Book of Mormon Names Among the Lihyanites in Arabia
By George Potter
When archaeologists prioritize the importance of documentary evidence, written records take top stage. Nothing is more compelling than to find a written historical record that an event transpired, everything else highly interpretive. The Doctrine & Covenants tells us that Nephi was a very successful missionary during his journey down from Jerusalem (D&C 33:7, 8). So why not ask the question, is there any written evidence that Nephi converted a large number of people in Arabia.
The obvious place to start searching for written evidence is the ruins of the Lihy Empire in Arabia. Lehi and Nephi passed through this same part of Arabia early in the sixth century B.C. Then shortly thereafter, late in the sixth century B.C., the Lihyanites came to power in northwest Arabia, and ruled a large area of the peninsula for over 300 years. Book of Mormon scholars Lynn and Hope Hilton were first to theorize that the Lihyanites were possibly the descendants of some of the converts of Lehi and Nephi (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, (Springville Ut: CFI 1966)). Since renaming families and tribes after exceptional leaders is a time honored tradition in Arabia, it would be feasible that the Lihyanite converts would both renamed their tribe after the patriarch Lehi and have named their children after the men they regarded as exceptionally righteous. The Book of Mormon identifies the righteous adult males in Lehi's family during their crossing of Arabia as Lehi (Lihy), Nephi (Nafi in Arabia) and Sam (1 Nephi 2:17,7:6,8:3).
The name Lihy is found on inscriptions throughout the al-Ula valley, the valley in which the Lihyanite capital city Dedan was located. As noted in our book, Lehi in the Wilderness, and in our film Discovering the Most Fertile Parts, Dedan was along the part of the frankincense trail that was known from the time of Ramasees II (2nd Millennium B.C.) to Mohammed (6th Century B.C.) as the "fertile parts". Nephi wrote that they traveled in the "fertile parts" (1 Nephi 16:14).
The name Lihy was also carried in the line of Lihyanite kings. Indeed, from the Lihyanite capital at Dedan (al-Ula), the name Lihy spread along the towns of the frankincense trail. Dr. Al-Anary writes "Liyhanite inscriptions were found along the trade routes in Tayma and Al-Fau (approximately 1,000 miles) In Tayma, a black obelisk mentions, "Fadju, shahro bin Malik Lihyan", son of the king of Lihyan" . ('an' makes a word plural in Arabic) Pliny, who died in 79 A.D. referred to the Gulf of Aqabah as the "Gulf of Laeanitie".
During our last visit to the ruins of the Lihyanite capital city (al-Ula), we meet a man at the farmers markets who bore that name Nafi (Nephi). That's not surprising since there is a town named Nafi in central Arabia. The Hiltons visited that town and relate this interesting encounter:
"One day in the company of Delbert Madsen, we visited the town [Nafi]. It seemed like a miracle when we knocked on a door, and the Arab owner invited us in for supper and "o'nite". He explained he was home for vacation for the University of Colorado, where he was a Ph.D candidate! When we declined his tea, he asked if we were Mormon. He said that once he was driving from southern Nevada to Idaho when he noticed the town Nephi, Utah on the map. He stopped there for gas and food and asked a man in the restaurant, "What is the connection between 'Nephi' in Utah and my home 'Nafee' in Saudi Arabia, since both are the same word?" The Utah man was reported to have replied, "Are you kidding?" So the Arab drove on to Idaho, never getting an answer." (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, p. 87)
Of even more import is the Hiltons' discovery that the Lihyanties used the personal name 'Nafy'. The name appears in Lihyan script on a 3rd or 4th century tomb marker near al-Ula. (Hiltons, p. 89; W.F. Winnett and W. L Reed, "Ancient Records from the North Arabia", (Toronto, University of Toronto Press: 1970)).
This year we found that Lihyanite inscriptions in the al-Ula Valley include the name 'Sam'. This is interesting since the common Hebrew pronunciation is 'Samuel', and the Arabic traditional pronunciation is 'Sami', yet the Book of Mormon pronunciation is exactly the same was the Lihyanite articulation Sam!. We later discovered that the National Museum of Saudi Arabia with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History display on their joint internet site another Lihyanite inscription of the name 'Sam'. (http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/e_pre-islamic/lihyanite.htm [URL updated by J.L.; the original URL was www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/english_version/html/e_lihyanite.htm]).
Here then, is more compelling WRITTEN evidence that the Book of Mormon is in total harmony with the history of Arabia. To suggest that Joseph Smith somehow could have known the Lihyanite names of Lehi, Nephi and Sam is naive, indeed. No westerner visited the land of the Lihyanites until it was discovered by Charles Doughty in 1876.
It excites me to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed that Nephi taught the gospel in Arabia, and that now, by written evidence, we know that the names of the adult male religious males of Lehi's family were used among the ancient people of Lihy, who ruled a large portion of the Frankincense trail soon after Lehi's passage down that very trail.
1- Al-Ansary, 28.
3- George Potter and Faisal Al-Zamil, 7 April 2004, central farmers
market in al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.
4- National Museum of Saudi Arabia and Smithsonian National Museum of
Natural History, "Written in Stone", Inscriptions from the National Museum
of Saudi Arabia, Lihyanite Script, 1 of 2, http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/english_version/html/e_lihyanite.htm.
March 2004. (This URL no longer works. I believe the appropriate URL is now http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/e_pre-islamic/lihyanite.htm.
Friday, January 13, 2006
The November 2004 newsletter from the Nephi Project discusses some interesting tentative findings from the Arabian Peninsula involving the ancient Lihyan tribes of Arabia. George Potter points to possible correlations with the Book of Mormon. He has kindly given me permission to quote from his newsletter here.
Posted by Jeff Lindsay at 6:35 AM