Jenkins 24: Nahom Part Deux

Jenkins 24: Nahom Part Deux July 22, 2015

From Philip Jenkins–charming as usual.  My comments in blue.

My question for Philip is: “If NHM can not be accepted an authentic ancient sixth century South Arabian place name, and therefor an authentic match with the BOM Nahom–and hence evidence for (though not proof of) the historicity of the BOM–what additional qualities of evidence of place, personal or ethnic names would make it acceptable?  

Remember: Coincidence is not an argument, or even an explanation.  It is an excuse.


You say,

“We provided Nahom [as evidence].  The date, time and location of the BOM Nahom precisely match the date, time and location of the Old South Arabian NHM inscriptions.  Your response: It’s a coincidence.”

Groan, this is like trying to kill Jason in an old Friday the Thirteenth movie. The same silly old things keep rising from the dead, after they have been shot, electrocuted and decapitated. 

Your use of the word “precisely” is reckless and inaccurate. The Book of Mormon offers no precise location whatever, beyond somewhere generally in south Arabia (probably – and it’s a very big place), while the inscription in question commemorates “Bi’athar, son of Sawdum, son of Naw’um, the Nihmite” who might have come from a thousand miles away. So the guy’s grandfather came from a region of that name, which might cover many thousands of square miles. And you call that a precise geographical match? Good grief.

I dealt with this Nahom stuff at length in a lengthy post entitled The Nahom Follies:

I won’t reiterate everything there, but let me stress a couple of things

1.My main point is this. The Nahom and Arabia passages in Book of Mormon occur as a tiny part of a very large book mostly set in the New World. As I have explained at great length, there is no reason whatever to believe any of the New World material, and a great many reasons to believe it is wholly fictitious. All the suggested proofs of that New World context have been absurdly weak or implausible. The obvious conclusion, whatever, is that there is no historical content to those New World sections. A fortiori that taints every aspect of the whole book, including any Old World material.

Given that overall spurious quality, then if something from that earlier section initially seems plausible – such as some believe is the case the Nahom story (I don’t) – then it must be buttressed by absolutely overwhelming proof. Such a case can also be discredited by any reasonable alternative explanation, including “lucky guess.” Occam’s Razor certainly demands that.

2. But I don’t think this is a lucky guess. Nahom is different from other Book of Mormon claims because of its Old World location, in an area well known from history and archaeology. To oversimplify: if you take any name off an old map of the Levant or Arabia, and claim something happened there back in Iron Age or Classical times, it is virtually certain that you will find something by way of material terms either there or in the neighborhood, from approximately the right era. In a landscape like Arabia, that might mean a couple of hundred miles. This is not precision.

3. As I mentioned in my column, a name like NHM occurs frequently in European maps from the late eighteenth century onwards, and LDS scholars like James Gee have shown how common such maps would have been. He would be the first to agree that the major published maps he is finding would be only a small proportion of the ones that would have existed in Smith’s time.

Besides expensive free-standing maps, images of Arabia and the Levant also appeared in ephemeral form, in pamphlets or newspapers.

Smith might therefore have glanced at a map and chose that name at random, as opposed to any one of several others in that part of Arabia. Had he chosen any other from the map, modern archaeologists would almost certainly have found Iron Age remains in that general area also. The nature of surviving material remains means that they too would also have likely been funerary in nature.

4. I can’t prove Smith ever glanced at such a map, any more than I can prove he had physical possession of any of the other sources that he certainly used to write the Book of Mormon. What we do know is that at least some copies of those maps were in the US at that time, and as I said in my column,

“Some European maps certainly circulated in the US, and the ones we know about are presumably the tip of a substantial iceberg. I have not tried to survey of all the derivative British, French and US maps of Arabia and the Middle East that would have been available in the north-eastern US at this time, to check whether they included a NHM name in these parts of Arabia. Following the US involvement against North African states in the early nineteenth century, together with Napoleon’s wars in the Middle East, I would assume that publishers and mapmakers would produce works to respond to public demand and curiosity. So might Joseph Smith have looked at a map in a bookstore, been given one by a friend, seen one in a neighbor’s house, discussed one with a traveler, or even bought one? After all, there is one thing we know for certain about the man, which is that he had a lifelong fascination with the “Oriental,” with Hebrew, with Egypt, with hieroglyphics, with his “Reformed Egyptian.” He would have sought out books and maps by any means possible. …. No, no, I’m sorry to suggest anything so far-fetched. It’s far more likely, is it not, that he was visited by an angel, and discovered gold plates filled with total bogus misinformation in everything they say about the Americas, but with one vaguely plausible site in Arabia. Occam’s Razor would demand that.”

5.As to the ease of access of books and maps in this era, I strongly recommend one essential book, namely Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, eds., An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, And Society In The New Nation, 1790-1840 (Chapel Hill: Published in Association with the American Antiquarian Society by The University of North Carolina Press, 2010). Book of Mormon apologists tend to assume that someone like Smith could not have had access to many books, because of the limited area of commercial bookselling and publishing in this era. But the Extensive Republic tells you everything you need to know about reading cultures in the 1820s and 1830s, how people got books, printed books, circulated them. All in the context of what was at this point the world’s most literate and bookish society, bar none.

Did they have inter-library loan then? Of course not. But there are plenty of bookshops and lending libraries. And there was an enormous culture of borrowing, scrounging and buying books by multiple means. So a stranger passes through town. Hey sir, got any books? So you ransack the shelves of older houses when their goods are up for auction. Every time you travel to a new town, you look for books and other printed materials, like pamphlets, newspapers and maps. More significant, bookish people form networks to seek out and circulate books and pamphlets. They pass news and intelligence about the best places to check for books and writings.

I quote from a publisher’s summary

“Volume Two of A History of the Book in America documents the development of a distinctive culture of print in the new American republic. Between 1790 and 1840 printing and publishing expanded, and literate publics provided a ready market for novels, almanacs, newspapers, tracts, and periodicals. Government, business, and reform drove the dissemination of print. Through laws and subsidies, state and federal authorities promoted an informed citizenry. Entrepreneurs responded to rising demand by investing in new technologies and altering the conduct of publishing. Voluntary societies launched libraries, lyceums, and schools, and relied on print to spread religion, redeem morals, and advance benevolent goals. Out of all this ferment emerged new and diverse communities of citizens linked together in a decentralized print culture where citizenship meant literacy and print meant power. Yet in a diverse and far-flung nation, regional differences persisted, and older forms of oral and handwritten communication offered alternatives to print. The early republic was a world of mixed media.”

An Extensive Republic tells you far more about the Book of Mormon and its actual origins than all the Meso-American history you will ever read.

6. So could Smith have had access to a map featuring a name like Nehhm/Nehem, which he then decided to Biblicize a bit by making in Nahom? Almost certainly, yes. I can’t prove the fact conclusively – but the bar for such proof is a million times lower than anyone wishing to prove the supernatural explanation. That’s Occam’s razor again, combined with the worthless, spurious and utterly ahistorical quality of the New World sections of the book.

And once Smith had picked the name, what are the odds that someone would later dig the place in Arabia or the Levant and find archaeological remains from the Iron Age, somewhere in the general vicinity? What are the odds? Pretty much 100 percent.

Tell me again about the great mystery of Nahom?

Give me a break.


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