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Nahom is a location mentioned in the Book of Mormon. According to Latter-Day Saints apologists, this location can be matched to a real place in Arabia that Joseph Smith is unlikely to have known about, thereby bolstering the authenticity of the book.
Nahom in the Book of Mormon
In the Book of Mormon, Nahom is mentioned in passing in 1 Nephi 34, during Lehi and his family's voyage through Southern Arabia:
And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.
According to Latter-Day Saints author Warren P. Aston, the wording "place which was called" indicates that Nahom had already been given that name by locals before the individuals described in the Book of Mormon got there.:79 Aston contrasts this wording with several other verses, such as 1 Nephi 16:13 and 17:5, which use the wordings "we did call" and "which we called" respectively to indicate names that were created by Lehi's or his travelling party themselves.:79-80
While the location is not described in further detail, Mormon apologists argue that the place where Nahom should be can be gleaned from the text of the Book of Mormon.
The first book of Nephi in the Book of Mormon starts off with Nephi's family, led by Nephi's father Lehi, being commanded to escape from Jerusalem and guided towards the New World. The narrative includes a detailed journey in Arabia, allowing Mormon apologists to indicate a specific location for Nahom.
According to Latter-Day Saints scholars George D. Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi's party began by leaving Jerusalem via either the Way of the Wilderness or the King's Highway, two routes to the east of Jerusalem, which is plausible because it was the same escape route taken by the Israelites when Jerusalem was captured in 587 BCE.:29 The authors associate this with the use of the word "wilderness" in 1 Nephi 2:4.:28 Lehi's family then travelled along the "borders" near the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:5), which the authors identify as the Hejaz Mountains (whose name means "barriers"), down to the Wadi Tayyib al-Ism, a valley oasis with all of the features of the Valley of Lemuel described in 1 Nephi 2:9-10 and 8:1.:29
Continuing on from the wadi, Lehi and his family travelled along the Gaza branch of the established route of the Frankincense Trail down to a place they named "Shazer", where they rested and hunted.:29 Potter and Wellington identify Shazer as Wadi Agharr, a fertile valley 60 miles south-southeast from the Wadi Tayyib al-Ism that was the first rest stop after Midian on the ar-Rasifijje path.:30 Potter and Wellington propose that this is plausible because (1) if Shazer were not an established rest stop authorized by local tribes, they would not have been allowed to loiter, (2) the location is known to locals as a good hunting spot and (3) Shazer resembles the Arabic shajer, meaning a "valley or area abounding with trees and shrubs".:29-30 One wonders why Shazer would be an Arabic name, considering that the Book of Mormon states that the name Shazer was given by Lehi's family (1 Nephi 16:13), which consisted of Jews whose language of writing was a simplified Egyptian script with a tinge of Hebrew. Luckily for the Mormon apologist, the leeway for matching up names in the Book of Mormon with real words is greatly expanded when Hebrew, Egyptian, and Arabic are all allowed to be considered. The Book of Mormon Onomasticon provides an alternate etymology from the Hebrew word šazar (to twist or intertwine), and proposes that this may have been related to the intertwined growth of the acacia tress in the wadi. With infinite room for linguistics leaps like this, one might as well also propose modern Mandarin 沙泽 shāzé, literally "a watered spot in the sands", or 树泽 shùzé for a hydrated location with trees.
Leaving Shazer, the family of Lehi travelled down the Gaza branch of the Frankincense Trail.:31 The Gaza branch contains a chain of fertile oases and towns, and it becomes more barren further south, reflecting the transition from travelling in the "most fertile parts" (1 Nephi 16:14) to travelling in the "more fertile parts" (16:16) to the family starving in the wilderness (16:35).:31-32 Along the trail, Nephi breaks his steel bow and makes a new wooden one to replace it; Potter and Wellington point out that the Olea europaea, traditionally used to make bows, is only found near Bishah on the Gaza branch of the Frankincense Trail.:32
The Frankincense Trail having taken Lehi's family down to Southwestern Arabia, the family reaches Nahom (1 Nephi 16:33–39), where they buried Ishmael. Following that, they travelled nearly due east (1 Nephi 17:1), which is consistent with the turning point on the Frankincense Trail.:34 As a result, the Book of Mormon text allows the apologist to pin the location of Nahom down to around the eastward turn on the Frankincense Trail.
Nahom as evidence for the Book of Mormon
The Nihm tribal region
Mormon apologists propose that Nahom can be matched to the Nihm tribal region, whose name's consonants match "Nahom" perfectly. (In Semitic languages, vowels are not written down.) Nihm is the name of both an Arabian tribe and its tribal territory.:80 Several places called Nihm (or Naham) are found in the region: Jabal Naham, Furdat Naham, Wadi Naham, and the Nehem cemetery.:32 The tribal region is near the eastward turn on the Frankincense Trail, just as Nahom is described in the Book of Mormon.:33 Furthermore, the vicinity of Nihm is home to a large burial site, which also fits the Book of Mormon narrative.:83
The Nihm altars
Maps and historical references allow the existence of Nihm to be traced down to the 1st century CE, ~600 years after Lehi's alleged journey. The existence of three altars in Marib, Yemen dating to 800-700 BCE that bear the name "Bi’athar, son of Sawåd, son of Naw’um, the Nihmite" helps push back the existence of the Nihm tribal region to the time of Lehi (~600 BCE).
Nahom and Hebraic wordplay
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.
(1 Nephi 16:34-35)
Mormon apologists further propose that there is wordplay occurring in the Book of Mormon relating to Nahom that would only make sense if the book really was initially translated from a text possessing Hebraic characteristics. Nahom sounds like Naham, a Hebrew word for mourning.
Plausible rebuttals to the Nahom argument
Could Joseph Smith have known about Nahom from a modern map?
Maps contemporary to Joseph Smith, such as Carsten Niebuhr's 1763 map of Arabia, did include a Nehhm. Thus, if Joseph Smith did have access to a map with said information, he could have directly lifted the name Nahom from it.
It could be that Smith simply chose the name Nahom based on the biblical name Nahum, and that the parallels to any real world location are simple coincidences. This is the plausible, Occam's razor-friendly explanation once one considers that the other historical claims of the Book of Mormon, such as the existence of a "Reformed Egyptian" language, do not check out.
Flawed rebuttals to the Nahom argument
Some critics (especially apologists for other religions who are eager to use apologist tactics to rebut Mormon apologists for using apologist tactics) have made poor rebuttals to the Nahom argument that spectacularly miss the point.
Philip Jenkins' Patheos blog post
One such spectacularly flawed rebuttal is by Professor Philip Jenkins from the Baptist Baylor University. Jenkins asserts that Joseph got his inspiration for Nahom from modern maps that included the Ottoman Empire-era settlement of Nehhm, and that there is no evidence that it existed as a place in ancient times. In the same stroke, Jenkins argues that the Nihm altars from ~700 BCE have nothing to do with the Nahom of the Book of Mormon, because its inscriptions refer to a tribe or family called the Nihmites rather than to a place name. In doing so, Jenkins completely fails to address the main argument that the Mormon apologists are making. The importance of the altars, according to Mormon apologists, is not that they directly mark a place called Nahom, but rather that they indicate that the Nihm tribe existed back in ~700 BCE. This allows the Mormon apologists, who have already used maps and historical data to trace the existence of Nihm as a location back to ~100 CE,:82 to claim that it existed even at the time of Lehi. The implication that the Mormon apologists have provided no evidence that Nihm existed before the Ottoman-era is plain wrong, and failing to even acknowledge that the alleged evidence exists constitutes a severe failure to fulfill the burden of rejoinder.
Jenkins also states that the match between Nahom and Nihm was basically guaranteed to occur because the Book of Mormon suggests an "inconceivably vast" area for Nahom to be in — the "Arabian Peninsular[ Here, Jenkins completely fails to engage with the apologists' use of textual data from the Book of Mormon to map out a path that narrows the location of Nahom down to the eastward turn on the Frankincense Trail.] [which] covers well over a million square miles."
Finally, Jenkins speculates without evidence that the NHM combination might be overwhelmingly common in Arabia, though he admits that he has "no idea" how common it actually is because he has not checked. But Mormon scholar Warren Aston had already made the claim that "there was only one place in all of Arabia known as Nehem", so Jenkins yet again spectacularly fails his burden of rejoinder to rebut that claim.
- Warren P. Aston. "A History of NaHoM." BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 2 (2012): 78-98.
- Potter, George D. and Wellington, Richard (2006) "Lehi's Trail: From the Valley of Lemuel to Nephi's Harbor," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol. 15 : No. 2 , Article 5. Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/vol15/iss2/5
- Goff, Alan. "Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom".
- Jenkins, Philip. "The Nahom Follies".