When thoughtfully understood, the evidence for Book of
Mormon plausibility and authenticity related to Nephi’s account of crossing the
Arabian Peninsula are profound and impressive. The modern findings and insights
related to First Nephi 16 and 17, for example, are worthy of careful discussion
and consideration. As a result of both field work by Latter-day Saints
exploring potential Book of Mormon locations in the Arabian Peninsula and the
work of non-LDS experts, we have a wealth of information that can strengthen
our appreciation of the Book of Mormon and its plausibility. This includes such
things as excellent candidates for the Valley Lemuel and the River Laman, the
place called Shazer, the green area called Bountiful, specific plausible
pathways corresponding to the detailed directions Nephi gives, and the place
called Nahom where Ishmael was buried. These are some of the evidences which I
touch upon in my Book of
Mormon Evidences page.
Confirming the plausibility of these places and names is
interesting and can help us better understand the Book of Mormon, but don’t
mistake these evidences for proof. These evidences do not prove that the Book
of Mormon is true or that God exists or that Jesus is the Christ, but they do
weigh heavily against claims that a 19th century yokel in the American frontier
just fabricated the account in First Nephi 16 and 17. They weigh in favor of the
hypothesis that those two chapters were written by someone who actually made
the ancient journey described.
The evidences are not trivial, contrived, random parallels.
For example, what are we to say of finding an ancient burial place with a name
essentially equivalent to Nahom in the Arabian Peninsula in exactly the place
where the Book of Mormon implies it must be—at a place where one can depart
from the south-southeast direction Nephi was originally traveling,
substantially corresponding to the ancient incense trails of Arabia, and then
turn nearly due east to reach a place like Bountiful, without passing through
the nearby portions of the desolate empty quarter? Even if we don’t (yet)
accept the Book of Mormon, shouldn’t that raise an eyebrow or two? And when
7th-century B.C. altars are found from that region bearing the tribal name
Nihm, clearly based on the same Semitic root of NHM as Nahom, indicating that
this tribal name and thus most likely a place name of that kind was in fact not
just there “anciently” but in precisely the era that Ishmael was buried,
shouldn’t that at least give us pause to appreciate that this is indeed an
interesting find for Book of Mormon fans?
When critics of the Church chant the mantra that “there is
no evidence for the Book of Mormon,” informed Latter-day Saints may
occasionally dare to make an objections and point out that there is a growing
body of rather impressive evidences that should at least be considered before
hastily rejecting Book of Mormon claims. When committed anti-Mormon critics are
presented with such evidence, the response can be surprising. Take for example
an enthusiastically received presentation at a recent ex-Mormon conference on
Oct. 19th in Salt Lake City, where Chris Johnson presumed to use statistics to
explain away the Book of Mormon. His statistical sleight-of-hand allegedly
exposing the Book of Mormon was supposed to be so impressive that it could
utterly destroy the very foundation of Mormonism, thus the title, “How the Book
of Mormon Destroyed Mormonism.” His work attempting to link the Book of Mormon
to an obscure book about the war of 1812 has been discussed here previously and
at Mormanity, drawing upon a rigorous debunking by Ben McGuire at the Mormon Interpreter. Here I would like to address Chris Johnson’s
other comments on parallels.
If you must, you can watch the video by using the URL
provided in footnote #2 of McGuire’sarticle, or you can use this shortcut: http://tinyurl.com/late-war-fail. But I don’t recommend it because of its
mocking and insulting tone, beginning with mockery of Jeffrey Holland in his
defense of the Book of Mormon, and ending with snippets of video clips from the
Heaven’s Gate suicide cult to equate Mormonism with them. Low and rather inappropriate,
IMHO. In spite of my disappointment in his stance and in spite of the errors I think he has made in his approach, I still find Chris Johnson interesting with intelligence and humor that I wish were being applied to better causes.
His approach to the issue of the Arabian Peninsula is instructive. I find it interesting that for one fascinated in exploring parallels related to the Book of Mormon, he swiftly dismisses the evidence from the Arabian
Peninsula as just trivial and meaningless parallels. All the impressive finds
and bull’s eyes, in this well trained anti-Mormon’s view, boil down to nothing more than a random
parallel of 3 letters that can be explained away with the tiniest exertion of a
brain cell or two.
Here is my transcription of Johnson’s comments: beginning at
6:53 in the video and ending at 8:05, with screenshots of the slides shown:
Perhaps the book is true, or false, depending on the
evidence. Here’s some of the evidence for the Book of Mormon.
Just really briefly, they found Nahom. It’s 3 letters. NHM
because they removed the O and the A because Hebrew apparently didn’t have
those letter back then. But basically, um, so we have 3 letters. And, there’s a
few other little things like that. But
what is the significance of the evidence for the Joseph Smith as a
prophet/translator? What is the evidence? So NHM, for me, that’s probably the
biggest evidence. NHM. It’s in the right place,
it’s the right name.
So here’s the significance.
We have NHM in Germany, Austria,, Iran, Zimbabwe, Angola,
Israel, Canada, and basically everywhere you look you can find those 3 letters.
I’m sure there’s a dozen companies named NHM that all around the world as well.
Basically, if it was QXP, that would be more significant because those are more
rare across the languages of the world. But NHM happened to be some of the most
common letters. So the significance of NHM is lacking.
And there you have it. All the impressive finds in the
Arabian Peninsula reduced to 3 letters, and they are readily explained away
because lots of other countries have places with NHM in it.
Here are 3 more letters that come to mind: HUH?
This argument is given by the man presumably delivering a death blow to the
Book of Mormon with brilliant analysis and scholarship, finding telltale
smoking-gun parallels in random four-word chunks of text shared by the Book of
Mormon and The Late War Against the
United States, chunks that are also shared with numerous other texts before
and after the Book of Mormon, not because they were somehow plagiarized, but
because of common language and methods of expression. Minor random and
irrelevant parallels are enough to destroy Mormonism, but the evidence of
intricate, relevant, and interesting “parallels” like confirming the existence
of an ancient burial place Nahom/Nehem/NHM in exactly the right place and time
given in the Book of Mormon–complete with supporting archaeological finds–is irrelevant and “lacking in significance”
because…because other 3-letter combinations with NHM can be found in, say,
One of the key points in the LDS scholarship about Nahom is
that it is, of course, a name known in the Bible—a person’s name. But as a
place name, it is rare in the Arabian
Peninsula. Johnson claims that NHM is one of the most common 3-letter
combinations (really??), but his list of “parallels” from all over the world
don’t have any others from Arabia, the place that actually matters in this
story. Warren Aston in his groundbreaking In
the Footsteps of Lehi reports that the ancient burial site Nehem/Nahom
appears to be the only place In the entire Arabian Peninsula with that name. Here
is an excerpt from page 12 (footnotes omitted):
The Rarity of the Name
The first point to be made is
that the name NHM (in any of its variant spellings Nehem/Nihm/Nahm, and so on)
is not found anywhere else in Arabia
as a place name. It is unique. It is known to appear only once in southern
Arabian writings (as a personal name) and a handful of times in northern Arabian
Safaitic texts. There are also some interesting appearances in the Old
Testament; as Naham [a person] (1 Chronicles 4:19), as Nehum [another person](Nehemiah
7:7), and, of course, as the name of the Prophet Nahom, whose brief book
provides some of the Bible’s most vivid poetic imagery. … These biblical
occurrences of the name, however, are far removed geographically from southern
Arabia, and no historical connection with the tribal name in Yemen can be made.
The fact that the name appears only once as an Arabian place name argues
strongly in itself for a possible link with Nephi’s Nahom.
Of related interest is Wikipedia’s page
of Arabic place names. I couldn’t see anything related to Nahom or related
forms. Look for yourself.
I was intrigued by the listing of Nahum as a place name in
Israel. Could Joseph Smith have gotten the concept of Nahum as an Old World
place name from that? Not likely. Wikipedia’s article on Sde Nahum,
Israel explains that it is a modern kibbutz founded in 1937. Population
around 550. Not likely an influence for the Book of Mormon. What about Nehama,
Israel? Wikipedia doesn’t seem aware of it, so it must not exist, I suppose.
But there is an Israeli “Comfort Girls” band called Habanot Nechama. Is
that the link? Or what about Nahma, Michigan?
Another 500-person township. Founded 1881. Probably not an inspiration for
Nahom. Or Anhim, Canada? Again, HUH? Sorry, but neither I not Wikipedia can
find this place. Might exist, but if I can’t find it with Google and Wikipedia,
what chance would Joseph Smith have? Any of you able to help me out here? I’m curious about just how common and obvious NHM is.
Again, please, could someone explain to me how these
scattered and sometimes nonexistent places make NHM names so extremely common,
and how any of these could have somehow influence Joseph Smith to put Nahom as
a place in the Book of Mormon, much less as a place name that perfectly fits a
genuine ancient burial place in just the right spot?
The significance of Nahom, contrary to Johnson’s assertions,
goes far beyond just 3 letters, and even beyond 3 letters in the right place on
a map. There is also the meaning of the word which ties in perfectly with the
narrative in the Book of Mormon. The Hebrew root NHM can have meanings of “to
comfort, to console, to be sorry,” akin to the related Arabic root that refers
to sighing or moaning. Another Hebrew root
that can be rendered NHM can mean “to complain” or “to be hungry.” The
association with sorrow, mourning, complaining, and hunger all nicely fit
Nephi’s text in 1 Nephi 16:34-35:
 And it came to pass that
Ishmael died, and was buried in the
place which was called Nahom.
 And it came to pass that the daughters
of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly,
because of the loss of their father, and because of their afflictions in the
wilderness; and they did murmur
against my father, because he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem,
saying: Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness,
and we have suffered much
affliction, hunger, thirst, and
fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger.
 And thus they did murmur
against my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again
The apparent deft play one words by Nephi in the text is
just one aspect of the many subtle evidences related to the issue of Nahom and
the Arabian Peninsula aspects of the Book of Mormon. To ignore that body of
evidence and see the evidence as no more than 3 common letters that can be
accounted for by, say, Nahimha in Tanzania, reflects a fundamental
misunderstanding of the very nature of relevant evidence. Further, the straining
at four-word gnats in the Book of Mormon to “destroy” Mormonism does not
reflect any significant improvement in objectivity or analysis.
The point here is that when our most vocal or committed
opponents speak out, they are often not interested in a genuine debate
or fair consideration of the actual evidence, but in trashing the faith at all
costs. Do not dismayed to hear that the evidence in favor of the Book of
Mormon, no matter how impressive, will always be “lacking significance” in
their minds, while that which is truly trivial will be given great weight if it
can be used to attack.
Do be dismayed, however, at how the Book of Mormon is
becoming more interesting and more worth thoughtful and even scholarly
reflection today than it ever was. There are numerous issues that we can better
appreciate and objections we can better answer today, and more reason than even
to pick it up and take it seriously. It’s a remarkable book worthy of far more
than flippant dismissal and bad statistics.