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Above: Just like the Vikings, the Phoenicians
may have visited America for its wood.

Jaredites in the Bible

"the first part of this record ... is had among the Jews" - Ether 1:3

Intoduction:

The following issues were raised n the page about "Hebrews in America":

  1. The Bible may contain direct references to at least one named Book of Mormon leader - Jared.
  2. Ancient peoples were able to make great journeys across the the oceans. But because of the dangers and the cost, this was not common.

This page loks in mnore detail at these claims.

Summary

This page covers the evidence that the children of Joktan were none other than the Jaredites of the Book of Mormon. The main points of evidence are:

  1. The Joktanites represent half of the covenant people (the Hebrews) at roughly the time of the tower of Babel, yet they mysteriously disappear from the record.
  2. The most important figure among the Joktanites is the brother of Jared.
  3. Most of them settled in Arabia, from where the Jaredites probably set sail.
  4. Evidence suggests that the land of "Ophir" (the brother of Jared) could well be America.
  5. Book of Mormon lands were named Joktan (or something very like it).
  6. The land of Ophir may be the same as Tarshish, a very distant land which can be reached by travelling either east or west.
  7. The wealthiest king of Israel sent the Phoenicians to the land of Ophir for the best pine trees. This is just what happened later with that other great pre-Columbian seafaring race, the Vikings.

The great Biblical mystery

The problem

If you read the Bible from the beginning, you almost immediately come up against the problem of Joktan. The traditional Christian world cannot answer this problem. The problem has three parts:

  1. The disappearance of half of the Hebrews:
    The early parts of Genesis record the history of the covenant people. The covenant was made with Noah and passed through his son, Shem - the Semitic peoples. It continued through is birthright sons, to Eber - the father of the Hebrews. The days of Eber were particularly important - he had two sons, Peleg and Joktan. In the days of Peleg the earth was divided. The descendents of Peleg include the Israelites, and we read of them in the rest of the Bible. But what happened to the other half of the Hebrews? What happened to Joktan? We read the names of his sons, then they disappear! The Hebrew family is divided in two! What happened to half of the Hebrews? Could this dividing have something to do with the dividing of the world under Peleg? It would have been roughly at the time of the tower of Babel - is this somehow linked?
  2. Why did Joktan's sons go to the Arabian desert?
    From similarities in names, it appears that the sons of Joktan moved down to the Arabian peninsula. Why? With all the world to choose from, why did they choose the most inhospitable corner? Why did they choose a land that contains the largest uninterrupted sandy desert on the face of the earth? What were they thinking of?
  3. Where is Ophir?
    Although Arabia seems to have been the general direction, the only Joktanian tribe we hear much of in later centuries is Ophir - and the evidence suggests he may have gone much further than Arabia: to a distant land of gold and exotic wood. Where is Ophir?

The solution?

The Book of Mormon may give the answer to these questions, and solve the mystery. In brief:

  1. God, knowing that the Hebrews would break their covenants in the Old World, separated half of the Hebrew family to live far away from the Bible lands.
  2. The Arabian desert is less important than the Persian Gulf - the center of seafaring in very ancient times.
  3. Ophir is a land far from Arabia, across the great ocean.

Where the Bible ends, the Book of Mormon begins

The Bible record of Joktan's people ends with the brother of Jared. The Book of Mormon record begins with the brother of Jared, and tells us that Bible readers already know what happened up to that point - see Ether chapter 1. When the Book of Mormon was first published, nobody could see where Jared was in the Bible. But if we look closely we may spot him...


Ophir

Ophir was a son of Joktan (see Genesis 10), and gave his name to a distant land where Solomon sent for the most expensive and exotic materials. He had a brother called Jerah. Let us see what we can find out about these two...

Jerah and Jared

Some early Bible translations call Jerah "Jared" (see Smith and Sjodahl's commentary on the book of Ether). This may be due to variant readings, or just because of the similarity between the two Hebrew words (yeh'-red and yeh'-rakh). I am no Hebrew scholar, but Hebrew scholars seem happy to link the two.

Jared in 1 Chron. 1:2 is Jered. According to Smith's Bible Dictionary (London, 1863. 1:964), "Jerah has not been satisfactorily identified with the name of any Arabian place or tribe" except possibly Yerach. Which is why, in the absence of any other evidence, most people assume it just means "the moon" since the words sound the same.

The sons of Joktan

The brother of Jared whom the Bible remembers the most is called Ophir. He gave his name to a region (or regions) that were very distant and the source of very expensive gold and wood - see below. Ophir is assumed to have been in Arabia, but only because that is where some of the other brothers settled.

If we look in Genesis 10, Almodad is a south Arabian name. Sheleph is a Yemenite tribe or district. Hazarmaveth is a clan or district in South Arabia. It was once the home of a great civilization, the capital being Sabata. Uzal is a word is identical with the Arabic `Auzal, the old capital of Yemen. Diklah and Obal are both in south Arabia, and Abimael is another south Arabian name. And Sheba is of course the Arabian Saba.

Jerah

But what about Jerah? The word means "moon", and so it is usually linked to Arabian place names with the same meaning. www.theology.edu notes that "in Yemen there is a place called Yurakh and in Hijaz there is a Yarah." (So Yurack and Yarah could be equivalents - see earlier comments on Jerah and Jared).

Note that, while a place name can indicate that the person in question settled there, it can also just mean that he was remembered there. If most of the Joktan sons settled in Arabia, we would expect them all to be remembered there, even if some had moved farther on.

Ophir

As www.theology.edu puts it,

"The geographical location of Ophir has been the subject of much debate with three regions being principally advanced: India and the Far East; Africa; and Arabia."

"Some believe the name denotes a vague extension eastward, perhaps as far as China."

In other words, nobody really knows where it is, except that it was a very long way away. So we definitely cannot say with certainty that all the sons of Joktan settled in Arabia.


The name "Yucatan"

Book of Mormon lands

According to the evidence accumulated by FARMS (and there is a great deal of evidence), Book of Mormon history took place in Central America. Mostly in the area known as Yucatan. What does the name "Yucatan" mean?

Nobody can be sure where the name originated. One popular theory was recorded in 1843, in "the History of the Conquest of Mexico" (book II, chapter 1). The story is that "An hidalgo of Cuba, named Hernandez de Cordova, sailed with three vessels on an expedition to one of the neighboring Bahama Islands, in quest of Indian slaves. (February 8, 1517.) He encountered a succession of heavy gales which drove him far out of his course, and at the end of three weeks he found himself on a strange but unknown coast. On landing and asking the name of the country, he was answered by the natives, "Tectetan," meaning, "I do not understand you,"- but which the Spaniards, misinterpreting into the name of the place, easily corrupted into Yucatan."

Is that the origin of the word "Yucatan"?

This is certainly an interesting and memorable idea. But it is only one idea. Possibly the natives did indeed give the name of the land - or possibly the story was invented to explain the mystery of the name. After recording the story, the same author immediately adds, "Some writers give a different etymology."

What is certain is that much of what was known in the early 1500s was soon lost forever. War, disease, and systematic destruction of the native culture means that many questions regarding the ancient Americas will never be answered in this life.

Yok-tawn, Yuktan and Kahtan

Does the "Tectetan" theory make sense? "Tectetan" does sound a little like Yucatan, but not much. However, there is another possibility.

Jerah and Ophir were sons of Joktan. Joktan, according to Strong's concordance, should be pronounced "Yok-tawn". And the Arab pronunciation is even closer. According to William Smith (1:1117-1118) Joktan was called by the Arabs "Yuktan" or "Kahtan"

 


Ophir later in the Old Testament

Solomon and Ophir

According to 1 Kings, Solomon had Almug wood brought from Ophir. This is where we get the information that Ophir was a long way away, a source of riches, and only the wealthiest king could afford to send ships there.

Is this reasonable?

It is likely that names like "Ophir" and "Tarshish" just came to mean any distant country. But the Phoenicians are known to have been great seafarers, and definitely circumnavigated Africa and also traded with Britain in ancient times. So it is likely that they were aware of even more distant lands, and if enough money was available (such as Solomon could provide) might have been prepared to send an expedition there.

Some may disagree with the idea that Solomon had some kind of contact with America. I am not suggesting that Israelites went to America on holiday, or anything like that. But we do know that ancient seafarers were able to make ocean-going journeys. Modern people may assume that if the ancients knew about America, they would have left records, or settled there. But we forget that, in the ancient world, there were so many mysterious lands closer to home, that who would make a fuss about another one a long way off? They were too far to be more than a novelty.

Ancient seafarers

I am just suggesting that there is no reason to suppose the ancient Mediterranean peoples did not do what the Vikings did two thousand years later. The Vikings went to "Vinland" for the best trees. Hiram went to Ophir for the same reason - special "Almug" wood for the great temple of Solomon. What would be more fitting for the greatest building of all history than to go to the ends of the earth for the best wood? Never again was so much Almug wood imported (1 Kings 10:11-12). Great journeys were not unknown in ancient times - just rare (nothing like these Algum wood products had ever been seen in Judah - 2 Chronicles 9:10-11).

Why should we assume that such occasional minor contact would leave lasting remains or have massive cultural impact? Scholars used to refuse to believe that the Vikings discovered America. They used to refuse to believe that the Phoenicians navigated round the horn of Africa in 600 BC. Scholars are still skeptical about ancient contacts with distant lands. Nothing changes!

"It is said that perhaps they [the Phoenicians] discovered Brazil in 531 BC, rowing their three-tiered ships along the equatorial current."

- "Savage seas" by Rosemary Kingsland (London: Boxtree/Macmillan, 1999, to accompany a major TV documentary series) p. 18. The book also notes that the Polynesians have been routinely navigating vast distances for thousands of years, and there are accounts of the Chinese knowing about America long before Columbus. Crossing the oceans does not require great expertise. There is evidence of "homo erectus" reaching the Pacific islands between 800 000 and 900 000 years ago! (page 16).

The traditional view is changing

As more and more scholars begin to accept that the recent discoveries that the first Americans (long before Book of Mormon times) arrived before the Bering Strait was navigable - that is, that the first Americans must have come by ship - then the idea of ancient travel will become more acceptable.


Ophir and Peru

According to Smith (2:637), Ophir is only assumed to be in Arabia because most of the other Joktanian locations are there. There is no firm evidence that Ophir itself was there - or anywhere else in the Old World. Some identify Ophir as Armenia, India, the Moucca Islands... or Peru!

"The most learned" people who could have known the truth

As noted with regard to Yucatan, much of the pre-European native American knowledge has been lost forever. If there is any link between Ophir and the Americas, the proof may have bee lost forever. But did the first generation of European invaders know? What did the most learned of them say?

Bochart, one of the most learned of the very early Spanish invaders, found that the word Parvaim was equivalent to Ophir.

"This strange idea of one of the most learned Spaniards of his time (1527-1598) accounts for the following passage in Ben Johnson’s Alchemist, Act ii Scene 1:

‘Come on, sir; now you set foot on shore
In Novo Orbe. - Here’s the rich Peru;
And there within, sir, are the golden mines,
Great Solomon’s Ophir."

More recently...

More recently, the explorer Gene Savoy believes he has found more evidence to link Ophir and Peru. read about it at http://www.aefosc.org/ophir/index.htm

Bountiful

The word Ophir may simply mean "fruitful region". Perhaps it is no coincidence that, according to the Book of Mormon, the lands where Lehi's group landed were named "bountiful".


Almug wood

Almug wood - an extremely rare luxury

1 Kings 10:11-12 (KJV): And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones.

1 Kings 10:12 (KJV) And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king's house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day.

This is the only useful information about Almug wood in the entire Bible. Clearly it was very expensive, only used by the wealthiest king for his most important and expensive projects.

Almug and Algum wood

Almug should perhaps not be confused with Algum. Algum wood was from Lebanon, and is listed along with several other woods in 2 Chronicles 2:8: "Send me also cedar trees, fir trees, and algum trees, out of Lebanon: for I know that thy servants can skill to cut timber in Lebanon; and, behold, my servants shall be with thy servants"

Celsus said that some people insisted that Almug and Algum were different, and suggested 15 possible woods! Most today agree on red sandal-wood, "But this, after all, is mere conjecture." (Wm Smith 3: appendix A: vi-vii)

Was Almug red sandalwood? Probably not. Almug was used as pillars to support the house of God in 1 Kings 10:12. Unger's Bible commentary says that the red sandalwood tree timber isn't sturdy enough for steps and other supports.

As for the references to Lebanon, William Smith's Bible Dictionary concludes that this is probably based on a mistranslation of the fact that the wood was imported via the port of Tyre (just look at a map).

The truth is, nobody knows exactly what "almug wood" was, except that (according to Strong), the word is "probably of foreign derivation".

America as a source of wood

We don't know much more about the land the brother of Jared settled other than, despite its relatively great size, it was stripped of its wood (see Helaman 3, where the next inhabitants found all the timber had be cut down). We don't know much about the land of Ophir except it was very far away and the best and the most expensive wood came from there.

Nobody is suggesting that all or even most of the Jaredite timber went overseas - perhaps if Hirum's ships did find the New World they found a totally different part - but this is a striking parallel with the Vikings, 2000 years later.

What did Josephus say?

When we think of the trees of Palestine, we often think of pictures of fig trees - modest sized, twisted forms. But when we think of the trees of America, we often think of the great pine forests. Surely there is no connection?

Speaking of almug wood, "Josephus (Ant. viii, 7) makes special mention of a tree not unlike pine, but which he is careful to warn us not to confuse with the pine-trees known to the merchants of his time."
(Wm Smith 1:51)

Note that the location of Ophir had been long forgotten. Traders in the time of Josephus had seen nothing like this kind of pine.


Reach Tarshish by travelling east... or west

I have written a lot about Ophir, so will not spend so much time on Tarshish. It is sufficient to say that here we have another example of a land that scholars cannot locate, but is a huge distance away from Palestine, and a source of riches. Some people (see Smith's Bible Dictionary) assume that is the same as Ophir.

My personal feeling is that these names came to be used for any land that is an extremely long distance away, but I am only guessing.

Tarshish - three year's journey

When Jonah wanted to get as far away from Ninevah as possible, he is said to have got on a ship to Tarshish. So Tarshish is somewhere distant to the west. Most scholars assume it was somewhere like Spain, since they cannot accept that the ancients could get any further west. It may have been a general term for any far distant lands, or the various uncharted isles of the sea.

Two routes to Tarshish

Jonah 1:3 indicates that you can reach Tarshish by starting from Joppa. In other words, you must travel west.

Yet in 1 Kings 22:48, a fleet of ships intended for Tarshish were at Ezion Geber. In other words, you reach Tarshish by travelling east.

A distant land that can be reached from Israel by travelling either east or west? Where might that be?

Exactly how distant was Tarshish?...

The phrase "Ships of Tarshish" was used for "ocean going vessels" (Isaiah 2:16). Once again, the Phoenicians are famous for being the people who can reach it (Isaiah 23:1). Like Ophir, Tarshish is usually only mentioned to illustrate either great distance or the huge extravagance of Solomon's wealth. Indeed, 1 Kings 10 lists verse after verse of incredible wealth, and crowns it all with the boast that Solomon even had regular consignments of wealth from Tarshish! The writer cannot think of anything more extravagant, so concludes that, based on this evidence, "Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and for wisdom." (1 Kings 10:14-23). Note that the trips to Tarshish apparently took three years (verse 22). Tarshish was anything but local!

 

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