Category Archives: Temples

The Lost Ten Tribes in America

Esdras Preacheth the Law

After the Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered the Kingdom of Israel (c. 720 BC), ten of the twelve tribes were deported. They have become known as the Lost Ten Tribes because their whereabouts was unknown.

In the apocryphal book 2 Esdras
 we have a small clue about where they might have gone.

“Those are the ten tribes, which were carried away prisoners out of their own land in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmanasar the king of Assyria led away captive, and he carried them over the waters, and so came they into another land.

“But they took this counsel among themselves, 
that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, . . .” (2 Esdras 13:40-41)

According to these verses, the ten tribes were taken over waters, then they decided to go to a land that was even further away, a land where “never mankind dwelt”. What we can assume from this is that they went a far distance to a land that, as far as they knew, was uninhabited. That would pretty much rule out the Middle East, Africa and Europe because they would have known that those lands were inhabited. They also wanted a fresh start. They were looking for a land away from “the heathen”.

This record from Esdras has similarities to Book of Mormon records. The  Mulekites, the Jaredites, and Lehi’s family all left the Middle East under tumultuous circumstances.

Although many of the early European settlers saw the Native Americans as savages and treated them accordingly, others believed them to be the lost ten tribes and respected them accordingly. William Penn, for whom the US Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is named, was one who believed them to be Israelites. He was well known for his good relationships and successful treaties with the natives. In a 1683 letter to the Committee of the Free Society of Traders in London, England he wrote:

William Penn

“I am ready to believe them of the Jewish race — I mean of the stock of the Ten Tribes—and that for the following reasons: First, they were to go to a land not planted or known, which, to be sure, Asia and Africa were, if not Europe, and he that intended that extraordinary judgment upon them might make the passage not uneasy to them, as it is not impossible in itself, from the eastermost parts of Asia to the westermost parts of America. In the next place, I find them of the like countenance, and their children of so lively resemblance that a man would think himself in Duke’s Place, or Berry Street, London, when he seeth them. But this is not all; they agree in wrights, they reckon by moons, they offer their first fruits, they have a kind of feast of tabernacles, they are said to lay their altar upon twelve stones . . “

Feast of Tabernacles

Penn points out that the Native Americans had “a kind of feast of tabernacles.”  A few things that happened anciently at a Sukkoth or Feast of Tabernacles are:

  • People Gather at the temple (at the temple courtyard, or around the temple)
  • The people live in sukkah (booths or tents) for seven days with the sukkah opening facing the temple (Leviticus 23:42-43)
  • The king or religious leader addresses the people
  • The people are encouraged to love and serve God
  • Scripture (the law) is read (Deuteronomy 31:10-13)
  • Sometimes a new king is coronated
  • It is said to be the festival of the future, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah

When we read the first 6 chapters of Mosiah, the gathering of the people at the temple to hear King Benjamin sounds very much like a Sukkot.

  • The people gathered at the temple (Mosiah 2:1)
  • They lived in tents which faced the temple (Mosiah 2:5)
  • The King, Benjamin, addressed them (Mosiah 2:8)
  • The law was read
  • The people were exhorted to love and serve God
  • A new king, Mosiah, was named
  • King Benjamin (about 124 BC) told of the coming of the Messiah

The Nephites observed the Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles, as did their Native American ancestors.

We also know that the Nephites reckoned time by the moon.

“And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.” (Omni 1:21)

Unlike our calendar which is based on the solar year, the Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle.

Many events associated with the restoration occurred on major Jewish holy days.

  • Moroni’s first visit to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823 happened during Sukkot.
  • Joseph received the plates on Rosh Hashanah which is often called the Feast of the Trumpets, or the day of shouting.

Why would Moroni present his record to Joseph Smith on the Jewish Feast of the Trumpets? Because he was an Israelite announcing the restoration. It’s appropriate that today he is depicted blowing a trumpet.


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Feast of Tabernacles by: wikimedia commons, matanya

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The Law of Moses Among the Nephites

Joseph-Knew---Oman-by-wikimedia-commons---Hendrik-DacquinAfter taking his family into the wilderness and realizing they were not going back to Jerusalem, Lehi sent his sons back to retrieve the brass plates. The plates were an essential item for a family leaving their homeland and starting a new life in a new land. Lehi’s son Nephi understood that the family “could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.” He also knew that “the law was engraved upon the plates of brass.” (1 Nephi 4:15-16)

If retrieving the plates was important enough that Lehi was willing to send his sons into a potentially dangerous situation to get them, and the family was willing to trade everything they had for them,  it stands to reason that when they arrived in the promised land they would strictly live the law of Moses. Throughout the Book of Mormon we read that the righteous did live the law. They built altars and offered sacrifices.

According to the law of Moses, there are two things that must not be part of a sacrificial alter.

Joseph Knew - Mayan AltarIt cannot be made of hewn stone.

“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.” (Exodus 20:25)

One is not allowed to cut the stones when making an altar. One is to use no tools upon the stones. If one does use tools, the altar is polluted.

The above photo is an example of the type of altars in Central America which many people believe are Nephite altars. If this is a Nephite altar, the Nephites clearly were not strictly living the law of Moses.

By contrast, we have record of Joseph Smith identifying a Nephite altar in North America while on the Zion’s Camp march. The altar identified was made of un-cut stones, as would be consistent with the law of Moses.

Joseph Knew - Mayan Temple with AltarAltars must have no stairs.

“Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” (Exodus 20:26)

Altars were on raised structures and getting to them required ramps. Priests wore robes and did not wear anything underneath. If they climbed stairs, those people encircling the structure would see the priest’s “nakedness”.

In the foreground of the above photo we see an altar in Central America. Not only do the cut stones disqualify it as a Nephite altar, but the stairs do as well.

Joseph-Knew---Ramped-AltarThroughout the Mississippi Valley, in what can be described as temple compounds, structures have been found which could have been built for altars. These structures were not made of cut stone and do not have stairs leading up to them. In this drawing from the 1848 book, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, we see a raised structure with four ramps, one on each side.

Such ramped altars would have been in keeping with Exodus 20. These types of altars would have been built by the descendants of Lehi, who risked so much to preserve the law.

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Oman Wilderness by wikimedia commons, Hendrik Dacquin

Mayan Altar by: wikimedia commons, CEHancock

Mayan Temple and Altar by: morgue, xololounge

Nephite Cities in America’s Heartland

Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Great-Circle“Few realize that some of the oldest, largest and most complex structures of ancient archaeology were built of earth, clay, and stone right here in America, in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. From 6,000 years ago until quite recently, North America was home to some of the most highly advanced and well organized civilizations in the world – complete with cities, roads, and commerce.” — Dr. Roger Kennedy, former director of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum

In the heartland of North America the Hopewell civilization built some of the largest and grandest earthworks in the world. The Hopewell and Nephite cultures thrived during the same time frame, 400 BC – 300 AD and many students of the Book of Mormon believe they are one and the same.

Mound cities appear to have been designed for defense. For this defense, great ditches, 6 feet deep were dug around the outsides. That dirt was then piled 6 feet high as a second defense. On top of the mound tall timbers were embedded making a palisade as a third defense.

It’s hard to call it a coincidence that Nephite Captain Moroni defended his cities in the same manner.

  • And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people against the Lamanites; for he caused that his armies should commence in the commencement of the twentieth year of the reign of the judges, * that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.
  • And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.
  • And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high. (Alma 50:1-3) * 72 B.C.

Mormon-Media-Network-Joseph-Knew-Great Octagon Max-S-RiseThe largest of these mound cities is found in Newark, Ohio. Known as the Great Octagon and the Great Circle, this city was not a place of defense, but it was a place of worship and a center for learning and Astronomical study. In 1982, professors Ray Hively and Robert Horn of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana studied the layout of the city and determined that the people who built it had a keen understanding of astronomy and geometry. The great octagon, in conjunction with the great circle, was laid out in such a way as to line up with the rising and setting of the moon.

Mormon-Media-Network-Joseph-Knew-Great-Octagon-Max-S-SetThe Nephites of the Book of Mormon were aware of moon cycles and we know at the very least they used those cycles to chronicle time.

  • And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons. (Omni 1:21)

The Nephites had enough awareness of the heavens to recognize when a new star appeared. They recognized, and presumably had names for, constellation patterns.

  • Mormon-Media-Network-Joseph-Knew-Great-Octagon-Max-N-setAnd behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. (Helaman 14:5)
  • For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. (2 Nephi 23:10)


The Moon travels through a cycle from north to south that takes 18.6 years to complete. Hively and Horn noted that the Octagon and Circle are aligned with the points on the horizon that mark the rising and setting of the moon at its southern and northern most points. It has been estimated that the odds of this being accidental or coincidental are approximately one in forty million. The people who built this city recognized not only the 28 day cycle of the moon, but also understood its 18.6 year pattern. 

Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Great-Circle-2It is believed by many scholars that the Great Circle and Octagon were used for religious services. Just inside the Octagon, in front of the eight gates or entrances, are eight flat-topped mounds. They stand 6 feet high, and are 75 to 90 feet long and 40 to 60 feet wide. It’s unknown for certain what these mounds were, but it’s possible they were placed there to prevent people on the outside from seeing the religious ceremonies taking place inside the Octagon. Is it possible that this, being the largest Nephite religious structure, was the temple in the Land Bountiful? Was it here that the righteous gathered after the great destruction at the time of the crucifixion?

  • Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Great-Circle-3And 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; and they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place.
  • And they were also conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death. (3 Nephi 11:1-2)

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Newark Great Circle and Octagon photos — Energy Media Works LLC

Great Octagon and Circle etchings — Public Domain


Ancient Temple Mounds

Jseph-Knew-CahokiaMound-MMNA common argument given to disprove the Book of Mormon is the use of the word synagogue. Critics argue that synagogues were not used in Israel before the Babylonian captivity and, therefore, would not have been known to Jews whose ancestors arrived in North America around 600 BC. Whether or not such meeting places were in use in Israel before the captivity is a topic for another discussion, but for the sake of this discussion, suffice it to say that research over the past few decades has shed new light on the subject. *

The word synagogue appears at least 25 times in the Book of Mormon. The word temple appears 27, and sanctuary 10 times. Religious worship was extremely important and places of worship were an essential part of Nephite cities.

A place for Sabbath meetings was also important in ancient Israel. (See Lamentations 2:6, Ezekiel 44:24) Recent studies in Israel indicate that gated chambers inside cities (before the captivity) served as Sabbath meetings places. These were set apart from the common area of the city.

If Jews in North America were building Sabbath meeting places, one would expect to see this same pattern of construction.

“And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews.” (Alma 16:13 Italics added)

Joseph-Knew-Terraced-Temple-MoundIn their book Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, G. H. Squire and E. H. Davis describe what they call ancient temple mounds found throughout the Mississippi valley. The Mounds were large flat-topped mounds found in the center of a city. The ruins of structures have been found on top of these mounds, and Squire and Davis believed these structures were temples, or some important building of worship. Building temples or synagogues inside the city and separating them from the common areas of the city is consistent with what Jews in 600 BC would have been familiar with.

Fitting with early gated areas inside cities in Israel, Squire and Davis describe these mounds as being set apart inside walled or enclosed cities.

“These mounds are distinguished by their great regularity of form and general large dimensions. They occur most usually within, but sometimes without, the walls of enclosures.” (G. H. Squire and E. H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, 1848, page 173)

When not inside an enclosed city, these sanctuaries were still securely placed above the city.

Throughout the Bible we find examples of sacred events taking place on mountaintops: Moses on Mount Sinai, Christ with his Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Sermon on the Mount. Isaiah, speaking of a temple in the last days, calls it “the mountain of the Lord’s house” in “the top of the mountains.” With such a tradition, it would make sense that Jews, finding themselves in the flat Ohio and Mississippi valleys would build their own “mountains”. The mounds documented by Squire and Davis are all man-made.

Joseph-Knew-Monks-Mound-Cahokia-From the Squire and Davis book, is a drawing of one such mound in Cahokia, Illinois. (Also seen at the top of this article as it looks today). At the left we can see a single ramp or stairway leading up to the top of the mound.

“The form of the mound is that of a parallelogram, seven hundred feet long by five hundred wide at the base. It is ninety feet in height. Upon one side is a broad apron or terrace, which is reached by a graded ascent.” (E. G. Squire and E. H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, 1848, Page 174)

This man-made mound, known today as Monks Mound, is estimated to have a volume of twenty million cubic feet of dirt.

Joseph-Knew-Diamond-Temple-MoundOften smaller mounds were surrounded by ditches. These ditches were much like those surrounding the fortresses described in an earlier post, Preparing for War. However, unlike the fortress ditches, they did not have earthen mounds with timber palisades. These ditches were not intended for defense. They were most likely designed for privacy.

Seeing the prominent positioning of these temple mounds, and the manner in which the temples were constructed, Squire and Davis conclude that religion played an important part in society.

“We have reason to believe that the religious system of the mound-builders, like that of the Aztecs, exercised among them a great, if not a controlling influence. Their government may have been, for aught we know, a government of the priesthood; one in which the priestly and civil functions were jointly exercised, . . .” (E. G. Squire and E. H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, 1848, Page 47)

There is one defining feature about the temples constructed upon these mounds in North America that separates them from structures in Central America. They were built of timber rather than stone.

“. . . and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.” (Helaman 3:9)

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Additional Information:

* For more detailed information about research into ancient Synagogues see Lee I. Levine’s article, The Nature and Origin of the Palestinian Synagogue Reconsidered. (Journal of Biblical Literature 115 [1996]) Also, his book, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (Yale University Press)


Monks Mound photo by: Mormon Media Network

Temple Mound etchings from the Squire and Davis book.