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“Temple of Solomon”: Two Problems for a Hebraic Book of Mormon

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“Temple of Solomon”: Two Problems for a Hebraic Book of Mormon

Robert M. Bowman Jr.

In 2 Nephi 5:16, the Book of Mormon refers twice to “the temple of Solomon.” According to LDS scholar Donald Parry, the fact that the Book of Mormon uses the expression temple of Solomon (instead of Solomon’s temple) reflects a Hebraic grammatical feature called the “construct state.”1 Parry and many other Mormon scholars argue that the occurrence of such expressions is an evidence that the Book of Mormon was translated from an ancient Hebraic or Hebrew-like text. Far from being evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, however, 2 Nephi 5:16 serves as a convenient illustration of two problems with the argument that such expressions are evidence that the Book of Mormon is translated from an ancient Hebraic text.

Temple of Solomon and Solomon’s Temple

The first problem should become apparent to anyone who takes the trouble to look up the passage: 

And I, Nephi, did build a temple;
and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon
save it were not built of so many precious things;
for they were not to be found upon the land,
wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple.
But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon;
and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine. (2 Ne. 5:16)

Although 2 Nephi 5:16 uses the expression the temple of Solomon twice, between these two occurrences it also uses the expression Solomon’s temple. The fact that the Book of Mormon in the same context uses the possessive form Solomon’s is a counterexample to the claim the form of Solomon is an indication that Joseph was producing a literal translation of an ancient Hebraic text. Actually, the two forms are synonymous in meaning in this context, and either form would accurately represent a Hebraic expression using the construct state with the same meaning. Nevertheless, the point here is that this deviation from the supposedly more literal rendering undermines the (fallacious) argument that the wording of Solomon is somehow evidence of an ancient Semitic text underlying the English.

Temple of Solomon: Not an Ancient Israelite Way of Speaking

The first problem just mentioned does not constitute evidence against the Book of Mormon, but only evidence against the apologetic claim that the expression of Solomon is confirmation of its authenticity as a translation of an ancient Hebraic text. The second problem, on the other hand, raises a significant objection to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon at this point. The fact is that neither wording—Solomon’s temple or the temple of Solomon—represents something that the supposed ancient Israelite writer would have written. There are two reasons we can be sure of this.

1.  The expression “temple of Solomon” is chronologically anachronistic.

The book of 2 Nephi is attributed to Nephi, a sixth-century BC Israelite hero who led his father Lehi’s family and their party safely from Jerusalem to the New World and who was the first ruler of the Nephite people. According to the story, the Lehites left Jerusalem sometime before Jerusalem was destroyed (1 Ne. 1:4, 13, 18; 3:17; 7:13; 17:14), traveled through Arabia, built a ship, and sailed to the Americas. Only after they had arrived in the New World did they learn, through a vision given to Lehi, that Jerusalem had been destroyed (2 Ne. 1:4). To put some dates on these story elements, the Lehites would have left Jerusalem about 600 BC or shortly thereafter, sailed from Arabia about 589 BC or so, and learned through Lehi’s vision about Jerusalem’s destruction sometime soon after it occurred in 587/586 BC.2 Nephi’s reference to “the temple of Solomon” in 2 Nephi 5:16 would have been written sometime between 570 BC (see 2 Ne. 5:28) and his death around 544 BC (see Jacob 1:1, 12).3

From Nephi’s point of view, the temple that Solomon had built was the only Israelite temple in Jerusalem. There would be no reason from his point of view to refer to the Jerusalem temple as “Solomon’s temple” or as “the temple of Solomon,” as though there had been another built there before or after it. There had been no Israelite temple in Jerusalem before the temple that Solomon built, and when Nephi and his family’s party left Arabia the temple would have been still standing. The new temple in Jerusalem was not built and dedicated until about 515 BC,4 roughly thirty years after Nephi would have died.

Thus, Nephi would not have referred to the temple in Jerusalem as Solomon’s to distinguish it from the later temple. People living in modern times refer to the first Jewish temple in Jerusalem as “the temple of Solomon” to distinguish it historically from the second Jewish temple that stood from about 515 BC until AD 70, when it was destroyed by the Romans. No one living before 515 BC would have any reason to do this.

Thus, the term temple of Solomon (or Solomon’s temple) is anachronistic; it reflects a temporal point of view that did not and could not exist until well after the time of Nephi.

One answer that a Mormon might give to this argument is that Nephi could have referred to the temple in Jerusalem as the temple of Solomon to distinguish it, not from a later temple in Jerusalem, but from one or more other Israelite temples built at other locations. Mormons have appealed to the existence of such alternate temples in ancient Israelite and Jewish religion as precedent for the Nephite temples in the Book of Mormon as well as the Mormons’ own modern temples that they have built all over the world. However, during Nephi’s lifetime, it is almost certain that no such alternative temples in other locations existed. Archaeologists have discovered remains of an Israelite temple in Arad in the south part of Israel (not far from Beersheba), but this temple was destroyed sometime in the late eighth or seventh century BC, most likely before Nephi would have been born. Other alternative centers of the worship of the Lord (Yahweh) were also suppressed in the reforms of Josiah, who died around the same time as Nephi would have been born.5 Thus, as best we can tell there were no other Israelite temples during Nephi’s lifetime.

In any case, an ancient Israelite living at the time of Nephi almost certainly would not have distinguished the temple that Solomon had built from an alternative Israelite temple by referring to it as Solomon’s temple. Rather, he would have referred to it as the temple that was in Jerusalem, as distinguished from the temple that was in Arad, or wherever. This was in fact the practice in Jewish speech regarding temples throughout ancient history, as the next point confirms. 

2.  The expression “temple of Solomon” is culturally anachronistic.

In ancient speech, Israelites would not have referred to their first temple in Jerusalem as “the temple of Solomon” because a temple was named for its deity, not for its mortal builder. The point can be easily confirmed in regards to the biblical practice even from the KJV. The temple in Jerusalem is called the temple of the Lord (23 times in the OT and once in the NT) and the temple of God (10 times in the NT), but never the temple of Solomon. Similarly, a Canaanite temple was called “the temple of Dagon” (1 Chron. 10:10), because it was dedicated to the worship of Dagon. A temple in first-century Ephesus was likewise called “the temple of the great goddess Diana” (Acts 19:27). Paul refers to the human body of a Christian as “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 6:19 KJV).6 No personal name or title is ever used in this construction in the Bible, in any ancient language.

Similarly, the KJV Bible consistently—and frequently—refers to the temple using the expressions house of the Lord (234 times in the OT) and house of God (109 times in the OT7 and 6 times in the NT).8 In the OT references, the word for “house” (bêth) is in the construct state. These expressions use the same form as temple of the Lord and temple of God because in ancient usage the term temple meant the “house” or palace of the deity. To call the temple that Solomon built “the temple of Solomon” would mean that Solomon lived or dwelled in that building, which of course he did not. This is why the biblical writers never use such an expression.

If biblical writers wanted or needed to distinguish one temple from another in a different way than by their deities, they could refer to them by location, but this involved a different grammatical construction. Consider, for example, Ezra 5:14, in a section written in Aramaic, which was a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew and that also used the construct state. Here Ezra refers to “the temple that was in Jerusalem” (KJV), a very literal translation of the Aramaic hêklā’ dî bîrūslem. Ezra 5:14 also refers to that temple as “the house of God,” with the word for “house” (bêth) in the construct state as in the many other occurrences of this expression noted above. The same verse in the KJV also refers twice to “the temple of Babylon.” However, here the Aramaic does not use the construct state, but instead uses an almost identical construction as the reference to the Jerusalem temple, hêklā’ dî bābel, “the temple that [was in] Babel,” that is, Babylon.9 Of course, Babel was the name of the city, not the name of the builder or ruler responsible for the temple.

The same pattern generally holds in ancient Jewish and Christian writings outside the Bible. For example, Josephus refers to Solomon in relation to the temple in Jerusalem in over a dozen places in his writings, but he never calls it the temple of Solomon. Instead, he refers to it as “the temple of God” (Antiquities of the Jews 8.139).10 He also refers to “the temple of Hercules and the one of Astarte” (8.146). The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher and theologian Philo also used the term “temple of God” (De specialibus legibus 1.66; see also In Flaccum 1.46; Legatio ad Gaium 1.278).11 Many other ancient writings also refer to “the temple of God” or “the temple of the Lord.”12

An expression that is similar to “temple of Solomon,” but grammatically different, appears in the Sybilline Oracles, Greek verses that combine pagan, Jewish, and Christian materials; the Christian elements date from the second century AD and later. In these verses are two references to the “Solomonic temple” (Sibyl. 1:376, 396), using the adjective Σολομώνιος (Solomōnios), “Solomonic.” Although this means the same thing as what we would mean in English by “the temple of Solomon,” it is a distinctly different usage with a different meaning in ancient Greek. Elsewhere, by contrast, the same work uses the expressions “the temple of the mighty God” (Sibyl. 3.565, 575) and “God’s great temple” (4.116).

One genuinely ancient example of the expression temple of Solomon appears in a writing by a Hellenistic Jewish author named Eupolemus, who probably wrote in the second century BC. Scholars know of his writings indirectly through quotations in later Christian writings of the third and fourth centuries AD. In his book Concerning Moses, Eupolemus says that the temple built in Jerusalem “was designated as ‘Solomon’s temple’” (2.21), using the Greek words hieron Solomōnos (ἱερὸν Σολομῶνος). This would indeed be as equivalent as any Greek expression could be to “temple of Solomon” in a Hebrew construct state expression.

However, Eupolemus appears to have had a very special reason for what by all accounts is an exceptional usage. He goes on immediately to claim, “Later, in a corrupted manner, the city was named Ierusalem [Ierousalēm, Ἰερουσαλήμ] after the Temple and, being carried over by the Greeks it is called Hierosolom [Hierosoluma, Ἱεροσόλυμα].” This is a fanciful and entirely erroneous explanation of the etymology of the name Jerusalem, which originated long before Solomon; it is called Urusalim in the Amarna letters, written in Akkadian and dated to the 14th century BC, half a millennium before Solomon.13 Eupolemus’s fictitious etymology depends on using the spelling of Jerusalem as Hierosoluma (it was far more commonly spelled Ierousalēm)14 and then breaking down that spelling into the two words hieron and Solomōnos (hieron + Solomōnos = hiero-soluma). The exceptional reference to the Jerusalem temple as the “temple of Solomon” is thus a necessary device in order to manufacture the etymology of the name Jerusalem.

This exception might be said to “prove the rule” in the sense that it shows that the rule was suspended only when something curious led an ancient author to use the language in an odd way. The evidence is overwhelming that except in such circumstances as when an author was deliberately bending the language to make an artificial point, ancient people did not use such expressions as the temple of Solomon. To do so, except when deliberately playing with the language, was simply out of sync with the cultural understanding of what a temple was: a house belonging to the deity (for Jews, the Lord God) to whom it was dedicated.

Temple of Solomon: A Very Non-Hebraic Expression

Chronologically and culturally, then, the term temple of Solomon (and Solomon’s temple) appearing in 2 Nephi 5:16 is out of place in an ancient Israelite text. The evidence shows beyond reasonable doubt that 2 Nephi 5:16 does not represent a literal translation of an ancient Hebraic text. Not only does the wording not support the claim that the verse was translated from an ancient Hebraic text, the wording actually undermines that claim. The supposed Hebraism temple of Solomon in 2 Nephi 5:16 turns out to be a significant anachronism in the Book of Mormon text that is both historically and culturally out of place.



1. Donald W. Parry, “Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo: FARMS, 2002), 175, quoted also in “Book of Mormon/Anthropology/Language/Hebraisms/Construct state” (FairMormon), last modified 5 Oct. 2014, accessed 1 Sept. 2016.

2. The temple in Jerusalem was also destroyed in 586 BC (or possibly 587), according to the consensus of Old Testament scholarship, e.g., Mordecai Cogan, “Chronology: Hebrew Bible,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, general editor David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1:1008, 1010. This date is generally accepted by Mormon scholars as well; see Stephen D. Ricks, “Temples through the Ages,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 4:1463.

3. This is the generally accepted date for the death of Nephi in LDS materials, e.g., John Sears Tanner, “Nephi1,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, general editor Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2003), 583. The chronological data in the Book of Mormon might allow for Nephi’s death to be dated a few years later at most.

4. Cogan, “Chronology: Hebrew Bible,” 1010.

5. The Arad temple remains are dated to the ninth or eighth century BC, and its demolition is most plausibly correlated with either the reforms of Hezekiah (ca. 727-698 BC) or Josiah (ca. 639-609). See William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 181-83. Nephi would have been born around 615 BC or so, cf. Tanner, “Nephi1,” 583.

6. Incidentally, this usage shows that the apostle Paul thought of the Holy Spirit as a divine person, not as a force or impersonal power, as some religions (not Mormonism) teach.

7. Including such variations as house of our God, house of the great God, and the like.

8. It is one of the curiosities of the Book of Mormon that although it claims the Nephites built temples, it never once refers to any Nephite temple as a “house of God” or a “house of the Lord.”

9. The only difference is the apparent lack of the prefix b- (“in”) that one can see at the beginning of the name for Jerusalem (bîrūslem), which may be why the KJV used a different wording. However, the b- was evidently elided (dropped) because the name Bābel begins with b (i.e., the word could not be formed as bbābel).

10. The Greek expression here is τὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ναὸν, lit., “the of-God temple” (a standard way of expressing possession in Greek).

11. Philo does have a reference to “the temple of the Jews” (Gaium 1:333), a different usage than referring to a temple as belonging to a particular individual.

12. E.g., Testament of Benjamin 9.2; Testament of Judah 23.3; Assumption of Moses 3.2; 2 Clement 9.3; Epistle of Barnabas 16.6, 8; Ignatius, To the Magnesians 7.2; To the Ephesians 9.1; Protevangelium of James (“temple of the Lord,” 15 times).

13. Philip J. King, “Jerusalem,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, general editor David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3:751.

14. The form Ιερουσαλημ (Ierousalēm) is far and away the most common form, occurring 944 times in the Greek Bible (both OT and NT). This form also is much closer phonetically to the standard Hebrew form Yerûsālaim (יְרוּשָׁלִַ֥ם). The form Ιεροσόλυμα (Ierosoluma, with or without the rough breathing “h” at the beginning) is not used at all in the Greek OT (the Septuagint) and occurs only 58 times in the rest of the Greek Bible (21 in the Apocrypha, 37 in the NT). There are also plural forms in the dative and genitive cases, Ιεροσολύμοις (14 in the Apocrypha, 14 in the NT) and Ιεροσολύμων (9 in the Apocrypha, 11 in the NT) that are usually translated as “Jerusalem.”