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Book of Mormon/Josephites and Jerusalem
Lehi's ancestry and place of residenceSummary: It is claimed that the fact that Lehi was not of Judah, but of the tribe of Joseph, makes it absurd for him to have been living in Jerusalem before the Babylonian captivity: "The tribe of Joseph at Jerusalem! Go, study scripture-geography, ye ignorant fellows, before you send out another imposition, and make no more such foolish blunders."
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- Question: Why would Lehi be living in Jerusalem if he was of the tribe of Joseph?
- Roper et al.: "Nephi had been a Jew politically, but his ancestors were of Manasseh"
- Jeffrey R. Chadwick: "Lehi's land of inheritance was most likely not located within the borders of the southern kingdom of Judah"
Question: Why would Lehi be living in Jerusalem if he was of the tribe of Joseph?
Israelites from the Northern tribes, including the tribes of Joseph, had fled to Jerusalam in the 8th century BC
It is claimed that the fact that Lehi was not of Judah, but of the tribe of Joseph, makes it absurd for him to have been living in Jerusalem before the Babylonian captivity: "The tribe of Joseph at Jerusalem! Go, study scripture-geography, ye ignorant fellows, before you send out another imposition, and make no more such foolish blunders."
Research by Jeffery R. Chadwick shows that Israelites from the Northern tribes, including the tribes of Joseph, had fled to Jerusalam in the 8th century BC, and their descendants had become established in that city by the time of King Zedekiah.
The story of 1 Nephi begins in Jerusalem ca. 600 BC, where Lehi had “dwelt…all his days” (1 Nephi 1:4). A curious fact is that all our principal characters (Lehi, Laban, and Ishmael), as descendants of Joseph, are Israelites of the Northern Kingdom (see 1 Nephi 5:14, 16). Nonetheless, they seem to be wealthy and powerful people in Jerusalem. This would, at first, seem to be amiss, and certainly not what you would expect from a 19th century writer telling a story about “Jews at Jerusalem.” Archaeologist Jeffrey R. Chadwick, however,has shown that just a few generations earlier an influx of refugees from the Northern Kingdom poured into Jerusalem in the wake of the Assyrian conquest of 722-721 BC. These refugees had settled into an extension of the city known as the Mishneh, which by the time 1 Nephi begins, had become fairly well-to-do and had been enclosed by the extended city-wall. (See Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Lehi’s House at Jerusalem and the Land of his Inheritance,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, 87-99, 118-124.) This thus fits the portrayal in 1 Nephi of powerful and wealthy Northern Kingdom Israelites being present in Jerusalem at that period.
Roper et al.: "Nephi had been a Jew politically, but his ancestors were of Manasseh"
Matthew Roper, Paul Fields, and Larry Bassist: 
[W]e find nothing inconsistent about Nephi’s use of the term Jew. By the time of the divided kingdom, “the term ‘Yehudi’ applied to all residents of the Southern Kingdom, irrespective of their tribal status.” The translators of the King James Version of the Bible saw nothing wrong in rendering the term Jew in passages describing the last days of Judah, including within the book of Jeremiah, which was written by Lehi’s contemporary (2 Kgs. 16:6; 18:26, 28; 25:25; Isa. 36:11, 13; Jer. 32:12; 38:19; 40:11–12, 15; 41:3; 44:1; 52:28). Nephi says he has charity for the Jew and adds, “I say Jew, because I mean them from whence I came” (2 Ne. 33:8)....the phrase makes sense in context. Nephi had been a Jew politically, but his ancestors were of Manasseh with roots in the Northern Kingdom (1 Ne. 6:2; Alma 10:3). The fact that the Jerusalem elite had tried to kill him and his family, forcing them to flee their home, makes Nephi’s language understandable.
Jeffrey R. Chadwick: "Lehi's land of inheritance was most likely not located within the borders of the southern kingdom of Judah"
Jeffrey R. Chadwick
For reasons that will become obvious in this discussion, Lehi's land of inheritance was most likely not located within the borders of the southern kingdom of Judah. The most likely location for Lehi's ancestral real estate in the ancient land of Israel was the region of Manasseh. Lehi is reported to have been a descendant of Manasseh, the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt (see 1 Nephi 5:14 and Alma 10:3). The ancient tribe of Manasseh possessed large tracts of land on both sides of the Jordan River (see photo essay, p. 74). As described in the Bible (Joshua 13:29–31 and 17:7–10), the territory of Manasseh east of the Jordan was equivalent to the area of Bashan (the modern Golan) and the northern part of Gilead (north of modern Amman). West of the Jordan, Manasseh held territory in what came to be known as the Samaria region, from the Jezreel Valley on the north to Tappuah on the south—Tappuah being about thirty-five kilometers (twenty-one miles) north of Jerusalem (see fig. 1). Historical considerations suggest that the area west of Jordan and north of Tappuah—specifically between ancient Tirzah on the east and modern Jenin on the west—was more likely than any other segment of Manasseh to have been the location of Lehi's ancestral land tract. We will now explore those considerations and how it was that people of Manasseh came to live in Jerusalem, making it possible for Lehi to have been born there and to have dwelled there all his days until the time of his exodus in 1 Nephi 2.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Origen Bachelor, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (New York: Privately Published, 1838), 9. off-site
- Matthew Roper, Paul Fields, and Larry Bassist, "'If there be faults': Reviewing Earl Wunderli’s An Imperfect Book," BYU Studies Quarterly 53, no. 3 (2014) 124.
- Raphael Posner, “Jew,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1996), 10:21; compare Solomon Zeitlin, “The Names Hebrew, Jew and Israel: A Historical Study,” Jewish Quarterly Review 43 (April 1953): 365–79; Solomon Zeitlin, “Who Is a Jew? A Halachic-Historic Study,” Jewish Quarterly Review 49 (April 1959): 241–70. Cited in Roper, Fields and Bassist, "If there be faults", fn 4.
- Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem," Lehi's House at Jerusalem and the Land of His Inheritance (2004)