1 Nephi 2:5-9. The River Laman

1 Nephi 2:5-9. The River Laman

The Book of Mormon says that Lehi and his party camped out beside a river that flowed into the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:5-9), yet there are no perennial rivers at all in the Arabian peninsula.

Book of Mormon SpanishThis mistaken idea continues to be repeated by some critics, despite various discoveries and ancient texts that support the Book of Mormon account. Among the ancient Greek writers who mentioned Arabian rivers flowing into the Red Sea are Herodotus (5th century BC, in his Histories 3.9), Agatharchides of Cnidus (2nd century BC, in his On the Erythraean Sea 5),[i] Strabo (born 63 BC, in his Geography 16.4.18, citing an earlier work by Artemidorus). They were all describing the region of al-Maqna, on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, where, in May 1995, George Potter and Craig Thorsted located a small perennial stream flowing down Wadi Tayyib al-Ism into the Red Sea.

Relying on the description of the “river” Laman as “continually running” into the Red Sea, some have suggested that it could not refer to a seasonal stream that flows only during the rainy season. But from the text, we know only that it was continually flowing during Lehi’s sojourn in the valley; it may have dried up after the family moved on. Indeed, the “river of Egypt,” mentioned in the Bible as marking the border between the land promised to Abraham and the land of Egypt (Genesis 15:18; Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4, 47; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 24:7; 2 Chronicles 7:8), is considered by scholars to be the seasonal stream known as Wadi Arish, which runs through the Gaza strip. (The larger Nile River runs through the center of Egypt, not along its border.)

For further reading:

George Potter, “A New Candidate in Arabia for the “Valley of Lemuel,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999), 54-63

John A. Tvedtnes, “More on the River Laman,” FARMS Update 176, Insights: An Ancient Window 25/3 (2005)

William Revell Phillips, “Weather Report from the Valley of Lemuel,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/2 (2006), 94-101

[i] Though much of Agatharchides’ work is now missing, portions were cited by Diodorus of Sicily (in his Library of History), Strabo (in his Geography), and Photius (in his Bibliotheca).