HISTORY OF JUDAH and THE DIASPORA
Israel—ever-changing, yet timeless. Indeed, some of Israel’s scenes have succumbed to time and history; yet others have remained constant and are as familiar to modern inhabitants as they were to the ancients. Following is a look today at yesterday’s Israel, with a glance at a conqueror, Babylon—a glimpse of sites, objects, and scenes that tell part of the story of Israel’s past.
It is hoped that this orientation will be helpful to readers of this year’s adult scriptural reading assignment, 1 Kings to Malachi.
A Plan of JerusalemJerusalem, as with many other great cities of the world, did not remain static during the long period of its ancient occupation. From the time that it was captured by David and made the capital of his new kingdom about 993 B.C., to the time that it lay a tragic and barren ruin following the Babylonian destruction of 587 B.C., to the time of its resettlement and rebuilding in the days of Zerubbabel and of Ezra and Nehemiah, Jerusalem underwent many changes in area and in population. Combining data from population studies with results of excavations, archaeologists and Bible scholars have attempted to reconstruct the area of settlement and the population of Jerusalem at various times during the Biblical period.
It is generally believed that the fortress of Jerusalem which David captured from its Jebusite inhabitants and renamed the “City of David” (2 Sam. 5:6-9) is the eastern ridge which extends southward from the modern-day temple mount. The “fort” that David then dwelt in and expanded (2 Sam. 5:9) would have been located on the Ophel, an area encompassing about 12 acres with an estimated population of about 2,400.
We learn from 2 Chronicles 3:1 [2 Chr. 3:1] that Solomon built his temple on Mount Moriah, which was the place where David had earlier purchased the threshing floor of a Jebusite man and had there been instructed by the Lord to build an altar. The Jewish historian Josephus identified this site, on the modern-day temple mount, as the location of the rock on which the Lord had commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Solomon’s builders would have had to build a wide and deeply founded platform over the ridge that forms Mount Moriah for the placement of his palaces and the temple. Archaeological investigations have shown that the area west of the temple mount was probably outside of the city walls in Solomon’s time, and was probably used as a cemetery. The extent of Solomon’s city is therefore estimated to have been about 32 acres, encompassing a population of some 5,000 people. The Israelite population of Solomon’s kingdom as a whole has been calculated at about 800,000, with the Canaanite populace bringing the total up to well over a million.
Most scholars assume that Jerusalem, and the southern kingdom in general, experienced major influxes of population as refugees fled south from the kingdom of Samaria following the destruction by Assyria in 721 B.C. Furthermore, when the Assyrian King Sennacherib was besieging and capturing many cities of Judah during the time of King Hezekiah, around 701 B.C., Jerusalem would doubtless have received many refugees from this danger. Thus, 2 Chronicles 32:5 [2 Chr. 32:5] tells us that Hezekiah built up a formerly broken section of the city wall and built “another wall without.” This “wall without” could well have been the massive, 23-foot-wide wall uncovered by Professor N. Avigad in excavations in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem, west of the Western (Wailing) Wall plaza. The area of the city in Hezekiah’s day is estimated to have been 125 acres, with a population of about 25,000.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587-86 B.C., the site of Jerusalem lay as a wasteland for almost seventy years. Following King Cyrus’s decree of 538 B.C., a group of Jews returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The temple was completed in 515, and the walls were finally rebuilt under the leadership of Nehemiah in about 445 B.C. The circuit of rebuilt and repaired walls and gates described in Nehemiah 3 [Neh. 3] is presumed to correspond roughly to the area originally encompassed by Davidic and Solomonic Jerusalem, although slightly less because the eastern wall in Nehemiah’s time was located a little higher up on the Kidron slope. The extent of this last period of Jerusalem’s habitation before the Old Testament period ends is thus estimated to have been about 30 acres, including approximately 4,500 people.
The Solomonic GateWe read in 1 Kings 9:15 [1 Kgs. 9:15] that King Solomon built “the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezar.” And indeed, archaeological investigations at the sites of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer have uncovered city walls and gateway complexes of identical construction that date to the time of Solomon. The typical Solomonic gateway consisted of two massive towers standing at the entrance to the city, followed by three sets of piers or buttresses that formed six chambers. The chambers are often found with benches along the walls, and could have served as guardrooms or for other activities associated with city life.
The gates, along with the courtyards that were often built adjacent to them, served as centers of the ancient Palestinian city’s commercial life. A good example of this practice is found in 2 Kings 7:1 [2 Kgs. 7:1], where, during the famine that had befallen Samaria as a result of the siege by King Ben-Hadad of Syria, Elisha prophesied that “tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.”
The city gates also served as gathering places where the king or one of the prophets could address large groups of people, and as places where legal transactions, including trials, could take place. Jeremiah was told by the Lord on several occasions to stand in one of the city gates of Jerusalem and preach to passersby, and his great message on keeping the Sabbath day holy was given “in the gate of the children of the people,” and “in all the gates of Jerusalem.” (Jer. 17:19.)
The Jordan RiverThe area that comprised ancient Palestine is a land of striking geographical and climatic contrasts—a land highly dependent on one special resource: water. Between Jerusalem on the west and Amman, Jordan, on the east flows the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee on the north to the Dead Sea. Fed by its two major tributaries, the Yarmuk and the Zarqa (biblical Jabbok), the Jordan anciently provided water for irrigation and seepage agriculture, as well as for culinary purposes and for animals. However, for the majority of the population living in the highlands on either side of the Jordan Valley and on the coastline, the staple crops of wheat, grapes, and olives would have been watered primarily by the area’s scanty rainfall, and water for drinking and culinary purposes would have been taken from the wells and springs that are so abundant in the country. Major cities were founded either in well-watered valleys or near permanent, fresh springs.
One of the major dangers to the inhabitants of a Palestinian city in wartime was that their water supply, typically a spring located just outside the city walls, could be cut off by the invading army. Two methods were developed to overcome this danger. First, large cisterns would be cut into rock formations within the city and lined with lime mortar. These would be used to store rainwater. Second, elaborate waterworks were devised to connect the city via tunnels and aqueducts with the springs located outside the city walls. The springs would then be camouflaged. The waterworks discovered by archaeologists at Jerusalem, Megiddo, Hazor, Gezer, and Gibeon testify to the extraordinary engineering skill of the ancient Israelites in their attempts to ensure an adequate water supply during siege.
Samaria and Its CultureSamaria, chosen as capital of the northern kingdom of Israel by Omri in about 870 B.C. (see 1 Kgs. 16:23-24), subsequently gave its name to the hill country area north of Jerusalem, and also to the kingdom founded by Omri. Located on a hill about 35 miles northwest of Jerusalem, it lay on the major north-south trade route and was thus open to the corrupting cultural influences of Phoenicia. The whole of the summit of the hill was taken up with the royal buildings of Omri and, following him, of his infamous son Ahab.
Deep-rooted cultural and ethnic differences separated the northern and southern tribes of Israel—differences that can be traced back to the days of the division of the land in the time of Joshua, and perhaps even earlier. David was originally king over the tribe of Judah while he lived in Hebron, while Saul’s son Ish-bosheth reigned over Israel (that is, the remaining tribes). Following Ish-bosheth’s death “all the tribes of Israel” came to Hebron and there anointed David king over Israel. (2 Sam. 5:1-5.) When the united kingdom again broke apart following Solomon’s death, we read that “all Israel” (that is, the northern tribes) said to Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam, “What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel.” (1 Kgs. 12:16.) Thus the northern tribes viewed the house of David as pertaining only to the tribe of Judah, hearkening back to the days before David’s united kingship when division, and not unity, characterized the relationship between the two groups of tribes.
Once the split had occurred, Jeroboam set about introducing Canaanite religious practices and symbols into the religious life of the northern kingdom. One of his main purposes in introducing golden calves and “high places” was to divert the feelings of devotion that the northern tribes continued to feel for the temple in Jerusalem. From the time of Jeroboam until the destruction of Samaria in 721 by the Assyrians, Canaanite/Phoenician religious influence streamed into the north. This influence brought the northern kingdom to a low point of corruption during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. It was against the background of this apostasy that calls came to such great prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea, and Micah.
Assyrian policy decreed that conquered peoples be deported from their homelands and replaced by people from elsewhere in the Assyrian empire. This policy effectively defused possible rebellions. The Assyrians, following their capture of Samaria in 721 B.C., carried away the tribes of Israel into various parts of the Assyrian empire. (See 2 Kgs. 17:6.) In their place, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel.” (2 Kgs. 17:34.) Later the Assyrians brought back one of the Israelite priests who had been deported, so that he could instruct the new inhabitants in “the manner of the God of the land.” (2 Kgs. 17:27.) The result was that “they feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence.” (2 Kgs. 17:33.) It was in these years that the seeds of the distrust and animosity that would characterize the relationships between the Samaritans and the Jews of Jesus’ day were sown. But as the Bible makes clear, this discord and disharmony did not begin at this time, but was based in part on deep-rooted and ancient cultural influences.
Pottery Burial UrnsThe inhabitants of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah were in intimate contact, both culturally and religiously, with their Canaanite neighbors. Following their failure to completely drive out the Canaanites from the land, the Lord told the Israelites: “Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” (Judg. 2:3.)
For a time, the northern kingdom was in more direct contact with the Canaanite/Phoenician civilization and its corrupting influence than was the kingdom of Judah. In fact, the northern kingdom actually served as a kind of buffer, keeping a certain amount of the Canaanite influence from Judah. With the destruction of Israel in 721, however, this buffer relationship was removed, and Judah was then in a position to receive the full forces of Canaanite/Phoenician influence.
The abominable practice of burning children, presumably the firstborn, in the fire in honor of a certain deity is widely attested among the neighbors of ancient Israel. The Assyrians themselves practiced this custom, and among the peoples they imported into Samaria we read that “the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.” (2 Kgs. 17:31.) In addition, archaeological and historical studies of the ancient Phoenician city of Carthage, in modern Tunisia, have demonstrated similar customs. Hundreds of funerary urns have been uncovered from the “Precinct of Tanit” (Tanit was the chief Carthaginian goddess, the equivalent of the biblical Tophet). These urns contain the bones of sheep and goats, but also in many cases the bones of premature or newborn children and older infants. Evidence suggests that in the fourth and third centuries B.C., as Carthage’s population increased, wealthy families in the city provided most of the children for the sacrifices. These sacrifices were seen as having religious significance, but also served to limit the growth of the population, and to limit the number of potential heirs to the wealth of the parents.
The Bible indicates that the inhabitants of the northern kingdom engaged in the practice of sacrificing children in fire (see 2 Kgs. 17:17), and also that during the reigns of Ahaz, Manasseh, and possibly in the time of Jeremiah, such practices were carried out in a place called Tophet, which was located in the Valley of Hinnom, south of Ophel or the City of David. During the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 B.C.) an attempt was made to rid the kingdom of this corrupt influence: “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.” (2 Kgs. 23:10.) “Molech” was the name of a deity to whom some of these sacrifices were dedicated by the Judahites. It is the opinion of many scholars that the death of the child was actually brought about by burning, rather than the child having been killed by exposure or some other means and then burned.
An Olive Grove on the Lebanese Coast“Wine to gladden the heart of man, and oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Ps. 104:15). These products—grapes, olives, and wheat—were the staple produce of the eastern Mediterranean lands, and in fact it has been said that the Israelites did not colonize any area where these three products would not grow together. (Denis Baly and A.D. Tushingham, Atlas of the Biblical World, New York: 1971, p. 30). Other main types of produce grown in Israel anciently are mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 [Deut. 8:8]: barley, figs, pomegranates, and honey. Wheat was grown successfully in the fairly well watered highland areas of Samaria and, east of the Jordan River, in Gilead. In areas of less rainfall south of Jerusalem, barley was grown.
Dairy products would have consisted primarily of sheep and goat milk. Cattle were scarce, and were a sign of wealth which the ordinary Israelite would not have possessed. (Amos’s denunciation of the indolent, wealthy inhabitants of Samaria as “kine of Bashan” is an image derived from the rich pasture lands of Bashan, east of the Sea of Galilee, famous for its fattened herds of cattle.)
Since we can assume that the great majority of Israelites lived in small towns and villages and were directly dependent upon the produce of the land, we may not be far wrong if we compare their ordinary living habits and their diet with that of peasant villagers in the Middle East today. This means that their diet would have consisted largely of grains, olive oil, and dairy products, with smaller amounts of meat and fruits, but with substantial portions of commonly grown vegetables.
A Family Harvesting Grain in the FieldsMany of the important aspects of life in ancient Israel tended to be family affairs. Whether the family was involved in the common work of the fields (Ruth 2), in grief (Job 1), or in happiness (Job 42), we can assume that family closeness, including love between husband and wife and between parents and their children, was typical, even though there are many instances recorded in the Bible where family relationships were characterized by animosity, hatred, intrigue and bloodshed. We get two relatively rare views of domestic life in the book of Job, with descriptions of his first family in the first chapter [Job 1], and of his second in chapter 42 [Job 42]. The first family, which came to a very grievous end, may have been characterized by some degree of thoughtless disobedience on the part of the children. (See Job 1:4-5.) His second family, on which he lavished much affection, must certainly have provided him with much joy in his later years. In each case it seems that Job was a conscientious and loving father.
A Threshing FloorOne of the most important of ancient Hebrew inscriptions is the so-called Gezer Calendar, a small limestone tablet found at the site of Gezer in the Judean foothills northwest of Jerusalem. The tablet, which dates to the latter years of Solomon’s reign (late tenth century B.C.), consists of eight lines in archaic Hebrew letters which outline the yearly agricultural calendar. The year is comprised of twelve months, beginning in the fall, with two months assigned to the olive harvest (approximately mid-September to mid-November), two months to the planting of grain, two months to late planting, one month for harvesting flax, one month for harvesting barley (mid-April to mid-May), one month for the wheat harvest, two months for vine tending (mid-June to mid-August), and one month devoted to summer fruit. (See Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 320.) It is clear that the average Palestinian family would have spent much of the year in the fields engaged in backbreaking labor. It is no accident that the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, is filled with the imagery of this way of life, with references to planting, tilling, harvesting, names and characteristics of specific crops, names of tools and of specific planting and harvesting strategies, and references to the successes and joys and the failures and grief that accompany the agricultural life in an area of limited and often uncertain water supplies and of rocky and intractable soil.
One of the principal references to agricultural activity in the Bible is the threshing floor. Often located in a broad public place near or even in the city gate (see 1 Kgs. 22:10, with the corresponding footnote in the new LDS edition of the King James Bible), the threshing floor was the place where grain was brought, placed in stacks, and threshed.
The purpose of threshing is to separate the kernels from the husks—usually accomplished in ancient times and in many modern Middle Eastern villages by pounding the stack of grain in some fashion. One of the laws in the book of Deuteronomy indicates that threshing could be accomplished by having the oxen trample the grain (see Deut. 25:4), as illustrated here. Isaiah 28:23-29 [Isa. 28:23-29] mentions some of the methods and tools of planting, tilling, and threshing. Among these are two types of threshing sledges, the “threshing instrument” of verse 27 and the “cart wheel” of the same verse. The threshing sledge was a wooden board, with its underside set with “teeth” (stones of basalt), to which an ox would be yoked. The ox would then walk slowly around the stack of grain, with a person “riding” the board and guiding the ox. The stack would be reduced in this way, following which winnowing would take place. Winnowing was accomplished by throwing the threshed substance into the air with a pitch-fork-like implement (see Isa. 30:24) and letting the chaff blow away. More delicate grains and other plants would be threshed with a stick. (See Isa. 28:27-28.)
Reconstruction of the City of BabylonBabylon, the city that would have been known to such Jewish exiles as Daniel, was the product of the building activity of Nebuchadnezzar II, the greatest neo-Babylonian king, who conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and carried most upper-class Jews into exile. The ancient city was located on the Euphrates River, about fifty miles south of modern-day Baghdad. Bisected by the Euphrates, its system of massive double walls encompassed an area approximately one mile north and south by three quarters of a mile east and west.
Within the city, excavators have found evidence which, when coupled with written remains, bears testimony of Jeremiah’s statement: “It is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols.” (Jer. 50:38.) The evidence indicates that Babylon had hundreds of temples, chapels, and street altars. There were precincts within the city where male and female prostitution were readily available to passersby. Fabulous processionals would wind their way north from the Temple of Marduk, along the processional way, and through the famous Ishtar Gate at the time of the New Year Festival. The Ishtar Gate and other structures within the city were faced with beautiful, colored, glazed bricks.
The city of Babylon and surrounding regions received major influxes of population during the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests—principally deported peoples brought into Babylon from other areas. We have very little information indicating where the Jewish exiles would have lived. Daniel and his associates lived at the palace of the successive Babylonian kings (Nebuchadnezzar’s palace was located along the Euphrates River, on the east side of the city, and just to the west of the Ishtar Gate. Its throne room has been compared in size with the Gallery of Mirrors at Versailles—about 150 by 45 feet). It was in the northeast corner of this palace, in an underground vaulted crypt, that excavators recovered a number of clay tablets dating to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. These tablets include, among other things, lists of corn and oil rationed to a number of individuals bearing Jewish names, among them “Jehoiachin, the son of the king of Judah.” Another of these ration tablets mentions an allotment given to “the five sons of the king of Judah.” (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 308.)
Many of the exiles would doubtless have lived outside Babylon proper, in one of the smaller towns or villages built along the numerous irrigation canals that directed water from the Euphrates. Ezekiel received his prophetic call “as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar” (Ezek. 1:1); and we are later told that he “came to them of the captivity at Tel-Abib, that dwelt by the river Chebar” (Ezek. 3:15). The River Chebar and Tel-Abib have been identified as sites near Nippur, south of Babylon. The Chebar would have been one of the canals, and Tel-Abib one of the towns where the exiles lived. Other towns in Babylonia from which exiles returned to Jerusalem are listed in Nehemiah 7:61 [Neh. 7:61]: Tel-melah, Tel-haresha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer.
The Cyrus CylinderIn 539 B.C., Cyrus, King of Persia, entered Babylon as a conquering hero and was acclaimed king of Babylon by the priests of the Babylonian god Marduk. Although Cyrus had become the king of the Persians already in 557 B.C., it was his entry into Babylon that marked the beginning of his reign as universal ruler, “king of the four quarters of the earth.” We thus read in the book of Ezra, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom.” (Ezra 1:1.) This “first year” would have been 539 B.C., and the proclamation which follows in Ezra 1:2-4 charges the people of Judah to return from their Babylonian exile to their homeland, where they should build a temple to the Lord God of Israel in Jerusalem.
Even though the decree quoted in the first chapter of Ezra is not found in the preserved royal inscriptions of Cyrus, the sentiment contained in that decree, that of returning exiled peoples to their homelands and to the worship of their own gods, is an authentic reflection of Cyrus’s policy. The Cyrus Cylinder, which is an account in the Babylonian language of Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon and his subsequent policy, states: “I gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus [the last king of Babylon, defeated by Cyrus] has brought into Babylon to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former chapels, the places which make them happy.” (James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, p. 316).
Cyrus thus reversed the policy of preceding rulers: instead of deporting conquered peoples, he restored them to their homelands. The Assyrians had deported the people of the kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C., and the Babylonians had deported the Jews in 587/6 B.C. But Cyrus was broad-minded in his dealings with conquered peoples and was detached enough in his adherence to his own religion that he was able to grant concessions to others. He established a remarkably farsighted and effective administrative system for the far-flung Persian Empire. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah give us a number of fascinating glimpses into the workings of this system. Cyrus, one of the most remarkable rulers in history, was thus able to carry out a mission that had been foreseen two hundred years earlier by the prophet Isaiah: “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut.” (Isa. 45:1.)
Ross T. and Ruth R. Christensen, Feb. 1974, pg 60
The Holy Land is wonderfully rich in archaeological remains. A recent estimate places the number of sites in this area at no less than 5,000.
While it is true that no great golden treasure has ever been found in Palestinian soil, such as the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen at Thebes or the “golden hoard of Priam” at Troy, the land nevertheless abounds in treasure of a different sort: the light that archaeological excavation sheds upon the holy scriptures.
The Bible is no ordinary book of scripture. It is not primarily a collection of liturgical formulas and moral precepts. Its framework is historical: it tells the story of a people who lived at specified times and places. The ancient Israelites learned to teach their religion by telling the story of their faithful forebears and of God’s dealings with them. In other words, they bore their testimony in narrative form. Thus, for the Bible to be understood, its historical framework has to be taken seriously.
Archaeology is the science that explains and verifies the pages of past history. What archaeologists call the “Iron Age”—roughly from the time of Joshua to that of Malachi (approximately 1250 to 450 B.C.)—abounds in evidence that helps us understand the story of God’s people in the Holy Land. Let us look at some examples: some from the time of the Israelite conquest, some from the “golden age” of David and Solomon, and some from the so-called Period of the Divided Kingdoms.
Entry into CanaanMoses gazed upon the Holy Land from the heights of Mount Nebo, then yielded his leadership over Israel to Joshua. (See Deut. 34.)
After the fall of Jericho and Ai and the alliance with the Gibeonites, Joshua turned his forces southward in the first of two great campaigns and conquered the land of Canaan.
One after another of the captured cities show an abrupt break in the archaeological record—signs of violent destruction and the intense heat of their burning.
Excavations at Bethel, one of the captured cities, have unearthed the remains of a prosperous Canaanite city with fine homes featuring paved floors and drains. Evidence of a great destruction follows. The level above this one is of much poorer quality. The contrast between the two levels is so obvious that there can hardly be any doubt that this helps prove the conquest of the Israelites.
Joshua next moved swiftly to the north toward Hazor, the focus of the second of his major campaigns. This metropolis, 14 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, was evidently the capital of a coalition of kingdoms.
Hazor has now been excavated. Dr. Yigael Yadin, one of Israel’s best-known archaeologists, recently completed four seasons of work at Hazor. The oldest of its 21 layers dates back to 2700 B.C. Then, around 1750 B.C., about the time of Jacob and Joseph, a great wall was built at a lower elevation around an area vastly larger than the original city, such as would be suitable for a city that was to become “the head of all those kingdoms.” (Josh. 11:10.)
For the next five hundred years the Canaanite civilization is fully and beautifully documented as a result of Dr. Yadin’s diggings. All this comes to a sudden end in the late thirteenth century B.C. with Joshua’s conquest. The excavations show that the entire city was destroyed by fire, just as the record says (see Josh. 11:11), and the vast lower part of the city was never again occupied.
An interesting aspect concerning the biblical account of Joshua’s conquest is that nothing is said of any fighting in the central part of Canaan. Once again archaeology bears out the Bible: there is no sign of any military destruction in this area at this time.
Golden AgeThe struggles of Saul against his enemies were followed by the brilliant victories of David and the peaceful reign of Solomon.
SAUL. Israel was first united under Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. His royal residence, Gibeah, was excavated by William F. Albright at a point some three miles north of Jerusalem. A sort of palace-fortress, it was strong but plain and simple to the point of austerity, with double walls fashioned of rough-hewn stones chinked with smaller stones. The structure was at least two stories high, with the main living quarters probably on the upper floor, typical of most of the better homes of the day. Each corner of the house had a tower for defense.
Inside, the artifacts bore further witness of the simplicity of life of the royal household: slingstones and bronze arrowheads; pottery, almost entirely utilitarian and very little of it decorated; stones for grinding flour; spinning wheels; a whetstone; and an iron plow point.
DAVID. After Saul’s death at Mount Gilboa, David hastened to secure the kingship to which he had been anointed. It was David who made Israel great in the eyes of the world, for the Lord placed all his enemies beneath his feet. He made great conquests by land, such as the subduing of the Canaanite cities of Beth-shan and Jerusalem and the conquering of the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. Success followed David in every direction, and he was able to extend the territory of Israel from the borders of Egypt to perhaps as far as the Euphrates River.
Most remarkable of all was David’s conquest of the Aramaean (Syrian) kingdoms of Damascus and Zobah. Assyrian inscriptions tell us that during the time of his reign over Israel, Zobah captured Assyrian territory along the upper Euphrates River that had been part of the latter empire for a hundred years. Then, according to the biblical record, David in turn defeated and subjugated the Aramaean kingdoms. (See 2 Sam. 8:3-8.) This may mean that Israel incorporated within its boundaries lands that had only shortly before belonged to the Assyrian empire.
As well as his conquests by land, David also made his power felt westward across the waters of the Mediterranean.
At least three of the tribes of northern Israel—Zebulon, Dan, and Asher—had already long before taken to the sea and were no doubt able to give much aid to their king.
These three tribes were all close neighbors to the Phoenicians, living on the coast to the north of Israel and famed as the greatest mariners of the ancient world. Hiram of Tyre, a good friend of David of Israel, was ruler of the leading kingdom of the Phoenicians. The two of them appear to have laid the foundation for the joint Phoenician-Israelite commercial enterprises in the Mediterranean that were to thrive in later years.
Such evidence is found, for instance, at Jerba, a little island off the southern coast of Tunisia. The colony of Jews who presently live there claim their ancestors settled on that island in the great days of David and Solomon. There is a tradition among them that there was once a stone on the island on which were inscribed the words, “As far as this point came Joab, the son of Zeruia, in his pursuit of the Philistines.” Joab was David’s general, who exercised authority “over all the host of Israel.” (See 2 Sam. 8:16; 2 Sam. 20:23.) The whereabouts of the stone, unfortunately, is unknown to modern archaeology.
SOLOMON. If it was David who gave ancient Israel its might, it was Solomon who gave it its glamour. Sophisticated, learned, and wealthy, he was involved in many activities of the sort that archaeology can illuminate. We could tell of his joint maritime commercial ventures with the Phoenicians in the Red Sea, of his caravan trade with the spice kingdoms of South Arabia, of his middlemen dealings in horses and chariots coming out of Cilicia and Egypt, and of his metal industry in the Arabah south of the Dead Sea.
We could also tell of his heavy taxation and forced labor, two policies that eventually brought his empire to an end.
All of these seem to have been contrived to finance the one activity that may have been dearest to Solomon’s heart: building. Despite the overlay of many subsequent civilizations, enough of his buildings have now been revealed by excavation to give some clear notions as to what they were like.
Of all the ancient cities Solomon built up, perhaps the most fascinating to us is his own capital, Jerusalem, with its archaeological focal point, the site of the Holy Temple.
Present-day Jerusalem is built over the accumulated remains of many destructions and re-buildings through the ages. Some parts of it, in fact, are estimated to lie over as many as 150 vertical feet of cultural debris. If archaeologists could have a free hand and unlimited budget to excavate, the resulting increase in knowledge would be enormous.
But unfortunately, the city is densely populated. One wall often serves two houses, and many of the streets are so narrow that pedestrians have to stand in doorways to permit an automobile to pass. Moreover, it is a holy city to Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike, and fortunate is the archaeologist who is granted one small spot for excavation.
The approximate site of Solomon’s temple is known. Solomon built the temple on Mount Moriah (2 Chr. 3:1) over the spot where it is believed that Abraham was about to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:2). That spot is now covered by the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s most sacred shrines.
When the city of Jerusalem was reunited at the close of hostilities in June 1967, worship was once again permitted at the “Wailing Wall.” This towering structure is actually only a small portion of the western side of a high and massive retaining wall built by Herod the Great shortly before the time of Jesus. This wall supported and surrounded an enormous raised platform of earth upon which stood Herod’s enlarged and beautified temple. This huge compound, which includes about one-fifth of the total area of the present Old Jerusalem, is known as the Haram esh-Sherif, or the Temple Mount. Somewhere beneath it, no doubt under the Dome of the Rock, lie whatever stumps of walls of the temples of Solomon and Herod that may still exist. But no portion of either temple is now known to archaeology, and unfortunately, because of political and religious restrictions, there is no present possibility of excavating in search of them.
However, it is possible to excavate outside the retaining wall of the Temple Mount, and this in fact is what has been happening during the past five years. Dr. Benjamin Mazar of the Hebrew University, with his staff of archaeologists, architects, engineers, and volunteer workers, has been working outside the south wall of the sacred enclosure. Much broken pottery and other artifacts from the time of Solomon’s temple are reported among the finds.
OTHER TEMPLES. There may have been more than just one temple in ancient Israel. If it has not been possible for archaeology to find any part of the Temple in the Holy City itself, this need not be the case in outlying areas. Indeed, some scholars have come to believe that a whole system of temples might have existed outside Jerusalem at key locations near the border. Some authorities believe that such temples functioned until late in the seventh century B.C., when Josiah, as monarch, prohibited sacrifice and temple ritual outside Jerusalem itself.
In a lonely desert location south of Hebron and west of Masada is a mound known as Tel ’Arad. Sometime in the eleventh century B.C., a city was built there on the ruins of a Bronze Age settlement. During the reign of Solomon a wall was added. For most of the next 2,000 years the site continued as a small but important fortress, defending the southern border of Judah.
A startling discovery at Tel ’Arad during excavations of the past decade is the ruin of a small Israelite temple. It was first built at the time of Solomon as an integral part of the fortress. The temple then continued in use, with some remodeling, down to the seventh century B.C., when, as a result of Josiah’s decree that temple ritual outside Jerusalem cease, the city wall was rebuilt and was deliberately placed so as to cut right through the little temple.
Divided KingdomsSolomon died about 926 B.C., “… and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead.” (1 Kgs. 11:43.) At that time Shechem seems still to have been a sort of spiritual capital over the house of Jacob, for there “all Israel were come … to make him king.” (1 Kgs. 12:1.)
The people of Israel were still a liberty-loving people and still knew the “principle of common consent.” It was felt that in order for Rehoboam to be properly authorized to reign, the people must first sustain him in this manner. However, because of grievances held against him, the people refused to sustain Rehoboam. Rehoboam fled back to Jerusalem, where he continued to reign over Judah and Benjamin only, the empire crumbled, and the golden age of a united Israel came to an end.
Up to this time (926 B.C.) only three kings had reigned over the United Monarchy. Between the rebellion in 926 B.C. and the Assyrian captivity of the Ten Tribes in 721 B.C., 19 others ruled over the Northern Kingdom. Between that rebellion and the Babylonian captivity of the Southern Kingdom in 587 B.C., 19 more kings sat upon the throne in Jerusalem.
Of the total of 41 kings, a portrait of only one of them has ever been found: that of Jehu, who ruled over the Northern Kingdom from 845 to 818 B.C. in the days of the prophet Elisha. It appears in the middle of a bas-relief panel of what is called the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. It is a portrait, but not one made with any friendly intent, for the sculptor shows Jehu kneeling and kissing the ground before the proud, erect figure of the Assyrian emperor. Behind their humiliated leader, in the three more panels sculptured around the remaining sides of the obelisk, is a line of Israelite servants bearing a variety of tribute. Already Israel had fallen within the power of the brutal and bloody kings of Nineveh.
TARSHISH. In the days of Jeroboam II, who ruled over northern Israel from about 787 to 747 B.C., there lived a prophet by the name of Jonah, the son of Amattai.
Jonah received a call from the Lord to preach repentance to “that great city,” Nineveh. But Nineveh! Those people were nothing but pagans. He refused the call. Instead, he “rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa, and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” (Jonah 1:3.)
We know that Joppa (modern Jaffa) was a port located in approximately the center of Israel’s Mediterranean coast. But where was Tarshish?
We know Tarshish was a Phoenician possession involved in the mining and processing of tin and other metals. The name Tarshish seems to be a Phoenician word meaning refinery or smelter. An old Assyrian inscription tells us it was located somewhere at the far western end of the Mediterranean. Many have thought it was in Spain, and this is clearly a possibility, as that land is known to have been exploited by Phoenician miners. But the discovery of a stone covered with large Phoenician letters has presented a more likely answer.
The Nora inscription, found at a ruin of that name in southern Sardinia, an island west of mainland Italy, and now housed in a museum in the nearby city of Cagliari, stands about three feet tall. Of reddish local stone, it bears eight lines in the Phoenician alphabet common to the ninth century B.C.
Scholars have disagreed widely over its exact translation. But whatever the case, the first line plainly reads “b-T-r-sh-sh,” which translates to read “in Tarshish,” while the third line contains the word “b-Sh-r-d-n,” which must mean “in Sardinia” or something similar.
HEZEKIAH’S TUNNEL. About a generation after Jonah—in 721 B.C.—the armies of Assyria took Samaria, capital of the Northern Kingdom, destroyed it, and carried its citizens off to northern lands as state slaves. (2 Kgs. 17:6.) The Northern Kingdom of Israel was no more. Only Judah remained, as a small independent kingdom under Hezekiah, a descendant of David.
But even Judah was not to be left alone by the greedy and relentless kings of Assyria. Some two decades later Sennacherib, a heartless and cruel man, sat upon the throne at Nineveh. The Jews were filled with terror when they learned of his plans for the conquest of Jerusalem. Hezekiah hastened to strengthen Jerusalem against Sennacherib’s forces.
In his hasty preparations for Sennacherib’s arrival he perceived a serious weakness in the city’s defenses: the Gihon spring, a vital water supply, lay outside the wall of the city.
So Hezekiah built a new reservoir, the pool of Siloam, in the southern part of Jerusalem within the wall, carved out a tunnel underneath the city connecting the reservoir with the Gihon spring, and then covered the spring so that it could not be found from the outside. Thus the precious water would benefit the city’s defenders, and not their enemies. (2 Kgs. 32:3-4; 2 Chr. 20:20.)
To cut the tunnel, workmen started simultaneously from both ends and chiseled through nearly 1800 feet of solid rock. At one point the tunnel was 150 feet below the city. The water supply of the city thus was preserved for its inhabitants and the enemy did not conquer Jerusalem.
Today, nearly 2,700 years later, the water still flows from Gihon to Siloam along Hezekiah’s tunnel and still supplies modern Jerusalem with much of its water. In 1880 some boys playing at the pool found the inscription that was carved to commemorate the finishing of the tunnel. While the two crews were still some five feet apart, the inscription reports, they could hear each other’s voices, which guided them to complete the union of the two halves of the tunnel. The inscription, carved in letters of the Old Hebrew alphabet, is now in the Imperial Ottoman Museum at Istanbul.
The tense years around 600 B.C., so critical in setting the stage for the Book of Mormon, are illustrated by a number of discoveries in the Holy Land: the Israelite temple at Tel ’Arad, for instance. Quite a different sort of discovery, but perhaps equally as startling, has been made at the same site: some ostraca (pieces of broken pottery bearing messages), which seem to throw light on the “reformed Egyptian” writing of the Book of Mormon.
More than 200 ostraca were discovered at Tel ’Arad during the five seasons of its excavation. Most of those unearthed in 1965 were written in Hebrew and appear to date to the period between about 598 and 587 B.C., the time between the departures from the Holy Land of Lehi and Mulek.
During the 1967 season one ostracon of unusual interest was uncovered: one that exhibits a combination of the Hebrew alphabet with Egyptian hieratic, that is, that contains letters taken from both these scripts. It dates to a little before 600 B.C.
A careful study of this “combination ostracon” has been made by John A. Tvedtnes, a trained linguist. His conclusions are twofold: (1) that “there were close ties between Judah and Egypt” in the century before Lehi’s departure, and (2) that in the Holy Land at that time there were persons who were skilled in the use of both the Hebrew and the hieratic scripts. These findings are intriguing against the background of the Book of Mormon claim to have been written in “reformed Egyptian.”
LEHI. Most Latter-day Saints probably think that Lehi is a man’s name. So it is in the Book of Mormon, but in earlier biblical times it was in fact a place name. In Judges 15 it is an important locality in the story of Samson. It was a place—perhaps a town—in the land of Judah close to the Philistine border.
Modern archaeologists may have found the place Lehi. Khirbet Beit Lei, which may be translated “Ruin of the House of Lehi,” is a hill located some 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, not far from Mareshah (Marissa). Twelve years ago, while building a road on the eastern slope, workmen discovered an ancient tomb carved out of the soft limestone. Writing and various pictures had been scratched on its walls. The written messages themselves were removed from the tomb walls and exhibited in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem.
The three main inscriptions are written in the Old Hebrew script of the sixth century B.C. One of them is a prayer for rescue: “Deliver us, O Lord.” Another is a plea for forgiveness: “Absolve us, O merciful God.” The third is a prophetic utterance in poetic form: “I am Jehovah thy God: I will accept the cities of Judah and will redeem Jerusalem.” In no instance, however, is the exact wording found in the Bible. It is suggested that they may have been written by some nonbiblical prophet who was fleeing the Holy City in the early sixth century B.C., perhaps at the time of the Babylonian conquest.
In addition to the writings, pictures of three human figures are cut into the tomb walls, one holding what looks like a lyre, one with hands upraised as if in prayer, and one wearing dress and headgear suggesting a priest or Levite. Also on the walls are two ships with sails and two figures that may be tents.
What connection does the tomb at Khirbet Beit Lei have with the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi and his family? “The land of our father’s inheritance” (1 Ne. 3:16, 22) was apparently some sort of family estate. Was it the same as the “House of Lehi” now discovered by archaeology? The ruin is located approximately where we might expect to find the biblical place Lehi. This family estate figures prominently in the story of Lehi’s departure from the Holy Land in 600 B.C. It appears to have been somewhat removed from Jerusalem itself (“let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance”). Perhaps it lay in a southerly direction from the city, since the four sons on their way from there back to their encampment beside the Red Sea hid for a time in “the cavity of a rock” (1 Ne. 3:27), perhaps to them a familiar spot on their father’s estate.
BibliographyFor the reader who desires additional information on this subject, three good textbooks on biblical archaeology are William F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine; J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology; and G. Ernest Wright, Biblical Archaeology. On the archaeology of the Holy City, see Kathleen Kenyon, Jerusalem.
The Society for Early Historic Archaeology publishes many brief studies of scriptural archaeology, especially papers read before the Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures. These are usually obtainable by membership in the society: 140 Maeser Building, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602. The following recent issues of its Newsletter and Proceedings are pertinent to the above discussion: No. 119 (Donald W. Forsyth, “Sennacherib’s Invasion of Judah”); No. 127 (John A. Tvedtnes, “Linguistic Implications of the Tel ’Arad Ostraca”); No. 129 (Joseph Ginat, “The Cave at Khirbet Beit Lei”); and No. 131 (Ross T. and Ruth R. Christensen, on Israelites in the Mediterranean).
See also Yohanan Aharoni, “Arad: Its Inscriptions and Temple,” Biblical Archaeologist, February 1968; Frank Moore Cross, Jr., “The Cave Inscriptions from Khirbet Beit Lei,” in James A. Sanders (ed.), Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century; Ariel L. Crowley, “The Anthon Transcript,” Improvement Era, January, February, and March 1942, and September 1944; Doyle L. Green, “Hezekiah’s Tunnel,” Improvement Era, August 1967; and John A. Tvedtnes, “The Language of My Father,” New Era, May 1971.
During the period treated in the second half of the Old Testament course of study, Israel felt the powerful influences of several neighboring kingdoms and empires—especially the successive empires of Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome—each one pressing in, invading, conquering, exerting its own influence on the culture and institutions of Israel, affecting its political and social structure, testing its fortitude and obedience.
Much of the fate of Israel was due to the position of its lands at the crossroads of the ancient world. Bordered on the west by the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) and on the east by the searing Arabian deserts, it lay directly on a virtual land bridge between Egypt and the lands of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Not always a target for invasion itself, the land and its people were often the victims of armies passing through, marching in pursuit of the riches of Egypt.
Thus, with the waning of Egyptian and Hittite power in the early part of the twelfth century B.C., a number of smaller nations were able to establish their independence in the area of Palestine. These included Philistia, Moab, Edom, the city-states of Phoenicia and Syria, and Israel under the kingship of Saul. Babylonia and Assyria shared the region of Mesopotamia. The Elamites continued to exercise control over what is now southern Iran, while new peoples—notably the Medes and the Persians—were moving into the northern and central parts of that territory.
By the middle of the ninth century B.C., Israel had been divided into its northern and southern kingdoms for more than a hundred years and powerful Assyria was on the move against its neighbors. Assyrian conquests in the west and south were delayed for a time by a confederation organized in the days of Shalmaneser III (859-824 B.C.). But by 805 B.C., the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III claimed to rule all of Syria, Phoenicia, Israel, Edom, Philistia, Babylonia, Media, Persia, and the Hittite area, with only Urartu and Elam holding out and Egypt not yet endangered. During the years when the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were overshadowed by Assyrian rule, there were many revolts. However, numerous Assyrian campaigns into the heart of the land crushed all but the later ones. In 722 B.C., Israel was taken and many of its people deported. Judah was virtually subdued in 701 B.C. (only Jerusalem remained unconquered), Babylon fell in 689, and in 668 B.C. Assyria placed a pro-Assyrian king on the throne of Egypt. In the east, Elam was devastated by the Assyrian army in 639 B.C.
But Assyria’s days were numbered. In 615 B.C., the Medes, along with their vassals, the Scythians, Urartu, and Phrygia (all located in what is today called Turkey), united with Babylon in a war destined to end Assyrian rule. The end came at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C., the same year in which Nebuchadnezzar II (who had assisted the Medes) became king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar thought of himself as king of the world, controlling all of Mesopotamia and Syro-Palestine. But he was never fully accepted as such in the area controlled by the Medes or in Egypt. Indeed, the Egyptians tried to stir up some of their neighbors against Babylon; and one of the results of this action was a Babylonian invasion that brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jews in 586 B.C.
Then, in 555 B.C., the Persian king Cyrus the Great united the Persians and the Medes; and over the years, as his strength and reputation grew, he expanded his empire until finally, in 539 B.C., he took Babylon in a bloodless coup and established Persia as the dominant force in the Near East. It was Cyrus whose decree permitted the return of the exiles of Judah to their homeland to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. His son Cambyses took Egypt in 525 B.C., making the Persian empire the largest the world had yet known.
But this empire, too, was to pass away, during the “inter-testamental period”—the time between the close of the Old Testament record and the advent of Christ.
During the years 499-400 B.C., the Greek-speaking Ionians of western Anatolia (Turkey) revolted against Persia and received aid from the Greek city of Athens. The next 170 years were to see Persians pitted against Greeks in such famous battles as those of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis, to name but a few. Finally it was Philip II of Macedonia who united the Greek states and began the final thrust against Persia. Assassinated in 337 B.C., he was succeeded by his young son Alexander, who in 334 B.C. launched his campaign against the Persians. Alexander conquered all of Anatolia, Syro-Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia proper, moving as far east as the border of India, part of Afghanistan, and central Asia. His empire exceeded even the Persian empire in geographical area.
Alexander’s death at Babylon in 323 B.C. split his kingdom into smaller nations which vied for power. Consequently, warring armies criss-crossed the land, including Palestine, and the Maccabean rebellion arose—until, in 66-63 B.C., the Roman Pompey conquered much of the Near East. This set the stage for that which was to follow: in all the ancient world of ever-larger empires in succession, there would be no empire covering more territory than that of Rome, and never would there be more commerce and contact among the nations of the Old World. Rome was to rule for more than five hundred years after Pompey. Into this period came the Messiah with the message of peace for all the world, and it was this world that shaped the rise and fall of the early Church.
About twenty-five miles southwest of Jerusalem in Lehi’s day lay the powerfully fortified city of Lachish, the strongest place in Judah outside of Jerusalem itself. Founded more than three thousand years before Christ, it was under Egyptian rule in the fourteenth century B.C. when the Khabiri (Hebrews) had just arrived. At that time, its king was charged with conspiring with the newcomers against his Egyptian master. A later king of Lachish fought against Joshua when the Israelites took the city about 1220 B.C. In a third phase, either David or Solomon fortified it strongly.
The city’s strategic importance down through the years is reflected in the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and biblical records. These describe a succession of intrigues, betrayals, sieges, and disasters that make the city’s story a woefully typical Palestinian “idyll.” Its fall in the days of Jeremiah is dramatically recounted in a number of letters found there in 1935 and 1938. These original letters, actually written at Jeremiah’s time, turned up in the ruins of a guardhouse that stood at the main gate of the city—two letters a foot beneath the street paving in front of the guardhouse, and the other sixteen piled together below a stone bench set against the east wall. The wall had collapsed when a great bonfire was set against it from the outside.
The bonfire was probably set by the soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar because they wanted to bring down the wall, which enclosed the gate to the city.
Nebuchadnezzar had to take the city because it was the strongest fortress in Israel and lay astride the road to Egypt, controlling all of western Judah. Jeremiah tells us that it and another fortified place, Azekah, were the last to fall to the invaders. (See Jer. 34:7.) An ominous passage from Lachish Letter No. 4:12-13 reports that the writer could no longer see the signal-fires of Azekah—that means that Lachish itself was the last to go, beginning with the guardhouse in flames.
The letters survived the heat because they were written on potsherds.
They were written on potsherds because the usual papyrus was unobtainable.
It was unobtainable because the supply from Egypt was cut off.
The supply was cut off because of the war.
The letters were in the guardhouse because they were being kept as evidence in the pending trial of a military commander whose name was Hoshacyahu.
He was being court-marshalled because he was suspected of treason.
He was suspected of treason because someone had been reading top-secret dispatches sent from the court at Jerusalem to the commander at Lachish, whose name was Yaush.
Hoshacyahu was a likely suspect because all the mail had to pass through his hands.
It had to pass through his hands because he was in command of a fortified town on the road between Jerusalem and Lachish, probably Qiryat Ye’arim. His duty, among other things, was to forward the king’s mail—not to read it.
That the confidential letters had been read was apparent because somebody had tipped off a certain prophet that he was in danger.
He was in danger because the king’s soldiers had been put on his trail.
They were on his trail because he was fleeing to Egypt.
He was fleeing because he was wanted by the police in Jerusalem.
He was wanted by the police because he and other prophets were considered by the king’s supporters to be subversives.
They were considered subversives because they were opposing the official policy and undermining morale by their preaching. As Jeremiah puts it: “The princes [the important people] said unto the king: We beseech thee, let this man be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them.” (Jer. 38:4.) As Lachish Letter No. 6:6 puts it: “The words of the [prophet] are not good [and are liable] to loosen the hands.” The Book of Mormon adds another reinforcement: “In that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city of Jerusalem must be destroyed” (1 Ne. 1:4)—disheartening news, indeed.
The Lachish Letters may be dated with considerable accuracy owing to the discovery in 1935 of another layer of ashes beneath them to match the one in which they were found. The two layers represent the destructions of 597 (three years after Lehi left) and the final burning in 588. The letters come between those two dates; comparison of names and potsherds shows that they were all written at the same time, “not long before the final destruction … in 588.” (P. 68.)
The prophet who was tipped off to escape “was surely Uriah of Qir-yat-Ye’arim,” according to Torczyner. Jeremiah tells us a bit of his story:
“And there was also a man who prophesied in the name of the Lord, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath-jearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah:
“And when Jehoiakim the king … heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt.
“And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor. …
“And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim … who slew him.” (Jer. 26:20-23; italics added.)
In Lachish Letter No. 3:13-18, Hoshacyahu says that it was reported to him that “the commander of the army [Yi] khbaryahu the son of Elnathan went down to Egypt” to fetch something, that other men were sent, and that there was a letter of warning to the prophet. Elnathan son of Achbor was an important man, very much in on the action. (See Jer. 36:12; Jer. 35:25; Jer 26:22.) What is the likelihood of another high military commander by the name of Achbor, son of Elnathan, being sent on an identical mission to Egypt? The Bible story and the Lachish Letters are full of such striking coincidences. Letter 4:6-7 tells of a man with the same peculiar name as Uriah’s father, Shemacyahu, going up from Uriah’s village to Jerusalem on urgent business, accompanied by the chief inspector of military outposts. On what business? Perhaps, Torczyner suggests, “to use his influence with the king” in behalf of his son. (P. 86.)
Furthermore the scribe of Jeremiah keeps assigning the Uriah episode to the time of Jehoiakim (608-597 B.C.); but scholars now agree on the evidence of Jeremiah 27:1-3 [Jer. 27:1-3] that the incident rightfully belongs to the reign of Zedekiah. (P. 69.)
In Letter No. 4:3-4, Hoshacyahu assures his superior in Lachish that he has carried out his written orders to the letter: “According to whatever my lord has sent, so has thy servant done.” Furthermore, “I have written down in the deleth whatever my lord has sent [written] me.” Plainly he copied it down for the official record. Though “the Bible throughout speaks of rolls of writing,” meaning papyrus or, more rarely, parchment rolls (p. 16), Letter 4 specifically uses the rare word deleth for the form in which Hoshacyahu copied down or registered his official correspondence. Torczyner assumed that deleth must refer to a “papyrus sheet,” or “page,” since a deleth is not a roll and is certainly not a potsherd. (P. 80.) An alternative is a tablet or plate of solid material.
Even without the archaeological sites, the setting and situation in which the letters were written could be determined by their style as well as their content. They contain “90 lines of clear writing, beautiful language and highly important contents.” (P. 15.) The language is pure Hebrew, most closely resembling that of the books of Jeremiah and of Kings. (P. 17.) They show, to everyone’s surprise that in 600 B.C. “writing was almost common knowledge, and not a secret art known only to a few.” (P. 15.) But they also show that the Egyptian scribal tradition at that particular time exerted a major influence in official record keeping throughout the Near East. The kings who attacked Jerusalem from the east at the time brought “two scribes” with “every expedition,” writes A. T. Olmstead, “the chief with his stylus and tablets, his assistant with a papyrus roll or parchment and Egyptian pen.” 2 The assistant was needed not so much for his skill with Egyptian writing materials, which had been introduced quite recently in the time of Tiglath-Pileser III and which anyone could learn to handle, but for the same reason “the court found it necessary to possess an Aramaic scribe”—namely to deal with the language, 3 so widespread was the Egyptian tradition of record keeping at the time. Would the Egyptian scribes of a Babylonian or Assyrian king employ their skill to write in cuneiform or any other language but Egyptian? There were plenty of native scribes for that. Though a wealth of cuneiform writings on clay have been found in Egypt, cuneiform writings on papyrus are not known in the East.
Even more than the language and style of the letters, the proper names they contain in abundance place them in a neat and narrow segment of the time spectrum. They are peculiar names, characteristic of just one period in Jewish history, and likewise peculiar to the Book of Mormon. First, however, we should take note of the most frequently occurring name in the Letters, that of Yaush, the high commander of Lachish, which Torczyner anglicizes as Jaush. The name is not found in the Bible, but it is found in the Book of Mormon where Josh is a high military officer commanding a force of 10,000 troops. (See Morm. 6:14.) Needless to say, in the past critics of the Book of Mormon have made merry in citing it as another example of Joseph Smith’s supposed hayseed mentality. Josh indeed!
More important from the Book of Mormon point of view is the peculiar type of names turning up in the Lachish Letters. They are characteristic of just one period in the history of Judah, namely the days of Lehi.
Seven of the nine proper names in Letter No. 1 end in -yahu (Jehovah), and in all the letters there are no Baal names and no El names—the lack of which was once thought to be a serious defect in the Book of Mormon. Most important, Torczyner finds many names “compounded with -iah” (or yahu), also found about a century later among the Jews in Elephantine in Egypt, who were “perhaps the descendants of those Jews who after the fall of the Judaean kingdom went down to Egypt, taking with them the prophet Jeremiah.” (p. 27.)
Here we have another control over the Lehi story. For the discovery of the Elephantine documents in 1925 showed that colonies of Jews actually did flee to the desert as Lehi did—during Lehi’s lifetime, and for the same reasons. Arriving in their new home far up the Nile, they built a temple similar to Solomon’s temple, exactly as Lehi’s righteous children did upon landing in the New World. Both of these oddities, and especially the temple, were once thought convincing refutations of the Book of Mormon.
The -yahu endings of personal names abound at Elephantine, but in a more abbreviated form, iah, than at Lachish (-yahu) a hundred years earlier. Both forms are found in the Book of Mormon. For example, the Lachish name Mattanyahu appears at Elephantine as Mtn(i), and in the Book of Mormon both as Mathoniah and Mathoni. Of the two names in Letter No. 1 not ending in -yahu, one is Tb-shlm (which Torczyner renders Tobshillem), which suggests Book of Mormon Shilom and Shelem, while the other, Hgb, (Torczyner suggests Hagab) resembles Book of Mormon Hagoth. The Book of Mormon has both long and short forms in the names Amalickiah, Amaleki, and Amlici. The Elephantine form MLKih, is very suggestive. (P. 24.) The Assyrian inscriptions show that the final “h” was dropped in the Hebrew spelling after Lehi left, when the Jews “lost their pronunciation of the consonant ‘H’ under the influence of the Babylonian language.” (P. 25.)
More significant are the indications that the -yahu names are “certainly a token of a changed inner-Judaean relationship to Yahwh.” Such reformations, Torczyner suggests, “in some way parallel … the first reformation by Moses.” He finds in these yahu names a reflection of “the act of general reformation inaugurated by King Josiah (Yoshiahu) (2 Kings 22:23).” (P. 29.) [2 Kgs. 22:23]
It is another interesting coincidence that a Book of Mormon king, 450 years after Lehi, undertook a general reformation of the national constitution and revival of the religious life of the people. He and his brothers had been stringently trained by their father, King Benjamin, “in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding,” familiar with the writings of the ancient prophets and also “concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass,” without which records, he tells them, “even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief.” He urges, “And now my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby.” (Mosiah 1:2-3, 5, 7.)
Fittingly, this king names his eldest son, the great reforming king, Mosiah, suggesting both the early reform of Moses and its later imitation by Josiah. This would be altogether too much of a coincidence were it not that the book of Mosiah fully accounts for the resemblances when it explains just how Nephite names and customs were preserved intact in the transplanting of cultures from the Old World to the New. Lehi’s ties to the Yahvist tradition are also reflected in the only female name given in his history, that of his wife, Sariah.
The Lachish Letters center on the activities of the prophets, who are causing grave concern to the government. On an identical note the Book of Mormon opens: “And in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city of Jerusalem must be destroyed.” (1 Ne. 1:4.) The identity of all but two of these prophets has now been lost, but it is clear from both the Lachish Letters and Book of Mormon that there were more of them. “It must certainly be admitted,” concludes Torczyner, “that there was more than one prophet at this time.” (P. 65.)
The central figure is, of course, Jeremiah, but it is only by chance that we know even about him, for he is not even mentioned in the book of Kings—it is the prophetess Huldah, “an otherwise quite unknown figure,” whom Josiah consults. (P. 71.) Jeremiah in turn happens to mention the prophet Uriah “in only a few passages,” and his name turns up nowhere else, though Uriah’s “religious influence must have been of great extent and long standing!” (P. 70.) Uriah “prophesied against this city according to the words of Jeremiah.” (Jer. 26:4.)
The words of such prophets were dangerously undermining morale both of the military and the people. Lachish Letter 6:5-6 protests: “Behold the words … are not good, to weaken the hands … of the country and the city.” (P. 64.) The identical idea appears in Jeremiah 38:4 [Jer. 38:4]. And so to the Book of Mormon. Lehi was one of those distressed and discouraged by the preaching of the “many prophets.” As he “went forth,” he “prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.” (1 Ne. 1:5.) In reply to his prayer he received a vision which sent him out to join the prophets: “My father … went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them” his vision. (1 Ne. 1:18.) He indeed was teaching in the spirit of Jeremiah, for Nephi explicitly links him to the prophet’s vicissitudes: “For behold, they have rejected the prophets, and Jeremiah have they cast into prison. And they have sought to take away the life of my father, insomuch that they have driven him out of the land.” (1 Ne. 7:14; italics added.)
Torczyner suggests that Uriah “may have hidden in the hills of western Judah for a long time” (p. 70), and we find Lehi doing the same thing. Indeed, as Torczyner points out, what we are dealing with here is a type of thing, Uriah’s story being told “only as parallel to Jeremiah’s not less dangerous position.” (P. 69.) To their number we may add Lehi, whose story has every mark of authenticity.
As the Book of Mormon leads us into a world of Rechabites (see Jer. 35) of the desert, so the Lachish Letters give us “for the first time … authentic and intimate reports from Jews faithfully following their God [and] about their inner political and religious struggle.” Torczyner sees in the -yahu names a sure indication of “a loyal reformist faction which included even the highest military officers.” Yaush and his men are the prophet’s followers (p. 66), even though they are necessarily the king’s defenders. We see Uriah hiding out in the hills “where he had friends and followers, for a long time.” (P. 70.)
The Dead Sea Scrolls have put flesh on these sectarian bones, showing how from the earliest times communities of the faithful would withdraw from Jerusalem to bide their time in the wilderness. The pattern is familiar to readers of the Book of Mormon, who recall that Lehi “went forth among the people” as a prophet (1 Ne. 1:18), but, badly received, he was warned in a dream that his life was in danger and ordered to go into the wilderness, leaving all his worldly things behind (see 1 Ne. 2:1-2).
It was the idea behind the Rechabites and the people of Qumran: Nephi, inviting a new recruit to come and “have place with us,” points out to him that only so could he “be a free man like unto us,” and that to “go down in the wilderness” was the only way to “be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord.” (1 Ne. 4:33-34.) So Zoram duly takes an oath and joins the company.
The Rechabite ideal of the desert sectaries was in full flower in Lehi’s day, as many other sources now indicate. From the accusation that Nephi’s elder brothers brought against him, it is clear they knew all about that sort of thing, for they complain that he was planning to set up such a society with himself as “our ruler and our teacher,” leading them by his false claims of prophetic inspiration to believe “that the Lord has talked with him … thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness [some unoccupied tract]; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us.” (1 Ne. 16:37-38.) When, after eight years of wandering, the party was commanded to build a ship and sail on the waters, they were all at their wits’ end, because they had never dreamed of such a thing as a promised land beyond the sea; theirs was strictly the tradition of the desert sectaries, “a lonesome and a solemn people,” as Nephi’s brother put it. (Jacob 7:26.)
Against the larger background of national calamity which is never lost from view, both the Lachish Letters and the Lehi story are concerned with relatively narrow circles of friends and relations. Clandestine flights from the city in both stories involve friends and families; Nephi and his brethren go back to town to persuade Ishmael and his family to join them in flight. But soon the group begins to split up as Laman, Lemuel, and the two daughters of Ishmael whom they have married, as well as two of Ishmael’s sons, vote to return to Jerusalem, unable to give up their opulent life-style and renounce their fashionable friends:
“Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and … been happy.
“And we know that the people … of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord. … They are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them.” (1 Ne. 17:21-22.)
They are especially disgruntled at having to defer to a quality in their father for which the Lachish Letters have a particular expression, characterizing the man of prophetic calling as ha-piqqeah, which Torczyner translates as “the open-eyed or visionary man” (p. 53), “the seer,” “the man whose eyes God has opened to see” (p. 65) things that other people do not see. For the followers of a prophet the term was the highest of praise; for his critics, a label of derision:
“They did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.” (1 Ne. 2:11; italics added.)
Torczyner explains the word by reference to 2 Kings 6:20 [2 Kgs. 6:20], where Elisha asks the Lord to open the eyes of a certain ordinary man so he could see the horses and chariots of fire which otherwise only Elisha could see.
If the Lachish Letters reflect “the mind, the struggles, sorrows, and feelings of ancient Judah in the last days of the Kingdom” (p. 18), so to an even greater extent does the book of Nephi, where families split along politcal lines in a tragic conflict of loyalties. And if the situation of Uriah parallels that of Jeremiah, as Torczyner points out, even more closely does it parallel that of Lehi when we learn from the Letters of “a warning from the prophet to one of his friends, who is apparently in the same danger as he, himself. It is, therefore, a prophet fleeing from his home and his friends, a prophet wanted by the military authorities.” (P. 64.)
As we saw earlier, the sender of nearly all of the Letters is a high military officer suspected by one party of treachery to the king in aiding the prophet, and by the other of betraying the prophet by revealing the contents of his warning letter to the king. (P. 113.) Likewise his superior offricer, Yaush, who has been ordered to investigate him, “appears to be on the best of terms with the king. But still both men respect the prophet and believe in him in spite of the king’s attitude towards him, and their hearts ache that they should be responsible for his destruction.” (P. 113.) The same tragic confusion exists in the Lehi story.
Furthermore, the actors in both dramas have ties to the Egyptians. Though Lehi supports the anti-Egyptian party, his sons have Egyptian names and Egyptian educations and they keep their records after the Egyptian manner. Moreover, the party flees toward Egyptian territory. The same anomaly confronts us in the Lachish Letters, which tell of a certain general sent down to Egypt to fetch a prophet back to Jerusalem for execution. (P. 63.) But why on earth, asks Torczyner, would the good man flee to Egypt of all places, when his crime was supporting Jeremiah in calling “for peace with Babylonia?” Our informant finds it “astonishing” that he fled towards Egypt instead of Babylonia.
As the main actors in the Lachish drama are high military officers, so in the Book of Mormon does Laban, whose official position resembles that of Yaush in Lachish, play a key role. Torczyner postulates that “Yaush must be the military governor of Lachish” and possibly “governor of the city, whose archives would probably have been housed in the region of the palace-fort or keep.” (Pp. 87, 12.) Similarly, Laban was a powerful leader in Jerusalem, “a mighty man” apparently in command of at least fifty men and possibly even of tens of thousands. (See 1 Ne. 3:31; 1 Ne. 4:1.)
Where is the king in all this? In both stories he appears as a rather weak character in the background. As for Yaush, “the king appeals to him in everything concerning this part of the country” (p. 118), that is, the whole western part of the kingdom (p. 87), and Laban would probably have enjoyed the same preference at Jerusalem. As with Yaush at Lachish, the archives were housed at Laban’s official residence, making him a top candidate for a counselor to the king.
The story of negotiating for the brass plates—the bribery, the threats of violence and attempts at violence, Nephi’s successful encounter with the drunk Laban and his deception of Laban’s servant to gain access to the treasury and archives—reveals a world of secret emergency sessions, tension, danger, and intrigue. The situation matches that in Lachish Letter 18, which must be “forwarded from Yaush to the King through the village of Qiryat Ye’arim by night.” (P. 183.)
Lehi’s sons take Laban’s servant with them, “that the Jews might not know concerning our flight … lest they should pursue us and destroy us.” (1 Ne. 4:35.) Even so we see in the Lachish Letters “a prophet fleeing from his home and friends, a prophet wanted by the military authorities.” (P. 64.) The military correspondence of the Lachish Letters with its grim suspicions of disloyalty and double-dealing, fervid denials, charges, investigations, and reports reminds one of the much later Bar Kochba letters discovered in 1966, which in turn present truly astonishing parallels to some of the military correspondence in the Book of Mormon.
One peculiar situation in the Lachish letters casts a good deal of light on an equally peculiar and highly significant episode in the Book of Mormon. Torczyner suggests that “the prophet’s warning letter … could have been sent while the prophet was still near his home town, through a little boy, most suited as an unsuspected messenger.” He remarks that little boys performed such offices in the time of David (2 Sam. 15:36; 2 Sam. 17:17-21) and that “such small boys are used also today in Palestine, often for quite responsible missions” (p 68).
What suggests the idea to Torczyner is the mention of one “Nedabyahu the NKD of the king” who delivered a letter from the prophet to one SHLM warning him of the danger he was in. (Letter 3:19-21.) The king’s own grandson bore letters for the prophet? There is a Nedabiah, grandson of King Jehoiakim in 1 Chronicles 3:18 [1 Chr. 3:18], and Torczyner finds it “possible and even probable” that he is the very one named here. The exact meaning of NKD is “unfortunately … not definitely established,” so that the king referred to may be “either Jehoiakim … or, less likely, Jeconiah, or Zedekiah.” (P. 61.) It is not a direct line of descent, Jeconiah being not the father but the nephew of Zedekiah; but since most scholars maintain that NKD simply means offspring or descendant, “it would be quite possible … to call somebody the ‘grandson’ [NKD] of his grandfather’s brother,” in this case of Zedekiah. “The Hebrew negedh may certainly be used at least for grandnephew as well as for grandson.” (By an interesting coincidence the Septuagint translates the word NKD by which Nedabyahu is designated in Hebrew simply as “seed” (p. 61), as apparently does the Book of Mormon: “the seed of Zedekiah.”
This Nedabiah, whose title “may equally well mean the grandson of Jehoiakim as the grandnephew of Zedekiah,” was quite young, “one would prefer the age of 10-13 to that of 5 years” (p. 69), carrying dangerous letters between the towns and camps for the prophet’s people. Since he was carrying letters of warning to people ready to decamp to save their lives at a moment’s notice, he could surely count on escaping with them. When news reached them that the royal family would be wiped out, only one course of survival was open to the child and his friends.
Torczyner suggests “the date of 590-588,” for this episode. According to the Book of Mormon, eleven years after Lehi left Jerusalem—in 589—a company escaped from the land of Jerusalem bearing with them the youngest son of Zedekiah, the only member of the family not put to death when Jerusalem was taken. From the descendants of these people in the New World the Nephites learned that Jerusalem actually did fall as prophesied:
“Will you dispute that Jerusalem was destroyed? Will ye say that the sons of Zedekiah were not slain all except it were Mulek? Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us, and that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem?” (Hel. 8:21; italics added.)
Nowhere are we told that Mulek was the leader of the company, and indeed in his apparent youth that would be unlikely. But as the sole survivor of the royal family and heir presumptive to the throne, he was certainly the most important person in the company, a source of legitimate pride to the group. The name tells everything. Mulek is not found anywhere in the Bible, but any student of Semitic languages will instantly recognize it as a diminutive, a term of affection and endearment, meaning “little king.” What could they call the uncrowned child, last of his line, but their little king? And what could they call themselves but Mulekiyah or Mulekites?
When someone says he belongs to a certain group of people, such as the Republican Party, the Teamsters Union, or the Lions Club, it is usually easy to identify with that person characteristics common to those associations. We would probably also recognize that he could belong to a number of groups without any serious conflict of interests.
This process of learning about people by their associations is also valid in our study of people who lived during Jesus’ lifetime. But the groups of Zealots, Sadducees, Publicans, and Essenes probably don’t mean as much to us as do the names Democrats, Catholics, or Communists, even though they were important groups in biblical times.
One of the apostles was a Zealot. Jesus himself denounced the Sadducees and taught the Publicans. John the Baptist is sometimes described as being similar to the Essenes.
The proliferation of these and many other Jewish sects began a few hundred years before Jesus’ birth. When the Jews returned to Palestine in the latter part of the sixth century B.C., there developed among them many political, social, and religious opinions and sects. Some Jews sought a return to the glory and power characteristic of David and Solomon; some favored submissive roles; still others believed if they became a righteous people, God would lead them to power and glory.
The sects that developed were usually not just political or just religious or just social in nature, but often encompassed aspects of a variety of philosophies. However, for the sake of simplicity, this article will divide the sects into the following main groupings: Political-Religious Sects (Samaritans, Zealots); Social-Vocational Sects (Publicans, Scribes); and Religious Sects (Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Nazarenes).
Through study and understanding of these sects, we can develop greater insight into the Savior’s life and teachings.
A. Political-Religious Sects1. The Samaritans
At the time of Jesus, the Jews and the Samaritans were two mutually antagonistic communities. (See Luke 9:52-56.) The Jews refused to consider the Samaritans as Israelites, mostly because of political and religious reasons. The Samaritans accepted the Pentateuch as the only inspired scripture, and they offered their sacrifices on Mount Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem. But these religious differences could have been bridged, since other Judean groups had been permitted to profess similar views without being excommunicated.
The primary cause for hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans was the political schism that split Solomon’s kingdom in two. Centuries later animosity continued, even as Jews returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. (See Ezra 4:1-10.)
The Samaritans originated from a mixture of people living in Samaria and others who migrated into the area following the 721 B.C. conquest of Samaria by Assyria. (See 2 Kgs. 17.) The chronicles of the Samaritans stress they were direct descendants of the Joseph tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Strong rivals of the Jews, they occupied territory in central Palestine, where their own high priest supervised sacrifices offered on Mount Gerizim.
They were often persecuted along with the Jews during the Persian and Greek eras, but gained more favorable status than the Jews as the Romans gained control of Palestine. The Romans later helped the Samaritans rebuild their temple to reward them for fighting against Jewish zealots. Another sign of Samaritan influence during Christ’s time is apparent in the fact that Herod, the king of the Jews, ruled from a Samarian capital and had a Samaritan as one of his wives.
After the Romans expelled the Jews from Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Samaritans remained in Palestine, where they maintained their communities through the following Christian and Moslem eras. Today, a few hundred of them still reside in Israel. (See Facts About Israel, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel, 1970, p. 69, and LaMar C. Berrett, Discovering the World of the Bible, Brigham Young University Press, Provo, Utah, 1973, p. 323.)
2. The Zealots
The Zealots were a group of Jewish nationalists who strongly opposed Roman rule. The Zealot movement stemmed from the action of Judah (Judas) the Galilean, who believed theocracy should be the law of the land and Jews should not pay tribute to Rome nor acknowledge the emperor as their master. Judah was apparently killed in the suppression of this revolt. (See Acts 5:37.) His followers took to the deserts, where they maintained a guerrilla resistance against the Romans.
One of Christ’s apostles, Simon, was a Zealot (see Luke 6:15), indicating that Zealot principles were not inconsistent with the church. Christ was later associated with Zealot activities at his Roman trial when his fate was linked with that of Barabbas, who had led a recent insurrection against the Romans. (See Mark 15:7.) Christ was crucified between two lestai. (See Mark 15:27; John 19:18.) Since lestai was the official Greek designation for Zealots, the Romans probably viewed Jesus as a Zealot leader.
The Zealots increased their activities in the years following Christ’s death, seizing the temple in 66 A.D. The Romans forcibly crushed this revolt and destroyed Jerusalem (and the temple) in 70 A.D. Shortly after this, the Zealots made their last and fateful stand against Roman rule as they defended their garrison at Masada, a desert plateau near the Dead Sea, holding off the Roman army for over a year.
B. Social-Vocational Sects
Originally Publicans (publicani) were men who served in the public works or farmed public lands for the Roman government. They later became known as professional tax farmers, who made their profits from the excess taxes they collected. The right to collect taxes was sold at public auctions to private corporations of Publicans who gave the highest bid. Since the Publicans were native Jews of Palestine, they were detested, ostracized, and often excommunicated by most Jewish groups. But some Publicans, such as Matthew, received the gospel very readily, and Jesus associated frequently with them. (See Matt. 9:9-10; Matt. 21:31-32; Mark 2:15.)
The Scribes performed secretarial services for the many who were unable to read and write. Jewish Scribes were well versed in the laws of Moses, making them the spiritual and temporal legal counselors of the period. Most Scribes were Pharisees, so Jesus frequently referred to them in connection with the Pharisees. Some others were affiliated with the Sadducees and other religious groups.
C. Jewish Religious SectsMost of the Jews during Christ’s time were somewhat religious, although most were not directly affiliated with any particular religious group. The total Palestinian population was probably about 500,000. Josephus records that 6,000 were Pharisees, 4,000 were Essenes, and the Sadducees were not very numerous. Thus, although most Jews were influenced by the sects, they lived outside their ranks.
The Sadducees were an aristocratic, priestly class of Jews, influential in the temple and the Sanhedrin. Their name is derived from the high priest Zadok, since the sons of Zadok were the most worthy to minister to the Lord in the temple. (See Ezek. 40:46; Matt. 1:14.)
Sadducees originated when the wealthier elements of the population united during the Hellenistic period, a period of Greek cultural revival around 200 B.C. A conservative priestly group, they held to older doctrines and always opposed the Pharisees, both politically and religiously. Although both groups believed in the Pentateuch (Torah), the Pharisees accepted the oral law while the Sadducees refused to accept anything not written in the Torah.
The strict Sadducees questioned the existence of the spirit and the concept of punishments and rewards in a life after death, denying the doctrine of the physical resurrection. (See Mark 12:18-27; Acts 4.)
The Sadducees have been historically represented as worldly minded aristocrats, primarily interested in maintaining their own privileged position. Both John the Baptist and Jesus strongly denounced the Sadducees, who were also unpopular with the common people, from whom they kept aloof. Their strength was in their control of the temple, and when it was destroyed in 70 A.D., they ceased to exist as a viable political or religious force among the Jews.
2. The Pharisees
The Pharisees were the largest of the Jewish sects. Six thousand strong, they observed Jewish ritual and studied the Torah and the oral law. They tried to adapt old codes to the new urban conditions, fulfilling religious interests of many of the common people.
The Pharisees conceived of God as an all-wise, all-knowing, all-just, and all-merciful spiritual being. They believed man had his free agency, and would receive retribution for his actions. This retribution would come either in this life or in the one to come, as the Pharisees believed in life after death and in the resurrection of the dead. The Torah was the center of their teachings, and its inspired laws and commandments were to be interpreted by the rabbis in each generation to harmonize with more advanced ideas. The Pharisees became scholars of the law, fostering the synagogue as a place of study, worship, and prayer. (See Luke 18:10-12.)
As the rabbis interpreted the commandments, new systems of laws and “fences around the law” evolved which would sometimes conflict with the. original commandments. (See Mark 7:1-9, 13.) Some Pharisees also sought ways to bend the laws to their own philosophies and ways of life. While Jesus publicly criticized the Pharisees, he did not condemn their beliefs, but condemned their hypocritical manner of living that violated the ideals they taught. (Matt. 23:1-15.)
The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee and was taught by one of the sect’s most eminent scholars, Gamaliel of Jerusalem. (See Matt. 23; Mark 7; Luke 11.)
Although many Pharisaic doctrines were similar to Christian ones, the two groups separated when Paul and the Christian missionaries used Jewish communities and synagogues to teach the gospel. (See Acts 23:6-9.) Some Christians refused to sympathize with Jews who didn’t convert to Christianity, while many Jews couldn’t appreciate the Christian zeal nor believe their teachings. After the temple was destroyed and other sects ceased to exist, the Pharisees continued to function. They promoted Judaism and the preservation of its teachings and scriptures until Pharisaism and Judaism became coextensive.
3. The Qumran Community and the Essenes
The Dead Sea scrolls portray the communal life of a Jewish religious sect in Qumran similar to the Essenes, a religious communalistic brotherhood. Doctrinally, the Essenes with their own beliefs probably stood somewhere between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. (See Col. 2:18.) Like the Sadducees, they presumptuously claimed to be the true priests of God and the descendants of Zadok. And like the Pharisees, they called themselves the “holy” or “pure” ones. Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul, but rejected the idea of bodily resurrection.
The Essenes regarded religious observances in the synagogues and temple as corrupt. They sought God in the wilderness of Judea, organized communities and brotherhoods (many of them monastic), zealously studied the scriptures, and sought to practice justice toward men.
Many practices in Qumran were similar to Christian ones. Initiation into the community involved a baptism, and a ritual bath took place daily in connection with a meal where special blessings were given over bread and wine by a priest.
John the Baptist probably knew of this sect and of the Essenes since he lived, preached, and baptized only a few miles from Qumran.
According to the Gospel of John, some thought nothing good could come from Nazareth. (John 1:46.) The term “Nazarene,” then, as a contemptuous one in early Christianity.
The root meaning of the word Nazarene helps explain why it was degrading. The Hebrew spelling of Nazarene has the same root letters as the Hebrew word nezer, which means twig, sprout, shoot, sprig, or branch. Who would want to be called a twig?
Matthew changed it to a title of honor when he referred to the Messianic prophecy (Isa. 11:1), telling of a branch (nezer) that would grow out of the roots of Jesse. (See JS—H 1:40; D&C 113.)
Early Christians were apparently called Nazarenes, since Paul was accused of being a leader of this sect. (See Acts 24:5.) Early historians refer to a Christian group as Nazarenes, Christian Jews who neither would nor could give up their Jewish mode of life. Paul taught that the Mosaic Law was not binding upon gentiles or Jews, having been fulfilled by Christ. Later Nazarenes rejected Paul because of this, even though he had been known as a Nazarene during his lifetime. Later Nazarenes were absorbed within Judaism and Christianity by the end of the fifth century. However, the term Nozri (Nazarene) remains as the Hebrew word for Christian.
Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi and Jeremiah
Keith H. Meservy, Ensign, Jan. 1988, pg 23
Lehi abandoned the doomed city of Jerusalem in the first year of Zedekiah’s eleven-year reign. That single year of adversity had seen three different kings rule the land of Judah.
First was Jehoiakim, who died shortly after he revolted against Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Next was his son Jehoiachin, who reigned three months before Nebuchadnezzar arrived to put down a rebellion Jehoiakim had started. Jehoiachin’s prompt submission to Nebuchadnezzar saved the city, but his father’s foolishness caused him, along with his queen, children, officials, artisans, and thousands of citizens—including Ezekiel and Daniel—to be carried into captivity in Babylonia. (See Jer. 29:2.) Last of the three kings was Zedekiah, who secured his throne by swearing an oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar.
When Nebuchadnezzar disappeared northward, taking thousands of Jewish captives with him, those who remained yearned for release from the stress. Instead, prophets of God predicted that Jerusalem, so recently saved, was about to be destroyed unless its citizens repented. The recent deportation of thousands of citizens did not end the threat. It merely provided a taste of the terror and sorrow to come.
While true prophets cried of war and desolation, the citizens refused to take either them or their warnings seriously. Pacified by false prophets who chorused peace, they felt so secure that nine years later they pressed Zedekiah to break his oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. With that act, the countdown to the destruction of the city began.
A grinding year-and-a-half siege preceded Jerusalem’s fiery end. As Jeremiah had predicted, thousands of citizens died by famine, fire, and sword. Jerusalem and Solomon’s magnificent temple became rubble and ashes. Zedekiah, the proud monarch, saw his sons slain, before having his eyes put out. Contrary to promises made by false prophets, tens of thousands more of Jerusalem’s citizens became Babylonian captives. The few survivors eventually fled to Egypt for safety. (See Jer. 39:1-2, 6-9; Jer. 43:5-7; Jer. 52:6, 13. Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent references are to the book of Jeremiah.)
What, exactly, led to the fiery destruction of Jerusalem? Jeremiah tells us that its inhabitants had become so sensual and materialistic that they had lost all sense of divine values: “They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.” (Jer. 4:22.)
“They be all adulterers,” Jeremiah said about the mores of that generation. (Jer. 9:2.) They “assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses.” Like well-fed stallions, “every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife.” (Jer. 5:7-8.)
He who delights “in the chastity of women,” to whom whoredoms are an abomination (Jacob 2:28), saw how the wickedness of adulterous husbands caused anguish to wives whose love and trust had been shattered. He beheld “the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of [his] people in the land of Jerusalem.” (Jacob 2:31.) Consequently, the Lord led Lehi’s group “out of the land of Jerusalem … that [he] might raise up … a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.” (Jacob 2:25.)
The people’s preoccupation with sensuality was matched by their covetousness and dishonesty. Jeremiah lamented, “From the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.” (Jer. 6:13; Jeremiah referred to false prophets simply as prophets, as the context makes clear.) He challenged anyone who doubted his words to search the streets and plazas of Jerusalem to see “if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth.” (Jer. 5:1.)
In Jerusalem, possessing things became all-important, and any means to possessing them seemed justified. Dishonesty replaced integrity, trust disappeared, and neighbors became treacherous. Jeremiah observed:
“They bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth. …”
Therefore he counseled, “Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother: for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders.” (Jer. 9:2-4.)
“One speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait.” (Jer. 9:8.)
As covetous, dishonest, and adulterous as that generation was, it carefully maintained its self-respect by rationalizing good into evil, and evil into good. Carefully, it called and anointed prophets who were made in its own mold. Because of these soothsayers’ perverse influence, Jeremiah said, “Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets.” (Jer. 23:9.)
Of these false, immoral testators, the Lord said: “I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.” (Jer. 23:14.)
How carefully such false prophets assured citizens that wickedness really was happiness! How well they insulated them from the pangs of conscience! How thoroughly they convinced them that sensual, materialistic lives were better than ones lived in the peace of the Spirit!
Though they claimed to have visions, their visions came from their own hearts. They promised those who walked after their own imaginations that no evil would come upon them. To those who despised the Lord, they blandly promised, “The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace.” (See Jer. 23:16-17.) By contradicting and ridiculing the true prophets, they convinced that perverse generation not to repent.
Ironically, they could have been a great influence for good. The Lord told Jeremiah, “If they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” (Jer. 23:22.)
In addition to paying prophets to say “Yea” to the desires of their own lustful, covetous hearts, citizens of Jerusalem also zealously worshipped idols. In their zeal, the people served as many gods as they had cities in Judah and erected as many altars to Baal as they had streets in Jerusalem. (See Jer. 11:13.) They built “high places of Tophet” in the Hinnom valley, where they burned “their sons and their daughters in the fire” to Baal and Molech, something God had never required of them, neither had it ever entered his heart to ask. (Jer. 7:31; see also Jer. 19:5; Jer. 32:35.) When the Canaanite predecessors to Israel had polluted the land by similar practices, the land had vomited them out. (See Lev. 18:21, 24-25.)
Worst of all, the people refused to change or even to recognize their iniquity. There was no introspection, no remorse. “No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?” (Jer. 8:6.)
“Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush.” (Jer. 6:15.)
In fact, the people even wondered, “Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?” (Jer. 16:10.) Laman and Lemuel, as products of that society, shared those feelings. “We know,” said they, “that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people,” and they convinced themselves that their father Lehi had misjudged their friends and neighbors. (1 Ne. 17:22.) Prophets must always appear too judgmental to those who lose their ability to discriminate between good and evil.
Jeremiah, not willing that any should perish, was inspired to promise the citizens of Jerusalem that God would save them, their city, and their temple from destruction—if they would repent. More specifically, if they would simply keep the Sabbath day holy, God would spare them. (See Jer. 17:19-27.) Jeremiah’s warnings, however, went unheeded and failed to deter their rampant wickedness.
To an unrepentant people, divine prophets must have appeared to be harbingers of doom, while false prophets must have seemed to be angels of peace and mercy. Jeremiah, for example, wrote to the captives in Babylonia telling them to build homes, plant gardens, and marry off their children so that they would grow during the long years of captivity. The false prophet Hananiah, on the other hand, promised in the name of the Lord that within two years God would bring them all back to their homes in Palestine. (See Jer. 28:1-4; Jer. 29:1, 4-7.) When Jeremiah cried war—sword, spear, and fire—false prophets pacified the sinful people with “Peace, peace!” (See Jer. 6:13-14, 22-29.)
When the Babylonians finally came and surrounded the city, Jeremiah again counseled individuals that they could survive by surrendering to the Babylonians. Such advice weakened the hands of the defenders and made Jeremiah look as if he were a traitor. (Jer. 38:2-4.) Yet only God knew what was coming and could tell them how to survive.
In the final days of the siege, Zedekiah desperately asked Jeremiah for advice. Jeremiah promised him his life and the city’s salvation if he would give himself up to the Babylonians. Otherwise, the city would be destroyed. Yet Zedekiah kept the advice secret for fear of his own people, and Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. (Jer. 38:17-27.)
The widespread hostility to and rejection of divine messages made it a hard time to be an authentic prophet. Even the priestly men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown, repeatedly made attempts on Jeremiah’s life, saying, “Prophesy not in the name of the Lord, that thou die not by our hand.” (Jer. 11:21.) The plotters even involved his brothers and the house of his father. (See Jer. 12:6.)
Jeremiah was horrified at the variety of plots being made against him: “I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living.” (Jer. 11:19.)
Another time, when he had promised that the temple and city would fall, the priests and prophets brought him to trial before the princes and accused him of treason, demanding his death. But, like Abinadi, he replied, “I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you.
“But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears.” (See Jer. 26:8-15.)
Once again, the Lord delivered Jeremiah out of their hands, as he had promised. (See Jer. 1:18-19; Jer. 26:24.) One of Jeremiah’s contemporaries, however, was not as fortunate. When Urijah “prophesied against this city and against this land,” Jehoiakim tried to kill him. Urijah fled to Egypt for safety, but the king extradited him and “slew him with the sword.” (Jer. 26:20-23.)
The constant harassment, mockery, and ridicule became at times a burden almost too heavy for Jeremiah to bear. He wondered aloud, “Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jer. 20:18.) On the other hand, he empathized with the suffering his people were about to experience: “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9:1.)
In such a prophet-killing environment, Lehi courageously took his stand on the side of the true prophets and prophesied of what he had seen and heard: the destruction of Jerusalem, the people’s wickedness and abomination, the coming of the Messiah, and the redemption of the world.
“When the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; … and they also sought his life, that they might take it away.” (1 Ne. 1:18-20.)
If we had no Old Testament into which to put his experience, the reaction to his message might seem melodramatic. But knowing the context, we understand more about the courage and willingness of this great prophet Lehi to stand with the other true prophets.
Lehi and Nephi knew that prophetic warnings are blessings that a compassionate God offers to his children. Nephi extends the message of Jeremiah: “The tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” (1 Ne. 1:20; see also Jer. 7:3-7.) Lehi’s and Nephi’s testimony are the same as that of every other prophetic writer of scripture: salvation and deliverance are of God.
As Lehi was led toward the promised land prepared for him by the Lord, we can sense his excitement in looking ahead to a place where his family might seek the Lord and serve him in righteousness. Thus, while humbly acknowledging that he was a visionary man, he knew that his visions were responsible for his family being saved:
“If I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren.
“But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice.” (1 Ne. 5:4-5.)
These stories of Jeremiah and Lehi are part of the ongoing story of God’s love. They show how the Lord strives continuously to save all of his children, how he warns the wicked of his impending judgments, and how he leads to safety those who listen to his counsel.
In our day, prophets are once again warning the world that God’s judgments will be poured out upon the wicked. The experiences of Jeremiah and Lehi encourage us to believe that, if we love the truth enough to follow the prophets and take the Holy Spirit for our guide, we will receive the promised blessings. (See D&C 45:57.)
Edward J. Brandt, Ensign, May 1973, pg 49
1. TERAH—Gen. 11:26-27, 31-32; 1 Chr. 1:26; Luke 3:34; Abr. 2:1.
2. ABRAHAM—Gen. 11:26-27, 29-31; Gen. 21:1-5; 1 Chr. 1:27-28; Luke 3:34; Abr. 2:2.
3. HARAN—Gen. 11:28-29; Abr. 2:2.
4. NAHOR—Gen. 11:29; Gen. 22:20-24; Gen. 24:15, 24; Gen. 29:5; Gen. 31:53; Abr. 2:2.
5. SARAH*, or SARAI—Appears twice on the chart, as the daughter of Haran and as the wife of Abraham. Gen. 11:29-30; Gen. 17:15-16; Abr. 2:2.
6. HAGAR—Wife of Abraham. Gen. 16; Gen. 21:9-21; Gen. 25:12.
7. KETURAH—Wife of Abraham. Gen. 25:1-4; 1 Chr. 1:32-33.
8. MILCAH—Appears twice on the chart, as the daughter of Haran and as the wife of Nahor. Gen. 11:29; Gen. 22:20-23; Gen. 24:15, 24, 47; Abr. 2:2.
9. LOT—Gen. 11:27, 31; Abr. 2:4.
10. ISCAH—Gen. 11:29.
11. MOAB—Gen. 19:37. His descendants were known as Moabites.
12. BENAMMI—Gen. 19:38. His descendants were known as Ammonites.
13. REUMAH—Wife of Nahor. Gen. 22:24.
14. DESCENDANTS OF NAHOR AND MILCAH—Gen. 22:20-23.
15. BETHUEL—Gen. 22:22-23; Gen. 24:15, 24; Gen. 25:20; Gen. 28:2, 5.
16. LABAN—Gen. 24:15, 24, 29; Gen. 25:20; Gen. 28:2; Gen. 29:5, 10, 16.
17. REBEKAH*—Appears twice on the chart, as the daughter of Bethuel and as the wife of Isaac. Gen. 22:23; Gen. 24:7, 15, 24, 58-67; Gen. 25:20-28.
18. ISHMAEL—Gen. 16:10-16; Gen. 17:20-21; Gen. 21:9-21; 1 Chr. 1:28-31.
19. ISHMAELITES (the descendants of Ishmael)—Most authorities agree that the Ishmaelites made up a part of what became known as the Arab nations. Gen. 25:12-15; Gen. 28:9; 1 Chr. 1:28-31.
20. DESCENDANTS OF KETURAH AND ABRAHAM—Gen. 25:2; 1 Chr. 1:32-33.
21. MIDIAN—Gen. 25:2, 4; 1 Chr. 1:32-33.
22. JETHRO—A descendant of Midian, who many years later ordained Moses to the priesthood. Ex. 3:1; Ex. 4:18; Ex. 18:1-12; D&C 84:6.
23. ISAAC—Gen. 21:1-5, 12; Gen. 22; Gen. 25:5, 19-26; 1 Chr. 1:28, 34; Luke 3:34.
24. ESAU—Gen. 25:21, 24-25; Gen. 26:34-35; Gen. 27:30-33; Gen. 28:8-9; 1 Chr. 1:35-54.
25. WIVES OF ESAU, JUDITH, BASHEMATH, AND MAHALATH (a daughter of Ishmael)—Gen. 26:34-35; Gen. 28:8-9. Their descendants were known as Edomites.
26. JACOB (changed to Israel, Gen. 32:27-28)—Gen. 25:21, 24, 26, 29-34; Gen. 27:26-29; Gen. 28:1-2, 5; Gen. 29:10-12; 1 Chr. 1:34; 1 Chr. 2:1-2; Luke 3:34.
27. LEAH*—Appears twice on the chart, as the daughter of Laban and as the wife of Jacob. Gen. 29:16-17, 30-35; Gen. 30:17-21.
28. RACHEL—Appears twice on the chart, as the daughter of Laban and as the wife of Jacob. Gen. 29:10, 16-17; Gen. 30:22-24; Gen. 35:16-20.
29. ZILPAH—Wife of Jacob. Gen. 29:24; Gen. 30:9-13.
30. BILHAH—Wife of Jacob. Gen. 29:29; Gen. 30:3-8.
31. REUBEN—Gen. 29:32; Gen. 49:3-4.
32. SIMEON—Gen. 29:33; Gen. 49:5-7.
33. LEVI—Gen. 29:34; Gen. 49:5-7.
34. JUDAH—Gen. 29:35; Gen. 49:8-12; Luke 3:33.
35. ISSACHAR—Gen. 30:18; Gen. 49:14-15.
36. ZEBULUN—Gen. 30:20; Gen. 49:13.
37. GAD—Gen. 30:11; Gen. 49:19.
38. ASHER—Gen. 30:13; Gen. 49:20.
39. DAN—Gen. 30:6; Gen. 49:16-18.
40. NAPHTALI—Gen. 30:8; Gen. 49:21.
41. JOSEPH—Gen. 30:24; Gen. 49:22-26.
42. BENJAMIN—Gen. 35:18; Gen. 49:27.
43. MANASSEH—Gen. 46:20; Gen. 48:5, 17-19.
44. EPHRAIM—Gen. 46:20; Gen. 48:5, 17-19.
45. DINAH—Only daughter mentioned in the family of Jacob. Gen. 30:21.