Alma 16:13, LeGrand Baker, Multiple Ancient Israelite Temples
13 And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews.
This reference to multiple temples is consistent with our own understanding of what a temple is used for. However it seems inconsistent with the Old Testament’s apparent insistence that the only valid temple was at Jerusalem. The problem is not with the meaning and purpose of the ancient temples, rather, the problem is that the post-exilic authors and editors who wrote the historical books of the Old Testament. Relative to their predisposition toward only one temple, the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible reports,
Now the exclusive monopoly of the temple of Jerusalem had become for the authors of the historical books a political as well as a religious dogma, which they traced back to the prophetic utterance of Moses. They were, of course, hard put to reconcile their views with historical reality, confronted as they were with the existence, not of one national place of worship prior to the reign of Solomon, but of several local sanctuaries. (“Temples,” in Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible [New York, Abingdon Press, 1962], 4:566-67).
Until the reign of Josiah, there had been several small temples scattered throughout Judea. However, Josiah’s “reforms” closed them down and transferred their wealth and their priests to the main Temple in Jerusalem. He also changed some of the religious rites. We know, for example that he changed the way the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama was celebrated. How much of the Jewish apostasy that occurred between Josiah and Zedekiah was orchestrated by Josiah is impossible to know. But Ezekiel assures us that by the time of Zedekiah the Temple was under the control of people who worshiped gods other than Jehovah. The speed with which this apostasy occurred is remarkable. Lehi’s four oldest sons were all born during the reign of Josiah, and by the reign of Zedekiah things had become so serious that Lehi was fleeing for his life.
When Lehi and his family came to America, they brought with them the original ancient temple rites, not the changed version introduced by Josiah.
In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph, the Lord explained why he caused his people to build those ancient temples. The context of this statement is his instructions that the Latter-day Saints should build the temple in Nauvoo.
36 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 baptisms for your dead.
37 And again, verily I say unto you, how shall your washings be acceptable unto me, except ye perform them in a house which you have built to my name?
38 For, for this cause I commanded Moses that he should build a tabernacle, that they should bear it with them in the wilderness, and to build a house in the land of promise, that those ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was.
39 Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.
40 And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people (D&C 124:36-40).
Menahem Haran believes that before Josiah’s reforms small, legitimate temples could be found throughout Jedea . Whenever the Bible mentions sacred rites performed in any location, he has identified that as the site of a local Israelite temple. He identifies about a dozen, then writes,
In addition to the twelve or thirteen temples listed so far, ancient Israel may have known some other temples which have left no trace whatsoever in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, it is a reasonable assumption that any addition to this list (which would have to be based on new, extra-biblical evidence) would be insignificant, and that the total number of Israelite temples can not have been much greater than that which emerges from the biblical records. (Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel [Winona Lake, Indiana, Eisenbrauns, 1985], 39
The pre-exilic small temples are also discussed by Beth Alpert Nakhai, “What’s a Bamah? How Sacred Space Functioned in Ancient Israel,” Biblical Archaeology Review, v. 20 (May/June, 1994) n. 3, p. 18-29. On page 26 there are two photographs of the remains of a small Israelite temple dedicated to Jehovah that was probably destroyed as part of Josiah’s crusade against the small temples.
The same was apparently true with the early Christians. In an article describing early Christian meeting houses Tzaferis gives us a photo of the interior of one. While he identifies it as a meeting house, it might also have been a small Christian temple. (I want to send you a copy of the photo, but I have a distrust for email, so rather than sending it to now, I’ll send it to you separately. If you don’t get it, please let me know.) The caption under the photo does not mention the stars at the top. It reads: DOMUS IN QUA CHRISTIAN I CONVENIEBANT, or “houses in which Christians gather,” also called domus ecc/es;ae, came into use in the second century A,D., when the Christian community did not yet have permanent churches dedicated to worship, A “house church” functionally similar to the prayer hall at Megiddo was found in the 1930s in Dura Europos in Syria. Although not originally meant to be a religious structure, the simple two-story dwelling was converted into a house of worship with a place for the Eucharist table, a vestry for clergy clothes, and a baptistery. The walls of the baptistery were decorated with frescoes illustrating scenes from the Bible such as Adam and Eve, the Good Shepherd and a parade of women that might depict the women at the tomb of Jesus (shown at right in photo). The walls of the prayer hall at Megiddo were also adorned with frescoes, as fragments were found among the debris. (Vassilois Tzaferis, “Inscribed ‘To God Jesus Christ’,” in Biblical Archaeology Review [March/April, 2007, v. 33, n. 7, p. 38-49.] Picture and quote are on p. 49.)
The attached photo is from Vassilois Tzaferis,“Inscribed ‘To God Jesus Christ’,” in Biblical Archaeology Review [March/April, 2007, v. 33, n. 7, p. 38-49.] Picture and quote are on p. 49.)
The caption under the photo does not mention the stars at the top. Even though this photo is identified by the author as a Christian meeting house, its decorations reminds one of the stories told in the Ancient Israelite New Year festival temple drama.