After Lehi’s family left Jerusalem, they traveled in the Arabian Peninsula on their way to the “promised land.” In 1994, an archaeological discovery in Yemen has the same name as mentioned in 1 Ne. 16: 34, “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom."
Critics of the LDS church have often chortled at the fact that there is no archaeological evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. Well, that is now changing, and I would like to discuss what we know about an archaeological site called “Nahom.”
Book of Mormon references to Nahom
When Lehi left Jerusalem, Book of Mormon scholars surmise that Lehi and his family probable followed the Frankincense Trail on the eastern side of the Red Sea. The trail is not well marked, and is in a desert. There are water stops along the way, spaced quite distantly. Over the centuries, many people died along the trail because of lack of water. The land is desolate, and it seems unlikely that Lehi’s family would have been trailblazers in such a forbidding place, especially when one considers that the Frankincense Trail pre-dates Lehi.
During the journey, Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem twice. The first time they return to obtain the Brass Plates (scriptures), and the second time they return to obtain wives. They return with the family of Ishmael, who has as many daughters as Lehi does sons.
A DVD called Journey of Faith, discusses the probable route of Lehi, and goes into great detail on the recent discovery of NHM, or Nahom.
Expert Opinions on Nahom
Kent Brown, professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. “I believe that it took them about a year to go from their first base camp down to Nahom. The reason is because that’s when Nephi mentions the birth of the first children. As I read the text of the Book of Mormon, I suspect that Ishmael was already ill, or had been experiencing ill health, and that was one of the reasons why the family stopped from time to time to rest, to gather themselves, gather strength and then move on.”
Yusuf Abdullah, Former Director of General Organization of Antiquities, Republic of Yemen, “During the frankincense trade journey, I suppose that quite a number of people will die, because it was a hard journey definitely. It wasn’t an easy journey. And when they die, they will carry it [the body] to the nearest place possible.
Abdullah, “In Yemen, like in many ancient civilizations, they used to respect the dead very much. The areas to bury were known along the Frankincense Route.”
Abdu Othman Ghaleb, Professor of Archeaology, Sana’a University, Republic of Yemen, “I am sitting in Nahom burial ground that was discovered in 1994. The people who pass through this area and die, they will bring to the burial and buried here. Whether they were Yemenis or foreigners from the north, from Mediterranean or from someplace else.”
Abdullah, “They [the graves] are like small hives or small graves, mounds.”
Ghaleb, “And this area, what is the burial ground, is belong to the tribe of Nahom.”
Brown, “They’d have buried Ishmael here, to great mourning. One of the reasons the people felt to mourn is because he was an Israelite, and to be buried away from his home was something of a loss.”
Brown, “It’s certain that this place had a name before they arrived, because Nephi very carefully writes the passive, the place which was called Nahom.”
Ghaleb, “This is the area of Nahom, this is the land of Nahom, and also the area of the tribe of Nahom.”
Brown, “The spelling in 1st Nephi 16 is [pronounced] ‘Nay-home’, or ‘Nah-home’, which has something to do with comfort. In ancient South Arabian, the letters N-H-M have to do with stone cutting and may possibly refer to the kind of work that the people of this tribe did.”
Abdullah, “The name is supposed to be coming from the root Nahama. And Nahama is ancient South Arabian language means to cut stone.”
Brown, “We have to imagine what happened when Lehi and Sariah and their party heard this name after the death of Ishmael, that it meant something to them and they preserved it in the text.”
David J Johnson, Archaeology, BYU, “The Yemenis have excavated a number of cemeteries in that region, including some that contained mummified remains.”
Ghaleb, “The mummies that we found here in Yemen were buried differently from the ones in Egypt. The knees are not straight like the Egyptian. And also they covered all the body inside [with] very nice leather.”
Reasons why discovery is important
Daniel C. Peterson, Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic, BYU, “The finding of Nahom strikes me as just a tremendously significant discovery.”
Peterson, “What it really is, is a kind of prediction by the Book of Mormon, or something that we ought to find.”
William J. Hamblin, Professor of Middle Eastern History, BYU, “Now the chances of finding that exact name from the exact time, in that exact place, by random chance, are just astronomical.”
Peterson, “And to find it in the right location, at the right time, is a really striking bulls eye for the book and there are those who say the book has no archeological substantiation. That’s a spectacular substantiation right there, it seems to me. Something that would have been unexpected. It’s so unlikely that Joseph Smith could have woven into his story on his own.”
Hamblin, “The Book of Mormon has text, has made a complex prediction and modern archeology actually confirms that prediction.”
Peterson, “It’s a direct bulls-eye, as precise as you could wish it to be.”
Archaeological Dating of Site
Johnson, “There are inscriptions from the Temple Baran at Marib that date to the 6th century BC, that talk about individuals from Nahom. So that region was known at the time of Lehi, and was called that at that period of time.”
Brown, “The temples that were uncovered there are actually from Lehi’s own time frame.”
Peterson, “But then to find the altars, with references to Nahom on them dating from 600 BC was just spectacular.”
Brown, “Certain ruins, or remnants, of that temple were uncovered, including three altars, all of which carried this inscription, Nahom.”
Peterson, “You couldn’t have asked for a neater proof that the name was there in the right place at the right time, when it was supposed to be there for Lehi’s group passing through.”
Skeptics have tried to claim that Joseph must have consulted maps, or had prior knowledge of the area.
John Welch, Law and Classical Antiquity, BYU, “The witnesses [to the translation of the Book of Mormon, specifically Emma Smith] tell us that Joseph didn’t even know that the city of Jerusalem had walls around it. Well if he didn’t know that there was a wall around Jerusalem, he certainly didn’t know that there was a city or a site out in Yemen called Nahom.”
Peterson, “The idea that Joseph Smith, for example, was really well versed in pre-Islamic Arabian geography, or customs in the desert seems to me so ludicrous as to simply be beyond belief.”
Ann Madsen, Senior Lecturer of Ancient Scripture, BYU, “One has to ask the question, how could Joseph Smith possibly have known Nahom?”