Question: How realistic is the name "Shazer" described in the Book of Mormon?

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Question: How realistic is the name "Shazer" described in the Book of Mormon?

Nigel Groom's Dictionary of Arabic Topography and Placenames contains an entry for a similar word, "shajir," giving the meaning: "A valley or area abounding with trees and shrubs."

Shazer is introduced in 1 Nephi 16:, as Nephi's group departs from the hospitable Valley of Lemuel:

11 And it came to pass that we did gather together whatsoever things we should carry into the wilderness, and all the remainder of our provisions which the Lord had given unto us; and we did take seed of every kind that we might carry into the wilderness.
12 And it came to pass that we did take our tents and depart into the wilderness, across the river Laman.
13 And it came to pass that we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place Shazer.
14 And it came to pass that we did take our bows and our arrows, and go forth into the wilderness to slay food for our families; and after we had slain food for our families we did return again to our families in the wilderness, to the place of Shazer. And we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea.(1 Nephi 16:11–14.)

Regarding the place name Shazer, Nigel Groom's Dictionary of Arabic Topography and Placenames contains an entry for a similar word, "shajir," giving the meaning: "A valley or area abounding with trees and shrubs." [1]

Regarding the name "Shazer," Nibley wrote:

The first important stop after Lehi's party had left their base camp was at a place they called Shazer. The name is intriguing. The combination shajer is quite common in Palestinian place names; it is a collective meaning "trees," and many Arabs (especially in Egypt) pronounce it shazher. It appears in Thoghret-as-Sajur (the Pass of Trees), which is the ancient Shaghur, written Segor in the sixth century. It may be confused with Shaghur "seepage," which is held to be identical with Shihor, the "black water" of Josh. 19:36. This last takes in western Palestine the form Sozura, suggesting the name of a famous water hole in South Arabia, called Shisur by Thomas and Shisar by Philby. . . . So we have Shihor, Shaghur, Sajur, Saghir, Segor (even Zoar), Shajar, Sozura, Shisur, and Shisar, all connected somehow or other and denoting either seepage–a weak but reliable water supply–or a clump of trees. Whichever one prefers, Lehi's people could hardly have picked a better name for their first suitable stopping place than Shazer. [2]

It turns out that there is a perfect fit for Shazer, a large, extensive oasis region with what is said to be the best hunting in all of Arabia, and it is in the right location

The Book of Mormon description of Shazer as a place where Lehi's group would stop and go hunting—obviously a place with water and wildlife where one could stay for a while on a long journey—agrees well with the meaning of the word Shazer. But is there such a place in the area required by the Book of Mormon?

It turns out that there is a perfect fit for Shazer, a large, extensive oasis region with what is said to be the best hunting in all of Arabia, and it is in the right location to have been a four-days' journey south-southeast of the established location for the Valley of Lemuel, near a branch of the ancient frankincense trail and in the region of Arabia near the Red Sea called the Hijaz. This oasis is in the wadi Agharr.

Potter and Wellington describe the process of locating their proposal for Shazer:

Our first attempts at finding Shazer took us to the wells of Bani Murr and an-na'mi, to the east of the valley. Our second trip through the Khuraybah pass proved no more successful. These sites did not fit the description of a valley with trees. In fact, they were down- right inhospitable. . . .

It wasn't until the summer of 2000 that the whereabouts of Shazer became apparent. We realized that Lehi's first camp after the valley had to have been at an authorized halt along the Gaza branch of the Frankincense Trail [the Valley of Lemuel was along this branch]. He would not have been allowed to stop anywhere else, and it had to be at a well site. That spring Richard had been reading the works of Alois Musil, a Bohemian academic and explorer who doubled up as a German spy before World War I. . . . One piece of his record stood out to Richard. Musil recorded, "We . . . crossed the old Pilgrim Road of ar-Rasifijje leading southward to the hills of Kos al-Hnane, where spirits abide. Date palms were still growing in parts of the valley, so that the oasis of Sarma could be extended a full twenty-five kilometers to the east."

Musil described a fertile valley with an oasis over fifteen miles long which was approximately south-southeast from the Valley of Lemuel and was crossed by the old pilgrim route that followed the Gaza arm of the old Frankincense Trail that was an active trade route in Nephi's time. We found Musil's description of Agharr most interesting because on a prior trip to Midian we had been told by the Police General at al-Bada that the best hunting in the entire area was in the mountains of Agharr.

Here at last was the solid clue we had been looking for. . . .

[The authors then discuss evidence from old Arab geographers that the first rest stop after al-Bada'a, also known as Midian, was Al-Aghra', which appears to be the wadi Agharr.]

Nephi recorded that their first halting place after leaving the Valley of Lemuel was a place of trees where they stopped to hunt.

Now we had evidence from independent sources that the first rest stop after Midian on the ancient Gaza branch of the Frankincense Trail was in a fertile valley with trees, wadi Agharr, and the surrounding mountains presented the best hunting opportunities along the trail. The next step was to visit Al-Agharr. . . .

From al Bada'a we headed the sixty miles south southeast to wadi Agharr and our potential location for Shazer. To our right the Red Sea glittered in the bright noon light, to our left the mountains of the Hijaz towered over us, purple in the midday sun. Between al Bada'a and wadi Agharr we found a few small scattered farms and a few old wells. Here, where the water table was higher, there may well have been halts anciently where the families could have rested each evening as they headed southeast. As we reached wadi Agharr . . . [t]here was a gap in the mountains where the trail led. Through the gap we could see some palm trees in the wadi. Entering the wadi we were amazed to find an oasis that ran as far as the eye could see both to our left and to our right.

Wadi Agharr was exactly as Musil had described—fields of vegetables and plantations of palms stretching for miles. It is a narrow valley, perhaps one hundred yards across, bounded on each side by high walls stretching up a few hundred feet. "Shazer" was certainly an apt description for this location—a valley with trees, set amid the barren landscape of Midian. Here, after three years of fruitless searching, systematically visiting all the wells in a seventy-five mile radius of wadi Tayyab al Ism, we had finally found Shazer.

[The authors then discuss the presence of "Midianite" archaeological sites in the region, dating to the late second to mid-first millennium B.C., suggesting that the valley was fertile anciently.]

On a later expedition we returned to Shazer and drove up into the mountains in the area we thought the men of Lehi's party would have gone to hunt. We spoke with Bedouins who lived in the upper end of wadi Agharr who told us that Ibex lived in the mountains and they still hunted them there. We were reminded of the words of the Greek Agatharkides of Cnidos who called this area anciently the territory of Bythemani. According to Agatharkides, "The country is full of wild camels, as well as of flocks of deer, gazelles, sheep, mules, and oxen ... and by it dwell the Batmizomaneis who hunt land animals." [Alois Musil, Northern Hijaz—A Topographical Itinerary, (published under the patronage of the Czech Academy of Arts and Sciences and of Charles R. Crane, 1926), 303] It may have been these very animals that Lehi and his sons went out to hunt.

Here at wadi Agharr is a site that perfectly matches Nephi's Shazer. It probably has the best hunting along the entire Frankincense Trail. It is the first place travelers would have been allowed to stop and pitch tents south of Midian, and as the Book of Mormon states, it is a four days' journey from the Valley of Lemuel (1 Ne. 16:13). [3]

Notes

  1. Nigel Groom, Dictionary of Arabic Topography and Placenames (Beruit: Librairie du Liban ; London : Longman, 1983), ?. ISBN {{{isbn}}}. Cited in Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi's Journey across Arabia to Bountiful (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 73. ISBN 0875798470 See also Thomas J. Abercrombie, "Arabia's Frankincense Trail, National Geographic 168 (October 1985): 474–512.
  2. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 76. (Italics in original.) See also Nibley's brief remarks in Hugh Nibley, "Book of Mormon Near Eastern Background," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), ?:188.
  3. Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi's Journey across Arabia to Bountiful (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 74,76. ISBN 0875798470