Finding Nahom: The Continuing Search for Archaeological Confirmation of the Book of Mormon

By Sharon Lindbloom
11 July 2017

On 17 June 2017 a new video produced by Book of Mormon Central appeared on the scene. LDS Living announced it with the headline, “How One Book of Mormon Location Was Archaeologically Confirmed.”

I’m accustomed to seeing LDS assertions related to Book of Mormon archaeology, but they most often come wrapped in ambiguous language, using words like “might,” “could be,” “probably,” and “seems likely.” This most recent claim, however, caught my eye because it asserts that a Book of Mormon location has actually been scientifically “confirmed,” which implies it has been “proven” to be a Book of Mormon site. Tangible proof for the Book of Mormon has previously been completely non-existent, so this was a video I had to see.

As it turned out, the video, “Evidences for the Book of Mormon: Nahom” is just a repackaging of a theory that has been around for many, many years. In a nutshell,

“a stone was found in Yemen with the inscription NHM which some LDS believe means Nahom, a city mentioned in the Book of Mormon when Lehi was still in the Old World before coming to America.” (Mormon Think, Book of Mormon Problems: Nahom)

The NHM stone discovery and the related Mormon assertions connecting this to the Book of Mormon site of Nahom have been discussed and debated vigorously between hopeful Mormons and doubtful critics. Though Mormons tend to believe there is a connection between the NHM stone and the Book of Mormon’s Nahom, non-Mormon archaeologists attach no significance to any supposed parallel. Additionally, the LDS Church itself does not endorse the place where the NHM stone was found as an actual Book of Mormon location. LDS researchers who have been working to find a solid connection between the NHM stone and the Book of Mormon’s Nahom have presented their conclusions as somewhat tentative. Yet, though no new archaeological finds have come to light, the Book of Mormon Central video presents a connection between NHM and Nahom as fact.

“As explored in this video, the location Nahom in the Book of Mormon has been archaeologically confirmed. A combination of factors, including the evidence appearing at the right time, at the right place, and in the right relative distance to another site mentioned in the record, converge to make Nahom strong archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon.”

In fact, the location of Nahom has not been archaeologically confirmed. In his short discussion of this, evangelical author and professor Philip Jenkins explains,

“When you actually look at the vaunted clincher evidence about Nahom, and understand how tenuous the alleged connections are, your response should properly be: when you get there, there’s no ‘there’ there.

“Just what exactly was found? Smith refers to a place called Nahom. 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. Based on extensive analogies, that last name should refer to a family title, like Benjaminite, with no necessary suggestion that the ancestral family was linked to the burial site. Usually, such tribes did not construct places bearing their names, but that’s not an absolute.

“And that’s it? THAT ‘is the First Verifiable Book of Mormon Site’?

“To give the authors credit, 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.”

Indeed. And wishful thinking it is. A place called Nahom has not been found. Period.

These are the facts that are actually known: A stone altar was found in Yemen that includes an inscription of NHM in Ancient South Arabian Script. The South Arabian language root NHM has to do with stone cutting. The stone’s inscription dates to the late 6th or 5th century BC. and refers to a tribal name. The stone’s proximity to any Book of Mormon site is unknowable because no Book of Mormon site has ever been found.

The LDS effort to make the NHM stone location into the Book of Mormon’s Nahom strains credulity. The maneuvering required to reach the video’s conclusion puts me in mind of the classic Missing Dollar riddle:

“Three travelers register at a hotel and are told that their rooms will cost $10 each so they pay $30. Later the clerk realizes that he made a mistake and should have only charged them $25. He gives a bellboy $5 to return to them but the bellboy is dishonest and gives them each only $1, keeping $2 for himself. So the men actually spent $27 and the bellboy kept $2. What happened to the other dollar of the original $30?”

It’s not a mystery; rather, it’s a cleverly-worded scenario that misdirects the unwary into assuming that the numbers provided should add up to $30. In fact they don’t, and there’s no reason that they should. As for the NHM/Nahom connection, “Pure coincidence offers a more than adequate explanation for the supposed parallel,” Dr. Jenkins writes. I encourage interested readers to read more of his exposition on the matter, and analyses from others as well.