At the 2005 Education Week in Provo, Utah, a new film, entitled Journey of Faith, received its debut. Produced and directed by the accomplished Latter-day Saint filmmaker Peter Johnson and with FARMS director S. Kent Brown as its principal host and narrator, Journey of Faith traced the travels of Lehi and his party from Jerusalem through the deserts of Arabia to Old World Bountiful, on the shores of the Arabian Sea.
The film was a landmark in Mormon studies and in Latter-day Saint moviemaking. Despite daunting political and geographical obstacles — for example, the film crew was in remote rural Yemen on the very day in September 2001 that airliners piloted by Arab terrorists plunged into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field — and long delays and other hurdles thrown up by bureaucratic red tape in both hemispheres, it was filmed on location, in places that very few people (whether Westerners or Arabs) see even today.
And it was filmed beautifully. Journey of Faith intersperses interviews with historians, geologists, archaeologists, Arabists, and botanists — including not merely Latter-day Saint scholars but also the prominent Yemeni archaeologists Yusuf Abdullah and Abdu Othman Ghaleb — with stunning footage of remote and inaccessible Arabia.
Viewers of the film acquire a feeling for the landscape through which Lehi and his self-exiled party passed en route to their expected “land of promise.” And, in doing so, they gain a faith-strengthening sense of the concrete reality — the dirt and the rocks, the cliffs and the steep ravines, the heat and the loneliness — of that small but epochal exodus undertaken twenty-six centuries ago.
Hugh Nibley was the first Latter-day Saint scholar to examine the account given in 1 Nephi and, based on his vast reading, to point out how remarkably well it fits its claimed geographical and cultural context in ancient Arabia. In the intervening period, the Americans Lynn and Hope Hilton, then the Australians Warren and Michaela Aston, and later still the Anglo-American team of George Potter and Richard Wellington, have actually been able to visit Arabia themselves and, by adding their boots-on-the-ground observations, have contributed valuable insights that help scholars to refine, deepen, and extend their thinking about the route taken by Lehi, Sariah, Nephi, and their associates.
In recent years, Kent Brown — a professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University with extensive experience in the Near East, including archaeological fieldwork in Egypt, a research fellowship at the Coptic Museum in Cairo, and tenure as director of BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies — has emerged as the principal scholar engaged with such issues, and his expertise informs Journey of Faith at every step.
We now know that a plausible candidate exists for the place known as Nahom in the Book of Mormon, where Ishmael died and was buried. It is still associated with the Arabic root NHM today, and unexpected evidence surfaced only a few years ago to demonstrate that it was associated with that significant cluster of consonants at the beginning of the sixth century before Christ, at precisely the time reported in Nephi’s account.
From Nahom, Lehi and his party turned due east and traveled until they reached the seashore, where they ultimately built a boat and continued their journey to the Americas. Impressively, due east of the place that scholars have now linked with Nahom is a site that meets all of the criteria for Lehi’s Arabian Bountiful. It has fresh water, trees, a sheltered cove, cliffs (recalling those from which Nephi’s brothers considered casting him into the sea), and iron ore (from which Nephi would have been able to make his vital tools).
Professor Brown has been able to show that Nephi’s account of Arabia features a number of such strikingly accurate details. Very, very few Arabs or professional Arabists know anything about these topics today; the nineteenth-century rural farm boy Joseph Smith almost certainly knew nothing about them in 1830.
Thousands of copies of Journey of Faith have been sold since it appeared in 2005. But, in my view, many Latter-day Saints still need to encounter this superbly produced, informative, and faith-promoting film. The Book of Mormon is, as it claims to be, a second witness for Christ. In order for that witness to convey its full strength, those who read the Book of Mormon must understand that it isn’t recounting myths, but the real history of real people in real places.
Journey of Faith conveys that message beautifully, and with great power.
For reasons unknown to me, Amazon.com apparently carries neither the film Journey of Faith nor the newer hardcover book that accompanies it. But they are available in many Latter-day Saint bookstores, and both can be ordered by clicking on the links in this article, and, now, by calling Summum Bonum/Amalphi Arts (1/801/373-2787), a welcome new distribution service that has recently been established in order to make quality Mormon art and scholarship better known and more accessible.