The center of the community in ancient Israel
and in other parts of the ancient Near East was the temple, an institution of
the highest antiquity. Its construction regularly represented the crowning
achievement in a king's reign. Thus, it was the central event in the reign of king Solomon, far overshadowing any of his other
accomplishments (1 Kgs. 6- 8), and it was a crucial
event in the establishment of the Nephite monarchy (2
The presence of the temple represented stability and cohesiveness in the
community, and its rites and ceremonies were viewed as essential to the proper
functioning of the society. Conversely, the destruction of a temple and the
cessation of its rites presaged and symbolized the dissolution of its community
and the withdrawal of God's favor. The fall of Jerusalem
and its temple (586 B.C.), along with the rifling of its sacred treasures,
symbolized, like no other event, the catastrophe that befell Judah.
Following the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon
(c. 500 B.C.), the prophets Haggai and Zechariah persistently reminded their
people that no other achievement would compensate for their failure to
reconstruct a temple. Temples were
so important that, when distance or other circumstances made worship at the Jerusalem
temple impractical, others were built. Thus, Israelite temples were built at Arad near Beersheba,
at Elephantine and Leontopolis
in Egypt, and a
Nephite temple was erected in the land
Several studies have shown that certain characteristics
regularly recur in the temples of the ancient Near East. Among the features
that have been identified that distinguish the temple from the meetinghouse
type of sacred structure such as synagogue or church are: (1) the temple is built on
separate, sacral, set-apart space; (2) the temple and its rituals are
enshrouded in secrecy; (3) the temple is oriented toward the four world regions
or cardinal directions; (4) the temple expresses architecturally the idea of
ascent toward heaven; (5) the plans for the temple are revealed by God to a
king or prophet; and (6) the temple is a place of sacrifice (Lundquist, pp.
Latter-day Saints recognize among these features several
that are characteristic of ancient Israelite temples as well as their own. For
example, the sites of ancient Israelite and modern Latter-day Saint temples are
viewed as holy, with access restricted to certain individuals who are expected
to have "clean hands and a pure heart" (Ps. 24:3-6; cf. Ps. 15; Isa. 33:14-16; see Temple Recommends). Like the tabernacle
and temple in ancient Israel,
many Latter-day Saint temples are directionally oriented, with the ceremonial
main entrance (indicated by the inscription "HOLINESS TO THE LORD" on
modern temples) facing east. Ancient Israelite temples were divided into three
sections, each representing a progressively higher stage, reaching from the
netherworld to heaven; similar symbolism can be recognized in the LDS temples
as well. The plans for the temple of Solomon
were revealed to King Solomon. Likewise, plans for many Latter-day Saint
temples were received through revelation.
What occurred within temples of antiquity? The temple is a
place of sacrifice, a practice that is well attested in ancient Israel.
Animal sacrifice is not to be found in temples of the Latter-day Saints because
blood sacrifice had its fulfillment in the death of Jesus (3 Ne. ). Still,
Latter-day Saints learn in their temples to observe the eternal principles of
sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit (3 Ne.
). In addition, inside the
temples of the ancient Near East, kings, temple priests, and worshippers
received a washing and anointing and were clothed, enthroned, and symbolically
initiated into the presence of deity, and thus into eternal life. In ancient Israel-as
elsewhere-these details are best seen in the consecration of the priest and the
coronation of the king. LDS temple ordinances are performed in a Christian
context of eternal kingship, queenship, and
The features of temple worship described above are also
found among many other cultures from ancient to modern times. Several
explanations of this can be offered. According to President Joseph F. Smith,
some of these similarities are best understood as having spread by diffusion
from a common ancient source:
Undoubtedly the knowledge of this law [of sacrifice] and of
the other rites and ceremonies was carried by the posterity of Adam into all
lands, and continued with them, more or less pure, to the flood, and through
Noah, who was a "preacher of righteousness," to those who succeeded
him, spreading out into all nations and countries…. If the heathen have
doctrines and ceremonies resembling…those…in the Scriptures, it only
proves…that these are the traditions of the fathers handed down,…and that they
will cleave to the children to the latest generation, though they may wander
into darkness and perversion, until but a slight resemblance to their origin,
which was divine, can be seen [JD 15:325-26].
When Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple-which he
referred to as "my Father's house" (John 2:16)-it reflected his
insistence on holiness for the sanctuaries in ancient Israel.
Neither Stephen's nor Paul's statements that "the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48;
17:24; cf. Isa. 66:1-2) imply a rejection of the
temple, but rather an argument against the notion that God can be confined to a
structure. Solomon, at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem,
said similarly, "The heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less
this house that I have builded?" (1 Kgs. 8:27; 2 Chr.
6:18). As late as the fourth century A.D., Christians were able to point to the
spot on the Mount of Olives "where they say the sanctuary of the Lord, that
is, the Temple, is to be built, and where it will stand forever…when, as they
say, the Lord comes with the heavenly Jerusalem at the end of the world"
(Nibley, p. 393).
While the idea of the temple was somewhat submerged in the
later Jewish-Christian consciousness, it was never completely forgotten. As
Hugh Nibley points out, the Christian church sensed that it possessed no
adequate substitute for the temple. Jerusalem
remained at the center of medieval maps of the world, and the site of the
temple was sometimes indicated on such maps as well. When the Crusaders
liberated the holy places in Jerusalem,
the site of the temple was visited immediately after that of the Holy
Sepulcher, even though no temple had been there for over 1,000 years (Nibley,
pp. 392, 399-409).
Jews and Christians who take the vision of the
reconstruction of the temple in Ezekiel seriously-and literally-anticipate the
place in God's plan of rebuilding a future temple, as well as the reConstitution of distinct tribes of Israel
(Ricks, pp. 279-80). While Jewish life proceeded
without the temple following its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70, it
retained a significant role in their thought and study. In the modern period,
the temple remains important to some Jews, who continue to study their sacred
texts relating to it.
Lundquist, John M. "The CommonTemple Ideology in the Ancient Near East." In The Temple in
Antiquity, ed. T. Madsen, pp. 53-74.Provo,
Nibley, Hugh W. "Christian Envy of the Temple."
In CWHN 4:391-433.
Ricks, Stephen D. "The
Prophetic Literality of Tribal Reconstruction." In Israel's
Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, ed. A. Gileadi, pp. 273-81. Grand Rapids,