Evidence #125 | December 18, 2020

Shazer

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Scripture Central

Abstract

A location known as Wadi esh Sharma (or Wadi Agharr) is consistent with the description of Shazer found in the Book of Mormon.

Shazer and Wadi Sharma (Agharr)

After crossing to the southern side of the oasis (across the River Laman in Nephi’s account) this valley is the only one allowing travel through the mountains in a general SE direction. This view faces in the direction of travel. Image and caption by Warren P. Aston.

After leaving the valley of Lemuel, Lehi’s party reached a location which they called Shazer. Details about this location come primarily from 1 Nephi 16:12–14:

And it came to pass that we did take our tents and depart into the wilderness, across the river Laman. And it came to pass that we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place Shazer. And it came to pass that we did take our bows and our arrows, and go forth into the wilderness to slay food for our families; and after we had slain food for our families we did return again to our families in the wilderness, to the place of Shazer. And we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea.

From this short account, readers can derive the following facts about Shazer:

  1. Crossing the River Laman was the first step necessary to get to Shazer.
  2. Shazer was a four-day journey from the Valley of Lemuel.
  3. Shazer was in a south-southeast direction from the Valley of Lemuel.
  4. Shazer was given its name by Lehi’s party.
  5. Shazer was near a wilderness that proved good hunting grounds.
  6. Shazer was a long journey nearly north-northeast from a place called Nahom (see 1 Nephi 16:14, 33–34).

A few candidates for the location of Shazer have been proposed.1 One of them, known as Wadi esh Sharma (or Wadi Agharr), provides an especially good match.

Southeast from the Valley of Lemuel

In a recent on-the-ground survey of Wadi Tayyib al-Ism (the best candidate for the Valley of Lemuel), explorer and researcher Warren Aston found a location that would have been suitable for Lehi’s party to set up camp.2 Notably, Aston found that the only valley that allows for southward travel in this region happens to be opposite from the proposed encampment site, which would have required Lehi’s party to cross the valley’s river or stream, just as the text describes (see 1 Nephi 16:12).3 According to Aston, the general direction of this valley “leads southeast through the mountains to emerge in a broad plain … offering a multitude of possible pathways that bring the traveler to the huge Wadi Ifal basin and then to the town of al-Bad. Thus, no backtracking at any stage was necessary.”4

Image by Warren P. Aston.

A Four-Day Journey

Wadi Sharma is located approximately 70 miles southeast of the Valley of Lemuel. Since desert travel in antiquity typically ranged between 15–25 miles per day,5 this location comfortably fits Nephi’s description of a four-day journey (see 1 Nephi 16:13).6

The Name Shazer

Various etymologies have been proposed for the name Shazer,7 including “twisting, intertwining,”8 a place of “trees,”9 and “gazelle,”10 which may have “constituted a main dietary staple for Lehi and his family while in the Arabian wilderness.”11 The “twisting” etymology could relate to the twisted trunks of local trees12 or to the way that a gazelle navigates terrain,13 so it may be possible that there is some overlap in these proposed etymologies. If one or more of these proposals are valid, the location of Shazer might be expected to be a place of many trees or with good hunting of gazelles (or both). Wadi Sharma is indeed a place of many trees,14 and as will be discussed below, there are good hunting grounds in the nearby mountains.

gazella dorcas saudiya found in ancient rock art. Image and caption via Matthew L. Bowen, “Shazer: An Etymological Proposal in Narrative Context,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 9. 

Good Hunting

In their exploration of Wadi Sharma (or Agharr), George Potter and Richard Wellington were told by “the Police General at al-Bada that the best hunting in the entire area was in the mountains of Agharr.”15 In a later expedition reported by Potter and Wellington, “We spoke with Bedouins who lived in the upper end of wadi Agharr who told us that Ibex lived in the mountains and they still hunted them there.”16 This is consistent with the location of Shazer, which had access to favorable hunting grounds (see 1 Nephi 16:14).

These impressive mountains face the traveler in Wadi Sharma near the easternmost oasis. This view was taken facing eastwards near the easternmost oasis. Image and caption by Warren P. Aston.

Conclusion

As concluded by Warren Aston,

Wadi esh Sharma … meets Nephi’s account in ways that no other location does. At about 70 miles (110 km) from the Valley of Lemuel, it easily fits the description of being four days’ travel, is readily accessible, and provides a pathway further into the interior of Arabia. It alone has the oasis resources of water and crops, especially the ubiquitous date, that a traveling group would find valuable, but also mountains in the immediate vicinity that would have hunting opportunities, as they do today. This precise match to the text makes it the most plausible location for Shazer by far.17

This proposed site for Shazer does not, on its own, provide compelling evidence that Nephi’s account is authentic. However, it demonstrates, as far as possible, that a location like the one mentioned in 1 Nephi exists in the right place.

Warren P. Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’: The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 39 (2020): 61–69.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Shazer: An Etymological Proposal in Narrative Context,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 1–12.

Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v. “Shazer,” last modified November 21, 2015, online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.

George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness: 81 New, Documented Evidences That the Book of Mormon is a True History (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2003), 73–78.

1 Nephi 16:12–14, 33–341 Nephi 16:12–14, 33–34

1 Nephi 16:12–14, 33–34

1 Nephi 16:12–14, 33–34

  • 1 See Warren P. Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’: The Fourth Arabian Pillar of the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 39 (2020): 61–69.
  • 2 See Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’,” 58.
  • 3 See Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’,” 58–61.
  • 4 Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’,” 59.
  • 5 See Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’,” 57; Warren P. Aston, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia: The Old World Setting of the Book of Mormon (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2015), 56n7; S. Kent Brown, “New Light From Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Echoes and Evidences for the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 60. John W. Welch and Robert D. Hunt, “Culturegram: Jerusalem 600 BC,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2004), 4, give a slightly narrower range of 17–23 miles per day.
  • 6 Based on these travel estimates, a four-day journey would most likely be between 60–100 miles. Readers may wonder why the 70 miles from the Valley of Lemuel to Shazer was a four-day journey, whereas the 74 miles between Aqaba and the Valley of Lemuel has been estimated as a three-day journey. See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: The Valley of Lemuel,” last updated November 28, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org. Rates of travel can vary for many reasons, including weather, terrain, access to food and water, health conditions, and the amount of luggage or cargo that needs to be transported. None of these variables are known with any precision in regard to the two journeys. What is known is that the journey from the Valley of Lemuel to Shazer included more travelers (Ishmael’s family and Zoram). It is possible that this change in the dynamics of the party—including possible health concerns (Ishmael later dies between Shazer and Nahom), potential pregnancies, more young children, additional cargo, or other factors—could have significantly slowed the party’s rate of travel during this leg of the journey.  
  • 7 See Book of Mormon Onomasticon, s.v. “Shazer,” last modified November 21, 2015, online at onoma.lib.byu.edu.
  • 8 See Sidney B. Sperry, The Book of Mormon Testifies (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1952), 59.
  • 9 Hugh W. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 5 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 78–79.
  • 10 Matthew L. Bowen, “Shazer: An Etymological Proposal in Narrative Context,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 1–12.
  • 11 Bowen, “Shazer,” 8.
  • 12 See Jeff Lindsay, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 of 2,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 19 (2016): 212.
  • 13 Bowen, “Shazer,” 6–7.
  • 14 See George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness: 81 New, Documented Evidences That the Book of Mormon is a True History (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2003), 77.
  • 15 See Potter and Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness, 74.
  • 16 Potter and Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness, 77–78.
  • 17 Aston, “Nephi’s ‘Shazer’,” 69.
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