Patheos Guide to Mormonism (Patheos Guides)

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The thing about being in Utah is that you find out stuff if you hold your ear to the ground long enough. Read the rest of this story at patheos. Just the word is enough to make any parent feel unspeakable dread—especially when that word is used in the same breath as the name of their child. As Cari and her husband met with their attorney about what her son's sentence should be, the word "prison" punctuated the conversation.

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Earlier that morning, Cari had After all, everything—from tying his shoes to climbing fences—became much more difficult with just one arm. They let me struggle, figure it out, The problem that most men have is to discern the spirits so that they may know what is of God and what is not. Try the spirits. But how? By what test can it be known whether they are of God or the devil? If a messenger appears from the unseen world, how can one know if it is We will be highlighting these valuable resources over the ensuing weeks.

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Danielle B. Response: This is related to my response above for Point 6, but will be treated in more detail below. Response: The Exodus themes in the Book of Mormon have been a fruitful area for exploration by LDS scholars and are far more interesting and pervasive than anyone seemed to realize until recently. One can argue that Joseph made these connections through osmosis or good Bible scholarship, or one can recognize yet another layer of impressive accomplishment in a carefully crafted ancient record.

This is left to the reader. Some of the other interesting contributions to consider are papers by Bruce Boehm 11 and S. Kent Brown. The Book of Mormon fails to properly interact with the Pentateuch, showing little interest, for example, in defining the Laws and statutes the people should observe. Response: This is a perplexing objection, for the law of Moses was already defined and on the brass plates. Why must it be redefined? I wish to know where RT obtains his criteria for how a scriptural record should interact with the laws of the Pentateuch, particularly when it has been carefully edited to benefit later generations who would no longer be under those laws.

Mormon, knowing that we would have access to the records of the Old Testament, would add no value by reciting the details of those rules that do not apply to us. In fact, nearly every book within the Book of Mormon makes references to the Law of Moses. The offering of sacrifice and burnt offerings is explicitly mentioned several times 1 Nephi , , ; Mosiah and the ritual practice of sacrifice among the Nephites is implicit in teachings about the future sacrifice of the Messiah Alma — The commandments in the Pentateuch that do still apply to us are given in detail in Mosiah 13 and aspects of this moral code are discussed in detail several times Jacob 2, Mosiah , Alma , Alma , — An evaluation of an ancient text needs to begin with understanding what the text claims to be, not what modern scholars demand of it, especially when the demands are motivated by a desire to minimalize and undermine its historicity.

Response: We deal with this below in Section 4, where we will see that significant biblical scholars disagree with the dating of P and others find noteworthy evidence for an Exodus from Egypt and for the significance of the Exodus tradition among pre-exilic Jews. The broad, stable consensus RT would have us accept belies the confusion in the unsettled world of modern biblical scholarship, where the textual evidence from LDS scriptures may actually provide valuable data to help resolve some current debates.

Doing this requires some details of their journey, especially those that support his theological objectives in showing the workings of the Lord, etc. But it is unreasonable to demand information on camels, tent design, personal hygiene practices, interactions with locals, romance on the trail, etc. Related to the above objection, the use of camels is said to be unlikely. Response: There is no problem in assuming, based on the text, that Lehi had experience with camels and may have owned some. There is significant evidence that domestic camels were used in Arabia by bc. Altars were in fact inextricably linked to particular cult sites and sanctuaries, where deities were understood to be close at hand.

However, since at least some of the locations where the patriarchs or others built altars were not specified e. If there is no substance to those accounts, if they were just post-exilic creations to justify later practices, why are there any scenes of divinely approved altar building and sacrifice outside of Jerusalem? Regarding the requirement for central worship in Jerusalem, yes, this was part of the reforms of Josiah and the Deuteronomists, which Lehi and others clinging to the more ancient traditions may have resisted.

This includes the work of Margaret Barker and others. Such sites are numerous from the ancient periods and they seem to have been centers of activity for priests and nonpriests. And if you make an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones. In addition to examples of family or lay worship from Genesis, young David spoke of an annual sacrifice for his family in Bethlehem 1 Samuel , 29 presumably using an altar.

But anciently, worship and sacrifice were not strictly limited to Jerusalem or other official sites. Her examples include worship complexes built inside of forts, such as the fort at Arad with a presumably Yahwistic worship complex including an altar of unhewn stones and a sanctuary with a holy of holies. The Elephantine Papyri show that faithful Jews far from Jerusalem could build altars, conduct sacrifices, and even build a temple, where worship continued even after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Perhaps most dramatically, he had his famous vision of the Tree of Life 1 Nephi 8 , which begins with an encounter with a heavenly being in a white robe.

This was a sacred place, a divinely appointed place. Perfect spot for an altar. Response: The multiple sacrifices described are all near the beginning of the journey, in their first major camp, where this would be less of a problem. But sacrifices could have been offered through vegetable offerings, birds, etc. They state that the frequent reference to these two sacrifices together should be understood as a merism representing the entire sacrificial system. RT claims that the Book of Mormon botches the distinction between burnt offerings and sacrifices. Here, Lehi sought to free his extended family from the taint of unworthiness so that he and they would be able to carry out the purposes of the Lord.

There is a homologous relationship between the cultic role of this joyous praise and the cultic role of the selamim offering in the lamentation sequence. When lamenters have received an assurance of divine assistance or have experienced divine deliverance they must offer either praise or a selamim sacrifice. Response: I agree that we would expect Lehi and others to have offered sacrifice in the New World. Exodus ; , We will briefly discuss the merits of their methodology in Section 3 of this paper.

The act of renaming a place was not uncommon among the ancient Hebrews. Presumably this was because the former name was offensive to them or because they wished to commemorate in the new name a feature pertinent to their own experience. He was a prophet of God leading and teaching his people, and the naming of some places may have played a role in his theological objectives. This is discussed in Section 2; also see Point 27 below. Watson demonstrates that the sea of water resting on the backs of resting bulls in the temple was not associated with chaos and battle, but with fertility and life.

Response: RT may be right, but there may be meaningful possibilities that he is overlooking, as discussed later in Section 3. RT complains about vagueness elsewhere and cannot fathom how the journey would end up taking eight years in total. Response: The text indicates that they came down to the borders of the Red Sea, and then after three days of travel, reached the Valley of Lemuel.

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This natural reading makes it possible to reach the dramatic candidate for the Valley of Lemuel and the River of Laman that will be discussed below. In evaluating texts, one should beware of selecting possible readings that immediately render the text nonsensical, although nonsense is all some critics wish to see.

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As for the eight years in total, this is a puzzle for all of us. Clearly a long time was spent in at least one location, maybe more. Aston proposes that it was in the Valley of Lemuel and that vicinity, which may have been a training camp for their future journey through more difficult terrain. Response: This is a fair complaint. I also wish it gave more detail. But again, the absence of desired detail is not a reason to reject the text. Clearly they interacted with locals to know what others called the place Nahom.

To obtain water at wells along the way, there also would be regular interaction with others. The book is not meant to be a travelogue or daily journal but a document to bring us to Christ. I wish his small plates were several times the size they were, and that the Lord had given us about ten times as much information as we have.

But what we have is a good start, if we can get past the illegitimate reasons people give to overlook the book. These statements are made after the eastward turn on the most difficult part of their journey. One excellent reason for not making much fire is not having much wood. Patterns of travel, such as travel at night to avoid the heat of the day, may also have constrained the suitability of fire. Many foods do not require cooking or, like bread, can cooked occasionally and used days later.

Whatever the reasons, fire was not avoided completely, just not used much, at least for one major portion of their journey. As for raw meat, a reasonable view is that it would have been sun-dried meat, like the jerky that is popular in many parts of the world. Rather, it must be a supernatural scene of women savagely chewing bloody carcasses and finding it appetizing.

Response: First, I would hope that most Book of Mormon students and Bible students would readily recognize the purposes the Lord can achieve through the use of physical objects as symbols and teaching tools and later as tangible reminders of miracles, deliverance, and covenants. Yes, of course it was not necessary. But it was indisputably valuable. Second, I am surprised that RT objects to the originality of the Liahona.

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Third, I can agree with RT that the use of a divine physical object on which writing can appear and which can provide direction does have a certain relationship to a seerstone, or more to the point, the ancient Urim and Thummim, which I suggest provides a relevant example of an ancient divinatory tool perhaps with some relation to the Liahona. Though I agree with van Dam that the Urim and Thummim was not merely a crude lot oracle, lot oracles may also offer some slight parallels to the Liahona. One was selected randomly to convey guidance from God.

Nevertheless, much about the Liahona is unique, which should not be a problem. Yet it does have parallels to ancient divinatory practices, which also should not be a problem. And only once do we hear about the group complaining for thirst while traveling … 1 Ne By traveling along the Frankincense Trail, access to regular watering spots would be possible. While regular sources of water are along the trail, obtaining additional food for a family with children, without the luxury of the gold and silver left behind in Jerusalem, could well have been the real challenge at many stages.

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This account and many other details were apparently on the large plates, a record we currently do not have. Although Book of Mormon researchers have identified some seasonal wadis along the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba as possible candidates for the river Laman, it is only with considerable semantic stretching and a dose of wishful thinking that we can possibly consider calling these small waterbeds rivers.

Response: This was one of my most surprising moments reading RT. Its definitions show that it can be a river or a stream. Further, just as small hills tend to be called mountains in regions that are rather flat, so small bodies of water can be called lakes and rivers in arid settings when they might barely qualify as ponds and streams in climates with more rainfall.

That it was a small, shallow flow is consistent with the apparent ease with which they crossed it as they packed up their tents and headed into the wilderness 1 Nephi This concern may be easily resolved, as discussed in Section 2. Response: I have this problem, too, in my own journal, even when I am providing lots more detail and local color than Nephi.

He is wrong about the geography. Response: Here is an issue from RT that we should take seriously. I believe RT is correct on most of these points: Bountiful should be uninhabited, but much of Dhofar was inhabited, and it is very unlikely, virtually impossible that there could have been a pristine garden spot without a significant population — unless, I would add, that spot were hidden by its terrain from ocean travelers, as is the valley of Wadi Sayq whose oblique angle to the coast hides much of its greenery when viewed from the sea, 62 and unless that site were enclosed by rugged mountains making it difficult [Page ] or impossible to access from inland except for someone coming from a distant inland path through the long Wadi Sayq, such as traveling nearly due eastward from Nahom without the benefit of an established trail.

The evidence points to this as precisely the kind of sheltered, hidden, pristine garden spot the Book of Mormon requires. The fact that other spots along the coast of Oman were obviously settled and still are populated does not erase the reality of our unpopulated, pristine, majestic site that may very well have been the place a weary group of ancient Hebrews gladly called Bountiful. Far from highlighting the imaginary character of the Book of Mormon, this site brilliantly underscores the case for the reality of 1 Nephi as an authentic ancient record, no matter how many issues one can manage to quibble with.

As for wood, Aston explains that that imported lumber was not needed and reports that Khor Kharfot offers acacia, sycamore fig, and tamarind trees that could be suitable for shipbuilding, and have been used for shipbuilding in the past. RT claims that the Book of Mormon shows no awareness of the complex geography the group would encounter, such as the lack of direct access from the large Wadi Hadramaut to the Dhofar region, requiring the group to cross mountains before a wadi leading to Bountiful.

Response: Access from the interior to many parts of Dhofar is a challenge, as RT notes, and is another important point to consider. Indeed, direct access to Khor Kharfot is rather difficult, being isolated and largely enclosed by mountains a primary reason it remains uninhabited , unless one begins far inland as the Lehites did. Going nearly due east, the group would stay north of Wadi Hadramaut and be able to directly enter Wadi Sayq with no lava fields to cross or mountains to scale, making it possible for a group with children and camels to reach Khor Kharfot from Nahom.

See also the Yemen rainfall map in Section 2 below. Still other words could be used at times that again are suitable for the desert. Isaiah —16; , 6; ; —19; ; —20; ; That Nephi applied the scriptures to his own journey and painted it in related language, emphasizing related themes, is no reason to treat it as fictional, but in fact points to the skillful, thoughtful application of scripture that a devout ancient Hebrew might make when on a divinely guided journey through the wilderness and across a sea to the promised land.

That he accomplished this so successfully and so deeply e. Clear, basic directions and sometimes other details are given for every location mentioned. While much more work is needed, dismissing it as fiction and grasping for reasons to ignore the evidence is not the scientific thing to do at this stage. Several of the complaints in Part 2 will be addressed in the review of evidences in Section 2 below. The weakening and coalescence of the gutturals did not occur in Hebrew until much later. Response: Yes, there are several H sounds in ancient Semitic languages.

Since English has only one H to transliterate these letters, it is unclear which root Nephi used, though most writers assume it is the first. In proposing a word play here, Stephen D. This is not an essential point, but still noteworthy. He might have a point if Nephi were coining a Hebrew name based on NHM with a soft H, but Nephi is merely reporting the local name, which may have been from an early Arabic language.

The two roots are related and a word play with either might be possible. The word play issue has most recently been addressed by Neal Rappleye and Stephen Smoot, who also discuss an example a bilingual wordplay in the book of Genesis on the name Ham involving two different H phonemes. RT complains that the meaning of Nehem is linked to stonework, not mourning, making it a poor fit for a word play. RT also complains that there is no indication that a word play is intended since the name is simply introduced in a matter-of-fact manner. Response: Hebraic wordplays are rarely preceded with any special flags or markers.

Puns, allusions, and other tools are simply dropped into the text for the reader to discover. But the numerous word plays in the Book of Mormon show evidence of being neither from an amateur nor an American. RT finds that the weeping of the women at Nahom is not relevant to the proposed meaning of the name Nahom.

He finds the allegedly ancient text to be inadequate, lacking details from ancient funerary practices. The gender stereotype of women as tender and weak … is also found in the contemporary [Page ] pseudo-biblical prose work The Late War , by Gilbert Hunt. Of course, The Late War has recently been touted without success by some Book of Mormon critics as a key source of Book of Mormon plagiarism.

On that page, we also have widows weeping for slain husbands and children , but that follows old men weeping for their children in the previous verse. This seems more like equal opportunity weakness and crying to me, though there is that outdated idea that male soldiers are supposed to be stronger than women. Nephi, for example, may have assumed that attentive readers would notice that yes, they were in a foreign land for this death and burial not requiring further explanation.

The details of the burial, the rites performed, any negotiations for a burial place, etc. Jewish burials in Yemen are attested no later than bc , and since we know of later Jewish presence in the Nihm area, it is possible that Jews could have been there earlier and could have been able to assist in proper burials. Response : RT is projecting his views back into the text. He met people there, probably in some kind of dwelling, where they learned the name.

RT claims that Aston has embellished the facts by stating that Nahom is associated with a large burial region. Response: Aston has not embellished the facts of the burial regions in the area at all. The significance of the burial regions, including those within current Nihm lands, will be discussed in Section 2. Aston has been meticulous and careful in his statements and research.

Unlike nearly all the rest of us interested in Arabia, he has spent years traveling there, inspecting sites, studying intricate details, mastering new skills, building relationships with officials and scholars in the area, funding exploration out of his own pocket, and carefully bringing to light some of the most significant and carefully documented finds relevant to the Book of Mormon. Along the way he has given presentations to academic conferences, published a peer-reviewed paper on some aspects of his work, and written two of the most valuable books available for students of the Book of Mormon.

It is not all just for the sake of apologetics. He has uncovered a unique biological treasure at Bountiful and has gained the respect and support of many scholars in pushing for work to preserve the now-threatened region [Page ] whose water resources are being diverted. He has joined with others, including non-LDS experts, in establishing the Khor Kharfot Foundation khor-kharfot-foundation. The Book of Mormon has numerous apparent weaknesses and idiosyncrasies that critics can ridicule.

The surprising thing, though, is how often these weaknesses eventually become strengths. Some merely become neutralized with reasonable arguments and tentative scenarios, but many glaring defects have, over time, transformed completely into noteworthy evidences of authenticity. Faith is still required and probably always will be, but for those interested in exploring the rocky path of faith, there are occasional dazzling lights along the way to help us see our way around or over the obstacles we face.

Some of the brightest lights giving intellectual support to the Book of Mormon come from the Old World, particularly the Arabian Peninsula, where dramatic finds have added new levels of credibility to the account in 1 Nephi. Almost as interesting as the evidence itself is the response of critics and skeptics in their efforts to minimalize the significance of what is emerging there. Many contend that everything Joseph needed to craft the Book of Mormon was in his environment.

This has become a mantra for critics. Just a twist on Arabia Felix, the happy green corner of southwestern Arabia that some ancient writers discussed. The Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman? Any decent map of Arabia shows mountains near the Red Sea, so obviously there would be valleys, and mountain valleys would suggest water to Joseph — or maybe Joseph mistook the Gulf of Aqaba for a river.

Piece of cake. As one prolific critic, an anonymous university professor, explained on my Mormanity blog:. No vast library would have been needed [to create the Book of Mormon]. The amount of material Joseph would have had to see and hear is not at all extraordinary. Nothing far-fetched at all. Anyone familiar with the Bible is familiar with chiasmus regardless of whether they know the term for it. Nehem was right there on widely available maps of Arabia. But have they actually considered and accounted for the strengths of the evidence, rather than just focusing on apparent gaps and the endless potential of dumb luck?

As far as I know, nothing in his comments, behavior, and belongings, or in the observations of others around him, reveal any fascination with the Arabian Peninsula and its cartography or geography. If the details in 1 Nephi were part of a scheme to create apparent Book of Mormon evidence, he certainly missed every opportunity to exploit that evidence. Neither he nor his peers seem to have recognized there was evidence supporting Book of Mormon plausibility there.


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It would be several generations later before Hugh Nibley dug into the evidences related to Lehi in the desert, and he would fail to find our specific candidates for the River Laman, Nahom, and Bountiful. Ross T. Why leave the evidence for plausibility to future generations over a century later?

What possible advantage did he obtain by plucking obscure Nahom off the map? Image courtesy of Warren Aston. A view of Khor Kharfot at Wadi Sayq, facing eastward. Photo taken after the monsoon season when the area is especially green. Satellite view of Wadi Sayq at Khor Kharfot, showing the large freshwater lagoon at the leading candidate for Bountiful, nearly due east from Nahom. Note: this Google Earth image was taken in the dryer winter months and thus lacks the vibrant green that follows the monsoon season.

You can view several parts of the valley and some of its stream within Google Maps at The valley is a dramatic rift in the earth that is far different than the surrounding terrain. Potter and Wellington found that the valley could have been readily accessed coming south from Aqaba by simply continuing straight when the main trail turns east at Haql, which is about twenty-five miles south of the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba. By departing from the caravan route, Nephi would encounter the shoreline mountains after about fifteen more miles.

The only way to continue was to turn into a wadi on the left that led into the mountains, the only valley leading into the mountains that they encountered after Haql. This then opened into another wadi leading south, and later at about seventy miles from their start, the wadi turned west toward the tallest shoreline mountains. So far, all was arid and barren. While plausible, the region has not been systematically explored, and it is possible that other valleys could one day prove to be superior candidates, but for the moment we can safely say that at least one reasonable candidate has been found.

It is also possible to question assumptions made for this site, such as whether Lehi used camels. Nephi later says that they next traveled four days to a place called Shazer that featured good hunting, travel generally being south-southeast, a highly specific direction that well fits the ancient incense trails running roughly parallel to the Red Sea. It [ naham ] appears twenty-five times in the narrative books of the Bible, and in every case it is associated with death. In family settings, it is applied in instances involving the death of an immediate family member parent, sibling, or child ; in national settings, it has to do with the survival or impending extermination of an entire people.

Nacham is appropriate in both settings. Its use is subtle evidence of Hebraic influence behind the text, particularly in light of the further observations Goff offers about the pattern of murmuring in the wilderness in the Old Testament, also applicable here. These altars were donated to the temple by a wealthy member of Nihm tribe, with his tribe name carved as NHM on the altars. We also know that the region was associated with burial places. If Nihm stonework was at Marib, it could have been at the necropolis. Though Marib is outside the current boundaries of Nihm tribal lands, the Nihm tribe obviously had some kind of presence there anciently to have been associated with three altars at the Marib temple.

In recent years the tribe has continued making news in Marib, though not always fortunate. See the photos above and also explore the leading candidate on Google Maps, coordinates: None of these details has been contradicted by subsequent exploration and discovery in the Arabian Peninsula , and many have surprising validation for their plausibility.

The south-southeast direction makes perfect sense for travel generally along the broad Frankincense Trail. The Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman have an outstanding candidate complete with wild grain and fruit, including berries and three kinds of dates. Perhaps most importantly, now we know that the Nahom region offers the ability to turn east and not only survive, but to reach a remarkable and previously unrecognized place that Aston has proposed as the leading candidate for Bountiful.

That green branch leads them directly toward Dhofar and Wadi Sayq, a long wadi in Oman west of Salalah that extends westward from Khor Kharfot slightly over the border into Yemen. He was not in a major port town, but an uninhabited but highly livable spot the family apparently had to themselves. What are the odds of such a place being found anywhere in Arabia, much less exactly where the Book of Mormon said it should be?

No map would have helped Joseph do that. The evidence comes from field work, archaeological finds, and other scientific studies. The River Laman was long an easy target for critics, an obvious weakness. Then this river is said first to empty itself into the Red Sea, and then into the fountain of the Red Sea! Evidently the ignorant man who wrote all this nonsense, or spoke it, knew nothing of the geography of the wilderness, and knew little about seas, and rivers, and fountains. The LDS writer noted that the critic has not proven there is no river, and if there is none there, the river Nephi described may have been a small brook that has long since dried up.

Many more modern repetitions of that same complaint stand refuted. Exploration of the Arabian Peninsula has made the Book of Mormon more credible, more plausible, not less so. A weakness has become a strength. Critics still nitpick at the evidence, of course. But fountain?

Interestingly, that more specific meaning may actually fit the physical reality Nephi experienced. By disappearing into the rocks adjacent the Red Sea, the water is obviously not disappearing completely, but is flowing into the Red Sea through subterranean channels, joining the underground springs that feed the Red Sea. Waters disappearing, descending into the earth, could well be described this way. The Book of Mormon does not say that the mouth directly contacted the Red Sea. This understanding resolves the primary argument Chadwick offers against this candidate, for the river does indeed have a mouth where it flows into a larger body of water.

And, as noted above, it resolves the objection to calling the Red Sea a fountain, which is not necessarily what Nephi is saying. It is also consistent with the ancient concept of interconnected subterranean waters that feed rivers and oceans. Nahom and Bountiful are relatively well known in LDS circles, and the candidate for the River Laman has also received significant publicity. And we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea.

Starting with the proposed location of the Valley of Lemuel, the place Shazer needs to be within a four-day journey presumably with camels along a south-southeast direction. The name is intriguing. It appears in Thoghret-as-Sajur the Pass of Trees , which is the ancient Shaghur , written Segor in the sixth century. This last takes in western Palestine the form Sozura , suggesting the [Page ] name of a famous water hole in South Arabia, called Shisur by Thomas and Shisar by Philby.

As for Shazer, there are several other interesting possibilities that have been raised by LDS scholars regarding origins and meaning of the name Shazer, as listed in the extensive Book of Mormon Onomasticon , but objections can be raised for all of them. It is discussed in some detail, along with Khor Rori, one of the Bountiful candidates, in a UNESCO report that points to the ancient significance of the place, though not necessarily the name. Perhaps both shajer and Shisr influenced the choice.

Is Shazer a transliteration of a name that we now would write as Shisr? Other speculations can also be considered, but for now, no easy answer presents itself. This uncertainty, however, is not uncommon in dealing with ancient texts where there are many puzzles about names and their origin. The following passage from Potter and Wellington describes how they located a candidate for Shazer. The critical clue came when Richard Wellington read an account from a German explorer, Alois Musil, who spoke of an oasis of date palms extending over twenty-five kilometers in the region of Agharr.