Hey guys, if you’re familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you know that we’ve got hundreds of special buildings called temples throughout the world. Now, for some people, there’s been this long-standing idea that anciently, God only ever allowed 1 temple to be built: the temple at Jerusalem. It’s for this reason that some people also have questions about temples built in the New World as described in the Book of Mormon, like Nephi’s temple. If there can only be one, why are multiple temples built in the Book of Mormon and in modern times? Let’s see what we can find out.
OK guys, so here’s where the rubber meets the road: Many people believe God has only allowed 1 temple to ever be built primarily because of these verses from Deuteronomy 12: “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shall offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee.”
Now, there are 2 kings from the ancient Kingdom of Judah that tried to reform and centralize temple worship in the Jerusalem temple: King Hezekiah, who ruled from about 715-686 BC, and King Josiah who ruled from 640-609 BC. There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding those reforms, and there’s disagreement on why, or even IF, those reforms happened.
Many people assume that the reforms were based on those verses from Deuteronomy 12. But before we go any further, let’s get some background info on the book of Deuteronomy: Remember that the first generation of Israelite slaves Moses leads out of Egypt are not allowed to inherit the land God promised them in Palestine because of their wickedness. So they wander in the desert for 40 years.
Deuteronomy contains what Moses says to the next generation in preparation for them to inherit the promised land. Moses makes some speeches and reiterates the laws they were to keep. Now, fast forward to King Josiah. As the story goes, he finds “the book of the Law” in the temple and realizes the people of God are way off track, and the King is going to fix things with this book that some assume was a form of the book of Deuteronomy.
The only problem is that “Although Deuteronomy is presented as an address by Moses, scholars generally agree that it dates from a much later period of Israelite history … To this original core of materials [that Josiah found in the book of the Law,] other materials were added by interested parties in the years following the reforms instituted by King Josiah.” So, were these verses in Deuteronomy about centralization found in the original Deuteronomy, or were they added later? It’s open for debate, however as one non-Latter-day Saint scholar noted:
“…it is being increasingly recognized that the demand for centralization in Deuteronomy rests upon a very narrow basis only, and is, from the point of view of literary criticism, comparatively easy to remove as a late and final adaptation of many layers of material.”
Now, there are also reasonable people who disagree with a lot of what I just said, and they may be right! These are just theories. Some scholars take Deuteronomy 12 very literally. Others believe these verses are only meant “to insist on Yahwism versus Baalism, not on central sanctuary versus many sanctuaries.” In the words of another scholar, “Deuteronomy is not aiming at the centralization of the cult in one place but has in mind primarily the purification of the cult which already exists.” Another scholar added that “the original D[euteronomy] did not demand an absolute centralization of the cult at Jerusalem but only a relative one at several larger sanctuaries.”
In any case, archaeological research attests to the fact that multiple ancient Israelite temples did exist both inside and outside of Jerusalem. These are the recently discovered Tel Moza temple ruins on the outskirts of Jerusalem. According to the Biblical Archaeology Review, this temple “apparently stood, operated, and welcomed worshipers throughout most of the Iron Age II, from its establishment around 900 B.C.E. until its demise sometime toward the end of the Iron Age (early sixth century B.C.E.).”
“It has become clear that temples such as the one at Moẓa not only could but also must have existed throughout most of the Iron II period as part of the official, royally sanctioned religious construct. Indeed, the temple at Moẓa is not an anomaly at all; rather, it is the exception that proves the rule! Simply put: Despite the biblical narratives describing Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s reforms, there were sanctioned temples in Judah in addition to the official temple in Jerusalem.”
Another notable temple was located in Elephantine, Egypt. We have documents from these island ruins that describe the temple. It’s documented that the governor of Judah even gave the Jews at Elephantine permission to rebuild their temple after Egyptian Priests destroyed it in the early 5th century BC.
This temple is also interesting because it is thought to have been founded by Israelites who fled Jerusalem as the Babylonian Empire grew in power, similar to Lehi and his family in the Book of Mormon. And, like Lehi’s group, once these exiles reached their new home, they recognized the need for a temple.
There was also a temple in Heliopolis Egypt. Archaeologists have also discovered temples at Megiddo, Arad, Lachish, and Beersheba. More examples could be given, but you get the idea. The building of multiple temples was an accepted practice for a very long time. Check out the links in the description for more info on this topic, and have a great day.
- Biblical Archaeology Review report about Tel Moza: https://bit.ly/3c5kbpq
- Elephantine and the governor of Judah: https://bit.ly/2B7VHPu
- “The Jewish Temple at Elephantine,” by Stephen Rosenberg: https://bit.ly/2WLP7qi
- From the Jerusalem Post about the Elephantine temple: https://bit.ly/2WQWUDj
- Elephantine Papyrus petition to rebuild temple: https://bit.ly/3g6FKJi
- BoMC: “New Archaeological Discovery Sheds Light on Nephi’s Temple”: https://bit.ly/2AHALyp
- BoMC: “Did Ancient Israelites Build Temples Outside of Jerusalem?”: https://bit.ly/2TLpF29
- A pretty good Master of Divinity thesis that touches on this subject: https://bit.ly/2WQYoNT
- “How the Jerusalem Temple was ‘Chosen’ as the Only Place of Worship”: https://bit.ly/3gc8aBL
- Encyclopedia Britannica on Deuteronomy: https://bit.ly/3gbv4cx