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Lihyanites in the Oasis of Al-Ula (The Most Fertile Parts) of Nephi’s Trail

 

NEPHI PROJECT- NEWSLETTER JUNE 2004-FIELD REPORT FOR 2004
by George Potter

 After a gap of many years I finally returned to the oasis of Al-Ula, my favorite exploring site in all of Arabia. Not only is the wadi al-Ula the most beautiful oasis in Arabia, it is an archeological haven, having been inhabited since 3000 BC. Geologically the long narrow valley resembles a blend of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in southern Utah, but with one striking difference--date palm groves run for miles through the canyon. We featured this beautiful valley in our video "Discovering the Most Fertile Parts" (see 1 Nephi16:14).

Undoubtedly Lehi visited this very valley (see our video Discovering Lehi's Trail and Shazer), and perhaps one of the towns here was where Nephi preached the gospel as he came down from Jerusalem (D&C 33:7-9).

Dr. Lynn & Hope Hilton were the first Book of Mormon scholars who associated this valley to Nephi's missionary work.  They found that the people who ruled northwest Saudi Arabia were the Lihyanites, meaning the people of Lihy (Lehi). However the Hiltons didn't realize that the ancient trail down Arabia passed through the Ula valley, which became the capital of the Lihyanites.

All the same, the Hiltons studied the Lihyanite ruins in the wadi al-Ula, including the remains of the Lihyanite temple. The Lihyanites ruled the area between the coast of the Red Sea at the west and Domat al Jandal in the east for over five hundred years. Their rule ended with the emergence of the Nabataeans in the first century .C.<outbind://1/#_ftn1> [1]

In other words, the Lihyanties ruled northwest Arabia starting just after Lehi

 passed through the valley of Ula.

My own natural instincts led me to believe that the Lihyanite people were descendants of the people Lehi and Nephi taught the gospel to while they were staying there. The name itself and the evidence contained in the Lihyanite inscriptions found throughout the area bring to my mind images of Lehi's family. Could the Lihyanites have been converts?  The
Qur'an states that they were descendants of the people of Thamud, a righteous people who believed in the one true God. The Hiltons pointed out that the Lihyanites built a temple at Dedan, which had a font that was nearly the same in dimensions as the one at Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem.  The cistern (font) at the Lihyanite temple has stairs going into it, and if one stands in it, the lower half of their body would be below the surrounding surface of the earth.

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Antiquities does not know the purpose of the font, however it notes the Lihyanite Temple. The modern name for Dedan is Ula, which means "to exalt". In antiquity Dedan and its surrounding villages were called Qura Arabiyyah. Allegedly, there are inscriptions on a large stone near Medina which indicates that Jeremiah sent two people to visit the people Qura Arabiyyah <outbind://1/#_ftn2>[2].

Were these two messengers Lehi and Nephi? At this time, we simply don't know the answer to that question, but there is ample evidence that drives our research at al-Ula.  Although this year's field work at Ula was in association with my theory on Noah's Ark, we discovered some interesting new information about the Lihyanites.

 First, to our great surprise, we found that the Saudi Arabian Department of Antiquities has begun excavating the Lihyanite Temple! All that we knew

about the temple site prior to now was that a temple had once set upon a half mile long site, and that all that remains of the entire site is rumble--small pieces of rock. The one exception is the cistern that the Hiltons compare to the Brazen Sea baptismal font at Solomon's Temple. According to the Saudi Department of Antiquities, "near the foundations of a large temple is still found a well preserved large cistern." <outbind://1/#_ftn3> [3]. However, that is not what I saw at the temple's excavation on this trip.  As the picture indicates, the font is located within the foundations to the temple itself. It was part of the temple, with the floor of the font being several feet below ground level.

Second, I discovered that the steep mountain that rises above the temples site, Mount Um-Daraj, has a very impressive feature - a stone stairs that had been carved up the entire 700 foot ascent to the mountain's summit, and that atop the summit is a second temple site. It appears that the Lihyanites carved a stone stair case from the temple with the font the entire way up a steep mountain to the temple with an altar.

Third, as we were preparing to leave the valley, I met a French explorer who told me about a hidden Lihyanite sacred area--their sanctuary. He told me he discovered the holy site in a maze of narrow wadis three miles west of the main wadi Ula. According to the Frenchmen, the site included an altar with two carvings, one a circled bowl and the other a rectangle. One was for the blood of the sacrificed animal and the other for water for the washings. I will make it the quest of my next visit to the oasis of al-Ula.

But were the Lihyanites practicing a faith consistent with that of Nephi? The Lihyanites referred to their God as 'Dhu-Ghaibit'. Dhu means
"the one with or one possessed with." Ghaibat literally means "absent, unknown, faint, swoon."  Ghaiba( singular) means "one absent," but Ghibat
(plural) means "a lot of Absents." According to the Almonjed (Arabic to Arabic dictionary), Ghibat means "valleys, digs, caves, woods", or any thing that could make things or people absent or hidden. They say, "Ghaib this person" which means to kill him, or make him absent. The Koran
say "God has the knowledge of the Ghaib," which means God knows the unknown, which can also mean future things to happen.  The sorcerer or enchanter claims he knows the Ghaib (mainly future). The Koran states "Al-Ghaib Knowledge is only for God." The Lihyanite God's name then means, "He who possess knowledge of the future". This compares well with Nephi's teaching that the Lord knoweth all things (1 Nephi 9:6, 2 Nephi 9:20).

The Lihyanites placed great importance on offerings and sacrifices, paid an annual offering (talal) at the temple <outbind://1/#_ftn4> [4]. Their Solomon like temples appear to have been used for sacrificing she-camels, black camels and other livestock to the God Dhu Ghaibat. <outbind://1/#_ftn5> [5], and as we have already seen, the temples included altars and what appear to be baptismal fonts.

We found many other interesting artifacts during this year's trip to Ula. In the following months, I will be sharing some of these with you in our newsletters.
George Potter

  <outbind://1/#_ftnref1> [1] Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Education, Al-Bid, History and Archaeology, (Riyadh, Ministry of Education, 2002), p. 9.

  <outbind://1/#_ftnref2> [2] Abdulla Al-Wohabi, The Northern Hijaz In The Writings of The Arab Geographers 800-1150 B.C., (Beirut: Al-Risalah, 1973), 202.

<outbind://1/#_ftnref3> [3] Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Education, Department of Antiquities and Museums, Antiquities Sites of al-Ula and Madain Saleh, (Riyadh, Ministry of Education, no date), 19.

  <outbind://1/#_ftnref4> [4] A.R. Al-Ansary and Hussein Abu Al-Hassan, The Civilizations of Two Cities, Al-Ula & Mada'in Salih, (Riyadh: Dar Al-Qawafil, 2001), 21.

  <outbind://1/#_ftnref5> [5] A.R. Al-Ansary and Hussein Abu Al-Hassan, The Civilizations of Two Cities, Al-Ula & Mada'in Salih, (Riyadh: Dar Al-Qawafil, 2001), 21.


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