While on the topic of the Arabian Peninsula, let me just reiterate that there is solid evidence for the plausibility of First Nephi as an ancient text based on its accurate description of travel through the Arabian Peninsula in ways that nobody could have fabricated in 1830. The evidence for the place Nahom included a map from Yemen listing “Nehhem” as an ancient burial site in the only place consistent with the Book of Mormon account, a place south-southeast of Jerusalem where a turn nearly due east would bring Lehi’s little band to the place Bountiful on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Critics could still ask if there was any evidence that this ancient burial place was actually known in 600 B.C. by the name Nahom or an equivalent (only the consonants NHM would have been written in Arabic or Hebrew, so a word written NHM could be pronounced as Nahom, Nihm, Nehhem, etc.) Then there was a report of an ancient altar from that era and place containing an inscription about the tribe NIHM. Critics could still nitpick over this, saying that a tribal name does not necessarily provide support for an ancient place name. But even that fragment of an argument against Nahom crumbled away in the light of further evidence reported a couple years ago at http://pub26.ezboard.com/fpacumenispagesfrm63.showMessage?topicID=201.topic by Dr. Kent Brown (see also “Nahom and the ‘Eastward’ Turn” at FARMS and “Book of Mormon Evidence: Travel Eastward from Nahom” at Book of Mormon Central):
May 30, 2003
S. Kent Brown
The recent publication of inscriptions from three limestone altars found in the ancient temple of Bar’an in Marib, Yemen, demonstrates as firmly as possible by archaeological means the existence of the tribal name NHM in that part of Arabia in the seventh-sixth centuries b.c., the general dates assigned to the carving of the altars by the excavators and other scholars (see the summaries by S. Kent Brown, “‘The Place That was Called Nahom’: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 66-68 (access this and other related articles by downloading the entire journal at ScholarsArchive.com); and Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 56-61). The first altar of three was noted by myself in the French catalogue written by scholars on ancient Yemen antiquities which is titled Yémen: au pays de la reine de Saba and was published by Flammarion, Paris, in 1997. (The exhibit of early Yemen artifacts, which the catalogue described, is currently showing in Madrid, Spain.) In the catalogue’s article “Les temples de Ma’rib” written by Burkhard Vogt, the leader of the German team that has now finished excavating at the Bar’an Temple, a reader finds photographs of several artifacts, including an altar on p. 144 which Vogt dates to “viie-vie siècles av. J.-C.” (7th-6th centuries b.c.) and whose dedicatory inscription he translates as follows: “Bi’athar, son of Sawâd, son of Naw’ân, the Nihmite, has consecrated to [the god] Almaqah (the person of) Fâri’at. . . .” The other two altars currently rest within the enclosure that surrounds the temple site just to the east of the modern town of Marib. Both altars have been photographed extensively by interested persons, including myself. It is these two altars that Warren Aston has published, taking account of the German preliminary report written by Burkhard Vogt and others, titled “Arsh Bilqis – Der Temple des Almaqah Bar’an in Marib” that was published in German, English and Arabic in Sana’a, Yemen, in 2000.
It is important to emphasize that in the world of archaeology, written inscriptions are the evidence most sought after, for they often establish names and dates, key components for interpreting the past. The inscriptions on the three altars, all mentioning the NHM tribe, prove beyond doubt the existence of this name in the first half of the first millennium b.c.
Tribes, of course, have to live somewhere. It now seems plainly evident that the NHM tribe has resided in its current territory for millennia, that is, in the highlands east of the city of Sana’a, west of the city of Marib and along the south rim of the Wadi Jawf. That the name of the NHM tribe was given to this region in antiquity was suggested initially by Christian Robin in his study Les Hautes-Terres du Nord-Yemen avant l’Islam I: Recherches sur la geographie tribale et religieuse de awl~n Qu~’a et du pays de Hamd~n, published by the Nederlands historisch-archaeologisch Instituut in Istanbul (1982, pp. 27, 72-74). This earlier observation is buttressed by the fact that the three altars dedicated by a member of the NHM tribe came to the Bar’an Temple in Marib during the seventh or sixth century b.c., forming clear indicators that tribal members were living not far from Marib, the capital of the Sabaean kingdom, and had fallen under its political and religious influences. In this light, one can safely conclude that, first, the tribal name and the territorial name have been joined for several millennia, from perhaps 1,000 b.c., and, second, the tribe was living then where it does nowadays. There is more.
Tied to this territorial and tribal name in Nephi’s narrative, which he spells as Nahom (see 1 Nephi 16:34), is his mention of an adjustment from the generally southward journey of his traveling party to an “eastward” direction through this part of Arabia.(see 1 Nephi 17:1). This adjustment, not incidentally, shows that Nephi and his party were following the incense trail that offered an infrastructure of wells and fodder to travelers and their animals. For, in fact, all roads turned east in the region of the NHM tribal territory, including the incense road and its shortcuts. Across the Ramlat Sab’atayn desert, east of this tribal region and east of Marib, lay the city of Shabwah. By ancient Arabian law, it was to this city that all incense harvested in the highlands of southern Arabia was carried to be inventoried, weighed, and taxed, with gifts made to the temples at Shabwah (for ancient laws that governed the incense trade, see Nigel Groom, Frankincense and Myrrh: A Study of the Arabian Incense Trade [London: Longman Group Ltd., 1981], 169-70, 181, 183-84; Pliny the Elder, Natural History 12.32 [§63]). After this process, the incense was loaded on camels and shipped toward the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian areas, traveling at first westward and then, after reaching the edges of the region of the NHM tribe, traveling northward to the city of Najran and beyond (these directions are exactly opposite from those that Nephi and his party were going). Even the shortcuts across the Ramlat Sab’atayn desert ran generally east-west. What is important for our purposes is the fact that the “eastward” turn of Nephi’s narrative does not show up in any known ancient source, including Pliny the Elder’s famous description of the incense-growing lands of Arabia. No one knew of this eastward turn in the incense trail except persons who had traveled it.
Another point may shed light on the length of time required by Nephi’s party to reach the area of NHM. The NHM tribal territory lies about 1,400 miles south of Jerusalem and about 1,150 miles south of their first camp (on the location of the first camp, consult George D. Potter, “A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 : 54-63). In this connection, two observations are significant. (1) Nephi writes about the marriages of himself and his brothers at the first camp (see 1 Nephi 16:7) and later, after noting the arrival at Nahom, mentions the births of the first children from these marriages (see 1 Nephi 17:1). It seems apparent that within the first months of marriage two or more of the brides became pregnant and, after reaching Nahom, gave birth to their first children, thus setting a time parameter of a year or less for the trek from the first camp to the tribal territory of NHM. That Nephi’s party could have reached this area within a year is demonstrated by another account. (2) According to the ancient geographer Strabo (ca. 64 b.c. – a.d. 19), in 25 b.c. a Roman military force under general Aelius Gallus marched through roughly the same territory, from just south of the Straits of Tiran in the Red Sea to the region of Marib, taking six months to do so. Because Gallus’ army became decimated by disease, he led his men back under forced march in two months to the coastal town where they began, Leuc’ Com’, which is probably the modern town of ‘Aynãnah (see Strabo, Geography 16.4.23-24; on Nabataean artifacts that point to the identification of ‘Aynãnah as ancient Leuc’ Com’, consult Michael L. Ingraham et al., “Saudi Arabian Comprehensive Survey Program: C. Preliminary Report on a Reconnaissance Survey of the Northwestern Province,” ATLAL. The Journal of Saudi Arabian Archaeology 5 [1401 a.h. – 1981 a.d.]: 59-84, especially 76-78). Thus, the plausibility that Nephi’s party could have reached the NHM territory in less than a year is high.
(Note: all of this material is reviewed in S. Kent Brown, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Donald W. Parry et al., eds., Evidences and Echoes of the Book of Mormon [Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002], 55-125.)
Online resources on this topic include a discussion by S. Kent Brown at http://pub26.ezboard.com/fpacumenispagesfrm63.showMessage?topicID=201.topic, noting that inscriptions from ancient altars in Yemen soundly demonstrate the existence of the name “NHM” in a time and place consistent with Nephi’s account of the place Nahom. See also my Book of Mormon Evidences page; “The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi’s Bountiful” by Warren P. Aston; “On NAHOM/NHM” by S. Kent Brown; “Nahom and the ‘Eastward’ Turn” at FARMS; the previously cited article by S. Kent Brown, “‘The Place That was Called Nahom’: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 66-68; and Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 56-61).