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Nephi's Criteria for "Bountiful"



What have researches looked for when trying to identify a possible candidate for Nephi's "Bountiful"? Warren Aston suggests that there are 12 different requirements that a viable candidate for Bountiful must meet: 

1. “Nearly eastward” of Nahom.
There is a clear directional link between the locations of Bountiful and Nahom. Bountiful lay “nearly eastward” of Nahom (17:1). Given Nephi’s ability to determine directions in the Old World with considerable accuracy, we should expect that Bountiful must lie very close to the 16th degree north latitude, just as we now know Nahom does. Surprisingly, the clear-cut implications of this most basic and unequivocal scripture continue to be ignored or understated by many LDS writers even now after the location of Nahom bas been clearly established.
2. Accessible from the interior deserts.
Clearly, the terrain had to permit reasonable access from the interior deserts to the coast. Access to the Arabian coast is severely restricted in many places by terrain so rugged that overland travel directly from the interior is simply impossible.
3. The surrounding general area may have been also fertile.
Nephi’s usage of the term “Bountiful” suggests that a wider, general area (17:5, 7) may have enjoyed notable fertility in addition to the particular location where the Lehites initially camped (17:6), making any site without a comparable surrounding fertile area less likely.
4. Bountiful was a sheltered coastal location.
Bountiful, logically on the east coast of Arabia, was a coastal location (17:5), suitable for an initial seashore encampment in tents (17:6) but also with shelter available on higher ground in more substantial dwellings. It had to offer a suitable place for the construction and launching of a sizable ship (18:8). Ships cannot easily be constructed over several years on a beach exposed to monsoon storms and high winds; the ideal location is the shore of a sheltered lagoon or inlet that protects from tides and storms while still allowing ready access to the ocean.
5. “Bountiful” was a fertile area.
The place derives its name from the fact that it was very fertile, notable for its “much fruit” and honey (17:5,6; 18:6) and perhaps small game that could be hunted (18:6). As noted in item 11, the strong likelihood that Bountiful was uninhabited at that time would require that the fruit was not cultivated but growing wild. This immediate availability of “fruit" may explain why no mention is made of the growing of crops at Bountiful by the group – unlike the description of their arrival in the New World (18:24). However, some agricultural and fishing pursuits during the years of their stay at Bountiful are highly likely and would have provided additional food sources. The group’s camels of course could still provide milk, hair, hides and meat throughout their time at Bountiful.
6. Timber was available to build a ship.
Enough timbers of types and sizes to permit building a vessel able to carry several dozen persons and remain seaworthy for about a year were available (18:1,2). Although teak was imported from India for shipbuilding in northern Oman since about the third millennium BC, the clear implication is that this place ”prepared of the Lord” had all the materials needed for the ship without recourse to obtaining timber from elsewhere. The wording of 18:1 conveys the impression that the timber was at hand.
7. Year-round fresh water at the site.
Year-round fresh water at the site is required by the flora described and would also have been necessary for the extended stay required by the group to construct the ship without diverting significant energy and time to carrying it in from elsewhere.
8. A mountain nearby.
A mountain, one prominent enough to justify Nephi’s reference to it as “the mount” (17:7, 18:3) and near enough to the coastal encampment that he could go there to “pray oft” (18:3).
9. Substantial cliffs overlooking the ocean are suggested.
The incident where Nephi’s brothers attempted to take his life by throwing him into the depths of the sea (17:48) makes little sense unless there were substantial cliffs overlooking the ocean from which to throw him. Cliffs typically have rocks at their base from erosion and would constitute a real danger to anyone falling on them from any height, whereas a sand beach would not, especially to a young man described as ”large in stature” (2:16) and “having….much strength” (4:31), regardless of his swimming ability.
10. Ore, from which metal could be smelted to construct tools.
Ore was available in the vicinity (17:9-11, 16), together with some type of flint (verse 11), seemingly near the ore source. Nephi does not specify the metal he used, but a copper or iron alloy are the most likely to make the hatchets, adzes, chisels, twist drills, hammers and so on that would be needed. While it remains possible that he carried some type of flint with him to make fire, the wording suggests that it was available at the location of the ore source.
11. Little or no resident population at that time to contribute tools and manpower to the ship building process.
Despite the attractiveness of the place, the 17th chapter of First Nephi is full of items indicating that Bountiful had little or no resident population at that time that could contribute tools and manpower to the ship building process. A specific revelation from God was required to show Nephi where ore could be found; great effort was then expended by him to fashion his own bellows, locate the ore, smelt it and then manufacture the tools he would need. Such basic items would have been easily obtained by anyone living in, or even near to, a populated seaport where ship construction would have been commonplace. Nephi would also not have had to rely on his brothers to assist him had local labor been available.
Of course, Lehi could also easily have been directed to bring sufficient wealth from his estate in Jerusalem to purchase a ship or commission the building of one had they been headed for a shipbuilding area. Another likely reason that they had to construct their own ship is that no vessels being built in that part of the world were adequate for a journey of the magnitude required.
The continually dissenting Laman and Lemuel seem to have left Bountiful readily enough for a long and dangerous sea voyage, surely their first time on the open sea, when the time came. This tact suggests that there was little at Bountiful either to distract them from assisting Nephi in building the ship or to entice them to remain there. Opportunities for wealth would have surely appealed to them after years of desert privation if Bountiful was in or near a center for trade and would also have given them an easy opportunity to return to their beloved Jerusalem.
It also seems unlikely that Lehi’s group, at such a critical juncture in their journey, would be exposed to the pagan beliefs then prevalent in Arabia but rather that their place, “prepared” of the Lord, may have also been intended to keep them apart from other people. If so, this means that the “fruit” found by the Lehites upon their arrival at Bountiful was uncultivated. Since any water source in Arabia attracts people, this tact requires us to identify good reasons as to why such an attractive place would remain uninhabited.
12. Access to the open ocean for a ship.
Lastly, coastal conditions had to allow access to the open ocean and to suitable winds and currents (18:8, 9) which could carry the vessel seaward most probably in an easterly direction toward the Pacific coast of Central America, favored by most Book of Mormon scholars as Nephi’s landing place. At first glance however, travel in an eastward direction nom the Indian Ocean onwards appears problematic as the prevailing currents and winds generally restrict travel to a westerly direction.
Such a detailed and comprehensive description of a locale is without precedent anywhere in scripture and should encourage those who seek to bring Nephi’s account to life. It is true that, archaeologically, only an inscription could normally definitively establish or ”prove” that a small Israelite group lived briefly at a specific location so long ago. From a scriptural perspective, however, Nephi’s account of the place itself is so specific that human traces are not a necessary prerequisite and establishing plausibility is far from being impossible. The numerous circumstantial evidences embedded in the record kept by Nephi have become an invitation to match the place Bountiful to the real world.