a polarizing figure.

  8. You're absolutely right, bias will always come into play.
    All I can say is, I don't care if he wrote the BOM, if any man came to me and said he needed to marry my wife along with other men's wives, I'd be done. But that's just me

    Jeff, would you give your wife to Smith?
    Can any believing LDS here tell me they would? And for what purpose if you're a living, faithful LDS husband? Who would she be sealed to?

    Just how far would you go for this man?

  9. I suppose that my attitude may well look to Mormons like a heavy bias. To me it seems that the bias is on the other side.

    There are things about the Book of Mormon that are interesting, and Joseph Smith was certainly a significant historical figure with a number of impressive positive traits. But if there were no Mormon church to tell me that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon was divine revelation, it would never have occurred to me to suspect those things, just based on the available positive evidence. The positive evidence simply doesn't seem big enough to me, to warrant such a tremendous conclusion.

    The negative side, on the other hand, does look big to me. If the Book of Mormon were as stunning a work as the Qu'ran is supposed to be to an Arabic speaker, and if Joseph Smith's life had otherwise combined all the best parts of Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa, then I might possibly react to his many polygamous marriages by reflecting on how all human beings are complex and flawed but God can use anyone. For just about anything short of Einstein-Teresa-and-Muhammed-rolled-into-one on the positive side, though, the polygamy is simply too big a negative for me to get past.

    So my view of Joseph Smith does not seem to me to be heavily biased. I don't feel at all as though I am viewing inspired and divine actions or utterances through a dark or warped lens; I feel as though I'm just looking at them with eyes unbiased by a lifetime of faith in Joseph Smith. To me it seems, Jeff, that you are the one with strong and heavy bias. A distorting lens is a good metaphor, because I'm honestly baffled at how your perception seems to magnify positives and shrink negatives, compared with how I see the same things.

    Whose lenses are really clear, and whose distorted? Who can say? It's hard to take the lenses off. The other person's perspective often seems biased. I'm not trying to tell anyone that they have to see things my way. I can only say how things look to me. One feature of how things look to me is that Mormons seem just as biased, in Smith's favor, as I seem biased against him, to them.

  10. I think, James, that you should stop and ponder something: All of the great prophets were, in their own way, revolutionary and counter cultural.

    Consider Noah–his message certainly went against the culture. Abraham did not have an easy life, to say the least. Moses was an Egyptian Prince…. and his own people hated his message.
    Jesus was not exactly welcomed as a unifier. Even Mohammed was driven out of Mecca.

    Jesus, Noah, Moses: all demanded exceptional changes to society. Noah called for repentance, and his was a lonely lot. Moses demanded that the Israelites give up their golden calfs, their polytheistic society. Jesus demanded that people give up their hearts and change their behavior. Each had a very hard time.

    Why Polygamy? Surely Joseph, who all the evidence clearly shows was no lecher out to get as many women as possible as the popular idea thinks, knew full well that polygamy was a very hard doctrine to swallow. All the accounts from the early brethren mention how hard it was.

    But what it was was a refiner's fire. Those who survived turned out to be far stronger disciples. The Lord doesn't want lukewarm saints; Revelations teaches us that. I fear that the homosexual thing will become another polygamy: the church will experience great persecution over it. And indeed, we are seeing the same things starting now as when polygamy was around: how can the church not accept homosexuality; or same sex marriage. We are "Barbaric" and bigoted and clinging to outmoded views of morality, etc. The refiners fire is beginning, to see who will stay with the Lord and who will not.

    Certainly the Church would have an easier life if it had not had polygamy, and certainly giving in on homosexuality would also make life easier.

    But then, that's not the Lord's way, is it? He demands self sacrifice most of all; and putting HIs ways before our own ways, even when we disagree.

    As for Joseph Smith: There have been many who claimed to speak with God; many still who do. Only Joseph introduced others to his angels; only Joseph had the audacity to put forth evidence. The Book of Mormon is the key stumbling block to dismissing Joseph as a fraud. It exists, and therefore it must be explained.

    Whatever else, it is clear that the author of the Book of Mormon knew Israelite and Hebrew and the Bible intimately. This was no mere "winging it" after two reads of the Bible. Intimate knowledge was required.

    Now we find out that intimate knowledge of Arabia was also required. The amount of "Joseph got this right" just in the first 5 chapters of the book is, we can see, staggering. Just finding an old map with "Nehem" on it wasn't enough.

    At some point, the "Joseph got lucky again!" has to become unbelievable, doesn't it? Just how did he get so lucky that evidence keeps popping up to confirm his made up story?

    Thus, we are faced with faith. Either we have faith that he was telling the truth, or we have to have faith that he could be so lucky and was able to dupe so many people with witnesses, etc. Both scenarios are fantastic, and beyond belief. I would posit that the Book of Mormon being a fraud is a scientific impossibility. And, of course, the whole Moroni story is also impossible, scientifically speaking.

    And that is exactly the point. Each of us are faced with these two impossible explanations; and we have to choose one.

  11. Flying Fig, it comes down to faith, doesn't it? Jesus demanded that Peter walk away from his prosperous fishing business. He demanded that the rich man sell everything he had and give it to the poor. He demanded that we give up our lives, if necessary. Giving up our wife would not be so hard as that, I think. He demanded Gideon attack the Philistines with less than 100 men.
    He demanded that Israel put away the gods of Egypt. And they couldn't.

    My wife is already sealed to another man…. her father. And her mother, And my two girls are sealed to me; at some point they will hopefully grow up and get married in the temple. Yet they will still be sealed to me. Will I lose them at that point? Not at all.

    If suddenly the Lord required me to allow my wife to be sealed to Joseph, or President Monson– does that divorce me? No. Joseph Smith once mentioned something about us all being sealed in the Celestial kingdom– a great network of family. We talk about being sealed one of God's family members; with Jesus being our Father. That's more than just a nice phrase. If Jesus asked you for your wife, would you give her to Him? Assuming she's willing, of course.

    If not, you are no Christian.

    Besides, I would certainly ask for confirmation from the Holy Ghost before taking such a step. And if the Holy Ghost said yes, then who am I to defy the Lord? I'm not sure where you stand on defying Him, though.

  12. Thanks Vance,
    While I sincerely appreciate your response I don't feel you're considering exactly what Smith was doing. While the case can be made that some of Smith's polyandrous marriages were only spiritual "sealings" reserved for the afterlife, (Only because there are no documents describing sex, but why would there be?) -There is also evidence presented by fairmormon.org that Smith actually engaged in sexual relationships with women still married to LDS men.

    http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2012-fair-conference/2012-joseph-smiths-sexual-polyandry-and-the-emperors-new-clothes-on-closer-inspection-what-do-we-find

    So I ask you Vance along with any other believing LDS husband:
    If the existence of the BOM outweighs the non-repentant actions of a man as Jeff seems to believe, would go along with this particular situation?
    My opinion is character counts when weighing the truthfulness of someone claiming to be called of God.

  13. My wife is already sealed to another man…. her father.

    Typical. So typical. Play fair, Vance. You know as well as we all do that this is NOT what we are talking about. We are talking about the kind of arrangement in which a Priesthood leader ask you to give him your wife as HIS WIFE. Not as another daughter. And then, like Brigham Young did in the case of Zina D. H. Young, proceeds to sleep with her and produce children, even though she already had a living husband with whom she already had children.

    Then…she becomes the 3rd President of the Relief Society.