A Rival to Solomon’s Temple
In 2012, archaeologists made a stunning discovery: a temple within sight of Jerusalem in the period following the reign of King Solomon. Established around 900 B.C.E., and functional until the early sixth century B.C.E., this Judahite temple at Tel Moẓa defies everything we would have expected.
The Bible credits kings Hezekiah and Josiah (late eighth and late seventh century B.C.E., respectively) with authoritatively consolidating Jahve’s worship to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, eliminating all other cultic activities in the territory under their control (2 Kings 18, 23; 2 Chronicles 29–31, 34–35). So what could a rival temple be doing less than 4 miles northwest of Jerusalem during the Iron Age II—the time of Solomon’s Temple—when the Bible says the only temple in Judah was in Jerusalem?
“Despite the biblical narratives describing Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s reforms, there were sanctioned temples in Judah in addition to the official temple in Jerusalem,” claim Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits in the January/February 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Archaeologists Kisilevitz and Lipschits, who have been excavating Tel Moẓa on behalf of Tel Aviv University, present their intriguing findings in an article titled, “Another Temple in Judah! The Tale of Tel Moẓa.” They explain how the rival temple came to be, and how it fits into the latest interpretations of the early cult and state formation in Judah during the Iron Age II.
Archaeological work on the temple at Tel Moẓa is not finished yet, as two more seasons of excavations are planned—for the springs of 2020 and 2021. Yet the findings and preliminary conclusions have already “fundamentally changed the way we understand the religious practice of the Judahites,” posit Kisilevitz and Lipschits. Despite their initial skepticism, they now assert that their “analysis of the archaeological finds and biblical texts clearly demonstrates that the temple at Moẓa conforms to ancient Near Eastern religious conventions and traditions and to biblical depictions of cult places throughout the land.”
A cultic structure at Tel Moẓa predated the building of the temple complex on the same site. It appears this owes to the site’s favorable location in a fertile valley near Jerusalem. Agricultural production and growing social stratification made Tel Moẓa economically and administratively important in the region, turning it into a royal granary catering to Jerusalem as early as the late tenth century B.C.E. A temple construction at the site was a logical development. “A link between economic subsistence, production, and development of religious elites during the Iron IIA period has been suggested at several [other] sites. […] Similarly, the temple at Tel Moẓa was built as an addendum to the agricultural structures,” Kisilevitz and Lipschits explain.
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