Evidence #72 | September 19, 2020

Jerusalem’s Elevation

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Nephi’s statements about Jerusalem’s relative elevation are internally consistent. They also agree with ancient travel accounts and accurately reflect the region’s topography.

When discussing his family’s travels, Nephi repeatedly and consistently described journeys away from Jerusalem and into the wilderness as going “down” and journeys toward Jerusalem as going “up.”1 This usage accurately reflects the region’s topography, where Jerusalem (at approximately 2,500 feet above sea level) sits well above the surrounding wilderness regions.

Image via geographyeducation.org.

Nephi’s statements are also consistent with ancient accounts of travels to and from Jerusalem, including those found in the Bible (see Appendix). The prophet Isaiah, for example, mentioned that a pair of kings “went up toward Jerusalem to war against it” (Isaiah 7:1; emphasis added). And in the parable of the Good Samaritan, a “certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30; emphasis added). Jerusalem’s prominent height fittingly symbolized its status as a holy city that housed a temple of the Lord.2 The authors of the Bible and other ancient texts therefore had good reason to draw attention to its elevation,3 just as Nephi did.

The fact that Jerusalem’s relative elevation is mentioned more than 25 times in 1 Nephi indicates that this detail was intentionally and purposefully included in the text (see Appendix). Yet there is also evidence that Joseph Smith himself wasn’t intimately familiar Jerusalem’s physical features. For instance, on one occasion while he was translating the Book of Mormon, the Prophet was surprised to discover that Jerusalem was a walled city.4 His lack of knowledge about this well-known fact suggests he may not have been familiar with other information about the city, such as its prominent height.5 Alternatively, it is much more expected that Nephi, who grew up in Jerusalem and was familiar with the surrounding regions, would so consistently draw attention to the city’s elevation.  

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Nephi Always Go Down to the Wilderness and Up to Jerusalem? (1 Nephi 3:4),” KnoWhy 6 (January 7, 2016).

David J. Larsen, “Ascending into the Hill of the Lord: What the Psalms Can Tell Us About the Rituals of the First Temple,” in Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011, ed. Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson (Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014), 171–188.

Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Lehi’s House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 81–130.

See Appendix

See Appendix

Scripture Passages Discussing Jerusalem’s Elevation

Bible

  • “How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem?” (2 Samuel 19:34)
  • “If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem” (1 Kings 12:27)
  • “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem” (1 Kings 12:28)
  • “Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem” (1 Kings 14:25)
  • “Hazael set his face to go up to Jerusalem” (2 Kings 12:17)
  • “Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem” (2 Kings 16:5)
  • “And they went up and came to Jerusalem” (2 Kings 18:17)
  • “the priests of the high places came not up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem” (2 Kings 23:9)
  • “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem” (2 Kings 24:10)
  • “thou shalt carry it up to Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 2:16)
  • “Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 12:2)
  • “So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 12:9)
  • “the host of Syria came up against him: and they came to Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 24:23)
  • “let him go up [to build an house in Jerusalem]” (2 Chronicles 36:23)
  • “let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:3)
  • “All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:11)
  • “Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity … and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city” (Ezra 2:1)
  • “the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:12)
  • “they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews” (Ezra 4:23)
  • “And there went up some of the children of Israel … unto Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:7)
  • “began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:9)
  • “to go up to Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:13)
  • “These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity … and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city” (Nehemiah 7:6)
  • “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; … for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3)
  • “Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem” (Isaiah 7:1)
  • “But it came to pass, when Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came up into the land, that we said, Come, and let us go to Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 35:11)
  • “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; … for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2)
  • “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 14:16)
  • “whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14:17)
  • “Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way” (Matthew 20:17)
  • “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem” (Matthew 20:18)
  • “And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub” (Mark 3:22)
  • “they were in the way going up to Jerusalem” (Mark 10:32)
  • “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem” (Mark 10:33)
  • “which came up with him unto Jerusalem” (Mark 15:41)
  • “when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem” (Luke 2:42)
  • “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30)
  • “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem” (Luke 18:31)
  • “he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem” (Luke 19:28)
  • “Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:13)
  • “Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 5:1)
  • “many went out of the country up to Jerusalem” (John 11:55)
  • “Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza” (Acts 8:26)
  • “Peter was come up to Jerusalem” (Acts 11:2)
  • “he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:31)
  • “certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 15:2)
  • “he should not go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4)
  • “not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12)
  • “we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:15)
  • “I went up to Jerusalem for to worship” (Acts 24:11)
  • “And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about” (Acts 25:7)
  • “Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?” (Acts 25:9)
  • “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me” (Galatians 1:17)
  • “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter” (Galatians 1:18)
  • “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas” (Galatians 2:1)

Book of Mormon

  • “he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea” (1 Nephi 2:5)
  • “seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 3:4)
  • “I, Nephi, and my brethren took our journey … to go up to the land of Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 3:9)
  • “we had gone up to the land of Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 3:10)
  • “we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 3:15)
  • “let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance” (1 Nephi 3:16)
  • “we went down to the land of our inheritance” (1 Nephi 3:22)
  • “we went up again unto the house of Laban” (1 Nephi 3:23)
  • “Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again” (1 Nephi 3:29)
  • “Let us go up again unto Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 4:1)
  • “Therefore let us go up [to Jerusalem]” (1 Nephi 4:2)
  • “Let us go up [to Jerusalem]” (1 Nephi 4:3)
  • “they did follow me up until we came without the walls of Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 4:4)
  • “if he would go down in the wilderness with us” (1 Nephi 4:33)
  • “if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father” (1 Nephi 4:34)
  • “he promised that he would go down into the wilderness unto our father” (1 Nephi 4:35)
  • “we had come down into the wilderness unto our father” (1 Nephi 5:1)
  • “bring them down again unto us in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:5)
  • “we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 5:6)
  • “bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 7:2)
  • “I, Nephi, did again … go up to Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 7:3)
  • “we went up unto the house of Ishmael” (1 Nephi 7:4)
  • “they took their journey with us down into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 7:5)
  • “if ye have choice, go up to the land [of Jerusalem]” (1 Nephi 7:15)
  • “we did come down unto the tent of our father” (1 Nephi 7:22)
  • “I and my brethren and all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent (1 Nephi 7:22)
  • 1 See D. Kelly Ogden, “Answering the Lord’s Call (1 Nephi 1–7),” in 1 Nephi–Alma 29, Studies in Scripture, Volume 7, ed. Kent P. Jackson (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1987), 27.
  • 2 See David J. Larsen, “Ascending into the Hill of the Lord: What the Psalms Can Tell Us About the Rituals of the First Temple,” in Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011, ed. Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson (Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014), 174–175.
  • 3 See Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Lehi’s House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 84–85; Daniel C. Peterson, “Going up to Jerusalem,” Deseret News, April 30, 2015, online at deseretnews.com. One example of a non-biblical author referencing Jerusalem’s relative height can be found in the Apocalypse of Paul. See George W. MacRae and William R. Murdock, trans., Douglas M. Parrot, ed., “The Apocalypse of Paul (V, 2),” in The Nag Hammadi Library, 3rd revised edition, ed. James M. Robinson (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1990; first published in 1978), 257: “And [he spoke to him], saying, ‘[By which] road [shall I go] up to Jerusalem?’”
  •  See Book of Mormon Central, “Did Jerusalem Have Walls Around It? (1 Nephi 4:4),” KnoWhy 7 (January 8, 2016).
  •  For further discussion of Joseph Smith’s limited knowledge of the Bible, see Robert A. Rees, “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (2002): 97–102; Robert A. Rees, “John Milton, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 54, no. 3 (2015): 13. However, readers should not be under the impression that Joseph Smith was completely ignorant of the Bible. Richard Bushman has noted that “a neighbor remembered the Smiths holding school in their house and studying the Bible.” Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York, NY: Vintage, 2005), 42. Also, it should be remembered that Joseph Smith experienced his First Vision after reading verses from the Bible and that the angel Moroni quoted verses from the Bible to him in their first encounters (Joseph Smith—History 1:36–41). This suggests that Joseph was at least interested in and passingly familiar with some biblical content before he translated the Book of Mormon.
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