Executive summary: Discoveries from the Arabian Peninsula supporting the existence of a place called Nahom (see 1 Nephi 16:34) face recent criticism for only showing that the NHM tribal name existed in Yemen around 700 BC, not a place with that name. Some argue that Yemeni tribal names don’t correspond with place names and thus, it makes no sense to think that anyone could have encountered “the place which was called Nahom.” Contrary to such claims, there are multiple examples from antiquity of Yemeni tribal names being associated with places. There is also a recognition by some scholars of Yemen that tribal names can be equated with places. The archaeological evidence of the NHM/Nihm tribal name on ancient altars in Yemen makes it entirely plausible that a place called NHM did actually exist in Nephi’s day in a place consistent with the Book of Mormon record.
A New Tactic for Downplaying Nahom
For students of the Book of Mormon, the composite evidence coming from the Arabian Peninsula has greatly strengthened understanding of Lehi’s Trail and also the case for the antiquity and authenticity of the text, at least for the first part of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi. While this evidence involves many details such as the candidates for the River Laman, the place Shazer, and the place Bountiful, the epicenter of evidence that plausibly links the other sites of Lehi’s Trail together is the “the place which was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34). Not only is there a place called “Nehem” or “Nehmm” on some old maps of Arabia that correspond to the location of the modern and ancient Nihm tribe (whose name, when I heard it pronounced by a man from Yemen familiar with the tribe, to my ears sounded very close to “Nehem”), but there is recently discovered hard archaeological evidence for the existence of that tribe and their name in roughly the same area extending back to before Nephi’s day based on three inscriptions on altars that were donated by a prominent member of that tribe to a temple at Marib, about 75 miles east of current Nihm lands, dating to the 7th or 8th century B.C. See, for example, Warren P. Aston, “A History of NaHoM,” BYU Studies Quarterly, 51, no. 2 (2012): 79-98 and Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10, no. 2 (2001): 56-61, 71. This is all remarkable news, for it’s not just evidence that a random NHM name existed somewhere in the world, but that there was a place that could be called “Nahom” in just the right location to fit several details of the Book of Mormon. It is a place that can be reached by traveling in the direction given by the Book of Mormon from an amazing candidate for the the River Laman, and can then be the starting point for the nearly eastward journey that Nephi describes after their time at Nahom. The Nehem/Nihm region as a candidate for Nahom is precisely situated to make it possible to not just survive an eastward turn, but to actually reach either one of two strong candidates for the place Bountiful in southern Oman.
The modern Nihm tribe is located west of Marib and north of Sana’a. As you can see at Mapcarta.com, the tribal name is also used to describe places including the District of Nihm and Furdat Nihm (the village of Nihm). There is also a mountain known as Jibal (Jabal) Naham/Nihm. MapCarta also shows “Naham” as a “a tribal area in Yemen” in roughly the same region as the District of Nihm, where “Naham” is probably just another transliteration of Nihm, perhaps capturing one particular dialect. Naham is said to also be known as Belad/Bilad Nehm (the land of Nehm), Bilad Nahm, Nahm, Nehm, and Nihm, etc.
Of course, modern maps don’t necessarily tell us that the NHM name was in Yemen in 600 B.C., which is why it’s so fascinating that we now have archaeological evidence showing that a prominent man from the NHM tribe was in the region around the 7th century B.C. Many other inscriptions confirm the existence of NHM in the region over the centuries. The persistence of that name in a small part of the world across so many centuries is fascinating. Even if Joseph Smith had been so lucky as to see Nehem on a map and managed to pick that obscure, minor spot to somehow add “local color” and “evidence” to his tale — evidence that he would never use and nobody would even notice until about 150 years later — it would have been unlikely that the obscure name he plucked off a modern map would be so fortunate as to come with later archaeological evidence that it was there and in use in 600 B.C., not just the right name, but a place whose significance would be magnified by surprising finds that would give remarkable plausibility to the “impossible” places of the River Laman to the north and Bountiful directly to the east.
For critics, however, “proof” of the insignificance of Nahom is easy to propose, but must also bear some scrutiny before one blindly accepts it. Silly efforts to negate the import of Nahom by finding related names for, say, a tidal creek in Tanzania or a twentieth-century kibbutz in Israel are simply irrelevant (see my report, “Noham, that’s not history“). Theories that Joseph got all he needed to fabricate the story of Lehi’s Trail by looking at some rare European maps of Arabia fail in numerous ways (see my article, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 2 of 2” in Interpreter, as well as Part 1, where I examine other objections as well). Ill-informed claims that there is no evidence for the name NHM in Lehi’s day or that the Book of Mormon name “Nahom” can have no relation to the South Arabic NHM are easily refuted and should have no impact on people familiar with the most rudimentary aspects of the Arabian Peninsula evidence — see, for example, Neal Rappleye and Stephen O. Smoot, “Book of Mormon Minimalists and the NHM Inscriptions: A Response to Dan Vogel,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 8 (2014): 157-185.
However, a seemingly more plausible approach for dowplaying Nahom involves noting what the evidence doesn’t establish. So while we we have evidence of a Nahom-like tribal name around 700 BC plausibly near the Nehem on several maps and near modern Nihm tribal lands (the construction of the temple at Marib was a very big deal by a very powerful and wealthy tribe, making it quite plausible that luminaries from other tribes in the region would want to be involved), all that really tells us, supposedly, is that the tribal name was in the area, not a place called Nahom. It’s just a tribal name, not a place name, and so believers in the Book of Mormon have nothing of interest in the archaeological finds. Nothing to see, folks, let’s move along. As one commenter put it in responding to my post, “What to Make of ‘Plagiarism’ of the Bible in a Purportedly Ancient Text? A Jewish Scholar Offers a Thoughtful Perspective“:
The altar does NOT have Nehem written on it. Objectively false. An altar was found. And it has ancient writings believed to resemble the English sounds N H M. But this refers to a family/tribe, not a physical place.
This is a rather weak argument. The inscriptions are in a well-understood script that clearly should be transliterated as NHM, even though the H would be pronounced differently than our H. It’s not something that somebody somehow “believes” might “resemble” the sounds N H M. There is no question that the NHM on the altar refers to a tribal name that today is often written as Nihm, but at various times has been written as Nehem, Nehhm, etc., and could be related to Nahom in the Book of Mormon. Sure, the altar does not have “Nehem” in the Roman alphabet written on it, but it’s clutching at straws to say it doesn’t have Nehem (or Nihm) on it. The NHM word, written without vowels, can be expressed as Nihm or even Nehem, as we see on some old maps.
A similar argument has been made by others with more substance. In fact, we have one apparently Latter-day Saint scholar of unknown identity, known merely as “RT,” stating in an article for Faith Promoting Rumor that tribal names did not get used anciently as place names in Yemen, and that Nephi’s calling Nahom a “place” is simply wrong and confused. While RT must admit that the Nihm name today appears to describe both a region and a tribe, and that forms of that name literally appear on multiple maps, he argues that we can’t project (or rather, “retroject”) this modern feature of Nehem/Nihm back into Lehi’s day. To his credit, he fortifies the argument by citing personal correspondence with a noted scholar familiar with Yemen who is quoted as saying that tribal names simply were not used as place names. The resulting argument sounds rather impressive:
Nahom is inaccurately portrayed as a place rather than a tribal people. We mentioned at the beginning of this study that a critical assumption made by BoM researchers about Nahom is that it represents a designation for the territory possessed by the tribe Nihm, which is why the narrative speaks of Nahom as a place rather than a people. As explained by [Kent] Brown, “Naturally, a person reasonably assumes that, if the majority of the NHM tribe dwelt in a certain area, they would have had a ‘place’ for themselves that bore their tribal name. And outsiders would have known it.” [citing Brown’s “On Nahom”] So on this understanding, there were actually two closely interrelated usages of the root NHM as an appellative in ancient south Arabian culture, one used to denominate the tribal group itself (the people Nihm) and another to refer to its territory (the Nihm region), a conclusion that finds support in the modern use of the term Nihm to designate a tribe as well as a geographical district in present day Yemen. However, it is doubtful that this later use of tribal names to refer to geographical entities can be retrojected onto much earlier periods and careful examination of South Arabian inscriptions indicates that the names of tribes were essentially social-political in orientation. Christian Robin, one of the world’s foremost experts on the tribal history of ancient South Arabia, explains that the tribal names “are not toponyms nor ancestor names. But they were used as eponyms when the genealogies were elaborated in late Antiquity and early Islam… The tribes in the south are strictly connected with a territory. But, in general, there is no confusion. The inscriptions distinguish always between Ḥimyar [a south Arabian tribe] and ‘the Land of Ḥimyar’.” [citing personal communication with Dr. Robin, 2015] Accordingly, within an ancient south Arabian context, it does not make sense to speak of Nihm as though it were a regular place name.
Source: RT, “Nahom and Lehi’s Journey through Arabia: A Historical Perspective, Part 2,” Faith Promoting Rumor (a blog at Patheos.com), Oct. 6, 2015, tinyurl.com/RT388912.
This seems compelling until you realize that Robin’s argument, as conveyed by RT, is that ancient inscriptions don’t treat the tribal name as a place name by itself, but tend to associate the intended physical place with additional language coupled with the tribal name as in “the land of Nihm” instead of just treating the name Nihm as a stand-alone place name like Disney World that needs no further geographical indicators. But does that tendency really support RT’s claim that it would make no sense for Nephi or any other visitor to what may have been formally known as “the land of Nihm” (or a kingdom, region, village, mountain, valley, etc., of Nihm) to later say that they had stayed in the “place that was called Nahom”? What Nephi wrote can be completely consistent with Nihm being a tribal name that was also associated with a physical place, wherein additional verbiage was needed to distinguish the tribe from the place. In this case, such additional language is evident in “the place that was called Nahom.”
But there’s still a problem with Robin’s argument that needs some attention.
Robin’s Nuanced Distinction Between Tribal Names and Place Names
While we don’t have access to what Robin told RT, but we do have access to what Robin has published, and there we learn of a potentially relevant example that further undermines RT’s stance.
Christian Robin is a co-author of a chapter in a beautiful and information-packed book on Yemen that I’m proud to own: Yemen: 3000 Years of Art and Civilisation in Arabia Felix, edited by Werner Daum (Innsbruck: Pinguin and Frankfurt am Main: Umschau Verlag, 1987). The chapter is “Towns and Temples — The Emergence of South Arabian Civilization” by Remy Audouin, Jean-Francois Berton, and Christian Robin, pp. 63-77. (The text alone of this chapter is available online, archived from Yemenweb.com.) On page 63, Robin refers to the ancient name Ma’in, which, according to an ancient South Arabian inscription in Yemen, is a tribal name that also looks like it was treated as a place:
But trade seems to have grown significantly only between the 8th and the 6th centuries B.C. The South Arabian inscriptions only rarely mention this trade, and even when they do, it is in parenthesis. An inscription (about 4th/3rd century B.C.) on a straight section of the city wall of Baraqish runs like this:
Ammisadiq … and Sa’id …, leaders of caravans, and the Minean caravans who had set off in order to trade with them in Egypt, Syria and beyond the river…, at the time when ‘Athtar dhu-Qabd, Wadd and Nakrah protected them and their property and warned them of the attacks which Saba’ and Khawlan had planned against their persons, their property and their animals, when they were on their way between Ma’in and Rajma (= Nagran), and of the war which was raging between north and south…. [emphasis mine]
Ma’in in this passage looks like it is a place, as is Rajma (= Najran on modern maps). An ancient inscription on a city wall spoke of people traveling between Ma’in and Rajma. The authors of this chapter speak of Ma’in several times as if it were a specific place in ancient times. It’s still a place, a city, today. Regarding Main/Ma’in as a place, see “Kingdom of Awsan” at Wikipedia and see Wikipedia‘s article on the Minaeans, which refers to the region that would become known as Ma’in (a place). But Ma’in is also a tribe, a well-known point made explicit on p. 63 shortly after the passage cited above, when the authors speak of “the small caravanning tribe of Ma’in.” Robin and his co-authors appear to be speaking of Ma’in as both a place and a tribe. Doesn’t that directly contradict RT’s argument? Puzzled, I reached out to Robin myself via Academia.edu, who kindly answered my inquiry about Ma’in apparently being a place as well as a tribe. He explained that, “In [the phrase] ‘between Main and Rajma,’ the first is attested only as tribe name; the second is apparently a town name” (personal correspondence, 2016).
So apparently, though the translation of the inscription makes it sound like Ma’in is a place, a more nuanced understanding is that Ma’in is a tribe name only. Thus, in speaking of going to or from Ma’in, what is meant is the place of the tribe Ma’in, not just Ma’in. A more nuanced translation, then, might speak of the place of the Ma’in tribe or perhaps “the place that is called after the name of the Ma’in tribe.” Confusing Ma’in for an actual place name was apparently a rookie mistake I made, the kind of mistake that a newcomer to the nuanced inscriptions of Yemeni tribes can easily make, and, I might add, the kind of mistake that the ancient newcomer Nephi could have made as well. Or perhaps he just wasn’t interested in taking up more space on the small plates for a fully nuanced description of “the place that is called the land of Nahom” or “the place of the tribe called Nahom,” but perhaps his newbie shortcut of “place that was called Nahom” was, frankly, nuanced enough. This was not as sloppy as talking about going between Ma’in and Rajma/Najran, as we see in one inscription and its translation, but it may not be completely satisfying for those who demand high precision in their ancient texts.
Robin’s 1987 chapter that quotes the Baraqish wall inscription does not give a footnote with details of the inscription, but with a little searching I found it on an excellent resource for South Arabian inscriptions, the Corpus of South Arabian Inscriptions (CSAI), part of DASI (Digital Archive for the Study of Pre-Islamic Arabian Inscriptions), a project directed by Alessandra Avanzini of the University of Pisa. At CSAI, you can find the Baraqish wall inscription listed as “M 247 RES 3022; B-M 257.” It is in the Central Minaic dialect of Ancient South Arabian. You can see the inscription, its transliteration, and two translations. The translation from CSAI for verse 2 speaks of “the hostilities which Saba’ and Hwln brought against them and their goods and their camels, on the route between Ma’in and Rgmtm….” A translation by Walter Mueller speaks of the “Karawanenstrasse zwischen Ma’in und Rgmtm” (“the caravan trail between Ma’in and Rgmtm”). The transliteration includes the phrase “byn M’n w-Rgmtm” which I think means “going from/between Ma’in and Rgmtm” based on the meaning of byn. The link is to Joel A. A. Ajayi, A Biblical Theology of Gerassapience (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), p. 59.
Incidentally, Baraqish, the site of the inscription mentioning Ma’in as if it were a place, is in the Wadi Jawf and is associated with the modern Nihm tribe, as Neal Rappleye observes in his excellent article, “An Ishmael Buried Near Nahom,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 48 (2021): 33-48.
Dr. Robin, in his kind response to me, also added a valuable clarification regarding the alleged impossibility of tribal names also being place names:
Normally the categories “territory” (country) and “population” (tribe) are distinguished. But, in Yemen (and perhaps in Eastern and Northern Arabia) on the borders of the desert, there are some instances of proper names used as a tribe name and also a town name (like Sirwah and Najran). [personal correspondence via Academia.edu, 2016, emphasis mine]
In this process, then, we have learned that scholars of Yemen like Christian Robin can casually translate an ancient inscription in a way that seems to treat a tribal name as a place name, and that in spite of saying tribal names aren’t place names, recognize that there are cases when they are, as with the places Sirwah and Najran, both not far from the place/land/region of Nihm. So Nihm/Nahom/Nehem/NHM as an actual place name is not actually ruled out, though Robin in his note to me went on to say that he felt it would be “unlikely” for Nihm to be a pre-Islamic place name, for anciently it was just a tribal name. A tribe, of course, that is associated with a particular place. For a traveler coming to the place or the land of the tribe of Nihm/Nehem, referring to it as “the place that was called Nahom” seems undeserving of objection. Let’s give Nephi a break on this one.
A Key to Understanding the Connection Between Yemeni Tribal Names and the Names of their Territory
A simpler way of dealing with the argument that a tribal name like NHM cannot be a place name is to consider how other scholars look at the relationship between tribal names and place names. While Robin as cited above already hinted at a link between tribal names and place names when he said, “The tribes in the south are strictly connected with a territory,” we get another perspective in a work on northern Yemen. Barak A. Salmoni, Bryce Loidolt, and Madeleine Wells in Regime and Periphery in Northern Yemen: The Huthi Phenomenon (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2010), p. 47:
A second characteristic relatively unique to Yemeni tribalism is the strong identification of tribe with place. Unlike tribes in parts of Africa or other areas in the Middle East, north Yemeni tribes do not have a tradition of transhumance, nor is a Bedouin nomadism a social value in tribal collective memories. As sedentary agriculturalists, therefore, Yemeni qaba’il [tribes] exhibit a particularly strong attachment to and identification with “their” territories. This identification is illustrated by the Yemeni highlands proverb, “izz al-qabili biladah — the pride/prestige of a qabila [tribe] is [in] his land” and informs the local geographic imagination. Place names and tribe names become nearly identical, such that even people of unrelated families living in an area are often assimilated to the same tribe over a few generations and named in terms of the preexisting local place name or the demographically dominant grouping in the area. [emphasis added]
Granted, this does not necessarily apply to ancient Yemen, but it raises a presumption that seems consistent with some information already presented regarding ancient Yemen which should be considered as we review some additional examples.
Turning again to the chapter “Towns and Temples — The Emergence of South Arabian Civilization” by Remy Audouin, Jean-Francois Berton, and Christian Robin in Yemen: 3000 Years of Art and Civilisation in Arabia Felix, we have another ancient example to consider:
Two degrees of dependence can be observed: some tribes were vassals of the Sabeans, almost in a state of slavery. Tribes in that situation would lose their political independence along with their religious freedom. This state of affairs would be symbolised by the destruction of their royal palace and the dismantling of their main secular and religious inscriptions. Others were only subjected to a protective rule: a tribe in that situation retained its own institutions and pantheon. At its head the tribe had its ruler, who represented his people, and who was given the title of “King”. In spite of retaining its own pantheon the tribe acknowledged Sabean rule, in particular by worshipping the Sabean main deity Almaqah. In Karib II’s list of such tribes he simply mentions their names and those of their kings; the names of their deities are not included. Such tribes, too, had to pay tribute, which might be in the form of cattle, or sometimes, perhaps partly, be paid through the erection of a public building. Thus the king of Kaminahu (present day Kamna) in Nashq (now al-Bayda) built two towers of the city wall “for Almaqah, the kings of Marib and Saba”. (p.
There is a king of Kaminahu, as if it were a kingdom, but Kaminahu is also a tribe, as is again mentioned on p. 76, followed by a reference to “several principalities or kingdoms” that had existed anciently, “e.g., Haram or Kaminahu.” So Kamimahu is the name of a tribe and a kingdom, and a kingdom, of course, tends to have a physical domain. It would seem that the authors, Robin included, see Kaminahu as more than just a tribal name alone, but a name that might very well be viewed to newcomers, at least, as a place that was called Kaminahu.
Wikipedia’s article “Kaminahu” also sees Kaminahu as an ancient place:
Kaminahu (Arabic: مملكة كمنه; Old South Arabic: 𐩫𐩣𐩬𐩠𐩥 kmnhw; modern Kamna) is the name of an ancient South Arabian city in the northern al-Jawf region of present day Yemen, 107 km north-east of Sana’a at about 1100 meters above sea level.
But perhaps we can’t trust Wikipedia on this matter. We need a more nuanced approached from those who can tell when something that looks like a place name really isn’t. What do scholars familiar with ancient inscriptions from Yemen say of Kaminahu? Let’s turn again to CSAI for some insight. On the CSAI page for the site Kamna, we read:
This site is located in the middle valley of the Jawf, 107 km north-west of Maʾrib, 9 km west of al-Ḥazm, on the left bank of wādī Madhāb, north-east of as-Sawdāʾ, ancient Nashshān.
The name Kaminahū (Kmnhw) used to indicate at the same time a tribe, its territory and probably also its ancient capital-city, today called Kamna. For the identification of the ancient toponym: Halévy 1873: 602-603; D. H. von Müller (1880: 1004-1005); Robin 1992: 155….
The occupation of the site is dated to the 8th century BC at the latest (Kamna 1, Kamna 13+14). If we consider that the basis of the rampart lies on anthropogenic accumulation layers, and that the rampart dates back to the 7th century BC, the site foundation may precede the 8th century BC.
Kmnhw was the seat of an autonomous and independent political entity in the 8th-6th centuries BC, and at the end of the 1st millennium BC. The Madhābian language was spoken. The tribe had its own pantheon. In the 8th century BC, Kmnhw appeared as one of the most important political entities in the Jawf valley together with Nashshān, upon which it eventually imposed itself until, supported by the Sabaean ally, Nashshān finally stated its domination by force upon Kmnhw.
Kmnhw became an ally of the Sabaean mukarrib Krbʾl Wtr bn Ḏmrʿly. This alliance quickly took the appearance of a vassalage relationship under which Kmnhw paid tribute to the Sabaean kings (CIH 377).
With the decline, and then the disappearance of the kingdom of Maʿīn, Kmnhw flourished once again in the 2nd-1st century BC.
Here we have a prominent tribe that is quite close to region of the Nihm tribe, west of Marib and north of Sana’a in the Wadi Jawf region, in existence in Nephi’s day. Its name was “used to indicate at the same time a tribe, its territory and probably also its ancient capital-city, today called Kamna.” If that could happen for the name of the tribe Kaminahu, why not for the name of what may have been a near neighbor then, the Nihm tribe? Surely this evidence should alleviate any hyper-sensitive concerns about “retrojecting” modern practices in Yemen back to Nephi’s day. The NHM tribal name, whether written as Nehem, Nehhm, or Nihm, can refer to a place and a tribe in modern times, and there’s no reason to think that this could not happen in Yemen, or at least in in Wadi Jawf in northern Yemen, when Nephi came to the place called NHM, appropriately transliterated into the more Hebrew-like Nahom, possibly packed with a Hebrew word play related to the meaning of mourning or murmuring that nicely fits the context of 1 Nephi 16:14. No retrojection there, but that won’t stop the unnecessary rejection of the evidence Nahom brings.
There are other tribes we could consider, such as the tribe of Haram whose name, per Wikipedia’s article on Haram (Yemen) is also given to “an ancient city in the north of al-Jawf in modern-day Yemen, at about 1100 metres above sea level. It is bordered by the Yemen Highlands to the north, in the west by the ancient Kaminahu (present day Kamna), in the east by the ancient Qarnāwu (modern Ma’īn) and in the south by the Ghayl.” This is also in the region of Nahom, and joins its neighbors Kamainahu and Ma’in in having names that either clearly were or appear to have been used as place names. On the CSAI list of site, Haram is listed as “Hrm” on a page stating that “The site of Kharibat Hamdān or Kharibat ʾl ʿAlī is the current name of the ancient Haram. Haram in antiquity indicated the name of the site as well as the name of the tribe who resided there, together with the surrounding territory. The site still bore the name of Madīnat Haram in the 1940s.”
We could also mention the very large region of the Hadhramaut, with a name that describes both a tribe and the land, or Haram, which is an ancient city and a tribe (also mentioned above). And there is more to say about the Himyar people, whose name is used to refer to a tribe, the territory of the tribe, and a kingdom, as we read in Yosef Yuval Tobi, “Ḥimyar, kingdom of,” Oxford Classical Dictionary, Aug. 22, 2017:
The Rise of the Kingdom of Ḥimyar, c. 110 BCE–4th Century CE
According to Yemeni genealogical writings, the kingdom of Ḥimyar is named after its founding father, Ḥimyar the son of Saba.’ The name, however, is also widely used to represent a tribe by that name, or a confederation (shaʻb) of ancient South Arabian tribes. The territory of this tribe has also come to be known by the eponym of Ḥimyar, whose center was in the mountainous district of Yāfiʻ, in the southeast of Yemen, near Abyan, the delta of wādi Banā’, whose waters empty into the Indian Ocean, near the port city of Shuqrah (Map 1).
Likewise, in Glen W. Bowersock’s excellent “The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Kingdom in Arabia,” Institute for Advanced Study, 2011, we see the tribal name Himyar used to indicate a territory and a kingdom, not just the tribe.
I should also mention that the scholars at CSAI use “Nihm” as a geographical region when categorizing the location of inscriptions in their database. You can see several sites listed under the region “Nihm” on, for example, a page listing sites beginning with “b” at CSAI. But I believe this listing is refers to modern geographical regions, not the ancient sites. Several of the ancient sites listed on the CSAI website have already been mentioned above, and there may be more since I’ve only examined a handful. One that I did not mention above relates again to Ma’in, whose CSAI site page shows that the tribal name Ma’in is also a geographical site, with the text speaking of Ma’in as a geographical place and city. I’ve only looked at a handful of the sites at CSAI, so there may be others of interest.
But let’s now look at how other modern scholars view NHM with some help from Neal Rappleye.
Further Insights from Neal Rappleye
As I was preparing this post, I was delighted to watch an excellent presentation, at the 2022 FAIR Conference,”Ishmael and Nahom in Ancient Inscriptions” by Neal Rappleye, Aug. 3, 2022. I noted that several of his slides quoted scholars discussing the ancient NHM name in a way that recognized that there was a place associated with that name. For example, in St. John Simpson, ed., Queen of Sheba: Treasures from Ancient Yemen (London: British Museum, 2002), 166-167, we read this basic statement of the NHM name on the altars from Marib:
The dedicant Bi’athtar, who comes from the Nihm region, west of Marib, dedicated the female person Fari’at to the god Almaqah, presumably to serve in the temple employment. [emphasis added]
There was a Nihm region, not just a Nihm tribe, and it was in the area, west of Marib. That’s not very significant, perhaps, but this is a reminder to the “NHM minimalists” who want to see NHM as just three letters on an alter, forgetting that it tells us something about a name associated with a tribe and their region or land.
Rappleye also cites a German scholar, Hermann von Wissmann, Zur Geschichte und Landeskunde von Alt-Südarabien, Sammlung Eduard Glaser III (Vienna: Der Öserreichischen Akadaemie der Wissenchaften, 1964), with two passages that you can readily see on Google Books:
[D]ie Grabinschrift CIH 969, mag auch ins südliche Nihm zu stellen sein, da die Weinrankenverzierung eher aus einem Hochland stammt. (p. 97)
CIH 969 stammt wohl aus dem Land Nihm, dem südlichen Nihm. Es ist Grabinschrift und Beginnt: Bildnis des MTWB aus Nihm (NHMYN).” (p. 307)
In the first passage, von Wissmann speaks of the site of a particular inscription likely being “in southern Nihm,” as if Nihm were a place. In the second passage, he again speaks of “southern Nihm” but also mentions “the land Nihm.” Again, he indicates that the name Nihm can refer to a physical place. This is in the context of ancient inscriptions and their locations.
Rappleye also shows a map of apparently ancient locations in Yemen from Peter Stein, Die altsüdarabischen Minuskelinschriften auf Holzstäbchen aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München, 2 vols. (Tübingen and Berlin: Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, 2010), 1:23, fig. 1, which has a place labeled as NHM (Nihm):
At the end of his presentation, Neal answered a question from me, sent by text, about the issue of NHM just being a tribal name. He indicated that he has been looking at the issue and has found a variety of sources that shed more light on the question, and will be preparing something in the future. I look forward to his paper!
Finding a candidate for the place Nahom on an 18th century map was interesting, raising the possibility of evidence related to the place Nahom in the Book of Mormon. This became much more interesting in the 1990s when a German archaeological team unearthed three beautiful altars at a temple in Marib that were donated by a prominent member of the NHM (Nihm) tribe, confirming that the NHM name was in the area around 700 BC. Coupled with the growing evidence supporting the plausibility of other once “ridiculous” details in the story of Lehi’s Trail, we now have complex of evidences from the Arabian Peninsula that make it implausible that Joseph Smith or his US-based technical advisory team could have concocted the details given for Lehi’s Trail based on information available to them or almost anyone at the time.
Whoever provided the details related to the River Laman, the place Bountiful, and the place that unspecified others (perhaps fellow Israelites from the Northern Kingdom dwelling in the Land of Nihm?) told them was called Nahom must have had knowledge of these locations based on actual on-site experience in the Arabian Peninsula. Whether it was most likely Nephi or, say, Sidney Rigdon or one of Joseph’s adventuresome neighbors, is left for readers of the Book of Mormon to ponder. Or maybe Joseph was just incredibly lucky, making very wise and improbable guesses with the help of rare maps that he likely never came close to. While there is still much to learn, there is already much to appreciate and no reason to assume that unfair “retrojection” is involved in seeing “the place that was called Nahom” as a plausible place related to real names and locations in ancient Yemen.