Previous: Introduction to the Book of Isaiah  |      Book Home      |   Next: The Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals and Their Relationship to King Benjamin's Speech

Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi

For part of the material in this article I acknowledge Jeffrey R. Chadwick and his article "Lehi's House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance" (Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem, 81-130).

Lehi's Home and the Land of His Inheritance

Where did Lehi and his family live before their departure into the wilderness? Nephi reported that Lehi had "dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days" (1 Nephi 1:4) and that he had "his own house at Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 1:7). We also read of a "land of his inheritance" (1 Nephi 2:4), which, along with his house and his riches, Lehi left behind when he took his family into the wilderness. But what was the connection between the two: Jerusalem and Lehi's land of inheritance? Indeed, was there any connection at all? Brother Chadwick has concluded, and evidence for his conclusions are contained later in this article, that Lehi's house was located in the city quarter of ancient Jerusalem called the Mishneh (the same location today is part of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City). He has further concluded that Lehi's land of inheritance was a piece of real estate about fifty kilometers (thirty miles) north of Jerusalem, in the former tribal area of Manasseh (see the illustration, Territories of the Tribes), which Lehi owned by virtue of his having inherited a deed to the property and which he probably visited on occasion in order to manage the affairs of the land. Brother Chadwick suggests that Lehi maintained no residence at the land of inheritance. This tribal area of Manasseh was likely first so designated shortly after Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised land.

Before continuing it is necessary to dismiss a misconception that has been in circulation among Latter-day Saint students for many years. In his 1952 book Lehi in the Desert, Hugh Nibley suggested the following about the residence of Lehi: "Though he 'dwelt at Jerusalem,' Lehi did not live in the city, for it was after they had failed to get the plates in Jerusalem that his sons decided to 'go down to the land of our father's inheritance' (1 Nephi 3:16), and there gather enough wealth to buy the plates from Laban" (7). The oft-repeated notion that Lehi's house was not inside the city of Jerusalem but somewhere well outside the city on his land of inheritance is simply incorrect. Also incorrect is the idea that Lehi's land of inheritance was a plot of real estate close enough to the city of Jerusalem to be within the boundaries of the greater land of Jerusalem. Lehi's house is sometimes said to have been "at Jerusalem" but not in the city of Jerusalem, but this whole notion is not tenable since it does not correspond to the information in the Book of Mormon text. To his credit, Nibley himself later realized this error and offered a correction in his 1958 work, An Approach to the Book of Mormon:

He [Lehi] had "his own house at Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 1:7); yet he was accustomed to "go forth" from the city from time to time (1 Nephi 1:5-7), and his paternal estate, the land of his inheritance, where the bulk of his fortune reposed, was some distance from the town (1 Nephi 3:16; 1 Nephi 3:22; 1 Nephi 2:4) (46-47).

Here, Nibley correctly alludes to the fact that Lehi's house at Jerusalem was inside the city itself and that his land of inheritance was a distinctly different location from both his house and Jerusalem. In this conclusion Nibley is certainly correct, although he offers no specifics concerning the questions of the location of the land of inheritance or its direction from Jerusalem, nor does he attempt to locate Lehi's house in any specific location within Jerusalem's walls. Let us consider both of these questions.

It seems clear that Nephi meant for readers of his record to understand that his father Lehi lived in the city of Jerusalem itself, not somewhere outside the city walls. In the same verse in which he reports that his father had "dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days," Nephi calls Jersualem "the great city" (1 Nephi 1:4)-in other words, by saying "Jerusalem" Nephi was making reference to the city itself, not merely the land of Jerusalem region in which the city was located. When Lehi "went forth" to pray (1 Nephi 1:5), he was probably exiting the city walls, just as Nephi himself did later when he said, "I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls" (1 Nephi 4:27). It is entirely possible that Lehi went eastward from the walls of Jerusalem. Immediately east of Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives, a perfect place for Lehi's private prayer-he would even have been able to gaze over the Temple Mount and Solomon's temple from that location. Lehi's house clearly seems to have been located within the walls of Jerusalem.

Lehi's land of inheritance is first alluded to in 1 Nephi 2:4. Later, speaking to his brothers, Nephi called it "the land of our father's inheritance" (1 Nephi 3:16). But the real estate seems to have been destined to be passed on to Lehi's sons, for Nephi also calls it "the land of our inheritance" (1 Nephi 3:22, emphasis added). The land of inheritance is not to be confused with the land of Jerusalem first mentioned in 1 Nephi 3:9. From the text of 1 Nephi as a whole, two things are obvious about the land of Jerusalem region: (1) The city of Jerusalem is obviously within the boundaries of the land of Jerusalem, and (2) the land of Jerusalem is a totally different region from Lehi's land of inheritance. These observations are corroborated by three features of Nephi's text: (1) Nephi and his brothers return from the valley of Lemuel up to the land of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 3:9). (2) They then go down to the land of inheritance to collect Lehi's gold and silver (1 Nephi 3:16; 1 Nephi 3:22). (3) Finally, Nephi and his brothers return back up again to Jerusalem (1 Nephi 3:23). It is important to remember that in the idiom of Nephi, one always went up to come to Jerusalem, and one always went down when exiting Jerusalem. This is also the Hebrew idiom employed in the Bible and probably relates to the relative elevation of Jerusalem above all of the surrounding lands. It should be clear, then, that when Nephi and his brothers do down to the land of inheritance, they are in fact leaving the region of Jerusalem. The land of Jerusalem is clearly not the same as the land of inheritance. Since the location of Jerusalem has not changed, the question now becomes: Where was the land of inheritance?

The most likely location for Lehi's ancestral real estate in the ancient land of Israel was the region of Manasseh. Lehi is reported to have been a descendant of Manasseh, the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt (see 1 Nephi 5:14 and Alma 10:3). The ancient tribe of Manasseh possessed large tracts of land on both sides of the Jordan River. As described in the Bible (Joshua 13:29-31 and 17:7-10), the territory of Manasseh east of the Jordan was equivalent to the area of the modern Golan and the area north of modern Amman, Jordan. West of the Jordan, Manasseh held territory in what came to be known as the Samaria region, from the Jezreel Valley on the north to Tappuah on the south-Tappuah being about twenty-one miles north of Jerusalem. Historical considerations suggest that the Manasseh region west of the Jordan was more likely than any other segment of Manasseh to have been the location of Lehi's ancestral land tract.

Let us now explore the question of how the people of Manasseh came to live in Jerusalem, making it possible for Lehi to have been born there and to have dwelled there all his days until the time of his exodus in 1 Nephi 2.

The Assyrian Conquest of the Kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom)

We will consider the history of the conquest of the Northern tribe of Israel by Assyria which history bears significantly on the probable history of Lehi's forebears. Israelite tribes were deported from the land of Israel in connection with Assyrian conquests between 732 and 722 BC. These deportations occurred in several different actions. The earliest action, carried out by the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-pileser III and known as the First Northern Deportation, involved the transfer of Israelites from the northern part of the land of Israel and also from across the Jordan in Gilead (where half of Manasseh's territory was found). This First Northern Deportation occurred about 732, and 2 Kings 15 reports it thus: "In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria" (2 Kings 15:29).

A subsequent series of deportations, known collectively as the Second Northern Deportation, was carried out by the Assyrian emperors Shalmaneser V and Sargon II between 724 and 722 BC, resulting in the transfer of Israelites from the hill country of Samaria-the area of Ephraim and the western area of Manasseh. 2 Kings 17 reports it this way: "Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozen, and in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:5-6).

The two northern deportations involved many thousands of Israelites of the northern tribes. A line from the Display Inscriptions of Sargon II contains a specific number of deportees that were taken from the city of Samaria: "I besieged and conquered Samaria [and] led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants of it" (James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1958), 1:195.) The so-called Annals of Sargon II make it clear that the Samaria spoken of in this inscription was not the whole countryside but the Israelite capital city itself, which had endured the three-year siege, only to fall in 722 BC. These 27,290 deportees taken when the city of Samaria fell, and many thousands more from all parts of the northern kingdom of Israel, were resettled far away among gentile peoples and gradually merged with those foreign cultures, eventually forgetting their Israelite lineage and heritage. The total number of Israelite deportees probably exceeded one hundred thousand and could possibly have been as high as two hundred thousand. Collectively, they became the lost tribes of Israel, not because they did not know where they were, but because they ultimately forgot who they were.

The Migration of Lehi's Ancestors to Jerusalem

But not all the northern Israelites were deported and lost. Though not directly reported in the Bible, a significant number of Israelites appear to have fled the doomed northern kingdom and migrated as refugees to Judah in the south, settling in Jerusalem and other cities of the southern kingdom. This probably began around 724 BC, incident to the initial attack of Shalmaneser V against Israel in that year (the commencement of the Second Northern Deportation), although refugee movement southward probably continued for several years thereafter. This refugee movement has been demonstrated by archaeologists who excavated at Judean sites during the 1970s. They discerned unusually large population increases at Jerusalem and other locations from levels dating to that period.

The northern kingdom refugees flooding south into Judah between 724 and 722 BC were probably followed by others who were not initially deported from Israel by the Assyrians but who felt compelled to move southward in the years between 722 and 715 BC because of the destruction of their land and government and because of the Assyrian importation of large numbers of gentile foreigners (see 2 Kings 17:24). Those foreigners became known as Samaritans and continued to live for centuries in the region the Assyrians called Samaria. The Israelites who migrated south represented not only Manasseh and Ephraim, but other northern Israelites tribes as well. Passages in 2 Chronicles indicate that these displaced northern Israelites ("you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria"-2 Chronicles 30:6) were invited by their new king, Hezekiah of Judah, to come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival he was reintroducing into Judah. King Hezekiah became sole monarch of Judah in 715 BC, and his Passover invitations were probably extended soon thereafter. The passages in 2 Chronicles seem to refer to northern refugees who were already in Judah but may also have included Israelites who had remained in Samaria and the Galilee and then moved to Judah specifically at Hezekiah's invitation (see 2 Chronicles 30:1; 2 Chronicles 30:6; 2 Chronicles 30:11; 2 Chronicles 30:18; 2 Chronicles 30:25). These passages indicate that northern Israelites of several tribal lines, including Manasseh and Ephraim, had made their way to Judah to escape the Assyrians and were living at Jerusalem and at other locations in the southern kingdom by the time of King Hezekiah's Passover about 715 BC.

The Mishneh of Jerusalem

The recently arrived refugees who decided to settle at Jerusalem began to build new homes on the western hill of the ancient city, an area that is known today as the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. By Lehi's day, this area had become known by the Hebrew name Mishneh, a term that means "addition." The Mishneh was a second, or additional part of ancient Jerusalem, which began essentially as a refugee camp for the arrivals from the north after 724 BC but was eventually considered part of the city of Jerusalem proper. Other parts of the city, populated centuries earlier than the Mishneh, were the city of David, the Temple Mount, and the Makhtesh (a quarter in the city of Jerusalem designated for commercial operations). We even know, within a window of roughly four years, just when this Mishneh was physically annexed to Jerusalem-sometime between 705 and 701 BC. And we can deduce with some certainty that it was to that original Mishneh refugee camp on Jerusalem's western hill that Lehi's Manassite grandparents must have relocated sometime between 724 and 701 BC. How do we know all this? We know this because of Sennacherib. Please read on.

The Assyrian Attack on Judah

Some twenty years after the fall of the Israelite capital at Samaria, the Assyrians attacked the kingdom of Judah, destroying the entire southern kingdom (except for Jerusalem) and deporting hundreds of thousands of people. This dreadful event took place in the aftermath of King Hezekiah's decision to withdraw Judah from the alliance with Assyria that his father, King Ahaz, had entered into around 733 BC. Against the wishes of the Lord and the advice of the prophet Isaiah (see 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7-8), King Ahaz had concluded a treaty with the Assyrians that made Judah a client kingdom to their empire. Ahaz's actions resulted, among other things, in Assyrian idolatry's being introduced into the temple at Jerusalem and in Judah's agreeing to pay a hefty tribute to the Assyrian empire. But it had also made Judah safe from Assyrian attack, which made the southern kingdom a haven for northern kingdom refugees at the time Assyria was destroying the northern kingdom of Israel. King Hezekiah, however, was unhappy with the negative aspects of the arrangement his father had forged, and when the Assyrian emperor Sargon II died in 705 BC, Hezekiah unilaterally canceled the alliance and withheld annual tribute.

Knowing that the new Assyrian king, Sennacherib would not let this defection go unchallenged, Hezekiah undertook several projects between 705 and 701 BC to strengthen Judah against the retaliatory attack he knew would come. He instituted weapons production, food storage, and water projects all over the southern kingdom (see 2 Chronicles 32:1-8). In Jerusalem Hezekiah had his famous tunnel constructed to bring water to a pool inside the city (see 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:30). This allowed Jerusalemites to access their water supply without leaving the safety of their city wall in time of siege. And as for that wall, Hezekiah not only repaired the existing rampart around the City of David but had a huge additional wall built to surround the outer suburbs of Jerusalem, including both the Makhtesh and the Mishneh refugee camp on the western hill. In 2 Chronicles 32, this wall was referred to as "another wall without," meaning an additional wall outside the original wall (see 2 Chronicles 32:5). What 2 Chronicles called "another wall" was later called the "broad wall" in Nehemiah 3:8. The name was fitting, for the wall was constructed of solid stone and measured seven meters (23 feet) thick at the base. Remnants of this massive rampart, which stood approximately eight meters (nearly 27 feet) high, were discovered in 1970.

Hezekiah's new wall around the western hills of Jerusalem afforded the northern Israelite refugee residents of the Mishneh camp (which probably included the great-grandparents and grand parents of Lehi) safety from the attack of Sennacherib's Assyrian forces in 701 BC. But the people of Jerusalem were the only ones who were spared the devastating effects of the Assyrian invasion.

The biblical account in 2 Kings emphasizes that every city of Judah other than Jerusalem was taken by the Assyrians in Sennacherib's attack on the country in 701 BC: "Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced [i.e., walled] cities of Judah, and took them" (2 Kings 18:13; see also Isaiah 36:1). The story of horror, suffering, torture, and death implicit in this abbreviated statement is not always obvious to readers moving quickly through the Bible. But more details of the attack were recorded by Sennacherib himself. This account is preserved in cuneiform on a hexagonal pottery relic known as Sennacherib's Prism. It details Hezekiah's rebellion against the emperor and notes both the number of Judean cities destroyed and the huge total of Judean deportees carried away into captivity:

As to Hezekiah the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts, and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered them by means of . . . earth ramps and battering rams. . . . I drove out of them 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered them booty. Himself [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city's gate. His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them over to . . . [Philistine kings in the area]. Thus I reduced his country, but I still increased the tribute (Pritchard, Ancient Near East, 1:200).

This total of Judean deportees was staggering! The Assyrians were accomplished accountants, and this total (200,150) is likely accurate. They knew just how many people they would be deporting, where the deportees were coming from, and where they were being resettled. The Assyrians employed their policies of deportation in order to secure newly conquered territories, like Israel and Judah, into their empire. Deportation served to break the nationalism and identity of conquered populations, thereby minimizing the chances of those populations successfully rebelling against the empire. They captured lands and also created new economic and agricultural master plans for those lands.

Notably, Sennacherib does not claim to have conquered or destroyed Jerusalem. Although he boasted that he had trapped Hezekiah within the city "like a caged bird," he does not claim to have gained access to the inside of the cage to get the bird. The account in 2 Kings 19 (and repeated in Isaiah 37) explains how Hezekiah prayed to the Lord for the preservation of Jerusalem and how the Lord answered back through the prophet Isaiah. The conclusion of the Lord's answer was the guarantee that Jerusalem would not fall to the Assyrians, and that the city's inhabitants ("the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah") would survive, not to be deported, but eventually to reconstitute the kingdom of Judah ("again take root downward, and bear fruit upward") (2 Kings 19:30-34).

The concluding episode and the Lord's intervention in this saga is described in 2 Kings 19:35-36: "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh." Actually, a more plausible translation is "185 soldiers." The Hebrew word elef is correctly rendered as "thousand" in the King James Version, but in this passage and some others, it may have been vocalized as aluf (same consonantal spelling), indicating a single individual, like a tribal chief (as in Genesis 36) or a professional soldier (Holladay, Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 17).

So Jerusalem was spared, even though every other city of Judah had been destroyed, and over two hundred thousand of their survivors were deported to eastern regions of the Assyrian empire. It is estimated that no more than about twenty thousand persons lived inside the city of Jerusalem in 701 BC, a figure about one-tenth of the population of Judah that the Assyrians deported. It is important to remember that, after 701 BC, those twenty thousand or so residents of Jerusalem were essentially all that was left of Judah. Indeed, those twenty thousand represented the only remnant of the entire house of Israel that was not taken away by the Assyrians. This is the reality reflected in the first chapter of Isaiah, composed incident to the 701 siege: "Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: our land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers" (Isaiah 1:7).

It has often been maintained that the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and deported by the Assyrians but that the southern kingdom of Judah remained essentially unaffected. In the case of Judah, however, nothing could be farther from the truth. Some ninety percent of the kingdom of Judah-consisting not only of people whose tribal heritage was Judah, but of many refugees and other citizens of Judah whose tribal heritage was of Ephraim or Manasseh, Dan or Asher, Zebulon or Naphtali-was also taken away, and became part of "lost Israel." In this regard, it is perhaps more accurate to speak not of the ten lost tribes, but of the twelve lost tribes (or at least the 11.9 lost tribes) since the majority of all twelve tribes, including Judah, was carried away captive by the Assyrians.

The point of reporting this involved history of the Assyrian deportations of both Israel and Judah is to demonstrate where Lehi's great-grandparents must have settled after leaving Manasseh and where his grandparents must have lived-they had to have settled and lived in Jerusalem. Had they settled and lived anywhere else in Judah, they would have either been killed or deported in the Assyrian attack of 701 BC. This is important not only in locating Lehi's house (which seems most likely to have been in Jerusalem's Mishneh, as will be explained below) but particularly in locating the land of his inheritance. Models that suggest that the land of inheritance was somewhere in Judah very near Jerusalem, in other words in the greater land of Jerusalem, are likely incorrect. If Lehi's ancestors had obtained land and settled anywhere outside the actual limits of Hezekiah's Jerusalem walls, those people would have disappeared in the 701 BC debacle. And models that suggest that the land of inheritance was somewhere in southwest Judah (the so-called Beit Lei area and the tomb mistakenly called the Lehi Cave) are not supported by the evidence. Had Lehi's ancestors obtained land and settled in that region, or anywhere else outside Jerusalem, they would likely have fallen victim to the Assyrians-having been killed or deported-and Lehi would not have eventually been born at Jerusalem. Two things about Lehi's heritage emerge very clearly from the study of Assyrian actions in Israel and Judah: (1) Lehi's eighth century BC progenitors have to have settled in Jerusalem and cannot be expected to have obtained land elsewhere in Judah; therefore, (2) Lehi's land of inheritance must have been a tract in the north-a tract in western Manasseh-for which his ancestors, perhaps his great-grandparents, had retained a written deed when they fled around 724 BC.

Why Western Manasseh?

Why western Manasseh as the land of Lehi's inheritance? The answer to this question requires us to explore yet another page of historical geography. For over half a century following the 701 BC attack, the Assyrian empire controlled all territory in Judah. Even though Sennacherib had lifted his siege of Jerusalem and gone back to Nineveh, he left occupying troops behind. He granted the Philistines, Judah's neighbor-enemies to the west on the coastal plain, permission to occupy and farm the hilly, fertile lands of Judah left behind after the deportation of their Israelite inhabitants. This was a significant and, in retrospect, very fortunate departure from the normal Assyrian practice of importing subjugated peoples from other areas of their empire to be resettled in newly conquered regions, such as had taken place in the Galilee and in Samaria. Even though the immediate result was that Judean land, like the Galilee and Samaria, was possessed by foreigners (as Isaiah 1:7 puts it: "your land, strangers devour it in your presence"), the Philistines were not strangers from afar. Rather they had come from right next door and could be forced back out of Judah to their own coastal home when Judah eventually revived as a nation released from Assyrian domination.

By 652 BC Judah's territory had been under Assyrian dominion and Philistine occupation for some fifty years. During those five decades what existed of the actual kingdom of Judah was found essentially within and directly around Jerusalem's limits. For thirty-five of those fifty years, beginning in 687 BC, the city-kingdom was ruled by King Manasseh, a wicked man given over to collaboration with his Assyrian overlords (2 Kings 21:1 reports that Manasseh was king for forty-five years, but this includes ten years of a probable coregency from 697 BC with his father Hezekiah-his sole regency was probably from 687 to 642 BC). Also, by 652 BC the Assyrian empire had stretched itself to the limits of its capacity to control its far-flung territories both in the east and in the west. In that year, the Babylonians rebelled against the Assyrian empire in the east, causing the movement of Assyrian military assets from the west to the east in order to meet the challenge. This spelled the beginning of the end for Assyria along the Mediterranean coast, including its control of Judah, which meant that it was probably only after 652, late in Manasseh's reign, that Judah was again able to control areas outside the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles notes that Manasseh "put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah" (2 Chronicles 33:14). Even though the Babylonian revolt was put down by 648 BC, by the time of Manasseh's death in 642 BC the Assyrian control of both Judah and Philistia had loosened considerably, and Judah was able to act with an increased measure of autonomy. Manasseh's son Amon was assassinated after only two years on the Judean throne (642-640 BC), and his son Josiah was installed as king of Judah in 640 BC at only eight years of age (2 Kings 222:1). Josiah had been born in 648 BC, and it may be surmised that Lehi and Ishmael, as well as the prophet Jeremiah, were probably born about this time (the 640s) -all of them born into a Judah ready to rise again. Judean freedom to act continued to grow during Josiah's younger years on the throne. When Josiah was twenty-one (627 BC), the emperor Assurbanipal died, and the Assyrians completely withdrew from the western part of their former empire in order to concentrate on defending the east. Judah became fully independent under the adult King Josiah, and many Judeans were able to move from the crowded precincts of Jerusalem back to the sites of cities in the Judean countryside, forcing Philistine farmers off Judean lands and resettling and rebuilding towns from Beersheba and Arad in the south to Lachish and Azekah in the west to Gibeon and Mizpah in Judah's north.

King Josiah also introduced sweeping religious reforms including the purging of pagan practices, the eradication of magic and divination (priestcraft), and the centralization of the worship of Jehovah at the temple in Jerusalem. He advocated the reunification of all Israel and stressed the need for deep religious devotion.

Josiah's Judah was not only able to reclaim its own territory, but it also moved into lands of the former northern kingdom of Israel. Josiah sent forces north to take control of the tribal lands of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and Naphtali in the regions of Samaria and the Galilee (2 Chronicles 34:6-7), lands that the Assyrians had abandoned but where the gentile populations they had fostered continued to live and work. By 622 BC, when Josiah reinstituted the Passover festival (see 2 Kings 23:21-23-by this time Lehi and reached adulthood, and Nephi was just about to be born), Josiah's government controlled both the ancient kingdom of Judah and territory of the former kingdom of Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south. However, his dominion ended east the Jordan River. Ancient Israelite territory east of Jordan was not brought under Judah's umbrella-lands east of Jordan were controlled by Ammon, Judah's traditional rival. In terms of the ancient lands associated with Manasseh, this meant that Josiah's Judah only controlled the western part of Manasseh. But it also meant that any Judean whose great-grandparents had owned property in western Manasseh (or any other former northern kingdom territory west of Jordan) could lay claim to that land if they happened to be in possession of century-old deeds to such real estate. Lehi seems to have been in just this situation. In summary, then, neither Lehi's grandparents nor his parents would have been able to travel north from Jerusalem to lay claim to their family land since it was part of the Assyrian province of Samaria and was occupied and farmed by gentiles called Samaritans. However, by the time Lehi was an adult, the Assyrians had completely withdrawn not only from Judah, but also from Samaria and the Galilee, and Judah's subsequent extension of control over Samaria meant that Lehi could lay claim to the property whose deed he would have inherited from his great-grandfather through his grandfather and father. That Lehi could now claim and control his ancestral property in western Manasseh does not mean he maintained a house or household on the property-all indications are that his domestic residence was always at Jerusalem. Lehi's land of inheritance was quite probably farmed by gentile Samaritans whose fathers had paid rent to the Assyrian administration during its tenure of control over the province of Samaria and who themselves were probably under the necessity of paying rent to Lehi after Judah asserted control in Samaria. Such rental receipts would have added to Lehi's personal wealth.

Even though Lehi did not live on the land of inheritance, he had "left gold and silver and all manner of riches" on the property-these were probably buried in caches known only to the family. A common practice during that period was to place loose silver in ceramic jugs and then bury those containers for safekeeping. Lehi probably hid (buried) the bulk of his wealth at a secret location on his land of inheritance in Manasseh because he knew those riches would not be safe in Jerusalem-he knew the Babylonians would eventually destroy and loot the city or, as Nephi put it: "Let us go down to the land of our father's inheritance, for behold he left gold and silver, and all manner of riches. And all this he hath done because of the commandments of the Lord. For he know that Jerusalem just be destroyed" (1 Nephi 3:16-17).

Josiah's reforms set the themes for Lehi's religious upbringing. Undoubtedly through Lehi's influence, the themes of these religious reforms are seen in the attitudes held by Book of Mormon prophets. These include a belief in central temple worship, the abhorrence of priestcrafts (see 2 Nephi 10:5; 2 Nephi 26:29; Alma 1:16), the hope for the eventual reunification of all Israel (see Jacob 5; 2 Nephi 3:13), and the establishment of righteousness and devotion (see 2 Nephi 5:10; Mosiah 2:31).

During the reign of Josiah, an important discovery was made during the renovation of the temple. In 622 BC, probably in a back room, some old records were found which included the long lost "book of the law," the book of Deuteronomy. This discovery had a profound influence on Lehi's generation and hence upon the Book of Mormon. For one thing, it emphasized the spirit rather than the letter of the law. It stressed the need to worship one God, Jehovah, in contrast to multiple pagan gods. It also demonstrated that the word of God would be preserved and would endure even though it may be lost to the world for a time. It also manifest to the Jews the importance of keeping careful religious records, a concern that is evident in Nephi's history (see 1 Nephi 5:18-22; 9:3-6). All of these themes will become central in The Book of Mormon.

Although Josiah's reforms were important and very much needed, unfortunately they did not last. Judah soon began to backslide (see Jeremiah 6:16-21; Jeremiah 7:1-15). Josiah was killed in 609 BC by Egyptian troops, and many in Jerusalem interpreted his death as a sign of divine rejection of his reforms. From 609 to 599 BC Judah was torn by internal political and religious strife, and around them, Egypt and Babylon maneuvered for dominance and control. Politically the land was divided into two parties-pro-Egyptian and pro-Babylonian. The leaders of Judah vacillated between supporting first one, then the other. In 601 BC Egypt prevailed briefly as the army of Egypt forced the Babylonians to withdraw from the land. Encouraged by this victory the king of Judah, Josiah's son Jehoiakim, sided with Egypt and declared war on Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah opposed such a move. The prophets in general opposed political alliances and favored instead Judah's living more obediently and then placing herself and her fate in the hands of God. But the king could not be swayed. These were dangerous times for those like Jeremiah who spoke against the pompous king of Judah.

In the winter of 598-597 BC, the life of king Jehoiakim came to an end under suspicious circumstances just about the same time that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, mustered his army against Jerusalem. Jehoiakim was succeeded by his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin.

In December 598 BC the Babylonians attacked and besieged Jerusalem. Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar on March 10, 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar overran the city, captured king Jehoiachin, and carried him away to Babylon. Beginning on April 16, 597 BC, many of Jerusalem's ruling and upper class were also deported to Babylon, and Babylon demanded a heavy tribute from Judah.

Zedekiah, the third son of Josiah and thus Jehoiachin's uncle, was placed on the throne at age twenty-one in 597 BC. Zedekiah was not a popular ruler, and the people blindly preferred Jehoiachin, the exiled king. Zedekiah was like his older brothers and nephew who served as kings before him. He "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 23:31-32; 2 Kings 23:36-37; 2 Kings 24:8-9; 2 Kings 24:17-19). Jewish scriptures which describe the last days of the kingdom of Judah (see Jeremiah 7; Ezekiel 8) disclose a full spectrum of evils such as murder, adultery, forced labor, oppression of the weak, royal extravagance, thievery, conspiracy, idolatry in the temple and sun worship. After the siege of Jerusalem in 597 BC there were few remaining who had any experience in government. Jeremiah used a striking analogy to describe those left behind in Judah. He said they were like rotten figs, unfit to be eaten. As he saw it, the future lay with the exiles, whom he likened to good figs.

It was in 597 BC, the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, that Lehi heard additional prophecies of destruction, perhaps from Jeremiah (see 1 Nephi 1:4). Note that the forcible exile of Judah's influential citizens had already begun. Lehi preached against the alliance with Egypt, and some of the people, likely those of the pro-Egyptian persuasion, sought his life. Perhaps Lehi and his family avoided exile in Babylon because his preaching was regarded as pro-Babylonian. In this perilous setting, Lehi also "prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people" (1 Nephi 1:5). The vision which resulted instructed him to lead a party out from Jerusalem to prepare a nation in a promised land where a righteous people could be prepared for Christ's coming.

Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon and entered into an alliance with Egypt hoping to thus be able to rid Palestine of Babylon domination. Ezekiel 17:15 states that Zedekiah's rebellion consisted of sending "ambassadors into Egypt, that they might give him horses and much people." At this point the Jews realized that the security of their country depended upon Egypt. In the autumn of 589 BC, the Babylonian army again invaded Judah to punish Zedekiah for his alliance with Egypt. The fortified cities of Judah were systematically destroyed and Jerusalem was encircled with an ever-tightening blockade. The actual siege of Jerusalem finally began on January 9, 588 BC. Travel in and out of the city was not possible. Just prior to Babylon's placing the blockade around Jerusalem, Zedekiah had dispatched a military envoy to Egypt to obtain immediate help.

Probably about January of 587 BC an Egyptian strike force marched into Palestine. For a period of about five months the Babylonian army withdrew from its siege and blockade of Jerusalem and the Babylonian and Egyptian armies engaged each other. This respite from the siege allowed Jerusalem to open its gates and replenish its provisions. Jeremiah attempted to leave the city to travel to the land of his inheritance at Anathoth, a village a few miles north of Jerusalem. At the city gate, Jeremiah was seized and charged with deserting to the enemy. He denied the charge but was quickly brought before the princes who beat and imprisoned him. He was placed in a muddy cistern and left to die. Through the pleadings of a black servant in Zedekiah's household, Jeremiah was saved from the cistern, but he was kept in prison until after the city was destroyed by Babylonians.

When did Lehi and his family actually leave Jerusalem? They could have left any time after Lehi's call in 597 BC. There is a good chance that they left some ten years after Lehi's call during the five-month lifting of the siege in 587 BC (Randall P. Spackman, "Introduction to Book of Mormon Chronology: The Principal Prophecies, Calendars, and Dates," a FARMS. reprint.) We learn, for example, that Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar's army "immediately" after Lehi departed Jerusalem (2 Nephi 25:9-10). This destruction began when the army of Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem in June 587 BC after repelling the Egyptian efforts to come to the aid of Palestine. The Babylonians initially applied a brutal siege until the city's resources were depleted. Then with what must have been intended as a vicious retaliation for the rebellion of Zedekiah, the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on July 12, 586 BC. The army burned the city almost a month later on August 8, 586 BC.

The return of Lehi's sons twice to Jerusalem after their departure into the wilderness-first to retrieve the brass plates from Laban, and then to convince Ishmael and his family to join them in the wilderness-likely occurred during the five-month lifting of the siege in early 587 BC. It is likely that the sons, along with Ishmael's family, returned to the wilderness before April 23, 587 BC since that is the date given by Ezekiel for the first of the Babylonian victories over the Egyptian rescue force. If the malcontent sons, Laman and Lemuel, had heard of this Egyptian defeat, they would likely not have been so intent on returning to their home at Jerusalem since the danger of being destroyed by Babylon would have been more apparent.

Zedekiah ruled until the final siege of Jerusalem by Babylon which began in June 587 BC. As Jerusalem appeared hopelessly lost, Zedekiah tried to escape but was captured and carried before the king of Babylon. In punishment for this treason against Babylon, the sons of Zedekiah were then slain before his eyes. Considering Zedekiah's age at the time, it is likely that his sons were all under fourteen years of age. Then he himself was blinded, bound in fetters, and carried off to Babylon. The last thing he saw with his eyes was the execution of his sons.

Were all of Zedekiah's sons killed? We know that they were not since one of them, Mulek, traveled with a group to the western hemisphere, and the story of their descendants is found in the Book of Mormon.

Mulek, Son of Zedekiah

We don't know Mulek's age at the time his party left Jerusalem in about 590 BC, but he must have been young. In that year his father was only in his late twenties. If Mulek was a son of Zedekiah, wouldn't it be exciting if we found his name mentioned in the Bible? It isn't mentioned, of course . . . or is it?

In recent years, non-Mormon Bible scholars feel that they may have found the name of a son of Zedekiah mentioned in the Bible! (Robert F. Smith, "Book of Mormon Event Structure: Ancient Near East," FARMS study Aid SMI-84 [Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1985] 16-17.) Turn to Jeremiah 38. As we pick up the narrative in verse 5, some of the nobles and princes in Jerusalem want to take Jeremiah and kill him. They have just besought the help of Zedekiah in this evil design. In verse 5, Zedekiah says, in effect, "I cannot prevail against you in any matter. Go ahead and do with Jeremiah what you will." In verse 6 we learn that the owner or manager of the dungeon into which Jeremiah was cast was "Malchiah the son of Hammelech." Modern scholars have discovered an error in the translation of this verse. The Hebrew phrase that has been has been translated "Malchiah the son of Hammelech" is better translated, "Malchiah the son of the king." Modern translations of Jeremiah 38:6 all contain this corrected translation. The king spoken of is Zedekiah. We know that it was common practice for the king to place his sons in strategic or advantageous positions such as overseer of the dungeon. Thus we have identified the name of one of Zedekiah's sons in the Bible! And what is that name? It is Malchiah. According to Jewish linguists, this name as it was used at the time would have been shortened and become something like, "Melech," "Malech," or "Mulech." This name means in essence, "little king" or "son of the king." The Phoenician version of the name would have been Mulech or Mulek.

Had a son of the king desired escape from Jerusalem and from the land of Palestine by sea, he might well have sought the help from the Phoenicians who were Jerusalem's neighbor to the northwest on the Mediterranean coast. They were a seafaring people. In this context, it is interesting to note that it was the Mulekite peoples in the western hemisphere who named the major river in their land. They just happened to name it after the major Phoenician capital and port city of that day, Sidon. It is also interesting to note that the Phoenician people were notorious for not keeping good records. Perhaps this unfortunate influence resulted in the Mulekite people's failure to be record-minded, which failure resulted in deterioration of their language to the point where they could not communicate with Mosiah when he discovered them in the third century BC.

Previous: Introduction to the Book of Isaiah  |      Book Home      |   Next: The Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals and Their Relationship to King Benjamin's Speech