Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

An Update on Maps of the Arabian Peninsula Showing Nahom-related Names

In 2008, James Gee published the results of his extensive search for the rare European maps of Arabia that included names that seem related to Nahom, the place where Ishmael was buried as described by Nephi in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 16:34). See James Gee, "The Nahom Maps," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture 17, nos. 1-2 (2008): 40–57. (To provide users with fairly high resolution views of the maps, the  PDF that can be downloaded from BYU's ScholarsArchive is an unusually large 45 MB file.) 

I'll offer a few minor updates to what Gee reported, after explaining what we learn (and don't learn) from the maps he found. 

After searching through numerous maps from the 18th and 19th centuries, Gee found 10 relevant maps. The earliest was the 1751 map of Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon D'Anville featuring "Nehem" in southern Yemen, and the latest was an 1814 map by John Thompson of Scotland, again showing a name spelled as "Nehem." The locations on all these maps give a plausible location for Nahom, consistent with various routes for Lehi's Trail that have been proposed. In fact, the locations given on all these maps have at least one solid candidate for Bountiful being "nearly eastward" (1 Nephi 17:34) on the coast of southern Oman, and are not far from the Marib site where three altars dating back to the 7th century B.C. were found that bear the ancient tribal name NHM. (See Warren Aston, "Newly Found Altars from Nahom," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10, no. 2 [2001]: 56–61, 71.) They are north or northeast of Sana'a, in or near the Wadi Jawf (sometimes spelled Jof when it is shown), where it is possible to turn near due east and reach the coast while bypassing the formidable Empty Quarter and other natural barriers. (See, for example, Warren P. Aston,  Lehi and Sariah in Arabia: The Old World Setting of the Book of Mormon [Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2015.])

Whether spelled Nehhem, Nehm, or Nihm (the modern transliteration for the name of the ancient tribe still prominent in that region), or even Nikkum or Nakam (possible Nahom/NHM candidates given the harder "h" sound in the Arabic, though I understand it's softer than the hard "h" of Hebrew), this word on a handful of European maps testifies of the existence of a place name with ancient roots that correlates well with a Book of Mormon place name with some specific constraints. For some critics, the evidence of a place called something like Nahom in the right place for the Book of Mormon necessarily means that Joseph must have had access to one of the rare maps bearing that name, though there is no evidence of such a map being in his vicinity (see my article at Interpreter, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 2 of 2"). Had Joseph seen such a map, why would he pluck an obscure name of a minor place that nobody had ever heard of and apparently neglect the goldmine of credibility-building information and local color he could have added? Why "plagiarize" a name that could serve as evidence once the source map was conveniently "discovered"later, but then never exploit it? And how could he be so lucky to pick a name that would be supported with future archaeological work showing it was prominent in Lehi's day, and also be supported with future field work related to Bountiful showing that a solid candidate for the long-mocked verdant site actual lies nearly due east of Nahom? 

But these European maps with NHM-names do explain something very important: the very late rise of Latter-day Saint awareness of potential evidence for Nahom. The first evidence we have of any member of the Church being aware of a Nahom-related name on a map of the Arabian Peninsula occurs in 1978, when a BYU professor, Ross T. Christensen, saw Carsten Niebuhr’s 1763 map of Arabia with the Nehhm in the southwest region of modern Yemen. Christensen published a short note in the August 1978 Ensign, explaining that the location was just a little south of a route for Lehi's trail proposed by Lynn and Hope Hilton, and wondered if Latter-day Saint scholars should examine that region more closely:

Perhaps the next step would be to invite semiticists to give their opinions as to whether Nahom and Nehhm are probable phonetic equivalents.

Another step would be to search for the name on maps other than Niebuhr’s, even going back to medieval and ancient ones, if any can be found.

Still another step—when the political situation allows—would be archaeological fieldwork. Each of these steps should help to define more precisely the setting in which the Book of Mormon story unfolded itself.

I wish the result of his note had been that Latter-day Saint scholars immediately began organizing field work to explore the area. But several years later, when Warren Aston noticed Christensen's note, he inquired at BYU and learned that no follow-up work had been done. Frustrated,  he bravely decided to go to Oman and Yemen and do some field work himself. This led to many other discoveries. It's amazing what a lone person can do!

Gee speculates as to why the last Nahom-related map he could find was in 1814:

John Thomson published “A New General Atlas of the World” with a map of Arabia. This is the latest map I have been able to find which mentions Nehem. I have not been able to find maps with Nahom, or any of its variant spellings, in the Arabian Peninsula after 1814, even on maps published by cartographers who had printed the district on their earlier maps of Arabia. From the information Niebuhr gives in his journals one could conclude that the Imam of Sana conquered the area, but I could find no information to verify this conjecture.

Now, as a minor update to Gee's work, I'd like to report that at a few more maps should be added to his list, advancing the date of the last Nahom-related map. While Gee examined countless maps, finding only a few with Nahom-related names, modern online resources make it possible to quickly scan many maps.  Thus, while looking at several online sources, especially the large collection of maps of Arabia at Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc. (www.raremaps.com),  I found the following items of interest. 

Nehm and Nakam in Heinrich Kiepert's 1848 Map


Heinrich Kiepert published one of the most detailed maps of the Arabian Peninsula in 1848 in Weimar, Germany. This map is viewable at Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps at https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/69539/arabien-kiepert. A portion around Sana (Sana'a) is shown above, with a large "B. Nehm" to the northeast. "B." stands for belad or bilad meaning "land" or "country," which is appropriate for a tribal region. This pushes the latest known NHM-related map from the nineteenth century from Gee's 1814 to at least 1848. 

Kiepert's map also features a small "Nakam" to the east of Sana. I'd like to entertain the possibility that "Nakam" could be related to the Nihm tribe, though here is it south of modern Nihm tribal lands. Perhaps the name is unrelated to the Nihm tribe, but it could be, and as discussed in the following section, several maps with "NKM" names might well be considered among our cartographical vestiges of ancient NHM influence in southern Yemen.

Maps with Potentially Relevant "NKM" Names: Nikkum, Nakam

I first came across an "NKM" place name in Yemen while exploring Carsten Niebuhr's Travels Through Arabia and Other Countries in the East, vol. 1 (1792), available at Archive.org: https://archive.org/stream/travelsthroughar11nieb, where a fold-out "Map of Yemen" shows a region north of Sana'a named "Nehhm" (p. 8). That map is the second of Gee's ten maps of interest. But much later in the text, Niebuhr mentions "mount Nikkum" near Sana'a. This mention of "Nikkum" occurs on  p. 403, shown below, though a misprint gives that page number as 340. 

"Nikkum" is not shown on Niebuhr's map. Here's a portion of Niebuhr's uncolored map from his book  showing "Nehhm" as well as "Sana" to the south and "Mareb" (Marib) to the east:


 

Slightly different hand-colored versions of the map were also printed separately from the book, such as the one shown in Gee's article, a portion of which is shown below. In both versions, the prominent "Nehhm" is surrounded with a border, suggesting it was a territory comprising several towns.

Several later sources refer to "Nikkum," perhaps drawing upon Niebuhr, such as Jedidiah Morse in The American Universal Geography, vol. 2 (Boston: Thomas and Andrews, 1812), p. 650, available at Archive.org, where "Nikkum" again is a mountain near Sana'a:

Others include Bayard Taylor, Travels in Arabia (New York: C. Scribner & Sons, 1893), p. 27, https://books.google.com/books?id=2iirXNmoPt8C&pg=PA27; Meredith Townsend, The Annals of Indian Administration, vol. 3, part 2 (Serampore, India: J.C. Murray, 1859), p. 114, https://books.google.com/books?id=jrAEAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA114; “Sanaa” in Chambers’s Encyclopaedia: A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge for the People, vol. 8 (London: W. and R. Chambers, 1880), p. 463, https://books.google.com/books?id=LUlAAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA463; and Sir Robert Lambert Playfair, A History of Arabia Felix Or Yemen (Bombay: Education Society Press, 1859), p. 27, https://books.google.com/books?id=i0oOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA27.

While "mount Nikkum" is generally said to be very close to Sana'a, some maps show the "Nikkum Mountains" as a range that corresponds at least in part with Nihm tribal lands, including the region that is named Nehhm or Nehem on other maps. For example, in Philadelphia in 1846 and 1848, Samuel Augustus Mitchell, raised in Scotland, published a map of "Persia, Arabia, etc." showing the "Nikkum Mountains," which can be viewed at
https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/76127/persia-arabia-c-mitchell. The image below is from my personal copy of what was sold as an 1846 edition on Ebay, which I purchasd for just $20. The "Nikkum Mountains" are prominent in the upper right region, and are close to where other maps show Nehem or Nehhm.


Another map with "Nikkum" comes from Josiah Conder's 1825 book, Arabia, in The Modern Traveler: A Popular Description, Geographical, Historical, and Topographical, of the Various Countries of the Globe (London: James Duncan, 1825), which I discussed at some length in my 2017 article for Interpreter, "The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics." This map is difficult to find online, but I have found a low-resolution version or two. Fortunately, Rooke Books of Bath, England kindly emailed me a photograph of their copy of Conder's 1825 map showing the region around Sana’a, where the "Nikkum M." label is northeast of Sana'a, as shown below, with "Nikkum" slightly left of center (click to enlarge):


For now I think it's plausible that the Nikkum mountains are related to the name Nahom/Nehem/Nehm./Nihm.

A Note on Gee's Map #10, John Thomson, 1814

Finally, I offer some information regarding the final Nahom-related map from James Gee's article, the 1814 map of John Thomson, where the presence of "Nehem" is very difficult to detect, as shown in this image from Gee's article where "Nehem" is virtually in the center but largely obscured by the dark mountain range under it:

 


While examining maps at Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps a few weeks ago, I came across a large, beautiful map where "Nehem" was prominent and visible. I felt I had to buy it, even though it was fairly expensive (by my standards). With my wife's permission, I ordered the map, labeled at raremaps.com as an 1814 map of John Thomson of Edinburgh. I was not thinking about its relationship to Gee's article apart from assuming that it was one of the maps Gee mentioned, and was just happy to have found a map I could display with a Nahom-related name on it, We have lots of people over to our home, including grand children, and I have already enjoyed the chance to discuss the nicely framed map hanging on our wall and tell the story of Lehi's Trail and the growing body of Book of Mormon evidence. 

Only just now while writing this post did I notice that the map I bought isn't really one of the maps shown by Gee. It definitely is not the same as the 1814 John Thomson map in Gee's article. In fact, it's extremely close but not exactly the same as Gee's map #8 by John Cary, printed in 1804.

Here's a view of the map I purchased:

Here's a detailed view of my map showing Nehem clearly visible near the center, with Sana (Sana'a) in the lower left-hand corner::

Is this just a different edition from Thomson, also published in 1814? The details behind the creation of old maps and even their precise dates are often somewhat cloudy.  But I think it's an interesting addition to Gee's collection, giving us a cleaner view of the name "Nehem" and showing it near "Jof," which I presume is the same word shown on maps today as "Jawf" as in Wadi Jawf in Nihm tribal lands, the region where one make a risky but possible turn straight east, bypassing the Empty Quarter and, with a lot of luck or some miraculous Liahona-style guidance, make it to the entrance of a wadi that can bring you to either of a couple of impressive candidates for Bountiful (i.e., Wadi Sayq, leading to Khor Kharfot, the Bountiful candidate advocated by Warren Aston, or Wadi Darbat, leading to Khor Rori, the Bountiful candidate advocated by George Potter). 

There may be a variety of other maps to consider that I've missed, so if you are aware of more, let me know. Feedback on the NKM proposal is also welcome.

Lehi's Trail in the Arabian Peninsula continues to offer some of the most interesting examples of evidence for Book of Mormon authenticity.  While the most impressive may be the candidates for Bountiful (Khor Karfot with Wadi Sayq and Khor Rori with Wadi Darbat) and the candidate for the River Laman and the Valley Lemuel at Wadi  Tayyib al-Ism, we must not forget the importance of an incredible candidate for Nahom nor the recently explored and proposed candidate for the place Shazer, as recently described by Warren Aston. There's more to learn and more to explore. I am very grateful to adventuresome and dedicated investigators like Warren Aston and George Potter for their field work in challenging areas and for the scholarship of many others exploring aspects of Lehi's Trail and many other details of the Book of Mormon. This is such an exciting time to be a fan of that miraculous witness of Christ!