Hey guys, so the controversy we’re going to talk about today stems from a verse about Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. Alma 7:10 says, “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers….”
In the words of Weldon Langfield in his 1941 work, The Truth about Mormonism, “Every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows Christ was born in Bethlehem.” The great Campbellite minister, Alexander Campbell, wrote that “[Joseph Smith] says Jesus was born in Jerusalem. Great must be the faith of the Mormonites in this new Bible!!!”
More recently, the Christian Courier wrote that “the plagiarizing, inept author…’ slips,’ and names ‘Jerusalem’ as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, rather than ‘Bethlehem.’” They call it a “colossal blunder.” So let’s take a closer look and see if this “blunder” is quite as colossal as some would have you believe.
Alright so first of all let’s take another look at Alma 7:10. It says Christ shall “born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers.” Sometimes in the Book of Mormon, there’s a difference between “the land” and “the city.” For example, Alma 47:20 says,
“And it came to pass that Amalickiah marched with his armies…to the land of Nephi, to the city of Nephi, which was the chief city.” Mormon is pointing out here that there were multiple cities within “the land of Nephi,” and the city of Nephi was “the chief city.”
So, going back to Alma 7:10, Jerusalem is referred to as “the land” of our forefathers. It is not referred to here as “the city” of our forefathers. It’s totally reasonable to assume this verse is referring to a wider region around Jerusalem, instead of just the city, just as “the land of Nephi” refers to a wider region than “the city of Nephi.”
Bethlehem is about 5.1 miles away from Jerusalem. You can literally walk from downtown Jerusalem to downtown Bethlehem in less than two hours.
And in case that isn’t enough, let’s talk about the Amarna Letters. The Amarna Letters are essentially a bunch of diplomatic documents written on clay tablets that were sent between leaders from the ancient Near East and ancient Egypt. The first tablets were discovered in Egypt in 1887, well after the death of Joseph Smith, and they date back to about the 14th Century BC.
The Amarna Letters talk about all sorts of different things, but Amarna Letter number 290 says something very interesting. It’s a letter from Jerusalem talking about enemy troop activity in the region. Check this out: “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 people of Keilah.”
Bit-Lahmi is widely accepted by scholars to be Bethlehem. If that’s true, this letter is specifically indicating that Bethlehem is a town belonging to “the land of Jerusalem.”
If we’re looking for something a little closer to Book of Mormon times we can turn to one of the Dead Sea Scrolls which talks about the Babylonian invasion of the Kingdom of Judah which happened soon after the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi left Jerusalem. The scroll says, “Jeremiah the prophet from before the Lord. [there’s a break in the scroll] …they were taken captive from the land of Jerusalem and went [to Babylon…].
Non-Latter-day Saint scholars Robert Eisenmann and Michael Wise believe that this reference to the ‘land of Jerusalem’ actually refers to the wider Kingdom of Judah. They wrote that the reference actually “greatly enhances the sense of the historicity of the whole [scroll] since Judah…by this time consisted of little more than Jerusalem and its immediate environs.” Due to its proximity to Jerusalem, I think one of those “environs” was Bethlehem, but anyway…
Since Lehi and his family left Jerusalem around this time, it’s no surprise that the Book of Mormon talks about the land of Jerusalem in similar terms. And just as those scholars viewed that reference as evidence of the historicity of the Dead Sea Scroll, many Latter-day Saints believe this kind of language also actually enhances the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Most critics find that laughable, though it’s worth noting that according to one of the most popular anti-Latter-day Saint sources on the web, “the [fraudulent] author of the Book of Mormon may have adopted this pattern [of writing] in order to enhance its ‘sense of historicity.’” So on one end of the spectrum, you’ve got critics saying Alma 7:10 was an obvious mistake rendering the Book of Mormon unbelievable, and on the other end, you have critics saying Alma 7:10 was actually a subtle and intentional attempt to make the Book of Mormon look more believable.
As for me, I think Joseph was just telling the truth about where the Book of Mormon came from. That said, none of this information “proves” the Book of Mormon is true, and it’s not meant to. But at the very least it should show that Latter-day Saints have more than enough perfectly logical reasons to believe that Alma 7:10 is far from a “colossal blunder” by a false prophet. On the contrary, the language fits quite comfortably in an ancient context. It makes sense to me, but as always, you are free to believe as you see fit.
Check out the links in the description for more info on this topic, and have a great day!
- Great stuff on this by Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/2D0w9EV
- More info on this subject: https://bit.ly/2ZtEB7e
- Another source with some helpful info: https://bit.ly/2VBYZBO