Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Surprising History of "Small" Temples

Quick--without looking at Google or, how many temples are currently in operation around the world?

Answer: There are currently 134 temples in operation around the world, with another 23 either under construction or announced. Those 134 temples are more than 6 times the number of operating temples in existence 30 years ago, and when the St. Louis, MO temple was dedicated in 1997, it was the 50th--so in the last thirteen years, more than 100 temples (twice the number previously extant) have been built or are now being built. This explosion in temple construction has been made possible by the proliferation of "small temples," buildings much smaller than the Salt Lake or Washington D.C. temples, but that nonetheless "accommodate baptisms for the dead, the endowment service, sealings, and all other ordinances to be had in the Lord’s house for both the living and the dead."

When the late President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the advent of smaller temples, he explained that this innovation would make ordinances available to members who lived at a remove from the major metropolitan areas that traditionally attracted a sufficient concentration of members. I remember his announcement at the October 1997 priesthood session of General Conference; I was floored. While smaller temples seem very commonplace today (especially for someone who lived in Raleigh and made bi-monthly visits for four years), it seemed like a revolutionary concept at the time. Come to find out, there's a long history of "small temples" among the Lord's covenant people.

Let's try a new version of the quiz that opened this post: how many temples were in operation in Old Testament times (during the prophetic ministry of Isaiah, if you want to pin down a specific date)?

One you say? Solomon's? Think again.

You can probably think of plenty of "temple experiences" in the Old Testament--Abraham on Mount Moriah, Jacob at beth-El, Moses on Mount Sinai, the tabernacle in the wilderness, etc., but I'd be willing to bet that your knowledge of actual stone-and-mortar temples in the Old Testament is limited to the one built by Solomon. Hey, I would have said the same thing until yesterday. Yet it turns out that ancient Israel--like the latter-day version--made temple worship available to those who lived outside of the capital in Jerusalem.

In Solomon's Temple William Hamblin and David Seely explain:

"Although Solomon's temple remained the great central national shrine of Judah, from its construction (c. 950 BC) until the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah in the 7th century BC Israelites also worshipped the Lord at other holy places, such as Ramah, where Samuel led the people in sacrifice. The Bible describes at least eleven [ELEVEN!] buildings that can be identified as shrines dedicated to the worship of Yahweh, including Shiloh, Dan, Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, Hebron, Bethlehem [interesting, no?], Nob, Ephraim, Ophrah, and Gibeah. The most prominent of these was Shiloh, where the Ark was kept, and where Eli the priest is depicted sitting beside 'the doorpost of the temple of the Lord' (hekhal Yahweh) (1 Sam. 1:9). Shrines at Dan and Bethel also existed from very early times; there was apparently a statue of Yahweh in a temple at Dan (Judg. 18:28-31). Later, these sites were appropriated by King Jeroboam who set up golden calves there. A platform and small altar have been excavated at ancient Dan. Archaeologists have also uncovered evidence of at least four Israelite temples not mentioned in the Bible that flourished during this period [bringing our total up to FIFTEEN temples other than Solomon's]: Megiddo, Arad, Lachish, and Beersheba" (33).

One of the reasons that we so casually gloss over the existence of these additional temples is the fact that Josiah (who reigned from 640-609 BC) consolidated temple worship in Jerusalem in order to prevent idolaters from using these "small" Israelite temples to worship Baal and Ashtoreth. Presumably Josiah believed that he was acting to enforce the decree of Deuteronomy, where the Lord explains that Israel should establish a temple "in the [singular] place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes" and that those who live "too far" from that lone temple should "kill of thy herd [...] and thou shalt eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after" (12:15, 21). After Josiah Israel never again deviated from the model of centralized worship that he created (although there were temples of Yahweh in Egypt during the second century BCE) and so readers of the Bible--who spend a disproportionate amount of time studying the New Testament--assume that the status quo in Christ's time (one temple) also applied during the earlier eras of Israelite history.

The bottom line is that President Hinckley's paradigm-shifting move to "small temples" was anything but revolutionary; when his people have been unable to travel to temples, the Lord has always--in the time of ancient Israel as today, in latter-day Israel--brought temples to his people. So the next time that you find yourself worshipping in one of the "small temples" built under the guidance of President Hinckely, pause a moment to reflect on the ancient Israelites who lived on the outskirts of Shiloh and worshipped in the local temple because they couldn't afford the trip to Jerusalem. The Lord loved them in the same way that he loves you, and the proof lies in the proximity--and the oridnances--of his House(s).


Anonymous said...

Judg. 18:28-31 this is not a Jewish temple

Jo Jo said...

This is definitely food for thought. You're so smart! VERY interesting ;-)

The Mormon Monk said...

Dear Anonymous,

A) Hamblin and Seely made that claim not me. However, since they both have PhDs in relevant fields and their book passed a rigorous peer review process in which it was vetted by experts, I'm more inclined to take their word than yours.

B) If you're LDS, look at the footnoes in verse 31--you'll see that it directs you to "TG-Temples."

This is clearly a temple to Yahweh; your confusion, however, is understandable since it was a temple desecrated by idol worship.

Becky said...

I was close to the answer of the first question. I guessed 130ish. :)

Anonymous said...

You always seem to enlighten me. Kepp up the good work. We do miss you. ANd, I am proud to say I did know the first answer (134).
Lots of Love.

Silence DoGood