Ancient Temples and Temple Texts

Bruce K. Satterfield, PhD

Taylor 216


Grading Syllabus

Daily Reading/Assignment Schedule

What is at Temple?  What is considered a Temple?

There are a number of different kinds of religious structures that can be found in the ancient world. For example, Mormon mentions three kinds of structures built by Book of Mormon peoples: temples, synagogues, and sanctuaries (see Helaman 3:14). This fact raises interesting questions such as, "How does one distinquish between these various structures?" "What constitutes a sanctuary? a synagogue? More to the point of this course, "What constitutes a temple?"

At first, the answer might seem simple. A temple is a temple when called a temple by the people who built it.

Unfortunately, many ancient peoples did not have a separate and unique word specific used to designate a building as a temple. For example, the Israelites used various words to label a structure a temple such as bayit (house), hekal (palace), har (mountain), miqdash (sanctuary), quodesh and quodesh makom (the holy place), mishkan (sanctuary or divine abode), and ohel mo'ed (tent of meeting, or feast, or reunion).  But the word bayit could refer to a temple of a god or the dwelling place of a mortal man. Likewise, hekal (palace) could refer to the palace of a god or a king. Only context tells one if a bayit or hekal is referring to a structure for a god.

So what is a temple?
What is a temple? Power Point

As the last slide of this power point states: In this course, we will define a temple as a structure or dwelling place of a god or gods, or other objects of religious reference and a place where worship of that object may occur.

The Salt Lake Temple
A description of the endowment and ordinance rooms as described by Elder James E. Talmage in his book, The House of the Lord.

Temple Typologies

There have been many who have noted similarities in what consistutes a temple in the ancient world.  The following articles  suggest various typologies that can be used to define a structure uniquely referring to temple.
  • Hugh Nibley, "What is a Temple?" in Ed. Truman G. Madsen, The Temple in Antiquity (1984), pp. 19-37.

Article Suggestions by Typology


Bibliographies of Temple Studies in Ancient Near East By Region
From A Bibliography on Temples of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean World, compiled by Donald W. Parry, Stephen D. Ricks, and John  W. Welch (Edwin Mellen Press, LTD, Lewiston, NY, 1991)

Power Point Presentations