Adam Welch, in The Code of Deuteronomy: A New Theory of its Origin, argued that to centralize worship in the temple at Jerusalem would not have been very practical.
The Mormons have temples. They just built a new one in Kansas City. They have been having tours for the general public. In early May they will dedicate it. After that only members of their church who meet certain requirements can enter it. So I took the tour the other day.
I don’t want to discuss their theology. I don’t buy into it. But I appreciate many Mormon people, both those that I know personally and authors like Stephen Covey and Orson Scott Card.
But think about the fact that they have temples where certain rites can take place that cannot take place anywhere else. Mormon temples do not seem to me to have much in common with ancient Hebrew temples. But they do have this in common: that worshipers have to go there for certain essential ceremonies.
The Jews moved from plural sanctuaries to just one sanctuary. In the Covenant Code in Exodus 20:24 God permits sacrifices in “every place where I cause my name to be remembered.” But in Deuteronomy 12:5, 11 and 14 we hear about just one place that God will choose out of all the tribes. Only at that place will certain sacrifices happen. Clearly this refers to the Jerusalem temple.
Adam Welch thought that this singular place came into the text of Deuteronomy late. Before that, Deuteronomy meant the same thing that Exodus meant. There were several places where sacrifices could be offered.
In old Israel there were probably sanctuaries at Gilgal, Shiloh, Shechem, Hebron Beersheeba, Bethel, and Dan. Archeologists have found the remains of a temple at Arad. King Mesha of Moab claimed to have captured an Israelite sanctuary in the Transjordan. There were probably more.
Deuteronomy 26:4 requires farmers to bring a basket of the first fruits of the harvest to the place God has chosen and present it to the priest. Welch has a strong point when he says that this makes no sense unless it refers to local sanctuaries. It would be totally impractical for farmers far from Jerusalem to carry their basket that far.
Welch believed that the law in Deuteronomy 26 was very primitive. He thought it went back to the early monarchy or even the time of the Judges. It does not mention any of the three yearly feasts. It does not say anything about the tithe or what should be done with the offering. All the legislation about these things developed later.
The purpose of the law in Deuteronomy 26:1-11 is simple:
“What interests the legislators is the character, not the unity, of the place of worship. . . .The sanctuary where Yahweh elects to locate His name need not mean only one sanctuary; it must mean a shrine reserved to His honour.” (pp. 30-31).
One of the reasons Mormons put a temple in Kansas City is that they have more adherents in Kansas and Missouri. Now these people do not have to go to Salt Lake City or even St. Louis for marriages, child sealings, baptisms and so on. Convenience is a factor. Welch asked us to consider that convenience was a factor for the ancient Israelites as well.