Wednesday, January 8, 2020

All of the Middle East Built in Mud Brick and Stone

We receive comment from time to time regarding points that are inconsistent with the scriptural and historical record. Recently, a reader sent in a comment in which he said, in part, “The Nephites built with wood; their houses in Jerusalem and surrounding areas were not cut stone. It is quite clear they built with wood (Hel 3:5-11).” Another comment received along this line states: “I think that the mistake comes whenever somebody claims that the Nephites built exclusively of wood or exclusively with stone. The scriptures are clear that they used both. While many homes may have been primarily of wood, their important buildings were of stone—temples, fortresses, palaces, fortifications, anything meant to last.”
    The fact of the matter is, most theorists, especially those involving North America (Heartland, Great Lakes, etc.) have the wrong idea of how buildings in the Middle East were constructed, and of what material, thus they feel free to comment on such not knowing the errors of their opinion. This is based on the assumption, and correctly so, that most people, given the means and skill, built in new areas according to what they were used to in the location from which they came.
    Thus, the early colonial Europeans when arriving in the New World from England, etc., built wood structures like those they had known in in the Old World; those from Spain/Portugal built out of mud brick as they had known. Thus, to know what method the Nephites used for building was based on that which was common in the area from which they came—mostly Jerusalem.
Top: England and Europeans built with wood as early as permanent housing existed; Bottom: When the Romans were in England, they built with stone, but Englanders never adopted that style of building

Now, in looking at the building methods used in the Middle East, it is easy to see what type of building material was used there, and therefore, what the Nephites used for building their cities in the Land of Promise. First of all, it should be noted that the people in ancient Palestine used two types of housing: 1 tents, and 2) houses. The former was found among those who lived a wandering nomadic Bedouin life style. These were people who lived in the wildernesses of the Middle East, moving around a lot because of water and the lack of foliage for their crops. The latter were those who lived in villages and cities on a permanent basis, where numerous people gathered for their common good and protection.
    Most of the tribal people in the Book of Genesis were nomads who lived in tents and traveled with their flocks. They were often on the move, looking for fresh pasture for their flocks, water, and a shaded oases. This constant movement necessitated a moveable dwelling, and tents were idea for that life style.
    Initially the area of the high hills between the Jordan and the coastal plain was dry and infertile. Many waves of people had, however, succeeded each other there, but the hazards and uncertainties of growing crops explain why nomadism always prevailed in Canaan at the very earliest date.
    The early people there have been designated proto-Canaanites by modern-day scholars because they had not yet established an identifiable culture. They worked in stone and developed trade with other nations, and by 2000 BC, began building permanent housing in the area. Initially, this area of Palestine, to which the early Patriarchs moved toward, and which first had a nomadic existence with only seasonal settlements (such as the site of the later city of Jericho).
    However, around 2000 BC permanent settlements were founded and the practice of animal husbandry established earlier, was developed further. When the early patriarchs traveled in Canaan or Palestine, they noted that the inhabitants of those areas lived in villages and fortified towns, and had a settled way of life.
Top: Palestinian village 16 miles south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast dating to BC period; Bottom: Typical layout of a Jerusalem home. Note both structures were made of stone

As early as 1570 BC, Canaanite cities were walled and well-fortified (Joshua J. Mark, “Canaan,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, UK, 23 October 2018). The Israelites soon saw the advantages of town life and began to live in permanent settlements. Clusters of houses sprang up wherever there was good land in Canaan and later Palestine that could be farmed, some claiming Jerusalem was first begun in 3000 BC. King David made Jerusalem his city in 1000 BC, and Solomon built the first temple there about 40 years later.
    That temple, dated to 960 BC, was made of stone. The wood used was for inside paneling, however, that was then covered with sheets of gold. During the time of David, houses largely replaced tents in most parts of the world as agriculture and settled villages replaced the nomadic way of life, though tents continued in use throughout biblical times—even right up to modern times.
    Stone for building, or mud and straw for mud bricks, was plentiful in most of Palestine, and stone was generally used at least in the foundations of all houses, with mudbrick walls and interior divisions (Elizabeth Fletcher, Women in the Bible: An Historical Approach, Harper Collins, New York, 1997).
    At first, the basic floor plan followed the layout of the tents: one long room at the front, and another one immediately behind it.
    However, as villages became the predominant pattern of life, the basic floor plan of a modest house changed. Now it had a central courtyard with a number of rooms opening off it, which rooms were small by our standards, with a minimum of windows. Lattice work and shutters were used to cover window openings. The size of the rooms, of course, were limited by the fact that rooms could only be as wide as the beams that supported the roof. Beams, usually wooden and roughly shaped, reached from one wall to the other, and were covered with a mixture of woven branches and clay, which was smoothed with a stone roller.
    The inner walls were finished with a smooth coat of clay or plaster, which could be decorated with frescoes, which were elaborate in the houses of the rich, simpler in the houses of ordinary people. Wide benches of mud brick or stone for sitting and sleeping, and shelves for storage, were built into the structure itself.
    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. Stairs or a wooden ladder led up onto the roof, which was used as an outdoor room that was partly shaded by matting or a tent-like superstructure, and the preferred sleeping area during the warm summer months. In some cases, the roof was where bathing took place, as seen in the case of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-4).
Ancient outside door leading into the interior courtyard of a Jerusalem home

The central courtyard contained such items as the mikveh, a pool of clean rainwater used for ritual cleansing by both men and women; a stone-based cooking area with a fire, cooking utensils and possibly an oven; a stone or clay implements for grinding small amounts of grain; a covered area where people sat while they worked or talked; and a covered area for animals. This outside area was, if the weather was good, a center of activity and socializing.
    By modern standards, the houses of people in ancient Palestine were sparsely furnished. Ordinary people sat on cushions or mats on the floor to eat, rather than sitting on chairs at a table. They slept on padded matting filled with stuffing. Tables, couches and beds were only used in the houses of the rich.
    It should also be noted that these houses had no outside property within the city area; space was at a premium, necessitating people living with their animals at close quarters. Animals, if had at all, were kept in the lower level of the house off the inner courtyard.
    Walls and large buildings in the Israelite cities were built of hewn stone, frequently inferior in quality to that used in the preceding Canaanite constructions. The stone used for house building varied from common field stones or bigger roughly shaped quarry stones held together with plenty of clay mortar, to carefully wrought dressed quarry stone.
    A typical Israelite wall was made of a mixture of hewn wrought and unhewn stones, the wrought stones being used for corners (cornerstones) and as headers and stretchers at fixed intervals; the space between them was filled by rough stones embedded in mortar.
    This was a quick and cheap method of building. The city itself was surrounded by an inner and an outer wall, as most cities were at the time, with the outer wall surrounding the whole city, protecting it from foreign intruders with the inner wall enclosing a central administrative compound for palace, temples, and large-scale food storage. Well-to-do people lived in the central compound, while poor and disreputable people lived in the outer compound, between the two walls.
Most Native Americans in the Great Lakes region lived in hogans or wigwams

Thus question that every theorist should ask themselves is whether the Nephites, coming from this background and knowledge through Nephi, Sam and Zoram, built like those buildings from which they came, or would have built in a medium relatively unknown to them—wood, for houses, walls and stockades, such as seen in the Colonial period of North America.
    In the case of the latter, the Great Lakes and the Heartland had a completely different skill and building pattern. In the Great Lakes, they lived in hogans and in the heartland in wigwams or wickiups.
Top: Hogans; Bottom: Wickiup

It need only be considered that Nephi, Sam and Zoram understood houses to be built of stone and mud brick, and thus knew about mud-brick building, and knew about cutting and dressing stone cut from quarries, for that was the only type of building known to them. Why, then, would any theorist suggest that North America was the home of the Nephites when not a single such building has survived to today, yet the stone buildings of the past three thousand years are still noticeable, but do not exist anywhere in North America.
    With that said, the North American model, which lacks any stone structure remains of important buildings and fortifications throughout any part of the land, consider this to be where Lehi settled and the Nephite nation, with its 1000-year ancient history of development and achievement, was located.
    For the most part, these North American theorists want us to believe that Nephi, who was taught by the Lord (1 Nephi 18:2-4) then taught his followers how to build (2 Nephi 5:15), built contrary to their background and knowledge. Obviously, the attitude among North American theorists that the Nephites were very primitive running around in building stick huts to be ludicrous. If one is to find the Nepihites in the Western Hemisphere, then one needs to look for cultures that pretty much mimic the Palestinians of 600 BC, for that is what they knew and the understanding they brought with them when they arrived in the Americas.

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