Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Where did Joseph learn about the Arabian Peninsula?

If the Book of Mormon is a fraud, then how did Joseph know so much about the Arabian Peninsula, including specific names and places that were not known in his day? Was it just blind luck that the rare place name Nahom in the Book of Mormon, identified as the place where Ishmael was buried, turns out to correspond to an ancient burial site right where the Book of Mormon says it is? How could Joseph Smith so accurately and plausibly describe the nature and location of the place Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula - when critics for years have been denying the possibility of such a place being anywhere in the region? How does one account for the recent discovery of a plausible candidate for the River Laman, continuously flowing into the Red Sea as the Book of Mormon indicates, in spite of the repeated claims of critics that no such river exists? Was there anything within his reach, or the reach of any scholar of his day, that could have resulted in the plausible details we find in First Nephi?

Background:

The book of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon describes a journey through the Arabian Peninsula in much detail, sometimes giving specific directions like "south south-east," and describing specific places such as the Valley of Lemuel with its continually flowing River of Laman, a burial place called Nahom, and a fertile and inhabitable spot called Bountiful due east of Nahom, where Lehi's group lived for a period of time and were able to construct boats and sail to the New World. Incredibly, these details are not only plausible based on modern knowledge, but specific candidates for these locations exist, as I show on my page on Book of Mormon Evidences (including photos). In fact, the candidate for Nahom is confirmed as an ancient burial place in just the right location (Nehhem) and is associated with an ancient tribal name with the same consonants (NHM), based on a recent find of an ancient altar from that tribe dating to around the time of Lehi, with an ideal candidate for Bountiful nearly due east of Nahom on the coast of Oman. And in spite of much mocking by anti-Mormons about the non-existence of rivers, a continually flowing stream has been found in an impressive valley in just the right place to be the valley and river spoken of by Nephi. These places and the NHM name could not possibly have been known to Joseph Smith. They remain unknown to most college graduate in our day, and unknown to almost all anti-Mormons, based on their remarkable silence on these impressive "bulls eyes" in the Book of Mormon. But I'll ask the question again: is there any way that such precise confirmation of First Nephi could have occurred if the unschooled farm boy Joseph Smith were just making up a wild story about a mythical adventure in a remote land? How can you explain away plausible and accurate directions that bypass the empty quarter and would allow an actual ancient journey, a description of a valley and river that anti-Mormons have alleged cannot possibly exist, the existence of an excellent candidate for Bountiful (also was said to not exist anywhere in the Arabian Peninsula), and a direct hit in identifying an ancient burial site and its rare name?

Say what you will about other issues, but is there any way that First Nephi could have been written by anyone in North America in 1830, or is it more plausible that the accurate description of an ancient journey in the Middle East was written by someone who actually made the journey?

Of course, the evidence from the Arabian Peninsula does not prove the Book of Mormon is true, but it does raise a serious challenge to the theory that Joseph was the (fraudulent) author of First Nephi.

11 comments:

Jason Crawford said...

Thank you for mentioning theses evidences. I began with an intellectual testimony 23 years ago which developed into a spiritual one. The evidences only confirm what we as faithful latter day saints have know through the spirit. Empirical evidence for our religion will never convince the true sceptic but it does bolster the strength of the testimonies of those who are sincerely searching.

By continually mentioning these new found evidences we push this knowledge into the main stream. Sooner or later the sceptics and anti-s will have to address this issue.

qhunt said...

Mormanity, I like your comment at the end of this post. "These points don't make the BOM true". It is ofcourse our faith that allows us to know with a surity. There are plenty of anti's that won't believe anything unless it is plopped right down in their laps and they can tagibly feel proof. As for me and my family, faith is sufficient proof.

Bookslinger said...

BYU-AE has pointed out a few times that many BoM assertions and apologetic postulates (that we put forth as possible explanations of BoM plausibility) are "very unlikely."

I just ran across this quote by Einstein that seems appropriate:

"God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically."
Quoted in L Infeld Quest, 1942.

Bookslinger said...

One more Einstein quote:

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Quoted in Des MacHale, Wisdom (London, 2002).

These come from here:
http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Quotations/Einstein.html

Jeff Milner said...

This is an interesting question Jeff.

Perhaps it would help if you wouldn't mind posting the scriptural references you are referring to, "a burial place called Nahom, and a fertile and inhabitable spot called Bountiful due east of Nahom". I'm having a bit of trouble connecting the dots.

So what you're saying is that there is an actual burial ground called Nehhem in the Arabian Peninsula and as your Evidence for the Book of Mormon page points out, "It is true that the name 'Nehhem' or 'Nehem' appear on a couple of maps of Arabia produced in Europe before the Book of Mormon was published".

So what I want to know is how you can be so confident in saying, "These places and the NHM name could not possibly have been known to Joseph Smith".

It doesn't seem like a very logical thing to say that although maps did exist at the time that there is no possible way for Joseph to have had access to them.

Book of Mormon authentic or not, this argument is a fallacy.

Walker said...

I would say that it is perfectly logical, given the kinds of resources available to Joseph. Check the catalog of the Palmyra library or even more importantly, the Harmony library (as Jeff points out on the site). Arabia was considered (and still is believed by many) to be a barren waste. Furthermore, we need not belabor the point of JOseph's lack of bookishness, especially in European maps of Arabia (I consider myself to be an aggressive student of things Mormon, and I don't even look up such things when I have a university library at my disposal).

Furthermore, Harmony's library was even less thorough than Palmyra's, the latter of which left much to be desired. All the factors are working against Joseph knowing about Arabia. Lucky guess? (the odds are laughable let alone logical).

Of all the places Joseph could have chosen to place a Bountiful, why take such a long shot with Arabia? Why not stick with areas in which he was familiar? It was not logical for Joseph to even choose Arabia? Why would it be any more logical to believe he read about it?

Jeff Milner said...

"Why would it be any more logical to believe he read about it?"

I shouldn't have implied that I believed he did read about it. I actually don't believe that he did. However, unless you hold a very loose definition for the word "logical" then I think it's pretty obvious.

My point was (and still is) that it is a fallacy to argue that "there is no possible way for Joseph to have had access to them".

They existed at the time, therefore it is possible he found the information from them. That's why it's more logical.

Walker said...

Jeff,

It seems to me that your conclusion comes down to a logical abstraction, far removed from the realities of this historical inquiry. It was "possible" for me to have met Mikhail Gorbachev while the Berlin Wall was coming down: both he and I were alive, weren't I? Similar possibilities: my Mom visiting with North Vietnamese machine gunners (she was 17-18 at the time, perfect age for revolutionaries); BYU becoming a hotbed for right-wing terrorists (we have a few crazies here, like anywhere). All of these events were chronologically possible, but the real chances of these occuring are so far removed from real-world circumstances that their actuality borders on the bizarre. Why even discuss something so patently implausible?

Granted, Joseph's case isnt' QUITE as extreme as the above and Jeff may have breached the code of logical jargon; however, that breach is far closer to Joseph's lived experience than the suggestion that there was a "possible" way, however infinitessimal its existence was. To argue about wild possibilities that "could have happened," may be good practice for logicians, but it makes for sub-par historical scholarship.

Walker said...

oops...that should be "weren't we?" Then again, if I'm having a bout of schizophrenia right now...

Jeff Milner said...

"Why even discuss something so patently implausible?"

There are a lot more implausible things than this to discuss in the realm of LDS beliefs. I was just trying to respond to the poster's question.

Am I to interpret your question on why I'm discussing this as a statement that you are discouraging open discourse? Am I supposed to suspend my disbelief only when in doing so it reinforces the church? Doing so makes me feel like I have double standards.

Walker said...

Am I to interpret your question on why I'm discussing this as a statement that you are discouraging open discourse? Am I supposed to suspend my disbelief only when in doing so it reinforces the church?

Hardly. One can say whatever s/he likes. However, discussing wild counterfactuals, however amusing/stimulating they may be, are going to lead to fantastical conclusions and red herrings. If we only hold up the value of "open discourse" to a discussion, we are severely limiting the value of our conclusions. For example, we could freely discuss the effects of mid-19th Laotian literary systems on Joseph Smith, the legacy of 20th century Congolese oral tradition on David O. McKay or the influence of modern Mormonism on Ugandan dictator Il Amin Dada, all of which were contemporaries of one another, none of which appear to be connected (from known evidence)

Say what you like. Just know that others will call for an realistic accounting of your reasoning.

Doing so makes me feel like I have double standards.

I'm not asking anyone to be dishonest about their belief or disbelief, nor would I ask anyone to do so. That's not what the man with the sick child told Jesus anyway ("help thou mine unbelief"). If anyone had reason to sugarcoat his feelings, it was him. He was faithfully skeptical (a beautiful paradox if you ask me), and he was blessed for it.

If you don't believe something, be honest about it. At least in my book, you're better off than the "smooth-faced hypocrites" who supposedly proclaim the faith but talk schmak about the prophets when it's fashionable (I saw that happen today, so I still feel a little residual heat).

There are a lot more implausible things than this to discuss in the realm of LDS beliefs.

And Christian beliefs too for that matter...

Perhaps some see it that way. I admit there are certain elements that must be left to the realm of faith (the Resurrection, turning water to wine, multiplying bread, etc.).

In any case, I'm simply asking that we continue discussion of the B.O.M. evidences, all the while staying strictly tethered to the pole of evidence.