Christ born in Jerusalem or Bethlehem?

Please quickly read the opening paragraphs of this post before continuing.

Dear Reader,

I hope my last post cleared up any confusion you previously had over the name ‘Alma’ found in the Book of Mormon.

Unless you have objections, I now wish to dispel your misunderstandings about Alma 7:10.

• Alma 7:10, page 224. This is blatant mistake, as it claims that Christ was born in Jerusalem, when he was in fact born in Bethlehem. See Luke 2:4 which states precisely that.

This is another very frequent charge brought against the Book of Mormon. It is another one that just doesn’t seem to go away, despite the fact that it has been refuted inumerous times.

Joseph Smith was no biblical scholar. He had no formal training of the bible. But, he was no idiot either. He lived in a time and a place in which religion was very popular (much as today) and in which noone was confused as to which town Jesus was born in. It is highly unlikely that if the BoM was the brain-child of Joseph that both Joseph and his scribe would make such a terrible blunder.

Due to the immense amount of biblical detail found in the Book of Mormon, both obvious and subtle, it is a sure fact that if the Book of Mormon were the brain-child of Joseph, then Joseph was a prodigy. He incorporated extremely subtle but right on target things like ancient nuances of the Mosaic law, Jewish law, unorthodox yet verifiable Jewish beliefs, hundreds of semitic names, temple building outside of Jerusalem, and a plethora of others. According to the naturalistic view of the origins of the Book of Mormon, Smith must have been a very intelligent guy. All of this greatly decreases the chances that he would not be aware of such an elementary fact as where Christ was born. BYU professor Daniel C. Peterson comments on this:

To suggest that Joseph Smith knew the precise location of Jesus’ baptism by John (“in Bethabara, beyond Jordan” (1 Ne. 10:9) but hadn’t a clue about the famous town of Christ’s birth is so improbable as to be ludicrous. Do the skeptics seriously mean to suggest that the Book of Mormon’s Bible-drenched author (or authors) missed one of the most obvious facts about the most popular story in the Bible — something known to every child and Christmas caroler? Do they intend to say that a clever fraud who could write a book displaying so wide an array of subtly authentic Near Eastern and biblical cultural and literary traits as the Book of Mormon does was nonetheless so stupid as to claim, before a Bible-reading public, that Jesus was born in the city of Jerusalem? As one anti-Mormon author has pointed out, “Every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows Christ was born in Bethlehem.” [Langfield, 53.] Exactly! It is virtually certain, therefore, that Alma 7:10 was foreign to Joseph Smith’s preconceptions. “The land of Jerusalem” is not the sort of thing the Prophet would likely have invented, precisely for the same reason it bothers uninformed critics of the Book of Mormon.

Would it have been wrong for an ancient Nephite, 600 years removed from Jerusalem, to declare to other Nephites that Christ would be born in Jerusalem? It would have made no sense to anyone listening had he declared that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Noone would know what the heck a Bethlehem was. It is common sense to just say “I lived in Rio de Janeiro” instead of saying “I lived in Itaguai”(a small suburb of Rio).

However, Alma does not say that Christ would be born IN Jerusalem. He specifically says Christ would be born AT Jerusalem. There is an important difference. According to Webster’s online dictionary the definition of “at” is:

1—used as a function word to indicate presence or occurrence in, on, or near

“At” Jerusalem means “near” Jerusalem. That is plain English. Bethlehem happens to lie less than 5 miles away from the city of Jerusalem. Had Alma said “in Jerusalem” your case might be a bit stronger, but seeing as he did not say “in Jerusalem” we must at least recognize that what Alma said is completely appropriate.

Not only that, but Alma very clearly said “at Jerusalem, the land of our forefathers.” Alma described Jerusalem as a “land”, not as a “city”. Observing the usage of the term “land of ___” in the Book of Mormon makes it clear that to BoM authors the “land” includes the areas near and around a prominent location. This vocabulary is also very common in the Bible. Luke describes Bethlehem as being the “City of David”(2:4), and yet 2 Kings tells us David was buried “at Jerusalem” in the “city of David”(14:20).

And finally, evidence exists outside the bible that demonstrates that in ancient Semitic cultures it would be completely appropriate to describe a nearby city as being “in the land of Jerusalem”. Tablets writeen centuries before Christ (14th century) and discovered in Egypt calls Bethlehem “a town of the land of Jerusalem”. It is not an unacceptable practice to describe a nearby small city as being in the “land” of a greater city, especially when the audience is not very familiar with the geography.

So what can we conclude? It seems obvious enough that were the Book of Mormon a 19th century production a phrase like this would most likely not make it into the Book of Mormon. Instead, it reflects the words of a speaker not very familiar with New Testament geography, someone perhaps who lived before the NT was written. What was once a flaw, now is another bulls-eye for the Book of Mormon.

I hope this settle any doubts you had about the Book of Mormon’ description of the location of Christ’s birth.


The following is taken from Brant Gardner’s rebuttal of “The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon.”

Robert Smith discusses that very issue:

It has been alleged that the Book of Mormon commits a foolish error by predicting that Jesus would be born “at Jerusalem.” But just as Rome was urbs et orbis, “city and world,” so Jerusalem was not simply a city, not even just a city-state. It is and was a symbol of Zion. It typified all that which the exiles in Babylonia had lost (see Psalms 137:5—6), and, in our time, it is the focus of the return of other exiles from their nearly two millennia of dispersion. . . .

In the same way that the “land” or district of Jerusalem was administratively distinguished from the city of Jerusalem, so, according to Kenneth Kitchen, the great city of Hazor (Tell el-Qeda) was distinguished from the state of Hazor. Thus, Abraham had dwelt or “sojourned” in the territory of Gerar, rather than in the city itself (Tell Abu Hureira; Genesis 20:1). . . .

Thus it is quite apparent that Jerusalem “did double duty as the royal and the district capital.” As early as Canaanite times, Jerusalem held royal status, and it was termed mat URU sa-lim (“land of Jerusalem”) in the Amarna Letters.

Where then was Jesus born? Truly, in Bethlehem of the land of Judaea (see Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1—6; Luke 2:4)—any child could tell you that in Joseph Smith’s time as well as in ours. What no one in modern times would have known for sure (before the 1887 discovery of the Tell El-Amarna Tablets) was that Bethlehem was also part of an area anciently called the land of Jerusalem.

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