“Temple of Solomon” and Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Response to Robert Boylan (re-post)

Note: This post originally appeared on October 1, 2016, on IRR’s Religious Researcher blog, which no longer exists (in that form).

Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem (Tissot, ca. 1896)

In a recent online article, I explained that the expression temple of Solomon (using the prepositional phrase of Solomon instead of the possessive form Solomon’s) is not, as LDS scholar Donald Parry had claimed, evidence of an ancient Hebraic original text underlying the Book of Mormon and in fact is evidence against that claim. In that article, I pointed out that the Book of Mormon also uses the more idiomatic English expression Solomon’s temple (in the same verse, 2 Ne. 5:16). I also argued that either expression is both chronologically and culturally anachronistic. At the time Nephi would have been speaking, the temple in Jerusalem would have been the only Jewish temple known to him, and its replacement by a second temple would not have been begun until after his death. More significant still, ancient Israelites and other people in their culture named a temple for the deity to whom it was dedicated (temple of Yahweh, temple of Dagon, temple of Diana, temple of Hercules, etc.), never for its mortal builder. I cited hundreds of texts in support of this point, mostly from the OT, but also from the NT and other ancient Jewish literature. I also discussed one apparent “exception,” where a Hellenistic Jewish author used the expression temple of Solomon in Greek (not Hebrew!) in order to manufacture a contrived etymology of the name of the city Jerusalem.[1]

A Highly Selective Critique

Earlier today Robert Boylan, who has posted a fairly large number of pieces criticizing my articles on his blog, posted an attack on IRR’s recently announced renovation of the Book of Mormon section of its website.[2] The only article that Boylan mentioned specifically was the article on the expression temple of Solomon. Only one paragraph of 188 words, out of the 955 words of Boylan’s whole article, actually discusses the subject of that expression. Boylan devoted somewhat more of his article (210 words) to another alleged Hebraism in the Book of Mormon (garb of secrecy in Helaman 9:6). For the sake of focus, in this article I will respond only to Boylan’s comments about temple of Solomon, including comments made in an update to the article. If time permits, I will respond to some of his other comments separately.

Boylan’s first assertion is unexplained: “When read carefully, the author’s “arguments” dies the death of a thousand qualifications.” He repeats this claim at the end of his article, again with no examples or specifics. Since he offers no examples of these supposed mortal qualifications, not much can be said in response. In scholarship it is always desirable to acknowledge possible or alleged counterexamples or contrary evidence that might seem to count against one’s conclusion. Somehow Boylan thinks he can claim that such carefulness disqualifies the whole argument. As noted above, in my own research on this subject I was able to find just one apparent counterexample to one of the points I made, and I addressed it. This one alleged counterexample falls 999 qualifications short of Boylan’s alleged thousand qualifications![3]

Boylan completely ignores the first part of my article, in which I explained that Parry’s argument for temple of Solomon as a literal translation of an ancient Hebraism is invalid because the very same verse uses the expression Solomon’s temple. Thus, so far as Boylan’s critique goes, this point remains completely unchallenged. Even if temple of Solomon is not un-Hebraic, as I argued in the second part of my article, it is not evidence of a Hebraic original, as Parry claimed.

Were Ancient Near Eastern Temples Named for Their Builders?

As mentioned above, my second point was that in the cultural world of ancient Israelites temples were named for the deity to whom they were dedicated (temple of Yahweh, temple of Dagon, etc.), never for their mortal builder. Boylan asserts that “this is an easy ‘argument’ to respond to.” The use of the quotation marks around the word argument (the second occurrence in the space of three sentences in Boylan’s article, with a third occurrence later in the same article) is rhetorical gamesmanship, impugning the argument before critiquing it by insinuating that it does not even rise to the level of something that could fairly be described as an argument. This show of disrespect reflects Boylan’s general disdain for evangelicals, especially evangelicals critical of Mormonism (and is plainly expressed in the rest of his article).[4]

Let us now look at Boylan’s attempt to debunk my argument. He writes:

On the use of “Temple of Solomon” vs. Temple of YHWH/Temple of <<cult deity>> would be due to the fact that there were, among the Nephites, other temples of YHWH. Temple of Solomon would be a valid locution to distinguish the Old World temple from that of the New World temples (which were distinguished from one another from their location such as the temple at Zarehemla [Mosiah 1:18] and temple at Bountiful [3 Nephi 11:1]).

Here are the two texts that Boylan cites:

  • “…and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them” (Mosiah 1:18).
  • “And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful…” (3 Ne. 11:1).

It is quite true that 3 Nephi 11:1 refers to a temple by its location, using the expression which was in the land Bountiful. (Mosiah 1:18 does not do this; it happens to mention “the land of Zarahemla” but not in order to distinguish one temple from another.) This would have been a perfectly acceptable way to distinguish one temple from another in the ancient Hellenistic and Middle Eastern world. (Not everything in the Book of Mormon is a mistake!) On the other hand, one searches the Book of Mormon in vain for such expressions as temple of Nephi (for example). In fact, 2 Nephi 5:16 is the only text in the Book of Mormon that uses any expression with the words temple of (Mosiah 11:10, “the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass” obviously is not an exception). Thus, it does not appear to be correct that the Book of Mormon authors referred to temples by the name of their builders in order to distinguish one Nephite temple from another. Instead, where any attempt to distinguish one Nephite temple from another is made, this is done by referring to its location, as Boylan himself says—not to its builder. Therefore, this statement in 3 Nephi 11:1 does nothing to undermine the point I made in my article.

The statement in 2 Nephi 5:16 does use the words of Solomon in order to distinguish the Jerusalem temple from the temple that Nephi and his people built. That is precisely the problem. My point was that an ancient Israelite who wished to refer to a different temple and compare or contrast it to the one that Solomon had built would not refer to the latter as “the temple of Solomon.” This point cannot be answered merely by asserting that Nephi did so. Unfortunately, Boylan’s attempt to refute my argument fails because he has misconstrued the argument. He writes:

Among other things is the claim that the Book of Mormon should have used “Temple of Yahweh” or a similar locution…. If the temples were simply designated as “temple of the Lord” or a similar locution, how could Nephi distinguish the Old World temple from those in the New World?

I did not “claim that the Book of Mormon should have used ‘Temple of Yahweh’ or a similar locution.” The Book of Mormon need not have used that specific expression at 2 Nephi 5:16. What I claimed is that an ancient Israelite text would not have used an expression such as temple of Solomon. Boylan’s criticism here proceeds from a basic misrepresentation of my argument.

Boylan’s Update: Doubling Down

In an update to his blog post, Boylan quotes the above sentence and then claims that I was “being disingenuous again.” He attempts to support this accusation by quoting from my original article. Let’s do that here as well:

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). No personal name or title is ever used in this construction in the Bible, in any ancient language.

Boylan gives no explanation as to why the above quoted statement conflicts with what I said above in my response to him. In the above quotation from my article, I did not say that Nephi should have used the expression temple of Yahweh (or temple of the Lord, or any equivalent). What I said is that no ancient Israelite would have referred to it as “the temple of Solomon” because temples were named for their deities, not for their mortal builders. Please note that the following two statements are not synonymous:

  • Nephi would not have used the expression temple of Solomon.
  • Nephi should have used the expression temple of Yahweh.

Perhaps Boylan mistakenly inferred the second statement from my emphasis on the fact that biblical writers so often used the expression temple of Yahweh or temple of God. But again, this did not mean that I was claiming that Israelites always used that expression when referring to the temple in Jerusalem. That is, the following two statements are also not synonymous:

  • Israelites commonly used the expressions temple of Yahweh, temple of God, and the like.
  • Nephi should have used the expression temple of Yahweh or the like.

Now let’s get to the point. Boylan asked, “If the temples were simply designated as ‘temple of the Lord’ or a similar locution, how could Nephi distinguish the Old World temple from those in the New World?” As I have just stated and explained (at more length than should have been necessary), Nephi was under no obligation to use the expression temple of the Lord or any similar wording. If he had wanted to refer to the two temples in a way that clearly distinguished them, he had several options. He could have referred to the first temple as “the temple that was in Jerusalem” (Ezra 5:14 KJV, see also 5:15; 6:5), an example given in my article. He could have called it “the temple that Solomon built” or “the temple in Jerusalem” (cf. 1 Chron. 6:10, “the house [i.e., temple] that Solomon built in Jerusalem”), or “the temple at Jerusalem” (Ps. 68:29; cf. Dan. 5:3). He could have used wording similar to what is in 3 Nephi 11:1, such as “the temple that was in the land of Judah.” He could even have combined expressions, saying, for example, “the temple of the Lord that was in Jerusalem.” Thus, Nephi could easily have distinguished the two temples in various ways; he did not need the expression temple of Solomon to do so.

Boylan concludes his remarks on this issue as follows:

So, not only does the article often die the death of a thousand qualifications, it shows the author lacks critical thinking and intellectual honesty.

This is another example of Boylan’s unfortunate penchant for engaging in character assassination. In this instance the full extent of his attempted justification for this accusation is his claim to have identified a difficulty or objection to my argument (or “argument,” with scare quotes). Let us assume for the sake of discussion just for a moment that his objection was a good one. In that case, would he have established that his opponent lacked critical thinking or intellectual honesty? Hardly. Boylan’s comment here not only presupposes that he is correct, it also presupposes a false dichotomy: One is either correct in one’s opinion or one is intellectually dishonest. These are not the only options. Intellectually honest people with good critical thinking skills nevertheless can and do make mistakes.[5]

In this instance, I remain unconvinced by Boylan’s objections. I am satisfied that the argument I presented stands and hope that fair-minded Mormons will give it fair consideration.



[1] Robert M. Bowman Jr., “‘Temple of Solomon’: Two Problems for a Hebraic Book of Mormon” (Institute for Religious Research, 2016).

[2] Robert Boylan, “‘Temple of Solomon’ and the Book of Mormon,” Scriptural Mormonism, 1 Oct. 2016.

[3] In an update to his blog post discussed here, Boylan claims to identify a second “qualification” in my original article on the subject: “When it comes to possible exceptions (e.g., the temple at Arad and other issues), Bowman has to qualify his arguments (and it is more than once). My point stands.” But the temple at Arad is not a qualification to my argument at all. My claim was that in Nephi’s time there was only one Israelite temple dedicated to Yahweh. The temple at Arad, I explained, was not an exception: “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.” This statement does not undermine my argument one iota; it anticipates and refutes an objection I thought some Mormons might try to make.

[4] In his update, Boylan quotes my conclusion about his show of disrespect without quoting or mentioning what it was in his article I found disrespectful.

[5] In his update, Boylan attempts to deflect my objection to his personal attack on my honesty by saying, “Readers should pursue James McGrath’s post Trinitarians without Colons to see just one example of how Bowman has abused/misrepresented theological opponents (this time, James McGrath via Dave Burke, a Christadelphian apologist Bowman debated in 2010 on the Trinity). It is not a character assassination if the charges are true.” But McGrath does not claim anywhere in that post that I abused Burke or him, nor does he claim that I misrepresented either of them. McGrath and I strongly disagree theologically, but neither of us attacks the other in the way that Boylan has been doing.

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