Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ancient Bible and Book of Mormon Cities – Part I

It should be kept in mind, that when thinking of Book of Mormon cities, that Lehi, Sam, Nephi, Ishmael, his sons, and daughters, all lived around Jerusalem, with Zoram living in the city. Since Nephi, the youngest (except for some of Ishmael’s daughters) was probably in his early to mid twenties at the time Lehi left his home “at Jerusalem,” and was familiar enough with Solomon’s Temple, obviously having been to and inside it, to have designed and built a temple he likened unto it, except for some of the minor materials that were not found in the Land of Promise, yet “the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” 9 (2 Nephi 5:16).
     We might also assume with significant assurance that when Nephi taught his “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), that he did so with the building methods, materials, and manner that he was well familiar to him within and around Jerusalem.
    Therefore, it seems only natural for us to see what kind of construction would have existed in the Land of Promise under Nephi’s tutelage by understanding the type of construction that existed in and around Jerausalem in the 400 years or more before Lehi left that area, to which Nephi, Sam, and Zoram would have been well familiar, not to mention their wives, and, no doubt, the pictures Lehi, Sariah, Ishmael and his wife would have painted for the younger children who did not grow up there, such as Jacob and Joseph.
The ancient city of Lachish, a little southwest, and second only in important to Jerusalem, was built in the time of Joshua, and permanently settled in 925 B.C., more than three centuries before Lehi. Built with stone, massive walls, and a extensively fortified main entrance gate
    To think that these men, with some 400 years of generational upbringing around Jerusalem, a city of prominence in the region and of much accomplishments, including stone buildings, walls, residential homes in abundance, and many public buildings, such as Solomon’s very accomplished Temple, palace, and numerous synogogues, would have built with wood as Great Lakes and Eastern U.S. theorists claim, is simply out of the question. After all, when Nephi says “the manner of construction was like unto the temple of Solomon,” speaking of a house he had built and dedicated to the Lord, he would not have been referring to wood structures and wood walls—not when those edifices had all been cut and dressed stones from whence he had come.
    So let us take a look at what biblical cities looked like before and during the years Nephi would have lived at Jerusalem.
    First of all, in biblical times, a city was a large cluster of buildings surrounded by walls. It had 
• A massive entrance gate;
• A palace and royal housing for the king and important leaders;
• The main temple with some smaller subsidiary buildings and housing for priests;
• Central public administrative buildings;
• Sacred buildings, such as synagogues; 
• Houses and offices for people who acted as royal 'back-up': such as public servants and tax collectors;
• Garrison, offices and housing for military personnel;
• Housing for a whole range of trades and services: craftsmen and traders.
Left: Wall built during Solomon’s time, a “broken line” wall of alternative recesses and salient—in a later period these walls would be built with towers; Right: Megalithic walls built at the time of Solomon, in places it has been patched with more modern, smaller rocks
    While the cities in the north of Israel were larger and richer, because the land was more fertile, boasting bigger crops that meant more taxes and larger cities, with massive walls to protect them (such as Megiddo), Jerusalem was wealthy in its own right. Its surrounding land was not very fertile, but it was the religious center to which all Jewish people were drawn.
    Because of the nature of the times, an ancient city was protected by a ring of walls, with a rampart leading up to the city gates. Inside the walls were houses of varying shapes and sizes, but also monumental buildings which covered a substantial part of the walled area. Among these were the temple and the palace, often at the center of the settlement or in a prominent position. All the houses were accessible via narrow alleys. Obviously, a city had to be situated near a water supply, with wells in the nearby plains or valleys.
Stairs cut down into a cistern or underground water supply
    The earliest cities had mudbrick walls from 2 to 6 metres thick on stone foundations, with projecting semicircular or rectangular towers. The gate had towers flanking it on either side.
    The earliest type of house was the wide-room house. Its basic design has changed very little below ground level and you entered by two descending steps. The entrance from the street was in the shorter wall. Rooms had benches running along the walls. 
    This basic design could be enlarged by the addition of annexes.
    Until the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, most areas had city states, except for Jerusalem, were independent of each other and, if we can judge from the amount of attention lavished on the walls and fortifications, often warring with each other. In Israel, the cities were not independent states but part of a larger political unit. In the days of the Judges, this was the tribal federation; later on it became the central government in Jerusalem, then the two capitals of the divided monarchy.
    Many Israelite cities were built on Canaanite sites and the newcomers used the existing installations as far as they could be repaired. Such places acquired their Israelite character only over a period of time—which would have been before Lehi’s time.
    For much of the time there was an imperial power lurking in the wings—like Egypt. This power exercised a certain amount of control, for though the land was not rich, and not really worth conquering in its own right, it lay on important trade routes between Egypt and the north and east.
    In the struggle for power between Egypt and Syria or the rulers of Mesopotamia, it was important to control the route up the coast, which turned inland near Megiddo via the Plain of Esdraelon and crossed the Jordan on the road to Damascus. In times of peace, the area was no less important, since it was a center of thriving trade. 
    For any city, the first requirement was the establishment of a reliable water supply. This prompted the widespread use of plastered cisterns, which were apparently introduced at the time of the settlement of the Israelites in the land, centuries before Lehi.
    The availability of water remained, as in Canaanite times, the essential factor in the choice of the site for a new city while the size of the water supply remained decisive for the development of the city. It was also very important that a city ensure safe access to this water if under siege or attack. In Jerusalem, the system of making underground tunnels to bring water into the citadel was further developed.
Where the Israelites found the fortifications of a city still in good repair, they were content to maintain them. If the fortifications had been destroyed, or in new settlements, the Israelites established their own system of defences. If a site had no natural defence (e. g. the slope of a hill), a thick bank of earth would be raised and the wall itself constructed on top of the tell.
(See the next post, “Ancient Bible and Book of Mormon Cities – Part II,” for more information on the type of construction Nephi, Sam and Zoram would have known in Jerusalem, and what Nephi would have taught his people to build)


  1. When posting, the text is inserted first and corrected, then pictures added, then an overall reading for correction is done. There should be pictures by the end of the process--which takes about 15 minutes or so.