Lehi's Trail and Nahom Revisited

In 1976, Lynn M. and Hope Hilton, In Search of Lehi’s Trail (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, p. 94) and Ensign (September-October 1976), proposed that the place called Nahom (1 Ne. 16:34), where Ishmael died and was buried, was around Al Kunfidah near the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Ross T. Christensen, Ensign (August 1978, p. 73), soon suggested an alternative location for Nahom, based upon a map of Yemen prepared as a result of a 1762-64 exploration by Carsten Niebuhr for Danish King Frederick V.

Accordingly, in Novemeber 1984, Warren P. and Michaela J. Aston of the White Hall, Australia, visited North Yemen searching for additional evidence concerning Nahom and the route taken by Lehi and his party. They were able to locate a 1976 map at the University of Sana’a in the Yemen Arab Republic that showed a place called “Nehem” located some 35 miles northeast of Sana’a. A copy of their report is now available as a F.A.R.M.S. Preliminary Report.

If further work supports their tentative findings, both the details of Lehi’s route and the identification of the land Bountiful on the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, from which the group set sail for the New World, may need to be moved westward from that proposed by the Hiltons. For example, the Astons found that current scholars plot out a more complicated trail system for the frankincense trade than was understood a decade ago. Those trails came farther south along the Red Sea coast before branching off eastward than the Hiltons’ sources showed. Since the frankincense was shipped from the eastern areas (including the Salalah area favored by the Hiltons for Bountiful) in coastal vessels to Qana, and thence northward along the trail toward the consuming centers in the Near East, it is less likely that Lehi’s party would have reached the sea by land as far east as Salalah.

Instead, Lehi’s group may have ended its desert journey in the then well-irrigated coastal Hadramawt area of modern South Yemen. In that region, William Hamblin has found pre-Islamic traditions about a prophet named Hud, whose tomb is located near the border between Oman and South Yemen. Hamblin, “Pre-Islamic Arabian Prophets,” in S. Palmer, ed., Mormons and Muslims (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1983). Like Lehi, Hud reputedly prophesied against certain idol worshipers who were “renowned for their elaborate buildings” (cf. 1 Ne. 8:26), was rejected because of the pride of the people (cf. 8:27), but escaped while the wicked were destroyed.

Furthermore, if the place named “Nehem,” visited by the Astons, has any relationship to the Book of Mormon place-name “Nahom” this will somewhat shift our thinking about the meaning of the name “Nahom.” Hugh Nibley in 1950 suggested that “Nahom might relate to a Semitic language root signifying lamenting, groaning, and grieving (in Arabic as NHM, “to sigh, groan, moan, especially with another”); see Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft), pp. 90-91. The place-name “Nehem,” however, derives from the different (although closely related) root NHM. (The dot under the H means it is aspirated, while “H” is just an ordinary H. The letters are written differently in both Hebrew and Arabic.) Stephen Ricks notes that this root (in Arabic NHM, “to complain, groan, suffer from hunger”) may also stand behind the name Nahom. Since Lehi’s party both mourned and suffered from hunger at the location they called Nahom (1 Ne. 16:34-35), both roots are equally apt.

For centuries, the sands have blown across Lehi’s trail. Perhaps a few additional clues yet remain about where his group might have traveled.