I was provided a link to this article by a Mormon trying to justify the error of the Book of Mormon statement in Alma 7:10 that Jesus was born “at Jerusalem.” I am going to inject into the article my commentary on its content in RED.
“On Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ
Daniel C. Peterson
Provo, Utah: Maxwell InstituteThe views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
On Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ
Daniel C. Peterson, Matthew Roper, and William J. HamblinThis paper is part of a series of FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies an arm of Brigham Young University’s Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts) papers intended to give clear, concise answers to criticisms that have raised against the Book of Mormon. As can be seen in the footnotes, much is owed to previous researchers who have addressed these criticisms. The foundation wishes to thank Matthew Roper for his help in gathering and summarizing large portions of the raw material for this series of papers. The authors wish to thank Robert Durocher for his help with this paper.
One of the most popular anti-Mormon claims is that the Book of Mormon gives the wrong location for the birth of Jesus Christ. "The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus Christ was born at Jerusalem (Alma 7:10)," says one representative anti-Mormon volume. "Of course, the Bible teaches He was born at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1)." However, since Bethlehem is five or six miles from Jerusalem, and is a distinct town, the critics claim that "Alma 7:10 is clearly a false prophecy."1
It is sometimes rather difficult to see the point of this hoary old anti-Mormon chestnut. 2 After all, no Latter-day Saint has ever interpreted the Book of Mormon as claiming that Jesus was born in Jerusalem rather than in Bethlehem. Alma 7:10 does not even mention the city of Jerusalem. Rather, the text reads: "And behold, he [Jesus] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers." The Jerusalem at which Jesus was to be born is thus quite clearly called a land, not a city. The 4th verse of the first book (1 Nephi) of The Book of Mormon contradicts this very assertion: “4. For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.” This verse uses the exact term of Alma 7:10 “at Jerusalem” as to where Lehi dwelt, and then ties it directly to the “city Jerusalem.” The “forefathers” of the people of Alma was Lehi and his offspring, which were from the city of Jerusalem, not the Land of Jerusalem. So, I disagree with the assumption made that “at Jerusalem” means “land of Jerusalem,” or trying to make “land of our forefathers” read “land of Jerusalem”; then making that assumption a fact without basis and then trying to defend this “fact” when it is nothing more than a contrived inference that meets your need for the argument. I’m a high school teacher, if a student turned in a paper to me where he made a fact of an assumption and then passed it off in the remainer of his paper as an established fact, I’d fail him. As we shall demonstrate below, this is quite consistent with both biblical and Near Eastern literary practice. Latter-day Saints are quite content to believe both Alma and the New Testament, and to see them in harmony. Happily, the evidence is overwhelmingly on our side.
Relativity of geographical designators. From across the ocean, the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem would hardly have seemed significant to a Nephite. 3 This argument nullifies II Tim 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” and II Pet 1:21 “ For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but by holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The argument here is that this Nephite as a mere man wrote without the Holy Ghost – Gosh, I couldn’t agree more! Jesus’ birth was a Messianic Prophecy, Micah 5:2 “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.” Messianic Prophecies were specifically provided to man so we could believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Why would the Holy Spirit write the specific prophecy depicting a specific place, Bethlehem, and then not say the same thing through Nephi? I believe the answer is obvious: The Book of Mormon is not given by “inspiration” but rather by the power of the man (men) who wrote it; and, Mr. Peterson attempts to use this same logic here in defense of Nephi (“the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem would hardly have seemed significant to a Nephite.”) It would have been “significant” to the Holy Spirit because He would have instantly known the contradiction. We routinely speak, in the United States, of people who live in "the Chicago area" or in "the vicinity of Boston." When in the Middle East or Europe (or often even in Utah), one of the authors routinely answers "Los Angeles" when asked where he is originally from, although that answer is literally untrue, and the more accurate reply would be "Pasadena" (birthplace), or "San Gabriel" (residence through high school), or even "Whittier" (residence of his parents since the mid-1970s).
More to the point, the other author was temporarily assigned to duty at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. If, upon his return to the U.S., he were to state, "I lived for six months in Ramat Eshkol," how many people would know the place to which he referred? Very few. On the other hand, if he were to say, "I lived six months in Jerusalem," everyone would understand. But Ramat Eshkol is a suburb of Jerusalem, several miles to the north, and technically not part of the city itself. Thus, to those familiar with the microgeography of Jerusalem and Israel, Ramat Eshkol would be a meaningful geographical designator. To those only vaguely familiar with Israel, however, Jerusalem would be much more meaningful. Therefore, since those ignorant of Jerusalem's microgeography significantly outnumber those who know it (especially in North America), he usually says that he lived in Jerusalem. Does this somehow make him a liar? Or, more drastically, are we to assume—paralleling the methods of the critics—that, because he says he lived in Jerusalem instead of Ramat Eshkol, he never lived in Israel at all, and, indeed, that he doesn't even exist? My argument for the previous paragraph deflates this paragraphs argument. The Messianic Prophecy was specific about the location of Jesus’ birthplace.
All this may help us understand why Alma did not give a more precise location for the birth of Jesus. Once again Mr. Peterson argues that the writer of this book wrote it as a man, and the Holy Spirit was not involved. It is probably because he was talking to people some five centuries removed from any direct knowledge of the geography of Judea. Much of the Bible was specifically written for people hundreds if not thousands of years removed from the time of writing. Bethlehem is never mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and its exact location would almost certainly have been unknown to the average nonscholarly Nephite. Using this argument, why do Mormons read the Book of Mormon today if it was only written for those at the time of its writing? Furthermore, copies of the scriptures are unlikely to have been widely distributed among ordinary people since, without the printing press, they would simply have been too expensive. The scriptures were available to the Israelites. If the Book of Mormon peoples were descendants of Jews, why wouldn’t the tradition of the Jews have manifested itself in the Nephites, that being writing the scriptures on scrolls made from animal skins? The Book of Micah was written before 700 B.C., so it should have been available; however, the Holy Spirit didn’t need to have this book available to the Nephites to write through Alma and get it right! A prophetic reference to a small unfamiliar village near Jerusalem would, therefore, likely have been meaningless to Alma's audience. Jerusalem, by contrast, was well known and frequently mentioned.
The "idiot-savant" paradox. Furthermore, to suggest that Joseph Smith knew the precise location of Jesus' baptism by John ("in Bethabara, beyond Jordan," 1 Nephi 10:9; cf. John 1:28), but hadn't a clue about the famous town of Christ's birth, is inconsistent.4 It is highly improbable that the Book of Mormon's author or authors missed one of the most obvious facts about the most popular story in the Bible—something known to every child and to every singer of Christmas carols?5 Do they intend to say that a clever fraud who could write a book displaying so wide an array of subtle and authentic Near Eastern and biblical cultural and literary traits as the Book of Mormon does was nonetheless so stupid as to claim, before a Bible-reading public, that Jesus was born in the city of Jerusalem? Following Mormonism, and the abundance of contradictions from one Mormon Prophet to another, it is apparent that it is hard to keep a lie straight. As one anti-Mormon author has pointed out, "every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows Christ was born in Bethlehem."6 This anti-Mormon author is revealed in your footnote (3) as the very anti-Mormon hero, Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt. Exactly! It is virtually certain, therefore, that Alma 7:10 was as foreign to Joseph Smith's preconceptions as it is to those of anti-Mormon critics. He is hardly likely to have twisted the Christmas story in so obvious a way, to have raised so noticeable a red flag, if he were trying to perpetrate a deception.
However, the Book of Mormon's prophecy that Christ would be born "at Jerusalem which is the land of our fathers" fits remarkably well with what we now know to have been ancient usage.7 The words “at Jerusalem” are used 87 times in the Bible. Each and every time they mean what they say—at Jerusalem. Far from casting doubt upon the authenticity of the book, the statement in Alma 7:10 represents a striking bull's-eye. Only if one has formed the conclusion before they’ve asked the question.
Geographical Terminology in the Book of Mormon
The most reliable way to determine what a given phrase means in the Book of Mormon is to look at the Book of Mormon. This hardly seems debatable: to understand a perplexing expression in Shakespeare, we first study his writing. Only if that fails would we look at other texts. Within this context, we know Shakespeare existed and we have his writings to study; however, we have nothing to support the Book of Mormon. What we have of documentation is the handwritten copy given to the publisher, which clearly shows that thousands of corrections have been made to the current text. We have no archaeology or historical data to support the Book of Mormon: no cities, no geography that can be identified, no persons of history that can be identified – nothing but speculation. So I think it is debatable to look to a book of fiction to define what is not fiction!
It must not be forgotten, in the consideration of this issue, that Alma was writing some time in the first century B.C. In other words, more than five centuries separated him and his people and their habits of speech from their ancestral homeland and its characteristic expressions. This is plenty of time for linguistic change to accumulate, as anyone can testify who has tried to read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English. The Nephite language seems to have been unique: Not only is it unique, but it doesn’t exist either. At least with Middle English, we have it, it exists, we can look at it for changes to modern English; unlike the Nephite languange that only exists in the imagination of Joseph Smith.
And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, (reformed Egyptian has never been found – it was a figment of Joseph Smith’s imagination) being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; (this statement is entirely inconsistent with reality – if these people had come from Jerusalem to the New World, they would have had their hands full just trying to survive instead of sitting down and conscientiously revamping their language. Within the bounds of history, any given people group did not change their language except by force when they were invaded by another people group who then forced them to learn the invaders language. It simply is implausible that these people would, without cause, change their language or writing. Brigham Young tried it in the new Deseret Alphabet initiated in 1854. It was not accepted by the people and when Brigham died in 1877 so did the Deseret Alpabet.) and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. So what prevented them from writing in Hebrew? This statement doesn’t make any sense. But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; (How convenient, no one knows or can find your language so, write and say what you want because no one can contest it – what a great deal!) and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof. (Mormon 9:32—34) Like I said above, the only document we have of the Book of Mormon is the hand written pages given to the printer and they clearly show that there have been over 4,000 changes to the Book of Mormon since its first publication, so the “means for the interpretation thereof” were poorly done.
The phrase "land of [city-name]" in the Book of Mormon. It emerges from an examination of the data that the Book of Mormon routinely refers to "lands" that both surround and bear the names of their chief cities. We read, for instance, of the lands and cities of Ammonihah, Gideon, Helam, Jashon, Lehi, Lehi-Nephi, Manti, Morianton, Moroni, Mulek, Nehor, Nephihah, Noah, Shem, and Shilom.8 The cities and lands of Bountiful and Desolation play a central role in Nephite history.9 So, too, do the city and land of Nephi.10 Thus, Amalickiah "marched with his armies . . . to the land of Nephi, to the city of Nephi, which was the chief city" (Alma 47:20). Notice, incidentally, that Alma had to specify that his prophecy in Alma 7:10 referred to "Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers," since the Old World city and land were mirrored in a New World land and city of Jerusalem (Alma 21:1—2; 24:1) that were much more directly familiar to his audience. Not one person, city or geographical place in this paragraph has ever been found. These names only exist in the mind of Joseph Smith. So this argument of fiction is supposed to prove fact?
Far and away the most important example of the situation under discussion here is Zarahemla. Indeed, it was probably the most important of all Nephite cities (Alma 60:1). But it is also the name of a land.11 Thus, the king of the rebels against Pahoran entered into an alliance with the Lamanites "to maintain the city of Zarahemla, which maintenance he supposeth will enable the Lamanites to conquer the remainder of the land" (Alma 61:8). And when Moroni and Pahoran counterattacked, they "went down with their armies into the land of Zarahemla, and went forth against the city" (Alma 62:7). Later, the Lamanites again came "into the center of the land" and took "the capital city which was the city of Zarahemla" (Helaman 1:27). Thus from the Book of Mormon perspective, every major city was surrounded by its land. The same statement I made for the previous paragraph is applicable here. All of the people and places of the Book of Mormon are totally bogus!
The phrase "land of Jerusalem" in the Book of Mormon. Several instances make it clear that Old World Jerusalem was regarded in precisely the same way by the Nephites as were their own cities and lands. Sometimes the phrase "land of Jerusalem" seems to have referred to the area immediately around the city, or perhaps to the region of Judea. Jesus told the Nephites, for example, of "other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister" (3 Nephi 16:1). The book of 3 Nephi tells of Jesus’ supposed appearance in the America’s. There is no evidence whatsoever that this fictional tale ever happened. This is a defense using a fictional tale as if it were fact to try and prove one’s case. Lehi's party and the Mulekites are said to have departed from "the land of Jerusalem."12 And Lehi dwelt "at Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 1:4, 7), but evidently outside the city proper (1 Nephi 3:16, 23—24). Evidently it’s hard to keep a lie straight. On other occasions, by contrast, the phrase seems to denote Judea and Galilee and perhaps all of Palestine. When the Holy Spirit is not involved in the writing, the writing is prone to the mistakes of man. Thus, the Nephites were informed that Christ would "show himself" in "the land of Jerusalem" (Helaman 16:19). Thus, too, the Book of Mormon says that Christ chose his disciples in "the land of Jerusalem" (Mormon 3:18—19)—although the New Testament specifies that at least several of the apostles were called in Galilee. It’s hard to keep a lie straight. In Nephite usage, "the land of Jerusalem" is the land of the Jews' eschatological inheritance, or at least the area to which they would return following their Babylonian exile.13 Thus, the phrase clearly refers to an area considerably larger than the urban area of Jerusalem proper. That’s the only conclusion you can reach because of the inconsistency of the various statements.
Other Near Eastern geographical designators in the Book of Mormon. Words such as Judah, Judea, Galilee, Palestine, Israel, and Samaria are rarely, if ever, used in a geographical sense in those portions of the Book of Mormon that were written in the New World. Judah, it is true, occurs numerous times. But most of these occurrences are in quotations from Isaiah, with one case (3 Nephi 24:4) from Malachi 3:4. There are two references to the "loins of Judah" the patriarch (2 Nephi 3:12). The other three references are all to "Zedekiah, king of Judah." Two are statements by Nephi (1 Nephi 1:4; 5:12), who himself lived in Judea under the reign of Zedekiah. The third, Omni 15, is a reference to Zedekiah based on the traditions of the Mulekites, who would have had a special reason to maintain traditions about Zedekiah as king of Judah since Mulek was a son of Zedekiah and was therefore theoretical heir to the throne (Helaman 6:10; 8:21). Within the New World Nephite historiographical tradition itself, however, there are no references to Judah as a geographical unit. There are five allusions to Judea, all of them referring to a city by that name in the New World.14 Which has never been found – it only existed in the mind of Joseph Smith. Galilee is mentioned once, while Palestine is mentioned twice, all in quotations from Isaiah.15 There are correct statements in the Book of Mormon – they came from the plagiarisms from the Bible. The word Israel occurs numerous times in the Book of Mormon, but always in the context of a discussion of Israel as a people, not as a geographical region. Samaria occurs seven times, all in 2 Nephi 17—20, which simply quotes Isaiah 7—10.
In other words, there are no references to the standard biblical geographical terms for the Holy Land in those passages in the Book of Mormon that are not quotations from the Bible. What does this mean? The fact that all of these terms are quoted in the Book of Mormon is clear evidence that Joseph Smith was aware of the existence of such geographical names. Yet they are never used as geographical designators within the Nephite tradition. Instead, the standard term used to refer to Judea is the nonbiblical phrase "land of Jerusalem." Thus, within the literary and linguistic context of the Book of Mormon itself, the assertion that Christ will be born "at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers" is simply the Nephite way of saying that Christ is to be born in Judea—a perfectly accurate statement. This assumption ignores the Messianic Prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. This assumption also ignores the previous point that the Bible says that scripture comes from the Holy Spirit moving upon the writers. It is clear that the “Nephite” writer was not moved upon by the Holy Spirit.
It is worth noting here that the geographical details in the Book of Mormon relating to Palestine and the Near East are vague and sparse, while those relating to the New World are complex, precise, consistent, and detailed.16 And yet none of them have ever been found – I guess they’re really not very complex, precise, consistent and detailed. This poses a problem for both fundamentalist and secular environmentalist critics. If the Book of Mormon were in fact a nineteenth century forgery, we would expect geographical precision to be reflected in terminology relating to Palestinian and biblical geography, which Joseph Smith could have plagiarized from the Bible. We would expect vagueness to be found in the geography of the New World, which Joseph Smith would have had to invent. In fact, however, just the opposite is true. There was no specific knowledge available to refute Joseph Smith in his day, so he wrote with impunity. Joseph was a fraud and his work was only intended to make money for himself in the present – he didn’t write the fraud as a family heirloom.
Geographical Terminology in the Bible and Ancient Near East
Prebiblical evidence of the phrase "land of [city-name]" in the Near East. K. Kitchen reminds us that "city and state often have the same name in the Ancient Orient, although distinct entities."17 Thus, for instance, northern Syria's Carchemish was both city and land.18 Egyptian texts of the Twelfth Dynasty (nineteenth century B.C.) likewise seem to suggest that the ancient Palestinian city of Shechem was surrounded by a land of the same name. Keep your “seem to suggest” and just stick to facts – oh, when it comes to the Book of Mormon there aren’t any facts, so suggestions are what one must use to make their case.
The so-called "Amarna letters" (fourteenth century B.C.) likewise use the phrase.19 Indeed, the Amarna letters also allude to "a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name," which W. F. Albright regarded as "an almost certain reference to the town of Bethlehem."2 0 This reference states “speculated that it might be possible to read this as ‘Bethlehem.’” This is a pathetic argument to try and stake a claim on! This is interesting evidence, which goes some distance in establishing the plausibility of Alma's prophecy, since it gives us a glimpse of an ancient administrative arrangement in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Wow, “the plausibility of Alma’s prophecy,” just shows that this is exactly what this statement is “Alma’s prophecy.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t need “plausibility” when making prophecies, He’s God; He knows the end before the beginning! It shows, from an ancient perspective, that it was possible to conceptualize (“possible to conceptualize” – Wow, these statements of facts are overwhelming) the regions surrounding a major city, including its dependent villages, as "the land of" that city. And it demonstrates, furthermore, that Bethlehem itself was, at least at one point, anciently regarded as a part of Jerusalem's land, exactly as it is in the Book of Mormon. Speculation, “it might be possible”, plausibility, “possible to conceptualize”, these statements hardly demonstrate anything with certainty about Bethlehem. There is nothing definitive here, it’s all speculation.
However, at least one vocal critic of the Book of Mormon contends that the Amarna letters are far too old to be relevant to Lehi's Jerusalem in the early sixth century. "It would," he declares, "be like using a letter from King George III to prove the United States could still be rightly called the colonies."21 This overstates the case, but his demand that we look at the Bible and other contemporary evidence is certainly not without merit.22
McKeever claims that, "when the Amarna tablets were written, Jerusalem was a city-state. . . . It would make no sense for Alma to use this phrase 1300 years later when the political situation had changed so drastically from the time the Amarna Letters were written."23 This is superficially plausible. Plausibility is disregarded here, but just two paragraphs above it is fully accepted. I guess it just depends on who is making the plausible statement. But McKeever ignores several important pieces of evidence. First, as we have demonstrated above, the Book of Mormon's use of the phrase "the land of [a city]" is internally consistent and intelligible.24 As previously stated, how can you use an argument of Book of Mormon geography as a factual basis from which to argue, when no Book of Mormon geographical entity has ever been found? That argument is illogical from the onset! This conclusion is dependent for its validity on neither the Amarna tablets nor the Bible. Second, the grammatical construction "land of [city-name]" is a perfectly grammatical Hebrew idiom found in the Bible. As I said earlier in this rebuttal “The words “at Jerusalem” are used 87 times in the Bible. Each and every time they mean what they say—at Jerusalem.”
The phrase "land of [city-name]" in the Bible. What do we learn from the use of this phrase during the biblical period? Anti- Mormons claim, correctly, that the precise phrase "land of Jerusalem" never occurs in the Bible.25 However, this is almost certainly not as important a fact as they believe it to be.26 You’re right, it’s not important if you’ve already determined the outcome of the argument prior to it even beginning. Jerusalem played a central administrative and political role from the reign of King David in the tenth century B.C. down to the period of the Babylonian exile—i.e., to roughly the time of Lehi and the departure of the Mulekites. David's successor, King Solomon, divided his kingdom into twelve administrative districts, largely for purposes of taxation, with each one governed from an administrative center.27 One of those districts included both Bethlehem and Jerusalem, with the latter serving as district capital.28 During the reign of Hezekiah, between 716 and 687 B.C., Solomon's twelve districts were consolidated into four, with Jerusalem doing "double duty as the royal and district capital."29
Lehi's contemporary, the prophet Jeremiah, describing the siege of Jerusalem, says that Nebuchadnezzar's armies fought "against Jerusalem and all its surrounding towns" (Jeremiah 34:1; New International Version)—by which he apparently means the other cities and towns of Judah (Jeremiah 34:7). In this, Jeremiah was entirely consistent with common biblical usage, according to which the name Jerusalem was often used to designate the entire southern kingdom.30 Sorry, I don’t believe the text supports this conclusion. The text clearly shows Jerusalem as just that Jerusalem, and the other cities as separate and distinct.
Other cities, too, had their surrounding lands, named after them. Samaria, for instance, was often used as a designation for the entire northern kingdom of Israel, even though, strictly speaking, it was only the name of the royal city that had been founded by Omri in the early ninth century B.C. (1 Kings 16:24). The Bible speaks of "cities of Samaria."31 Thus, when we read of "Ahab king of Samaria," we are to understand him as the monarch of the northern kingdom as a whole, not merely as the glorified mayor of its largest urban center. Jeremiah 31:5 even refers to "the mountains of Samaria." And the quote in question reads “at Jerusalem,” you made the statement “land of Jerusalem,” not the quoted text.
Similarly, Ephraim possessed the city of "Tappuah," but Manasseh owned the territory of the same name (Joshua 17:8)—which the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible quite correctly terms "the land of Tappuah."32 The town of "Tob" was surrounded, biblically, by "the land of Tob" (Judges 11:3).33 There was a city Mizpah (or Mizpeh) as well as the "land of Mizpah" (Joshua 11:3).34 And the quote in question reads “at Jerusalem,” you made the statement “land of Jerusalem,” not the quoted text.
And such usage extended beyond the boundaries of Hebrew settlement. The great Syrian city of Damascus, for instance, seems to have possessed a "wilderness" (1 Kings 19:15). So, too, the Canaanite city of Hazor seems to have been surrounded by a land of the same name.35 Tema, in Arabia, was both land and city (Isaiah 21:14), as, apparently, was "Ur of the Chaldees."36 Lehi's great contemporary, the prophet Jeremiah, knows "the land of Babylon" (Jeremiah 50:28; 51:29), as well as the famous city from which that land had taken its name. And when Abraham "sojourned in Gerar" (Genesis 20:1), one eminent scholar assures us, this was "obviously in the territory so named, not the walled city itself."37 Sodom and Gomorra, the "cities of the plain" are known to every reader of the Bible. Yet the Savior himself can allude to "the land of Sodom and Gomorra" (Matthew 10:15; cf. 11:24). Hamath was an important town on the Orontes River in Syria. Riblah was also an ancient Syrian town. However, at several points in the Hebrew Bible we read of "Riblah in the land of Hamath"—of, that is, one city that is in "the land of" another city.38 This usage precisely parallels Latter- day Saint contentions that the city of Bethlehem could well be described in Hebrew terminology as being in "the land of" Jerusalem. Indeed, the phrase "land of their cities" (Heb. eretz sha'aray-u) occurs in 1 Kings 8:37, implying that it was seen in Hebrew as a generic grammatical form. The Latter-day Saint contention “the land of” isn’t what the text says. And the quote in question reads “at Jerusalem,” you made the statement “land of Jerusalem,” not the quoted text.
Thus, although the specific phrase "land of Jerusalem" is not itself found in the Bible, it is perfectly acceptable biblical usage for the region around a major city, including smaller towns, to be referred to as "the land of" that city.39 The Bible doesn’t say the phrase “land of Jerusalem” and neither does the text in question. So why are you trying to make the Book of Mormon say it? Answer: It’s the only way to try an answer an obvious error.
The city-state Jerusalem and its "land" in the early sixth century B.C. At the time of the beginning of Book of Mormon history (597 B.C.), Jerusalem could best be considered as nothing more than a city-state. The former kingdom of Judah had been completely conquered by the Babylonians on 16 March 597 B.C., after which time Zedekiah (Mattaniah) was placed on the throne as a Babylonian puppet. Thus, the "first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah" (1 Nephi 1:4), when the story of Lehi opens, was precisely the year of the collapse of the kingdom of Judah, and its reduction to a vassal city state under Babylonian domination. Although technically still called the "kingdom of Judah," the area of Zedekiah's rule had in fact been reduced to the region directly surrounding Jerusalem, which could well be called the "land of Jerusalem." This non-specific statement sure makes the case for me: “which could well be called the “land of Jerusalem.” As John Bright describes it, "Certain of [Judah's] chief cities, such as Lachish and Debir, had been taken by storm and severely damaged. Her territory was probably restricted by the removal of the Negeb from her control, her economy crippled and her population drastically reduced."40
Contemporary Babylonian texts describe Jerusalem as "the city" of Judah: "In the month of Kislimu, the King of Akkad called up his army, marched against the city of Judah [Jerusalem] and seized the town."41 Assyrian provincial terminology generally used the name of the capital of a province to designate that province as a whole,42 and such usage appears to have continued among the Babylonians.43 This practice would have therefore been familiar to Lehi.44
Whatever its origins, however, the practice of naming an area after its leading city was obviously widespread in the ancient Near East. And if Jerusalem could be called "the city of Judah" by the Babylonians, would it have been unreasonable to regard the region of Judah as "the land of Jerusalem"? So, asking a question instead of factually proving a point, makes the case of fact? Here we see precisely the same ambiguity between land and capital city that is displayed in the Book of Mormon, in a Near Eastern record that dates from precisely the time of Nephi. I don’t “see” anything here except a “point” that wasn’t proved.
This is the political situation with which Nephi was familiar when he left Jerusalem: Judah had been reduced from a kingdom controlling all of Israel and much of Syria in the days of Solomon, to a much more humble status under Babylonian hegemony. In Nephi's personal experience—and, therefore, in subsequent Nephite tradition—Judah was not an independent kingdom, but a tributary city-state, tenuously ruling only the "land of Jerusalem." Lehi has never been shown to exist; so, making a statement of fact on a fictional character is ludicrious.
"Land of Jerusalem" in the Dead Sea Scrolls. A very recently published fragment from the caves at Qumran, known as "Pseudo-Jeremiah" (4Q385)—which is attributed to Lehi's great prophet- contemporary Jeremiah—reflects precisely this situation. It speaks of the Jews as being "taken captive from the land of Jerusalem."45 Commenting on the text, Professors Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise note this "interesting reference to 'the land of Jerusalem' " and remark that "this greatly enhances the sense of historicity of the whole, since Judah or 'Yehud' (the name of the area on coins from the Persian period) by this time consisted of little more than Jerusalem and its immediate environs."46
This newly discovered phrase from the Dead Sea Scrolls significantly transforms the issue. For a century and a half the critics have consistently argued that Alma 7:10 represents a significant blunder which clearly demonstrates that the Book of Mormon was Joseph Smith's nineteenth-century forgery. Now, the precise phrase that has been seen as uncharacteristic of the Bible itself has been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient documents most closely connected to biblical Hebrew. The newly discovered phrase only proves that the “precise phrase” you made out of the text, not what the text actually says, has been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Wow, Mr. Peterson, that’s very exciting. I’m sure I could go make up some phrases that can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well. Big deal. Let’s get back to what the text actually says: “at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers.”
The prophecy of Alma 7:10 fits into antiquity very well. If, as Professors Eisenman and Wise observe, an allusion to "the land of Jerusalem" in Pseudo-Jeremiah fragment 4Q385 "greatly enhances [its] sense of historicity," does similar language not "greatly enhance the sense of historicity" of the Book of Mormon? Not only is this a stretch, but, let me state again “the land of Jerusalem” isn’t the text in question. The Book of Mormon text says “at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers.” Alma 7:10 is not the sort of thing that Joseph Smith would likely have invented, precisely for the same reason that it bothers enemies of Mormonism. Far from being a serious liability for the Book of Mormon, Alma's prophetic comment about the birth of the Messiah is plausible evidence that the Nephite record is exactly what it claims to be—an authentic ancient historical text with roots in the Near East. This conclusion is built upon a fraudulent argument, period. This whole argument is based upon a statement that the text doesn’t make. Why isn’t the argument based upon the actual text? The answer is: The actual text can’t be defended, so bait and switch and then make your argument on the switched statement. This argument is closer to a "bait and switch" used car salesman pitch than an honest assessment of facts.
1. John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1992), 364; cf. 353.
2. Elder Parley P. Pratt was giving a sound response to this already in 1838: "This you say, is a contradiction of his being born in Bethlehem, (a little place, six miles from Jerusalem,) but mark the local difference in the places where each was spoken. One prophet stands in the vicinity where the thing was fulfilled, and points out the exact location, (Bethlehem.) The other stands on the other side of the globe, from Jerusalem, and addresses a people who knew but little concerning the localities of the various towns and villages of Judea. The prophet speaks in general terms concerning a thing which should transpire in the land of Jerusalem, as they had a general idea of the great capitol city and country, from whence they sprang, rather than a distinct idea of all its villages. This is in perfect accordance with all the circumstances under which they wrote, and a great proof in favour of the Book of Mormon; because an imposter, in forging a book, would have said Bethlehem; for every school boy knows, that Bethlehem is the place where the Lord was born." (Pratt, Mormonism Unveiled . . . Sutherland Exposed . . . . , 19.)
3. Geographical precision seems to have been a secondary matter even for some biblical figures living in Palestine. Consider the case of Cleopas, who, with a friend, walked with the resurrected Christ along the road to Emmaus. "Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem," he asked his anonymous companion, "and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?" "What things?" the Savior asked. Cleopas and his friend replied that they were referring to the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth (see Luke 24:13—20). But the place of crucifixion, Calvary or Golgotha, was not in the city of Jerusalem. Rather, it was outside the wall (John 19:20).
4. It may be objected that, if Bethlehem was too obscure to be worth mentioning, the even more obscure Bethabara should likewise be absent from the Book of Mormon. We suspect that the reason for Bethabara's inclusion lies in the fact that the prophecy that mentions it is given through Lehi, a resident of the Jerusalem area throughout nearly all his life (1 Nephi 1:4), and recorded by Nephi, who was also a native of Judea, during a time when memories of Old World geography were still fresh in the minds of both the two men and their immediate audience.
5. See Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Covering Up the Black Hole In the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1990), for a recent assault on the Book of Mormon, the argument of which rests heavily upon the debatable assumption that Joseph Smith knew the Bible in extraordinary detail. It is difficult to reconcile such alleged mastery of biblical detail with the dumb mistake that the Prophet is supposed to have committed with respect to Christ's birthplace. For critiques of the Tanners' book, see reviews by L. Ara Norwood, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon [hereafter RBBM] 3 (1991): 158—69; Matthew Roper, RBBM 4 (1992):170—87; John A. Tvedtnes, RBBM 4:188—230; Tom Nibley, RBBM 5 (1993): 273—89.
6. Weldon Langfield, The Truth about Mormonism: A Former Adherent Analyzes the LDS Faith (Bakersfield: Weldon Langfield Publications, 1991), 53. For a critique of Langfield's book, see Matthew Roper, RBBM 4 (1992): 78—92.
7. For some earlier Latter-day Saint treatments of this issue, see B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909), 3:481—82; Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 131—36, 207—8; D. Kelly Ogden, "Why does the Book of Mormon say that Jesus would be born at Jerusalem?" Ensign 14 (August 1984): 51—52; Hugh W. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites, vol. 5 in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 6—7; Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, vol. 6 in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 100—102; John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City. Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 170—72.
8. For Ammonihah, see Alma 8:6—7, 18; 10:1; 14:23; 15:1, 15—16; 16:11; 25:2; 49:1. For Gideon, see Alma 6:7; 8:1; 17:1; 30:21, 30; 61:5; 62:3—4, 6; Helaman 13:15. For Helam, see Mosiah 23:20, 25, 29, 35, 37—39; 27:16; Alma 24:1. Jashon is mentioned at Mormon 2:16—17. For Lehi, see Alma 50:15, 25—27; 51:26; 62:30; Helaman 6:10. The quite distinct place known as Lehi-Nephi shows up at Mosiah 7:1—2, 4, 21; 9:6. Manti receives mention at Alma 16:6; 17:1; 43:22, 24, 32, 42; 56:14; 58:26; 59:6. Morianton occurs at Alma 50:25—26, 36; 51:26; 55:33; 59:5. The land and city of Moroni are mentioned at Alma 50:13—14; 51:22—24; 59:5; 62:25, 32—34; 3 Nephi 8:9; 9:4. For Mulek, see Alma 51:25—26; 52:2; Helaman 6:10. Nehor is alluded to at Ether 7:4, 9. Nephihah appears at Alma 50:14; 62:14, 18, 30. For Noah, see Alma 49:12—13, 15. Shem is briefly mentioned at Mormon 2:20—21. Shilom occurs at Mosiah 7:5, 21; 9:6, 14; 11:12—13; 24:1; Alma 23:12.
9. On Bountiful, see Alma 22:29, 31; 27:22; 50:11, 32; 51:28, 30, 32; 52:15, 18, 39; 53:3; 63:5; Helaman 1:29; 4:5—6; 3 Nephi 3:23; 11:1. For Desolation, consult Alma 22:30—32; 46:17; 50:34; 63:5; 3 Nephi 3:23; Mormon 4:1—2; Ether 7:6.
10. Omni 1:12, 27; Words of Mormon 1:13; Mosiah 7:6—7; 9:1, 14; 19:15, 19, 22, 24; 20:7; 21:21, 26; 23:35—38; 27:16; 28:1, 5; 29:3; Alma 2:24; 17:8; 18:9; 20:1—2; 22:1, 28, 34; 24 20; 25:13; 26:23; 27:1, 14, 20; 27:23; 28:8; 29:14; 46:29; 47:1; 49:10, 25; 50:8, 11; 53:6; 54:6; 56:3, 12; 58:38; Helaman 4:12; 5:20.
11. Omni 1:12—13, 24, 28; Mosiah 1:1, 18; 2:4; 7.9, 13—14; 8:1, 5, 7—8, 14; 9:2; 21:24—26; 22:11, 13; 24:25; 25:5—6, 19, 23; 29:44; Alma 2:24; 3:20; 5:1; 8:1; 15:18; 16:1; 17:1, 7; 22:27—28; 25:2; 26:1, 9, 23; 27:5, 14—15, 20; 28:1; 30:6, 29; 31:3; 35:14; 45:18; 46:33; 47:29; 48:6; 50:7, 11; 51:11; 52:12; 53:10, 12; 56:28, 57; 57:6, 11, 15—16, 28, 30; 58:3—4, 23—24; 59:4; 60:30; 62:6, 11, 14; 63:4; Helaman 1:17—18, 23, 29; 3:3, 31; 4:5; 5:16, 19; 6:4; 7:1; 13:2; 3 Nephi 1:2; 2:9; 3:23; 6:25; Mormon 1:6.
12. See 1 Nephi heading; also 2:11; 3:9—10; 7:2, 7; 16:35; 17:14, 20, 22; 18:24; 2 Nephi 1:1, 3, 9, 30; Jacob 2:25, 31; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:11; 2:4; 7:20; 10:12; Alma 3:11; 9:22; 10:3; 22:9; 36:29; Helaman 5:6; 7:7; 8:21; 3 Nephi 5:20.
13. See, for example, 2 Nephi 25:11; 3 Nephi 20:29, 33, 46; Mormon 5:14.
14. Alma 56:9, 15, 18, 57; 57:11.
15. Galilee: 2 Nephi 19:1, quoting Isaiah 9:1; Palestine: 2 Nephi 24, quoting Isaiah 14.
16. For general background on Book of Mormon geography, see John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985); Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1990); John Clark, "A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies," RBBM 1 (1989): 20—70.
17. K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (London: The Tyndale Press, 1966), 68 n. 63.
19. See Walter Harrelson, "Shechem in Extra- Biblical References," The Biblical Archaeologist 20 (1957): 4, 6—7.
20. See James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 1:274; also Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, eds., The Macmillan Bible Atlas, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1977), map 39. Hugh Nibley drew our attention to the Amarna letters years ago. See Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 100—102. Nibley's references are to the Amarna letters, tablets 287.25 = "the land of the city of Jerusalem ([a-]mur mat u-ru-sa-lim an-n[i-] ta)"; 46, 61, 63 = "lands [matat] of Jerusalem"; 290:15—16, which discuss "a city of the land of Jerusalem, whose name is bit- ninib." Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Tell el-Amarna Tablets (Toronto: Macmillan, 1939), 722 n. L16, speculated that it might be possible to read this as "Bethlehem." Transliteration and translation can be found on pp. 710—11, 722 of Mercer's book. The preferred translation is now William L. Moran, The Amarna Letters (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992).
21. Bill McKeever, "Problems," Mormonism Researched (Winter 1992): 4. (A longer, unpublished article on the same subject, bearing the same title, was produced by McKeever in 1992, in conjunction with one Eric Johnson. When referred to, this unpublished version will be distinguished from the published article by Johnson's name and by the designation "Long Text.") McKeever's claim that Nibley left out "very pertinent information" concerning the origin and date of the Amarna letters (p. 3) is, by the way, manifestly false. Nibley accurately describes the nature of the Amarna letters on p. 469 n. 16 of An Approach to the Book of Mormon, referencing material in his original discussion on p. 101: "The Amarna Letters are the actual documents of the official correspondence between the Egyptian Government and the rulers of the various principalities of Palestine and Syria about 1400 B.C., at the very time the Hebrews were entering Palestine. They were found on day tablets at El-Amarna on the middle Mile in 1887." In this passage, Nibley refers to everything McKeever claims he "left out," including: the date, "1400 B.C."; that they were by "Palestinian chieftain[s]"; that they were "not of Hebrew ancestry"; and that they were written to "the Pharaoh of Egypt" (see McKeever, "Problems," 3). Perhaps McKeever should not have "invite[d] [his] readers to check [his] sources for context accuracy" (p. 3). Certainly he has not accurately presented the context of Nibley's argument.
22. His own examination of the biblical evidence, however, is largely without merit. First of all, in order to show that the term "land of Jerusalem" was not current in biblical times, he must examine every text and every utterance from that period. But most texts and virtually all human utterances vanish without a trace, even from the modern period. He must prove a negative, but since almost none of the relevant ancient evidence survives, he can never reach certainty. Moreover, when he tries to establish a "biblical" usage-pattern for the phrase "at Jerusalem," his statistically problematic five samples extend from the original Hebrew text of 1 Kings 12:27 to the original Greek text of John 10:22, as if there were some "scriptural" style of preposition use that transcends difference not only of languages but of language families and that necessarily remains unchanged over the course of many centuries. See McKeever and Johnson, "Problems in 'the Land of' Jerusalem" (Long Text), 3. On pp. 4—6, McKeever and Johnson show remarkable ability to read their assumptions into the evidence of the Book of Mormon, taking a number of texts as supporting their position which actually do nothing of the kind.
23. McKeever, "Problems," 4.
24. Hugh Nibley had already pointed this out (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 101), but McKeever chooses to ignore it. Incidentally, McKeever also has the irritating habit, prevalent among many anti-Mormons, of describing those authors with whom he agrees by their academic titles and positions, while disparaging those authors with whom he disagrees as "LDS apologists" (e.g., at "Problems," 3). One wonders why McKeever does not mention that Nibley has a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and is Professor Emeritus of History and Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University.
25. For example, McKeever, "Problems, " 3—4. However, using the Hebrew word migrash, meaning the open agricultural or pastoral land surrounding a city, rather than eretz, which refers to land or ground in general, the prophet Ezekiel speaks of the area immediately surrounding Jerusalem (Ezekiel 48:15). See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Lafayette, Ind.: Associated Publishers, 1981),117. Although the actual phrase migrash Yerushalayim does not occur, the context of the passage shows that it refers to the migrash of Jerusalem.
26. Anti-Mormons frequently claim that the Book of Mormon is plagiarizing the Bible whenever it uses biblical phraseology—this is one of the basic assumptions of the Tanners' Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon—but then declare that, wherever the Book of Mormon uses phraseology without biblical parallel, it has dearly discredited itself as an ancient document. Using this flawed methodology, the authenticity of the Book of Mormon can never really be tested, since the questions are framed in such a manner as to ensure a negative conclusion.
27. John Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 221—22; Yohanan Aharoni, The Archaeology of the Land of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982), 258—59.
28. See A. F. Rainey, "The Biblical Shephelah of Judah," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 251 (Summer 1983): 8.
29. Aharoni, The Archaeology of the Land of Israel, 259.
30. See, for example, 2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 10:10—11; Ezekiel 23:4; Micah 1:1, 5.
31. See 1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:24, 26; 23:19; Ezra 4:16.
32. George Arthur Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible [hereafter IDB], 4 vols. and supplement (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962—1976), 4:517; cf. Paul J. Achtemeier, ed., Harper's Bible Dictionary [hereafter HBD] (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 1017.
33. IDB, 4:657.
34. IDB, 3:407
35. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, 68.
36. IDB, 4:533; on "Ur," see John A. Tvedtnes and Ross T. Christensen, Ur of the Chaldeans: Increasing Evidence on the Birthplace of Abraham and the Original Homeland of the Hebrews (Provo, Utah: Society for Early Historic Archaeology, 1985), 8—9.
37. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, 68 n. 63.
38. 2 Kings 23:33; 25:21; Jeremiah 39:5; 52:9, 27; IDB, 2:516; 4:78; HBD, 369, 871.
39. Clearly, Bill McKeever's claim that, "except for a few references to city-states, there is only one possible city [Babylon] cited in conjunction with the phrase 'land of'" ("Problems," 4) is, to say the least, mistaken. Likewise, his claim that "the expression 'land of the city of' is a Hittite expression" (p. 3, quoting William S. LaSor) is both disputed and irrelevant. The fact that a particular grammatical form in the Akkadian texts of the Amarna letters may ultimately have derived from Hittite is irrelevant, since the phrase occurs in the Bible independently and is thus also a legitimate Hebrew grammatical expression.
40. Bright, A History of Israel, 326—31. The most obvious historical parallel to this situation is the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century A.D. Despite the fact that the effective power of the Byzantine emperors had been reduced to the city and region of Constantinople for decades, the imperial chronicles continue to describe the state as the "Roman Empire." See Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 15. Calling Judah a "kingdom" in 597 B.C. is a similar anachronism.
41. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East, 1:203; cf. James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 564. This occurred in year 7 of Nebuchadnezzar (= 598—597 B.C.). For the original text, see A. K Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Locust Valley, NY: J. J. Augustin, 1975), 102, line 12.
42. Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, 2nd ed., translated by A. F. Rainey (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), 374—77, with additional references found in Aharoni's notes.
43. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, 408—11.
44. We do not know Lehi's age "in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah" (1 Nephi 14 = 597 B.C.; see Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Academie/Zondervan, 1983], 190—91). However, since he had several adult sons at this time, we can probably conclude that he was at least in his late thirties. This would place his birth at the latest around 640 B.C., and probably much earlier. Assyrian power in Palestine and Syria collapsed about 616 B.C., meaning that Lehi, an adult of at least twenty five years at the time of the fall of Assyria, would have been familiar with the usage of that period.
45. Emphasis added. The original Hebrew text and an English translation of 4Q385 can be found at Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (Rockport, Mass.: Element, 1992), 57—58. We would like to thank Gordon C. Thomasson for bringing this example to our attention.
46. Eisenman and Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, 57. In the so-called "Damascus Rule" or "Zadokite Document," part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, reference is made twice to "the land of Damascus." Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 2nd ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 6:102—3.”
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