Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another Geographic Neck

We have looked at every occurrence of the terms "narrow," "strait," and "small" in the text of the Book of Mormon in an attempt to deduce meaning based on Nephite usage. See the article "Narrow and Small Things" in this blog. Our overarching purpose in this rather laborious exercise was to shed light on the enigmatic narrow (small) neck of land referenced in Alma 22:32, Alma 63:5 and Ether 10:20. There is, however, one other use of the term "neck" in a geographic context in the text of the Book of Mormon that we should analyze. The relevant passage is 2 Nephi 18:8 quoting Isaiah 8:8. "And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel." This passage refers to the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom ca. 720 B.C. and the subsequent destruction of most of the Southern Kingdom ca. 701 B.C. "He" refers to the king of Assyria, Sargon and then Sennacherib. A gentle brook represents good government, while an overflowing torrent symbolizes conquest and tyranny. That is the sense of 2 Nephi 18:7 where the Assyrian juggernaut is characterized as a flood raging through Israel. The Assyrian invasion is also represented as a bird of prey whose large wings cover the entire breadth of the land of Israel. Josephus (De Bello, lib. iii, ch. ii) describing Jerusalem, says "Jerusalem, eminent above all the surrounding region, as the head of the body." This image from Google Maps with the terrain layer turned on shows Jerusalem in the Judean hill country. The Temple Mount, as a benchmark, sits at an elevation of 740 meters.
Jerusalem Among the Judean Hills
Isaiah referenced the same metaphor Josephus recorded - Jerusalem was the head of the body and the Assyrian invasion reached almost to the head like a flood whose waters rose up to a man's neck.This idea of the conquerors reaching the neck, but not the head, is also found in Isaiah 30:28 and Habakkuk 3:13. We know from many sources that ca. 701 B.C. Sennacherib and his Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem. This was the origin of Hezekiah's Tunnel, famous with modern tourists visiting Jerusalem. After laying waste to 46 cities throughout the kingdom of Judah (Sennacherib Prism, currently in the Oriental Institute, Chicago) the formidable Assyrian war machine encamped around Jerusalem and was destroyed by divine intervention as recorded in Isaiah 37:36 and 2 Kings 19:35. This awesome display of divine protection gave rise to the tradition of Jerusalem's invincibility evident in 1 Nephi 2:13.

This Google Earth image shows Jerusalem's old city, the approximately 90 hectares (.9 square kilometers) that comprise the UNESCO World Heritage site. The Temple Mount itself is a model superimposed over Google Earth's base satellite imagery. Vertical exaggeration is 3X to highlight the topography.
Modern Old City Jerusalem with Temple Mount Model
Archaeological sources tell us that Jerusalem in 598 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and installed Zedekiah as a puppet ruler was about 50 hectares in size, or about one-half the size of the modern old city. See Margreet Steiner, Excavations in Jerusalem by K M Kenyon 1961 - 1967, Vol. III: The Settlement in the Bronze and Iron Ages (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001).

The "neck" mentioned in 2 Nephi 18:8 was roughly a ring around the city of Jerusalem, a line marking the furthest advance of the Assyrian military under Sennacherib ca. 701 B.C. If that ring were 2 kilometers in diameter, then it looked something like the white circle (fit to the uneven topography) in the image below.
Visualization of the "Neck" around Jerusalem
A "neck" of land 2 kilometers wide is clearly in line with the results we found by analyzing all occurrences of the words "narrow," "strait," and "small" in the text of the Book of Mormon. See the blog article "Narrow and Small Things."