Weak Arguments #10: “The entire Book of Mormon was discredited just as soon as it said that Christ was born in Jerusalem.”

Posted: January 11, 2015 in Book of Mormon, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies, Weak Arguments

Newburgh Seminary College

Was Christ born “in Bethlehem” or “at Jerusalem”? And does it matter?

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The entire Book of Mormon was discredited just as soon as it said that Christ was born in Jerusalem.”

Why It’s Weak:
This argument is a molehill not a mountain. This is a valid contradiction with the Bible, however, on it’s own, it discredits this verse but not the entire Book of Mormon.

1) This molehill was turned into a mountain by Mormon Apologists
This argument arises from the fact that Alma 7:10 in the Book of Mormon says:

And behold, he [Christ] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

The first Christian Mormon critic I know of that used this argument was Alexander Campbell who in his 1831 review of the Book of Mormon polemically observed:

But he is better skilled in the controversies in New York than in the geography or history of Judea. He makes John baptise in the village of Bethabara, (page 22) and says Jesus was born in Jerusalem, p. 240. Great must be the faith of the Mormonites in this new Bible!!![1]

And, of course, he has a point since the Bible states plainly, not once, not twice, but eight times that Christ was born in Bethlehem. This is a clear contradiction with the Bible. And since Mormon critics are of the opinion that the Book of Mormon is just a piece of contrived 19th Century historical fiction, as far as we’re concerned, it’s the kind of thing that one would expect were that the case. There are no just surprises here!

However, Mormon Apologists just can’t seem to leave it alone. As Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever notes:

It is obvious that this is a very sensitive issue with these [Apologist] Mormons. According to them, Alma was referring to the surrounding area of Jerusalem and not the city itself. They insist that Alma was a real person, so to credit him with saying that Christ would someday be born in Jerusalem and not in Bethlehem would be a serious faux pas. To say otherwise casts doubt upon the historicity of Mormonism’s sacred Book of Mormon.

We do not hide the fact that we do not believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient text. Because we believe Alma is a fictitious character, we naturally wouldn’t credit him with such a gaffe. We are not implying that Joseph Smith was ignorant as to where Jesus was born. Instead, we believe that this was a simple slip of the pen. Joseph Smith may have mistaken the better-known Jerusalem for the lesser Bethlehem.[2]

And if one suspends disbelieve and presumes that Alma the Younger was in fact a historical figure, such a gaffe is still really no big deal – people get excited and misspeak like this all the time. For example, do you remember the last time that Grandma and Grandpa retold the same story and spent half the time correcting each other’s bad memory rather than actually telling the story? I rest my case.

After all, if the Book of Mormon is true history then Alma would certainly would have known the location of the Messiah’s birthplace wouldn’t he? That’s because the Book of Mormon tells us that he had the plates of brass (see Alma 37) which is said to have contained the Biblical record up until the time of Jeremiah’s prophesies. If that was the case, then Alma would have had Micah’s prophecy, since Micah prophesied more than a hundred years before Lehi left Jerusalem. And that prophesy states clearly:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2, bold italics added for emphasis)[3]

A slip of the pen, in a work of fiction? An over zealous speaker with a bad memory? No big deal right? Well, according to Mormon Apologists, no – this is a big deal!

View of Bethlehem from South Jerusalem. Bethlehem is only 6-miles away.
(click to zoom)

2) What’s 6-miles between friends?
So, rather than simply acknowledging that this is a contradiction with the Bible, Mormon Apologists go to great lengths to convince the world that the word “Jerusalem” in Alma 7:10 really means, “the land of Jerusalem”. This argument is based on the fact that Bethlehem is a suburb of Jerusalem that’s only 6-miles away. OK, I can kind of see that. I was born in Anaheim, California which is a suburb of Los Angeles. Therefore, for those who are unfamiliar with the city (which includes a Major League Baseball team and an itsy bitsy amusement park called “Disneyland”) I tell them that I’m from the Los Angeles area. However, in actual fact, downtown Los Angeles is 24-miles from where I was born. And if anyone pressed me (which hasn’t happened yet) I would simply say, “Well, to be precise I was born in Anaheim which is where Disneyland is, where Angel Stadium is, and where the Los Angeles Angels play baseball.” In other words, I would clarify and things tighten up a bit. I just don’t think that this, in and of itself, is a big deal. Do you?

Thus, Mormon Apologists argue:

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

The town of Bethlehem is in the “land of Jerusalem.” In fact, Bethlehem is only 5 miles south of Jerusalem: definitely “in the land,” especially from the perspective of Alma, a continent away. Even locals considered Hebron, twenty five miles from Bethlehem, to be in the “land of Jerusalem. This is, in reality, another literary evidence for the Book of Mormon. While a forger would likely overlook this detail and include Bethlehem as the commonly-understood birthplace of Jesus, the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon use an authentic term to describe the Savior’s birthplace—thereby providing another point of authenticity for the Book of Mormon.[4]

But the problem passage doesn’t use the term “land of Jerusalem” it says, “at Jerusalem”:

Dr. Peterson argues, “The most reliable way to determine what a given phrase means in the Book of Mormon, therefore, is to look at the Book of Mormon” ([FARMS] Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5:73). This is a reasonable point. The problem is that Peterson and his colleagues ignore this guidance and instead go to great lengths to defend a phrase that is not included in the text. While much has been written to defend the notion that Jesus was born in the land of Jerusalem, the fact of the matter is that this phrase is not used in this passage. We repeat, the phrase land of Jerusalem is not used in Alma 7:10.[5]

Furthermore, the other eighteen times the term “at Jerusalem” is used in the Book of Mormon it always means “in the city of Jerusalem”.  Thus, as Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson very correctly observe, “if a phrase is used 19 times, and in 18 of those times it can be demonstrated that it means the actual city of Jerusalem, it is both inconsistent and tenuous to interpret Alma 7:10 otherwise.”[6]

3) Straining at gnats, swallowing Camels…
On the Mormon side of the divide the problem is that Mormon Apologists make this a hill to die on. Why? So Joseph Smith had a slip of the pen when he was writing the Book of Mormon – so what? So Alma had a memory lapse or simply misquoted Micah 5:2 in his prophetic zeal – so what? By straining at this “gnat” of a problem Mormon Apologists are merely bringing attention to the “camel” of their over the top apologetic tactics. Why not just acknowledge the contradiction and move on to more pressing Book of Mormon issues?

On the Christian side of the divide the problem is that some critics overstate their case in exaggerating the importance of this contradiction. While it’s true that the Mormon apologetic on this point is strained and inconsistent, it’s not completely unreasonable. And while this contradiction most certainly discredits this verse it’s a stretch to say that it discredits the entire Book of Mormon. Rather, the overall case that discredits the Book of Mormon is a culmination of contradictions, problems, and issues not just a single contradiction, problem, or issue.

Further, standing on the Mormon side of the divide I don’t see Christians abandoning the entire Bible and calling it “discredited” over just a single Biblical contradiction. I don’t see Protestants denouncing Catholic and Orthodox Bibles as fully discredited simply because they contain the Apocrypha. Nor do I hear Catholics and Orthodox Christians denouncing us because our Bibles don’t. Why then do some Christians expect Mormons to abandon the entire Book of Mormon based on solely one problem text?

4) …and showing obvious bias
I think that the underlying problem here is many Christians seem to employ a double standard when it comes to Mormonism. These Christians tend to judge all things Mormons much harsher than they do all things Christian. After all, the Bible isn’t without contradictions too. Here’s an example:

Matthew 27:5 (NKJV)
Then he [Judas Iscariot] threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:18 (NKJV)
Now this man [Judas Iscariot] purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

Even if we harmonize this as the hanging rope breaking and Judas’ entrails gushing out after his corpse hit the ground, the fact remains, that when taken at face value this is a contradiction. Should Christians declare the entire Bible discredited because of it? Even Atheist critics and Muslims[7] don’t suggest such a response because it’s so “over the top”. Yet, many Christians would demand exactly that of Mormons over Alma 7:10. To me, such a demand on Mormons reveals an extreme bias on the part of some Christians and the type of unjust, uncharitable treatment that can drive Mormons deeper into the LdS Church if they stay, or right past Christianity and straight into atheism if they leave. This need not be, there is a better way.

The Stronger Arguments:
While it’s clear that while Alma 7:10 used in isolation isn’t a strong argument, it can be used as part of one or more stronger arguments. Let’s look at them.

First Suggested Strong Argument: “Alma 7:10 is just one of many pebbles breaking the shelf.” 
Most ExMormons tell us that there wasn’t just one thing that convinced them that the truth claims of the LdS Church don’t add up, it was a culmination of a lot of little things. They say it’s like a bunch of pebbles being tucked away on a shelf in a deep, dark corner – that is until the shelf finally collapses under the weight of them all. That said, here’s a sampling of some other pebbles[8] to add to the pile in addition to the Alma 7:10 Jerusalem pebble:

"Scriptures" by Grant Heaton

“Scriptures” by Grant Heaton
(click to zoom)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people built temples in the Americas and performed sacrifices. (Alma 16:13)
Bible: Jerusalem was explicitly chosen by God as the one and only place for the one and only temple and the only legitimate place for sacrifices. (1 Kings 8:44-48Deut. 12:5-6)

Book of Mormon: The priesthood did not need to be Levitical. The Book of Mormon people were from the tribes of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:16-17) or Manasseh (Alma 10:3) not Levi. Nephi, who consecrated the first priests, was from the tribe of Joseph (2 Nephi 5:26) as were they.
Bible: The priesthood could only be through the lineage of Aaron, a Levite. (Numbers 3:9-10)

Book of Mormon: At Christ’s crucifixion, there was three days of darkness. (Helaman 14:27)
Bible: At Christ’s crucifixion, there were three hours of darkness. (Luke 23:44)

Book of Mormon: At the tower of Babel the Jaredites had a separate language which was spared the confusion of languages. (Ether 1:34-35)
Bible: At the tower of Babel there was one language, which was then confused by God. (Genesis 11:1)

Book of Mormon: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity existed prior to Christ’s incarnation. (2 Nephi 26:12)
Bible: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity were proclaimed during Christ’s ministry and came to exist after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. (Matthew 16:18)

Book of Mormon: One son of King Zedekiah escaped destruction and came to the Americas. (Helaman 6:108:21)
Bible: All of King Zedekiah’s sons were killed. (Jeremiah 39:6)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people people received the gift of the Holy Ghost as early as 545 BC (2 Nephi 31:12-13)
Bible: The Holy Ghost was bestowed on the Christians at the time of Pentecost in 1 AD. (Luke 24:49Acts 2:1-4)

Second Suggested Strong Argument: “Why are those Jews acting like goyim?”
“Goyim” is the Hebrew word for “nations” that in Jewish vernacular has come to mean “gentiles”. The Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient record of Jews who left the Middle East around 600 BC. However, these alleged Jews don’t act like 7th Century BC Jews, they act like 19th Century AD Protestant Christians. As Alexander Campbell notes in his review of the Book of Mormon:

[Joseph] Smith makes Nephi express every truth found in the writings of the Apostles concerning the calling and blessing of the Gentiles, and even quotes the 11th chapter of Romans, and many other passages before he had a son grown in the wilderness able to aim an arrow at a deer. Paul says these things were secrets and unknown until his time; but Smith makes Nephi say the same things 600 years before Paul was converted! One of the two is a false prophet. Mormonites, take your choice!

This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies – infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American Apostle, than were the holy twelve, and Paul to assist them!!! He prophesied of all these topics, and of the apostacy, and infallibly decided, by his authority, every question. How easy to prophecy of the past or of the present time!!

He represents the christian institution as practised among his Israelites before Jesus was born. And his Jews are called christians while keeping the law of Moses, the holy sabbath, and worshipping in their temple at their altars, and by their high priests.[9]

Further, as Mormon Studies Scholar Luke P. Wilson notes:

The most common biblical terms used to describe the Old Testament priesthood, temple and appointed feasts, are entirely missing from the Book of Mormon. Here are 10 examples of such biblical terms with their frequencies, that never appear once in the Book of Mormon:

  • “laver” (13 times in Bible)
  • “incense” (121 times in Bible)
  • “ark of the covenant” (48 times in Bible)
  • “sons of Aaron” (97 times in Bible)
  • “mercy seat” (23 in Bible)
  • “day of atonement” (21 times in Bible)
  • “feast of tabernacles” (17 times in Bible)
  • “passover” (59 times in Bible)
  • “house of the LORD” (627 in Bible)
  • “Aaron” – this name appears 48 times in the Book of Mormon, but never in reference to the biblical Aaron or the Aaronic priesthood.[10]

Finally, and not insignificantly, as one Mormon Researcher has observed:

2 Nephi 25:24 says, “we keep the law of Moses”. During the time this was written (about 559–545 B.C.) the Nephites were claiming to be orthodox Jews. Having the law of Moses, they would have said the shema (Duet 6:4) and they would have followed the Mosaic law strictly. In fact, the phrase “we keep the law of Moses” appears in the Book of Mormon four times (2 Nephi 25:242 Nephi 5:10Jacob 4:5, and 1 Nephi 17:22), it is a recurring theme throughout the book.

According to Mormon dogma Nephi and Lehi followed the Mosaic law without error. Yet even after all they allegedly knew concerning God and His law why did they still break his commandments? There’s just no excuse for this if the Book of Mormon is true. Further, why are the Nephites blessed by God despite their disobedience of His law, while at the same time God is calling down judgment on the Jews in Israeli for violating it? This makes no sense!

Further, the Nephites were from the northern kingdom (the tribe of Manasseh), so they would have known their heritage. They would have surely known the story of Jeroboam and all he did to put Israel into such a state of apostasy that it merited the Assryian exile of 722 BC. The orthodoxy and legitimacy of these Book of Mormon Jews needs to be seriously questioned![11]

Simply put, shouldn’t a book written about Jews, by Jews, for Jews be . . . well . . Jewish? Shouldn’t such a book accurately reflect Jewish history, values, attitudes, and customs? Well the Book of Mormon ain’t Jewish folks – it’s goy through and through!

Summary and Conclusion:
These arguments are just a small sample of the vast array of better, stronger arguments to choose from. Simply put, the Book of Mormon discredits itself in so many other, better, more persuasive ways that the begging question is this: Why use this weak argument at all? It’s a molehill not a mountain.

"Jesus Christ visits the Americas" by John Scott. It doesn't get much more Jewish than this does it folks? Especially the "Jewish" Temple in the background.

It doesn’t get much more Jewish than this does it – especially the “Jewish” Temple in the background.
(click to zoom)

NOTES
[1] Alexander Campbell, “Delusions: An analysis of the book of Mormon with an examination of its internal and external evidences, and a refutation of its pretenses to divine authority”, The Millennial Harbinger, February 7, 1831

[2] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, “Was Jesus born ‘at Jerusalem’?”, Mormonism Research Ministry website

[3] And, I should add that Micah 5:2 not only says “Bethlehem” clearly but redundantly.  “Ephratah” is the ancient name for Bethlehem. A variant of the name first appears in the Bible in Genesis 35:

“Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor.” (Genesis 35:16, NKJV)

“So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).  And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.” (Genesis 35:19-20, NKJV) 

This is also reiterated elsewhere in the Bible (click here).

[4] Uncredited, “Question: Why does the Book of Mormon say that Jesus would be born ‘at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers’ when the Bible states that he was born in Bethlehem?”, FAIRMormon website

[5] Op cit, McKeever and Johnson

[6] Ibid, McKeever and Johnson

[7] For example, please consider these critiques:
Atheist Critic: Uncredited, “Discrepancies in the Bible: The Death of Judas Iscariot”
Muslim Critic: Abdullah Smith, “The Death of Judas”

[8] This list was taken mainly from the website of Main Street Church of Brigham City, “Scripture Reference: Bible & Book of Mormon Contradictions”. Other recommended resources:

Sandra Tanner, “Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions”
Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”

[9] Op cit, Campbell

[10] Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”, Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website

[11] Adapted from a Facebook comment made by Brian Roberts on December 19, 2014 in the B.C.  &  L.D.S.  (Biblical Christians and Latter Day Saints) discussion group.  Mr. Roberts has also written extensively on the theme of Book of Mormon inconsistencies on his “Sinners and Saints” website.

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