In 1938 J. L. Starkey discovered a sizeable cache of clay tablets in the Israelite city of Lachish. Lachish is a very old military stronghold just outside of Jerusalem. It was founded 3,000 years before Christ. It was one of the cities the Israelites conquered during the post-Moses conquest of the Holy Land. Since that time it had been under control of Israel and various kings and foreign occupiers over the millennia. Today, it lies in ruins. The Lackish Letters are a series of letters written by the military commander of Lackish about five years after Lehi left Jerusalem and three years prior to the Babylonian captivity. They paint a vivid picture of the times and firmly corroborate Lehi’s description of those times.
The letters were written on potshards, or irregular pieces of pottery, because they could not buy papyrus (paper of that day) from Egypt. The letters were found in the ruins of a guardhouse that stood at the main gate of the city. Two letters were a foot beneath the street paving in front of the guardhouse, and the other sixteen were piled below a stone bench against the east wall. The wall had collapsed during the burning of the city, and fallen over the bench, thus protecting the cache of records for nearly 2000 years.
606 BC in Jerusalem was a terrifying time. The Jewish King Jehoiakim had forged an alliance with Egypt against Babylon very contrary to the prophet Jeremiah’s inspired council. Jeremiah’s reward for being politically incorrect was to be imprisoned and abused for almost 20 years. The Egyptians, with Israel’s support, engaged the Babylonians about 605 BC. But, Israel’s support was half-hearted, and Egypt’s army was left to contend with the Babylonians alone. In retaliation, while still warring with Egypt, Babylon defeated and occupied Jerusalem in 601 BC. But, he did not raze the city or destroy the temple at this time. King Jehoiakim swore allegiance to Babylon, and after a little palace intrigue, Babylon placed Zedekiah on the throne, an 18 year-old relative of Jehoiakim, who was loyal to Babylon.
This is the setting of the opening pages of the Book of Mormon. Jerusalem was occupied by Babylon. Egypt and Babylon were at war. Israel has switched sides and is not trusted by either party to the war. The political powers in Jerusalem are trying very hard to assure the people that everything is fine, and that their new alliance with Babylon will save them from the wrath of the Egyptians, should they win the war.
Then, along comes Lehi and “many other prophets” prophesying that Jerusalem will be defeated by Babylon (their current ally) and the people will be carried away captive into Babylon. From a political perspective, this is very inconvenient because it is demoralizing to the people and the military. Letter 6:5-6 says: “The words of the [prophet] are not good [and are liable] to loosen the hands.” Or, to make them loosen their grip on the sword.
The letters were being kept as evidence in the pending trial of a military commander named Hoshacyahu. He was being court-martialed because apparently he had tipped off a certain prophet named Uriah that king Zedekiah had ordered Uriah’s arrest and execution.
The same story is told in Jeremiah 26:22. Remember, the book of Jeremiah is a historic book of the Bible, and the Lachish Letters, though written at the same time, only came to light in 1938. Jeremiah mentions the prophet Uriah again in Jeremiah 38:4.
Until the discovery of the Lachish Letters, it was believed that written Hebrew was uncommon among the Jews. There was so little evidence of Hebrew writing from 600 BC that no actual alphabet or text existed from that period. Only assumptions even suggested there was a written Hebrew language from that time. Mormon’s mention in Mormon 9:32 that he would have rather written in Hebrew, but that it was too bulky, has been a point of criticism for almost two centuries. It should have stopped abruptly in 1938 because the Lachish letters were written in fluent Hebrew a few years after Lehi abandoned Jerusalem.
The Lachish letters prove and overcome several other major criticisms of the Book of Mormon. For the sake of readability, I’ll list a few of these and give you references at the end of the Un-Blog where you can look it up if you wish.
Proper names in the Book of Mormon ending in –i, -iah-, -hah and similar endings did not seem to mesh with known Hebrew names of the period. The most common name in the Lachish Letters is Yaush, which has the same pronunciation as Josh in Mormon 6:14. The Lachish name of Mattanyahu is the Book of Mormon equivelant of Mathoniah and Mathoni. Another Lachish name is Tobshillem, which suggests the Book of Mormon Shilom and Shelem. The Lachish name of Hageb resembles Hagoth. The Lakish name MLKih (pronounced “Malachi”) is similar to Anmalickiah, Amaleki and Amlici from the Book of Mormon.
The following list was compiled by Hugh Nibley in his book “Prophetic Book of Mormon” in chapter 18, p 380.
1. First consider the fact that only one piece of evidence could possibly bring us into the Lehi picture, and that one piece of evidence happens to be the only first-hand writing surviving from the entire scope of Old Testament history. Lehi’s story covers less than ten years in the thousand-year history of the Book of Mormon, and the Lachish Letters cover the same tiny band of a vast spectrum—and they both happen to be the same years!
2. Not only in time but in place do they fit neatly into the same narrow slot, and the people with which they deal also belong to the same classes of society and are confronted by the same peculiar problems.
3. With the Book of Mormon account being as detailed and specific as it is, it is quite a piece of luck that there is nothing in the Lachish Letters that in any way contradicts its story—that in itself should be given serious consideration. Is it just luck?
4. Both documents account for their existence by indicating specifically the techniques and usages of writing and recording in their day, telling of the same means of transmitting, editing, and storing records.
5. The proximity of Egypt and its influence on writing has a paramount place in both stories.
6. Both stories confront us with dynastic confusion during a transition of kingship.
7. Both abound in proper names in which the –yahu ending is prominent in a number of forms.
8. In both, the religious significance of those names gives indication of a pious reformist movement among the people.
9. The peculiar name of Jaush (Josh), since it is not found in the Bible, is remarkable as the name borne by a high-ranking field officer in both the Lachish Letters and the Book of Mormon.
10. In both reports, prophets of gloom operating in and around Jerusalem are sought by the government as criminals for spreading defeatism.
11. The Rekhabite background is strongly suggested in both accounts, with inspired leaders and their followers fleeing to the hills and caves.
12. Political partisanship and international connections cause division, recriminations, and heartbreak in the best of families.
13. The conflicting ideologies—practical vs. religious, materialist vs. spiritual—emerge in two views of the religious leader or prophet as a piqqeah, “a visionary man,” a term either of praise or of contempt—an impractical dreamer.
14. For some unexplained reason, the anti-king parties both flee not towards Babylon but towards Egypt, “the broken reed.”
15. The offices and doings of Laban and Jaush present a complex parallel, indicative of a special military type and calling not found in the Bible.
16. Almost casual references to certain doings by night create the same atmosphere of tension and danger in both stories.
17. Little Nedabyahu fits almost too well into the slot occupied by the Book of Mormon Mulek, “the little king,” who never came to rule but escaped with a party of refugees to the New World.
18. The whole business of keeping, transmitting, and storing records follows the same procedures in both books.
While physical evidences and archeological proofs are intriguing, the true evidence of the Book of Mormon’s truth is in the Spirit that fills the soul when reading divinely authored truth. However, there is a place for physical evidence, not to prove anything, but to silence the critics who use a vacuum of proof to insist that nothing can exist other than the vacuum. In other words, we don’t know of a Hebrew alphabet in 600 BC, so it didn’t exist. This is the same logic athiests use to prove there is no God. Yet, when proof arises and the vacuum fills with truth – they persist in favor of filling the vacuum with vacuum. Sometimes it’s just fun to point that out.
References you may enjoy:
© February 2012, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved. Non-commercial reproduction permitted.