We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick, New Testament scholar at BYU. We’ll talk about why Book of Mormon helps date birth of Christ. Critics complain that the Book of Mormon says Jesus was born at Jerusalem. How does Dr. Chadwick respond to that charge?
Jeff: Bethlehem is just five miles south of ancient Jerusalem in terms of a town in a town. Today. Bethlehem is to Jerusalem the lead the way Orem is to Provo. If there weren’t a political barrier there, because Israeli territory separates from Palestinian territory, you wouldn’t know you were crossing from Jerusalem to Bethlehem today. They’re literally that close. But they were five miles separate anciently. But Bethlehem was easily described in ancient texts as being in the district or county of Jerusalem or what Nephi himself calls, the Land of Jerusalem. In Alma 7:10, it does say Jesus was born at Jerusalem, the land of our forefathers. So, it is referring to Jerusalem as a land instead of a city. In other words, someone is born in Salt Lake County. Whether he’s in Salt Lake City or whether he’s in…
GT: Sandy or Herriman…
Jeff: …somewhere else there. Well, if you’re born in the land of Jerusalem, you’re in the vicinity there. There are some ancient texts that do refer to, we think, to Bethlehem as being in the land of Jerusalem, including some Egyptian texts. So, there’s nothing wrong with that.
GT: So Egyptian texts say he was born in Jerusalem?
Jeff: No, not that. They say that Bethlehem is a town in the district or Land of Jerusalem. One of the el Amarna texts, which actually dates long before 600 BC, notes, Bethlehem, a town in the Land of Jerusalem. So, it was not unusual in ancient times to refer to Bethlehem, if you had any reason to refer to it, as a town in the Land of Jerusalem. Alma 7:10 has never been one of those things that I’ve lost any sleep over. There are plenty of things you have to work to describe in scripture, but that one is not a problem.
We’ll also answer other questions, like this: Didn’t Joseph Smith say Jesus was born on April 6th?
Jeff: Joseph Smith made no statement on the timing of the birth of Christ. What Joseph Smith did was dictate the language of Doctrine and Covenants, section 20. But Doctrine and Covenants, section 20, verse one, which says that the church was established on the sixth day of April 1830 years after the coming of the Lord in the flesh. [This] was to note within the calendaring system, accepted at that time and still in ours, the date of the founding of the Latter-Day Saint Church, not the date of Jesus’ birth, in saying, and by the way, this is J. Reuben Clark in his book, ‘Our Lord of the Gospels,’ which was another Latter-Day Saint commentary on the life of Christ, which appeared 50 years after Brother Talmage’s. Brother Clark took the position that Doctrine and Covenants section 20 verse one is not giving the imprimatur of accuracy to our current calendar. That what Doctrine Covenant Section 20 verse one is simply doing is saying the church was established on April 6 in the year we generally refer to as 1830, the year of our Lord. That’s all, not more or less. In elder Bruce R. McConkie’s series called ‘The Mortal Messiah,’ he actually asks kind of in an end note to one of his chapters, what was the year of Jesus’ birth. Then after saying this is a question about which the learned delight to debate, he goes ahead and debates it. What he does is he states what Elder Talmage’s position was in Jesus the Christ where he used Doctrine and Covenant section 20, verse one to suggest that Jesus was born on April 6th, 1830 years before the church was founded, but then he also points out what President J. Reuben Clark said, which was that gospel scholarship in general throughout Christianity, based on historical documents available, particularly about the life of Herod the Great and about Roman dating, would say that Herod died in 4 BC and Jesus’ birth must be prior to that. Brother Clark, actually, in the dating scheme that he has in his book, puts Jesus’ birth in December of 5 BC.
How does the Book of Mormon helps date the birth of Christ? What are the clues Chadwick used to solve this puzzle? Was Joseph much older than Mary?
Since we talked about the birth and death of Jesus, what’s left out about his life is his childhood. There are lots of stories of Jesus as a child, but they are not in the Bible. BYU professor Dr. Thom Wayment and I will discuss several of these strange stories about the Juvenile Jesus.
Thom: He loses a game. So, he smites his friend who beats him in the game and then they go get their local leaders and they come out and say, “We’ve got to punish this kid,” and as they get ready to punish them, Jesus raises the kid from the dead.
GT: I’ve heard that story too.
Thom: And then they say, “Where is the evidence of this?” It’s really weird to a modern person how terrible Jesus could be as a child.
GT: Well, and there’s another story about a bunch of birds. He made a bunch of mud birds or something.
Thom: And gave life to them.
GT: And then they flew away.
Thom: Yes, yes.
GT: He’s really a brat. Jesus is a brat in this story.
Thom: I would agree. I would use that term. And what’s so fascinating is it’s like he has this divine power, but he’s a teenager using it, which is really kind of fun, but you wonder what it says about your view of Jesus.
Were any of these considered canonical? Have you read these apocryphal stories? Do you think Jesus ever misused his godly powers?