An Iron Age temple discovered in Tel Motza, near Jerusalem, questions the biblical account that says Solomon’s temple was the only one in the ancient kingdom of Judah.
Solomon’s temple – which is also known as the First Temple – was erected from the 10th century BC until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BC
According to the Bible, the Jewish king Hezekiah carried out a religious reform that prohibited people from worshiping or praying outside Solomon’s temple. Subsequently and to ensure that the reform of his predecessor was accomplished, King Josiah would order to destroy all places of worship inside and outside the city.
However, experts have now unearthed another temple in Judah that dates from 900 to 600 BC and was attached to a barn. Within this building there were up to 150 congregants, faithful to Yahweh but who used idols to enter into communion with the divine.
Experts think that the barn was powerful enough to make this temple an exception. In fact, the town of Tel Motza, located in a fertile valley, was one of the centers of grain production and distribution at that time.
“It seems that the construction of this temple – and also the worship carried out inside it – had something to do with the economic importance of the barn,” suggested Shua Kisilevitz of the Antiquities Authority.
“The Bible details the religious reforms of the Hezekiah and Josiah kings, who consolidated the worship practices of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem and eliminated any worship activity outside their borders,” the researchers explain . “If a group of people who lived near the city had their own temple, perhaps the elite of Jerusalem was not as powerful nor as well established as the sacred scriptures describe.”
The temple in Tel Motza was a rectangular structure with an open courtyard in the front, which served as a point for worship activity, since the general population was not allowed to enter inside.
“The cult elements found in the courtyard include a stone altar in which animals were sacrificed and a well where their remains were deposited,” says Kisilevitz.
The excavations also recovered four broken clay figures that were buried in the courtyard, perhaps as part of a ritual. Two of these statues had human form, while the other two appear to be the oldest known representations of horses of the Iron Age Judah.
Instead of worshiping these idols, Kisilevitz believes they were used as “means through which people could communicate with God (or with the gods).”
“Evidence of worship activity throughout the Kingdom of Judah exists in both biblical texts (described as sanctioned by royalty, with the notable exception of the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah) and in the archaeological record,” he adds. .
“Adherence to ancestral religious practices may have been a reaction to the emergence of new political groups in the Levant – the region that today includes Israel and its neighbors -” the researchers write. “In times of instability, people tend to adhere to family practices, as the artifacts and designs in the Tel Motza temple seem to indicate, dating back to Middle Eastern practices over 4,000 years ago.”