Nephi’s Timber Temple


The sacrament meeting speaker was a service missionary recently welcomed to our ward. He said he’d worked many years as a quality engineer and been involved in building temples for the Church. He assured the congregation that he knew something about the subject he was going to talk about. His talk would be based on some renowned Church member’s (leader’s?) remarks on temple foundations - in particular, Mayan temples.

After the meeting ended, I went up on the stand and asked the service missionary why he didn’t base his talk on a scriptural temple - like the temple of Solomon? He admitted that he could have done so, but that renowned brother so and so, whose talk he chose to rely on, chose Mayan temples.

I asked the good brother to do something for me: I asked him to open his Bible, and come up with an estimate of how many man-years it took to build Solomon’s temple. I assured my brother that since he was an engineer, and since the information is in the Bible – he could do it!      

The Times and Seasons “EXTRACT” Article

In the fall of 1842, approaching the time when the Prophet Joseph Smith, overwhelmed with “a multiplicity of other business”, resigned as official editor of the Times and Seasons newspaper, a series of sensational articles were published which featured excerpts from John Lloyd Stephens’ 1841 bestseller Incidents of Travel in Central America.

The first of these newspaper articles appeared September 15, (Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 22, pp. 911-915), under the banner, “TRUTH WILL PREVAIL” and the header “EXTRACT”. After featuring an extract from Stephens’ book, describing Central American stone ruins, the following remarks were added by an unknown party with the good intent of promoting faith in the Book of Mormon:

“…It affords great joy to have the world assist us to so much proof, that the most credulous cannot doubt. We are sorry that we could not…give the necessary cuts referred to in the original. Let us turn our subject, however, to the Book of Mormon, where these wonderful ruins of Palenque are among the mighty works of the Nephites:-and the mystery is solved.” (The acting editor was John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff was called to assist)

Ignoring, or oblivious to Stephens’ conclusion that the Central American ruins were relatively recent works, the EXTRACT article proceeds to quotes page 72 of the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 5:13-16, in the current edition) as if these verses somehow account for stone ruins in Central America. These verses of scripture actually state that Nephi taught his people how to work with metals and all manner of wood, and that Nephi built a temple in form like the temple built by Solomon.

Because Nephi was limited to certain materials, the American temple “could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple.” But the “manner” of the structure resembled the Jerusalem temple. There is no mention of stone masonry at all in these verses. In fact, there is no scriptural mention of any temple or synagogue (מוֹעד) made of hewn stone in Book of Mormon America. We know in fact that the Nephites used timber to construct their temples. (Helaman 3:9)

The temple built by Solomon, was a magnificent timber, metal and stone construction. According to scripture, it took seven years to build. (1 Kings 6:38)

Solomon employed 10,000 lumbermen in Lebanon, 70,000 bearers of burdens, 80,000 quarrymen and 3,300 (3,600?) supervisors. (1 Kings 5:8-18, 2 Chronicles 2:17-18, KJV) Ignoring the supervisors and 20,000 lumbermen left at home, and assuming conservatively that Solomon had two thirds of his workforce engaged in other building projects, the effort gone into building the House of the LORD may be estimated at about 370,000 man-years.

Nephi had Zoram, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, his sisters and some others to help him build a temple in America. (2 Nephi 5:6) Let us generously suppose that in time, Nephi had hundreds of able bodied workers. With a workforce of hundreds, a stone temple like the one at Jerusalem, would still have taken more than a lifetime to complete! Scripture indicates that the American temple was completed in Nephi’s lifetime, possibly prior to the first war with the Lamanites. (2 Nephi 5:27-28, 34, consider also 1 Kings 5:3-5) Moreover, the temple was not the only Nephite building project: “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood…” (2 Nephi 5:15) Nephi was divinely trained in ship building. He knew wood and metal working. There is no mention of his becoming a skilled stone mason.

What Nephi says is that he “did build a temple…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…” Do “precious things” refer only to decorations?

Concerning the House of the LORD, the Bible records, “…the king commanded, and they brought great stones, costly stones, and hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house.” (1 Kings 5:17, KJV) Notice that “and” in the translated verse, is italicized, meaning that it is really not present in the Hebrew text. In other words, the “costly stones” are the “hewed stones” mentioned in the text. What is more, an LDS edition footnote refers to 2 Nephi 5:16! In other words, “costly stones” for the foundation were among the “precious things” omitted by Nephi in his construction. The Hebrew adjective translated “costly” in this case, comes from the root “yaqar” (יקר) meaning “precious”, “prized”, “weighty”, “esteemed”. Thus some of the precious and weighty things that Nephi did without, were not merely ornamental, they were the very foundations of massive stone structures. (1 Kings 7:8-11)

Native NY Long House

Native American Long House - Western NY

Consider Haggai 1:8; 2:3, 9

Temples dedicated to the God of Israel do not required massive stone foundations. The temple built by Solomon was patterned after the smaller, portable tabernacle of the congregation. The only stone structures built by Nephites, mentioned in the Book of Mormon, were defensive stone walls, and there is no indication that these defenses were made of hewn stone:

“…Moroni on the other hand, had been preparing… Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.” (Alma 48:7-8)

In contrast to the anonymous September 15, EXTRACT article on Stephens’ travels, the July 15, editorial on Josiah Priest’s AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES (by Joseph Smith, signed with his “ED”) cites North American Mound-builder evidence supporting the Book of Mormon: 

“…forts, tumuli, roads, wells, mounds, walls enclosing between one and two hundred, and even five hundred acres of land; some of them stone, and others of earth, twenty feet thick, and exceeding high…works requiring too much labor for Indians ever to have performed.” (Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 18, pg. 858)    

In the AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES article, the editor Joseph Smith corroborates the account of Nephi teaching wood and metal working to his people, and the building of a temple, with archeological finds in temperate North America - Mound-builder country.

Apparently Joseph Smith agreed with Josiah Priest, John Lloyd Stephens and other authors of the time, that the publicized stone ruins of Central American were comparatively recent works (not truly ancient) and that descendants of ancient peoples eventually migrated from temperate North America into Central America and beyond.

(See V. Coon, CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS, Chapter Three “Unsigned Articles and a Popular Book”; also Joseph Smith, Josiah Priest and the Times and Seasons)

Temple of Kukulkan built 9 to 12 CE

The temple of Kukulkan, ostensibly posing as the Book of Mormon’s Bountiful Temple, in the background of a popular LDS mural

When do you suppose the temple of Kukulkan was constructed; sometime in or before the first century AD? It was actually constructed sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries AD. So the “Christ in America” painting doesn’t really depict a scene from the Book of Mormon. Maybe we can think of it as representing a visit from Kukulkan/Quetzalcoatl to the Maya many centuries AD - many centuries after Messiah's visit to the Nephites. We should also not be ignorant of the despicable acts of human sacrifice that took place at Mayan temple sites.

Consider Exodus 20:24-26, and Joshua 8:30-31:

24  An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.

25  And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.

26  Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

According to the Joseph Smith Diary, recorded by Willard Richards, the Prophet Joseph Smith understood (ostensibly from his study of the scriptures) that an altar of man hewn stones was an abomination to the LORD. Neither was the hammer, or axe, or any tool of iron to be heard in the construction of the House of the LORD. (1 Kings 6:7) According to the diary, Joseph Smith described himself as “.. a rough stone, the sound of the hammer & chisel was never heard on me. nor will ever be. I desire the learning & wisdom of heaven alone.” The Joseph Smith Diary goes on to state, “... if Christ should and come and preach such rough things as he preached to the Jews ... this Generation would reject reject him for being so rough.” (The Words of Joseph Smith, compiled by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, pp. 209 - 210.)

Talks in church should stay close to scripture. Speakers should be less trusting of other church affiliated sources.


Vincent Coon וִינְסֶנט כּוּן Copyright 2015

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