Evidence #79 | September 19, 2020

Land of Jerusalem

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The Book of Mormon’s use of the phrase “land of Jerusalem,” although not found in the Bible, is supported by archaeological and textual evidence.

The phrase “land of Jerusalem” shows up at least 40 times in the Book of Mormon as a reference to the famous Jewish city in Israel and its surrounding regions.1 The Bible, however, only portrays Jerusalem as a city, and never as a land. This apparent discrepancy actually drew some criticism in Joseph Smith’s day. In 1838, one writer insisted, “There is no such land. No part of Palestine bears the name Jerusalem, except the city itself.”2

Amama Letter EA 19. Image via Wikipedia.

Today, however, ancient sources have confirmed that anciently Jerusalem was understood as both a city and a land.3 As Hugh Nibley pointed out long ago, several of the Amarna Letters (discovered in 1887) refer to the “land of Jerusalem.”4 These letters represent the correspondence from the rulers of several Canaanite city-states to the Egyptian Pharaoh in the mid-14th century BC, including 6 from ʿAbdi-Ḫeba, the ruler of Jerusalem at the time.5 “Behold,” wrote ʿAbdi-Ḫeba, “the king [of Egypt] has set his name in the land of Jerusalem for ever; so he cannot abandon the lands of Jerusalem!”6

In the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in the 1940s), a story about Jeremiah talks about captives “from the land of Jerusalem” being escorted to Babylon.7 While the story itself most likely dates to around the first century BC, it is set in 587 BC in the aftermath of the final Babylonian invasion, and bears some interesting similarities to the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon.8

In addition to this evidence for the expression itself, archaeological evidence indicates that the phrase land of Jerusalem accurately reflects the settlement patterns specific to Lehi’s time. In the seventh century BC, “Jerusalem was located in the centre of a sort of district, which encompassed the capital and its periphery, including the agricultural areas of the city’s residents, as well as satellite settlements directly connected to Jerusalem proper.”9 These satellite settlements would harvest goods which were shipped back to the capital city to meet the needs of its growing population.10

According to Yigal Moyal and Avraham Faust, “One may treat the entire region, including … ‘satellite’ settlements, as part of Jerusalem’s own hinterland.”11 Thus, Nephi’s use of the phrase land of Jerusalem may have appropriately referred to Jerusalem itself and the “hinterland” that surrounded it.

Significantly, these circumstances were unique to the seventh century BC. “Never before in the history of the region,” explained Yuval Gadot, “were there so many sites of different functions and size around Jerusalem.” The reason for this population growth around Jerusalem, according to Gadot, was the devastation of the Judean countryside by the Assyrian army at the end of the 8th century BC. “Jerusalem survived but the Assyrian assault had a devastating impact on the kingdom,” forcing populations to relocate to the regions immediately surrounding Jerusalem.12

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, Sunrise. Painting by Edward Lear.

Hence, as Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise observed, the expression land of Jerusalem in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ story about Jeremiah “greatly enhances the sense of historicity” of the narrative, since at this time Judah “consisted of little more than Jerusalem and its immediate environs.”13 By the same logic, the phrase land of Jerusalem “greatly enhances” the Book of Mormon’s “sense of historicity” as well, seeing that it portrays Lehi as Jeremiah’s contemporary.14

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does the Book of Mormon Talk about a ‘Land of Jerusalem’? (1 Nephi 3:9),” KnoWhy 495 (December 20, 2018).

Book of Mormon Central, “Why does the Book of Mormon refer to the ‘land of Jerusalem’?Book of Mormon Questions and Answers (February 1, 2018).

Neal Rappleye, “Nephite History in Context 2: Special Issue,” Studio et Quoque Fide (December 2017).

Gordon C. Thomasson, “Revisiting the Land of Jerusalem,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 139–141.

John A. Tvetdnes, “Cities and Lands in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4, no. 2 (1995): 147–150; reprinted in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 139–141.

Robert F. Smith, “The Land of Jerusalem: The Place of Jesus’ Birth,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 170–172.

Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1988), 6–7.

Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 6 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 100–102.

1 Nephi 1 (Heading)1 Nephi 2:111 Nephi 3:9, 101 Nephi 5:61 Nephi 7:2, 71 Nephi 16:351 Nephi 17:14, 20, 221 Nephi 18:242 Nephi 1:1, 3, 9, 302 Nephi 25:11Jacob 2:25, 31Omni 1:6Mosiah 1:11Mosiah 2:4Mosiah 7:20Mosiah 10:12Alma 3:11Alma 9:22Alma 10:3Alma 22:9Alma 36:29Helaman 5:6Helaman 7:7Helaman 8:21Helaman 16:193 Nephi 5:203 Nephi 16:13 Nephi 20:29Mormon 3:18–19Ether 13:7

1 Nephi 1 (Heading)

1 Nephi 2:11
1 Nephi 3:9, 10
1 Nephi 5:6
1 Nephi 7:2, 7
1 Nephi 16:35
1 Nephi 17:14, 20, 22
1 Nephi 18:24
2 Nephi 1:1, 3, 9, 30
2 Nephi 25:11
Jacob 2:25, 31
Omni 1:6
Mosiah 1:11
Mosiah 2:4
Mosiah 7:20
Mosiah 10:12
Alma 3:11
Alma 9:22
Alma 10:3
Alma 22:9
Alma 36:29
Helaman 5:6
Helaman 7:7
Helaman 8:21
Helaman 16:19
3 Nephi 5:20
3 Nephi 16:1
3 Nephi 20:29
Mormon 3:1819
Ether 13:7

  • 1 The phrase also shows up several times as a reference to region of the New World. See for example, Alma 21:1; 24:1.
  • 2 Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (New York, NY: 1838), 14.
  • 3 For a detailed discussion of the expression “land of Jerusalem” from an ancient Near Eastern perspective, see Daniel C. Peterson, Matthew Roper, and William J. Hamblin, “On Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ” (FARMS Papers, 1995).
  • 4 See W. F. Albright, trans., “The Amarna Letters,” in The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 437–440. For the most relevant excerpts, see Neal Rappleye, “Letters of ʿAbdu-Ḫeba of Jerusalem (EA 285–290),” Nephite History in Context 2 (December 2017): 7. For the most recent edition of the Amarna Letters, see Anson F. Rainey, trans., The El-Amarna Correspondence: A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El Amarna based on Collations of all Extent Tablets, 2 vols., ed. William Schniedewind and Zipora Cochavi-Rainey (Boston, MA: Brill, 2015). For Hugh Nibley’s work on this, see Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The Word of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 5 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 6–7; Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 6 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 100–102.
  • 5 For background on the Amarna Letters, see Richard S. Hess, “Amarna Letters,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 50–51; Nadav Naʾaman, “Amarna Letters,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols., ed. David Noel Freedman (New York, NY: Double Day, 1992), 1:174–181.
  • 6 Albright, “The Amarna Letters,” 438, emphasis added. See also Rainey, El-Amarna Correspondence, 1113: “Look, the king has established his name in the land of Jerusalem forever and he simply cannot abandon it, viz. the city state of Jerusalem.” William L. Moran, ed. and trans., The Amarna Letters (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 328: “As the king has placed his name in Jerusalem forever, he cannot abandon it—the land of Jerusalem.”
  • 7 See Kipp Davis, The Cave 4 Apocryphon of Jeremiah and the Qumran Jeremianic Traditions: Prophetic Persona and the Construction of Community Identity (Boston, MA: Brill, 2014), 132, emphasis added. For the relevant excerpt, see Neal Rappleye, “Apocryphon of Jeremiah (4Q385a),” Nephite History in Context 2 (December 2017): 2.
  • 8 See Rappleye, “Apocryphon of Jeremiah (4Q385a),” 2–3.
  • 9 Nadav Naʾaman, “Josiah and the Kingdom of Judah,” in Good Kings and Bad Kings: The Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century BCE, ed. Lester L. Grabbe (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2005), 198–199. See also Robert F. Smith, “The Land of Jerusalem: The Place of Jesus’ Birth,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 170–172.
  • 10 Yigal Moyal and Avraham Faust, “Jerusalem’s Hinterland in the Eighth-Seventh Centuries BCE: Towns, Villages, Farmsteads, and Royal Estates,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 147, no. 4 (2015): 284: “Those farmsteads, along with the other rural settlements, distributed their agricultural surplus to the nearby towns, and mainly to Jerusalem. The latter, naturally, served as an administrative, social, and religious centre for the entire region.”
  • 11 Moyal and Faust, “Jerusalem’s Hinterland,” 284. Jeremiah’s expression “Jerusalem and all its cities” (Jeremiah 34:1 NRSV) seems to reflect this situation.
  • 12 Yuval Gadot, “In the Valley of the King: Jerusalem’s Rural Hinterland in the 8th–4th Centuries BCE,” Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 42, no. 1 (2015): 17–18.
  • 13 Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents withheld for over 35 Years (Rockport, MA: Element, 1992), 57.
  • 14 See Gordon C. Thomasson, “Revisiting the Land of Jerusalem,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 139–141.
Geography
Book of Mormon

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