Nice Try, But No Cigar: A Response to Three Patheos Posts on Nahom (1 Nephi 16:34)

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Abstract: A series of three Patheos posts on the subject of Nahom rings out-of-tune bells all over the place.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. The three pieces at the Patheos website written by an author known only as “RT” are well written and show an acquaintance with LDS sources that discuss the trek of Lehi and Sariah as recounted in the book of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon.1 That said, such an observation does not mean that gaping holes are not lacking in the basic research.

In the effort to place the narrative of First Nephi into the mythological or “imaginative history” sphere by saying that the narrative does not match what is known about ancient Arabian travel, RT does not see what all LDS researchers have come to see: that the well-established incense route that Lehi’s party evidently followed ran on the east side of the Al-Sarāt mountains, not the western or coastal side. At least five passes are known from one side of the mountain range to the other.2 Other, lesser-known tracks certainly also existed.

[Page 150]More important is the eastward turn of all southbound traffic in the region of Wadi Jawf. Joseph Smith could not have acquired that fact from any map produced before his era except one in London, in codex form. Only the map of Arabia Felix that accompanies the Codex Ebnerianus of Ptolemy’s Geography, which was copied about ad 1460 and is now owned by the New York Public Library, shows a trail that turns east in south Arabia. This trail probably comes from the influence of Arab cartographers on the maker of the map because Ptolemy does not describe the trail in the written part of his work where he lists towns and their locations. This codex, which is not one of the more important copies of Ptolemy’s work because it does not make Lister’s list, came into the possession of the New York Public Library only in 1892 from a London book dealer named Bernard Quaritch and was not published until 1932.

Clearly, the eastward turn was known only to those who rode or walked the incense route in antiquity. This fact became known to modern researchers only after seeing the tremendous effort made by ancient caravaneers to grade and level the incense road when it passed through mountainous terrain, such as the steep ascent out of Maktesh Ramon in southern Israel.

Further, no modern map of Arabia shows the belt of green vegetation in southern Oman that Nephi describes in his narrative as one possessing “much fruit,” “wild honey” and “timbers” (1 Nephi 17:5; 18:1–2). This area of vegetation is exactly where the Book of Mormon narrative predicts it will be after the party turns eastward in the vicinity of Marib, Yemen.

The discussion about the Nihm/NHM/Nehhm/Nahom name has to be taken seriously. To be sure, the range of meanings of the root letters NHM in pre-exilic Hebrew are very different from those of ancient South Arabian. Why would they not be? But to suppose that the party of Lehi and Sariah would not sense relevance in the name when they heard it is to deny what happens anytime one is in a foreign-speaking environment. A person looks for cognates or similar sounding words and then links them to what he or she knows. It is a simple observation played out countless times when individuals step into an unfamiliar linguistic world.

The discussion of Joseph Smith’s access to a modern map of Arabia that even slightly highlights the name Nihm/Nehhm is particularly questionable. To make up scenarios out of whole cloth is irresponsible. [Page 151]The ideas were gathered from traveling salespeople? Neighbors? The notion that atlases were widely distributed into the population of New Hampshire or upstate New York is completely without basis.

What one wants most from the early nineteenth century environment of people who worked from first light in the day to last light in the evening is a specific reference, a reminiscence from a citizen of Lebanon or Palmyra, which says the Smith boys used to work on the farm for pay and, during their lunch break, used to look at the maps that were in the house. Specifically, the works of Jean Baptiste d’Anville and Carsten Niebuhr are not the types of items that the fellow who owned the blacksmith shop in Palmyra acquired. To suggest this requires more than supposition. Rather, such items belong in the homes of the well off. And people in those homes are not entertaining the local farm hands who work for hire, as Joseph and his siblings did.

Further, as the accession records at the Dartmouth University Library and Brown University’s John Hay Library show, the libraries of the day did not purchase such items even if they were available and even if they might be important for research and teaching on campus. The libraries acquired them from private donors, the wealthy. And no such people, who collected books, atlases, and the like, are known to have lived in Palmyra except for John H. Pratt, whose Manchester lending library catalogue does not include any hint in the collection about works that would lead a person into the world of Arabia.

The effort by RT to discredit as merely “apologetic” the works that seek to describe the environment through which the party of Lehi and Sariah journeyed fails. Does the very act of labeling all such efforts as “apologetic” mean that RT’s efforts should be classed as genuine historical research conducted without slightest hint of an agenda? Nice try, but no cigar.[Page 152]

1. “Nahom and Lehi’s Journey through Arabia: A Historical Perspective, Part 1,” Faith Promoting Rumor (blog), Patheos, 14 September 2015,; “Nahom and Lehi’s Journey through Arabia: A Historical Perspective, Part 2,” Faith Promoting Rumor (blog), Patheos, 6 October 2015,; “Nahom and Lehi’s Journey through Arabia: A Historical Perspective, Part 3,” Faith Promoting Rumor (blog), Patheos, 24 October 2015,

2. A. Grohmann and E. van Donzel, “al-Sarāt,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Brill Online, edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs, accessed 20 January 2016, Appeared online: 2012. First Print Edition: isbn: 9789004161214, 1960-2007.

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About S. Kent Brown

S. Kent Brown is an emeritus professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and is the former director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. Brother Brown taught at BYU from 1971 to 2008. In 1978–79, he and his family spent a year in Cairo where he was a fellow of the American Research Center in Egypt while he worked on the collection of ostraca at the Coptic Museum. In 2007 and 2008, Brother Brown served as the principal investigator for an archaeological excavation in southern Oman. In the world of documentary films, he has served as the executive producer for Journey of Faith, Journey of Faith: The New World, and Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God, all productions of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. His most recent book is The Testimony of Luke which deals historically, culturally, and doctrinally with each verse in Luke’s Gospel and is available in hard copy and electronic-book form from BYU Studies, Deseret Book and Amazon. In Church service, he has served as president of the BYU Thirteenth Stake and president of the Jerusalem District. He is married to the former Gayle Oblad; they are the parents of five children and the grandparents of twenty-five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

25 thoughts on “Nice Try, But No Cigar: A Response to Three Patheos Posts on Nahom (1 Nephi 16:34)

  1. “all LDS researchers have come to see: that the well-established incense route that Lehi’s party evidently followed ran on the east side of the Al-Sarāt mountains, not the western or coastal side.”

    I don’t agree with you here, Kent, and don’t believe that the Book of Mormon text does either. That is, Lehi’s Clan did not follow the regular, inland Incense Route, but rather the coastal Tihama. Apart from that, your article tells it like it is, and I greatly enjoyed it.

  2. Kent Brown should treat himself to some Turkish Delight, which he can now probably find close to his current residence, for crafting this interesting and carefully written response to RT.

  3. This is a good article demonstrating the highly improbable reality of Joseph Smith having access to knowledge held by scant few peop,e not only in upstate New York but really in the entire northeastern portion of the United States.

    Shortly after RT’s post, a post I see as being desperate to remove the “rumors” which promote the official Church of Jesus Christ of latter-Day Saints’ account of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon as a “faith promotion” for its fellow believers, Jeff Lindsey made a post which I think showed a highly significant possible flaw in RT’s justification of Lehi’s journey being fabricated by Joseph Smith.

    “For those who value the scholarship behind the Documentary Hypothesis, in spite of many unknowns, here’s the most critical factor that RT is missing in his misapplication of the Documentary Hypothesis: There is significant, credible evidence that Wellhausen was seriously wrong in dating of P. The crafting of the P manuscript, according to one of the world’s foremost scholars conducting research in the details related to the Documentary Hypothesis, occurred before the Exile, probably in Hezekiah’s era, before Josiah and before Nephi. That scholar is Richard Elliott Friedman, who was a student of Frank Moore Cross at Harvard, where he obtained his ThD. He is now the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and the Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, and was a visiting fellow at Cambridge and Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. He is the author of seven books, including the bestselling Who Wrote the Bible? and Commentary on the Torah. He participated in the City of David Project archaeological excavations of biblical Jerusalem and served as a consultant for PBS’s Nova: “The People of the Covenant: The Origins of Ancient Israel and the Emergence of Judaism” and A&E’s “Who Wrote the Bible?” and “Mysteries of the Bible.”

    Let’s consider the credible case made by Richard Elliott Friedman in his award-winning book, Who Wrote the Bible?

    He identifies three serious mistakes that led Wellhausen and others to place P after the Exile. These were:
    The idea that the prophets (e.g., Jeremiah and Ezekiel) do not ever cite material from P.
    The notion that the Tabernacle was not historical but a fiction created after the Exile and inserted into P to provide a rational in the words of Moses for the centrality of the Temple, which is never mentioned in the Pentateuch. The fabricated tabernacle, according to Wellhausen, was created in P to provide an ancient rationale for the Temple.
    The idea that P takes the centralization of worship for granted, as if it were written in a time when there was no doubt that centralization was the norm (i.e., after the Exile).

    Friedman shows how each of these were serious mistakes. Jeremiah and Ezekiel actually do cite P material several times, showing that P existed before the Exile. For example, Ezekiel 5 and 6 provide a lawsuit of sorts against Israel for not keeping their covenant with God, and the covenant referred to is detailed in Leviticus 26, a P source which Ezekiel relies on with many nearly verbatim passages. Ezekiel and Jeremiah use other portions of P as well (e.g., Ezekiel draws upon P elements of the Exodus narrative).”

  4. Hello all,
    I’m happy to have received this response from Professor Brown to my argument on BoM Nahom. From what I can tell, Brown seems like a nice fellow and he attempts at least to give me some credit for my detailed engagement with LDS scholarship on the subject. I plan on responding to this and other online critiques fairly soon, so please, respectful comments, questions, or criticisms are welcome! In the meantime, I encourage people who have not read my articles for themselves to do so. Strangely, no active links were provided above, so I will do so here:

  5. I have a hard time with NHM having any relation to Joseph Smith’s Boof of Mormon because there is simply no proof the people of the Book of Mormon were in the Americas. The NHM evidence is so questionable in isolation that to give it any credence whatsoever one needs some proof, any proof that Nephi, et al were in the Americas. Does anyone have this proof?

    • DJ: I cannot be certain because I know nothing about you, but the kind of requests you are making suggests to me that you don’t have a lot of experience with the nature of archaeological evidence, or perhaps even what historians work with. No one suggests that the NHM information should be used exclusively to determine Book of Mormon historicity. Nothing works that way. However, the evidence does provide an indication that the story told about the Old World portion fits into both a known geography and time. In this case, it fits with even more textual information. The combination of factors is what makes NHM significant.
      In the New World, you suggest that there is no proof. I agree. However, I also understand that there is very little proof of most archaeological reconstructions. In the New World, this is particularly difficult because the association of texts with sites comes mostly after the close of the Book of Mormon. What that means is that rather than proof we need evidence–and archaeologists work with evidence much more often than with proof.
      As for evidence for the Book of Mormon in the New World, there is really quite a bit of it. Based on your question, it seems that you haven’t read any of the articles that provide it. I would encourage you to do so, if you really have an interest. Please do so, however, remembering that the standard of proof is not what they suggest, nor should they, nor should it be expected.

      • With all due respect, there isn’t evidence for BofM historicity beyond remote possibilities. NHM is just another remote possibility in a long line of remote possibilities. So, perhaps the title of this article should be toned down a little bit?

        • Don’t you think “due respect” would include actual investigation of the data? I have been through the data and find that there is case for historicity built on the way one might look at a document to test for historicity. Events occur in the right times and the right places. That is not limited to NHM, but continues through the text. The complex interaction of multiple descriptions with places and times bolsters historicity when those multiple interactions are consistent throughout the text.

          • Of course it includes actual investigation of the data. That’s why I said the so called “evidence” for historicity is in reality merely remote possibilities. NHM could mean a lot of things and nahom is merely one of the possibilities. However, when one looks at what is probable and not just possible, the link to BofM historicity and NHM seem mighty tenuous and not probable.

        • Way to just repeat yourself. Everyone looks at the evidence differently. Plus, your indictment that it is a remote possibility has been said about many things that have turned out to be true. Now that argument could be made for many things that are just plain wrong, but your screen name, constant repeat of the same line of argument, and lack of actually engaging in Gardner’s response is tiresome.

          You obviously made up your mind(which is fine and I respect that you don’t believe their is enough evidence), but your lack of actually engaging with the article or Gardner response suggests that you should save your time in commenting.

  6. If we are going to be experts in ancient Arabian maps, let us first get our own maps right. Palmyra was in Western New York, not upstate New York, a common misunderstanding at BYU. Obviously the insinuation was that the Smiths were looking at money-digging maps, not Arabic maps.

  7. I just wish that everyone would realize, in and out of the Church, that the historicity of NAHOM (NHM) as a genuine Book of Mormon site is unimportant. However where is Palmyra and when did Joseph Smith know that Palmyra is in Upper New York? (This assumes that Palmyra is not in fact in Western New York!) There is no way that Joseph Smith, with just a 4th grade education, could have known if Palmyra (PLMR) was in Upper New York or not. If fact according to Wikipedia the term “Upper New York” was not coined until 1901. Sure there could have been in existence 1830 some Jewish redacted (I’m not sure if that is even a word) document written by the hand of Abraham/Nephi that refers to “ Palmyra”. However a google search (even using the advanced option) “proves” no such connection. Without proof of the real PLMR, I refuse to continue to make contributions to the “Friends of Scouting”. Right or wrong that is my position.

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