Temples in the Book of Mormon

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Temples in the Book of Mormon

Some attack the presence of an Israelite temple built by the Nephites. They do so on one or more of the following grounds: 1) They claim that Israelites considered the Jerusalem temple the sole legitimate site of worship, and so would not have reproduced it. 2) They claim that the Nephite population would have been too small to match the work required to built a temple "like unto Solomon's temple" (2 Nephi 5:16). 3) They claim that the temple built was "similar in splendor" to Solomon's temple. 4) They claim that the sacrifices and rituals as presented are not consistent with Jewish ritual.

Question: Were there not enough people available in Nephi's time to build a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon"?

Nephi is saying the he built a temple that was of the same pattern Solomon's temple, but he does not say that it was of the same size

This criticism presumes that the Lehite immigrants are the only work-force available, but this is almost certainly not true. (See: Book of Mormon demographics.)

Even if one presumes that the Lehite colony and the Nephite break-off are the only workforce—a dubious assumption—this only means that the temple would have been smaller—this seems likely in any case, since Nephi only says he built it "after the manner" of Solomon's temple, but not in so grand a style because of local restrictions. Consider Nephi's description:

And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine. (2 Nephi 5:16). (emphasis added)

Question: Was Nephi's temple "similar in splendor" to Solomon's temple?

Nephi stated that it was not like Solomon's temple" because many "precious things" were "not to be found upon the land"

Nephi is clear that the temple is not to the scale or grandeur of Solomon's temple; he merely patterns the building and its functions after the Jewish temple.

16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine. (2 Nephi 5:16)

Nephi also probably had access to more workmen than the few members of the original Jerusalem party under Lehi.

One critic, who used to be a member of the Church, actually demonstrates his ignorance of the Book of Mormon by stating that the temple that was built was said to be "similar in splendor" to Solomon's Temple, directly contradicting Nephi's description. Nephi stated that "could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple" because many of the precious things contained in Solomon's temple "were not to be found upon the land." Therefore, Nephi himself confirms that his temple was not "similar in splendor" to Solomon's temple.

This is a good example of the critics reading the text in the most naive, most ill-informed way possible. One should also consider that smaller population would not have needed a massive complex like the temple at Jerusalem anyway.

Question: Was the temple in Jerusalem the sole legitimate site of worship?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #31: Did Ancient Israelites Build Temples Outside Of Jerusalem? (Video)

Biblical scholarship has demonstrated that the portrayal of the Jerusalem temple as the sole legitimate site of worship was made for political reasons

Recent Biblical scholarship has increasingly demonstrated that the portrayal of the Jerusalem temple as the sole legitimate site of worship was a late change made for political and polemical reasons. One non-LDS archaelogist's work is discussed:

The most obvious example [of a Jewish temple] is Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, which Dever [the archaelogist]...question[s] whether it was really the center of national religious life. He points out how difficult the requirements for temple worship would have been for the average Israelite. Few people journeyed to Jerusalem even once in their whole lives, let alone three times a year as prescribed in the Old Testament. He points out that "even if they did get there, they would not have been admitted to the Temple, . . . largely a royal chapel. . . . The activities [there] were conducted by and for a small priestly class, not even the majority of the small population resident in Jerusalem" (p. 98).

But to say that the Jerusalem temple may not actually have been the center of Israelite religion is not to preclude temple worship at other places. Evidence already discussed suggests that open-air sanctuaries and gate shrines may have been the sites of practices associated with the presence of the deity. There are two examples of monumental temples besides Solomon's. One such temple is at Shechem in Samaria and is known as the Field V Migdal temple...Its walls were as much as fifteen feet thick, and it stood two or three stories high. This site was associated by the 1960s excavators with specific passages in the Old Testament. Dever supports those connections, comfortable that this place could well have been the site where Joshua gathered the people after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:) and where Abimelech rallied support when he aspired to the throne (Judges 9:). But this temple predates Israel's monarchy. It was destroyed in the twelfth century BC, well before the Solomonic temple was built.

The only other Israelite temple [in Palestine] identified to date is from the eighth century BC, at Arad, east of Beersheba. Many readers will be surprised to know that any examples of ancient Israelite temples other than Solomon's exist at all from this time period because the Old Testament implies that ritual worship was by then centralized in Jerusalem. Dever argues that the temple at Arad was a large part of a Judean royal fortress and emphasizes how similar in plan it is to the Jerusalem temple. It was compatible with the official religion, at least in most respects. Evidence suggests that some of the paraphernalia found here—specifically three large standing stones and two altars—was deliberately buried under the floor as part of Hezekiah's reform.8 Dever notes that two of the standing stones (māṣṣēbôt) that were later concealed—one larger than the other—were originally placed on the back wall of the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. For him, this is evidence that at least two deities were worshipped here. The temple itself, Dever believes, is no isolated case of rogue temple-building. His sense is that local temples were common... [1]

Known Jewish temples

Known Jewish temples include: [2]

Site Approximate time (centuries before Christ)
Mosaic Tabernacle


Gilgal 13
Ebal 13
Shechem 12
Shiloh 12-11
Kirjath-jearim 11
Gibeon 10-11
Megiddo 10
Arad 10 (to 1st century A.D.)
Lachish 10-7
Dan 10-8
Bethel 9
Beer-Sheba 8-7
Elephantine/Aswan 6-4
Shechem/Mt. Gerizim (Samaritan) -
Leontopolis/Tel Yehudia by Onias (near Heliopolis) which replaced/united several other Jewish temples in Egypt 160 B.C. to A.D. 73

Question: How could Lehi, a non-Levite, perform sacrifices?

In the Bible there are instances where men from non-Levite lineage offered sacrifices

One example that comes to mind is that of Gideon, a judge of Israel, who, like Lehi, was from the Josephite tribe of Manasseh. Commanded of God to build an altar, Gideon made an acceptable burnt offering to the Lord, and was in no way condemned for his action (See Judges 6:24-26). The prophet Samuel was from the Josephite tribe of Ephraim, yet he too offered sacrifices (1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Samuel 7:9-10; 1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 13:15). The general consensus among Bible scholars is that the idea that only descendants of Aaron could offer sacrifices was a late (post-exilic) concept in ancient Israel. It led to such anomalies as the later chroniclers assigning Samuel to the tribe of Levi in 1 Chronicles 6:33-38 to justify his having offered sacrifices. It is interesting that the first sacrifice offered for the Israelites after they left Egypt was performed not by a Levite, but by Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, a non-Israelite (Exodus 18:12). [3]

Question: Would Israelites not have constructed a temple outside of Jerusalem?

Ancient practice did not avoid the construction of alternate sacrificial temples for Jews who were much closer to Jerusalem than the New World Nephites

It is claimed that Israelites would not have constructed a temple outside of Jerusalem, since this was forbidden by Jewish law and practice. A related claim insists that Lehi and his family, being Israelites, would not have offered sacrifices "according to the Law of Moses" because only Levites were authorized to perform sacrificial rites in Israel.

Ancient practice did not avoid the construction of alternate sacrificial temples for Jews who were much closer to Jerusalem than the New World Nephites. The Book of Mormon's report is consistent with ancient practice.

Contrary to the critics' claims, ancient Jews did not avoid creating other centers of sacrifice and worship when far from Jerusalem.

For example, Jews outside of the land of Israel created temples at Elephantine in Egypt (it was destroyed in 410 B.C.) and Leontopolis (sacrifice ceased in A.D. 73).[4] Scholars Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits published a paper in the January/February 2020 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review describing another temple that was discovered at Tel Moẓa, 4 miles to the northwest of Jerusalem, that dates to the Iron Age (900 B.C.). “It 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.). But what is a temple doing at Tel Moẓa during this period, when the Bible says the only temple in Judah was in Jerusalem?

Could a monumental temple really exist in the heart of Judah, right outside of Jerusalem?


[I]t 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. . . . 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.”[5]

God would not be unjust

An early LDS missionary publication mocked the absurdity of bible-believers insisting that God would deny the Lehites ordinances commanded under the Law of Moses because of their great distance from Jerusalem:

Mr. B. quotes Zechariah 14th, “And all the families of the earth shall go up to Jerusalem once a year and do homage.” By an unreasonable translation of the Hebrew word Arates, which signifies earth or land, Mr. R. is led into one of the most ridiculous blunders, namely, that the inhabitants of the most inland parts of America are all to perform a journey to Jerusalem every year, making them a journey of two or three thousand miles on the continent of America, three or four thousand more across the ocean, and then two thousand more up the Mediterranean sea, in all at least seven thousand miles. This doubled by going and coming, would make fourteen thousand miles that every man, woman, and child must perform every year to appear at Jerusalem. All this Mr. R. can believe, sooner than believe that America will have a sanctuary of its own and a holy city for the resort of its tribes and nations.

Well, Mr. R., the Latter-Day Saints cannot stretch their marvellousness enough for to believe this; so, to avoid this extraodinary stretch of the marvellous and unreasonable, they take the liberty of translating the Hebrew word Arates, land instead of earth, in this text. It will then read thus: “All the families of the land shall go up once a year to Jerusalem,” &c. This does not transgress the laws of the Hebrew language, and at the same time renders the fulfilment of the prediction possible.[6]

As seen above, modern historical research has vindicated the Book of Mormon—Jews much closer to Palestine than the Nephites had their own local temples.


Part(s) of this issue are addressed in a FairMormon video segment. Click here to see video clips on other topics.


  1. Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, "Does God Have a Wife? Review of Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 81–118. off-site wiki
  2. Dr. William Hamblin, "Tract Made Without Evidence". Hamblin respond's to James White's (of Alpha & Omega Ministry) e-tract, "Temples Made Without Hands" (22 September 1999). off-site
  3. This answer is based on a FAQ from the FARMS/Maxwell Institute website (accessed 19 December 2007); it may have been altered by FAIR wiki editors. off-site
  4. Menachem Haran, Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978), 46—47.
  5. Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits, “Another Temple in Judah! The Tale of Tel Moẓa,” Biblical Archaeology Review (January/February 2020): 40-49.
  6. Anon., "Reply To Mr. J. B. Rollo’s ‘Mormonism Exposed.’," Millennial Star 2 no. 3 (July 1841). off-site