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|Title||Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 of 2|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2016|
|Journal||Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture|
|Keywords||1 Nephi; Arabia; Joseph Smith; Lehi; Nahom; Nephi; Old World|
The Arabian Peninsula has provided a significant body of evidence related to the plausibility of Nephi’s account of the ancient journey made by Lehi’s family across Arabia. Relatively few critics have seriously considered the evidence, generally nitpicking at details and insisting that the evidences are insignificant. Recently more meaningful responses have been offered by well educated writers showing familiarity with the Arabian evidences and the Book of Mormon. They argue that Nephi’s account is not historical and any apparent evidence in its favor can be attributed to weak LDS apologetics coupled with Joseph’s use of modern sources such as a detailed map of Arabia that could provide the name Nahom, for example. Further, the entire body of Arabian evidence for the Book of Mormon is said to be irrelevant because Nephi’s subtle and pervasive incorporation of Exodus themes in his account proves the Book of Mormon is fiction. On this point we are to trust modern Bible scholarship (“Higher Criticism”) which allegedly shows that the book of Exodus wasn’t written until long after Nephi’s day and, in fact, tells a story that is mere pious fiction, fabricated during or after the Exile.
There were high-end European maps in Joseph’s day that did show a place name related to Nahom. Efforts to locate these maps anywhere near Joseph Smith have thus far proved unsuccessful. But the greater failure is in the explanatory power of any theory that posits Joseph used such a map. Such theories do not account for the vast majority of impressive evidences for the plausibility of Nephi’s account of the journey through Arabia (e.g., remarkable candidates for Bountiful and the River Laman, the plausibility of the eastward turn after Nahom). They do not explain why one obscure name among hundreds was plagiarized — a name that would have the good fortune of later being verified as a genuine ancient tribal name present in the right region in Lehi’s day. More importantly, theories of fabrication based on modern maps ignore the fact that Joseph and his peers never took advantage of the impressive Book of Mormon evidence that was waiting to be discovered on such maps. That discovery would not come until 1978, and it has led to many remarkable finds through modern field work since then. Through ever better maps, exploration, archaeological work, and other scholarly work, our knowledge of the Arabian Peninsula has grown dramatically from Joseph’s day. Through all of this, not one detail in the account of Lehi’s Trail has been invalidated, though questions remain and much further work needs to be done. Importantly, aspects that were long ridiculed have become evidences for the Book of Mormon. There is a trend here that demands respect, and no mere map from Joseph’s day or even ours can account for this.
As for the Exodus-based attack, yes, many modern scholars deny that the Exodus ever happened and believe the story was fabricated as pious fiction well after 600 bc. But this conclusion does not represent a true consensus and is not free from bias and blindness. The Exodus-based attack on the Book of Mormon ultimately is a case where a weakness in biblical evidence from Egypt is used to challenge the strength of Book of Mormon evidence from Egypt’s neighbor to the east, the Arabian Peninsula. We will see that there are good reasons for the absence of evidence from Egypt, and yet abundant evidence that the Exodus material interwoven in Nephi’s account could have been found on the brass plates by 600 bc. The absence of archaeological evidence for Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the chaos in the many schools of modern biblical scholarship do not trump hard archaeological, geographical, and other evidence from the Arabian Peninsula regarding Lehi’s exodus.
We will see that some of the most significant strengths of the Book of Mormon have not been turned into weaknesses. Indeed, the evidence from Arabia continues to grow and demands consideration from those willing to maintain an open mind and exercise a particle of faith.
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