Among the Lihyanites in Arabia
By George Potter
George Potter has lived in Arabia for 12 years. During the past eight years he has explored Lehi’s trail. He has co-authored the book Lehi in the Wilderness. He has produced nine documentary films on Lehi’s trail and the Jaredites.
The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that Nephi was a very successful missionary during his journey down from Jerusalem (D&C 33:7,8). So why not ask the question, Is there any written evidence that Nephi converted a large number of people in Arabia?
The obvious place to start searching for written evidence is the ruins of the Lihy empire in Arabia. Lehi and Nephi passed through this same part of Arabia early in the sixth century B.C.
Shortly thereafter, late in the sixth century B.C., the Lihyanites came to power in northwest Arabia, and ruled a large area of the peninsula for more than 300 years.
Book of Mormon scholars Lynn and Hope Hilton were first to theorize that the Lihyanites were possibly the descendants of some of the converts of Lehi and Nephi (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, Springville Ut: CFI 1966).
Since renaming families and tribes after exceptional leaders is a time honored tradition in Arabia, it would be feasible that the Lihyanite converts would both have renamed their tribe after the patriarch Lehi and have named their children after the men they regarded as exceptionally righteous.
The Book of Mormon identifies the righteous adult males in Lehi’s family during their crossing of Arabia as Lehi (Lihy), Nephi (Nafi in Arabia) and Sam (1 Nephi 2:17,7:6,8:3).
The name Lihy is found on inscriptions throughout the al-Ula valley – the valley in which the Lihyanite capital city Dedan was located. Dedan was along the part of the frankincense trail that was known from the time of Ramasees II (2nd Millennium B.C.) to Mohammed (6th Century B.C.) as the “fertile parts.”
Nephi wrote that they traveled in the “fertile parts” (1 Nephi 16:14).
The name Lihy was also carried in the line of Lihyanite kings. Indeed, from the Lihyanite capital at Dedan, the name Lihy spread along the towns of the frankincense trail.
During our last visit to the ruins of the Lihyanite capital city, we met a man at the farmers markets who bore that name Nafi (Nephi). That’s not surprising since there is a town named Nafi in central Arabia. The Hiltons visited that town and relate this interesting encounter:
One day in the company of Delbert Madsen, we visited the town [Nafi]. It seemed like a miracle when we knocked on a door, and the Arab owner invited us in for supper and “o’nite”. He explained he was home for vacation for the University of Colorado, where he was a Ph.D candidate! When we declined his tea, he asked if we were Mormon. He said that once he was driving from southern Nevada to Idaho when he noticed the town Nephi, Utah on the map. He stopped there for gas and food and asked a man in the restaurant, “What is the connection between ‘Nephi’ in Utah and my home ‘Nafee’ in Saudi Arabia, since both are the same word?” The Utah man was reported to have replied, “Are you kidding?” So the Arab drove on to Idaho, never getting an answer. (Hiltons, Discovering Lehi, p. 87)Of even more import is the Hiltons’ discovery that the Lihyanties used the personal name ‘Nafy.’ The name appears in Lihyan script on a 3rd or 4th century tomb marker near al-Ula.
In May 2004 I found that Lihyanite inscriptions in the al-Ula Valley include the name ‘Sam.’ This is interesting because the common Hebrew pronunciation is ‘Samuel,’ and the Arabic pronunciation is ‘Sami,’ yet the Book of Mormon pronunciation is exactly the same as the Lihyanite articulation Sam!
We later discovered that the National Museum of Saudi Arabia with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History display on their joint internet site another Lihyanite inscription of the name ‘Sam.’
Here then, is more compelling written evidence that the Book of Mormon is in total harmony with the history of Arabia. To suggest that Joseph Smith somehow could have known the Lihyanite names of Lehi, Nephi and Sam is naïve indeed. No westerner visited the land of the Lihyanites until it was discovered by Charles Doughty in 1876.
It excites me to know that the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed that Nephi taught the gospel in Arabia, and that now, by written evidence, we know that the names of the adult religious males of Lehi’s family were used among the ancient people of Lihy, who ruled a large portion of the Frankincense trail soon after Lehi’s passage down that very trail.
(edited by David Van Alstyne)
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