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, Mozambique?

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:
[34] And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.
[35] 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 murmuragainst 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.
[36] And thus they did murmuragainst my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again to Jerusalem.
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. 

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