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

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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).[1] 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.”[2]

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.[3]

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.


Notes

  1. Menachem Haran, Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978), 46—47.
  2. Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits, “Another Temple in Judah! The Tale of Tel Moẓa,” Biblical Archaeology Review (January/February 2020): 40-49.
  3. Anon., "Reply To Mr. J. B. Rollo’s ‘Mormonism Exposed.’," Millennial Star 2 no. 3 (July 1841). off-site