Nephi aspires to provide the highest spiritual blessings for his people by erecting a temple in their midst. How unusual is this? Critics of the Book of Mormon have cited Nephi’s building of a temple in Mesoamerica as an evidence that the book was a fraud, stating that no real Jew would desire to have a temple outside of Jerusalem. However, on papyri discovered in 1954, we learn of a large group of Jews who had fled from the land of Jerusalem—perhaps at the time the city was destroyed—and who resided far up the Nile. These Jews developed a program to build a temple in their new location. (See Echoes, 474.)
Commenting on one of the smaller temples built in areas some distance from Jerusalem at the time of Lehi, an Israeli archaeologist, Avraham Negev, has stated: “The most remarkable discovery at Arad [an ancient city located in the Negev, some 30 kilometers northeast of Be’er Sheva] is the temple which occupied the north-western corner of the citadel… . Its orientation, general plan and contents, especially the tabernacle, are similar to the Temple of Solomon” (Echoes, 130). Joseph Smith could not have known of the practice of erecting smaller temples away from Jerusalem at the time of Lehi’s exodus and relocation to the promised land—but Nephi did, and he acted on this knowledge in his new location away from the original colony.