Nephi’s Jerusalem

“And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them. Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.” First Nephi 2:12-13

In 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, laid siege to Jerusalem, which surrendered to him on March 16th 597 BC.[1]

Cuniform tablet in the British Museum documenting Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Jerusalem in 597 BC.

Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem’s king hostage, along with his royal court.

2 Kings 24:10 At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, 11 and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it. 12 Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him. In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner.

The armies of Babylon pillaged the city and plundered the Temple and palace.

2 Kings 24:13 As the Lord had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed the treasures from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace, and cut up the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the Lord.

Nebuchadnezzar took captive to Babylon all the wealthy, skilled and able-bodied men (~10,000 in all), leaving only the poor.[2]

2 Kings 24:14 He carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left. 15 Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother, his wives, his officials and the prominent people of the land. 16 The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans.

To consolidate power and establish control, Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as a puppet-king of Judah, whose job it was to ensure that tribute was paid on time.

2 Kings 24:17 He made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah.

This was by far the largest of the three deportations of the Jewish Diaspora. The prophet Ezekiel and the ostensible author of the Book of Daniel were carried hostage to Babylon at this time. According to Jeremiah, who counted only men, 3,023 Judeans were deported in 597 BC (52:28), 832 inhabitants in 586 BC (52:29), and 745 Jews in 582 BC (52:30). Thus, this first deportation was ~4 times larger than the second and third deportations.

Nephi begins his story “in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah” as Nebuchadnezzar is hauling away his slaves and treasure. With this historical background in mind, here are eleven questions for Sunday school class:

1. Were the families of Lehi, Ishmael, and “Laban and his fifty” among “the poorest people of the land”, such that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t notice them?

2. Why, after the city had already fallen, did “many prophets” show up and prophesy that the people must repent or the city would fall?

3. Why did the Lord tell Lehi that “many should be carried away captive into Babylon” when most of them were already gone?

4. Why did Lehi condemn the few remaining “poorest people of the land” for their wickedness and why did they “mock him” for saying the already fallen city must fall?

5. How did the Babylonian army miss Lehi’s “gold, and his silver, and his precious things” and “all manner of riches” along with the plates of brass, Laban’s sword, armor, treasury, servants etc.?

6. Why didn’t the plates of brass, which contained “a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah” mention anything about the surrender of Jerusalem or Nebuchadnezzar’s plundering and hostage taking?

7. Why were Laman and Lemuel et al. “desirous to return unto the land of Jerusalem” if only a few poor people were left?

8. Why did neither Laman nor Lemuel “believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed” when the city had already surrendered?

9. Why was Nephi grateful to be delivered “out of the hands of Laban” but apparently ambivalent about their delivery out of the hands of Nebuchadnezzar?

10. Why did Nephi boldly prophesy to his brethren that the already fallen Jerusalem should fall “at some future period”?

11. Was the author of First Nephi aware of the manner in which Zedekiah came to power?

[1] “In the seventh year [of Nebuchadnezzar-599 BC.] in the month Chislev [Nov/Dec] the king of Babylon assembled his army, and after he had invaded the land of Hatti (Syria/Palestine) he laid siege to the city of Judah. On the second day of the month of Adar [16 March] he conquered the city and took the king [Jeconiah] prisoner. He installed in his place a king [Zedekiah] of his own choice, and after he had received rich tribute, he sent forth to Babylon.” — Babylonian Chronicles, No 24 WA21946.

[2] The observation in 2 Kings 24:14 that “only the poorest people of the land were left” after the first deportation is supported by Jeremiah’s description of the second deportation (586 BC) where some of these remaining poor were rounded up. Jeremiah 52:15 Nebuzaradan the commander of the guard carried into exile some of the poorest people and those who remained in the city, along with the rest of the craftsmen and those who had deserted to the king of Babylon.

3 responses to “Nephi’s Jerusalem

  1. Answer: Either Joseph (or Nephi) meant to say Jehoiakim or didn’t read 2 Kings (or the local news-papyri) very carefully 🙂


    “The problem of 600 years not fitting between Lehi’s departure and the birth of the Savior entirely disappears once it is recognized that Nephi’s Zedekiah was most likely Jehoiakim”

  2. Yes, and by tell-tale “tells” left behind, inscrutable scriptures are made scrutable!

    Then again, when caught changing God’s words, you can always find people willing to believe that it was God changing it to His liking!


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