The Rule of the Elders

The Rule of the Elders

Nephi tells us casually but emphatically that things at Jerusalem were controlled by "the elders of the Jews," who were holding nocturnal meetings with the powerful and influential Laban (1 Nephi 4:22—27). Poor Zedekiah plays no part at all—his name occurs half a dozen times in the Book of Mormon, but only to fix a date. These elders were no friends of Lehi; for if they had been, his life would never have been in danger. As it was, he "was driven out of Jerusalem" (Helaman 8:22; 1 Nephi 7:14) by the only people who could have driven him out, the important people, those responsible for the "priestcrafts and iniquities" that were to be the ruin of them at Jerusalem (2 Nephi 10:5).

Bible students recognize today that affairs at Jerusalem were completely under the control of the "elders." The word "elders" has been understood to mean the heads of the most influential families of a city.1 In 1935 in the ruins of the city of Lachish, 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, a remarkable body of documents was found. They were military reports written at the very time of the fall of Jerusalem and saved from the flames of burning Lachish by being covered with rubble when the watchtower in which they were stored collapsed. Lachish was the last Jewish town to fall before Jerusalem itself went down, so here, in the fragments of some eighteen letters, we have a strictly first-hand, if limited, account of what was going on.2

Now in the Lachish letters we learn that the men who are running—and ruining—everything are the sarim, who actually are the elders, the term sarim designating, according to J. W. Jack, "members of the official class, i.e. 'officers' acting under the king as his counsellors and rulers." In these priceless letters "we find the sarim denouncing Jeremiah to the king and demanding that he be executed because of his bad influence on the morale of the people." In accusing the prophet of defeatism, the leading men of Jerusalem were supported by the majority of the people and by a host of popular "prophets" suborned by the court, by whose false oracles "Judahite chauvinism" was "whipped to a frenzy."3 To oppose this front, as Lehi did, was to incur the charges of subversion and defeatism.[1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), Chapter 8, references silently removed—consult original for citations.