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Book of Mormon Evidence: Remarkable Archaeological Evidence for Ishmael’s Burial at Nahom in the Book of Mormon

Episode Transcript

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi records that when Ishmael died, they buried him “in the place which was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34). Not only have researchers discovered the likely location of Nahom, but they’ve now discovered a burial stone near this very region, that dates to Lehi’s time, that is inscribed with the name, Ishmael.

To appreciate just how remarkable this find is, let’s break down exactly what this artifact is, where it comes from, how it corresponds with Nahom in the Book of Mormon, and what implications it could have for how Ishmael was really buried.

This funerary stela—or basically an ancient grave marker— is 12 by 5 by 3 inches and made from limestone. It features a crude carving of a face in a style typical of other burial stones found in this region.

Below this carving are the South Arabian characters ysml (with a few glottal vowel markers in there), translated as “Yasmaʿʾil.” This is the South Arabian form of the Hebrew name typically translated as “Ishmael.”

The stela is paleographically dated to the sixth or fifth century BC, but is stylistically similar to other examples known to come from the 7th to 6th centuries BC. So, the stela was likely carved around the sixth century BC, the same general time-period of Ishmael’s death and burial in the Book of Mormon.

As for its setting, the stela was found in the southeastern corner of the Arabian peninsula, in what is today the country of Yemen. The artifact is part of a large body of looted burial items, so it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where it was recovered from, but it most likely came from somewhere in the Wadi Jawf, based on other archaeological excavations from the area that have turned up very similar finds.

What’s interesting about the Wadi Jawf, is that this is near the exact region thought by researchers to be the location of The Book of Mormon’s Nahom. The Nihm tribe in Yemen has bordered this area for more than a thousand years. The exact location and borders of the Nihm tribe have fluctuated over time, but inscriptions going back to at least the seventh century BC indicate that the Nihm tribe and region existed near this same place in Lehi’s day.

Several ancient burial grounds have been documented in and near the Nihm tribal grounds, suggesting Lehi’s family could have given Ishmael a proper burial in this region.

Not only that, but its particular location is right in line with what the Book of Mormon says about Lehi’s trajectory after Nahom. Nephi recorded that they traveled “nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Nephi 17:1) until they reached the coast. Any burial in or near the Wadi Jawf would be in close proximity to the “eastward” turn point of the ancient Frankincense Trail.

This type of burial stone likely even fits the demographic profile of someone from Lehi’s party. Some scholars believe that funerary stelae of this style and type were made by outsiders, people who were not official members of the community, like foreigners and caravaneers.

To better understand the cultural origins of these people, scholars have carefully studied the names engraved on these burial markers. Many have names with a Northwest Semitic and North Arabian origin, or come from closer to the land of Israel. This includes the name “Ishmael,” which is, in fact, a Northwest Semitic name and not particularly common to this area at this time.

So what I’m saying is, the “Yasmaʿʾil” buried in or near the Wadi Jawf in the sixth century BC may have been a foreigner from the north traveling along the major trade route, just like the Ishmael of the Book of Mormon.

To be clear, it’s impossible to determine whether the person buried with this funerary stela was the Ishmael from the Book of Mormon. This is especially true since the exact place of origin for the stela is not certain, and so can’t be definitively linked to the Nihm tribal region.

But what we can say is that there was an Ishmael—who was possibly a foreigner from the north— likely buried near the Nihm tribal region, around the 6th century BC, which is around the very time and place that the Book of Mormon indicates. And that is pretty remarkable.

To learn more, read Evidence #258 at