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Source:Echoes:Ch12:15:Place called Nahom
"The Place Which Was Called Nahom"
Parent page: Book of Mormon/Geography/Old World
"The Place Which Was Called Nahom"
Nephi recounted that at one point in his family's travels "in the borders near the Red Sea . . . we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time. And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom" (1 Nephi 16:14, 33–34). It is striking that in this instance Lehi did not follow desert practice and name the locale himself, as he did with "the valley which he called Lemuel" (1 Nephi 16:6), "the place [they called] Shazer" (1 Nephi 16:13), "the land which we called Bountiful," and "the sea, which we called Irreantum" (1 Nephi 17:5). Instead, the name Nahom predated the group's arrival and was adopted by them.
In his book Lehi in the Desert, Hugh Nibley makes the linguistic point that the name Nahom derived from the Semitic triliteral roots NHM and NHM that mean "lament" or "grieve" (in Arabic nahama means "to sigh, groan, moan" and nahama signifies "to groan, roar, complain," while in Hebrew the root NHM means "to mourn").26
Lynn and Hope Hilton traveled the presumed route of Lehi in the Arabian Peninsula and proposed that the place called Nahom was by al-Kunfidah in the southwest corner of Saudi Arabia.27 The late Brigham Young University archaeologist Ross T. Christensen cites the instance of a site named Nehhm in an eighteenth-century map drawn by the German explorer Carsten Niebuhr, in a valley to the north of Sana a, the modern capital of the Arab Yemen Republic.28 Warren and Michaela Knoth Aston have followed Christensen's lead in seeking Islamic and early modern sources for Nahom. They found a 1976 map at the University of Sana a in the Yemen Arab Republic that indicated a site called Nehem about thirty-five miles northeast of Sana'a, about the same place cited by Christensen. Nehem is the site of numerous tombs dating back centuries, quite possibly suggesting that it served as a cemetery since antiquity. The Astons also note that the medieval Arab authors Ibn al-Kalbi and al-Hamdani "refer variously to a pagan god known as Nuhum (Ibn al-Kalbi), a tribal ancestor named Nuham (Ibn al-Kalbi), and a region and a tribe called Nihm (al-Hamdani), all in southwest Arabia."29 Despite the venerable age of these intriguing references, all of them were "1,400 or more years after Lehi's party passed through the area."30A few years ago, however, Professor S. Kent Brown of Brigham Young University learned that Burkhard Vogt and a German archaeological team excavating the Bar'an temple in Marib, Yemen, had found an inscribed altar dating from the seventh to sixth centuries BC, "generally the time of Lehi and his family."31 The inscription on the altar indicates that one "Bi'athar, son of Sawad, son of Naw'an, the Nihmite," dedicated the altar to the temple.32 The discovery of this altar is astonishing since, according to Brown, "it predates by almost 1,500 years the Arabic sources cited by the Astons which refer to [a place-name corresponding to Nahom]."
- Stephen D. Ricks, "Converging Paths: Language and Cultural Notes on the Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Book of Mormon," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 12, references silently removed—consult original for citations.