LDS Explorers Reach Second Lihy Temple
LDS Explorers Reach Second Lihy Temple
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Strong winds and vertical sandstone cliffs couldn’t prevent a group of amateur Book of Mormon explorers from ascending a 600-foot rock face. Resting atop the mountains summit is a vast Lihyanite temple complex. The team included Jim Anderson, David Alexander, and myself.
What makes this find interesting to the LDS community is that the Lihyanites might have been a community of converts who were taught the gospel by Lehi and Nephi. Lynn and Hope Hilton originally brought to our attention that the name “Lihyanite” meant the “people of Lihy”, and that the Lihyanites appear to have had temple practices that were consistent to those in Jerusalem. The Hiltons based their theory largely upon the discovery of a font (cistern) at the Lihyanite temple in ruins of the Biblical town of Dedan (see LDS Bible Maps showing northwest Arabia). The cistern has nearly the same dimensions as the Brazen Seaof Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and has stone stairs inside it leading to its floor which has been buried below ground level (see Discovering Lehi, Hiltons).
Who were the Lihyanites? Until recently, archaeologists had no clue as to where they came from or how they conquered the Dedanites, the people who ruled the valley since the era of Abraham. Jewish historians believe that they were Hebrew descendants of Abraham[i] through the Dedanites (see Genesis 25:1-3). However, it is only recently that Professor Michael Macdonald at Oxford University’s Oriental Institute showed that the Dedanite and Lihyanite languages were the same[ii], meaning that the Lihyanites, who came to power in northwest Arabia around 550 BC, were not a new people, but were the Dedanites themselves who simply changed their name to “the people of Lihy”.
This is fascinating for we know that Nephi converted people as he traveled in the wilderness “down” from Jerusalem (See D&C 33:7-9). In Nephi’s time, he would have been restricted to teaching the gospel to only Hebrews – yet here in Dedan, along the trail Lehi took through Arabia (see Lehi in the Wilderness by Potter and Wellington), were a community of Hebrews, the Dedanites. Secondly, the Dedanites changed their name to the people of Lihy. The question begs to be asked, “Why would they have changed their name after being called after the man Dedan for a millennium?” Whoever Lihy was, he must have meant agreat deal to the Dedanites for they renamed themselves after him and did so shortly after the passage of Lehi through their town. The renaming of a tribe after a new leader is an ancient tradition in Arabia that persists to this day. That is, an entire tribe will rename itself (change their last names) in honor of a new leader, if that leader was truly exceptional.
During an earlier visit to Dedan, I learned from a French author and explorer that Lihyanite statutes and columns could be found on the top of a mountain on the opposite side of the valley from where the Lihyanite temple and cistern were found. In April 2005 my companions and I returned to the ruins of Dedan to search for the Lihyanite artifacts.
However, what we found was truly amazing. On the summit of the mountain, we found a large sanctuary covering approximately 10-14 acres. This lost temple is completely surrounded by vertical cliffs, and today it can only be reached with the aid of ropes.
In antiquity the sanctuary had steps carved in the sandstone that led from the base of the mountain to the summit. Unfortunately the steps have completely eroded away except at the bases of the mountain. Like an Arabian version of Machu Picchu the second Lihyanite temple is perched upon a mountain top with magnificent vistas. But unlike the Peruvian lost city, the lost temple of the Lihyanites is much more difficult to reach and appears to have been of much greater significances. Indeed, we found dozens of altar stones for animal sacrifices, statutes, columns, incense burners and cisterns.
There are literally hundreds of artifacts spread over the sanctuary including two large assembly areas where seats had been carved into the walls of natural amphitheaters
Overlooking the Dedan ruins in the valley below are two large carved cisterns which would have been filled with water and could have been used for bathing or similar purposes. There, we found a serpent stone the engraving of the snake symbolically protecting the sacred site.
In yet another location on the mountaintop we found two large reservoirs that were carved into the floor of the summit. With small circular openings, the subsurface reservoirs were roughly 10 feet deep and 7 feet wide and would have held thousands of gallons of water which all would have been brought to the summit from the valley floor in goat skin bags. The Frenchman believed that the reservoirs held water for the washing of animal sacrifices for within a few feet of the reservoirs was what appears to be the remains of an altar of unhewn stones and two bowls carved in the floor which the Frenchman believed was used for collecting the blood of the sacrificed animals.
It will take decades of excavations and restorations to understand fully the functions and the significance of this lost Lihyanite temple. However, it was clear that the mountain top sanctuary certainly eclipsed in importance the Lihyanite temple in the floor of the valley, and leads me to believe that the Lihyanite capital at Dedan was a major religious center in the centuries preceding the birth of Christ.
I am currently producing a film on the people of Lihy which is scheduled to be released in the Winter 2006.
[ii] Pierard, Patrick, conversations with George Potter (7 April 2005) and Michael Macdonald.
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