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Answer contributed by BMC Team
Last updated on February 1, 2018

This concern is based on an unnecessary reading of the text. Nephi stated: “And it came to pass that [Lehi] departed into the wilderness … And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family … And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent” (1 Nephi 2:5–6).  

Some have interpreted Nephi’s words to mean that it took only three days to get from Jerusalem to the Red Sea, but this reading seems unlikely.1 The distance between Jerusalem and the Red Sea by road is about 180 miles (290 Km). Even if the party traveled with loaded camels, as would seem necessary in order to carry their provisions (1 Nephi 2:4; 3:9), they would normally have covered an average of only 20 to 25 miles (32–40 km) per day.

Lehi would likely have fled Jerusalem as quickly as possible, pushing his traveling party much faster than under normal travel conditions, but the journey of three days does not refer to the distance from Jerusalem to the Red Sea. Rather, their party first departed from Jerusalem and came down near the Red Sea, and after that traveled three more days until they reached their first campsite in the Valley of Lemuel.2 It makes clear sense to understand the three-day journey as a reference to the specific segment of wilderness travel “near the shore of the Red Sea,” which had just been mentioned in the previous verse. Thus, the most likely interpretation, based on sound textual analysis, also happens to be the most geographically realistic.

It is also possible that the family’s three-day journey, which echoes the Exodus narrative, had symbolic legal significance. In this case, the “three days” may not necessarily refer to an exact duration of time and distance, but rather to the technical limit of the sacrificial jurisdiction of the temple in Jerusalem.3

Either way, the supposed error in the Book of Mormon is eliminated.

  • 1. “This, it must be confessed, was a most extraordinary journey; to go from Jerusalem to the Red Sea, with his wife and children, tents and baggage, in three days, was to travel with unparalleled celerity,” Gimel, “Book of Mormon,” Christian Watchman, 7 October, 1831. “We can pass without comment that remarkable journey which these people made from Jerusalem to the Red Sea, a distance approximating, if not exceeding, two hundred miles, on foot, carrying food and tents, and possibly some necessary change of clothing, and apparently in the space of three days, except as we may say that they allowed no grass to grow under their feet en route.” Samuel Traum, Mormonism against Itself (Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Company, 1910), 90.
  • 2. On the question of whether the Valley of Lemuel has been found, see Book of Mormon Central, “Have the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman Been Found? (1 Nephi 2:6),” KnoWhy 286 (March 13, 2017).
  • 3. Book of Mormon Central, “Why Would Lehi Offer Sacrifices Outside of Jerusalem? (1 Nephi 7:22),” KnoWhy 9 (January 12, 2016). A passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls (11Q19 52:13–15) specifically reads, “You shall not slaughter a clean ox or sheep or goat in all your towns, near to my temple (within) a distance of a three-days’ journey; nay, but inside my temple you shall slaughter it, making it a burnt offering or a peace offering.” Donald W. Parry and Emanuel Tov, The Dead Sea Scrolls Reader: Volume I (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2013), 689–699.

Further Reading

S. Kent Brown, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 56–62.

Warren P. Aston, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia: The Old World Setting of the Book of Mormon (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Publishing, 2015), 38–42.

Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 5 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 54–58.

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Book of Mormon Reference

1 Nephi 2:4-6

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Answer contributed by BMC Team
Last updated on February 1, 2018

The phrase “land of Jerusalem” is a common phrase in the Book of Mormon and is used by its writers to refer to the place of their original inheritance before their journey to a new land of promise (1 Nephi 2:11; 7:2; 7:7; 16:35; 17:20; 2 Nephi 1:1). Some readers have thought, since Jerusalem was a city, that the phrase “land of Jerusalem” is anachronistic.1 Although this phrase is not found in the Bible, it does appear in other ancient texts discovered after the publication of the Book of Mormon. For example, it is used several times in the Amarna Letters, which date to the fourteenth century BC:

 Behold this land of Jerusalem . . .

[If] they send into the land [of Jerusalem] troops, let them come with an Egyptian officer.

Let my king requisition for them much grain, much oil, (and) much clothing, until Pawure, the royal commissioner, comes up to the land of Jerusalem.

Behold, the king has set his name in the land of Jerusalem for ever; so he cannot abandon the lands of Jerusalem!

And now as for Jerusalem—Behold this land belongs to the king.

But now even a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name, a town belonging to the king, has gone over to the side of the people of Keilah.2

The Amarna Letters were not discovered until 1887, some fifty-seven years after the publication of the Book of Mormon.

The phrase “land of Jerusalem” has also more recently turned up in a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, who lived at the same time as Lehi and Nephi:

[…and] Jeremiah the prophet [went] from before YHWH, [… the] exiles who were brought into exile from the land of Jerusalem and were led […] king of Babel, when Nabuzaradan, chief of the escort, struck […] … and he took the vessels of the temple of God, the priests [… and] the children of Israel and led them to Babylon. (4Q385a)3 

In another fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls, also related to Jeremiah (4Q389), a scholar restored the phrase “in the land of J[erusalem …]” to a fragmented line.4 These ancient sources show that the “land of Jerusalem,” although once considered an anachronism, is actually evidence of the historical authenticity of Nephi’s account.

  • 1. “‘The land of Jerusalem.’ . . . There is no such land. No part of Palestine bears the name of Jerusalem, except the city itself.” Origin Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (1838), 14.
  • 2. W. F. Albright, trans., “The Amarna Letters,” in The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 437–440; emphasis added.
  • 3. Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, 2 vols. (New York, NY: Brill, 1999), 2:773. See also, Donald W. Parry and Emanuel Tov, The Dead Sea Scrolls Reader, 6 vols., 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Brill, 2013), 2:803.
  • 4. Kipp Davis, The Cave 4 Apocryphon of Jeremiah and the Qumran Jeremianic Traditions: Prophetic Persona and the Construction of Community Identity (Boston, MA: Brill, 2014), 143.

Further Reading

Neal Rappleye, “Apocryphon of Jeremiah (4Q385a),” Nephite History in Context 2 (December 2017): 1–5.

Neal Rappleye, "Letters of ʿAbdu-Ḫeba (EA 285–290),” Nephite History in Context 2 (December 2017): 6–13.

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

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

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

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Book of Mormon Reference

1 Nephi 2:11

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Answer contributed by BMC Team
Last updated on February 1, 2018

In a prophecy about the coming of the Savior, the Nephite High Priest Alma said, “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers” (Alma 7:10).1 Following a remark published in 1831 by Alexander Campbell, some readers have noted with no little amusement that the Book of Mormon seems to say that Jesus was born in the city of Jerusalem, not the village of Bethlehem.2 But in Alma’s statement to the people of Gideon, he spoke not of a specific town, but prophesied that Jesus would be born at or in the “land” from which Lehi’s family came.

The small town of Bethlehem is only about 8 miles from the center of Jerusalem, which was the political and religious capital of Lehi’s homeland. Bethlehem was known as the home of King David, but otherwise it was seen as an insignificant place in Lehi’s day. In fact, recent archaeological evidence suggests that within or close to Lehi’s lifetime, Bethlehem was a “satellite settlement” to Jerusalem.3 A fiscal bulla (clay seal impression) found in Jerusalem and inscribed with the name Bethlehem was discovered and dated to the 7th century BC,4 indicating that Bethlehem was “linked to the nearby city of Jerusalem” at this time.5

Bethlehem would have been all the more insignificant to Alma’s audience in the Nephite land of Zarahemla. The Nephites cared little about the Davidic monarchy, and by Alma’s day they had been far away from the land of Israel for over 500 years. Thus, Alma would naturally have referred generally to the land where Jesus would be born and not to an obscure outlying suburb.  

Moreover, referring to Jerusalem and its environs as a “land” was a proper geographical usage. For instance, it can be found in the El Amarna tablets in Egypt, which date to the fourteenth century B.C. These tablets were unknown in 1829 and were discovered in Upper Egypt in 1887, well after the Book of Mormon was translated and published. The ancient writer of these texts knew Akkadian and the affairs of the lands around Jerusalem. He referred to “the land of Jerusalem” in language similar to Alma’s. The ancient tablet reads:

“And now as for Jerusalem—Behold this land belongs to the king”

“But now even a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name, a town belonging to the king, has gone over to the side of the people of Keilah.”6

According to Professor William F. Albright, who translated this text, Bit-Lahmi “is an almost certain reference to the town of Bethlehem, which thus appear for the first time in history.”7 Some scholars have questioned this identification, but it remains widely accepted by biblical scholars today.8 Not only does the Amarna text consider Jerusalem to be a “land,” but this text also speaks of Bethlehem (the town where Jesus would later be born) as belonging to the “land of Jerusalem.” Thus, the specific phrasing of Alma’s prophecy stands in excellent ancient company.

  • 1. Emphasis added.
  • 2. Alexander Campbell, “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger (February 7, 1831): 93.
  • 3. Nadav Naʾaman, “Josiah and the Kingdom of Judah,” in Good Kings and Bad Kings: The Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century BCE, ed. Lester L. Grabbe (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2005), 198–199 explains that Jerusalem at the time of Josiah would have ruled a district (or “land”) encompassing “satellite settlements directly connected to Jerusalem proper.”
  • 4. Ronny Reich, “A Fiscal Bulla from the City of David,” Israel Exploration Journal 62, no. 2 (2012): 200–205.
  • 5. “Ancient Bethlehem Seal Unearthed in Jerusalem,” Phys.org, May 23, 2012, online at https://phys.org/news/2012- 05-ancient-bethlehem-unearthed-jerusalem.html (accessed December 6, 2017).
  • 6. W. F. Albright, trans., “The Amarna Letters,” in The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 437–440.
  • 7. Albright, “The Amarna Letters,” 440 n. 15.
  • 8. See Edward F. Campbell Jr., Ruth: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, Anchor Bible 7 (New York, NY: Double Day, 1975), 54; R. Dennis Cole, “Bethlehem,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 172–173; Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus: Martyr, Lord, Messiah (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2004), 25; Eugen J. Pentiuc, Jesus the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2006), 137 n. 67; Jerome MurphyO’Connor, Keys to Jerusalem: Collected Essays (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), 5.

Further Reading

Neal Rappleye, “Letters of ʿAbdu-Ḫeba (EA 285–290),” Nephite History in Context 2 (December 2017): 6–13.

Neal Rappleye, “Bethlehem Bulla,” Nephite History in Context 2 (December 2017): 14–17.

Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (Salt Lake City, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1988), 6–7.

John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1992), 170–172.

John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 1999), 139–141.

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Book of Mormon Reference

Alma 7:10