Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Remarkable Similarity

We have written here many times about the resorts, forts and fortresses the Nephites built to guard their lands against the Lamanites.
Seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats—having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the least aright before him; doing no justice unto the children of men to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills
And from that enemy list, we should not forget the Gadianton Robbers, which was a “secret combination,” that is, a secret criminal organization in ancient America, who targeted both Nephites and Lamanites. While the majority of the Nephite conflicts in the Book of Mormon occur with the Lamanites, the most destructive conflicts are those that come at the hands of the secret combinations, and specifically the Gadianton robbers.
    The Lamanites might be the Nephites’ most common enemy, but the Gadianton robbers are the most dangerous. This combination of longevity, sporadic appearance, and ultimate danger, make the Gadianton robbers and secret combinations an important study in understanding the message of the Book of Mormon. The elucidation of this complex interaction of time, text, and meaning must necessarily center on both Mormon’s text and the ancient cultural environment of that text, which is a separate subject in and of itself. For now, we are looking at the open attacks on the Nephite cities and towns that warrant their defense.
    It should be noted that in the last century BC, the Nephites were mostly wicked, and much infighting among themselves occurred as well as Lamanite attacks. As is often the case when the righteous need a man to gather around, the Lord sent the Nephites Moroni, who at the age of 25 was given command of all the Nephite armies (Alma 43;16-17).
Captain Moroni fought against all of the Nephite enemies
As Mormon tells us, “Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery; a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people; and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood” (Alma 48:11-13).
    The first thing Moroni did as the Chief Captain, or Commander of the Nephite armies (Alma 46:11), who had been appointed by the chief judges and the voice of the people, therefore he had power according to his will with the armies of the Nephites, to establish and to exercise authority over them (Alma 46:34), was to equip his army with breastplates and arm-shields, and also shields to defend their heads, and he had them dress in thick clothing as a shield against arrows, clubs and swords (Alma 43:19). Such advanced thinking, Moroni had given his army an immediate advantage over the Lamanites who were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites (Alma 43:21).
    The next thing Moroni did was to strengthen the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land (Alma 48:8). He placed a greater number of men in their weakest fortifications, and all through the land, preparing to support their liberty.
Small hilltop fort in ancient Peru

Now it should be noted that these forts and smaller resorts were placed throughout the land, and evidently on the tops of hills (Mosiah 11:13), since the resorts were small forts or outposts and evidently used for warning sites or places for refuge because the Lamanites constantly attacked without warning. It is also noted that some of the Nephite battles took place upon the hills (Alma 2:15,17), where some of the Nephites lived (Alma 26:29).
    It should also be noted that the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives (Alma 48:14). It should be also be noted that much of the life of Captain Moroni, who was in charge of all the Nephites armies in the last century BC., was in the defense of his nation, and each city within the Nation. He built forts throughout the land, and protected them with walls of stone throughout the land (Alma 48:8).
    Obviously, then, we should not only find many such forts on the high ground as well as stone walls about them in the Land of Promise. Not just advanced architectural buildings, but surrounded by high stone walls meant to defend the city against enemies.
    One question that has not been asked, let alone answered, is “what caused the Nephites to build that way, fortresses mostly on hilltops with massive stone walls surrounding them?”
The hilltop fortress in Israel known as Khirbet Qeiyafam considered to be Shaarayim of the Old Testament

It might be of interest to know that recently archaeologists in Israel found such a hill top fortress located on the summit of a hill that borders the Elah Valley eighteen miles southwest of Jerusalem. (some identify the site with biblical Shaarayim (1 Samuel 17:52).
    According to author and excavation director Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigael Yadin Chair in Archaeology of Eretz Yisrael and Professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the site was a key strategic location. Garfinkel, who is the author of numerous books, articles and papers and holder of the Polonsky Book Prize, is currently excavating at Tel Lachish in Israel. He summarizes the remarkable findings and implications from his excavation of an ancient fortified city in the biblical Kingdom of Judah, on the main road from Philistia and the coastal plain to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron in the hill country.
Walls surrounded the inner stone buildings all around the hill top fortress

The site, overlooking the surrounding landscape very near where the battle between Goliath and David took place. The city has the most impressive First Temple period fortifications, including casemate city wall and two gates, one in the west and the other in the south, identical in size and consisting of four chambers. This is the only known city from the First Temple period with two gates.
    The urban planning of Khirbet Qeiyafa includes the casemate city wall and a belt of houses abutting the casemates, incorporating them as part of the construction. Such urban planning has not been found at any Canaanite or Philistine city, nor in the northern Kingdom of Israel, but is a typical feature of city planning in Judean cities: Beersheba, Tell Beit Mirsim, Tell en-Nasbeh and Tell Beth-Shemesh. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example of this city plan and indicates that this pattern had already been developed by the time of King David.
    It was constructed on bedrock surrounded by massive fortifications of megalithic stones and a city wall 10 to 19½ foot tall, that demarcates an area of 2.3 hectares with a total length of 2300 feet. Due to the local topography, only the external face of the wall is exposed, the inner part buried under archaeological remains. The base of the wall is composed of cyclopean stones, some weighing 4–5 tons, while its upper part is built with medium-sized stones (Yosef Garfinkel, “Khirbet Qeiyafa, the Biblical Tradition and king David,” Popular Archaeology, December 13, 2017).
Left Emile Peuch; Right: Yosef Garfinkel
    Uncovered at the site in 2008, was the sherd referred to as the Qeiyafa Ostracon (a potsherd used as a writing surface), which is the earliest text on birth of the Kingdom of Israel at the time of Saul and David. Its significance has captivated the attention of epigrapher and archaeologists alike, as the diversity of translations and interpretations have simultaneously kept the Khirbet Qeiyafa sherd in the spotlight and shrouded it in mystery.
    According to the highly regarded French epigrapher Émile Puech , Director of research for the École biblique ret archéologique francaise Jerusalem, and member of the editorial team for the Dead Sea manuscripts, who without a doubt is one of the foremost Qumran specialists provides one of the most groundbreaking interpretations, presenting the Qeiyafa Ostracon as the earliest text on the formation of the Kingdom of Israel and the only artifact referencing King Saul.
    Gerard Leval writes “for Puech, the text announces the installation of a centralized royal administration and it makes this announcement to a distant frontier province. He concedes that it is difficult to establish with certainty whether the new royal administration is that of Saul or David—most likely, the ostracon refers to Saul’s accession.” The inscription focuses on the transition from the period of the judges to the monarchy rather than from one king to another (Gerard Lreval, Newly Discovered: A Fortified City of King David’s Time,” Biblical Archaeology Society, May 7, 2012).
    This brings us back to the question: “What caused the Nephites to build fortresses mostly on hilltops with massive stone walls surrounding them?”
    Obviously, it was a method of building forts in Israel since David’s time and Nephi, Sam and Zoram would have been familiar with such construction and purpose. The similarity is remarkable in construction, purpose and positioning.

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