2 Nephi 5:16. Nephi’s Temple
It is impossible for a group as small as Nephi’s followers, only thirty years after leaving Jerusalem (2 Nephi 5:28) to have built a temple like that of Solomon (2 Nephi 5:16), which took over seven years and 183,000 workmen and overseers to construct (1 Kings 5:13, 15; 6:1, 38; 9:20-21; 2 Chronicles 2:2, 17-18).
The fact that Nephi’s temple was made “after the manner of the temple of Solomon” does not mean that it was of the same size and complexity, only that it had the same basic design (which had symbolic meaning in ancient Israel). Indeed, Nephi states, in 2 Nephi 5:16, that “it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple,” so there were obvious differences between the two structures, most notably, one presumes, in the size and the precise materials and decorations used.
In the 1960s, Israeli archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni uncovered, at the site of Arad, south‑southeast of Jerusalem, an Israelite temple that stood as early as the time of Solomon’s temple. Though smaller than the temple of Solomon and less elaborate, it was built on the same basic pattern. The site was occupied by a small garrison of Israelite soldiers. Both the Jerusalem and Arad temples had an outer court, an inner court, and a sanctuary or holy of holies. The inner court of the Arad temple measured six cubits on the small sides and twenty cubits on the long side, corresponding to the number of boards on each side of the tabernacle when erected (Exodus 26:15-22). Built of unhewn stones in agreement with the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 27:5-6), the altar in the inner court at Arad measures five cubits on either side and is three cubits high (Exodus 27:1). From that court, three steps led up to the holy of holies, the entrance to which was flanked by two incense altars. A covenant altar was found inside the holy of holies, with worn covenant altars built into the back wall. The Arad temple could easily have been constructed by a dozen men in a few weeks and is therefore the kind of structure we might expect to have been reared by Nephi’s people.
Regarding the Arad temple excavations, see the following: Yohanan Aharoni and Ruth Amiran, “Arad: A Biblical City in Southern Palestine,” Archaeology 17 (1964), 43‑53; Aharoni and Amiran, “Excavations at Tel Arad: Preliminary Report of the First Season,” Israel Exploration Journal 14 (1964), 131‑147; Aharoni, “Excavations at Tel Arad: Preliminary Report of the Second Season,” Israel Exploration Journal 17 (1967), 233‑249; Aharoni, “Arad: Its Inscriptions and Temple,” Biblical Archaeologist 31 (1968), 232; Aharoni, “The Israelite Sanctuary at Arad”, in David Noel Freedman and Jonas Greenfield, New Directions in Biblical Archaeology (Garden City: Doubleday, 1969), 28‑44.