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the gulf, looking south east
Looking south-east from Babel
(northern coastline shown as it was then)

Jaredites in Arabia?

Based on issues raised in
"Hebrews in America"
and Jaredites in the Bible

Introduction

The Book of Mormon tells of the brother of Jared, who led his people from the tower of Babel to the New World.

From the Book of Mormon account, it seems likely that the Jaredites traveled through Arabia before crossing the ocean. All this supports the idea that the Brother of Jared is the "Ophir" of in Genesis 10.

Summary

This page covers the evidence that the Jaredites traveled through Arabia, and not (as is commonly thought) through Asia. The main points of evidence are:

  1. The uninhabited region suggests Arabia and not Asia.
  2. The mountainous country to the east (and the possible location of Babel) make Arabia the obvious route to the ocean.
  3. The "many waters" and reference to "beyond the sea in the wilderness" suggests Arabia and not Asia.
  4. "The great sea which divideth the lands" suggests the Indian ocean, not the Pacific ocean.
  5. The relatively small space devoted to the initial journey suggests it was not across Asia.
  6. The other Book of Mormon exodus, by Nephi, was also via Arabia.
  7. The children of Joktan, who parallel the Jaredites in other ways, went to Arabia.
  8. In the earliest times, the Persian Gulf was the center of world shipping.

Tracing the journey of the Jaredites

Did all the children of Joktan go to Arabia?

The Book of Mormon talks of the Jaredites, a group who left the Bible record soon after the tower of Babel. On another page I suggest that the Jaredites were none other than some of the children of Joktan from Genesis chapter 10.

It is quite possible (even likely) that a righteous man would go in one direction while his brothers went in another. So it is not a problem if Ophir went east and the others went south. But is it possible that Jared took the rest of his family to southern Arabia before going further?

The start of the Jaredites' journey

According to the Book of Mormon (Ether chapter 1), The brother of Jared began his journey at the tower of Babel, when he prayed to the Lord that his language would not be changed:

40 And it came to pass that the Lord did hear the brother of Jared, and had compassion upon him, and said unto him:

41-42 Go... down into the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.

Does this mean that the main journey was in a northerly direction? No. The valley of Nimrod was simply a gathering place before the main journey began. It was probably chosen for convenience - perhaps even so opponents would not know their true direction of travel? Chapter 2 gives us clues as to their true direction of travel.

The tower of Babel was at Eridu?

Where was Babel? This is not crucial to the evidence, as the general location is not in doubt. But the specific location may add more useful information.

It is usually assumed that Babel was the place we now call Babylon. However, the archeological remains suggest that Babylon is too young to be the site of Babel. The great ziggurat was built in the Old Babylonian period (1667-1362 BC) and the city is only a few centuries older. So what is the answer?

There is evidence (see the article by David Rohl in the Express, May 13th 1999) that the city of Babel was the city of Eridu. (This was the first city ever built in the world, according to the Babylonians.) The position of Eridu is interesting. In ancient times it was on the western side of the gulf (which is now a little smaller). This makes a southern route away from Babel even more likely.

In which direction did the Jaredites travel?

5 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been.

This is the only real clue to direction of travel. What direction was the wilderness that had never been inhabited?

The land "where never had man been"

the descendants of Noah

Which was the direction "where never had man been"?

"The empty Quarter"

South of Babel is one of the most uninhabitable areas of the world - the Arabian desert. Even today, a large part of the Arabian peninsula, Rub' Al-Khali, is called "the empty quarter". In ancient times it could perfectly be described as "the wilderness... that quarter where there never had man been" Arabia

"many waters"

Let us continue with Ether's description:

6 And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord.

It is usually assumed that the "many waters" were lakes that no longer exist. Where would these lakes have been? On the mountaintops? That rules out the east and the north. Unless the lakes were much further off in the Russian Steppes. In which case, it is odd that the account mentions the waters, but not the mountains or the great distance - which would be much greater obstacles.

So what are the "many waters"?

If you were travelling from Babel to southern Arabia, the sensible route would be to avoid the wilderness (the deserts and coastal salt plains) by travelling by sea down the "many waters" of the Persian gulf, and whatever other lakes were present in ancient times.

"beyond the sea in the wilderness"

7 And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness

Note that this refers to many waters, but just one sea. A single sea could be described as "many waters". This again suggests that the Jaredites did not travel west, but south.

"Beyond the sea in the wilderness" is what you would find if you traveled south down the Persian gulf - you eventually hit land again, further down the Arabian peninsula.

"that great sea which divideth the lands"

13 . . . the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; .and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.

"The great sea that divided the lands" - which lands? The Jaredites knew there may be a "promised" land somewhere, but the only lands they knew about so far were Asia, Arabia, Africa, and possibly India. The only great sea they would have known of that divided lands was what we now call the Indian Ocean. (The Mediterranean does not count, as you do not cross a sea in the wilderness to reach it).

The length of the journey

We are told how long the Jaredites camped on the seashore, and later (Ether 6:11) how long they took on the ocean. But we are not told how long the journey to the seashore took. Presumably the first leg of the journey was not as long.

The space given to the first part of the journey also suggests it was not excessively long. The entire first leg of the journey (from the valley of Nimrod to the ocean) is covered in one short verse (Ether 2:6, quoted above).

Both these facts seem to make a Persian Gulf journey more likely than a Russian Steppes journey.

And so it goes on. The only other geographical detail we have is Mount Shelem (the high mountain where the brother of Jared saw the Lord). If my conclusion is correct, the natural candidate for this would be Jabal Ah Sham in modern Oman.


More evidence for a southerly direction

Nephi: same purpose, same place

Book of Mormon readers will be familiar with the story of Nephi, who a couple of thousand years later made a similar journey, for a similar purpose: to escape the wickedness of the old world and to found a new dynasty in the promised land. Nephi was not told to waste time going some long route round. He went straight down the Arabian peninsula, paused at the seashore, then crossed the ocean.. Those who have followed the FARMS research will know that the southern part of Arabia contains some fertile areas that would provide everything a person might need for a long oceanic voyage.

Why shouldn't the Jaredites have done the same thing (although on the other side of Arabia)?

The Persian gulf colonised the world

The Persian gulf was one of the earliest trading centers in the world. Any peoples who settled there would have access by sea to the entire old world, and would spread their ideas far and wide in the earliest period.

Fragments of the world's earliest ocean-going boat were discovered in this region. The boat, discovered in Oman (just where the Jaredites would have been) in 1993, dated from around 2300 BC. (See New Scientist 26 June 93 p. 4 for details). It appears that regular journeys were made between this region and the Indus valley. This is just what Thor Heyerdahl had been saying for years - that the ancients were capable of ocean voyages, and that the earliest center of world trade was the Persian Gulf.

According to "Savage Seas" p.16 (for references, see "Jaredites in the Bible"), the first "modern" navigators we know of were from the Persian Gulf. Scientists at present date these to 7000 BC.

Legends suggest that the early Joktanians from Southern Arabia ventured far and wide: to Cush (Africa), and even Chaldea and Assyria before the better known empires arose there. Some evidence says Phoenicians came from southern Arabia via Egypt (Wm Smith 1:94)

This also explains why Jaredite-sounding legends come from as far away as Persia (Ram and Rud, as described by Nibley) and China (the first Chinese emperor and his shining stones from a mountain). The people of the Persian gulf spread their culture wide.


Other issues raised

Did most of the children of Joktan stay behind in Arabia?

Given that the journey was so dangerous, it seems likely that some would choose not to finally launch into an unknown ocean. This would seem to be born out by Ether 6:16, which indicates that 22 people (plus young children) arrived in America. Contrast this with what is implied about the numbers who started the journey from Babel in chapter 1:

41 Go to and gather together thy flocks, both male and female, of every kind; and also of the seed of the earth of every kind; and thy families; and also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families.

Jared's family, his friends families (plural), Jared's brother's family and his friends families (again, in the plural). At the bare minimum that is five families, probably many more. Are we to believe that each family had only four people? For comparison, Genesis 10 says that Joktan had ten sons. If that is typical of the time, and people had an equal number of daughters, then a single family could easily have numbered more than twenty two. And that is before we count grandparents, cousins, etc. So many or most of the five or more families who started the journey from Shinar must have stayed behind.

Mahonri Moriancumr

Some LDS readers may know the brother of Jared as Mahonri Moriancumr. But I am going to suggest that he was also known as Ophir. I am not a Hebrew scholar, but it should be noted that this Mahonri Moriancumr may be a title rather than a given name. None of the other people of this time seem to have had two names. According to Strong's Hebrew lexicon, "mah" simply means "what, how, of what kind", and "hown" means "wealth, riches, substance". Without speculating further, it is possible that the name "Mahonri" means something like "how many riches" - a good description of the land of Ophir, or the quest for the promised land.

According to William Smith's Bible Dictionary (London, 1863. 1:1117-1118) There are many examples of Arabs changing a name to suit its nature. For example, "Saul" became "Talotu" (meaning "tallness").

As for "Moriancumr", Moriah means "chosen by Jehovah", and chomer {kho'mer}means "cement, mortar, clay", or "heap". So perhaps Moriancumr referred to being saved from the tower of Babel? This is of course wild speculation from someone who is totally ignorant of Hebrew. But the point is that Ophir may have been remembered as different things by different people.


Conclusion

While it may not be proven, it is highly likely that the Book of Mormon Jaredites and the Bible Joktanians are one and the same.

 

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