Timothy Sedor's Newsletter
"Photographs of the Month"
Timothy Sedor - 2011 - Washington
Book of Mormon Explorer
During these past years I wrote about Lehi's family’s eight-year journey across the Arabian deserts along the famed Frankincense Trail. I illustrated each "Photograph of the Month" with photographs from our six-part DVD Discovering Lehi's Trail. Lehi would have had no other choice but to have taken an authorized trail through Arabia, as there were no other trails. Collectively, these trade routes were known as the Frankincense Trail. The incense trails started from places as diverse as the port at Gaza, the rich spice and incense markets of Damascus in present-day Syria, and ancient Babylon, in what is today Iraq. These trails eventually ended at the frankincense harbor at Khor Rori on the southern coast of Oman. The Frankincense Trail got its name from the primary incense that was transported along it. Myrrh and other incenses and spices were also hauled by caravans along the same trail. In Lehi's time, frankincense grew only in the Dhofar region in southern Arabia; yet, vast amounts of it were used in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the temple in Jerusalem. An estimated 3,000 tons were sent to Greece and Rome each year at the peak of the incense trade. One of the branches of the trail led to Gaza on the Mediterranean and from there to Egypt by another caravan where Frankincense was used to embalm mummies. It was also exported from Gaza on ships to Greece and Rome, where it was burned in the houses of the nobility and in their temples. The Gaza branch of the Frankincense trail passed within 10 miles of the Valley of Lemuel and would have been known to Lehi. This is the season of the year when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Christ and speak of the visit of the three Wise Men who bore gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are probably the most famous incenses from the Middle East, yet few Christians have actually experienced the smell of these fragrances that we refer to when celebrating the birth of Christ. Fortunately, frankincense and myrrh is still available for purchase from the perfume and incense shops in the Middle East. During the 20 years I lived in Arabia, I acquired a portion each of frankincense and myrrh. Hence, the "Photograph of the Month" for December is a picture of these famous incense, and one precious metal. (See photo: frankincense in the center and myrrh on the right). Merry Christmas to all...
The above photograph is taken from Part One, Discovering the Land of Bountiful, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail , the Photograph of the Month for November is the upper valley of our candidate for the Valley of Lemuel. Each time we camped in the valley, we met friendly Bedouin camel herdsmen who claimed the valley was part of their tribal lands.
Professor S. Kent Brown of Brigham Young University notes that "in a desert clime all arable land and all water resources have claimants." He was the first who raised the question of Lehi having to have permission to camp in the valley. His inquiry demonstrates again, how those who understand ancient travel in Arabia realize that Lehi would have been in constant contact with the locals.Even in remote and desolate parts of Arabia, while we were during our field studies we met local Bedouin. On a daily basis, we would stop and chat with them. Sometimes they invited themselves to dinner at our camp, sat beside our fires, stayed late into the evenings and all the time only communicating in our limited Arabic and a few hand gestures. At other times they invited us to their tents or brought food and firewood to our camp.Lehi, the wealthy scholar, businessman, and, most important-religious leader, would have been highly regarded by the Bedouins. It seems likely that even in the valley of Lemuel, miles away from the main trail, Lehi would have often entertained curious locals at his tent.
We especially enjoyed our encounters with the wonderful children of the Arabian desert. We didn't always understand what they were saying to us in Arabic, but their love was clearly transmitted through their bright eyes and warm smiles.
Last month my article and photograph was about the last leg of Lehi’s trail from Shabwa to Bountiful. During their crossing of this isolated section of the trail, the family ate their meat raw. During this stage of the trail,
the Lord instructed the family not to make much fire (1 Ne. 17:12). Nibley studied theaccounts of the early explorers of the Arabian sand deserts (Philby, Thomas, Palgrave, and others), and concluded that Lehi’s family did not have fires because of fear of being raided by outlaw Bedu tribes.
When we started researching the last leg of Lehi's trail from Shabwa (Yemen) to Khor Rori in Oman where we believe Nephi built his ship, we knew that there was little information available on the trail. Freya Stark wrote in 1936 that at that time, "No European has been along this way." She continued, "Practically nothing is known about the country through which this northerly route travels."
We did not know if we would be able to find any trails there, as no description of one existed in the literature. Fortunately, at the very time we were investigating the trail in southern Arabia, the research of Professor Juris Zarins of Southwest Missouri State University was coming to light. His investigation of the ruins at Shisur and other archeological sites has begun to shed light on the incense trail and route it took in southern Oman and Yemen. Zarins wrote, "Our excavations have shown that Shisur was a key trading center that linked Dhofar to eastern Arabia, and early Mesopotamian civilizations." Not only did a trail lead from Shisur north to Mesopotamia, but Zarins later discovered eight forts that ran in a line from northern Yemen to Shisur in Oman. Regarding the finding of these forts Dr. Zarins reported, "It immediately proved our thesis that there was a land route." We found it more than a coincidence that just as we started our research on this last leg of Lehi's trail that a leading international archaeologist had just discovered the route of the overland trail from Yemen to Shisur and on to Khor Rori in Lehi's time.
Taken from Part Five, Discovering the Land of Bountiful, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail, the Photograph of the Month for September is of the famed Empty Quarter desert landscape Lehi's family passed by on their last leg of their journey to Bountiful.
How can we be certain that the wadi Tayib al-Ism is the Book of Mormon’s Valley of Lemuel? The answer is easy. Nephi made detailed assertions about the valley and its river. Furthermore, the nature of these assertions is such that one would not expect to find these characteristics in northwest Arabia, i.e., a river of continually flowing water, a fertile valley with seeds and grain, etc. Despite the unlikelihood of finding any one of these assertions to be true, the wadi Tayib al-Ism matches all these characteristics perfectly.
What were the characteristics of the valley through which the river of Laman flowed? First, Lehi described it as “firm, steadfast, and immovable” (1 Ne. 2:10), in terms that hint at impressive geological features. Second, the valley was located within a three day’s walk or camel ride beyond the northeast tip of the Red Sea (see 1 Ne. 2:5-6). Finally, the Valley of Lemuel reached the Red Sea, for Lehi observed that the mouth of the river emptied into the sea (see 1 Ne.2:8). So it was not strictly an interior valley; rather, it reached the seashore.
As with the stream, our first observations were that the valley we had found met these conditions. The fact that the stream and canyon fulfill the conditions reported by Nephi for the “river of Laman” and the “valley of Lemuel” convinced us that we had indeed discovered these Book of Mormon landmarks. Since our initial discovery of wadi Tayib al-Ism, we explored the entire Arabian shoreline of the Gulf of Aqaba, and nothing we have learned subsequently has given us a reason to change our opinion.
In Part One, Discovering the Valley of Lemuel, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail, the Photograph of the Month for August was taken as George is being filmed delivering the closing narration in Part One as we explored our candidate for the “River of Laman.”
Two years after the discovery of the wadi and after several fruitless attempts to find Lehi's route to the valley by following Bedouin trails, George and I searched the Book of Mormon for clues that Nephi may have written to help us find the route Lehi took to the valley. George broke the silence with, "Tim, Lehi made a detour to the east along the coast. He left the shoreline and went "into the mountains."
George knew that in the ancient languages of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel, and Arabia the word "borders" (1 Nephi 2:5) meant "mountains." The prophet wrote that the family "came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he [Lehi] traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea."
In the mid 90s, not having today's Google Earth, which would have been a huge help to us, we scoured the huge 2-dimensional satellite maps that I had downloaded from the internet on my computer. We could not discern a clear route with a detour into the mountains. So, on our next expedition, Bruce Santucci, George, and I set off to discover the reason for Lehi's detour from the shoreline of the Gulf of Aqaba.
Using only what Nephi had written, and following his abbreviated directions, we discovered the reason for the detour. As we traveled south into Arabia, we had a mountain range about five miles to our east. The mountains followed the shoreline down the Red Sea. Thus, we were traveling, as Nephi stated, by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea. However, after approximately forty-five miles, the shoreline mountains suddenly change directions and head westward until they fall directly into the Red Sea. From that point onward, the steep mountains would have prevented any passage further south along the shoreline.
Yet, at this same point, there was a wadi (valley) that led southeastward into the mountains that the family could have taken to continue their journey. In other words, we believe Lehi made the "left-turn detour" and followed the wadi in the mountains. We drove up a Bedouin trail into the wadi and found that it ended at the wadi Tayyib al-Ism, our candidate for the Valley of Lemuel. There were "high fives" extended for our small exploratory group when we realized that by using Nephi's simple directions, we were led straight to Lehi's first camp in the wilderness.
In Part One, Discovering the Valley of Lemuel, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail, the Photograph of the Month for July is a graphic taken from the film replacing the word "borders" for "mountains" in 1 Nephi 2:5.
We filmed the very route "by" and "in" the mountains that we believe Lehi took to reach the Valley of Lemuel.
Without a river of water, how could the Book of Mormon claim to be an accurate historical record? Actually, the lack of a river of running water in Arabia has long been a criticism of the Book of Mormon. Hogarth argues that Arabia "probably never had a true river in all its immense area."
The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Agriculture and Water, with the assistance of the U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.), spent forty-four years surveying the kingdom's water resources. They concluded that "Saudi Arabia may be the world's largest country without any perennial rivers or streams."
Scientific research has shown that the climate in this part of the world was as arid in ca. 600 B.C. as it is today. Lehi had to find water for his family in this riverless land, and the Book of Mormon tells us that he did.
We know that the river Lehi named Laman was only a "desert river," a small stream. Hugh Nibley notes, "The expression 'river of water' is used only for small local steams." Lehi gave the river a name, so it probably had no name by which it was known. It only needed to be a small stream to have sustained life for Lehi and his family in the desert.
Finding the river would have been a faith promoting experience and a great blessing to Lehi. Finding the river today would seem to fly in the face of critics of the Book of Mormon and the forty-four year survey of Arabia by the U.S. Geological Survey.
My "Photograph of the Month" for June comes from Part One, Discovering the Valley of Lemuel, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail, showing the "pooling" of water from a continually running desert stream.
It is the stream that flows year-round in the valley called wadi Tayyib Al-Ism (The Valley of the Good Name), in Midian, Saudi Arabia. We discovered it in 1995, and it is our candidate for the River Laman.
The Omani Ministry of National Heritage and Culture notes of ancient shipbuilding in south Arabia: "Teak and coconut wood were used exclusively for building hulls. Teak had to be imported from India... Indeed, the virtues of the wood would have been known in the Gulf from the earliest sea voyages to the Indus in the third millennium B.C." The Omani Ministry adds, "Coconut wood also had to be imported - mainly from the Maldive and Laccadive Islands from where it is possible that the coconut tree spread to Dhofar in the Middle Ages."
Using imported lumber would certainly not contradict Nephi's claim that he worked timbers. Nephi's text alludes to the fact that the timber they were working had already been cut somewhere else. He wrote, "We did work timbers of curious workmanship" (Ne.18:1). How could they have been curious to Nephi and his workers, if they had logged the lumber themselves? Apparently some of the timbers Nephi used were pre-cut in an unfamiliar manner. We know that beams and rafters were being exported from India in ancient times. Presumably, these pre-worked timbers from India would have been fashioned in a manner that was new to Nephi.
Archaeological evidence shows that it was highly probable that imported timbers from India were available at Khor Rori (Oman) in Nephi's era. It also appears that all the other commodities needed for shipbuilding in Nephi's time were available at Khor Rori-either grown domestically or acquired by trade. These would have included rope from vegetation fiber such as cotton, flax or rush matting, for sails; bamboo, wood, bronze or iron for pegs or nails; stones for anchors and ballast; and probably bitumen, resin, fish oil, or animal fat for caulking. Cloth was also available as one of the products that the inhabitants of Dhofar imported in return for their frankincense.
My "Photograph of the Month" for May comes from Part Six, Discovering Nephi's Harbor, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail, - an illustration depicting shipwrights applying antifouling compound which if not maintained, allows destructive teredo worms to eat through the hull.
There were only a handful of ports in Nephi’s time where large ships were being built for sailing on open seas. Two miles from the town of Taqah is the inlet of Khor Rori. The inlet was the main port in southern Oman during the Frankincense era. In the Hellenistic period, the town where Taqah now stands and the port at Khor Rori were called Moscha.
When we saw the magnificent natural harbor of Khor Rori from the air, we knew it could easily have served Nephi’s needs for building and launching a large ship. But how can we be sure Khor Rori is where Nephi built his ship?
Could there have been other natural harbors in Dofar where Nephi could have built a ship? For example, there are the modern ports in Dhofar, as well as several other small inlets that might have served as shipbuilding ports of old.
We studied each of these inlets to determine if they were year-round protected harbors in Nephi’s day, if they were large enough to accommodate large ships, and if these inlets would have had in the beginning of the sixth century B.C. the resources Nephi needed to build a ship.
To help us with our study, we corresponded with Jana Owen, director of the Transarabia Coastal Survey, which in 1995, made a study of the ancient ports of Dhofar as part of the Transarabia Expedition. In all, we visited ten inlets besides Khor Rori. Our findings are clear and definitive in showing that the strongest candidate for Nephi’s harbor was Khor Rori. Further, there is substantial archaeological evidence that Khor Rori had every resource and feature needed by Nephi.
My "Photograph of the Month" for April comes from Part Six, Discovering Nephi's Harbor, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail , showing our candidate for Nephi’s harbor, Khor Rori, Oman.
Since large timbers are imperative for building a ship, Nephi had to acquire them. He had only two choices. One way was to purchase imported wood. The other way would be to find a locally grown source.
We have corresponded with leading experts on Omani marine archaeology who uniformly hold that hardwood trees tall enough for building a large ship like Nephi's, have never grown in the wild in Oman, with possibly one exception. German marine archaeologist Norbert Weismann, suggested to us that shipbuilding timbers could possibly have come from mango and coconut trees that were cultivated on the Salalah plain.
The hardwood species found on the foothills of Dhofar tend to be small and do not produce the large timbers necessary for the construction of a large ship. However, a unique combination of environmental factors might provide one notable exception.
The monsoon rains, coupled with excellent soil which has collected in wadi Dharbat, the large upper valley to Khor Rori, has produced an area capable of growing large trees. We found that these are the only large trees seen in Dhofar. The locals call wadi Dharbat "the valley of the big trees."
Although wadi Dharbat has been largely deforested, we still found large trees. It may be that in Nephi's time, this small but ideal growing area produced enough hardwood trees for him to have harvested large timbers for his ship.
The need for large hardwood trees is important, and its implications are profound. If Nephi had to rely on locally grown timber, Bountiful would have to have been located along the Salalah plain, the only place in Oman where these trees grow.
If Nephi built his ship at Khor Rori, he possibly had mango trees available, coconut palms, and the large hardwoods in wadi Dharbat.
My "Photograph of the Month" for March comes from Part Five, Discovering the Land of Bountiful, of the six-part series DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.It shows George Potter standing by the last of the large trees in the Wadi Dharbat National Park and Nature Reserve, Oman.
Historically the people of Arabia have been divided into two groups: the town dwellers, or settled Arabs, and the Bedouin, the desert dwellers who subsist by herding goats and sheep. The Bedouins live a nomadic life, moving from one grazing range to another.
In the towns along the trail, Lehi's family would have met other travelers as well as the settled Arabs who lived around the oases. We can assume that Lehi would have been treated with respect in these towns, perhaps even as a guest of an emir or a wealthy merchant family.
The Bedouins, on the other hand, represented a mixed set of possible experiences. On one hand, they were known in Lehi's time to have been notorious robbers.
On the other hand, the Bedouins were obligated by their "law of the desert," and much of the time, the family was probably treated to a form of hospitality called the Bond of Salt. To this day the Bedouin code of hospitality requires that when a stranger comes to one's tent, the guest(s) must be shown generous hospitality for three days.
We found, however, that the Bond of Salt works both ways. At first we didn't realize this, as one night a pickup loaded with Bedouin teenagers pulled up to our tent. Yes, we had the camp, and they were the travelers, so accordingly to their custom we were a restaurant, a hotel, and night's entertainment. We were dog-tired from a full day of field work. We added more beans and hot dogs to the pot and set up chairs for our guests. We enjoyed sharing stories with our guests that evening.
In the world of the desert, your guest of today may very well be your host tomorrow.
My "Photograph of the Month" for February comes from Part Six, Discovering Nephi's Harbor, of the six-part series of the DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail.It shows a Bedouin tent we found unattended but a home for a traveler nevertheless.
When the time came, Lehi's family left the Valley of Lemuel and traveled to their next halting place. Nephi wrote, "We did pitch our tents again and we did call the place Shazer." (Ne.16:13)
Regarding Shazer, Hugh Nibley wrote, "The name is intriguing. The combination shajer is quite common in Palestinian place names; it is a collective meaning 'trees,' and many Arabs (especially in Egypt) pronounce it shazher."
So it appears highly likely that the family named the place Shazer because it was a valley with many trees.
Armed with the knowledge that Lehi's small caravan traveled for four days from the valley of Lemuel before it arrived at Shazer, we realized that we would need to find a fertile valley with many trees in the barren landscape of Midian, Saudi Arabia.
The prospects seemed discouraging as we drove the lifeless moonscape along the frankincense trail south of the Valley of Lemuel. However, just as the name Shazer implies, when we finally reached the next caravan halt on the trail, some 65 miles southeast of the Valley of Lemuel, we found ruins of the frankincense trail halt and its water well among a fertile valley with five miles of forest.
My "Photograph of the Month" for January comes from Part Two, Discovering Lehi's Trail & Shazer, of the six-part series of the DVD, Discovering Lehi's Trail. The photograph is of our candidate for Shazer.