The opening chapter of the Book of Abraham mentions a location called “the plain of Olishem” (Abr. 1:10). It isn’t clear from the text whether the plain itself was Olishem, or whether Olishem was some city or region in the area to which the plain was adjacent, or whether the plain takes its name from a major city on the plain. In any case, this “plain of Olishem” was near Abraham’s homeland of Ur of the Chaldees, according to the text.
In 1985, a Latter-day Saint archaeologist named John M. Lundquist published a pioneering article situating the Book of Abraham in an ancient geographical and cultural environment in northern Mesopotamia.1 Among the points raised by Lundquist was the possible identification of the Book of Abraham’s Olishem with the ancient place name Ulisum (or Ulishum).2 Lundquist pointed to inscriptional evidence from the ancient city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia dating to the time of the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (who reigned ca. 2254–2218 BC), which spoke of this Ulisum in what is today northern Syria or southern Turkey.3 The relevant portion of the inscription reads:
Whereas, for all time since the formation of humankind there has never been a king who overthrew Armanum and Ebla, by the weapon(?) of Nergal did Naram-Sin, the mighty, open the only path and he gave him Aranum and Ebla. He bestowed upon him Amanus, the Cedar Mountain and the Upper Sea, and, by the weapon of Dagan, exalter of his kingship, did Naram-Sin, the mighty, defeat Armanum and Ebla. Then, from the very mouth of the Eurphrates, he smote the river(-bank) as far as Ulisum [u-li-si-imki], as well as the people whom Dagan had for the first time bestowed upon him, and they bear for him the burden of Ilaba his god. The Amanus too, mount of cedars, he conquered completely.4
In 2020, additional inscriptional evidence from another site in modern Iraq (Tulul al-Baqarat) was published that further documented Naram-Sin’s conquest of Armanum and Ebla.5 As with the inscription from Ur, this source also identifies a place called Ulisum: “[Indeed,] with the weapon of Dagan, the one who magnifies his kingship, Naram-Sin the mighty conquered Armanum and Ebla. Moreover, from the edge of the Euphrates as far as Ulisum, [he smote the peoples whom Dagan had newly bestowed upon him].”6 Scholars have debated the location of this ancient Ulisum, and multiple sites have been proposed over the years, with no clear consensus having been reached other than that it lies somewhere west of the Euphrates River in southern Turkey.7
Subsequent studies since Lundquist’s initial proposal have strengthened his enticing identification of Olishem in the Book of Abraham as ancient Ulisum.8 In fact, one non–Latter-day Saint archaeologist working in the area has favorably suggested a possible (though inconclusive) connection between Olishem in the Book of Abraham and Ulisum from Naram-Sin’s inscription.9 In 2013, excavators at the Turkish site of Oylum Höyük near the Syrian border announced that it was the ancient Ulisum mentioned in Naram-Sin’s inscription and identified it as “the city of Abraham.” Because more archaeological investigation needs to be undertaken at the site, the confirmatory significance of this evidence for the Book of Abraham is “promising but not [yet] proven.”10 There are still gaps in the archaeological and inscriptional record that preclude a definitive identification of the Book of Abraham’s Olishem with any particular archaeological site at this time.11 Nevertheless, the following can be said with a fair amount of certainty:
There is definitely an ancient site with the name Ulisum or Ulishum.
There is no agreement as to the precise location of Ulisum, but it can most likely be identified in a specific general region (west of the Euphrates in southern Turkey). Many scholars are currently interested in exploring where precisely Ulisum may be in this region.
Olishem is a name from the Book of Abraham, which matches the phonetics and time period of the known site of Ulis[h]um.
A likely region of the ancient Ulisum matches well with some geographic interpretations of the Book of Abraham.12
Textual and archaeological studies about Ulisum can inform our understanding of the Book of Abraham, and studying the Book of Abraham can in turn inform these textual and archaeological studies because the Book of Abraham provides geographical information about Olishem not available in any other extant ancient source.13 Future discoveries may shed further light on this topic, but for now it can be said that Ulisum is plausible and promising (though not yet definitive) evidence for the Book of Abraham’s Olishem.14
Gee, John. “Has Olishem Been Discovered?” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 104–7.
Gee, John, and Stephen D. Ricks. “Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study.” In Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson, 63–69. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001.