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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Stunning New Video Gives Details and Insights on the Arabian Peninsula Evidence for the Book of Mormon

If you're looking for a great Christmas gift for yourself or others, be sure to consider the amazing new feature-length video, Lehi in Arabia, available for order at http://www.lehiinarabia.com/. Chad Aston's production about the Arabian Peninsula evidence for the Book of Mormon, especially the significant self-funded work of independent researcher, Warren Aston, deeply impressed my wife and I this morning as we watched it. Here you will see details of Nahom and the inscriptions on three altars with a place name not found anywhere in ancient or modern Arabia except in the region that fits the Book of Mormon's description of Nahom on Lehi's trail. You will find a treasure trove of information about the search for Bountiful and details of the prime candidate at Khor Kharfot at the mouth of Wadi Sayq, including views of the abundant fruit there, the variety of animals and plants, at least three springs, some ruins in need of exploration, and other details.

I especially enjoyed the discussion of Aston formulating 12 key criteria for Bountiful and then searching up and down the coast east of Nahom, examining various candidates that had or could be proposed. After having eliminated everything and wondering what they might find, late in the day of an expedition as they were in a boat exploring the coast, his daughter urged him to pull into an area that didn't look impressive from their perspective on the water. She wanted to be thorough and give it a further look. Reluctantly, he agreed, and as they walked into the area for a better view and noticed all the trees and greenery they hadn't been able to see before, his daughter cried out, "Dad, this is Bountiful!" He was cautious at first, but as they explored on this an subsequent visits, they would find that all 12 criteria were plausibly met here, including the availability of ore to make tools. It's an incredible story rich in detail. I hope you'll take a look.

And if you're looking to give in order to support further work at this vital and precious spot in need of conservation and scholarly research, please donate to the Khor Kharfot Foundation. I just did and I hope you'll join me.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Insights into Ancient Nahom: Great Article from the Journal of Arabian Studies

Tonight I just found and read a terrific academic article on ancient Nahom, or rather, the ancient Nihm tribe of Yemen and its tribal lands, a region identified on several maps with names like Nehem, Nehhm, or Nahm. The article is "The Origins of the Nihm Tribe of Yemen: A Window into Arabia's Past," Journal of Arabian Studies: Arabia, the Gulf, and the Red Sea, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2014, by Warren P. Aston. You can order the article from the publisher, or view it for free via Academia.edu.
Abstract: The 1999 excavation of the Barʾan complex at Maʾrib in Yemen yielded identical Sabaean inscriptions on three votive altars. These dedication texts list the donor's grandfather as a member of the Nihm tribe, definitively establishing the presence of the tribal name to c.2,800 years ago. The name, rare in southern Arabia, can then be traced through a variety of other inscriptional, topographical and historical sources down to the present-day tribe and its lands. While the consonants NHM refer to ‘dressing stone by chipping’, and may appear in a variety of contexts, an etymological examination of its Semitic roots yields interesting pointers to the possible origins of the name. Multiple links in these roots to terminology such as ‘consoling’, ‘comforting’ and ‘complaining’ have led to the name being long associated with death and the processes of mourning. This paper, therefore, suggests the possibility of the name being specifically associated with a place of burial, perhaps a connection in the distant past to the extensive, still poorly understood, desert necropolis at the ʿAlam, Ruwayk and Jidran complex north of Maʾrib. Being able to firmly document, a specific tribal and topographical name for almost three millennia is significant. Such continuity of a tribal name, perhaps unique in Arabia, would have implications for our understanding of the processes of tribal naming, structure, and movements in pre-Islamic southern Arabia generally.
Aston reviews the three inscriptions, their meaning, location, and dating. Dating to before Nephi's day, three altars have been found in Marib bearing an inscription mentioning the donor, a member of the Nihm tribe. They were given as gifts to a pagan temple in Marib, which is somewhat to the west of current Nihm tribal boundaries (the region marked Nehem or Nehhm on some maps), suggesting either that the Nihm tribe's boundaries or scope of influence was larger anciently than it is today, or perhaps Marib had the nearest holy place to give these gifts.

Aston explores the etymology of the Nihm name in Arabic and in Hebrew:
In attempting to understand its possible origins, the first point to note is that the consonants NHM are exceedingly rare; they do not appear anywhere else in Arabia as a toponym. NHM is attested only rarely in southern Arabian writings as a personal or tribal name; it also appears a handful of times in northern Arabian Safaitic texts. NHM itself has two closely related Semitic roots: NH ̣M [that should be H with a dot underneath] and NHM. The first root, NH ̣M, has the voiceless pharyngeal h ̣ consonant, giving it the basic meaning of 'to comfort, console, to be sorry' and is used in Arabic (as nah ̣ama)to refer to a 'soft groan, sigh, moan'. Likewise, in ancient Hebrew this root is commonly used in connection with mourning a death. Indeed, David Damrosch notes that:
It appears twenty-five times in the narrative books of the Bible, and in every case it is associated with death. In family settings, it is applied in instances involving the death of an immediate family member (parent, sibling or child); in national settings, it has to do with the survival or impending extermination of an entire people. At heart, nah ̣am means 'to mourn', to come to terms with a death.
The second root, NHM, has the simple voiceless laryngeal h and is also found in Hebrew where it means to 'roar', 'complain' and 'be hungry'. In ancient Egyptian the root refers ‘to roar, thunder, shout’, which is similar to the Arabic meanings ‘to growl, groan, roar, suffer from hunger, to complain'. This association with hunger may be connected to the fasting that was often part of mourning for the dead in ancient Yemen and still in many cultures today. It is this second root, NHM, that appears in every known occurrence of the name in epigraphic South Arabian text, whether Sabaean, Hadramitic or Minean in origin. Here, it usually refers to ‘dressed masonry’ or the ‘dressing of stone by chipping’....
The ancient Nihm tribe's wealth and influence may have been related to their expertise in stonework, demonstrated perhaps by the carved stone altars given by one wealthy man to the temple in Marib. That expertise may be associated with the vast complex of stone tombs in the ancient burial associated with Nehem. Aston notes that there are other ancient burial regions, much smaller than the huge ones to the north, that are in the present Nihm tribal boundaries.

Aston's article has interesting insights for students of the Book of Mormon. One of the earliest Hebraic word plays recognized in the text is the one involving Nahom, a place named by others where Lehi's family buried Ishmael. Immediately after Nahom is introduced at the end of verse 34 in 1 Nephi 16, we read of the mourning,  complaining, and murmuring of the daughters of Ishmael, whose complaints include the hunger that they have suffered, and their fear that they will now perish with hunger (1 Nephi 16:35,36). This connects nicely with the meanings that Hebrew speakers would associate with Nahom.

The Hebraic wordplay was interesting internal evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, long before the discovery by a BYU professor in 1978 than Nehem was actually on some old high-end maps of Arabia. Later we would recognize that this region is in exactly the right place for an eastward turn that could then lead directly to a remarkable candidate, nearly due east of Nahom as Nephi wrote, for the previously ridiculed place, Bountiful. I find that cool. That was before German archaeologists discovered the altars at Marib bearing the ancient Nihm tribal name, showing that the tribe was in the area and influential in Lehi's era (well before, actually). So Nehem is not a modern name. It's rooted in antiquity, with hard evidence chiseled in stone to prove it. I also find that to be cool.

Aston, as you may know, is LDS and well aware of the implications for the Book of Mormon, which he does not raise in this publication. While his interest in the Book of Mormon and Lehi's trail is well known, other scholars and officials also recognize his academic passion for Arabia and especially for preserving and investigating the surprising region at Khor Kharfot and Wadi Sayq, a rare gem in the Arabian Peninsula that also is a leading candidate for the long ballyhooed place called Bountiful. Efforts are underway through his Khor Kharfot Foundation to increase research and preserve the biology of that delicate region, where modern diversion of its water supply is already jeopardizing some of the magnificent trees in the area. It's a remarkable place, a biological and geographical gem in Arabia that needs your help. LDS or not, I hope you'll consider making a donation to this worthy cause.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Daniel Johnson on Horses and the Book of Mormon: New Publication at BYU Studies

Just published: "'Hard' Evidence of Ancient American Horses" by Daniel Johnson, BYU Studies, vol. 54, no. 3, 2015. Recommended reading! One of the best reviews of the data and theories related to the problematic issue of horses in the Book of Mormon. The problem is not fully resolved by any means, but Johnson does a great job of exploring the possibilities and controversies.

If real horses were known to the Nephites, one problem is that we would expect them to show up in more of the art in Mesoamerica. Johnson points to one possibility, but many questions remain.

On the other hand, Brant Gardner in his thorough new book, The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), explores horses in the Book of Mormon as a potential issue of translation to English (pp. 295-300), arising from Joseph's personal assumptions about the context rather than a direct translation (this, of course, would favor the "loose translation" approach to the Book of Mormon, at least for unfamiliar flora, fauna, and objects). His treatment of the word "chariot" is especially insightful, linking it to Mesoamerican litters.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Sizzle of Shazer

Our critics tell us that the Arabian Peninsula evidence can readily be accounted for by glancing at a high-end map of Arabia made before 1830, such as the beautiful map of D'Anville that does indeed show the name Nehem. So far, my requests to explain how that could be done, even with the best available map in hand, have resulted in unsatisfying responses. Find Nehem on  the map, go there, turn east, and voila! So easy. All of which doesn't begin to account for the many specific details that have been of great interest to LDS students. Those details include the finding of plausible candidates for the River of Laman and the Valley of Lemuel, the ability to turn east near Nahom and survive, and the intricate correspondences at the candidates for Bountiful that are, as Nephi described, nearly due east of Nahom. For some of the details related to Bountiful, you can see a list in Warren Aston's 1998 article at the Maxwell Institute, but please see the PDF version of that article to see some images as well (6.3 Mb). Precious few of the evidences for authenticity related to Bountiful can be extrapolated from any map in Joseph's day, and even more modern maps won't help much.

One more detail, the subject of today's post involves the place Shazer. There's more to Shazer than just a name. The Book of Mormon tags it with some context and detail that is usually overlooked by critics. Shazer is introduced as Nephi's group leaves the Valley of Lemuel (1 Nephi 16:11–14):
 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.
Nephi's use of borders, as had been pointed out by Kent Brown, appears to refer to mountains in the region. See S. Kent Brown, "New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail," 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). George Potter and Richard Wellington in Lehi in the Wilderness says that he learned from local Arabs that the name of the mountains in northwest Arabia, the Hejaz, means "borders." He notes that the Hebrew word for borders, gebul, is cognate with Arabic jabal (jebel, djebel) meaning mountain (p. 3). So references to the borders near the Red Sea could logically refer to mountains. Strong's Concordance for gebul also notes that one meaning can be a concrete object marking a limit.

Starting with the proposed location of the Valley of Lemuel, the place Shazer needs to be within a four-day journey along a south-southeast direction.

Regarding the place name Shazer, Nigel Groom's Dictionary of Arabic Topography and Placenames (Beirut: Libraire du Liban; London: Longman, 1983; as cited by Potter and Wellington, p. 73) contains an entry for a similar word, shajir, giving the meaning: "A valley or area abounding with trees and shrubs."

Regarding the name "Shazer," Hugh 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. (Lehi in the Desert [Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1952], p. 90.)
In a brief article in the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Nibley simply suggested that Shazer is derived from the Arabic shajer, meaning trees or place of trees ("Book of Mormon Near Eastern Background," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 188).

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. Again, the Book of Mormon text provides a highly plausible name that accurately corresponds to the place described. But is there such a place in the area required by the Book of Mormon?

Before going any further, let us note that Shazer is introduced in a classic Hebraism: "we did call the name of the place Shazer" (1 Nephi 16:13). In normal English we would say that we called the place Shazer or named the place Shazer, but in Hebrew one would say that he called the name of the place, for it is the name that is called, not the place itself. This point is made by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), p. 89.

But what of the place itself?

It turns out that there is a reasonable 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. It's in the right place. But my guess is that you aren't going to come up with this location and its context by glancing at an old map of Arabia.

In Lehi in the Wilderness, Potter and Wellington explain that they initially thought it would be easy to find Shazer, knowing that Nephi's group traveled 75 miles (almost certainly with camels) from the Gulf of Aqaba to the proposed site of the Valley of Lemuel in three days (p. 73). They concluded that the four-day journey from the Valley of Lemuel to Shazer required simply finding an oasis within 100 miles south-southeast of the Valley of Lemuel. However, many challenges stood in their way, and it would require three more field trips in their spare time over the next two years before they knew for sure that they had found Shazer. The following excerpt from Potter and Wellington describes the process of locating Shazer (pages 74,76-78):
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 downright 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, p. 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).
A few small photos of Shazer are available on the photo page at NephiProject.com, but a much more impressive photo of the many palm trees at Shazer is on page 77 of Potter's and Wellington's book, which I urge you to read for yourself.

Potter and Wellington offer much more as they retrace Nephi's journey. For example, after Shazer, Nephi writes that they traveled through the "most fertile parts" (1 Nephi 16:14) and then subsequently through "more fertile parts" that can be understood to be less fertile than the "most fertile" parts. These fertile regions were encountered before they turned due east, which began the most difficult part of their journey. Along the ancient incense trail, continuing just after Shazer until Medina, one encounters a region of the Hijaz called Qura Arabiyyah or "the Arab Villages" which are described by Arabs as the "fertile parts" of the land. It is the part of the trail with the highest concentration of farms and rest stops for caravans, and truly fits the Book of Mormon description. After Medina, there are fewer farms, but still enough fertile places to be called "the more fertile parts." (See pages 82-92 of Potter and Wellington, including excellent photos and a satellite map.) knowledge of these many fertile regions in the midst of the barren Arabian Peninsula was largely hidden from the west until recently. These are rare and unusual places in the Arabian Peninsula, and Joseph simply could not have known of them.

Consider what we have here, with the finding of a plausible candidate for Shazer, and the many other "direct hits" the Book of Mormon provides regarding the Arabian Peninsula. Now take a look at a map of Arabia and tell me how he would have placed Shazer so plausibly. Is it just luck that the "most fertile parts" come right after Shazer, followed by the "more fertile parts," after which things become much more difficult and presumably a lot less fertile? "Fertile parts" in Arabia is not part of basic common knowledge. If Joseph understood what "Arabia Foelix" meant on the map and knew of reports of that fertile region, he would have placed the most fertile parts way south on the journey, but those fertile parts were not along the route Nephi took.

Nothing in the information available to him in 1829 could have guided him in providing so many correct details of Nephi's voyage to the sea through the Arabian Peninsula. Nothing would have enabled him to describe the Valley of Lemuel, the River of Laman, or the place Shazer, a four-day journey (by camel) south-southeast of the Valley of Lemuel, with the best hunting in the entire area and an abundance of trees, corresponding well with the Semitic meaning of the name Shazer. Joseph knew nothing of Hebrew or Arabic at the time, and the western world knew precious little about the Arabian Peninsula. Attempting to describe details of the voyage would have been foolhardy in the extreme.

If Joseph or anyone else had made up the story, it would have been important to be as vague as possible, not giving specific directions, distances, and descriptions. The only way such an account could be done with any hope of being plausible would be if the account were written by someone who actually made the trip. To me, a more reasonable explanation is that whoever wrote First Nephi 16 and 17 had firsthand knowledge of the region, knowledge going far beyond what anyone in the States could glean from a map. So the real mystery here is not whether or not Joseph sneaked off to a remote library to gaze at a map, only to not use any of the detailed "local color" he could pull from it to impress people in his day (only to wait for over a century to be noticed).

The real question we need to be asking, if we are looking for answers, is who knew of these places, apparently from firsthand observation, and how that information was transmitted to Joseph. Better questions lead to better answers. 

More Folly Around Nahom: This Time It's My Blunder

This is somewhat embarrassing, but it's best I come clean now. I made a serious mistake in a previous post, "Burying Nahom," when I said that it would be unlikely for Joseph to have traveled 50 miles from Harmony, Pennsylvania to the academic Bountiful of his region, Allegheny College and its amazing library. If he was actually able to frequent that library, it could have helped him find the word Nehem in Arabia enhance a verse or two, and the collection of books there could have helped on a variety of minor details in Joseph's relentless quest to give us tantalizing evidences that wouldn't be noticed for over a century. But as I said, I erred when I rashly argued that the 50 mile journey was just too far to be practical for him. I stand corrected--my apologies!

While Allegheny College is 50 miles away from Harmony, Pennsylvania, that town isn't the Harmony where Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon. That was Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, which you can find by entering “Harmony Township, Susquehanna, PA” into Google Maps. You can also see that Joseph's Harmony Township is actually around 320 miles from Allegheny College. Ouch. I was off by a factor of six. It's closer to the medical library in Philadelphia which also had a book with a map of Arabia in it showing Nehem, but still way too far. (Click to enlarge.)

Kudos to the good folks at FAIRMormon.org for their helpful information (way down on that page) that exposed my blunder. Painful as it is, I have to give them credit and admit my mistake.  320 miles, not 50. So sorry!

For those who think they have a reasonable theory for how Joseph fabricated the Book of Mormon, if he did it with books and maps, it remains a mystery where and how he got them and, more crucially, how he could have used them to dictate the text we have. 

As a reminder, the Arabian Peninsula evidence, as explained on my Book of Mormon Evidences pages, is about much more than just a lucky hit with the name Nahom. Nahom alone is cool, I'll admit, being in the right place (right where you can turn due east off the ancient incense trails), and being an ancient burial place, and having archaeological evidence that the tribe with a related NHM name was in the region in Lehi's day--not to mention the appropriate Hebrew word play that Nephi appears to have made, linking Nahom to mourning and murmuring. Oh, and did I say that if you go east from Nahom, you can in fact reach an excellent candidate (or two candidates) for the previously-alleged-to-be-impossible place Bountiful on the coast of Oman, which, in light of the extensive field work done there verifying the plausibility of the leading candidate (and some decent arguments for the plausibility of the runner-up), is now, of course, deemed to have been obvious and easily done by just, say, glancing at map of Arabia, which Joseph simply and obviously must have had access to?  

But what could Joseph have gleaned from the best and most relevant Nehem/Nahom/Nehhm-containing map of his era, even if he did manage to steal off to a distant library, or if one came "nearby" as it floated along the Erie Canal (as some have suggested might have happened), which wasn't very close to Harmony, either? Could he have come up with Shazer? The Valley of Lemuel? The place Bountiful? Yes, of course, if you have enough faith. Maybe not if you want to see a little evidence before you believe. Ah, a strange turn of events, with apologists poking the critics for some evidence. But they do have a case to make, a case we'll look at in more detail in the near future. 

As a more important reminder, no matter how interesting the Arabian Peninsula evidence is, there will always be plenty of room for doubt and reasonable arguments against it. I think that's a vital part of the game here in mortality. The purpose of the evidence, in my opinion, is to help those who are willing to exercise faith to get over roadblocks and keep moving forward, in faith. Faith is required to accept the Book of Mormon--but it seems that faith of some kind is also required to accept theories that he fabricated all of its details on his own, with or without the help of the best libraries of his vicinity.