Armarna Tablet 290 RecreationIn an attempt to shore up his criticism of my article on the non-Hebraic character of the expression temple of Solomon in the Book of Mormon,[1] LDS apologist Robert Boylan has cited what he claims is an exception to my observation that ancient Israelites and their cultural neighbors named temples for the deity to which they were dedicated, not for their mortal builders. Boylan’s paragraph on the subject has gone through a couple of expansions as his friend Andrew Sargent has kept him apprised of my discussion with him on Facebook about this issue. At last check the new paragraph reads in its entirety as follows:

Bowman is also wrong when it comes to pre-exilic naming conventions of sanctuaries when one examines ancient textual discoveries-from a passage in letter 290 from el Amarna, written by the king of Jerusalem to the Pharaoh, some scholars have concluded that Bet-NIN.IB was also known by the name “Temple of Šulmán.” Letter 74 of the el-Amara letters, the king of Damascus gives an order to assemble in the Temple of Šulmán (Beth-Ninurt/Beth-Shulman (House [Temple] of Shulman) While scholars debate this meaning, there is reference to Uru-salem (Jerusalem) in this text, and Roger Henry in Synchronized Chronology: Rethinking Middle East Antiquity pp.72-5 makes a good argument that the letters may have been 9th Century during the reign of Jehosaphat. If this is the case, Bowman’s argument on shaky grounFurther, Letter 74 of the el-Amara letters, the king of Damascus gives an order to assemble in the Temple of Šulmán (Beth-Ninurt/Beth-Shulman (House [Temple] of Shulman). Bowman’s response to this was a juvenile “LOL” when a friend, Andrew Sargent brought up this issue. But remember, it is me who is disrespectful (more Bowmanian projection, I know).[2]

I did indeed write “LOL” in a Facebook thread when Sargent first quoted Boylan’s new paragraph (at the time a single sentence, I think). While “LOL” is not appropriate in an academic paper or scholarly publication, it is perfectly acceptable in the context of informal discussions on Facebook and is not generally an expression of disrespect, a fact that Boylan surely knows. My “LOL” was not an expression of disrespect for Boylan or Sargent personally, but of genuine amusement at the argument, for reasons that I will be explaining here.

Immanuel Velikovsky and the “Temple of Solomon”

Despite the fact that Boylan expanded the above paragraph at least twice after I suggested to Sargent that he should not accept Boylan’s argument at face value, it still offers no quotation from the Amarna letters or any citation of the scholars that Boylan says support this conclusion. Boylan’s argument derives from Immanuel Velikovsky, one of the most controversial thinkers of the twentieth century. Velikovsky authored a series of books from the 1950s to the 1970s advancing what amounted to a complete overhaul of ancient history.[3] It would be difficult to find measured or moderate assessments of Velikovsky’s work; mainstream scientists and historians regard him as a crackpot while his supporters view him as brilliant. Interestingly, there is one reference to Velikovsky on the LDS Church’s official website, and it is cautiously positive.[4] In any case, the general disrepute in which Velikovsky’s theories are held by the vast majority of scientists, historians, and other scholars probably explains Boylan’s reticence to identify his source.

There is no doubt that Velikovsky is the source of Boylan’s argument. The form in which he gives the specific expression, “Temple of Šulmán,” seems to be found only in Velikovsky’s piece on the subject (his source, as shall be explained, used the form Šulmān).[5] All doubt was removed when Boylan’s friend Andrew Sargent quoted Velikovsky’s piece in its entirety in our Facebook exchange. It is important to establish Velikovsky as the source of the argument, not as the basis of some sort of ad hominem criticism (although the fact that only Velikovsky and his followers make the claim ought to give one pause), but in order to determine what the argument is, i.e., the basis for the conclusion that the Amarna letters use the expression temple of Solomon. Boylan himself offers no argument for this claim, so that Velikovsky’s argument is the only one available to be assessed.

Velikovsky drew together three controversial claims in order to reach the conclusion that the Amarna letters refer to the “temple of Solomon.” First, he cited a 1940 article by “Jules Lewy” in which, Velikovsky said, he “solved the problem” of deciphering the ideogram dNIN.IB “that had much puzzled the researchers before him.” The ideogram was to be pronounced “Šulmánu” and the text translated to refer to “Bit Šulmáni,” meaning “temple of Šulmán.” Lewy, according to Velikovsky, laboring under a false notion of when the Amarna letters originated, “could not surmise that the edifice was the Temple of Solomon and therefore made the supposition that it was a place of worship (in Canaanite times) of a god found in Akkadian sources as Shelmi, Shulmanu, or Salamu.”

Second, Velikovsky also drew from Lewy a translation of one of the references to this place in the Amarna letters: “…and now, in addition, the capital of the country of Jerusalem — its name is Bit Šulmáni —, the king’s city, has broken away” (as quoted by Velikovsky). This translation of the el-Amarna letter that scholars assign the number 290 (EA 290) indicates that “temple of Šulmán” was another name for the city of Jerusalem. An additional use of the same expression in another letter (EA 74), where it clearly refers to a temple, is also translated with the same expression.

Third, Velikovsky took the position that the Amarna letters, like essentially everything else in the ancient world outside of biblical events, had been badly misdated by conventional scholarship. Instead of accepting the consensus view that the Amarna letters were written in the 14th century BC, Velikovsky dated them five hundred years later to the 9th century BC, the century following the time of Solomon, who lived in the 10th century BC (a point on which Velikovsky agreed with the consensus position).

Putting these three claims together, Velikovsky argued that EA 290 referred to the “temple of Šulmán” as located in Jerusalem in the 9th century BC. Obviously, the conclusion follows that EA 290 (and EA 74) referred to the “temple of Solomon” using a variant form of the Jewish king’s name. And this conclusion furnishes Boylan with his exception to disprove my statement that “temple of Solomon” would have been a non-Hebraic way of speaking among ancient Israelites. We will take these three claims one at a time.


Do the Amarna Letters Refer to a “Temple of Šulmān”?

In the 1940 article cited by Velikovsky, Julius (not Jules) Lewy argued that EA 290 “if read in the light of an Assyrian explanatory list of divine names, furnishes direct evidence to the effect that Jerusalem was the seat of the god Šulmān.” The name actually found in EA 290 is Ninurta, but Lewy cited a list of divine names in which Ninurta was equated with a deity named Šulmān.[6] The list, known as K. 4339, was one of several “explanatory lists of gods” on cuneiform tablets held by the British Museum. These lists often grouped together “the titles ascribed to the same deity” in Babylonia, Syria, and other areas as understood by the writer, along with other features such as astrological titles.[7]

As quoted previously, Velikovsky argued that because Lewy was unaware that the Amarna letters should really be dated after the time of Solomon, Lewy “made the supposition that it was a place of worship (in Canaanite times) of a god found in Akkadian sources as Shelmi, Shulmanu, or Salamu.” That is, supposedly Lewy wrongly assumed that Šulmān was the name of a deity rather than another form of the name Solomon. The problem should be obvious: if the references in EA 74 and EA 290 are not to the name of a deity, then there is no basis whatsoever for interpreting Ninurta in those references as equivalent to Šulmān, since the correlation depends solely on the list of divine names in K. 4339.

Just to be clear: the Amarna texts do not use the expression “temple of Šulmān.” They refer to the “temple of Ninurta,” and Lewy drew a correlation between Ninurta and Šulmān based on an ancient list in which the two names appear together as alternative names for the same deity. If one accepts the correlation, then Šulmān cannot be a reference to Solomon. If one denies that Ninurta in the Amarna letters refers to a deity, then there is no basis for associating those references with the name Šulmān. Thus, Velikovsky’s argument is absolutely untenable. The Amarna letters EA 74 and 290 simply contain no reference to Solomon.

Although Velikovsky’s argument fails even if the correlation between the two divine names is accepted, hardly any scholars have accepted Lewy’s correlation as relevant to the Amarna letters. The following comment by Old Testament scholar John J. Schmitt appears representative:

The position of Lewy has indefensible weaknesses. The equation of Ninurta with Šulmanu must be called into question. Not only is the reading of Šulmanu in the text questionable, but the text itself can hardly be used for the purpose to which Lewy put it. The equating occurs in a list from neo-Assyrian times in which syncretistic speculation was popular and lively. Even though the name of Ninurta occurs in the West later, the name in the text at issue occurs with a Mesopotamian name which has no immediate reference to Palestine.[8]

None of the standard translations and reference works on the Amarna letters has adopted Lewy’s interpretation.

Velikovsky’s claim that the term used in EA 74 and 290 had “puzzled” those who came before Lewy is something of a half-truth. Both before and after Lewy, scholars have debated which West Semitic deity was worshiped at the temple that EA 74 (and indirectly EA 290) referred to as the temple of Ninurta, a Babylonian deity. Two scholars named Kallai and Tadmor, following Albright, argued that Ninurta should be equated with the Canaanite deity Horon and that Bit Ninurta was another name for the biblical town Beth-horon (Josh. 10:10-11; 16:3, 5; etc.).[9] This view still enjoys significant scholarly support.[10] Nadav Na’aman argued for identifying Ninurta with ‘Anat, a Canaanite goddess during the period of the Amarna letters. On his view, Bit Ninurta is equivalent to Beth-‘Anat.[11] Everyone, however, agrees that a deity’s name is involved. “The question is which deity.”[12]


Do the Amarna Letters Call Jerusalem by the Name of Its Temple?

The second leg of Velikovsky’s argument is less important but may be addressed briefly. Other than Lewy, apparently no scholar outside the Velikovsky community interprets EA 290 as calling Bit Ninurta the “capital” of Jerusalem. The one scholar I could find who was agreeable to Lewy’s equation of Ninurta with Šulmānu disagreed that the reference is to the capital city of Jerusalem itself.[13] The word that is used, ālu, simply meant “city, town,”[14] and this is how all of the standard translations of the Amarna letters render the word in EA 290.

Before turning to the third premise of Velikovsky’s argument, we should take a look at how scholars translate the key lines in EA 74 and EA 290. Lewy had proposed translating the key line in EA 290 as follows: “And now, in addition, the capital of the country of Jerusalem—its name is Bīt Šulmāni—, the king’s city, has broken away (to the place) [w]here the people of Kilti (are).”[15] Compare this translation to the following:

First, here are two standard translations of EA 74.30-33:

So now ‘Abdi-Aširta has written to the troops: “Assemble in the temple of NINURTA, and then let us fall upon Gubla. Look, there is no one that will save it from u[s].”[16]

And now, ‘Abdi-Ashirta has written to the troops, “Assemble at the temple of Ninurta and let us fall upon the city of Byblos since there is no man who can deliver it from our hand.”[17]

And here are the same publications’ translations of EA 290.14-18:

And now, besides this, a town belonging to Jerusalem, Bit-dNIN.URTA by name, a city of the king, has gone over to the side of the men of Qiltu.[18]

And now, moreover, a town of the land of Jerusalem, its name being Bit-NIN.IB, a city of the king, has deserted [in] the wake of the men of the city of Qilti (Keilah).[19]

To the above two standard translations of EA 290.14-18 we may add the following older translation, which came from the renowned Old Testament scholar William Foxwell Albright:

But now even a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name, a town belonging to the king, has gone over to the people of Keilah.[20]

Mormons have quoted this translation of EA 290 (in which Albright had equated Nit-Ninurta with Bit-Lahmi, i.e. Bethlehem) with approval because it used the expression “the land of Jerusalem,” an expression found in the Book of Mormon that some critics have thought was an error. The quote first appeared for this purpose in an article in the LDS Church’s flagship magazine, Ensign, in 1984, and has repeated numerous times.[21] The argument appears to have originated with Hugh Nibley, who quoted the Amarna letter (translating himself from an early German edition) as stating that “a city of the land of Jerusalem, Bet-Ninib, has been captured.”[22] Clearly, these translations of the relevant line in EA 290 that Mormon scholars and apologists have repeatedly cited do not support Boylan’s claim that they refer to Jerusalem by the name “Temple of Solomon.”


Were the Amarna Letters Written after Solomon?

In order for the Amarna letters to refer, however obliquely, to a “temple of Solomon,” it is obviously necessary for them to have been written during or after the time of Solomon in the 10th century BC. It is therefore crucial to Velikovsky’s argument to date the letters to the 9th century BC instead of to the 14th century BC as does the consensus of scholars.

There is nothing in principle wrong with questioning the consensus view. Still, it needs to be clearly understood that the only people challenging the 14th-century BC date for the Amarna letters are Velikovsky and his followers. The one reference that Boylan gives in his defense of the “temple of Solomon” reading of the Amarna letters is a book by one Roger Henry, who did indeed date the Amarna letters to the 9th century BC instead of the 14th century.[23] Henry’s book was ssentially a synthesis of Velikovsky’s books reconstructing the chronology of ancient history, as he himself acknowledged toward the beginning: “This work will draw heavily from the Ages in Chaos series by Immanuel Velikovsky.”[24]

It is worth noting that the LDS Church accepts the conventional date for the Amarna letters. In the online Bible Dictionary on the LDS official website, the entry “Tell el-Amarna Letters” states that “the letters consist of a number of baked-clay tablets written about 1350 B.C.”[25] Mormon scholars accept the same general time period for the letters; for example, Daniel Peterson gives the date as ca. 1400 BC.[26]

Adjudicating a matter as complex and wide-ranging as establishing the chronologies of various cultures in the Mediterranean and Middle East regions is obviously beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that the burden of proof presently remains solidly on those who would favor dating the Amarna letters after the time of Solomon. It is certainly a highly questionable premise in the argument—and again, one without which the conclusion that the Amarna letters refer to a “temple of Solomon” is utterly untenable.



In my original article on this subject, I presented substantial, manifold evidence that ancient Semitic expressions of the form that we would translate “temple of X” routinely referred not to the builder or ruler responsible for its building but to the deity to whom it was dedicated. We found dozens of examples of such expressions as temple of Yahweh, temple of God, temple of Dagon, temple of Diana, and so on, rather than temple of Nebuchadnezzar, temple of Solomon, temple of Herod, or the like. We also found hundreds of parallel expressions in reference to the temple such as house of Yahweh and house of God. We saw one “exception” with regard to the expression temple of Solomon that deliberately bent the language to support a fanciful and erroneous etymology of the name Jerusalem. The conclusion given seems quite warranted still: “The evidence is overwhelming that except in such circumstances as when an author was deliberately bending the language to make an artificial point, ancient people did not use such expressions as the temple of Solomon.”

On the other hand, Boylan’s objection rests on an extremely implausible interpretation of just two statements in the Amarna letters. As I have explained, all three premises of Velikovsky’s argument for understanding the Armana letters 74 and 290 to refer to “the temple of Solomon” in Jerusalem are dubious. Most important, the first premise is completely indefensible: the only basis for associating the Ninurta of these letters with a name that sounds like “Solomon” is a list of deities with alternate divine names associated with them. To seize on the supposed correlation of Ninurta and Šulmān in a list of divine names while denying that these are divine names is ludicrous. Moreover, in appropriating this argument for the sake of his polemic against my article, Boylan has contradicted a long line of Mormon scholars and apologists such as Hugh Nibley and Daniel Peterson both on the correct translation of the relevant statement in EA 290 and on the date of the Amarna letters.

I confess, then, that it is difficult not to be amused by Boylan’s dogmatic and belittling claim with regard to this issue:

Bowman is also wrong when it comes to pre-exilic naming conventions of sanctuaries…. This is just another example of Bowman pretending to be informed about an issue and failing miserably. For those who have read his books and articles for any length of time will realise this is just par for the course.

Caveat emptor.



[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, revised 2 Oct. 2016 (last checked 4 Oct. 2016). See my first response, Robert M. Bowman Jr., “‘Temple of Solomon’ and Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Response to Robert Boylan,” Religious Researcher (blog), 1 Oct. 2016.

[3] E.g., Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (1950); Ages in Chaos (1952); Earth in Upheaval (1955); and Peoples of the Sea (1977), all published by Doubleday in New York.

[4]Genesis 1-2: The Creation,” in Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis-2 Samuel (1980), 26–36. See also Alan Rock Waterman, “Bad Science, Weird Science, and Strange Mormon Prophecy,” Pure Mormonism (blog), 14 Feb. 2013.

[5] Immanuel Velikovsky, “The Šulmán Temple in Jerusalem,” Collected Essays, at The Immanuel Velikovsky Archive (copyright 1999). The short essay was apparently written in the 1970s. All citations of Velikovsky are to this essay.

[6] Julius Lewy, “The Šulmān Temple in Jerusalem,” Journal of Biblical Literature 59 (1940): 519 (519-22).

[7] Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, &c., in the British Museum, Part XXV, edited by E. A. Wallis Budge (London: Longmans, 1909), 6-7. K. 4339 is shown in this work as Plates 9-14 (the relevant one is Plate 12). The “K” in K. 4339 indicates that the tablet was part of the Kouyunjik Collection, referring to the archaeological site of Kouyunjik (in what is now Iraq) that represented the remains of part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

[8] John J. Schmitt, “Pre-Israelite Jerusalem,” in Scripture in Context: Essays on the Comparative Method, edited by Carl D. Evans, William W. Hallo, and John B. White, Pittsburgh Theological Monograph Series 34 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 1980), 109. See the notes at the end of Schmitt’s paper for the technical details of his critique.

[9] Z. Kallai and H. Tadmor, “Bit Ninurta=Beth Horon—On the History of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Amarna Period,” Eretz-Israel 9 (W. F. Albright volume), edited by A. Malamat (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1969), 138 [in Hebrew]. Cf. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (London: Athlone, 1968), 120.

[10] See Anson Rainey’s strong defense of this interpretation in The El-Amarna Correspondence: A New Edition of the Cuneiform Letters from the Site of El-Amarna Based on Collations of All Extant Tablets, collated, transcribed, and translated by Anson F. Rainey, edited by William M. Schniedewind, Handbook of Oriental Studies, sect. 1, Ancient Near East 110 (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 1:27.

[11] Nadav Na’aman, “On Gods and Scribal Traditions in the Amarna Letters,” Ugarit-Forschungen 22 (1990): 252-54 (247-55).

[12] Rainey, trans., El-Amarna Correspondence, 1:27. On Ninurta as the name of a deity, see also Richard S. Hess, Amarna Personal Names, American Schools of Oriental Research Dissertation Series 9 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1993), 174.

[13] Georg Fohrer, “Σιων, etc.,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Friedrich, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 7:298-99.

[14] “Glossary,” in El-Amarna Correspondence, translated by Rainey, 1313, cf. 1276.

[15] Lewy, “Šulmān Temple in Jerusalem,” 520.

[16] William L. Moran, ed. and trans., The Amarna Letters (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 143.

[17] Rainey, trans., El-Amarna Correspondence, 1:457.

[18] Moran, trans., Amarna Letters, 334.

[19] Rainey, trans., El-Amarna Correspondence, 1:1125.

[20] William F. Albright and George E. Mendenhall, “The Amarna Letters,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 489; also in The Ancient Near East, Volume I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, edited by James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958), 274. The translation of EA 290 is also quoted in Jerome Murphy O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, Oxford Archaeological Guides, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 230, from which some LDS apologists derive their quotation.

[21] D. Kelley Ogden, “Why does the Book of Mormon say that Jesus would be born in Jerusalem? (Alma 7:10),” I Have a Question, Ensign, Aug. 1984; Daniel C. Peterson, “Is the Book of Mormon True? Notes on the Debate,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo: FARMS, 1997), 156; Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 283; Michael Clark, “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the Near East,” in Selections from the Religious Education Student Symposium 2003 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2003); Jeff Lindsay, “2010 Update: More from the Amarna Letters,” last updated 27 Oct. 2010.

[22] Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, 3rd ed., Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 6 (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1988 [1st ed. 1957]), 101. Nibley is cited with approval in “Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Biblical/Jerusalem vs Bethlehem,” FairMormon, last updated 13 May 2016 (which also cites Ogden’s article quoting the translation by Albright). See also Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 135, who quotes the 1939 English edition by Samuel Mercer.

[23] Roger Henry, Synchronized Chronology: Rethinking Middle East Antiquity: A Simple Correction to Egyptian Chronology Resolves the Major Problems in Biblical and Greek Archaeology (New York: Algora Publishing, 2003), 72-73.

[24] Ibid., 8.

[25]Tell el-Armana Letters,” Bible Dictionary, (checked 4 Oct. 2016).

[26] Peterson, “Is the Book of Mormon True,” 156.

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