Dr. Einar C. Erickson
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This is the baptism by which Ibblesway the spirit baptized the first man Adam. With it the spirit baptized the first man Adam and it was preserved throughout the ages for the elect righteous.

Some of the earliest structures built by man were temples or shrines where he could worship God in God's ‘house.' The oldest archaeological temple sites in the Middle East are called "House of the Most High." (George, 1993) Christ called the Temple his ‘Father's House.' Temples were in existence in every dispensation from Adam to the present. But the infamous Tower of Babel is the first structure mentioned in the Bible which implies the existence of a Temple. (Gen 11:4)  Enoch and his people were translated along with their city and it included a temple. (McConkie p. 191)  This is the same temple in which the three Nephites who were translated received their temple endowments. (McConkie p. 191) The temple is a place for one to go to communicate with God, receive instructions, make covenants with God, participate in ordinances required by God, and intended to be a place where man might meet God.  History and the general world lost track of temple building and their importance, even their necessity. So completed was this loss that it took revelation to restore it.

So ingrained was the idea of a temple that from the beginning most cities had a temple; if not dedicated to the true God at least to the patron God.  One of the earliest mentions of temples other than in Mormon Scriptures, is the Temple at Eridu during the Ubaid Period, and the three temples at Tepe Gawra in the drainage of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, before 3000 BC (Hunt p.15) Eridu in fact, upon excavation revealed 18 levels of temples one on top of the other. (Hunt p. 17) One of "the first great Dynasties [of Mesopotamia] is said to have been founded at Kish   ...Kish and Uruk, together with a similar ruling elite at Mari, were contemporary." (Hunt p. 22) The ancient City of Kish covered more than ten square miles [with 40 mounds] ...[two of the most important] mounds are called Uhaimir and Ingharra [both temple mounds]." (‘Hunt p. 23) "Recognition of kings of Nippur at the Temple of Enlil [the ‘father' god, and creator] chief god of the Mesopotamian pantheon, was a prerequisite to rule, that [even the Great Early King] Sargon apparently felt unable to challenge." (Hunt p. 50).  No doubt as archaeological work continues earlier temples will be found.

In Egypt, excavations in 1897-98 identified the ancient city of Nekhen [with its ceremonial centers] on the west bank of the Nile north of Aswan and dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus, from whence came the myth of the Wedjat-eye [see Weights & Barley in this series]. (Clayton pp. 16-17). Elephantine was on an Island in the middle of the Nile River just west of Aswan. The ancient city of Nekhen would have all been before the flood and during the last years of Adam.

How important temples were and how anciently they were constructed and utilized can be obtained from Section 109 of the Doctrine and Covenants. (Nibley, 1994, p. 29-47) Nibley also elucidates Abraham's Temple Drama stretching back to Adam, for all the Ancients had the Ordinances and a "place" in which to participate in them. (Nibley, 1999, p.1-42) After the "sojourn" in Egypt, Israel first had a Tabernacle as a prototype of the physical temple that served as a place of serious worship and ordinances. It was called the ‘Tabernacle of the Congregation' in Ex. 33:7 and the ‘tent of meeting' and it had other names as well:  (Ex 23:19, 26:9, 39:32, l Chron 6:48, 9:23, 17:5 and 11 Chron 24:6). The description and specifications are in Ex. 26, 27, 35-38.  Smaller recognized temple shrines during the time of the Judges utilized this pattern, (Miller p. 722) for their particular needs, that included the Temple at Elephantine. (see Rosenberg p. 10) The Temple of Solomon greatly enlarged and sophisticated the Tabernacle pattern. Wherever the pattern was employed they were all characterized by the presence of an Altar for the performances of varied animal sacrifices.


Temples of the Last Dispensation, now being built, do not have a sacrificial Altar, but the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem and some of the Temples to be built in Jackson County, Missouri will have Altars, how else would the Levites offer up again a sacrifice in righteousness?  (D&C 13, Dyer pp. 104-109, DHC Vol. 1, pp. 359-362)  Often time sacred obligations were fulfilled by the simplest accommodation such as where those who sought the lord... or where Moses could retire for meditation (Ex 33:7-10)... [which] is identified as coming from an Ephraimite source. (Miller p. 722)  Ephraim had taken on a major role and it was Joshua the Ephramite who was custodian of the first "tent of meeting" (Ex 33:11) and it is Ephraimites now in office in these last days, they and others are now officiating in all the temples now being built. (D&C 84:31:34, Vermes p. 161)

An Altar not often referred to is the one mentioned in the DHC at Adam-Ondi-Ahman. "On the brow of the hill stood the old stone Altar ....sixteen feet long, by nine or ten feet wide...the height of the altar at each end was some two and half feet... rising higher to the center...such was the Altar at ‘Diahman' when the Prophet's [Joseph Smith] party visited it." (Smith pp. 38-40) More details are provided by Wittorf. This was the Altar of Adam, where "Adam and his company, assembled to worship their God."(Wittorf  pp. 1-8) Since this was nearly 85 miles north of the site of the Garden of Eden where Adam may have first built an altar, the ‘Diahman altar' would have been constructed later and used over a longer period of time. "The Lord gave a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, at Hiram, Ohio, concerning the ‘foundation of Adam-ondi-Ahman,' at which place Michael, or Adam received the ‘keys of salvation.'" (Dyer p. 172, D&C 78:15-17)  "The Prophet, upon first visiting the site, called the bluff, ‘Tower Hill' (a name I [H.C. Kimball] gave the place)  in consequence of the remains of an old Nephite altar or tower that stood there. (DHC Vol. 111, p. 40) The Prophet...called... ‘Brethren [BrighamYoung and others] come, go along with me, and I will show you something.' He led....to a place where [there] were ruins of three altars...built of stone, one above the other... representing the three orders of priesthood; ‘There,' said Joseph, ‘is the place where Adam offered up sacrifice..."  (Life of Heber C. Kimball quoted in Dyer, pp. 176-77)


The smaller recognized ‘temple' shrines include those at Shiloh, Nob, Bethel, Mt. Gerizim, Schechem and possibly Gibeon, most of these had some kind of permanent structure; most had proscribed Altars. (Ex 27:1-2, Jos. 8:30) It was at Shiloh where the Ark had been kept. (1 Sam 1:3, 9, 3:3, 2 Sam 7:2, 22:7)  Ophrah, about 10 miles from the ancient site of Shiloh, was the first Jewish settlement after the Six Day War. Doron Nir-Zevi, a second generation settler, found a horned Altar just one mile from the ruins of Shiloh. He and his College professor friend, Yoel Elitzur, reported the discovery in the Biblical Archaeology Review for May/June 2004. (Elitzur p. 35).

They may yet find more at the site of Nob and Bethel. The bible relates that the land was full of Altars, ‘on every high hill and under every leafy tree'" (Elitzur p. 35)  but most of these were Canaanite ceremonial spots. Israel was accustomed to offering sacrifices on ‘high places' before the temple of Solomon. The prophet Samuel was "on his way up to the high place." (1 Samuel 9:14).  Didn't Solomon himself  ‘sacrifice' and burn incense at the high places? (l Kings 3:3) Gideon offered sacrifices and built an altar on the site where an angel appeared to him (Judges 6:19-24, 13:19, l Samuel 6:14) An Altar has also been described at Samaria. (Elitzur p. 39) 

The altar mentioned in Joshua 8:30 is stated to have [now ] been found on Mt. Ebal. Another altar was found on the slope below ancient Zorah and is nicknamed Manoah's altar... "Manoah was Samson's father [he lived at Zorah]... In Judges 13, an angel appeared to Manoah ...and assured him of a son; Manoah then offered sacrifices on ...an altar." (Elitzur p. 38) ... "and the course of stones found at Tel Shechem [near where Jacob offered up sacrifices] ... has been identified as the ‘temple of Baal-Berit' from Judges 9." (Elitzur p. 38)


But all these shrines and areas called "temples" and perhaps others were insignificant compared to what developed at Jerusalem. There the Great Temple was distinguished from all other Near Eastern temples because it contained no idol. (Miller p. 730)  Information concerning the Great Temple of Solomon in the era of the Hebrew United Monarchy is in l Kings and 11 Chronicles, along with some scanty outside sources and now recently, abundant archaeological data is available. Solomon began to build his Temple in his fourth year as King, (1 Kings 5) and it took seven years to complete. (Tyndale p. 1522)  It had a varied history, often pilfered and often abused by Idolatrous Kings, (I Kings 14:26, 15:18, 16:8, 2 Kings 21:4, 23:1-12), by 640 BC it was in need of considerable repair. Worshippers helped a little, but finally the Temple was looted, sacked, destroyed and burned by Nebuchadnezzar's General Nebuzaradan, having lain siege to Jerusalem during the summer of 587, eleven years after he had carried captives to Babylon. (Miller p. 732)  This would have been about thirteen years after Lehi had left for safety to a new Promised Land. Solomon's Temple had stood for about 400 years. Lehi and his family carried in their hearts a deep desire for their own temple when they reached the new land.   


There were three successive Jerusalem temples, all on approximately the same site. These were Solomon's, Zerubbabel's, and Herod's. (Miller p. 731)  The Temple of Solomon is mentioned in l Kings and 11 Chronicles.  Archaeology has greatly enriched our knowledge of these ancient temples. Except for the Wailing Wall, there is not much tangible evidence above ground left of the three Jerusalem Temples. They were all situated on Temple Hill, the eastern hill, at an elevation of 2,470 feet. The temple looked east to the point where the sun rose over the Mount of Olives which was 200 feet higher, or at 2670 feet. (Miller p. 731) No wonder that Jesus' Disciples exclaimed as they beheld the Temple Area from that slope, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" (Mark 13:1) Part of the response was that not one stone on another would be preserved. (Math 24:2)   ) The view from the Mt. of Olives is different today, for the mount is now occupied by the "Hara mesh-Sherif,' the Moslem Dome of the Rock, covering the location of the Altar where Abraham had tied and bound Isaac for sacrifice. Perhaps the Holy of Holies of the three previous temples stood there.


But there will soon be a new temple built in Jerusalem as described in Ezek 40-43, where work for the living and the dead both for Jew and Moslem will be performed, as it states: "For it is ordained that in Zion, and in her Stakes and in Jerusalem, those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptism for your dead." (D&C 124:36)  And a New Temple will also be built soon in New Jerusalem where "His Servants ...shall see his face." (John 23:2, Is. 25:6)  A Dead Sea Scroll states: "The court is surrounded by a wall built of white stone 6.6, the wall contains twelve gates 6.3." (Chyutin p. 37)  This description seems to fit and suggest  that of the architecture of the New Jerusalem Temple the LDS expect to build. The New Jerusalem Scroll describes in detail the sacrificial preparations, requirements and procedures, somewhat like those expected to be restored again for one or more of the coming temples of the last days. The New Jerusalem Scroll from Qumran is only recently being evaluated, (Chyutin)  as is the temple described in the Temple Scroll published by Yigael Yadin, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that described a temple different from that in Ezek 40-43.  That "scroll deals with fundamental issues ...in a manner different from that revealed to all Israel in the ‘Canonical Pentateuch." (Yadin p. 226)  Work on the Temple Scroll (TS) has continued, and is now best represented by the detailed study published by Wise "in an attempt to provide an answer to the purpose of the TS." (Wise p. 33)  But without the knowledge of temples held by the LDS no scholar will know what the Temples were really for. 

Zerubbabel's Temple, or as it is also called, The Second Temple, was built at the insistence of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, a son of Iddo, also a prophet, they had come from Susa in Persia to rebuild the temple, (Miller p. 734) and it stood for almost 500 years; longer than either the first or Solomon's Temple or even the third temple built by Herod. When the Jews returned with the sanction of the Persian King Cyrus, they rebuilt the ruined temple, completing it in 515 BC (Alexander p. 254),  but it was inferior to the Temple of Solomon (Ezra l, 3:2-3, 8:10)  It had a sordid history, but the triumphant Maccabees cleansed the Temple from pollution and desecration in 164 BC . (l Macc. 4:36-59) Then they turned the enclosure into a fortress so strong that it resisted the siege of Pompey for three months in 63 BC when the Romans took over.  Then under Herod the Great, the Temple was rebuilt, commencing early in 19 BC. This magnificent structure of cream stone and gold was barely finished in 64 AD. (Tyndale p. 1525) It was still under construction when Christ walked daily in the temple and was available to all who desired to question him. (Mark 11:27, John 10:23) The impending doom of the Temple and the Holy City caused him to weep. (Luke 19:41)  Herod's Temple was the Temple of the New Testament. It was destroyed by Titus of the Roman Tenth Legion in 70 AD six years after it had been completed. (Tyndale p. 1525) And was followed by the Diaspora of the Jews which lasted until their return in May 14, 1948. (Gilbert  pp. 19-20, 106-106)  The fourth temple that will be built on the site of the first three will be built just before the Second Coming of the Christ and will last into the Millennium, and will revolve around the life of a righteous man called David. (Isaiah 19:20, Skousen p. 322) But, doesn't Section 124 state, it will be a Mormon Temple to do Mormon ordinances, for the living and the dead, Jew and Moslem, and all others?  


With the departure of the Ten Tribes, [c.722 BC] Samaria became a military colony peopled by the remnant of Jews who had not been deported by Sargon II, and of colonists brought in from Babylonia and North Syria. Interest in a center to worship was acute. The offer of certain Samaritans to help rebuild the Jerusalem Temple under Zerubbabel's leadership sanctioned by Cyrus (c. 538 BC) was rejected (Ezra 4:1-6). The rift became very great when Nehemiah expelled a member of the high priestly family for marrying a Samaritan girl. (Neh 13:28).  This led to the erection by the Samartans of their own temple on the summit of Mt. Gerizim, where god's chosen people had originally received the blessing (Deut 11:29). So, for a time a Temple other than at Jerusalem was being used.  The Mt. Gerizim Temple was destroyed by 104 BC during the political disorders in the time of the Maccabeans. (Miller p. 735). A vanishing colony of Samaritans still worship on the site to the present, still retaining their unique version of the scriptures, copies of which were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Samaritan language as part of the Library of Qumran. (Cross pp. 137-139)  Archaeology has much to contribute towards the understanding of the ancient Israelite religion; sacred time and sacred places. (Gittlen)

A Jewish temple was also built in Egypt at Leontopolis. It was excavated  [at Tell el-Yahudiya in Egypt] by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1906, it seems to have duplicated the dimensions of the Jerusalem Temple. "In 162 BC Antiochus V. of Syria appointed ...Alkimus as High Priest in Jerusalem, although he was not of the priestly family. Alkimus was regarded as an usurper by many pious Jews...Onias lV, the son of the High Priest Onias III, who had earlier been disposed by Antiochus IV, fled to Egypt with the hope of establishing a center of true worship there. ...Onias [requested from] the Egyptian ruler, Ptolemy VI ...and Cleopatra...for permission to built in Egypt a temple similar to that in Jerusalem, with Levites and priests serving as ministrants. (see Josephus, Antiquities xiii. 62-64) The reply was brief and favorable." (Pfeiffer p. 360) The Temple was built, though smaller and poorer.  Petrie reported that "the whole site was formed in imitation of the shape of the Temple hill of the Holy City.  It was, in short, a copy [of Old ] Jerusalem, in Egypt." (Pfeiffer p. 360)  By the time the temple in Leontopolis was built the temple at Elephantine had been in ruins for nearly 200 years, and the temples built on the American continent by the Nephites had multiplied and had been long in use, some had been in use for 300 years, such as the Temple in the City of Nephi built about 570 BC. (2 Ne 5:6, also see Welch)   


Lehi was numbered among "many prophets prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city of Jerusalem must be destroyed." (l Nephi 1:4)  Being a prophet, it only follows that Lehi must have held the priesthood.  Joseph Smith testified of the Nephites that they "had the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, power, and blessings as were enjoyed in the eastern continent." (Smith p. 538)  Since he lived so near to Jerusalem, could Lehi have officiated in the temple there?  His son Nephi recognized the significance of the temple for he records, "And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.  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 as like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceeding fine." (2 Nephi 5:15-16) One of the missing precious items may well have been cedar. What does this tell us about the environment where Lehi lived? Certainly in a more semi-tropical area. Lebanon had long been a source for temple timbers throughout the Mesopotamian area for 3000 years (Ezek 27:5) The temple of Solomon had obtained the cedar from the Mountains of Lebanon. (11 Samuel 5:11, l Kings 5:8)  Nephi's temple was the first temple built in the Promised Land in the Western Hemisphere; it was built in the City of Nephi. (2 Ne 5:16)  Cedar seems to have not been available.  

            Nephi's younger brother, Jacob, was the next to mention the Temple, (Jacob l:17) "Wherefore I, Jacob, gave unto them these words as I have taught them in the temple, having first obtained mine errand from the Lord."

Over three hundred years later, King Benjamin delivered his deeply spiritual  testimony from a temple. "And it came to pass that after Mosiah had done as his father had commanded him, and had made a proclamation throughout all the land that the people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which King Benjamin should speak unto them." (Mos 2:1)  The remainder of his discourse is found in Mos. 2-4. Although it cannot be proven whether this was the same temple built by Nephi, it was a temple and we suppose temple rites and ordinances were performed in it as in all the others.

Approximately two hundred years after King Benjamin, the people were gathered around a temple when the Savior appeared to them.(3 Ne 8:2, 10:18)  In 3 Nephi
11:l, it states, "And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; (3 Ne 11:1, 17:25, see also Brown p. 129) and they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great marvelous change which had taken place." This appearance of Christ at the Bountiful Temple was about eleven months after his resurrection. (3 Ne 8:2, 11:18,) "Months had passed perhaps even a year, since the volcanoes had erupted..." (Brown p. 130)

There were at least "Temples at the Cities of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful [and are] discussed by Welch" (Largey p.754, see Welch p. 12).  Lamanite Temples are also mentioned in Alma 23:2, 26:29, and other Temples in the land of Zarahemla (Alma 16:13, also See Largey p. 754).  Apparently altars were utilized in the temples, ( Mosiah 2:1-3, 2 Ne 5:10, Alma 30:3) because sacrifices were performed.  At the time the Book of Mormon was published these ideas of altars and temples outside of Jerusalem where totally unacceptable.  


But there is another temple, though not built by the Nephites they were responsible
for it. Some researchers indicates that Lehi and his family made converts during their passage through the wilderness, and that these converts continued faithful eventually
forming a populace that developed a culture and in and near the City at Dedan.  Their name, "Lihyan, means in English ‘the People of Lehi.'...This group just possibly
could have been the children of Nephi's converts (Hilton pp 73-101, D&C 38:8-13)whom he left behind as he traveled through Arabia to America." (Hilton p. 74).  Archaeologists and those doing research on the Trail of Lehi, have found in "the
Lihyan ruins at al-Eis (Yanbu, Saudi Arabia)...an Ancient Lihyan Temple and  Font.(Hilton p. 91)...patterned after Solomon's temple Font ...the ancient Lihyans were a large and powerful family, who might be the children of Nephi's converts (D&C
38:8... they must have prospered and spread over a wide area of country in process of time." (Hilton pp. 93-99) They date back to the time when Lehi and Nephi would
have passed thorough the western part of the Arabian Wilderness.  "They
rose to political prominence in the fifth century BC...[leaving behind] a temple and font, statue, and inscriptions [one with the name of  Nephi on it]."  (Hilton p. 75) near a place called Dedan, (also known as Egra, and el, Ela),  which is located east of the Red Sea and is shown on maps in (Kraeling p. 249 and Alexander p. 12-13).  Dedan was the brother of Sheba, the Son of Raamah, the fourth son of Cush, who was the
first son of Ham. (Gen 10:6-8) Representatives from Dedan were among those who
visited Christ at his birth. (Erickson p. 30). This representation could be explained by
the Nephites having made converts who prospered and built a temple about which
little is known. This is an area for further research.


Temples, then, were built and utilized by the descendants of Lehi for at least 900 years, from 570 BC to at least 350 AD. After 421 AD the Lamanites, having destroyed the bulk of the Nephites may have taken over their temples and modified them for their apostate needs. This is evidence for the significance placed on such a holy structure. There is only one problem: In 1829, it was totally against current scholarly thought to believe that Jews would have constructed any temple on foreign soil outside of Jerusalem, let alone outside of Palestine. Scholars have used the twelfth chapter of Deuteronomy to support this poplar belief, especially verses 13-14 which reads: "Take head 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 shalt do all that I command thee."  "Although proponents of the Critical School earlier concluded that the Tabernacle was a ‘pious fiction.'" (Cross 203) and Wellhausen stated categorically that "The truth is that the Tabernacle is the copy, not the prototype, of the Temple of Jerusalem" (Wellhausen p. 37), "later opinion has seen the biblical description as one based on earlier models. In particular ...Cross considers it to have been based on the ceremonial tent of David, as mentioned briefly in 2 Sam 6:17."  (Rosenberg p. 10)  Others have taken this even further: "The basic idea of a portable pavilion [tabernacle or temple] is attested in Egypt from before 2000 BC.  Surviving examples have a framework of wooden beams and rods, plated with precious metal and made with joints and sockets for easy erection. Ancient pictures show how they were once hung with curtains." (Alexander pp. 167, 253)  The implication being that Moses got his idea for the tabernacle from the Egyptian model.  "Not long ago, learned divines were fond of pointing out that Nephi's idea of building a temple in the new World was quite sufficient in itself to prove once and for all the fraudulence of the Book of Mormon, since it was argued, no real Jew would ever dream of having a temple anywhere but in Jerusalem. So the Elephantine Papyri score another point for the Book of Mormon." (Nibley 3, p. 59)

The detractors continue to have their scaffolding of explanations other than that of revelation and direction from diety washed away by new discovery after new discovery.

So, many have their opinions and most of those opinions have now been proven wrong by the continuing discoveries being made. For whatever unjustified reason, the academics could not accept that Temples were built outside of Jerusalem after the destruction of Solomon's temple. Then came Elephantine, and of course the ruins and records of Elephantine were discovered nearly fifty years after a totally functional Temple was constructed at Nauvoo, and more than sixty years after the publication of the Book of Mormon that described temples being built in the Western Hemisphere. From now on credence will have to be given to the claims of the Book of Mormon.  

It was a very significant find then, when Elephantine papyri revealed evidence of a Jewish temple to Jehovah built in southern Egypt by sixth century BC Jews. This is significant evidence to support the premise that Jews were building temples outside of Jerusalem, a practice followed by Lehi and his colony at nearly the same time a half world away.


The name Elephantine, called Yeb locally, seems to have been derived from the smooth, black granite outcroppings near the water level of the Island, eroded to what looked like bathing elephants at the water's edge, surrounding the Island. The Island was also the center of the luxury trade in Ivory between Nubia, to the south of Egypt. (Kraeling p. 129).

As has been noted in a previous study included on this web site, (Discoveries at Elephantine), during the Saite Dynasty, sometime after 650 BC, a contingent of Jewish mercenaries garrisoned at the Island had sought for permission from Jerusalem to build a temple. With their families they formed a colony on the Island that was to persist for more than three hundred years.

"The American journalist-turned-archaeologist, C.E. Wilbour (in 1893) traveled extensively in the area and acquired a hoard of papyri from the locals, which he stored in a trunk without much examination [though he suspected they might be in Aramaic]. At his death in 1896, the trunk passed to his daughter, who bequeathed the documents to the Brooklyn Art Museum in 1947." (Rosenberg p. 6) "Only then were they examined and found to be the family archive of Ananiah, a kind of Levite or ‘servitor' of the Temple of Heaven on Elephantine."  (Kraeling p. 137) "The documents were written in cursive Aramaic..[and dated] to the fifth century BC, and eventually "were published by Emil Kraeling in 1953." (Rosenberg p. 6) "A.H. Sayce acquired papyri from Elephantine in 1901, which he presented to the Bodleian Library [in England].  In 1903, Lady William Cecil and R. L. Mond acquired more rolls, which went to the Cairo Museum (and one section to the Bodleian). ...in that year a German archaeologist team found a number of additional papyri relating to the Jewish temple. Later they found others, relating to family documents, contracts and inscriptions of the Persian Emperor, Darius II....this material found by the Germans, was promptly published by E. Sachau in 1911...all the legible Aramaic papyri found up to 1920 were...published by A. Cowley in 1923....and later, together with others, by Bezalel Porten in 1968." (Rosenberg p. 6). The book by Porten is the one referred to the most, and one we have used extensively.

The Brooklyn papyri refers to the temple more frequently than does the Sayce-Cowly papyri.  Kraeling writes:  "We have already mentioned the surprise experienced by students of the Old Testament when the Sayce-Cowley papyri first revealed the existence of a Jewish sanctuary on the Island of Elephantine.  The work used to describe it was ‘egora.'  Many were reluctant to believe that the Jews at this time would have erected a real temple on foreign soil and argued that the word must refer to what was essentially a synagogue. But this possibility was dispelled by the publication of Sachau's first three papyri, revealing the story of the destruction of the building. These papyri made it clear that the edifice was used for sacrifices.  Sacrifices imply an altar and that there was an altar shown by the substitute expression ‘altar house.' The presence of an altar of sacrifice makes it certain that the building was a temple" (Kraeling, p. 100)

"The temple is described in the ... documents as an egora (shrine), which implies an altar in the open air, [like the ancient tabernacle] or a plain shrine, roofed and entered by several doorways. The building was dedicated to Jahweh, [Jehovah], to whom animal sacrifices were offered, and served a local community of Jewish militia. A papyri dated to 407 BC claims that it had stood from before the Persian conquest of Egypt by Cambyses (in 525 BC), and that he had destroyed many temples but spared the Jewish one... The papyri gave detailed descriptions of some of the houses of the Jewish colony...handed down from parents to wives and children....their location in a ...tight knit complex around the temple." (Rosenberg p. 6) Some aspects of this are discussed in another study in this series on PAPONYOMY. The measurements were reminiscent of Solomon's temple (l Kgs 6:2), though the building was probably smaller. Porten gives more details of the structure. (Porten p. 110)


Expeditions were mounted by German, French and Italian teams before and after the First World War, but they did not find the temple at that time. "In 1967 a German team started work at the southern end of Elephantine Island....identified the town, its Egyptian temples over the centuries from the earliest times to the Roman era. Their excavations uncovered an ‘Aramaic quarter' of the 27th dynasty, the early Persian period, [Cambyses II, 510 BC], (Clayton p. 125), which equates to that of the Jewish Colony. Eventually in 1997, at the heart of this village, they found a piece of tiled flooring much superior to that found in the mud brick houses around. ...[they concluded it was] the floor of the Jewish temple, confirmed by documents researched by Porten...parts of the walls of the temple and surrounding courtyard were identified." (Rosenberg p. 6)  Some parts of the city and the temple had subsided and fallen away.  Rosenberg, using the accumulated documents and the work of  Cornelius von Pilgram, the leader of the German team doing the latest work, was able to reconstruct and describe the temple and its environs in his study. (Rosenberg pp. 7-12)

What an astonishing discovery! For latter-day Saints, the published Book of Mormon had been on record since 1829, sixty years before the discovery of the Elephantine papyri telling about a fifth century Jewish group constructing a temple on foreign soil. But it had taken more than 140 years before archaeologists confirmed it for certain. Some day the ancient temples of the Nephites will be found and excavated. 

Recall that Nephi not only built a temple on foreign soil, but he built it like unto Solomon's temple. (2 Ne 5:16) Porten gives us insight concerning the actual structure erected on the Island of Elephantine. "An apparently unique feature of the Elephantine Jewish community was the existence of a Temple to YAH.  It was oriented toward Jerusalem and the size of the temple complex resembled that of Solomon's Temple." (Porten p. 299)  Thus, not only did both groups build temples outside of Jerusalem, they also followed the architectural design of Solomon's Temple.

Porten and others suggest that "in the middle of the seventh century (about 650 BC), during the reign of Manasseh in Judah, [Jewish mercenaries came] to the aid of Psammetichus l in his campaigns against Nubia and in an attempt to dislodge the overarching power of Assyria." (Rosenberg p. 7)  They would have garrisoned at Elephantine and stayed there to guard the southern reaches of Egypt.  Cyrus eventually conquered Egypt in 525 BC and apparently retained the Jewish mercenaries after that for the same purposes they had been there before.


In 410 BC, the priests of the adjoining temple of Khnum [the ram-headed God] solicited the aid of a corrupt Persian official Waidrang, who sent his son Nephayan [note the prefix name root of the name Neph-i in Neph-a-y-an. Nephi is an Egyptian name] with Egyptian troops from Syene (Aswan) [just across the Nile River to the east] to destroy the Jewish temple." (Rosenberg p. 7)  The papyri tells of this destruction, the doors and roof were destroyed and set on fire, the gold and silver vessels were looted (Cowley p. 30)  "The priests of the Khnum temple were outraged to see the Jews sacrifice animals, some of which were sacred to their God Khnum." (Rosenberg p 8) The German team found a cemetery of rams, the animal sacred to Khnum.  The Ram Headed God Khnum is credited with directing the annual inundation of the Nile... controlled from the first cataract.  The priests had reason to resent the Jewish sacrifices, particularly the sacrifice of sheep at the Passover festival, which the garrison observed. A papyrus of Darius II, dated to 418/19 BC, reminds them [the garrison], to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But why destroy the temple that had been there for more than 200 years?  There was another reason for the destruction uncovered by the recent German excavations.

In 410 BC, the "Priests of Khnum were in the process of extending their Temple northwards where it would be directly across from the courtyard wall of the Jewish temple. Between the two temples lay the main thoroughfare across the island, called the ‘street of the king' and it would have been dangerously constricted if not actually blocked. When the Jewish Temple was built, part of the road had already been diverted to the north. With the building of their extension, the Khnum priests presumably got permission to restore the street by removing the Jewish temple courtyard wall, and they took the opportunity to destroy the temple as well." (von Pilgrim, quoted by Rosenberg p. 8)  The priests had chosen an appropriate moment to attack the Jewish temple—when the Persian Governor Arsames was abroad paying homage to the Emperor, Darius II.

After three years and some difficulty, the Jews of Elephantine, especially one Jedaniah, who lived across the street northwest of the temple, appealed to the authorities "in Jerusalem for help, without success. But they did receive permission from the Persian governor of Yehud (Judah) to reconstruct the temple, and it was rebuilt shortly afterwards, on condition that animal sacrifices would not be conducted there, only ‘meal offerings and incense.'" (Porten p. 292) A second condition required that the courtyard wall of the rebuilt temple had to be clear of the ‘street of the king.'  The temple rebuilt before 402 BC was asymmetrically placed within its new courtyard.  The last date of the recovered papyri documents from Elephantine ended in 399 BC, the temple was still standing when the Persians were expelled from Egypt shortly there after. The new rulers of Egypt apparently no longer needed the services of the mercenaries; perhaps sometime later they left Elephantine. The reconstructed temple was not destroyed. For a "time it was used as a stable, presumably as an act of deliberate desecration." (Rosenberg p. 9)  The German excavators concluded that the Elephantine temple bore a close resemblance to the Mishkan, or Wilderness Tabernacle, perhaps even the shrine at Shiloh which was the covenant sanctuary central to the twelve-tribe amphictony and the place from which the Ark was taken to fight the Philistines. (l Sam 4:4)  Excavations at Shiloh, however, have never found a structure, though there was evidence of the Shrine. Later the Altar already mentioned was found a mile from the city ruins.  It is likely that prior excavational activities dug in the wrong place.


It is evident that the Garrison had obtained permission to build the temple at Elephantine before the first invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, (c. 597 BC) and then when the Babylonians returned eleven years later and destroyed the Jerusalem temple, it may have been "then that large numbers fled to Egypt taking the prophet Jeremiah with them." (Jer 43:5-7) There is no evidence that Jeremiah ever went to Elephantine, but some of the Jews may have and gone on to join the Jewish garrison there.

An exact date when the temple had been constructed is not known, but Kraeling suggested that it may have been soon after the destruction of Solomon's temple during the early sixth century BC by Nebuchadrezzar's army.  He remarks, "It would be comprehensible, too, that a temple should be established in Egypt for the Jewish God after the one at Jerusalem had fallen." (Kraeling p. 145)  The temple lasted until 410 BC when it was destroyed, (Porten p. 122) then was rebuilt before 402, and while not deliberately destroyed during the next century BC, it was desecrated and for a time used as a cattle barn, and finally like most other things on the Island time and the elements reduced it to ruins. The Elephantine temple therefore, survived nearly three hundred years indicating its significance to the Elephantine Jews.

So what happened to the Jewish garrison at Elephantine?  "Some of those [Jews] in the rest of the country [Egypt and the remnants of the garrison] may have been ancestors of the Jewish population of Alexandria." (Banes, p. 51) This great city became a popular place for Jews within a century after the demise of the temple at Elephantine.  So many Jews accumulated in Alexandria, Egypt, that by 250 BC there was a call for a translation into Greek of the Hebrew tests for their use, and this led to the translation known as the Septuagint, named after the 70 Elders of Jerusalem sent to do the translating.  In some ways it is more accurate than the Hebrew Bible currently available. For example it mentions the place where the meeting of Joseph and his family took place at Heroonpolis, when the family of Jacob came into Egypt. (Kraeling 3, pp. 93, 104)  "The Septuagint was the Bible of the Greek-speaking world in the times of Christ, and the apostles." Miller p. 662)  Many of the Jews in Alexandria converted to Christianity.

It may be asked what justification did the Elephantine Jews have in constructing a temple to Jehovah and how does it resolve Deuteronomy 12?  As mentioned in the Introduction to this series, the Jewish community at Elephantine may have originated during the reign of Manasseh of the Ten Tribes.  He entertained many pagan ideas among which included the erection of pagan altars in the courts of Solomon's Temple.  It is likely that these acts were opposed by officiating temple priests.  Some of these priests fled to Egypt and joined the Jewish garrison at Elephantine. (Porten p. 119)  Since they probably viewed Manasseh's acts as a desecration of Solomon's temple, they were instrumental in the construction or maintaining a new temple acceptable to Jehovah. Since the discovery of the Elephantine temple and other Jewish temples on lands outside Jerusalem, scholars have begun to question the interpretation of Deuteronomy 12 that only one temple in Palestine could be in existence. One explanation is that with the religious reformation of King Josiah, as recorded in 2 Kings 22, Deuteronomy's promulgation was no longer valid. (Kraeling p. 83)


Construction of the Nephite's temples may have been justified by a number of reasons. First since they were in a different land without access to a temple, they were constructed to perform the ordinances in America as had been performed in the Old World. Secondly, Nephi knew that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, indicating a need for a new holy edifice. Thirdly, and probably more importantly, Nephi, had committed himself to "go and do the things that the Lord had commanded."  It is likely that God would have commanded temples to be built by the Nephites.

The Elephantine priests feared for their lives just as Lehi did. The Book of Mormon gives us an example of this fear: "And when the Jews heard these things, they were angry with him [Lehi]; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life." (1 Ne 1:20) "From the Lachish Letters [found in a destroyed fortress 30 miles south of Jerusalem] it is clear that informed parties in Jerusalem were quite aware of the critical state of things in Jerusalem." (Nibley p. 113) 

This fear was justified. The Old Testament describes an incident that must have been fresh on the minds of Lehi and the Elephantine priests. Before Zedekiah became king, "Jehoiachin, son and successor of King Jehoiakim of Judah, mounted the throne in 598 BC, at the age of 18, but he only reigned for three months and ten days when he was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, and along with thousands of ‘men of might,' and the precious vessels of the Temple." (11 Kings 24:12-16; 11 Chron 36:10, Miller p. 305) During the reign pf Jehoiachin, the following occurred.  "And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the Lord, Urijah the sons of Shemaiah of Kirjathjearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah. And when Jehoiachin the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went to Egypt; And Jehoiachin the King sent men into Egypt, mainly, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him into Egypt. And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt and brought him unto Jehoiachin the King; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the grave of the common people." (Jer 26:20-23)

Imagine for a moment Lehi's feelings!  He really had no where to go. At least one Contemporary prophet had already been extradited out of Egypt and murdered.  How greateful Lehi must have been when the Lord told him that he would be going to a promised land, unknown to the political powers of the day.


It is now accepted and can be documented that a number of Jewish temples existednull outside Jerusalem. (Porten 2, p. 6)  One had been found at Leontopolis in Egypt, built under the direction of Onias IV c. 162 BC.  When the Maccabees regained control of the Jerusalem temple, they deposed Onias IV, son of Onias 11, an earlierhigh priest, of his Temple Officiating duties. He fled Jerusalem to Egypt where he was granted permission by Egyptian authorities to construct a temple for a Jewish military colony at Leontopolis where in priest and Levites officiated. (Porten p. 118) A second temple was discovered in Samaria. In the fourth century BC, Nikaso, daughter of Sanballat III, governor of Samaria, married Manasseh, brother of the Jerusalem high priest Jaddau.  This marriage was objected too by Jerusalem authorities and an ultimatum was issued to Manasseh: choose between this marriage or temple responsibilities.  Love prevailed. He chose the former and accepted an offer to be high priest for a Jewish temple which was later built on Mount Gerizim in Samaria (Porten p. 116) It was first excavated in 1904 by H.C. Butler, and described in his; Publication of the Princeton University Archaeological Expeditions to Syria in 1904-05 and 1909,  Leiden, 1919.

Altars of sacrifice have been found at Tel-Arad and Beer-Sheba in Palestine. Ty had the opportunity of seeing these horned alters in 1975 while in Israel on a BYU semester abroad. I visited the ruins of Tel Arad  earlier in 1974 on a visit to the Holy Land. A photo of the four-horned altar was on the front of the Biblical Archaeologist 1974, and a photo of the Beer-Sheba altar was on page 3. Arad was an outpost and important city in the eastern Negev on the border of Judah at the southern end of the Dead Sea. It usually is associated with Hobab, the son of Jethro, who gave Moses the Priesthood and endowments.(D&C 84:6) Hobab, coming from a family holding the keys of Priesthood, may have had a reason for having a temple and an altar at Arad. "The distinction of being the first Israelite temple to be found in an archaeological context belongs to Arad in Israel, where such a structure was excavated in 1963." (Rosenberg p. 11)  "Z. Herzog suggested that a temple with a similar plan and orientation as at Tell Arad was found west of there at Beer-Sheba, and was used during the same time period as that at Arad. ...[also there was a] small miner's temple at Timna, discovered by Rothenberg in 1966 ...resembling in design the Wilderness Tabernacle, the only known ancient shrine with a tented covering." (Herzog, Z. pp. 120-22)  Aharoni also described the horned altar found at Beer-Sheba. "Until now,  the Altar of the Arad Temple was the only altar for burnt offerings of the First Temple period discovered by archaeologists; it was [first] described in ...1968." (Aharoni p. 2-6)  He goes on to give details along with a photo of the horned altar. "The beautiful altar indicates that the temple [at Beer-Sheba] must have been a far more elaborate structure [than] ...at Arad." (Aharoni p. 5) He did not draw attention to the fact that at Beer-Sheba Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had spent considerable time. Why shouldn't there have been a temple in that area?

The so-called Solar Shrine at Lachish, first uncovered by Starkey in 1930's and reinvestigated by Aharoni in 1966, also bears comparison, showing an earlier cult center at Lachish associated with Israelite worship. "Aharoni [also] mentions the contemporary Jewish Temple of Onias at Leontopolis... the only other Jewish temple in Egypt besides Elephantine...well known from Josephus [The Jewish Wars] who describes it as modeled on the Temple of Jerusalem....[saying later] it is a fortress and temple...[there is] a similar possibility at the earlier shrine of Dan." (Rosenberg pp. 10-12)  There seems to have been a persistence of the Wilderness Tabernacle model for many temple shrines. Thus it is evident that Jews were constructing sacred structures and temples outside of Jerusalem.  Why not in America?


The temple at Elephantine was called the "house of YHW" or the "House of the Lord." (Porten p. 109-201)  This is very similar to what the LDS call their temples today.  Though this phrase is not found in the Book of Mormon, it is a common one used today to designate temples used by Latter-Day Saints.  But, often at Elephantine the being whose house the temple was has been referred to as "God of Heaven" or "Lord of Heaven." (Porten p. 108)  "God of Heaven" is also found in the Book of Mormon (Ether 8:14).  The Jaredites must also have had a temple. "Father of Heaven" is found eight times (l Ne 22:9, 2 Ne 25:12, Mos 32:8, Mos 15:4, Alma 11:39,  Hel 14:12, Hel 16:18, and Mor 6:22).  Thus the Elephantine Archives support not only the concept of a temple outside Jerusalem but also the very name for the structure and a specific phrase used to designate He who dwells therein.

The exciting conclusion is that in 1830, when the Book of Mormon was published, it made the unique claim that Jews had built holy temples on foreign soil outside of Palestine in America, especially as far away as America. This is the first such claim.  Skeptics may have criticized such a statement then, but now the evidence coming forth form the dust of the earth supports the Book of Mormon as agreeing in perfect harmony with Jewish History and contemporary Mid-East Jewish colonies who were disenchanted with Jerusalem and built temples on "foreign soil." In fact "It might also suit them to build a shrine in Egypt in defiance of the centralizing reforms of 622 BC by Josiah, which obviously caused much dismay among the remaining peoples of the northern kingdom." (Rosenberg p. 12)

The Book of Mormon is very rich in internal and external evidences and is a ‘correct' book and most edifying to research.  And there is much, much more!



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Baines, John, & Jaromir Malek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt, Facts on File Publications, New York, 1980

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