Top Three Reports in Biblical Archaeology – February 2020

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This month news broke of the discovery of three significant structures in Israel: a “royal estate” and two buildings identified as temples.   They highlight the fact that archaeology is not all about excavation, a significant part of this field of study is interpretation.  Here are the top three discoveries in biblical archaeology in Feburary 2020.

3. “Royal Estate” Identified at Horvat Tevet

Horvat Tevet
An aerial view of Horvat Tevet shows the monumental building which dates to the reign of King Omri. Photo: Mark Cavanaugh, via Omer Sergi and the Horvat Tevet Archaeological Project

Archaeologists have unearthed a monumental structure at Horvat Tevet in Northern Israel, just outside the modern-day city of Afula.  The pillared building had been earlier identified as Roman structure in 19th century surveys.  Recent excavations, however, have revealed that the prominent remains date to the 9th century BC.  The foundations of the building were laid with chiseled limestone blocks that had been brought from a distance, as the local stone is basalt, and the floors were paved.  Near this central complex, archaeologists discovered an industrial area, with large storage jars that were typical of the Omride period.  They believe the jars were part of a centralized administration that redistributed food throughout the Northern Kingdom.  The scholars involved with the excavations have suggested the monumental main complex served as a rural estate for the Kings of Israel, such as Omri, Ahab and their descendants.



2. Archaeologists Claim Structure at Tel Motza was an Iron-Age Temple

Motza Figures
These ancient figurines of people found at Tel Motza may have been used in cultic rituals. Photo: Clara Amit / Israel Antiquities Authority

News recently broke of a structure discovered at Tel Motza, located 4 miles outside of Jerusalem, which has been identified as a “rival” Iron-Age Judahite temple.  In reality this was old news, as the structure was actually discovered in 2012.  The original excavations ended in 2013, but were renewed this past year.  A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review explored the history of the site and the structure that had been identified as a temple.  Scholars have pointed to various cultic finds in support of the original identification, including a stone altar in the courtyard with evidence of animal sacrifice, as well as clay figures, both human and horse-like, that had been broke and buried in the courtyard.  They believe the structure at the site operated as a temple from 900 BC until the early sixth century BC. This past year, excavations at Tel Motza were renewed, with a goal of unearthing the structure which had been backfilled with sand to protect it. The work in 2019, focused on small-scale probes and collection of soil and organic samples.

Bible Archaeology Report cautions that it would be wise to wait until further excavations have confirmed whether this structure was indeed a temple before jumping to conclusions prematurely.  Furthermore, even if it is confirmed that this was temple, it could be seen as affirming the biblical description of Judah’s propensity for offering sacrifices at various high places outside of Jerusalem throughout the Iron Age, as well as their worship of other gods, such as the Asherim.  Scripture records that the sacrifices were made at high places outside of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reigns of Rehoboams (1 Kgs 14:22-24), Asa (I Kgs 15:14), Jehoshaphat (1 Kgs 22:43), Jehoash (2 Kgs 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kgs 14:4), Azariah (2 Kgs 15:4), Jotham (2 Kgs 15:35), and Ahaz (2 Kgs 16:4). While Hezekiah removed the high places (2 Kgs 18:4), his son Manasseh quickly rebuilt them (2 Kgs 21:3).  Interpretations about the structure at Tel Motza must be made within this cultural context.



1. Bronze-Age Canaanite Temple Unearthed at Lachish

This structure at Tel Lachish was identified as a temple. Photo: The Fourth Expedition to Lachish
Tel Lachish Smiting gods
Two “smiting gods” idols discovered at Tel Lachish. Photo: T Rogovski

Archaeologists excavating at Tel Lachish have discovered a structure which they have identified as a Bronze-Age Canaanite temple.  Their findings were recently published in The Journal of the Council for British Research in the Levant. The structure, dubbed the “North-East Temple,” is modest in size when compared to other temples from similar eras.   The front of the structure had two columns and two towers which led into a large hall.  The inner sanctum had four supporting columns and several “standing stones” which the archaeologists hypothesize may have represented the temple gods.  The structure differs from typical Canaanite temples in that it includes side rooms, which has led to a dispute over whether it is a temple or a ceremonial place.  Numerous ritual items were found within, including bronze cauldrons, Egyptian-inspired jewelry, daggers, axe-heads, scarabs, and a gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name of Rameses II.  In the inner sanctum, archaeologists also discovered two small, bronze smiting gods, likely representing the Canaanite gods Baal or Resheph.

The Bible states that Joshua and the Israelites conquered Lachish when they entered the Promised Land (Jos 10:32). According to biblical chronology, this occurred in the 15th century BC.  The recently discovered “temple” at Lachish dates to the 12th century BC, during the period of the judges.  This would appear to affirm what is written in the book of Judges: “Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals…They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.” (Jdg 2:11,13).



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