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"The Land of Jerusalem" and the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Bill McKeever

Check out a week-long series on The Dead Sea Scrolls and Mormonism on Viewpoint on Mormonism that originally aired on Feb. 19-23, 2018 Part 1  Part 2   Part 3   Part 4  Part 5  

In an article titled “Mounting Evidence for the Book of Mormon,” Dr. Daniel Peterson from BYU states, “Alma 7:10 predicts that Jesus ‘shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers.’ Is this a mistake? Everyone knows that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem. But it is now plain from modern evidence that Bethlehem could be, and indeed was, regarded anciently as a town in the ‘land of Jerusalem.’ A recently released text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example – a text claiming origin in Jeremiah’s days (and therefore Lehi’s) – says that the Jews of that period were ‘taken captive from the land of Jerusalem’. . .Joseph Smith could not have learned this from the Bible, though, for no such language appears in it” (Ensign, January, 2000, p. 22).

Does modern evidence vindicate Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon as Dr. Peterson claims? Do the Dead Sea Scrolls lend credibility to Joseph Smith’s claim of prophet? Though Dr. Peterson makes mention of the pseudo-Jeremias scroll in footnote 40, he does not quote the fragment at length. When the fragment is examined in more detail we find that it does not mention Bethlehem or speaks of Jesus’ birth. We also find that the phrase “land of Jerusalem” used in this scroll is probably not a reference at all to the surrounding region of Jerusalem, but a reference to the actual city.

The fragment states that Jeremiah was one of those taken captive and that Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, “took the vessels of the House of God and the priests [and] the children of Israel and brought them to Babylon.” Since the “vessels of the House of God” is a clear reference to the temple in Jerusalem, can we, with absolute certainly, rule out the possibility that the phrase land of Jerusalem in this fragment is a reference to the city itself and not a region as Dr. Peterson would imply?

Consider also that a very similar expression is found in the Old Testament. Daniel 1:1-2 states:

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.

Second Kings 25:8-11 gives us even more details regarding the final days of Jerusalem and, like the pseudo-Jeremias scroll, mentions Nebuzaradan by name:

And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem: And he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldees, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down thewalls of Jerusalem round about. Now the rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away.

The mention of the king’s house is important since Jeremiah 32:2 says this was where the prophet Jeremiah was being held prisoner. Since the scroll states that Jeremiah was among those taken captive from the land of Jerusalem, and since Jeremiah was clearly in the city of Jerusalem, it appears that whoever wrote the pseudo-Jeremiah scroll was using the phrase land of Jerusalem as a term to describe the city of Jerusalem.

It must also be noted that on that same page where Dr. Peterson makes his pseudo-Jeremiah defense, there is also a picture of a scroll with a caption that reads, “Some have questioned Nephi’s prophesy that Christ would be born in the land of Jerusalem, but the Dead Sea Scrolls show that Bethlehem was regarded anciently as a town in the ‘land of Jerusalem.'” Besides the fact that Nephi is erroneously credited with this prophecy (it was Alma), there are other reasons why this caption is misleading. As mentioned previously, the Dead Sea Scroll to which Dr. Peterson refers never mentions Bethlehem at all. Furthermore, the Book of Mormon does not say specifically that Jesus would be born “in the land of Jerusalem.” It says Jesus would be born at Jerusalem, a phrase used in the Book of Mormon several times to describe the city itself.

From what we gather in the Bible, the southern tribes were always known as Judah clear up to the captivity. Jeremiah 33:6,7 says: “Then Jeremiah the prophet spake all these words unto Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem, When the king of Babylon’s army fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah [note: not cities of Jerusalem] that were left, against Lachish, and against Azekah: for these defenced cities remained of the cities of Judah.”

If Mormons choose to point to Pseudo-Jeremiah as proof that the land of Jerusalem is a common ancient expression, they should also concede that this is a reference to the city and not a reference to a land region that would somehow include the town of Bethlehem.

Also see “Was Jesus born at Jerusalem?”


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