- Arad Temple
Temples Outside Jerusalem
The Deuteronomy passages notwithstanding, the Israelites did build other temples, as archaeological excavations have discovered in places such as Dan, Beer-Sheba, and Arad. Indeed, the Arad temple is thought to have been built in the time of Solomon (after it was patterned, though on a smaller scale) and stood for three centuries. The temple in Beer-Sheba was probably dismantled during the time of King Hezekiah of Judah, and the stones comprising its altar were reused in a nearby building and only reunited after excavation of the site.
Jews who fled to Egypt built temples in Leontopolis and on the island of Elephantine. Following the death of the high priest Onias III, a priest named Jason usurped the office of high priest and the son of Onias fled to Leontopolis, where he oversaw the construction of the temple there ca. 200 BC, as noted by the first-century AD Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 13.3.1-3; Wars of the Jews 7.10.2-3). The Talmud (Menahot 109b; Megillah 10a) acknowledged the legitimacy of the Leontopolis temple, noting the prophecy in Isaiah 19:19, “In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.” This temple’s legitimacy was also affirmed in the Mishnah (Menahot 13:10; see also Tosefta Menahot 13.12-14). On the site of Elephantine, archaeologists discovered a number of Aramaic letters written to and from the Jewish community living there during the late fifth century BC. One of them requested permission to rebuild the Israelite temple that had been destroyed, while another gave permission to do so.[i]
The justification for building temples outside the land of Israel seems to be based on Deuteronomy 31:10-12, which required that the Israelites gather at the temple at the feast of tabernacles during the sabbatical (every seventh) year to hear a reading of the law.[ii] This was to be done “as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.” Evidently, worship at the Jerusalem temple was not required of Israelites who lived outside the Holy Land. Moreover, by the time the Nephites built their first temple, the Jerusalem temple had already been destroyed by the Babylonians, and no offerings were being made there until it was rebuilt following the decree by Cyrus, King of Persia, following his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC.
[i] For English translations of the letters, see James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (3rd ed. with supplement, Princeton University Press, 1969), 491-2.
[ii] That the Nephites observed this ceremony at the temple in Zarahemla is affirmed in the account of the assembly in the time of King Benjamin, described in Mosiah 1-6. See John A. Tvedtnes, “King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles,” in John M. Lundquist & Stephen D. Ricks (eds.), By Study and Also by Faith, Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1990); Terrence Szink and John W. Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” in John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom” (Provo: FARMS, 1998).