Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Zoramites in Southern Arabia

In 1981 the following inscription was published. It comes from the Wadi el-Sirr, some 40 kilometers north of Sanaa, Yemen. It dates to the middle Sabean Period, somewhere between 300 BC and the time of Christ.

Abrathid, of Zoram, daughter of the sons of Thagram, founded and completed the tower Yaf'am (exalted) and the cemetery Rabakh (place of rest) with the help of her husband, Azbar and his sons from the sons of Zoram.

(Peter Stein, Lehrbuch der sabaischen Sprache [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012], 2:130.)

The inscription is informative on a number of points, but here I would like to highlight four:

  1. The inscription, as well as the whole building project, was commissioned by a woman. While pre-Islamic Arabic does not have the reputation of granting many rights or much status to women, this inscription shows that it was possible for a woman to commission and direct construction works. In the inscription, Abrathid has a higher status than her husband, Azbar. Although she is assisted by her husband and her sons, she takes pride of place in the inscription while they are mere afterthoughts.

  2. The inter-tribal marriage is highlighted. Abrathid comes from the Thagram tribe and has married into the Zoram tribe.

  3. The cemetery is located in the general region where the Book of Mormon places the burial of Ishmael. This may simply be coincidence, as burials tend to take place in the vicinity of the death, wherever that may be.

  4. There is a tribe named after an individual named Zoram, and Azbar and Abrathid are Zoramites. This is probably not the same Zoram as is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but the name is the same and it occurs in the area where Zoram traveled on the wilderness journey. The name does not appear in Harding's index as the inscription was originally published about ten years later.
Inscriptions like this one indicate that information relevant to the Book of Mormon may still be found in ancient Arabia.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Nephite Weights and Measures Again

A number of years ago, Robert F. Smith compared the Nephite weights and measures with Horus-eye fractions from Egypt. One need not go into the advantages and disadvantages of such a proposal to note that another possibility presents itself. 

To review, the Book of Mormon lays out the following values (Alma 11:4-19):

2 leahs = 1 shiblum

2 shiblums = 1 shiblon 

2 shiblons = senum

2 senums = 1 amnor

2 amnors = a ezrom

At least as early as the third to fifth century BC, Southern Arabia had a system of values that also doubled in size.

2 kyš = 1 šśʿ

2 šśʿ = 1 tmrt

2 ʾtmr = 1 gms

2 ʾgms = 1 nṣf

2 ʾnṣf = 1 K

2 K = 1 ʾrbʿt 

We also have an idea of some prices from the time. A herd animal normally cost between 1 ʾrbʿt and 1 tmrt and 1 ʾrbʿt, 1 gm, and 1 tmrt.

(See Peter Stein, Die altsüdarabischen Minuskelinschriften auf Holzstäbschen aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München (Tübingen: Ernst Wasmuth, 2010), 1:79-85.) 

While we do not know the precise origin of the Nephite system, the South Arabian parallel may provide another possibility.