Dear Reader and Ancient Traveler,
Welcome to these glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem, the world from which Lehi and Sariah, the patriarch and matriarch of the main Book of Mormon peoples, left a little after 600 BC. We hope that you will have an interesting and enjoyable trip back into that world twenty-six hundred years ago as you immerse yourself in the available, fascinating information about that time and place.
As you prepare for this journey, we suggest that you begin by reading the following culturegram, a brief report about the people, geography, politics, emergent history, prevailing customs, and daily life of that country or region. Modern culturegrams, which give answers to frequently asked questions, prepared originally under the direction of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University, are recognized as popular and useful guides for international travelers. We thought that you might like to know what you might expect to see if you were to travel with us back into Lehi's world.
The following culturegram of the ancient city of Jerusalem goes beyond the basic data that one would expect to find in an encyclopedia article or travel brochure about the Holy City today. This profile takes you out into the streets of Jerusalem on an introductory guided tour of its many surprising features and exotic sights and sounds. Until a person has actually been to a place, however, it is very difficult to visualize its personality or appreciate the ambience of routine life there. We recommend that you, in preparation for this journey, read especially Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager's Life in Biblical Israel, Roland de Vaux's Ancient Israel, and Oded Borowski's Daily Life in Biblical Times.1
Traveling from western Europe to Jerusalem around 600 BC, we obviously will not be arriving at the Tel Aviv airport. No such city, let alone airport, existed there at this time. And you will not need to worry about having a passport. No border guards patrol Lehi's world; in fact, there were no international borders at all.
We will probably see if we can catch a ride on a small Phoenician ship leaving Spain, but these vessels sail only sporadically. There is no travel agency to book us passage in advance. The sea voyage will be long, uncomfortable, and risky. We may need to lay over at several small ports in North Africa, Sicily, southern Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Rhodes, and Cyprus. Finally, we hope to arrive safely at either the exotic port of Sidon or the heavily fortified harbor of Tyre.
From our port of arrival, we will need to travel about a hundred miles down one of the caravan roads, picking up either the Way of the Sea or an internal, local road, and eventually climbing up to the highlands in northern Judah, where Jerusalem is located, about twenty-five hundred feet above sea level. On this expedition, you will be traveling much differently from what you are used to.2 Obviously, we have no cars or buses nor modern-day transportation vehicles. Beyond that, you may be surprised by what we do have. Most of us will be riding on a donkey or walking on foot. Riding donkeys is very uncomfortable, so you may prefer to walk. If you are extremely wealthy, we may be able to get a horse for you, but we cannot guarantee this since horses are fairly rare. It may be possible to get a few camels, but we will need to buy them; they are not available for rent.
With luck, we may get an ox-drawn wagon or two. But please travel light. These wagons have poor wooden axles and irregular wheels with no bearings and thus cannot carry many suitcases. Some of the wagons are covered. You will also notice that the harnesses are marginal—mostly just a rope around the animal's neck. Good harnesses will not be developed until the Middle Ages. Also, because horseback riding is rare, you will find nothing resembling a saddle with stirrups. We will have to learn how to ride these donkeys the same way the ancients did—sit toward the rear of the donkey's back, grip with your knees, and hold on for dear life. We will have to use our sleeping blankets as saddle pads.
We will look for a caravan and see if we can convince its leaders to let us travel with them. Traveling in a group is a necessity because ancient roads are very dangerous. Even the international roadways can be narrow winding paths mired with mud or dusty and rutted from use. If we are to see paved streets at all, it would be in the city, and, even then, they would be just dirt roads overlaid with stones. We will need help getting through, especially in the event of accidents or breakdowns. Being with a caravan will also protect us from the wild beasts and bandits that are a common threat to all ancient travelers. Under no circumstances can you stray from the path or wander away from the caravan—it is just too dangerous. Our water will be rationed, partly because our daily headway will be slow (about seventeen to twenty-three miles per day) and also because we must carry what we need. Such things as modern convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants, motels, or even drinking fountains are unheard of.
The other important thing for you to know is that much of our travel will be done at night, which helps to alleviate some of the danger from fatigue, heat, or robbers. You may assume that our caravan will be accompanied by armed guards and will be sponsored by a king or high-level aristocrat. Private caravans are very rare because of the cost. As you look around, you will notice that oxen, and not horses, pull the carts that we do have. Using horses as draft animals is not common in the ancient world, except for pulling chariots.
Exhausted after several weeks on the road, we will jubilantly celebrate our safe arrival. Of course, it is still unclear where we will stay. But let us turn our attention to the reason for our journey—namely, trying to understand what has been happening in this turbulent city in recent decades and what is likely to happen here in the near future. As we walk through the city, we will spend the next little while coming to terms with its many interesting features.
We will notice as we travel that the geography of this area varies significantly. Some of us may have imagined this land to be mostly desert, but it is a land of contrasts, covered with fertile valleys, sloping hills, mountains, and, yes, deserts. The area known today as the Negev is a desert, but in the mountains in the north, especially on Mount Hermon, some snow falls. In between these two extremes are the west coastal plain, with its humid summers and somewhat mild winters, and the lowest point on earth not covered by water, the land around the Dead Sea in the Jordan Rift Valley, which is thirteen hundred feet below sea level.
These Israelites focus on Jerusalem and commonly refer to their capital city when speaking about their country, calling it the "Land of Jerusalem." Of course, the very words country and capital city are misnomers in this ancient world. Ancient societies did not view themselves as countries with capital cities, a concept we might find hard to grasp.
Scattered throughout this land are villages whose inhabitants rarely travel outside the village and its environs. However, the law of Moses dictates that they are to travel to Jerusalem for certain feasts and festivals (see Deuteronomy 31:10–11). This directive also contributes to ancient Israel's focus on Jerusalem.
One of the first things you will notice is the relatively small size of Jerusalem, at least by modern standards. By ancient standards it is a good-sized city, but still only about twenty-five thousand people live here, enough to fill only half of a typical football stadium. You will need to be on good behavior since visitors are uncommon here, and you will stand out.
Even the fabled walls of Jerusalem are not yet that impressive, standing only about fifteen feet high. Those of you familiar with Jerusalem's walls and gates at the time of Jesus or in medieval times will be surprised by the walls of Lehi's Jerusalem. They are much smaller than in Jesus' day, most significantly around the Temple Mount, which has not yet been built up and expanded into a very large platform. Looking down on the city from one of the surrounding hills to the east, you can see the Temple of Solomon, the focal point of the upper city. The temple is smaller than you might have expected, at least in comparison with the Temple of Herod as it appears in most drawings or paintings of Jerusalem. The Temple of Solomon has some gold on it, but not much. Part of the king's palace complex comprises buildings that descend south down the hill away from the temple. The temple and palace stand in the middle of a courtyard called the great court. The houses inside the walled city are built on the hillsides in a sort of terraced manner. Even the biggest of these homes is not large, although most homes are two stories high. The second story is more like a loft covered by the main roof. Notice also the colors, which are mostly natural. The houses are light tan because they are, by and large, built from local stone with some mud and wood. Inside, wood beams and joists support the roofs. Paint is rarely used.
You will want to take a close look at the gates of the city as we enter through them. Most cities in the ancient world have gates. In this world, gates grant security, protection, and regulation of traffic and serve as venues for conducting trials and important official business. Many cities hold city council meetings and judicial hearings here.4 When we get to the gates, be prepared to see crowds of people and a fair amount of congestion. These areas are not as crowded as downtown freeways at rush hour, but gates in the ancient world are busy centers of activity. Most shopping is done here in a market, in a bazaarlike manner. Nothing is actually "sold." You first become "friends," greeting one another in an informal way, saying shalom and possibly shaking hands and patting each other on the shoulder. Of course, you must keep in mind that men and women have little or no contact in public. Then you sit together for a while if you do not know each other already; after this you give what you have (gold, silver, precious things), and the merchant gives you what you have bargained for. As the sons of Lehi learned in their negotiations with Laban, you should be careful what you ask for and how you ask (see 1 Nephi 3:11, 22–24). Do not expect to see any retail prices listed since bartering characterizes their manner of trade. Be sure to keep your money in a secure place.
Away from the bustle of the marketplace, you will soon be struck by how quiet things have become—no radios or loudspeakers, no cars or trucks, no honking horns or blaring sirens, guns, explosions, bells, or any of the usual noises of a modern city are present. In fact, the silence here can be rather uncanny. The sound of a ram's horn blown by a priest will signal times for prayer, and even without amplification you can hear its distinctive squeal all over town.
About the only language we will need to know to get around Jerusalem is Hebrew. Of course, knowing Modern Hebrew will help only a little. The Hebrew spoken at this time in ancient Jerusalem is archaic when compared to the Hebrew spoken at the time of Christ. The square Hebrew letters with which you may be familiar have not yet come into use, so the shapes of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet at this early period may come as a surprise to you. But do not worry too much since there are few road signs and no menus or newspapers to read anyway.
Depending on how international you are, it may help to know a little Egyptian, Aramaic, or Greek, probably in that order. Greek is not yet the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean, as it will become in about three hundred years, after the conquest of Alexander the Great, and as it will be during the days of Jesus. Aramaic, also in contrast to its role in the days of Jesus, is not spoken widely in this area and does not become prominent in Judah until after the return of the Jews from their exile in Aramaic-speaking Babylon.
Like most things in ancient Israel, the calendar is largely governed by religion. Each week has seven days, ending with a Sabbath. Days are determined from sundown to sundown, so watch out: on this trip when we say "Thursday night," we mean the night before Thursday day. The night is divided into three "watches"—first, midnight, and last (or morning) watch. The daylight hours are counted approximately, but since no one has clocks or wristwatches, don't worry too much about being on time; schedules are less of a concern here—things just happen when they happen. The year is lunar and the months are called yerah (which means "moon") or hodesh (which means "new moon"). These months determine religious festivals, which we will talk about a little later. Months alternate between twenty-nine and thirty days.
Currency exchange will also present a few problems for you, especially since coins have not yet entered Israel's history. The commercially revolutionary invention of coinage in the kingdom of Lydia is just over the historical horizon. Payments in Jerusalem during our visit will be made by weight—chiefly in silver, but also in copper or gold. In earlier centuries, a person's wealth was counted in terms of sheep and cattle. In Lehi's era, however, gold and silver have become indicators of wealth (1 Nephi 2:4) and are common media of exchange (1 Nephi 3:24). Different values are placed on those metals by weight. The most basic measure, and the one with which we will become the most familiar as we travel here, is the sheqel. This word in Hebrew simply means "to weigh." Fifty sheqalim make a mina, which is a substantial amount of money. Below the sheqel are the pim, the beqa, and the gerah (in that order). There are also larger sums, called "talents" in New Testament times, but we will not be dealing with such large sums. So, despite your desire to have exact values given to these weights like at home, we will learn to cope with these more ambiguous values here. In most cases, silver or gold is melted into ingots of different sizes or shapes or is fashioned into discs, bars, brooches, or rings. If you have any gold or silver, you may want to bring it along.
While we are traveling here, we will become familiar with the cubit. Much of the ancient world of this time period used this measurement. One Hebrew cubit is approximately twenty-one inches, or fifty centimeters. This is a hard measurement for us to gauge, but just think of it as two feet minus a couple of inches. Do not be too concerned about exact distance measurements; similar to currency exchange, ancient people tend to estimate and do not use precise measurements.
We will eat the customary three meals a day. Breakfast is usually fruit or bread; lunch consists of bread, olives, and figs; and the typical main meal—eaten after sunset with the whole family—consists of a stew sopped with bread. Cooking is typically done in the open courtyard, and most people eat with their hands and rarely use utensils, reclining as they eat.
Little if any meat will be included in our menus for two reasons. First, meat is expensive in 600 BC and hard to come by. There is no corner market or butcher shop selling the latest cut of beef or a good lamb chop. Second, when meat is eaten, it is usually done in a sacrificial, religious setting, where it is roasted; otherwise, it is boiled. If we are lucky, we may get to sample some fish, but Jerusalem is far from Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, and this commodity can be hard to come by. Do not be disappointed, however, since plenty of variety is found in the different fruits and vegetables, beans, and olives. Animals are kept for food, including cheese and milk. Actually, the most common milk is goat's milk. Sheep's milk is also used, but cow's milk only rarely. We must quickly drink any milk that we have and not try to store it. Pasteurization is obviously over two thousand years away, and few means exist to keep food cold. This means that almost everything we drink will be lukewarm. We will mostly be drinking juice or wine. Stay away from the water, which is not very clean and could make you sick.
This society is agrarian—most people farm at least minimally for their sustenance, raising wheat, barley, beans, and vegetables. The most important tool is the plow. The storage of food can be problematic since only some of the foods harvested can be stored for lengthy periods of time. If people need to keep things cold, they must pay for ice that is shipped from Mount Hermon, north of here. Obviously, only the very rich can afford to do this, so most food products are eaten immediately or they spoil. One of the staples of an ancient Israelite's diet—the olive—however, has proved to be superior in this regard. Olives can be pickled and stored for up to two years. Other foods like grapes, figs, and dates are easily dried and pressed into cakes. Storing their food is serious business for these Israelites. Their storage must provide sufficient food not only for the entire year but also for periods of famine, which can hit these people hard and with little notice.
Ancient Israelites store most of their produce in pottery jars, which are placed in special, designated buildings. Often, they store their grain in pits. Before this grain reaches the pit, however, it must be harvested (reaped or picked), transported to the threshing floor, dried, threshed (to separate the grain from the stalks), winnowed and sieved (to separate the grain from the chaff), and then measured. Harvesting was hard, backbreaking work.
Water is always a chief concern for these people. Preserving water for use in the city is of paramount importance. Water is collected from rain and runoff during the rainy seasons in cisterns located underground. Farmers terrace the land to make better use of the rainwater, and this same technique is used in Israel today. Even though ancient Israelites, in living the law of Moses, are cleaner than most other ancient people, this water is not very clean. These cisterns are just holes in the ground and are sometimes lined with clay plaster or some other sealant. Three underground water systems in Jerusalem originate from the Gihon Spring.
Produce is sold in market areas from small stands. People in their own area usually set up a market in the town or village square and run the market privately with the assistance of their families. The farmer conducts his business on a very small scale, selling directly to the consumer without any middleman.
As we progress through the streets, you will want to notice the clothing these people are wearing. The robes, headdresses, cloaks, and sandals may be what you were expecting, but if you get a chance, feel some of the robes and other clothing for sale. Not very soft, is it? The clothing is mostly made of dark shades of wool—grays, browns, and blacks. Some flax, goat's hair, and leather is used. Sometimes dyes are added for color; white clothing is extremely hard to find and very expensive. Linen is used, but only by the elite and sometimes by the priests. The clothing for women and men is roughly similar, although women wear a shawl or veil. Undergarments are usually made from linen and resemble a kilt or loincloth. Everyone wears sandals except the very poor, and no one wears shoes inside the homes. Men sometimes wear head coverings resembling turbans, and members of the upper class wear a loose-fitting robe over their clothes.
You will recognize a priest by his white robes. Only priests and the very rich can afford such clothing. Imagine what it means for these priests if their robes get stained, as is often the case when they perform their sacrificial duties. With no laundromat or laundry detergent available, stains remain on clothes. This is an additional reason why white cloth is not used much and gives added insight to scriptures that talk about having our robes white or washed white in Christ's blood (see Alma 5:21). Getting clothes this white is particularly difficult, if not impossible, especially if they are stained. The high-end clothes are not too uncomfortable, though. Skilled weavers are able to make cloth from wool that is not too scratchy.
The weather will be moderate while we are here during the springtime. As mentioned above, much of the time the weather is dry. But when it does rain in the winter months, it can come down in torrents. Only rarely does snow fall in Jerusalem. The amount and timing of the rain are vital to the Israelites living in and around Jerusalem. If the rain comes too soon or too late, it can spell disaster for agricultural pursuits.
The current political situation has led many inhabitants of Jerusalem to be suspicious of outsiders. Remember that this city has only twenty-five thousand people, a small city by modern standards. Strangers can be quickly and easily noticed. The characteristic Near Eastern hospitality prevails among friends and family, but the people may be reserved and guarded with outsiders. The law of Moses commands the Israelites to welcome and care for traveling strangers (see Leviticus 19:33–34), but only the father of a household has the right to invite such a wanderer into his home as a guest. Once the guests enter, the host washes their feet.
Hotels—at least like the ones we are used to—do not exist in this world. We sometimes mistakenly think that Mary and Joseph stayed in a motel-like inn at Bethlehem, but where they stayed was certainly no inn by modern standards. Travelers are few and far between in the ancient world and would not support a system of hotels. Instead, people use rooms on the upper level of homes as guestrooms, or groups would "camp" together in what are known as caravanserai (see above), which are most equivalent to large, dense campsites with many different families and groups. Caravanserai are rarely found inside a city. We will be staying at such campsites as we travel to and from Jerusalem.
Only the very rich sleep in what we would consider a decent bed. Most people here sleep on a mat or just curl up with their cloak and sleep in their clothes with no pillows or down comforters. Pajamas are not used, except by the rich, who may have special clothes to sleep in. Most people sleep on their roofs during the hotter months and, if they have some sort of protection up there, will sleep there in the winter as well. Some travelers will even sleep in the streets if accommodations are unavailable. The way homes are designed in this part of the world, most houses have an upper story or room that in many cases is designated the living area of the house, while the ground level is used for storage and animal space. In other homes, the ground area serves as the living area during the day and then at night is transformed into sleeping quarters as each family member lays out his or her bedding.
Additionally, a regular sleep schedule is not as common as today. People may get up in the night to do different things. If the moon is particularly bright, some may even try to do a little work at night. These nocturnal habits mean that many take naps during the day, especially when the weather is the hottest. After dark, oil lamps provide light, but remember that sleeping quarters are shared—if the light is on for one, it is on for all.
Some of the areas we are visiting have conditions that seem more primitive than one would expect for the advanced city that Jerusalem is for its time. However, most Israelites are pretty clean compared to the ancient world in which they live. The law of Moses mandates ritual cleansing anytime a person is defiled, which can happen in numerous ways. Basic hygiene is also stipulated by the law of Moses; thus those who faithfully observe it, even if just a portion of it, are reasonably clean. But we also want to point out that the ritual hand washing we are familiar with from the New Testament comes later and is found in the Talmud but not the Old Testament. Foot washing is also common, as is smearing oil on the body after bathing. Perfume is also worn, by both men and women.
Special places outside the cities—usually near certain gates (like the Dung Gate)—are designated as lavatories, but, unfortunately, they are not furnished with toilet paper. Ritual purity and cleanliness are closely related and are all set out by the law of Moses. In a society full of epidemic diseases, famine, and wars and natural calamities such as hailstorms, locusts, and lice, uncleanliness abounds. We can see the divine wisdom in the requirements for cleanliness found in the law of Moses.
Of course, uncleanliness leads to sickness. Even common ailments like the flu and colds can be disastrous for these people. Also, they can get very little relief for common discomforts like headaches or sore throats. Often, the priests are involved with cases of injury and sickness. The law of Moses stipulates that priests diagnose and take care of the dreaded disease of leprosy. Basic remedies include isolation, quarantine, and cleansing the sick area. Any healing of sickness or disease is viewed as religious. Naturally, many people try their own home remedies, but in many cases they do little to alleviate the problem. Be sure to bring your medicines with you since we will not find any pharmacies, hospitals, emergency rooms, or medical equipment. Even in Greece, anything like a medical science is still several centuries in the future.
As in any society, a class structure is present here in ancient Jerusalem. However, social classes in ancient Israel do not exist in the modern sense in which groups are conscious of their particular interests and are opposed to one another. Some of the different groups in Jerusalem include the zeqanim, or "elders" of each village or city, and, similarly, the sarim, or "chiefs" of families. When we remember that Israel is a patriarchal society with chiefs of the families who are also the chiefs of the villages and cities, this connection becomes obvious. These sarim can also be officials of the king (military or civil). Similar to these are nedibim, "the excellent," and the horim, which groups are the "ruling class," or "men of good birth." Differing from this class is the am ha'rets, who represent the general body of citizens. This term should not be confused with its usage after the exile, when it began to have a derogatory nuance. Gerim are aliens, or strangers from other nations. Although they have many of the same rights, they are not treated as highly as other Israelites. A clear indication of this is that gerim are usually poor because all the land belongs to Israel.
The main social unit here is the household, which is more than just a family. The head of the household is the father, or ab in Hebrew. A household consists of multiple homes built close together and usually comprises the bet ab, his sons and unmarried daughters and any aging parent, uncle, or unmarried aunt. In most cases the homes surround an outdoor courtyard where much of the cooking and social activities take place.
Contrary to some assumptions, women are not considered property and have more rights in ancient Israel than is usually assumed. The mother of a household has legitimate and significant authority and influence in the decision making. Both men and women have designated jobs that they perform. Women work around the house making clothes, cleaning, cooking, washing, and raising the children. While the men are in the fields working, the women take charge of the household and make sure things run smoothly. We will see some women in the city performing various chores such as drawing water. Some will be veiled, but some women wear a veil only on special public occasions. Women also take part in the worship ceremonies of their community.
You will notice many children as we travel through this area. Israelites consider it a coveted honor to have many children, and childlessness is considered a curse. A midwife assists and, in many cases, is in charge of the birth and early years of a child. Of course, ancient Israelites value sons over daughters. Sons perpetuate the family line and fortune and preserve the ancestral inheritance, while daughters leave the family when they marry. The eldest son is favored and given a double inheritance because it is his responsibility to take care of the family when the father dies. According to the law of Moses, all male children are to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. Depending on the affluence of the family, the father, a physician, or a specialist performs this rite, but it is not performed in the temple or by a priest.
Little children spend most of their time playing in the streets around their homes. They do have clay models and dolls to play with, but not many. Notice that many of the younger children are naked, which is typical in this ancient society. (As mentioned before, the hygiene in this ancient setting is not as meticulous as you might want or expect.) As the children get older, their responsibilities around the house increase.
While children are young, their mother provides most of their education at home. When a son is old enough, his father assumes the responsibility to teach him the law of Moses and a trade (see Deuteronomy 6:7; Alma 36–42). Trades are most often passed down through the generations. Rites of passage for young men are common and mirror the present-day bar mitzvah for young Jewish boys. We must remember, however, that in this ancient society, instruction of the law of Moses does not include the Talmud like it does today. In fact, there will be no Talmud until after the third or fourth century AD. Many Israelites, not just the wealthy, learn how to write. However, most teaching is done orally as national traditions and religious stories and practices are passed down. In general, girls remain at home and receive their education from their mothers in areas of housekeeping and learning their duty as wives.
The workforce is divided into a few main categories:
Craftsmen. A variety of different occupations in this society—many located right here in Jerusalem—include millers, bakers, weavers, barbers, potters, fullers, locksmiths, and jewelers. As we travel through this city, try to spot the names given to different streets and quarters. Each quarter of the city specializes in a certain craft; for example, we might see a bakers' street (see Jeremiah 37:21), a fuller's field (see Isaiah 7:3), or a goldsmiths' quarter (see Nehemiah 3:31–32). The surrounding villages each specialize in a particular industry. Heavier trades involve woodworkers, iron founders, and linen workers. These crafts are divided into groups or guilds and are ruled by a father. They are called mishpahoth, implying the members are united in kinship or grouped like families.
Daily wage earners.21 In addition, free men hire themselves for a definite job for a certain time at an agreed wage. Unfortunately, poverty has increased, and more and more Israelites have been forced to this labor. In the early days it was mostly agricultural workers who did this—herdsmen, harvesters, and grape pickers. These workers hire themselves out for a day or by the year. Often these laborers are taken advantage of, with unjust wages paid by those who hire them despite the law stipulating that workmen are to be paid every evening. Much of the land is owned by the king, who then leases the land to workers.
Merchants.22 Other Israelites make their living as merchants. These men essentially work for the king since this type of big business belongs to royalty. Solomon built a fleet in the Red Sea and financed desert caravans.
Slaves.23 Slavery is a reality in the ancient world. Even some Israelites have slaves, although Hebrew slaves are treated differently from foreign slaves. Moreover, slavery in the ancient world is different from our modern, postcolonial ideas. Israelites consider slaves as members of the family; if the household has any slaves, it is usually a small number—only one or two. Certain statutes in the law of Moses protect slaves, at least when society follows the law. According to the law, Israelite slaves are set free after six years of servitude. Sometimes a slave will decline to be freed. His master then pierces his ear, not as a brand but as a symbol of his attachment to the family. The law also protects slaves or servants from harsh treatment or physical abuse. Slaves are also allowed to take part in Israelite religious rites, circumcision, Sabbath observance, sacrificial meals, and religious feasts like Passover.
The decade from 610 to 600 BC has been rife with political and social upheavals. For the last few hundred years, Assyria has ruled the Mesopotamian and Levantine world with an iron fist. However, in 612 BC, the Babylonians and the Medes destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, thus ending Assyrian domination. Egypt and Babylon vied for control over the western portion of Assyria, which included Judah. In 609, Judah was rocked when Necho II, pharaoh of Egypt, led a large force to Carchemish on the Euphrates River to aid the Assyrian ruler Asshur-uballit in a desperate effort to retake Haran from the Babylonians. Near Megiddo, about sixty miles from Jerusalem, Josiah the king of Judah tried to stop Necho. Josiah's motive most certainly included trying to prevent an Egypto-Assyrian victory, which would have put him at the mercy of Egypt's ambitions. Disaster struck for the Judahites. Josiah was killed in battle, and his son Jehoahaz replaced him as king. Pharaoh Necho's assault on Haran failed, though, and he returned home. Along the way he deposed Jehoahaz and deported him to Egypt. Judah was now a vassal to Egypt. Necho appointed Jehoahaz's brother Eliakim (whose name was changed to Jehoiakim) as king and laid upon him and Judah a heavy tribute.
From 609 to 605, Judah remained under Egyptian control but only while Babylon campaigned in the East, in Armenia. During this time the king, Jehoiakim, remained a vassal of the pharaoh, and the internal situation of Judah was bleak. In addition to Egyptian oppression, Jehoiakim was a ruthless tyrant who disregarded his subjects' needs and by so doing incurred the wrath of Jeremiah the prophet. The recent reforms of King Josiah were neglected and then opposed as paganism, and immorality ran rampant.
In 605, however, the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish and sent them back to Egypt. Even though Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian general, was delayed from marching into Judah, he resumed his campaigns in September 604. In 603, Jehoiakim pledged allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and became his vassal. Another battle between Egypt and Babylon forced Nebuchadnezzar to return to Babylon and regroup his forces. Foolishly, Jehoiakim decided to rebel against Babylon. In December 598, Jehoiakim died, and his eighteen-year-old son, Jehoiakin, became king. Also in this month, Nebuchadnezzar returned to lay siege on Jerusalem. Within three months the city surrendered. The Babylonians took Jehoiakin and his family to Babylon, and the king's uncle Zedekiah was set up in his place.25
Obviously, this has been a time of momentous turmoil. Civil wars, international conflict, rising and falling fortunes, and shifting cultural pressures and loyalties have raised anxieties and uncertainties throughout the region. As whole civilizations have faced the prospect of extinction, a great urge to recapture and preserve the records of the past is also evident among these people. In Assyria, scribes have been busily engaged in copying and preserving royal libraries. In Jerusalem, the most precious records have been inscribed on metal plates for safekeeping in the temple treasury, as well as on small silver scrolls that can be worn as amulets for personal protection.
You will notice as you spend more time here that the events of the last ten years have left a deep pall on Jerusalem. However, this is not the only feeling here. Some of these people really believe that God will still save them from total destruction despite their wickedness. The moral fiber of Judah has increasingly unraveled since Josiah was killed; the nationalistic pride has also increased. Despite their defeats, these people believe that the temple will never fall. As evidenced in the cases of Jeremiah, Urijah ben Shemaiah, and Lehi, those who speak out against these ideals are threatened and reviled.
Despite all the calamities that this city has seen in the last ten years, for the most part it is business as usual. Many different people travel to and from Jerusalem at any given time; Egyptian, Syrian, Arab, and other merchants make their way here on a regular basis. Right now, Babylonian officials and their entourage live here, but just a few years ago it was the Egyptians who controlled the city.
The loss of the northern kingdom a century ago is still remembered with grief by the people of Jerusalem. To be sure, since Israel broke away from Judah, they have alternated between being allies and enemies, but there was always a feeling that they were one people. They were "Israel," and they were brethren. The idea of the federation of the twelve tribes has remained. The people were united by their traditions and their religion. After the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom, there were many refugees in Judah. The difficulty was trying to find where to put them and how to support them. Because of this, some Jerusalemites regard these "northerners" as riffraff. Although the northerners have, for the most part, been settled, some are unhappy with this settlement.
At this time in Jerusalem, all the important enterprises are in the king's control. The king's revenues and the kingdom's are the same because he is responsible for the administration and upkeep of the army, national defense, and public works. Any profits he maintains come from his royal estate and from his commercial and industrial enterprises. Depending on the king, taxes—including those paid by the caravan merchants—and tribute of vassal states contribute to his treasury.
The law stipulates that the people of Judah pay a tax in the form of a tithe on their fields, vineyards, and herds. In addition, each king can institute additional taxes to pay for specific expenses. Starting with Solomon, various kings employed forced labor for their personal building programs or other projects. At this point in Judah's history, most of the taxes they pay goes to Babylon, not Jerusalem.
Judah during this century is a monarchy, and the dynastic principle is accepted. Accession to the throne is viewed as a divine choice—a man is king because God wants him to be king. Each enthronement means a renewal of the Davidic covenant and adoption of the new sovereign by God. Separation between church and state is foreign to these people. Anointing the king is a religious rite that makes the king inviolable and holy. He is looked upon as a protector and savior to his people but, despite this adoration and despite the Israelite idea that the king is not merely a man like other men, he is still not viewed as a god.
The king's palace is situated on the Temple Mount, just south of the temple. In effect, the king's palace is just one part of a large temple/palace complex. Just a few years ago, Jehoiakim used forced labor to completely renovate his old palace. The resulting beautiful building came at great cost in human toil. As you can see, the Temple Mount, including all the buildings, plays a dominant role in the city life of Jerusalem. It is situated above most of the city and occupies a large percentage of the total square acreage. But keep in mind that this Temple Mount is small in comparison to the one Herod will build, the one that Jesus will know during his earthly ministry.
In any monarchy the royal court is saturated with officials, and Jerusalem is no different. The royal family is surrounded by a court of officials and household servants who are all called the king's servants, although specific offices bear different names. The expression ebed hammelek (king's servant) when used in the singular may sometimes denote a special office. Soferim (royal scribes) are also present along with a yo'ets (counselor). The royal scribe acts as a kind of regal private secretary and secretary of state. All correspondence as well as the temple collections fall under his jurisdiction. The asher al habbayit (man of the house) is the master of the palace; he supervises the whole palace. All the affairs of the kingdom pass through his hands. The sarisim, a number of high-ranking officials, or ministers, aid the king in the administration of the kingdom and serve as his confidential advisors. Eunuchs supervise the harem and royal family. Singers, musicians, cupbearers, bakers, and carvers are present in abundance to see to the king's every need. The king has a squire and a royal guard who act as his bodyguards along with "runners" who run before the king's chariot.
Also, there are commanders of the army, heralds, and commanders of the guards. The mazkir, or herald, is the man who calls, names, reminds, and reports. He is in charge of the palace ceremonies and introduces people to audiences. He reports to the king on the concerns of the people of the country and also passes on to the people the commands of their sovereign.
Obviously the Israelites now have no army in Jerusalem as they languish under the weight of a Babylonian tribute. When Israel is sovereign, however, the king employs bodyguards, and a small standing army made up of foreign mercenaries is supplemented with a few Israelites. Additionally, each man aged twenty and above is responsible to answer the call to arms when it occurs—sometimes with a trumpet sounding or with messengers being sent around to the tribes. In spite of this mass call-up, the number of fighting men is usually small, nothing to compete with the large armies of Assyria, Egypt, or Babylon.
Men ready to fight assemble in short cloaks called halutsim, which literally means unclothed, or stripped. Each man provides his own simple arms—the usual weapons are swords and slings. The units of the army are based on those of society. The unit is the mishpahah (clan), which in theory provides a contingent of one thousand men, though in fact the number is usually far smaller. When the people take up arms, they are referred to as "the thousands of Israel" because these units are commanded by a leader of a thousand, sar elef.32 These units are composed of smaller groups of one hundred and fifty men. We may be reminded of the powerful Laban, whom Laman and Lemuel describe as a man powerful enough to command fifty (1 Nephi 4:1). One of the king's duties is to lead his army into battle. Solomon instituted chariots among the Israelite army, but when the kingdom split, the majority of the chariots went to the northern kingdom.
The Babylonian occupation does not stop Judah from rebelling against Babylon at least three times during this period. We can only imagine what the loss of so many young men does to this ancient society.
During the time that Israel was autonomous, few, if any, soldiers roamed the streets. Maybe you picture Roman soldiers patrolling the walls of the city, but at this time, Rome is only a very distant spot on the future's horizon. Before Judah was a Babylonian vassal, the only armed men here were the bodyguards of the king. If you do spot any soldiers in the streets now, you can be sure they are Babylonian and not Judahite. Notice the weapons they are carrying. The main offensive weapon in the ancient world is the hereb, or sword, but spears, slings, clubs, maces, axes, bows, and shields are also common. Most soldiers wear helmets and breastplates, which are often made of leather.
We want to emphasize that this is not that same city that we may be familiar with from the time of Jesus. This city is smaller, and the temple complex is very different. During his lifetime, Herod will expand the Temple Mount area and completely rebuild the actual temple. Solomon's temple and temple complex are much less grandiose. Solomon's temple is basically rectangular in shape, containing the hekhal, the holy place or main room, where most of the religious rites take place, and the debir, or holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant is located. No one is allowed in the holy of holies except the high priest on the Day of Atonement. The holy of holies is raised up from the holy place. We can see the two large, hollow, bronze pillars that stand outside the main door of the temple and give it such a magnificent look.
Outside the temple is the altar of bronze and the sea of bronze supported by twelve bronze bulls. Inside the temple, in the holy place, are the altar of incense, the table of shewbread, and ten candlesticks. The ark of the covenant and two large cherubim are in the holy of holies. This distinguishes this temple from Herod's temple. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the ark is lost and the temple destroyed. This Temple Mount will become a heap of rubble. Many Israelites, however, will make pilgrimages to this area to mourn the loss of their beloved temple and to remember better days.
The temple is surrounded on two sides and the back with three-story auxiliary buildings that the priests use on a daily basis; they are not actually part of the temple itself. The temple is 165 feet long and 84 1/2 feet wide, including these outside chambers and storerooms that surround it. Just like modern-day temples, this temple was constructed with the utmost care and quality of materials. The builders used stone and brick overlaid with cedar panels that were beautifully carved and overlaid with gold and other precious metals. Many times during Jerusalem's history, kings and conquerors have stripped the temple of its precious metals, in many cases to pay tribute to conquering empires, such as the Babylonians. Solomon built this temple as large and as magnificent as ancient conventions allowed.
As we approach the temple, you will notice all the activity that is going on there. Since we are here during the morning, we will be able to see the morning sacrifice. The priests sacrifice every morning and every evening, while simultaneously burning incense. In addition, the high priest offers a separate morning and evening sacrifice. The temple itself is just the main building, whereas the buildings attached to the sides of the temple are used for auxiliary purposes. Some of them are apartments for the priests, and some are kitchens and storage rooms. The temple must perform a variety of purposes, and such rooms are a necessity.
Each day a number of men may bring their animal sacrifices to the temple to be offered by the priests. The different animals offered are oxen, sheep, and goats, but, for the poor, birds, turtledoves, or pigeons suffice (see Leviticus 1:14). First, the man lays his hands on the victim and blesses it. Then he cuts the throat of the victim some distance from the altar. The actual slaughtering is not the responsibility of the priests and Levites unless the offering is public. Only the actual pouring of the blood on the altar and sacrificial burning are the priests' responsibility. In addition, the priests get at least some of the meat of the offering to eat. The priests skin and cut up the sacrifice and then place the four quarters of the animal on the altar, where it is burned. You can see the priests at work. Some are eating, some are cleaning, and others are sacrificing. The temple is a busy place nearly every day.
Many ancient cultures during this time set aside a type of "sabbath." For ancient Israelites, however, Sabbath observance takes deeper meaning. Some of you may be familiar with the typical activities observant Jews perform on the Sabbath today, including Friday evening dinner, synagogue attendance, and prayers. Most of these customs would appear foreign to an ancient Israelite, for whom the Sabbath is much simpler. The basic rudiments of Sabbath observance seen in modern Jerusalem were also present in seventh-century BC Jerusalem. It is a day of rest, a joyful feast day, when men visit sanctuaries and normal, heavy work is interrupted, as are commercial transactions. The strict, detailed rules that some of us are familiar with from the New Testament will develop after the Jews return from exile in Babylon. But still be careful. One man mentioned in the book of Numbers was put to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath day (Numbers 15:32–36), so although the specific rules are not spelled out in great detail at this time, people take the observance of the Sabbath very seriously.
The various feasts and festivals of ancient Israel prescribed by the law of Moses are very important. These holy days are also observed as "sabbath" days, in accordance with the law of Moses. These celebrations are usually taken seriously by the majority of Israel and form a viable part of the ancient Israelites' existence as they renew their loyalty to their God, purify themselves as a group from all unholiness, and strengthen their commitment to revealed principles of personal and community righteousness. These feasts and festivals have not yet developed into the array of detailed minutiae that they are under modern Jewish practice. They are still relatively simple, relying on the Lord's description of them as outlined in the Torah. The New Moon feast celebrates the first day of the lunar month and is similar to the Sabbath as a day of rest and feasting. Additionally, the law of Moses requires ancient Israel to celebrate three main holy convocations each year. We are familiar with the first one from the story of Israel's exodus from Egypt. In Hebrew it is called Pesach, but we call it Passover. This holy day began the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During Passover, no leaven may be found in a house. The feast commences with the offering of the paschal lamb.
Anyone familiar with the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament will remember the second holy day, Shavuot or Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Passover. This festival is agricultural in nature since it marks the beginning of the harvest. As part of the celebration an omer, or a measure of barley, is brought to the temple. On this day, the Jews at Jerusalem also celebrate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.
The third festival encompasses three holy days. This festival is celebrated in the fall and is made up of Rosh ha-Shanah, or New Year; Yom Kippur, Day of Judgment, or Day of Atonement; and Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles. Today, Jews celebrate these days as separate, distinct holidays but here in the ancient world Israelites looked upon them as one large and single season of celebration. During Yom Kippur the priests perform impressive temple rituals. Outside Jerusalem, most Israelites feel the spirit of the holiday as they abstain from food and pleasure and participate in the set prayers recited outside the temple. After Yom Kippur, ancient Israelites begin to build their sukkot, or their booths. This part of the festival is to give thanks for the harvest and to commemorate God's protection. The king gives a public reading of the law of Moses during this time.
Most of us are familiar with the holiday Hanukkah. This celebration will not develop for another few hundred years. It will come about after the Maccabean war in the second century BC. Another popular holiday among Jews today, Purim (which celebrates Esther's rescue of the Jews from destruction in Persia), will come about after the exile. The Israelites in Lehi's day are completely unfamiliar with such holidays.
The public reading of the law of Moses is very important in the lives of these ancient Israelites. The law of Moses stipulates that it is to be read every seventh year during the Festival of Booths (Sukkot). Israelites who are willing and able make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during this festival. During this time, the king or high priest reads the whole law, or at least large portions of it, while a grand assembly of Israelites listens. The way the law is preserved for us today shows that much of it was written specifically to be heard.
Only a few of the books in the Bible have been written by this time, so the body of scripture available in Jerusalem is relatively small. The Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, exists in some form, but some editing and revising is still going on. Certain histories and genealogies of the people and kings of Israel exist, as do the words of early prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and a few others. But many parts of the Old Testament are yet to be written and assembled.
Regarding the law, the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 are clearly in effect. Their two tablets are kept in the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies in the temple. A version of the Code of the Covenant, found in Exodus 21–23, along with portions of the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17–26, legal sections found at various places in the book of Numbers (Numbers 5–6, 30–36), and other such normative texts, are also in place.
Just a few years ago, a book of the law, thought to be our book of Deuteronomy, was discovered while Josiah's men were renovating the temple. This book had been neglected for many years. Its discovery has had a significant impact on legal and religious attitudes in Jerusalem, especially by centralizing worship of Jehovah at the temple in Jerusalem, rooting out apostasy and false prophets, limiting the power of kings, providing charity to the poor, and promising blessings and threatening curses. This law is read out loud to the people at the temple every seventh year.
Largely because of the scarceness of written records, especially out in the villages, custom and the spirit of the law usually prevail over the technical letter of the law. Judges are told to judge righteously and to apply the law faithfully, with fear (or respect) for the Lord, and with a perfect heart. If we get to watch an actual lawsuit, it will probably strike you as quite chaotic and imprecise. Various charges may be thrown around at any time, different parties speak up without clear jurisdictional authority, a judge may be called as a witness, and the lines between divine law and secular powers are very porous.
Still, the legal system works fairly well. Most people in town know each other very well, and thus honor and shame are powerful enforcement mechanisms in the society. The system is efficient: there are no paid judges, no policemen, no prisons, and trials usually last less than a day. The real threat of capital punishment (usually by stoning) keeps most people well within the bounds of the law.
Even though life in this society can be hard and unforgiving, these people still do not forget to have fun and take advantage of some spare time. As in most societies throughout time, music is an important aspect for ancient Israel. Some of the purposes of music include soothing a child, making work (such as treading grapes or digging irrigation channels) more enjoyable, and celebrating major events in a person's life. In a land where so many of the people are involved in pastoral and agricultural activities, planting, harvesting, and sheep shearing are occasions for group gatherings and celebrations. In addition to such celebrations, key events of people's lives (such as weddings, births, royal coronations, and military rallies) are marked with music. Many of these festivities are accompanied by dancing as well.
Typically, the marriage ritual at a wedding includes a feast, preceded by a staged meeting between the bride's and groom's parties to the accompaniment of music. Births have their own form of ceremony and ritualized singing. Coronations of kings are announced with trumpets and singing. During such a grand event, priests and aristocrats march through the streets of Jerusalem up to the temple, accompanied by singers and other musicians. Of course, the rich can hire people to provide music. This has become one of the trappings of power. The military uses music to marshal its forces and to guide and signal its troops. And, of course, any victories are marked with spontaneous celebration and joy.
Music is also played for religious purposes. Mourning or lamentation and funerals are marked with music, including wailing flutes. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem or other sacred shrines usually include music and singing with special pilgrim songs. Temple choirs and other musicians are employed, and although these musicians were more prominent in the Second Temple period, they exist during this time as well. The musical instruments include harps, lyres, and lutes.
There is no dating—marriages are arranged and negotiated by the fathers of the bride and groom (compare the marriages of Lehi's sons to Ishmael's daughters in 1 Nephi 16:7). Most marriages are arranged when the children are very young.
Marriage in this eastern world is viewed a little differently than in our own. Typically, marriage is considered an economic arrangement made between two families of the same or closely related tribes. This is not to say that love and romance do not exist in such a relationship, but these people are more focused on survival, perpetuation of their family, and family honor than on pleasure and sensuality. This mentality leads to a more practical approach to relationships, especially between husband and wife. As part of the marriage arrangements, the groom gives the bride's father an agreed-upon amount of money, called the mohar (bride-price). This acts as a type of compensation for the loss of the daughter from the household and in many cases is used as a part of her dowry or old-age security.
The beginning of the marriage is actually the betrothal. The bride's father and the groom or his father sign a contract and form a covenant and bond. This period can last for many months or even a couple of years. During this time the bride and bridegroom have no contact. Their first private encounter after the betrothal is when they enter the wedding chamber. But this does not happen until after the wedding festivities. The bride and her entourage make their way from her house to the groom's household where, after much feasting and music, the husband escorts his bride away to the wedding chamber.
In such a primitive existence as ancient Israel, death and funerals are common. As we make our way down a street in town, you may well see a funeral procession up ahead. You will hear the cries from the family members and friends who carry the bier upon which the body is laid. Notice that the men and women are in separate mourning groups. You can see that the Israelites do not embalm their dead. The warm climate here and the ancient Israelites' belief that dead bodies are ritually impure mean that the dead are taken outside the city and buried as soon as possible after death. The funeral procession will most likely make its way to a family tomb, a cave, or a rock-cut tomb. If you look closely, you will see some of the family members have torn a part of their clothing to indicate their mourning. They will also veil their faces, remove any type of headdress, cut their beards and hair, put on sackcloth, and sit in ashes. You may find it interesting that some of the people may actually be professional mourners hired by the family. You can hear the wailing and crying from them and also from the family. This method of mourning is typical and is a way for them to honor their dead.
The journey to Jerusalem will be arduous, but fascinating. Come prepared to soak up all the sights, sounds, and smells. We will meet a lot of interesting people and collect memories that will last a lifetime. We hope that the other materials in this book will prepare you further for the things we will encounter in the world of Lehi, around 600 BC. We look forward to having you join us for this trip and wish all a bon voyage!
Sincerely, your tour guides,
John W. Welch
Robert D. Hunt