Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ancient Bible and Book of Mormon Cities – Part III

Continuing from the previous post, in discussing the types of construction that was known in Jerusalem and Israel in the centuries between David and Lehi, to show what type of construction that Nephi, Sam and Zoram would have known and lived around, and no doubt would have implemented in their building of the City of Nephi and the land of the Nephites in those early years. 
As for individual houses, Israelite homes were built around a central courtyard which would be used for all household tasks such as preparing and cooking food. Around it, on the ground, floor, were workshops and storerooms containing, for instance, the great jars in which oil and grain were stored, while in the upper story the family slept, four to six to a room, in winter. In summer, they slept on the cool, flat roofs.
    In addition, within Jerusalem and most cities, space was at a premium, thus the inner courtyard provided individual privacy as well as security, and buildings were very close together with narrow streets (like alleys of today). Thus, any individual gardens, such as that described by Mormon: “it was upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla; therefore, Nephi had bowed himself upon the tower which was in his garden, which tower was also near unto the garden gate by which led the highway” (Helaman 7:10) were typically built on the flat roofs to save space.
Houses were built next to each other and next to public buildings; palaces and the temple were behind walls within the walled city. As the city expanded over time, more walls around it were built, providing several walled sections within the overall walled city
This system of building seems to have been developed in answer to the country's shortage of long straight timbers. Standing timber such as pine and cypress were mostly used up in the early stage of house-building during the 12th and 11th centuries B.C., when settled life extended through Palestine and villages grew into towns. No timber was imported from neighboring lands except for public buildings erected by the Kings, such as David and Solomon, the latter using cedars from Lebanon in his temple.
    Ruined houses of the 10th century B.C. rarely have the upper parts of the walls or the roofs still in place when excavated, but evidence shows that in the lower stories the rooms were plastered and of medium size, generally 13 to 16 feet square. A house would serve an entire family, from grandparents down to grandchildren. From the limited number of rooms in each dwelling it seems likely that they housed between one and two dozen people. One of the rooms on the ground floor was usually reserved for livestock while provisions were often stored in the living rooms.
The houses were probably arranged according to the groupings of different families, the "beit-ab" for the whole clan being in whatever was considered the best or most prominent position, a rural organization being thus gradually transplanted into urban conditions. 
    In these homes of Jerusalem that Nephi would have known, the main courtyard was surrounded by a collection of rooms or huts, sometimes built on pillars. Beside this, there were other more modest dwellings, like these rooms and group of houses from Megiddo. Houses like these appear to have been more numerous. A private lane connected the "big house" and its dependent smaller ones, while each grouping was separated from the next by an alley. The only means of communication through the town was along these alleys or, more probably, through the courtyards. Strict privacy within the family was not something to be looked for in a town of this period.
Two examples of an ancient house in Jerusalem, with an inner courtyard and rooms branching off of it on three sides, and a upper story surrounding it
    It is most likely that Nephi would have built his home, and Sam and Zoram as well, after the style, manner and size of home they were used to at Jerusalem. After all, they certainly had the building skills, having built a ship that carried them across the ocean, and also built a Temple like unto Solomon’s. They would have been used to such homes and their city to be of cut stone just like they had known—in fact, it is unlikely they would have ever seen anything other than cut stone, both hewn and unhewn, polished and rough.
    To claim, as Great Lakes and Eastern U.S. theorists do that Nephi and later Nephites built wooden stockades and forts is not only unlikely, it would have been without precedent for the Nephites to have done so.
    The lay-out of the walled cities of the period is repeated in many instances. Inside, and a little distance from the walls was the ring road with houses, the gap between them and the wall being used as storage silos. Within this frame, the center of the city followed no discernible plan, but was a closely-built maze of cramped alleys and dwellings. It was not that land was not available, but cities were built within an outer wall, and as the city filled with more and more people and dwellings, the land space within became less and less until no more was available, causing an extension of the outer wall, i.e., building another outer wall, either further out, or in a different direction. This usually occurred after several houses had been built outside the original walled area.
    In addition, as the city filled, streets (alleyways) became smaller until they were quite cramped.
As buildings abutted the streets, the enclosed area became a maze of rock structures as well as the street itself being paved with cobblestone or cut stones as seen here in these streets of Jerusalem that Nephi would have known
    While the family and clan remained the central units of Hebrew society, such town-construction began to grow around the family clans. During the 12th, 11th and 10th centuries B.C., tribal bonds weakened and were replaced by a central government. This gave cities and their organization a new status. They now featured public buildings and the outer walls were strengthened, main gates were reinforced and often extended into embrasure enclosures.
    Because the issue was defense, these walls and gates were made of stone, typically quite thick, and very tall. The eventual wall around Jerusalem grew to thirty and then forty feet in height. Such was necessary because of the expanding ability of warfare technique. In the time of the Nephites, they were constantly under attack or threat of attack from the Lamanites, and their cities from the very beginning would have been well protected. The walls built around the City of Nephi called Sacsayhuaman above Cuzco in Peru is a remarkable, nearly impregnable defensive position. When Nephi built swords for the defense of his people (2 Nephi 5:14), he obviously would have built defensive walls of stone as he had known at Jerusalem.
(See the next post, “Ancient Bible and Book of Mormon Cities – Part IV,” for the final in this series, showing how Book of Mormon cities should resemble those of 600 B.C. Jerusalem of which Nephi, Sam and Zoram would have been quite familiar)

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