Ancient Temples beyond Jerusalem?
By Geoffrey Biddulph
In a development that is certain to be of interest to ancient temple scholars, the July/August edition of Biblical Archeology Review reveals that newly-discovered potsherds from the fourth century BC have writing that refers to a heretofore unknown “Temple of Yaho.” Yaho was another name for Yahweh (YHWH), the God of Israel, during that time.
The temple was located in the ancient site of Maqqedah, which was probably south of Jerusalem and west of Hebron in the modern-day West Bank. During the fourth century BC, the area was a mix of competing religions.
This is the second reference to a “Temple of Yaho” outside of Jerusalem in the time before Christ. The first, also referred to as a “Temple of Yaho,” was in Elephantine in the southern Nile region of Egypt, which served the local Jewish community.
The discovery about a century ago of the Nile temple apparently using most of the ordinances of the Jerusalem temple shocked scholars who had supposed that the ancient House of Israel only carried out temple worship in one spot, the temple in Jerusalem.
The discovery of others temples serving the House of Israel is of course logical to Latter-day Saints. The Book of Mormon clearly states that Nephi built a temple modeled upon the temple of Solomon upon arriving in the Americas (2 Nephi 5:16). In addition, the Book of Mormon says that other temples were built in the Americas (see 3 Nephi 11:1 and Helaman 3:14).
Considering that the Israelites in the Americas were trying to faithfully follow the law of Moses, it would make sense for other Israelites to build temples besides the one in Jerusalem. There is now evidence of at least two in the Middle East.
The reference for the temple at Maqqedah came on a well-preserved potsherd and consists of six lines. (In those days, people wrote on potsherds and used them for communication). The reference listed estates that were not subject to taxes because they were not cultivated areas. Sacred buildings such as temples were not subject to taxes. One of the estates is listed as “Beit Yaho,” the “Temple of Yaho.”
Other temples to other gods are mentioned: the “Temple of Uzza” and the “Temple of Nabu.” Uzza was a north Arabian deity and Nabu was a Mesopotamian god. Nothing else is known about the Temple of Yaho in Maqqedah.
The discovery of a reference to another temple in the area of modern-day Israel raises all kinds of interesting questions. Did the Israelites have many temples throughout the country in this time period, just as the modern-day House of Israel has dotted the countryside with temples?
We know from the Bible that some kings, such as Hezekiah and Josiah, tried to centralize worship in Jerusalem. But their efforts came hundreds of years before the fourth century BC. Was the Temple of Yaho in Maqqedah simply another “high place” that was referred to as a temple and not a temple in the same sense as the Jerusalem temple?
It is worth pointing out that the potsherds referred to in the Biblical Archeology Review article were discovered on the antiquities market. This is controversial because many archeologists discard antiquities finds as more likely to be forgeries.
It is impossible to know for sure if the reference to the “Temple of Yaho” is a forgery. Archeologists typically spend decades debating such issues. However, an obscure passing reference to a temple is much less likely to be a forgery than a more high-profile discovery, such as the bone box (ossuary) that supposedly carried James’ body after he died.
That ossuary, discovered in 2002, is still the subject of a raging controversy in the archeological community. The inscription on the bone box said “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” and was considered for a short time one of the greatest finds in biblical archeology in history. Soon thereafter, however, the Israel Antiquities Authority declared it a fake. Many archeologists and other antiquities experts have called into question that decision, however, and continue to call the ossuary authentic.
The author of the article on the temple potsherds is Andre Lemaire, chairman of the Hebrew and Aramaic philology and epigraphy department at the Sorbonne in France. He was also the author of the article on the James ossuary. He is a controversial figure in the archeology community, seen either as a brilliant and ground-breaking dynamo or as a publicity-seeker whose research is incomplete.
One thing is for sure, however: archeologists will spend much more time now looking for Yahweh-devoted temples other than the Jerusalem temple.
They may want to spend some time in the Americas.
Geoffrey Biddulph is the author of a new novel called Island of the Innocent, an adventure story that describes one man’s conversion to the fullness of the gospel. More information can be found here.