Fond Memories from Before the Blast
Back before a massive nuclear logic bomb wiped out Latter-day Saint apologetics a few days ago, the story behind the map below once counted as some kind of comforting “evidence” for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, or more specifically, evidence that important “facts” used for decades against the Book of Mormon had been completely “refuted,” turning pitiful weakness into apparent strength.
|Proposed route of Lehi’s Trail through the Arabian Peninsula, from Warren Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’: The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon,” (Click to enlarge.)|
Before all hope for Book of Mormon apologetics was extinguished with a massive WMD (Weapon of Mass Disbelief) launched from an underground silo by an elite team of anti-Book of Mormon scholars, we used to talk about how cool this map was. We talked about “testable hypotheses” that had long been used by critics to mock the Book of Mormon’s account of Lehi’s Trail, which once seemed to describe impossible, illogical places like the River Laman and the fertile place Bountiful. Then people like George Potter and Warren Aston went there and did field work to see if such places possibly could exist, only to find impressive evidence that good candidates existed. Against all odds, there was a stunning candidate for the River Laman and the Valley of Lemuel in just the right place, about three days south of the northern “borders” of the Red Sea, per Nephi’s account. And south-southeast of that, a four-days’ journey away as Nephi describes, is an impressive candidate for Shazer, nicely matching details of the Book of Mormon account, as Warren Aston describes in “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’: The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 39 (2020): 53-72. (Field work continues to be the key to unlocking many insights of the trek into and through Arabia.) And there were two good candidates for Bountiful, both nearby in southern Oman, Khor Kharfot with Wadi Sayq and Khor Rori with Wadi Darbat. I’ve generally preferred Khor Kharfot, but both have their merits.
For a place like Bountiful that so many claimed was ridiculous, the surprising discovery of such candidates is noteworthy (some of the most important information about Khor Rori, namely, the very fertile nature of Wadi Darbat, is not well known but will be published shortly). The finds of Warren Aston at Khor Kharfot and Wadi Sayq, for example, were not based upon looking for any scattered random parallel that could be proclaimed a victory for the Book of Mormon, but used a rigorous methodology of identifying 12 characteristics for Bountiful from Nephi’s text that would need to be physically present in a plausible candidate. These criteria are explain in his 2015 book, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, and in his video that you can see at LehiinArabia.com. With that challenging set of 12 criteria, he considered each of several sites in Oman that had been proposed by others and showed that each were deficient in one or more significant ways. He visited many sites, ruling them out, and finally, late in the afternoon on his last day of a trip of exploration by boat along the coast of Oman, he yielded to the request of his daughter to go on shore and look at one particular region that she felt might be promising. He was reluctant and tired, ready to go home, but yielded. As they got past the sandbar that obstructed their view, they encountered Arabia’s largest freshwater lagoon and an abundance of life and greenery. His daughter was jubilant, feeling they had found Bountiful, but he insisted that they had to study this further and check all of the criteria. But it would turn out that all 12 criteria were fulfilled, and the site remains to this day to be a prime candidate for Bountiful, with further research only strengthening the case. This is not the stuff of random parallels, but discoveries based on sound methodology and thorough field work that add explanatory power to the Book of Mormon.
But are the candidates for Bountiful in the right place? That depends on Nahom, which determines the location, for Bountiful must be “nearly eastward” of Nahom. The problem, one of the biggest problems the Book of Mormon has faced for so long, is that you can’t just travel on foot or by camel from the west side of Arabia to the east side and have any hope of reaching the east coast alive, for most of the peninsula is dominated by the great Empty Quarter with impassible sand dunes and hopeless aridity. So the whole idea of crossing nearly eastward from pretty much anywhere seemed rather hopeless and was often ridiculed.
So what of Nahom? Or perhaps we should say NHM, as an important Yemeni tribal name was written anciently on three stone altars from Lehi’s day that a German team of archaeologists found at a temple site in Marib, Yemen, testifying to the regional prominence of the ancient NHM tribe whose lands today (the name is now transliterated Nihm) and anciently were just to the north of modern Sana’a. If any crossing to the east did occur, it began near the site Nahom where Ishmael was buried. Nahom was not named by Nephi but obviously by the locals there since it “was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34). It needs to have been populated anciently and needs to be approximately south-southeast of the River Laman and Shazer, and nearly due west of Bountiful, with Bountiful being accessible by simply traveling nearly eastward (there’s no hint of any major barriers they had to bypass). That’s a pretty tall order and seemed rather hopeless, until a couple of decades ago. Incredibly, as Warren Aston demonstrates in his book, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, this actually all works out.
NHM tribal lands happen to be in or bordering just about the only region where one can turn nearly due east from the generally south-southeast direction of the Incense Trails and continue all the way to the coast, bypassing the great Empty Quarter just to the north and also another equally impassible dessert just to the south. There’s a very narrow widow of just a few miles where one actually can turn nearly due east and not only survive, but without any major barriers, and with the availability of some water, not only reach the coast, but reach a place that very nicely fits the requirements for Bountiful. Here’s a close-up of Nihm tribal lands showing the Wadi Jawf where an eastward turn can be made, taken from “Book of Mormon Evidence: Travel Eastward from Nahom,” Evidence Central, https://evidencecentral.org/recency/evidence/eastward-turn:
|Nihm tribal lands northeast of Sana’a.|
The two “impossible” places, the River Laman and Bountiful, are linked by the directions in Nephi’s account where the south-southeast journey along the western side of Arabia suddenly turns nearly due east and reaches Bountiful. The intersection of the south-south leg and the eastward leg are at Nahom, and amazingly, there is now hard archaeological evidence for such a name in the right time (Lehi’s day) and the right place, with Nihm tribal lands today and anciently comprising or being very near to the ONLY place where a sudden eastward turn is not only possible without certain death, but can lead you to another impossible place that now seems to be verified with at least one solid candidate.
Warren Aston put it this way in Lehi and Saiah in Arabia, pp. 177-78:
Nephi’s simple statement that they traveled “nearly eastward” from Nahom becomes a stunning vindication of the Book of Mormon’s historicity. None of the classical or contemporary references to the incense trade mention this major change in direction, so it follows that Joseph Smith could not have known from them that there was such a turn, nor where it occurred.
And there is a further dimension to the matter of direction after Nahom. It comes from the specification, written well after the fact, that they traveled nearly eastward from that time forth. This seems to stipulate that this direction continued to be followed all the way to the coast. Indeed, the account mentions no detours, breaks in the travel, or any reason requiring a change of direction. Exploration and satellite imagery has shown that maintaining an easterly course was actually the only feasible way to reach the coast where Bountiful awaited.
Had Lehi’s group traveled even east-northeast or east-southeast from Nahom, they would have encountered the shifting sand dune deserts of the feared “Empty Quarter” to the north, or the equally-difficult Ramlat Saba’tayn desert to the south. Many of the constantly shifting dunes tower hundreds of feet high; they are simply too steep to be crossed by loaded camels. Instead, surely led by the Liahona, traveling almost true east from Nahom placed them on a narrow band of stony plateaus and valleys leading between the two deserts to the coast. A sequence of arid plateaus and valleys averaging 3,000 feet/900 meters altitude leads from the Wadi Jauf or Nahom area to low ranges north of the Hadhramaut Valley. From here, the Mahra plateau leads into the Qamar ranges on the coast of southern Oman.
Thus, not only is travel from Nahom in a direct easterly direction possible, but it is actually the most direct and only accessible route that one would take to reach the tiny area of fertile coast. No physical obstacles, whether sand dunes, mountains, steep ravines, or lava fields, prevent travel between the Nahom area and Dhofar. That a completely accessible and feasible “nearly eastward” pathway, with no intervening obstacles, from Nahom to the only fertile coast in Arabia can now be shown is one of the most significant findings in recent years concerning the Lehite journey. Surprisingly, the implications of this fact have yet to be fully assimilated by many writers on the subject. [emphasis original]
Nahom is not just a random name with 3 consonants that can be explained by finding any NHM-related name anywhere in the world, like Anaheim, California. It involves a specific location and a specific time, and we have solid “evidence” (or so we used to think!) that Nahom in the Book of Mormon is plausible both in terms of a precise location and a rare name prominent in the right era. Nahom involves a time, a precise location, a relationship to other places, and even involves a subtle Hebrew word play. The evidence around Nahom, including archaeological finds, coupled with evidence related to Bountiful, Shazer, and the River Laman in the Valley of Lemuel collectively overturned what once looked like strong evidence against the Book of Mormon, becoming instead apparent “evidence” for its authenticity and plausibility, making the theories of critics about its origins seem implausible. But again, that was before we got nuked.
And Now, the Extinction of All Book of Mormon Evidence
When long-standing arguments and evidence against the Book of Mormon are overturned by surprising new discoveries, what do you call the new evidence? Why, it’s the same word you use when once failed testable hypotheses from the Book of Mormon suddenly and strangely test positive. The power word to handle all this is COINCIDENCE. This word, when used with the proper nuance and sophistication, pretty much trumps any so-called evidence from the defeated Latter-day Saint side.
OK, you may be skeptical since this looks a little too easy at first, but this cool logical tactic is much more impressive than it seems at first glance. I must now reveal the irresistible power of the nuclear logic assault on the Book of Mormon, though I’m afraid whatever testimony you may have of the Book of Mormon is about to be obliterated. Reader discretion advised.
First, my apology to my fellow apologists for the Book of Mormon. Our cause is over. It’s time to just abandon hope and forget about all the evidences in support of the Book of Mormon, evidences that only recently seemed to be growing steadily and adding increasing depth to the intellectual aspects of our faith. The recent discovery of evidence-rich, plausible, unexpected candidates for places long ridiculed by our critics such the River Laman, the Valley Lemuel, the place Bountiful, and the intersection point that joins those evidences from two opposing coasts in truly surprising ways, Nahom — none of that matters now.
A nuclear-grade argument has finally been devised after decades of research, pulling together the most powerful anonymous thinkers of the world who proudly display their anonymous thinking skills at MormonThink, where I link to an archived but still lethal version of their page for security reasons. This new Ultimate Argument against the Book of Mormon, offered specifically in response to my Book of Mormon Evidences page at JeffLindsay.com (the existence of my page was vaguely mentioned but no link was given to protect vulnerable readers), is vaporizing faith as I write. The argument about eerie coincidences was totally convincing to some of the leading Ph.D.-level minds who have been trying to lead me back to rationality on my blog. It’s been weaponized against all Book of Mormon evidences in general, but its most recent known detonation was against my discussion of evidences related to the Arabian Peninsula (see the discussion of the unanswerable “coincidences” argument in comments on my Feb. 19 blog post, “An Update on Maps of the Arabian Peninsula Showing Nahom-related Names“). While I was far from the epicenter of the blast when it occurred on my Mormanity blog, I’ve still been hit by what may be a lethal dose of anti-matter radiation. My passing is only a matter of time now — the doc says I may only have a few decades left. But before I go, I need to warn others. Nothing you have learned in your self-defense from anti-Mormons workshops will have prepared you for this deadly new tactical logical weapon.
The Ultimate Argument goes sort of like this: President John F. Kennedy has SEVEN LETTERS in his last name. See where this is going? Neither did I. Hold on. So did President Abraham Lincoln. SEVEN! And they both were assassinated by people with THREE NAMES (Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth). Now are you catching on? But it gets much more powerful, because BOTH killers had exactly FIFTEEN LETTERS in their name. After I regained consciousness, I counted the letters five times in disbelief. Yep, FIFTEEN! But it keeps getting more impressive: Both assassins were shot to death before they could be put on trial. Both Kennedy and Lincoln were shot in the back of the head while seated with their wives. Both Kennedy and Lincoln were shot on a Friday. And if you’ve still got a whimper of a testimony left, consider this: Lincoln was shot while at FORD’S theater. Kennedy was shot while riding in a FORD automobile. (There may be an parallel universe of bizarre coincidences where Kennedy was shot while riding in a YUGO, and Lincoln was shot shortly after saying, “YOU GO, GIRL!”)
My testimony was pretty much annihilated at this point. After all, if such bizarre coincidences can happen, then surely mere coincidence can account for all Book of Mormon evidence, right? And maybe all evidence of any kind! How can there be such a thing as truth or facts or evidence at all in such a weird world of endless, random coincidence?
But there were still more detonations to come — but somehow, the next blast gave me just a touch of hope. “Both Kennedy and Lincoln had been ship’s captains.” And then, somehow, the assault seemed to let up for a moment. I’m no historian, but have read some history and never heard about Lincoln pursuing sailing or going into the Navy. In fact, one of the less impressive parallels offered by MormonThink is that both Kennedy and Lincoln studied law (not sailing) — but didn’t most Presidents? Well over half of our presidents worked in law, so that’s not so bizarre. But being a captain of a ship, even of a PT boat like President Kennedy, is something quite unusual. Why hadn’t I head about this important aspect of Lincoln’s career? Historians, help me out. Was Lincoln quietly involved in the secret Indiana Marine Brigade or, say, the Springfield Naval Reserves, Landlocked Division, perhaps bravely serving as a Canoe Commander in a local swamp? As far as I can tell, the answer is no. Whence, then, this most interesting parallel that makes Lincoln a captain of a ship?
Ah, yes, here’s where Walt Whitman comes to the rescue, at least that’s my theory. Whitman has already played an important role in anti-Mormon theory by serving as the most impressive source of parallels to the Book of Mormon, for his Leaves of Grass serves as the state of the art for Book of Mormon plagiarism evidence, giving us a text with far more relevance and explanatory power for the Book of Mormon than any other modern text so far that critics have touted as sources that explain anything about Book of Mormon origins. Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is the now the Gold Standard against the Gold Plates when it comes to plagiarism arguments, in spite of the minor weakness of having been written 25 years after the Book of Mormon was published. That little factoid can be overlooked in light of the mountain of impressive evidence showing Joseph simply must have had access to Whitman’s work, perhaps as boyhood friends, long before Whitman published it. Compare for yourself and see if any other argument for plagiarism makes more sense. Whitman account for so much of the Book of Mormon, including unusual specific terms like the Lamanites (derived from “lemonade”) and so much more.
But now, in yet another strange coincidence, Whitman provides us with yet another powerful parallel to buttress anti-Mormon arguments, and once again from the Leaves of Grass, but starting with the 1867 edition. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, Whitman wrote a moving poem about his beloved President Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” (Of course, this could well have been inspiration for the whole Captain Moroni story, but that’s for another post.) You can read about the poem on the Library of Congress website. As far as I can tell, that poem is the apparent source of MormonThink’s claim about Lincoln serving as the captain of a boat. Whitman sees Lincoln as the figurative captain of the ship of our the nation. So the parallel is still completely solid, but to be more precise MormonThink might wish to say that Kennedy was the captain of a real boat and Lincoln was a figurative captain of a figurative boat in somebody’s poem since he was a President of the United States. Or you could reduce confusion here and simply say that the coincidence is that both Presidents served as Presidents (and at least one of them had been in a boat). Still completely eerie, though it does seem to reduce the momentum of the argument. But it was definitely cool at first.
The ship’s captain coincidence on MormonThink’s list isn’t on other versions of this list I’ve seen elsewhere such as at Wikipedia, so it may have been part of a special extra-mile research effort from MormonThink’s Deep Think Tank. If so, kudos for the anonymous creative work, which ironically may have been inspired by my own work calling attention to Whitman’s preeminent role in anti-Book of Mormon theory. That would be a very cool coincidence as well, eh?
I also got a touch of relief when I read what might be the coolest single parallel in MormonThink’s assault: “Kennedy had a secretary named ‘Lincoln.’ Lincoln had a secretary named ‘Kennedy.'” Feel that shiver? I sure did. This one is really impressive because it seems so unlikely, not rather mundane like having 7 letters in a surname (hey, me too!) or 3 names (me too, again!) or coming from the south (I used to live in Atlanta!) or studying law (patent law for me!) or being elected president (yes, I was Deacon’s President!) in one of the elections that occur only every four years. It’s unusual because the name Kennedy was not a big name in the US in Lincoln’s day. The mass migration of impoverished Irish families was underway, and the famous Kennedy family that would eventually give us a Kennedy in the White House had just landed in the US in 1854. Immigrants new to the US aren’t likely to be serving as trusted staff to the President just a few years later, so that would be remarkable — if it were true. Unfortunately, there’s no record of any Kennedy serving President Lincoln as a secretary. (Snopes.com takes on this claim and several others on the list.) Somebody slipped here, but that’s OK — it still seems truthy, even if not exactly accurate. Only a slight loss of momentum. But never mind. There are still MANY stunning coincidences. Even if some are fake and some are stretches and some are pretty mundane, what are the odds of finding so many coincidences like FORD’s theater and a car named FORD?? In my opinion, you just don’t expect coincidences like that (unless you look really hard and apply some serious creativity).
And now can you see what that means for the Book of Mormon and why all our evidences, especially our previous Arabian Peninsula evidences, don’t mean anything and aren’t actually evidence at all, just as MormonThink claims?
Not yet? Wow, you’re so hesitant. Let me help.
First, I may know what you’re thinking. You may be thinking something like this:
Hey, the whole issue of the Arabian Peninsula began as anti-Mormon evidence AGAINST the Book of Mormon. For years, the elite critics laughed and said there could be no such place as the River Laman because there are no rivers in the entire peninsula, and there could be no such place as Bountiful because it’s a big dessert without the lush green described for Bountiful, and if it did exist, it would be a major population center because water is the big attraction there, but the Book of Mormon implies there was nobody there but Lehi’s family. All impossible. And the whole idea of crossing the Peninsula is impossible. All ridiculous.
But then came evidence from Warren Aston, George Potter, and others, that completely overturned the “evidence” against the Book of Mormon. We now have remarkable and plausible candidates for each of the specific places mentioned in Lehi’s journey through Arabia, refuting what were one some of the most powerful arguments against the Book of Mormon. Surely that counts for something, right?
Here’s the painful answer, my friend: it counts for nothing. It all means nothing. The original evidence against the Book of Mormon meant a lot, but now that it’s apparently all “refuted” and “overturned” by new “evidence,” we need to realize that all this evidence — archaeological, geographical, whatever — isn’t evidence at all. It’s just coincidence, and because it’s coincidence, it doesn’t count. Evidence only counts when it supports the consensus of the majority, namely, that the Book of Mormon is a fraud. All other “evidence” is COINCIDENCE, or maybe better, COINCIDEVIDENCE, no matter how cool you think it is.
Remember, evidence from anti-Mormons is very serious. No rivers in Arabia, no unpopulated freshwater lagoons with abundant fruit, no place Shazer, no place Nahom, no eastward path to reach Bountiful from the nonexistent Nahom, it’s all impossible and ridiculous, and so we should abandon the Book of Mormon as a fraud and quit paying tithing to the wrong church. But when that old evidence is completely overturned with unexpected new “evidence,” it’s really nothing at all — because FORD was a car and a theater, and Lincoln and Kennedy were both captains or at least Presidents that might remind poets of a captain, and on and on …. because wild coincidences can be found when you look for them, even if you have to make a few up every now and then. So all Book of Mormon evidence, usually found by people looking for it, can be disregarded, meaning the old evidence against the Book of Mormon still stands! The logic is powerful, irresistible, and so easy!
Now the slower to disbelieve among you may be saying, “Hold on! In Arabia, none of the evidence is related to random parallels like those dug up between Lincoln and Kennedy. The evidence comes from taking up the challenge of critics who said there was no such place as Bountiful or the River Laman, and then doing field work based in specific criteria or looking at discoveries of archaeologists, etc., to see if there was something plausible in the right place. The Lincoln-Kennedy parallels don’t answer any questions or give us any predictive theory to test. There’s no reason to consider counting letters or scanning the hundreds or thousands of factoids that someone to come up with the purported parallels. For the Book of Mormon, we have meaningful methodology and much more specific issues….” Cognitive dissonance, eh?
Please, you’re only making things worse. Let go. If you deny the irresistible logical force from MormonThink, you’re denying science and truth itself. The ultimate weapon has been unleashed and the end of everything we once held dear has come. All because someone finally figured out the truth: Kennedy’s name has seven letters, and so did Lincoln’s, and so does mine, etc. It’s all over. O Captain Moroni, my Captain, farewell!
Update, March 30, 2022: Also see “Debunking the ‘Lincoln — Kennedy Similarities Myth,” History of Yesterday, April 7, 2021, https://historyofyesterday.com/debunking-the-lincoln-kennedy-similarities-myth-68d515e4fa54.