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Nihm — Evidence for Nephi’s Nahom?

Hard pressed for support for their religious views, Mormon apologists have gone digging for details that can be seen as evidence for the “truth” of the Book of Mormon. Within the last two centuries since the Book of Mormon was published, nothing has been found in the western hemisphere that can be taken as hard evidence that the events described in the Book of Mormon had ever happened, much less any that the civilizations that it describes ever existed; the negative genetic evidence to the contrary being no help. Their investigation, however, has not been limited to the western hemisphere; they also have been focusing on the eastern as well for evidence of Lehi’s migration from Judea and through the Arab peninsula (600 to 591 BC), as well as other details.

In modern Yemen, a relatively new archeological discovery. In the site from Bar’an Temple from ancient Marib, there were a few altars discovered with inscriptions around their rims. Following is the translation, line by line:

  1. Bi’athar son of Sawdum, son of Naw’um, the Nihmite,
  2. has dedi[cated] (to) Ilmaqah (the person) Fari’at. By
  3. ‘Athtar, and by Ilmaqah, and by Dhat-Himyam, and by
  4. Yada’-il, and by Ma’adi-karib.

The original transliteration of the tribal name “Nihmite” in the first line attracted the interest of Mormon apologists. The original inscription literally comes out as “NHM,” and is pronounced as “Nihm.” They could not help but see an apparent connection between Nihm and a landmark mentioned in the book of First Nephi called Nahom; the latter would logically share the same transliteration, considering that Hebrew and Egyptian hieroglyphs have no vowels.

After Lehi’s band traveled southeast from Judea, Nahom was the location where Ishmael died and was buried. After that, they changed course and went eastward (1 Nephi 16: 34,  17:1).  Warren P. Aston, a Mormon defender, in his description of the region goes through the criteria for the Nahom, he then mentions a graveyard that is 25 miles to the north of the Bar’an Temple. He then poses the question if this was the actual location of the Nahom where Ishmael was buried. One can’t help but wonder if he isn’t getting overly excited by letting his presuppositions get the better of him.

That all being said, there are some problems with assuming that Nihm, discovered in Yemen is the Nahom of the Book of Mormon. Reading the Mormon literature, it would appear that the location would fit the criteria, but there is one important detail that the Mormon apologists have failed to take into account; 1 Nephi 16: 14 says that Lehi’s band continued in “the same direction, keeping to the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea…” Now comes in the problem: As Warren indicates, the tribal area of Nihm is on the ancient Incense trail. Logically, since the Book of Mormon says they didn’t turn until after the burial of Ishmael, Nahom cannot be more than a just a few miles from the Red Sea. However the Incense trail was at least 100 miles inland meaning could hardly be said to be “in the borders near the Red Sea.” Making matters worse, I found that the tribal area is 70 miles east of  San’a, Yemen which is in turn about 94 miles from the Red Sea making the total distance about 164 miles, confirming that the distance is too great. The same would apply to the cemetery 25 miles to the north since it is doubtful that the distance would change by much.

In the standards of the time, such a distance would hardly be considered “near” the borders of the Red Sea. If Nihm is indeed the Nahom of the Book of Mormon, then this would indicate that Nephi, the writer, had gotten is details wrong. This is unlikely since the work would have been an eye-witness account if indeed he wrote the book and made the journey with his father. A possible explanation is that this is indeed not Nahom since it should be much closer to the Red Sea, so it is yet to be discovered. And the final option here is that Nahom did not exist and that “Nihm” is nothing more than a semantical coincidence. Overall, the evidence ranges from between the inconclusive to the negative; the negative being that the geography is over a hundred miles away from where the Book of Mormon says it should be. Even if this were not the case, the connection between Nihm and Nahom would be dubious at best; arguments linking the two seem more designed for those that are ready to be convinced.