Aston provides a detailed comparison between Khor Rori and Khor Kharfot as candidates for Nephi’s Bountiful, and suggests that, though questions remain about the suitability of Khor Kharfot, its access to wild fruit, its distinctive nearby mountain, and its easier access to potentially useful timber (among other details) make it the best available candidate.
In this article, Warren P. Aston responds to a previous essay from George Potter, which had argued (1) for Khor Rori as the most appropriate location for Nephi’s Bountiful, (2) for Nephi’s consequent access to a nearby port city for raw materials and shipbuilding expertise, and (3) for a more conventional design for Nephi’s ship. Reviewing each of the textual criteria for Bountiful in turn, Aston concludes that his preferred location of Khor Kharfot is more likely to have had the wild fruit described by Nephi, has a much more distinct nearby mountain, matches the implication that Bountiful was uninhabited, and had (contrary to popular belief) easier access to potentially useful timber for shipbuilding. Though Aston would be surprised if Nephi’s Bountiful was at Khor Rori, for him the fact that there are two potential candidates promotes confidence in the historicity of Nephi’s account.
- Directionally Linked to Nahom. As both locations are “near eastward” of Nahom, this criterion applies well to both locations.
- Suitable Terrain for Passage. This criterion applies well to both locations.
- Suitable Coastal Location. According to Aston, both coastal locations are suitable for ship construction, and though sand barriers usually block the inlets to each, these barriers are recent, and Aston has himself seen the Khor Kharfot inlet in a state where it’s open to the sea.
- Year-Round Fresh Water. This criterion applies well to both locations.
- Plentiful Food Sources. Though wild honey is available at both locations, Khor Kharfot has abundant dates, figs, and tamarind, while the Khor Rori area is characterized by thin soils (and likely would have been so anciently) and though fruit is nearby it is “primarily in the form of modern irrigated orchards and plantations”, with wild fruit only growing several kilometers inland. Though dates may have grown closer anciently, it’s possible evidence of such had been transplanted by traders.
- Surrounding Fertile Land. The area around Khor Kharfot includes a wider fertile area fueled by regular monsoon rains, whereas Khor Rori is best characterized as a mostly barren plain.
- Distinctive Nearby Mountain. Khor Kharfot has a large, distinctive mountain very close to the main encampment area, whereas the closest potential mountain to Khor Rori is a moderate-sized hill five kilometers from the site.
- Oceanside Cliffs. Both locations have high cliffs from which Laman and Lemuel could have plausibly threatened to toss Nephi.
- Timber for Shipbuilding. Aston asserts, contrary to Potter, that the timber available at Khor Kharfot includes numerous large tamarind and fig trees. Tamarind is hard and durable, and though it doesn’t feature prominently in shipbuilding, it has been used for boatbuilding in parts of Africa, and may have done the same for Nephi, perhaps after being caulked and sealed, having been skillfully wrought. In contrast, Aston suggests that evidence is lacking for Potter’s proposal for traded lumber from India or Africa at Khor Rori, which appears to have occurred centuries too late.
- Ore for Tools. Both locations have iron ore available, though Khor Kharfot’s is substantially closer than Khor Rori’s (a half kilometer vs. 18 miles).
- Little or No Population. Certain details suggest the location was uninhabited, such as Nephi having to seek revelation to find ore, his requiring the labor of his brothers and Zoram, his not being able to commission or purchase a ship already in port, and his brothers not being tempted to stay rather than risk an ocean voyage (as a port city would likely present them with a variety of distractions). Ruins at Khor Rori suggest it had been inhabited since before Nephi’s day, while Khor Kharfot would likely have been deserted when Nephi arrived.
- Favorable Coastal Conditions. This criterion applies well to both locations.
In addition to these criteria, Aston sees stronger connections to the name Bountiful for Khor Kharfot (which has dual meanings related to “abundance” and “fruit”) than for Khor Rori (with the Ophir people who settled there having a name which means “abundance” or “fruitful”). Aston also takes issue with Potter’s proposal for a more conventional ship design, emphasizing that the ship was not built after the “manner of men”. Though Aston doesn’t assert that it must have been a raft (he favors a mortise and tenon timber ship), he continues to see successful oceanic rafting voyages as evidence that we should think more broadly about how a “ship” can be defined.
The dialogue between Aston and Potter is a great example of the value that clear, long-form academic discussion can bring. Here we have two individuals whose labors and firsthand experience both help us to better understand a critical part of Nephi’s Old World narrative, and whose constructive disagreement only serves to deepen and sharpen that understanding. In an environment where no mortal can have a perfect understanding, each nevertheless brings a different perspective and different expertise, and can consider ideas that, even if ultimately mistaken, prompt the other to think through and articulate a more detailed response. Regardless of which you find more persuasive, its Interpreter’s readers who benefit from Aston’s, Potter’s, and others’ continued conversation.
What resonates most with me, though, is Aston’s openness to a variety of different options when it comes to Nephi’s shipbuilding. Given our temporal distance from the event and Nephi’s own descriptions, we do ourselves a disservice when tying ourselves to any specific schematic—the universe of possibilities is wide enough that any option we pick is likely to be wrong, and making assumptions based on that selection is in turn likely to lead us into blind alleys. Better instead to keep a variety of options open, cataloging their strengths and weaknesses, as Aston himself does with Khor Rori and Khor Kharfot, and allow further data to narrow or broaden those paths as necessary.