Come with us on the adventure of a lifetime as we explore the best candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful in Oman. In the next few days, we will give you the details to take you there with us for an armchair journey to a green beach on the edge of the Arabian Sea where archaeologists are digging. Watch for continuing updates in the days ahead. If you missed the Day 1 report, please click here.
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This work is sponsored by the Khor Kharfot Foundation and under the direction of Dr. F. Richard Hauck and his Archaeological Research Institute. (ARI). This entire project in Oman is being done by private contributions. To participate, please click here and click on the DONATE NOW button in the upper right.
On our trips to Khor Kharfot, the best candidate for Bountiful, we used to wonder, did Nephi and his family leave anything behind here, and, of course, the immediate answer was, ‘no.’ How could it, in any way, be likely? They perhaps lived here only three or four years while they built a ship.
This place was a way station for them, a bit of relief from the miserable, thirsty 8-year journey they had made.
Small populations of people had obviously inhabited this verdant spot at times in the past and then abandoned it. We could certainly see the remains of their rock shelters, tower and mysterious double lines of rocks.
But these had been accomplished by larger populations of people who lived here for long periods. The Lehites were one small family of somewhere between 30 to 40 people, who came, lived here alone and went.
Yet, in that estimation there was something critical we forgot. Worship for Nephi and his family often centered on sacred structures like the temple in Jerusalem. As soon as the family arrive at the Valley of Lemuel, Lehi “built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord” (1 Nephi 2:7)
When his sons return from Jerusalem with the plates of brass, Lehi again “did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord”. This was obviously done at an altar (1 Nephi 5: 9).
We are told, too, that when they arrived in the Land of Nephi “I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon” (2 Nephi 5:16).
Several things become immediately apparent here. Of course, 1) they were living the law of Moses which required an altar and some kind of sanctuary; 2) Nephi knew how to build a temple; and 3) its construction followed the sacred geometry of the temple of Solomon. These were prophets with sacred knowledge.
Is it reasonable to suppose that they would have skipped having some place of worship at Bountiful? And, if they did have a sanctuary, isn’t it likely that some remnant of that would remain? It would be built after the manner of the Israelites, so it would distinguish itself as something distinct and different in southern Arabia.
Because we didn’t think about this, for years nobody went looking for a sanctuary at Bountiful. You might say that, instead, it found us.
Warren Aston had noticed the unusual structure we now believe to be an Israelite sanctuary years ago in his vigilant combings of the inlet. He had asked his then young teenage son, Chad, to sketch it.
When archaeologist Dr. Ric Hauck saw the sketch and then the site, however, he was stunned. He had deeply studied the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple of Solomon, he had seen similar configurations twice in Mesoamerica, and the similarities were unmistakable.
It seems that here at Khor Kharfot is a sanctuary site, built according to the pattern of the Temple of Solomon. The western wall of the structure consists of an immense vertical limestone slab, while the other walls are free-standing stone walls that may have stood a meter or more in height.
What is remarkable is that springs, that were here once, dried up, so that no other people have lived in this spot, built over the sanctuary site and distorted it. This site has continuous ocean breezes that alleviates the heat and humidity elsewhere in the inlet and would have been a prized place to live, if the springs had not dried up. It would have been valued for occupation and subsequent habitations would have disrupted the archaeological integrity of the site.
This is a problem archaeologists frequently face when studying a site. It is buried under other layers. Not so here.
It is as if this site has been divinely preserved to be recognizable in our time.
Evaluating a Sanctuary
Before most of us arrived at Khor Kharfot, Chad Aston and Ric Hauck had performed a grueling job. The rock outline of the sanctuary was thick with growth that had to be removed, so we could clearly map, survey and work.
Twisting branches and stubborn trunks had long staked a claim here. Extracting them was careful work done with a machete and hand ax. Archaeology is not for the faint of heart.
Thanks to them we came to a site cleared and ready to photograph and measure more accurately.
We were also ready to dig test pits on the floor of the sanctuary to learn something of its age. This involved marking a meter square in three different locations and then doing careful spadework so as not to damage the layers of earth. What to us looks like a layer of dirt and then a layer of shell, to an archaeologist yields a story.
Below is a photo from the air of Khor Kharfot, divided into ecological and archaeological units. The area on the left, marked Unit 2, is where the sanctuary is located and appears to be the oldest area of habitation on the site.
It will be months before we have a full report on these preliminary findings and years before the work at Khor Kharfot is finished, but to understand why the extraordinary excitement about this sanctuary, it helps to understand a bit about the Temple of Solomon.
The Temple of Solomon
The Temple of Solomon stood in Jerusalem as the center of the Israelite worship and was the temple Nephi and his family knew. It was destroyed by Babylon when they decimated Jerusalem shortly after Lehi led his family away.
This temple was built according to a sacred geometry given by the Lord. (See 1 Kings 6). The entire structure faced due east. In its inner courtyard stood an altar of sacrifice where animals were burned and a brazen sea for the cleansing of the priests. A restricted entrance (sometimes called the first veil) led into the Holy Place.
In the Holy Place was a lampstand or menorah on one side of the sanctuary and a table of showbread on the other. Before the veil (called the second veil) that led into the Holy of Holies was an altar of incense. Here priests burned incense as a symbol of Israel’s prayers wafting to heaven. (This is what Zacharias was doing in Herod’s Temple when Gabriel appeared to him to tell him of the coming of John the Baptist.)
Finally, behind the veil, the Holy of Holies held the Ark of the Covenant and was the place where the presence of God dwelt.
In Solomon’s Temple, the Holy Place was built in a proportion of 1 x 2. It’s width was 10 cubits and its length was 20. The Holy of Holies was built in a proportion of 1 x 1 x 1. It’s proportion was 10 cubits squared
The Sanctuary Site at Khor Kharfot
According to Hauck, the similarities and patterns between the Temple of Solomon and the sanctuary site are significant, even astonishing. We remember again that Nephi built his temple in the Promised Land “after the manner of the temple of Solomon.” It would not be surprising if this family sanctuary at Bountiful followed the same sacred pattern. This was something he had the experience and sacred knowledge to do.
At Khor Kharfot, the sanctuary site is the same size and proportion as the Temple of Solomon. It faces due east, as it should, not varying by a degree. When we put the compass on our phones up to the back wall, the dial pointed directly east.
Its proportions are also like the Temple of Solomon with the sanctuary being on a 1×2 proportion. This is especially clear when it is measured in cubits—the measuring standard of the Temple of Solomon.
A cubit is the length from a person’s elbow to their fingertips, but, of course, this is a varying number depending on who is being measured. Ancient civilizations differed in what they considered the actual length of a cubit.
Archaeologist Asher S. Kaufman who has studied the Temple of Solomon extensively said that the cubit measure for the temple was 42.8 centimeters for the interior of sacred wall of the temple. This is called the sacred cubit. The exterior wall is measured in profane cubits or 43.7 centimeters per cubit.
See this diagram below, measured in these temple cubit measures, to see how it fits the sanctuary at Khor Kharfot in that 1×2 proportion.
Above, you also can see that the architecture is similar to the Temple of Solomon. It includes a walled off compound that Dr. Hauck hypothesizes is the woman’s courtyard, and a separate entry on the left where a cleansing ritual could be performed—all within the sacred dimensions.
Two large boulders on either side within the sanctuary occupy positions opposite each other and equal distance from the rock slab in the back. They are along the northern and southern walls. In the Temple of Solomon on the southern wall the lampstand stood and on the northern wall the table of shewbread in very similar positions.
An accumulation of rock rubble along the rock slab suggests some low platform.
Dr. Hauck has suggested 14 correlations between this sanctuary site and the Temple of Solomon.
The Rock Slab
Most striking of all, according to Dr. Hauck, is a large rock slab that is in the same position as the veil in the Temple of Solomon. This veil stood before the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwelt.
This veil before the Holy of Holies is in the same place in Herod’s Temple and was rent at the death of the Lord. (Matt. 27:5). What we sometimes fail to recognize is that this veil stands for the Lord, Himself.
When his flesh was torn in crucifixion and He died, the veil was rent, making the presence of God accessible to us through His atonement.
Paul reminds us very specifically that the veil represents the Lord in this scripture: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10: 18-22).
If the rock slab at the sanctuary in Khor Kharfot is playing the same role as the veil in the Temple of Solomon, then, it has to represent the Lord—and it does in a powerful way.
In Nephi’s day, this rock would have had water bursting from it. You can tell this is the case because of the black strip of lichen still visible on its front as well as the deposits of calcium carbonate. This, was, in fact, a weeping rock, a rock where, surprisingly, water ran down its surface. This is surprising because it is a slab not attached to a mountain where waters normally flow, but a free-standing rock.
According to Dr. Hauck, this image of water issuing from solid rock combines several symbolic types all representing the Savior. He is called and calls Himself the fountain of living water. Ezekiel speaks of the water that flows from the temple and heals the Dead Sea. This, is, of course, living water.
Christ is also the rock. For example, Paul, speaking of the Children of Israel, said they “did eat of the same spiritual meat; and did all drink of the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10L1-4).
Nephi and his family would have seen in this rock a powerful image of the Lord, a perfect representation of the veil. Dr. Hauck said, “The people of Lehi would have immediately realized the significance of the ‘weeping’ limestone slab when they first encountered that rock after having spent eight long and terrible years journeying in the waterless wilderness of Arabia.”
Dr. Hauck continues, “I suspect that this particular ‘type’ evidently became that family’s personal revelation of Moses’ Rock of Horeb, because Nephi uses its symbolism as a teaching tool whenever he compares the journey of his family with that of the Children of Israel—both peoples directed by Jehovah, both people’s seeking their own Promised Land.”
When Nephi is trying to rally Laman and Lemuel’s faith, he said, “Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children Of Israel might quench their thirst” (1 Nephi 5:6).
In the final stages of his life, Nephi makes the reference again, saying that Moses was given power, “that he should smite the rock and water should come forth” (2 Nephi 25:20).
Moses journey, and the experience of smiting the rock and receiving water, was a pivotal symbol for Nephi who understood he was on a similar journey.
Dr. Hauck said, “Standing there high above the edge of an unknown sea—a sea that they, like the children of Israel must pass through—Lehi and his people must have received a confirmation from the Spirit that their eight years of tribulation and sacrifice in the desert, their abandonment of homes and wealth in Jerusalem, were not in vain. Such affirmations would have been powerful evidences that they were on the correct earthly and eternal course.
“Knowing Lehi and Nephi’s commitment to the Lord, long before they began felling trees to build a ship for transit across that blue horizon, we can assume that their first act of construction may have been to erect a holy sanctuary as a place to worship Jehovah or Jesus Christ.”
Dr. Hauck’s hypothesis is that this was a primitive synagogue or sanctuary constructed by Lehi’s extended family for private worship during their two to four-year occupation at Khor Kharfot. This is a layout that only could have been available to ancient prophets and seers. Still it is an hypothesis that can be strengthened or weakened by further knowledge.
Special thanks to Mark and Lori Hamilton who made this expedition possible. Donations to this effort in Oman can be made here.