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The political situation in 1 Nephi is precise and accurate

The political situation in 1 Nephi is precise and accurate

The unsurpassed destruction of Judah was preceded by an unparalleled atmosphere of terror and gloom that still speaks to us in the Lachish Letters. The country was divided into two factions: "the two parties, pro-Egyptian and pro-Babylonian, existed side by side in the land," each accusing the other of bad faith and bad judgment. It was a time of "dissension and heart burning, when divided counsels rent the unhappy city of Jerusalem,"29 and, as things became ever worse in an atmosphere "charged with unmixed gloom . . . Zedekiah . . . stubbornly followed the path to ruin by conspiring with Pharaoh."30 Other cities were divided by the same faction and strife, "but it was especially at Jerusalem that passions ran high."31 The vivid and imaginative description of a French scholar tells how towards the end, "in Jerusalem things were desperate. All the cities of Judah, except Lachish and Azekah, had fallen to the enemy; the country of Benjamin was a mass of ruins among rivers of blood. . . . At the six gates of the city the guards had been doubled, but desertions became more numerous every day. Passions were at their height. The crowd disputed at the street-corners day and night, and their discussions were always accompanied by the steady hammering of the Chaldean battering rams."32 The false prophets continued their foolish and mercenary activities to the end, while the elders charged the true prophets with treason and "the sarim [elders of the Jews]. . . were in permanent session in the Palace" sitting day and night to try cases of defection—a hysterical attempt to run down "subversives" when it was all too late.33
For years scholars insisted that the "destruction" of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. was not a real destruction at all but just the taking away of a number of noble hostages. Today they know better. The Book of Mormon was quite right after all in insisting on describing that event as a complete destruction: "For I know that the day must surely come that they must be destroyed, save a few only, who shall be led away into captivity" (1 Nephi 17:43). What the Book of Mormon describes with particular clarity and power is the atmosphere of tension and gloom in the city leading up to the final catastrophe. Nowhere is the dissension and heart-burning that rent the unhappy city of Jerusalem more clearly shown forth than in those impassioned scenes within Lehi's own household. Two of his sons supported him, but the two eldest, taking the part of the Jews at Jerusalem, resisted and protested in the bitterest terms; they beat their younger brother, they exerted influence on their mother, and they finally went so far as to try to put their father out of the way: "The Jews also sought to take away his life; yea, and ye also have sought to take away his life; wherefore, ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them" (1 Nephi 17:44). These are terrible words to be spoken in a family, and they plainly show what the conflict was about. While Lehi "truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations" the Jews simply laughed at him (1 Nephi 1:19), and his older sons went along with them, protesting to their father that "the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes . . . according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people" (1 Nephi 17:22). So Lehi's family was incorrigibly split right down the center, even as Jerusalem itself and all the cities surrounding it.[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.