O Little Town of Jerusalem

Timothy Oliver

"And Behold, he 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" - Alma 7:10.

The passage from the Book of Mormon, above, is one of the more obvious errors found therein. It clearly contradicts the Bible, yet Mormons would have the world believe that the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible also inspired the Book of Mormon and the prophecy at Alma 7:10. So clear a contradiction cannot be left unexplained.

Since Christ was born at Bethlehem, some Mormons have argued that the words "at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers" refer not to the city itself, but to the general territory surrounding it, inclusive of Bethlehem, some six miles distant. Such imprecision was justified, according to this argument, because more than 500 years after leaving Palestine, the Nephites did not know of Bethlehem, and therefore Jerusalem was the closest thing they would know of in that general vicinity.

This whole argument is specious. First, "Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers" is clearly not a reference to the land around Jerusalem. The text specifies Jerusalem itself. And it does not say that Jerusalem was in the land of their forefathers, but that Jerusalem is the land of their forefathers. Their forefathers, Lehi and Nephi, did not live in the surrounding territory. They lived in Jerusalem. They were from Jerusalem. Jerusalem, therefore, not Bethlehem, was their land. And Bethlehem, therefore, was not the land of the Nephites' forefathers; Jerusalem was, just as the text declares. Thus the reference is not to the surrounding territory.

A Mormon, however, might want to press Alma's words "our forefathers" to mean more than their Book of Mormon forefathers, Lehi and Nephi. He must assume (on no specific warrant) that Lehi and Nephi had ancestors who were not from Jerusalem, as they were. Then, perhaps, "the land of our forefathers" could be pressed to qualify "Jerusalem" to mean a wider area than Jerusalem the city.

Again, it is a specious argument. Had Alma intended to avoid mention of Bethlehem, as a place unknown to the Nephites, even while having it in mind as part of the general vicinity included in "the land of our forefathers," he could have done so without inaccurately referring to it as Jerusalem. Alma easily, simply, could have prophesied, "he shall be born in the land of our forefathers, near Jerusalem."

Such a statement would have allowed for "the land of our forefathers" to include the unnamed Bethlehem. It also would have conveyed the general locale of Christ's birthplace in terms relevant to Nephites ignorant of Bethlehem, without inaccurately referring to Bethlehem as Jerusalem. In short, it would have been both understandable and accurate.

It might be noted in passing that the text of the Book of Mormon was not written for the people whose history it describes. It was written, "sealed up," and immediately hidden for later revelation to the people of the "last days,"1  among whom Bethlehem is widely known.

However, even granting that the original prophecy was not written, but spoken to people living about 83 b.c., the idea that Alma had to specify "Jerusalem," because his people had no knowledge of Bethlehem and could form no idea of its location, is simply untrue (see below).

The Brass Plates

When the prophet Lehi took his family and left Jerusalem he forgot one important itemthe Scriptures. They were recorded on brass plates, which were in the custody of a relative named Laban. Later, the Lord reminded Lehi, and he sent his sons back to retrieve the plates.

After their first attempt misfired the elder brothers, Laman, Lemuel, and Sam, wanted to return to their father without accomplishing their mission. The youngest son, Nephi, had to urge them to finish the task. He reminded them the records were essential to preserving for their own children "the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down to this present time."2 

Later, when they had retrieved the plates and returned to their father in the wilderness, Lehi examined the plates' contents. His examination confirmed Nephi's earlier statement. Among other things the plates contained "the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah."3  Zedekiah reigned from 597 to 586 b.c.

The prophet Micah prophesied probably between 735 and 715 b.c., during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His prophecy, then, was recorded on the brass plates Lehi took from Jerusalem. Micah prophesied of the coming of Christ: "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."4  The Nephites thus had an accurate prophecy of Christ's Bethlehem birthplace recorded in their Scriptures on the brass plates.

These brass plates were preserved among the Nephites down to the reign of king Benjamin, who put them in the charge of his son, king Mosiah, about 124 b.c. (Mosiah 1:3-5, 16). King Mosiah conferred them upon Alma about 92 b.c. (Mosiah 28:20), who likewise turned them over to his son Helaman about 73 b.c. (Alma 37:1-20, 47). These brass plates, then, were in the possession of Alma himself at the time he made his false prophecy (Alma 7:10, above), at about 83 b.c.

Alma and His People

Alma was speaking to church members, believers. He testifies of them in the same chapter, vv. 19-20, that they were "in the paths of righteousness," and that they had "the testimony of his word," that is, God's Word, guiding them. If God's Word was guiding them, they had to have been familiar with it, in which case they would have known of Micah's prophecy of Christ's birthplace in Bethlehem. Any true prophet among them (and Alma particularly, since he actually had the brass plates), being familiar with their Scriptures, would have prophesied correctly, in accordance with Micah's prophecy, that Christ would be born at Bethlehem.

Even if somehow Alma and his listeners had all been completely ignorant of Bethlehem or its location (actually a very unlikely possibility under the circumstances), the Holy Spirit knew, and could have informed them all. Alma claimed his message was from the Spirit (vv. 8-9), and that "the Spirit knoweth all things" (v. 13).  The Spirit could easily have directed Alma to say that Christ "shall be born at Bethlehem, near Jerusalem which is [or, is in] the land of our forefathers." Either expression would have been precise, as well as accurate and non-confusing to his audience, both ancient and modern.


The Nephites, and Alma in particular, already had in their Scriptures an accurate prophecy identifying Bethlehem as Christ's birthplace, when Alma made his false prophecy. But even if they had lacked such a record, Alma's prophecy could not be excused on such grounds. Perhaps the most damning aspect of the whole Mormon argument against Alma 7:10 being a false prophecy is its assumption that "the Spirit," of whom Alma testified that He "knoweth all things," evidently did not know how to mention Bethlehem in a way to make it relevant to the Nephites. As stated, Alma's prophecy either wrongly refers to Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem, or, it inaccurately refers to Bethlehem as Jerusalem. As seen above, even mere men can formulate any number of ways to have stated the prophecy, whether Bethlehem is mentioned or not, that would have avoided both errors, and remained both accurate and understandable.  There is simply no excuse for Alma's misidentification of the Savior's birthplace, other than Joseph Smith's own ignorance at the time he authored the Book of Mormon.

1 Introductory information in the front of the Book of Mormon-the title page, and "A Brief Explanation About The Book of Mormon."
2 1 Nephi 3:20; emphasis added.
3 1 Nephi 5:13 (10-14).
4 Micah 5:2.

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