The Linguistic Footprints of Lehi

Ó 2002

Bruce A. Santucci

Old maps of Arabia show the Gulf of Aqaba, where the Valley of Lemuel was located, as the ‘Gulf of Lihyan’. I wonder why? In Arabic this would mean the gulf of the people of Lihy. Some would make nothing of this, but to others, this could be the first indication that Lehi left a permanent mark on Arabia; a linguistic footprint that led me to try to find more such footprints along the Potter-Wellington Candidate for the trail Lehi took to Bountiful in present-day Oman.

I’ve learned in my life on this earth that there are two kinds of people living here with me: Skeptics and Believers.

Skeptics believe nothing until the weight of accumulated evidence overwhelms their existing paradigms and forces them to change their thinking. At the Rodeo, they’re the people dispassionately observing an angry rodeo bull from their safe seats in the stadium.

Believers on the other hand believe everything until the weight of evidence forces them to discard their paradigms and beliefs. They’re the ones at the Rodeo who aren’t afraid to get down out of the stadium and try their hand at riding that bull.

By nature, skeptics are cynical and pessimistic in their approach to ideas outside their knowledge and experiences. Believers on the other hand, are optimistic, innocent and naive in their approach to new ideas.

Believers are often better at putting pieces of puzzles together into a whole picture than skeptics are.

And yes, yes, I confess to being a Believer whose mind engulfs all possibilities and assimilates what is discovered to be true and discards what is found to be false.

I have been privileged to be a part of the Nephi Project since shortly after its inception and have enjoyed helping George Potter, Richard Wellington and Tim Sedor in bringing the Nephi Project to fruition.

George thought it would be interesting if I wrote a speculative piece on a ‘possible’ detour Lehi might have taken his family during their journey along the Frankincense Trail to present-day Oman. OK.

I’ve called this article "The Linguistic Footprints of Lehi’s Trail". The prophet and his son Nephi were great men – both were highly educated, fearless and faithful. They traveled in Arabia for eight years (1 Nephi 17:4), teaching the gospel as they went (D&C 33:8). To a believer, like myself, it seems they could somehow have left a permanent legacy in Arabia from their activities in the places they visited and settled.

I’ve mentioned the Gulf of Lihayin as the start of the linguistic evidence I’m looking for. Additional linquistic evidence lies at the city of Dedan; the capital of the ancient Lihyanite Empire. Today the city is called al Ula.

Potter and Wellington believe that Lehi spent several months, and perhaps longer, at Dedan working and teaching in his successful attempt to earn enough tribute, trade credits, and favors to continue the next leg of his family’s journey – to Madinah.

Lynn and Hope Hilton were the first to bring the Lihyanites to the attention of the LDS community, properly noting that the Lihyanites were the "people of Lihy", and that they came to power in northwest Arabia shortly after the time that Lehi passed through Arabia. Evidence exists on old tribal maps that the Lihyanites existed as a well-established tribe in the area east of Makkah during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed.

Dedan was a cultural religious center on the Caravan/Pilgrimage Route to and from southern harbors like Khor Rori in Oman; the very route Potter and Wellington believe Lehi took to reach Bountiful.

It was also on the route to and from the Ka’aba in Makkah (Mecca) in present-day Saudi Arabia.

Dedan was already populated with local tribes-people and a fair number of Israelite merchants when Lehi and his family arrived there. The Israeli merchants there made a business of feeding, housing and supplying Pilgrims on their way to visit the Ka’aba in Mecca.

The Israelite merchants also catered to the caravans wending northwards with their supplies of incense and goods from the territories of the Queen of Sheba in the Southern Arabian Peninsula along what would later become known as the Frankincense Trade Route.

No one knows exactly when Dedan grew to become a center of culture and religion. We only know that it reached the height of its glory during the Lihyanite influence over the area which may have lasted several hundred years (from around 600BC to 200BC). The most recent archaeological work conducted in the area has shown that the Lihyanite influence was even more widespread than previously thought.

My natural instincts lead me to believe that the Lihyanite people were either direct descendants of the Prophet Lehi or descendants of people who Lehi and Nephi may have taught the gospel to while they were staying there (D&C 33:7-9). The name itself and the evidence of Lihyanite Scripts found scattered 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 at the Lihyanite temple has stairs going into it, and if one stands in it , the lower half of one’s body is below the surrounding surface of the earth.

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Antiquities does not know the purpose of the font , however it notes of the Lihyanite Temple: "Near the foundations of a large temple is still found a well preserved large cistern carved in a large rock and called as ‘Mahlab al Naqa’".

Suffice it to say, Dedan presents the believer with possible evidence that Lehi stayed in this place for some time. Here then, we have a second Linguistic footprint.

The main branch of the Frankincense trail leaves Dedan to the southeast and 150 miles later arrives at the third linguistic footprint of Lehi after Dedan - the town of Al Lihin Al Lihin is the plural form in Arabic "of Lihi". Al Lihin today is nothing but a sleepy one-camel agricultural town but which may hold significant clues as to the origin of the town’s name. Anyone who has lived, worked and/or traveled in Saudi Arabia knows that English transliteration of Arabic names undergoes significant changes from one English language map to another. In Arabic, consonant sounds take precedence over vowel sounds. This means Lihi could be spelled any number of ways – Lehi or Lahi or Liyyah or even Lhy.

In addition, the Arabic suffix ending sound transliterated in English as "-ah" or "–ha" and often "-ya" are interchangeable. "-ah" is a suffix that indicates the feminine form of a noun when someone wants to name an area. The suffix sound often changes the masculine noun form to the feminine ‘area’ where the masculine noun may reside. The "-ah" suffix means ‘area of’, so for example, in Riyadh, Suleimaniha would mean the Area of Suleiman (or Soloman). Akrabiya means the area of the scorpions since akrebi means ‘scorpion’ and ‘ya’ means area of. Other commonly-known examples with this suffix include Akariya, an area in Riyadh, Batha’ha, another area (or district) in Riyadh, Mezuriya in Dammam City, and of course Wadi Liyyah or Jebel Al Liyyah on our maps.

Attaching a Feminine suffix to a masculine noun is common practice when designating a geographical area. The town of ‘Ba’adah’ is another case in point. Numerous examples can be found everywhere in Arabia.

As Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim to transcribe the text and symbols found on the plates, he too would have found the English transliteration of vowel sounds quite challenging.

Nevertheless, I can’t help seeing the name Al Lihin on a Saudi Zaki M. A Farsi Engineering Map and pondering the simple-minded conclusion that it had some connection to the ancient Lihyanite people and monuments located 150 miles north of the town – still on the main branch of the Frankincense trail.

Madinah Al Munawwarah was another major stop on the ancient Caravan trading and pilgrimage route. It lies about 45 miles south of Al Lihin. Madinah continues to be a thriving bustling metropolitan-style city just as it was in olden times. It is blessed with abundant water sources and would have been a natural stopping and resting place for travelers. About 18 miles north of Madinah situated at the northern edge of a very rich agricultural area lies what I believe is the fourth linguistic footprint of Lehi; Jebel Al Lihayyan or the Mountain of Lihayyan. Why is this mountain called Lihayyan? The ‘n’ attached to the end of the suffix sound indicates a plural form – perhaps the people of Lihay?

I don’t know, but the linguistic footprints of Lehi lead us here, only nine miles north of the Frankincense trail – again the Potter/Wellington proposed route of Lehi’s Trail. It also places the traveler in a very fertile area where food and water in ancient times would have been plentiful.

Yet another Linguistic footprint - the fifth - on today’s maps leads us south-southeast of Madinah approximately 15-20 miles– deep into massive and desolate lava fields – where we find a hilly lava area the locals have been calling Hujayyat al Lihyan. It remains a mystery to me why anyone would want to travel through this hellish lava field and it certainly would not have been a very easy place to take camels and provisions and women and children. Perhaps Lehi tried to take his family through, failed and turned back to Madinah.

He of course would have told the locals that it wasn’t very hospitable terrain for traveling and thus the area might have received its name to remind people that a certain people tried this way. The true story has been lost to time and history. What we can see is that the main Frankincense trail, which Potter and Wellington believe Lehi traveled on runs along the eastern edge of the Hujayyat al Lihyan. The next major halt along this trail was Bishah.

However, I believe that Lehi may have taken another route to reach Bishah. It is quite possible that he took the opportunity to do a pilgrimage with his family and followers to the Ka’aba at Makkah. This pilgrimage route offshoot from the commercial Frankincense Trade Route would have been a more pleasant journey for his family. On the pilgrimage trail many other Israelite or Canaanite pilgrims from various parts of the world would accompany them.

For those who may not know, many Muslims believe that the Ka’aba was originally built by Adam, the first man, under instructions from the Lord, as a place to congregate and worship the one true God and to renew covenants made with the Lord. After Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, the Ka’aba deteriorated and fell into disrepair – especially after the great flood in Noah’s time - Muslims believe that the Ka’aba had been forgotten until the Lord instructed Ibrahim (Biblical Abraham) to go to that same spot with his only son at the time (eldest son)- 13-year old Ishmael, and offer him as a sacrifice to test Ibrahim’s faith and obedience. According to the Muslims it was Ibrahim’s sacrifice of Ishmael that was interrupted by an angel of the Lord who instructed him to replace the sacrifice of his son with a lamb (or a sheep or a goat) that got caught in a rock just near the scene. According to the Qur’an, Ibrahim and Ishmael were then instructed to rebuild the Ka’aba and to be its custodians. Since then, the Ka’aba has been a central place of pilgrimage for hundreds of millions of Muslims who share common ties of kinship with the Tribes of Israel through Abraham.

Of course there is no sign posted anywhere that Lehi went this way but if we continue to follow the linguistic footprints of Lehi we find still more evidence that he might have indeed taken the pilgrimage route.

About 30 miles along what is today Highway 15 going to Makkah from Madinah, skirting the massive lava fields we suddenly find a turnoff trail called Sha’ib al Liyhan and when we follow it, it appears to be another attempt to go south-southeast to cut back toward the main commercial trade route. What happened? The trail goes in about 10 miles through horrible lava fields once again and then ends abruptly. Once again, I speculate that this might have been one of the times the Liahona was not working, and that Lehi insisted on following the Liahona’s directional arrows and then turned back when he found it too arduous. Here then would be the sixth linguistic footprint of Lehi.

They would have turned back to the Pilgrimage trail to Makkah on today’s Highway 15. This trail would have taken Lehi right to the Ka’aba and also would have returned them to a south-southeast direction through the city of Taif. About 6-7 miles south of what is today the Taif ring road on Highway 267, there is a turnoff onto Road 4335 that ends in a small town named Ghazal. It is here where a Wadi begins the seventh linguistic footprint of Lehi. The Wadi is called Wadi Liyyah. Wadi Liyyah is a very very long wadi that takes us back toward the main commercial caravan route and indeed eventually connects to it and continues on to the town of Bishah.

Seven linguistic footprints of Lehi all within Potter-Wellington’s proposed route seem more than coincidental. The conclusions I draw from the names themselves may in fact be my own imaginative synthesis of coincidences but they seem to follow the basic direction Lehi and his family traveled on their way to Khor Rori in modern-day Oman where we believe with the Lord’s help Nephi managed to build a unique seaworthy vessel that carried them to the promised land. Further study remains to be done in the areas identified with Lehi on current maps. I believe that if further such studies are done, more will be found to justify rather than contradict my theory of a detour to Makkah.

Return to Library