Iron Age Temple Complex Discovered Near Jerusalem Calls Into Question Biblical Depiction of Centralized Cult

  • By Editor
  • 02 10
  • 2020

By Itzhak Rabihiya

Revealed: In First Temple era, another massive temple was in use near Jerusalem. Large 10th century BCE worship complex being excavated at Motza in ancient Judah; 4 miles from Temple Mount, site was ‘sanctioned’ by Jerusalem administration, say archaeologists.


Solomon’s Temple on the Jerusalem Temple Mount was likely not the only site of centralized worship in the Holy Land region of Judah, according to research newly published in the Biblical Archaeology Review by a team of archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A massive Iron Age II temple complex, which stood from around 900 BCE until circa the early sixth century BCE, is currently being excavated at Tel Motza, just seven kilometers (four miles) northwest of ancient Jerusalem’s City of David. First discovered in 2012, the Motza temple is contemporaneous with the First Temple in Jerusalem and uses the same architectural plan – times of Israel  reports.


It would have been about two-thirds the size of the First Temple and was likely built by similar builders who came to the region from Syria in the north, as described in the Bible, the IAA’s Shua Kisilevitz told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Due to Motza’s proximity to the First Temple in Jerusalem, the excavation’s principal researchers, Kisilevitz and Prof. Oded Lipschits of TAU’s Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, hypothesize that this separate cultic site would have been approved by the administration of the Jerusalem “main branch.”

“You could not have built a major monumental temple so close to Jerusalem without it being sanctioned by the ruling polity,” said Kisilevitz. The fact that the temple at Motza functioned in parallel with the larger Jerusalem site means that it was “probably under the auspices of Jerusalem,” she said, which is a really different way of conceiving of religious practices during the era of the legendary United Monarchy and beyond.

Kisilevitz said that while the entire perimeter of Motza’s cultic structure has yet to be uncovered, the excavations have so far yielded every indication of a parallel worship center.

“It’s almost like a checklist for what we’d expect to find — though of course we would like to see more — but it’s more than what has been found so far in the region,” Kisilevitz said.

She noted the temple’s east-west orientation and a layout that consists of a courtyard and a large rectangular building. This blueprint was developed in the Near East in the third millennium BCE and is found at other cultic centers in the region, including the Jerusalem Temple and ‘Ain Dara and Tell Ta‘yinat in Syria.

An altar found in the Motza courtyard positioned directly in front of the building’s entrance is another check on Kisilevitz’s list. “A temple is not a place that worshipers entered; rather, they gathered in the courtyard. That’s where we expect to see remains of activity,” she said.

Among the other remains of worship activity are a stone-built offering table, and “a whole lot of artifacts,” including figurines, cult stands, and chalices, which would have both been brought by the penitents and been the “furniture” of the temple.

Another telling clue is a nearby refuse pit, where the team discovered bone and pottery remains. Kisilevitz explained that it was used in a similar way that Jews today use a geniza for sacred texts.




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