Friday, April 12, 2013

Did the Nephites Build out of Stone? Part II

In addition to some scholars claiming the Nephites never built out of stone, they and others claim that "The Jaredite cities and ceremonial centers were built of stone, earth and a minimal amount of wood. The Nephites built principally with wood, with some fortifications of earth, rock and timber. Both Jaredite and Nephite homes were probably constructed of wood, with pole or matting walls and thatched roofs."
One has to wonder how anyone came up with such an idea, for we have no idea what a Nephite home looked like, let alone from what materials it was built. However, in 600 B.C. Jerusalem, we do know what homes looked like and how they were built with which Nephi, Sam and Zoram would have been familiar. “The houses inside the walled city were built on the hillsides in a sort of terraced manner. Even the biggest of these homes was not large, although most homes were two stories high, the second story being more like a loft covered by the main roof. Paint was rarely used and the houses were light tan because they were, by and large, from local stone with some mud and wood. Inside, wood beams and joists supported the roofs. The main social unit was the household, which is more than just a family. The head of the household was the father, and the household consisted of multiple homes built close together and usually comprised the father’s sons and unmarried daughters and any aging parent, uncle, or unmarried aunt. In most cases the homes surrounded an outdoor courtyard where much of the cooking and social activities took place.”
When Nephi left his brothers after Lehi’s death, he took with him all those who would go with  him, including his own  family, and “Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God” (2 Nephi 5:6), thus, when this group settled, they built a city, called the City of Nephi. Up until this time, and since leaving Jerusalem some ten to twelve years earlier, they lived and slept in tents (2 Nephi 5:7), but when they got around to building a permanent city (2 Nephi 5:15), it only stands to reason that they built houses of the type with which they were familiar—made of stone, mud and some wood.
With Nephi, as the father of his family, being responsible under the Jewish custom of his day, he likely built a home that had a central court, with other homes around it that housed his unmarried sisters, brothers, perhaps his mother (we never learned what happened to Sariah), and any other family members that were not heads of their own families. Men of this time were predominantly involved in farming, his wife would have run the household and supervised the additional members living in this complex.
In addition, public buildings in ancient Jerusalem were made of stone. King David’s house, unearthed recently, was a large stone structure, even though the record shows that “Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar-trees, and carpenters, and masons; and they built David a house.” (2 Samuel 5:11). In 2005, remains of what became known as the “Large Stone Structure,” built in 10th Century B .C., were discovered beneath ruins from the Byzantine and Second Temple periods.
Obviously, the Jews for four hundred years before Lehi left Jerusalem, used stone in their building, both of small houses and of large public buildings and of the Temple. Why, then, would we think that when Nephi came to the Land of Promise, that he build houses out of “wood, with pole or matting walls and thatched roofs”?
The only reason a person could suggest such a thing is because there are no stone edifices in his model area for his Land of Promise, and he has to eliminate any stone building by the Nephites. A problem we find frequently in people who have a pre-determined location and try to write about it to prove their viewpoint. The fact of the matter is that Nephi and Sam grew up in a society that built with stone and had for hundreds of years—they knew no other type of construction. When they arrived in the land of Promise, it stands to reason they built in the manner they knew and understood.
Top Left: North American Indian building with wood poles and thatched roof; Right: Wood “window” in a stone house; Bottom Left: Timber used for support of stone structure; Right: Ceiling timbers once held up the roof of this stone house
Which brings us to the use of wood. Wood, of course, is a versatile building material. It was anciently used for such things as roof supports, door and window framing, flooring, staircases, steps, railings, stalls, fences, platforms, mezzanines, internal wall divisions, etc. When Nephi said “I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance,” (2 Nephi 5:15), he was explaining that the workmanship he taught his people was in the varying uses of wood, as well as how to molten iron and copper, forge brass, create steel, and cut gems for decoration, etc. No doubt he also showed them how to hammer gold into plates to be written upon, cover walls, decorations, columns, etc., with gold and silver aesthetic purposes. However, he was not telling us that he built anything exclusively out of wood anymore than he was telling us he taught his people to built steel buildings as we built today.
It should also be kept in mind that wood is a building material essential in any type of construction, for among other things, supports, decorations, and framing. It would be inconceivable to consider building a house without wood in any era, anciently or today, if wood was available. Thus, when the Nephites traveled north into the Land of Desolation and beyond to the Land of Cumorah (Helaman 3:4), and “spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land” (Helaman 3:5), some ended up through expansion in areas where there were no trees for timber (Helaman 3:6). There they lived in tents as they built houses of cement (2 Nephi 3:7), but without timber there could be no casings for doors and windows, stairs and other construction where wood was typically used.
It should be understood that working with cement was not a new idea to the Nephites in 46 B.C. when they sent for cement from the Land Southward (Helaman 3:11), but at this time those who went north became quite expert in using cement to build houses—probably something they had not done before. Still, they preferred wood for such trim, support and decoration as they were used to, and suffered trees to grow up so they could harvest the timber (Helaman 3:9). But even after obtaining wood, through import or growth, they still built out of cement along with the wood (Helaman 3:11).
Regarding the housing in the Land Southward, one scholar wrote: “The dwellings were likely constructed of light wood with thatched roofs, built upon raised mounds of rock and earth, with cobbled pathways in-between. The account mentions temples, synagogues, sanctuaries, palaces and towers. It is also likely that these were built of wood. The people were skilled in building construction, wood working, metal working, and gold smithing.  It is logical to assume that Nephite architecture would be similar to that of the Hebrews of the 6th century B.C.”
At least he got the last part right—it would have been similar to that of 6th Century Jerusalem, which Israeli archaeologists claim was mostly “built of stone with some mud and wood.” No houses in ancient Jerusalem were built on raised platforms of rock, nor did they have thatched roofs. The roofs of their houses were solid and used for living, eating and sleeping during warm nights and in the summer. Not only did King David in the 10th Century B.C. walk upon the roof of the king’s house, obviously a common practice, in which he saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her own house. In fact, in Lehi’s time, roofs were reached by wood stairs or a wooden ladder, and the roof was used as an outdoor room that was partly shaded by matting or a tent. 
Examples of houses excavated within and around Jerusalem, dating to Lehi’s time. Each has a flat roof where the family spent much time. These were not stick and thatch houses built like the Indians of Central and North America, but solid stone houses with wood timbers to support the roof, and sometimes wood floors on the second story
According to Architecture of the Bible: "Housing," the inside rooms tended to be small and dark, so the courtyard and the roof were important parts of the house, used for tasks that needed good light—such as spinning and weaving, and food preparation. The flat roof area might also be used for sleeping, or for drying food or textiles (Joshua 2:6). In the earlier period of Jewish history, it was also used for bathing, such as Bathsheba, who bathed on the flat roof of her house, where she was seen by King David (2 Samuel 11:2-4).
When Nephi returned from an unsuccessful missionary trip to the Land Northward, he retired to his roof and to the tower thereon to pray to the Lord (Helaman 7:10). Based upon Jewish custom in Jerusalem, such gardens and towers were part of the flat roof structure, and was reached from the roof of the house.
(See the next post, “Did the Nephites Build out of Stone? Part III,” for more on the building of the Jaredites and the Nephites)

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog post. green home construction