I am familiar with the references in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that legislated that the sacrifices were to occur only where the LORD had chosen to "put His name." He evidently had put His name with the ark of the covenant. Therefore, sacrifice could only occur at the tabernacle and then later at the temple in Jerusalem after the ark was moved there.

However, what do you make of 1 Kings 18 & 19?

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” Then with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD; and he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two seahs of seed (‭I Kings‬ ‭18‬:‭30–32,‬ NKJV).

Elijah repaired an altar to the LORD on Mount Carmel that was broken down.

Then there is the 1 Kings 19 reference illustrating that altars (plural) dedicated to the LORD had been known of in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in Elijah's day and even prior to his time, albeit that they had been torn down at the time of Elijah's words.

So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (‭I Kings‬ ‭19‬:‭10,‬ NKJV).

And again...

And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (‭I Kings‬ ‭19‬:‭14,‬ NKJV).

What I would like comments on is if the sacrifices were supposed to take place wherever the tabernacle was located, prior to the temple in Jerusalem, then why had these altars to the LORD been built at various places? Elijah seems to comment on their being torn down as a bad thing. However, Hezekiah and others present the tearing down of these altars as a good thing, even if the altar was not dedicated to an idol but to the LORD.

At first glance, it seems the theory that all sacrifices had to be at the tabernacle (before the temple being built) may not be entirely correct. One could say perhaps that 1 Kings 3:2 provides the answer:

Meanwhile the people sacrificed at the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the LORD until those days. And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places. Now the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place: Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” (‭I Kings‬ ‭3‬:‭2–5,‬ NKJV).

But then, one may still be left with the difficulty of explaining why Elijah is lamenting that these altars were torn down, for the temple in Jerusalem was certainly built in his day!

And then there is also the matter of the altar built by Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh in Joshua 22. Those on the east side of the Jordan had to clarify that it was merely a replica of the altar before the tabernacle, and not a substitute altar for sacrifice and burnt offering. Had it been such it looks like a civil war was going to break out.

Any thoughts or insights you could share on this perceived dilemma would be appreciated. Thanks!

  • 1
    Samuel also offered a burnt offering when the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines. 1st Samuel 7
    – Joshua
    Feb 9, 2016 at 22:23
  • would not this question be better asked on the Judiasm SE?
    – BYE
    Feb 10, 2016 at 12:19
  • By asking the question the way you did, you have left it open to those who would say the Bible has inconsistencies or mistakes in it. If that is not your intention, I'd recommend specifying a tradition whose opinion you want, such as Catholic teaching or Protestant theologians that hold to biblical inerrancy. Feb 10, 2016 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


Many places in the Old Testament show the people of Israel either being directed by God, or of their own accord, building altars to Him that were not either in the tabernacle, or (much later) the temple.

A sampling of passages:

  • Deuteronomy 27:4ff, "So when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I am commanding you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall cover them with plaster. And you shall build an altar there to the Lord your God, an altar of stones on which you have not used an iron tool. You must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. Then offer up burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, make sacrifices of well-being, and eat them there, rejoicing before the Lord your God. You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very clearly." (followed up in Joshua 8:30)
  • Joshua 22:10, "When they came to the region[a] near the Jordan that lies in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of great size."
  • Judges 6:24a, "Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace."
  • Judges 13:19-20, "So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to him who works wonders. When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground."
  • Judges 21:4, "On the next day, the people got up early, and built an altar there, and offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being."
  • 1 Samuel 14:35, "And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord."
  • 2 Samuel 24:18, "That day Gad came to David and said to him, “Go up and erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”" (followed up later in the chapter)
  • 1 Kings 18:30, "Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down;"

Worship offered at those altars appears to not be the same as the Levitical worship prescribed to the people of Israel - ie, they were meant for specific purposes at specific times, and not for "general" or "normal" worship.

  • Thanks for these examples, @warren. Some sacrificial sites appear to have been temporary, but Samaria was a center of YHWH religion in the north for centuries (according to the Bible and archaeology). Is it your view that these examples didn't violate the Jerusalem-only law? How so? You may be on to something, but a fuller argument (and sources) would make your case clearer. Thanks!
    – Schuh
    Feb 10, 2016 at 18:31

After King Solomon, The kingdom split in two due to varies disagreements and abuses started with Solomon and Continuing with his Son Rehoboam. As a result, 10 tribes split from the temple worship in Jerusalem and started the Northern Kingdom of Israel; the Southern Kingdom was called the Kingdom of Judah. Judah is where we get the word "Jew”.

When Jeroboam left and separated from Judah, the Northern Kingdom developed their own ways of worshiping and offering sacrifice, they also built two temples so that they could separate themselves from Jerusalem. Very sadly, many of those in the Northern Kingdom turned to idolatry and other practices.

The result of these alternate practices included altars made to God that were different and separate from the sacrificial worship in the temple.

Moving forward in time, after the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles, the ten tribes of the North, having returned to the land, were seen by the Kingdom of Jerusalem as unclean, having mixed there blood with the Babylonians. Having come from a land whose capital was Samaria, They were called Samaritans. Now, the Samaritans referred to themselves as Israelites, having come from the Kingdom of Israel.

What came from the separation of the 12 tribes is separate ways of worshiping. One, which comes form Judah, and one that comes from Israel. The two separate Israelite communities exist even today.

The answer to temples worship outside of the Jerusalem temple may be as simple as those temples being temples of the Kingdom of Judah or Samaritan temples, before and during and after the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles.

To answer the question. Were Jews allowed to offer sacrifice outside the Temple, the answer would be "No" - not those sacrifices listed in Leviticus. The Problem was the separation of the tribes, which did not go well for either the northern or southern kingdoms. Some of the 12 tribes, those separated from Judah, and in the Kingdom of Israel, did offer sacrifice to God outside the Temple. The Judahites, aka "jews" did not.

  • Elijah was a prophet long before the Israelites were carted off to Assyria
    – warren
    Feb 9, 2016 at 14:24
  • Yes, but after the separation into two Kingdoms which created two separate systems of worship.
    – Marc
    Feb 9, 2016 at 14:29
  • Elijah did come around after the kingdom split. But discussing the exile isn't cogent to the citation of Elijah's words :)
    – warren
    Feb 9, 2016 at 14:31
  • I believe also it was Judah that were carted off by the Assyrians and Babylonians that carted of Israelites. It's tough to wrap our brains around the terms meshed over time.
    – Marc
    Feb 9, 2016 at 14:32
  • the Assyrians led the northern kingdom captive. The Babylonians led the southern kingdom captive. The Babylonians also conquered the Assyrian empire before laying siege to Jerusalem. It's not really that hard to "wrap our brains around" - the history is pretty clear in both the Bible and secular accounts :)
    – warren
    Feb 9, 2016 at 14:33

While Yahwistic temples and worship sites outside Jerusalem may appear to violate the Deuturonomic prohibition, this is only so because we often think of the history of ancient Israel and Judah backwards. The broad consensus of scholars is that the Book of Deuteronomy – though set by its authors in an earlier era – was actually written several centuries after the period of the judges and the kings. That is, the outlying worship sites were not prohibited during the time of their actual use. The prohibition only arose when the emerging monotheistic religion was later centralized. As Ephraim Stern notes:

"We sometimes get the impression that after Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, Yahweh had no other sanctuary in ancient Israel—but this is not the case. The religious reforms of, first, King Hezekiah in the late eighth century B.C.E. (2 Kings 18:1–8; 2 Chronicles 29–31), and then of King Josiah, in the late seventh century B.C.E. (2 Chronicles 34–35), sought to centralize the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The need for these reforms demonstrates, however, that Yahweh worship was by no means confined to Jerusalem."

The Deuteronomic History that told stories about the older sites is believed to have been written centuries after Elijah. These stories do not contradict the Law so much as they contain remnants of history that predate the Law itself. Understanding how the religion of Yahweh and the biblical texts actually developed and achieved their mature form within early Judaism during and after the Exile – and how these differ from the story told within the Bible itself – is critical to resolving exactly these kinds of puzzles in the text. It is only when we attempt to enforce a literary timeline on real events that 'contradictions' appear.

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