Saturday, April 26, 2008

Murmuring in the Wilderness (1 Nephi 16 Part II)

Listen now!
We now enter into a new phase of the journey of Lehi's family to the promised land. His sons are married to Ishmael's daughters and Lehi is comforted by the fact that the Lord is happy with his having kept the commandments given them thus far.

But the tests are just beginning for them.

One morning, as Lehi left his tent, he saw on the ground "a round ball of curious workmanship". Nephi states that it was made of brass and that within it were two spindles, one of which pointed which way they should go into the wilderness.

There has been much speculation on the construction, design, and inner workings of this artifact, but spiritually speaking, we are to find as we read on that only one thing was important about it.

As they struck camp and headed out into the wilderness to a place called Shazer, and then later through some more "fertile parts of the wilderness" in the borders near the Read Sea, they hunted game and were able to obtain food using a bow and arrows and stones and slings.

Nephi reports that, on one hunting excursion, his bow broke. His family was extremely upset with this misfortune because Laman and Lemuel's bows had both lost their spring. That, in turn, meant that their ability to feed a large number of people was greatly reduced. Because Nephi's bow was made of "fine steel" (see 2 Sam. 22: 35 for a biblical reference to steel that predates Nephi), it was not likely that they would come across a replacement anytime soon.

Everyone began to murmur against the Lord. Even Lehi.

Nephi began to try to teach them to trust in the Lord, but they wouldn't listen. Talking to them wasn't going to accomplish much, so Nephi led by example, making a new bow out of wood and an arrow out of a stick, and then gathered stones and made a sling. Then he went to his father and asked, "Whither shall I go to obtain food?"

This question must have been startling and somewhat humbling to Lehi, who had so recently been complaining and murmuring against the Lord. Here was his 3rd-born son now asking him to go to the Lord and ask for a revelation about where best to hunt for food. Only after Lehi had repented did the Lord speak to him, saying, "Look upon the ball, and behold the things which are written."

Indeed, there upon the ball were written words stating where they should go and the spindle pointed the direction. Nephi went hunting according to those directions and was able to bring back food for the family, who gave thanks to the Lord for what He had done for them.

Regardless of what the ball was or looked like, Nephi, Lehi, and the family learned one great truth that would help them in the future...the Lord blesses us when we have faith in Him. Whether it is through some physical phenomenon we can see, or through a more spiritual manifestation, God is eager to speak to us and guide us if only we will prepare ourselves to hear His voice.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Place Which was Called Nahom

The first book in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi) details, among other things, the challenges that Nephi and his family had to face while traveling through the Arabian desert. The hardships in the desert became so severe, in fact, that one member - a man named Ishmael - died. Nephi indicates that Ishmael was buried "in the place which was called Nahom" (1 Nephi 16:34).

This bit of information in the Book of Mormon constitutes one of its strongest evidences of authenticity. There are three points to this.

1. The root of the name Nahom - NHM (remember, there are no vowels in Hebrew) - means "consolation" or "to be sorry, console oneself." How appropriate that Ishmael was buried at a location that had a name such as this. Also, how appropriate that the daughters of Ishmael, following the old Bedouin tradition of mourning, choose here to proclaim their lamentations for the loss of their father (1 Nephi 16:35-36).
Of all the names that Joseph Smith could have choosen for the name of the place that Ishmael was buried if he was the author of the text, how did he know to pick such a befitting title? Joseph did not begin to learn Hebrew until 5 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.

2. In the late 1990's, a team of non-LDS German archaeologists discovered a group of limestone altars in the Nehem region of southern Arabia. On these altars was inscribed the name NHM, which can be constructed as Nehem/Naham/Nahom. These altars are older than the time in which Nephi says Ishmael was buried (circa 600-592 BCE) which shows that Nephi was strictly correct to note that Ishmael's burial site "was called" Nahom, since the location was older than the time of Nephi's narrative.

3. Nephi indicates that he and his family, after entombing Ishmael at Nahom, traveled "nearly eastward" (1 Nephi 17:1) until they hit the land that Nephi and his family named Bountiful, where Nephi built his ship that would take him and his family to the New World. Latter-day Saint scholars have shown that the most likely candidate for Nephi's "Bountiful" - a location today known as Khor Khafot - is indeed a simple eastward trek from Nahom, thus proving that Nephi's record is in strict accord with Arabian geography.

These three elements create an impressive evidence for the Book of Mormon's authenticity. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith was familiar with pre-Islamic Arabian geography, which makes him and unlikely author of the text of 1 Nephi. The only person who could have written it is someone who had a familiar understanding with Arabian geography (i.e. Nephi).

However, despite this impressive bullseye for the Book of Mormon (and there is plenty more from Arabia that I did not cover which are also impressive evidences for the Book of Mormon), it cannot be stressed enough that the ultimate proof for the Book of Mormon is the witness of the Spirit of its truthfulness (Moroni 10:4-5) which comes from personal revelation from the Lord through the Holy Ghost.

For further reading, consult the following:

"New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail" by S. Kent Brown (

"Lehi's Arabian Journey Updated" by Noel B. Reynolds (

"Lehi in the Desert" by Hugh W. Nibley (

"Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith have Known the Way?" in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins by Eugene England

"New Light: "The Place That Was Called Nahom": New Light from Ancient Yemen" by S. Kent Brown (

"Bountiful and Nahom in the Arabian Peninsula" by Jeff Lindsay (