During a study of Book of Mormon historicity, one is very likely going to discover what many apologists call the “first verifiable Book of Mormon site“. Here are a few articles and quotes that provide a flavor for the enthusiasm related to the Nahom discovery:
From the Deseret News written by Michael Ash:
“This eastward turn just happens to occur in the general region of ancient NHM exactly as described in the Book of Mormon.”
“The ancient site fits precisely within the timeframe of the Lehite journey, as well as in the likely territory through the Lehites traveled.”
“The complexity of interconnectivity for this parallel is impressive.”
“In this light, it seems impossible to sustain a hypothesis that any library resource which dealt with Arabia, and particularly with NHM, influenced the very young Joseph Smith, or was even consulted by him.”
“In a similar vein, to hypothesize that Joseph Smith had access to a private library which contained works on ancient Arabia is impossible to sustain.”
From the blog Mormanity:
For example, what are we to say of finding an ancient burial place with a name essentially equivalent to Nahom in the Arabian Peninsula in exactly the place where the Book of Mormon implies it must be—at a place where one can depart from the south-southeast direction Nephi was originally traveling, substantially corresponding to the ancient incense trails of Arabia, and then turn nearly due east to reach a place like Bountiful, without passing through the nearby portions of the desolate empty quarter?
As indicated by my emphasis, the Nahom match is truly considered a dead bullseye for the Book of Mormon. Upon reading the apologetics I tend to agree that it’s a solid match to what the Book of Mormon claims. Some of the key points are as follows:
- Location – the discovered alters with the NHM inscription are in the right place
- Meaning – the word naham or as written in Hebrew NHM would mean a place of mourning
- Reference in the Book of Mormon – it is a location that was named before Lehi’s arrival
- Dating – the age of the altars and the general site are within a margin of error of Lehi’s journey
Here is the actual scripture that are used as a reference to Nahom:
1 Nephi 16:
33 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning; and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time.
34 And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.
35 And it came to pass that the daughters of Ishmael did mourn exceedingly, because of the loss of their father, and because of their afflictions in the wilderness; and they did murmur against my father, because he had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, saying: Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger.
1 Nephi 17:
1 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth.
So I ask is this really the bullseye of all bullseyes? Does this provide definitive proof that Joseph could not have had anything other than divine sources to create the Book of Mormon?
Let’s examine that idea a little. First, please consider this excellent summary of the critic’s position found here which was written by Professor Phillip Jenkins of Baylor University. Below is a quote that I particularly liked:
To give the authors credit [BYU authors], they honestly cite the inscription word as Nihmite, without pretending it was “really” Nahom. Yet despite this precise quotation, the story morphs and expands in popular retelling, until it becomes something like “The Book of Mormon describes a place in Arabia called Nahom. And now scientists have discovered inscriptions using the same name at that very place! Whoa!” For Mormons, as for many other religious denominations, the Internet has vastly accelerated that process of folk-tale evolution, fueled by wishful thinking.
Just above this quote Professor Phillips provides the context for the Nihmite tribe:
The altar inscriptions, on the other hand, refer to a people or tribe. As a sober account in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies notes, one text commemorates Bi’athar, son of Sawdum, son of Naw’um, the Nihmite.
An additional argument has been made by Chris Johnson in his Exmormon foundation presentation “How the Book of Mormon Destroyed Mormonism.” Chris takes a statistical probability approach on the occurrence of NHM. The letters NHM are statistically common. It is the apologists who are suggesting that NHM was intended to be read Nahom by Joseph Smith.
That all said, as I contemplate the match and it’s significance I am drawn toward the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Wikipedia summarizes this fallacy as follows:
The Texas sharpshooter fallacy often arises when a person has a large amount of data at their disposal, but only focuses on a small subset of that data. Some factor other than the one attributed may give all the elements in that subset some kind of common property (or pair of common properties, when arguing for correlation). If the person attempts to account for the likelihood of finding some subset in the large data with some common property by a factor other than its actual cause, then that person is likely committing a Texas sharpshooter fallacy.
An apologist will immediately cry foul because the match is clearly solid in relation to these 4 verses within the Book of Mormon. However, my proposition is not that this match isn’t a reasonably good match, but rather the sheer volume of information within the Book of Mormon provides a data-set large enough that a single match should not be ruled statistically significant. What I mean is that this evidence is given so much weight because it truly is the only solid match in a text that is roughly 500+ pages long.
What this match doesn’t solve are the myriad of other issues that I’ve presented in previous blog posts. I’ve provided my list of 10 simple issues just a month ago in the post “How can I know the Book of Mormon is not true“. While the enthusiasm is clearly not lost on anyone, the reason for that enthusiasm cannot be overstated. The evidence for the Book of Mormon collectively is that it’s a work of 19th century fiction. There is zero evidence that travelers from the 6th century BCE arrived via boat in central or South America and established a civilization of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.
Therefore, apologists, I concede the match is reasonably good, but not great. As my parting reason for why it’s not great; assuming we accept that the Book of Mormon was revealed by the seer stone as stated in the Gospel Topics Essay Book of Mormon Translation:
According to these accounts, Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument.
The word that God should have revealed would have been Nihm because that is more likely the true meaning of NHM. Michael Ash and others suggest that Joseph was translating reformed Egyptian and so Nahom was merely a derivative translation. This is fundamentally not true. Joseph was revealed English by the seer stone and therefore, the seer stone should have provided the correct English name. So perhaps the enthusiasm should be muted at least slightly considering the Church’s own essay challenges the translation narrative of the Book of Mormon.