by Sharon Lindbloom
12 February 2020
According to Mormon apologist Dan Peterson, an article in the January/February 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review presents a “victory for the Book of Mormon.” The gist of his argument is this. He writes,
“One of the criticisms often leveled against the Book of Mormon is that no Jew would have built a temple outside of Jerusalem. Yet Nephi does just that, sometime in the early sixth century before Christ [2 Nephi 5:16]… But, say the critics, Nephi’s supposed construction of a New World temple proves the Book of Mormon to be fictional.”
Dr. Peterson then quotes from “Another Temple in Judah! The Tale of Tel Moẓa,” by Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits, where the authors express shock over the archaeological discovery of a temple dating to the Iron Age II period (1000-586 BCE), located less than 4 miles from Jerusalem. “But what is a temple doing at Tel Moẓa during this period,” Kisilevitz and Lipschits ask, “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?”
Dr. Peterson responds, “The answer, plainly, is Yes.”
Yes, a temple could (and apparently does) exist outside of Jerusalem. But I challenge the suggestion that the Bible says the only temple in Judah was in Jerusalem. The Bible explains that there was only one place chosen by God “to put His name and make His habitation,” where His people were to gather to worship Him, the one true God (see Deuteronomy 12:1-11). Yet there were many “high places” throughout the land where idolatrous worship occurred, temples (plural) built for the worship and glory of false gods, but this displeased God and He called for their destruction.
The fact that even the ancient Israelites engaged in false worship cannot be disputed. The Old Testament speaks often of people following false prophets and engaging in false worship. King Hezekiah, who reigned in Judah circa 715-686 BCE, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah” (2 Kings 18:3-4).
A little over a hundred years later the Book of the Law was rediscovered in Solomon’s temple and read to King Josiah. He immediately recognized that the nation was experiencing “the wrath of the Lord” and so sought God’s leading. God said, “Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.” Josiah made a covenant before the Lord to “walk after the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul.” Then, King Josiah commanded the priests to
“bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people.” (See 2 Kings 22-23)
And this was just the beginning. Josiah’s reforms covered the land. Everywhere, the high places were torn down. The altars were defiled. Houses of temple prostitutes were burned. Statues were destroyed. Shrines were removed. And finally, the false priests were executed according to the commands of God found in Deuteronomy 13:6-18 and 17:2-7.
For those who read the Bible, it is no surprise that many temples existed in ancient Israel. The real question we should be asking is what God thought of those temples. He caused them to be destroyed in the 8th century, and again in the 7th century (as but two examples). Then the book of Mormon tells of Nephi allegedly building a new-world temple in the early years of the 6th century (between 598 and 570 BCE). We need to think about how that fits within the greater temple-building picture from the old world.
Kisilevitz and Lipschits make mention of their belief that the temple at Tel Moẓa (as well as other Iron Age II temples) was “royally sanctioned.” According to archaeologists, the temple at Tel Moẓa was constructed near the time that King Solomon – the king who had been tasked to build God’s temple in Jerusalem – was setting up high places for the gods of his foreign wives; “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God” (see 1 Kings 11:1-10).
After Solomon, Rehoboam became king of Judah. The Bible reveals that Rehoboam provoked God by setting up “high places and pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree” (1 Kings 14:23). Next in line was King Abijam who “walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1 Kings 15:3). Then King Asa reigned (910-869 BCE). He started well by removing idols and high places, but drifted from his faith in God. Eventually the high places returned to Judah (2 Chronicles 15:17; 16:7-12). It’s really no wonder that archaeologists could have discovered a “royally sanctioned” Iron Age II temple at Moẓa, for the kings were quite lax about adhering to God’s commands.
While dating of ancient ruins is not an easy task, some scholars believe that the temple at Moẓa, along with the Iron Age II temple at Arad, the gates and shrines at Lachish, and the alters at Dan and Megiddo, were destroyed during the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah. While Dr. Peterson (and other Latter-day Saints) may believe that the discovery of another temple in Judah is a victory for the Book of Mormon, to me it is a lesson on the deep corruption of the human heart coupled with God’s demand for the loyalty of His people.
The people of Judah and Israel turned away from the one true God, the God who had proven Himself faithful and able to love them, and support them, and keep them in safety. They went after “other gods,” shamelessly engaging in idolatry and other abominations before the Lord. Though God is patient, He did judge the people for their infidelity in worship (2 Kings 22:16-17; 23:25-27), and He will likewise judge each of us.
Whether a Jew would or wouldn’t have built the temple written about in the Book of Mormon is not the big question to be considered. The greater question is whether Mormonism, and its nearly 14 dozen temples, are expressions of the one true God; whether the worship offered within Mormonism’s framework is pleasing to Him. This is really what the temple discovered at Tel Moẓa is all about. It’s not a “victory for the Book of Mormon,” but rather a dire warning for those who worship any other god, or in any other way than that which God has decreed.
Looking to how God has revealed Himself in the Bible, it is clear that Mormonism promotes and follows a different god. Mormonism’s temples and the ceremonies performed therein are far from biblical. Please, friends, think about this. Take God’s warning seriously. Turn away from Mormonism’s high places. Set your face toward the one true God and love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations… that they may be my people and I may be their God…” Ezekiel 14:6, 11
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