Count the Bible that he king Hezekiah, whose 29 years of reign developed approximately between 716 and 687 BC, centralized all kinds of worship in the Solomon’s Temple located in Jerusalem. And not only that, but also decided to eliminate all rival shrines. Archeology, however, has just refuted this claim.
Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered in 2012 a monumental temple complex of the Iron Age dating from the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 9th century B.C. in the zone of Tel Motza, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The site was identified as the biblical city of Motẓa and served as an administrative center for grain storage and redistribution.
Outskirts of Jerusalem
The Iron Age complex dates from the late 10th and early 9th century BC
A few months ago, the same specialists set out to completely dig up two cult buildings discovered one above the other in Tel Motẓa. “These temples fit the great economic and administrative context of Judah and reflect the advanced level of civic administration located at the beginning of the ninth century BC,” explain the archaeologists of the Tel Aviv University in a study published in the magazine Biblical Archeology Review
Could there really be a monumental temple in the heart of Judah, outside Jerusalem without the authorities knowing? Could this other temple have been part of the Jewish administrative system? “Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the temple in Motẓa conformed to the ancient conventions and religious traditions of the Near East,” say the specialists.
“Despite the biblical narratives that describe the religious reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah, there were other temples approved in addition to Solomon’s official,” says Professor Oded Lipschits in a statement. “These discoveries fundamentally change the way we understand the religious practices of the Judaites,” he adds.
The published study not only details the discovery of places of worship, but also points to the discovery of artifacts such as anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures and a large decorated stand. “It is clear that temples like that of Motẓa existed during most of the Iron Age II (between 1000 and 586 B.C.) as part of the official religious construction,” they indicate.
Human figures, horses, a stone altar or an offering table have also appeared
The rich set of objects and architectural remains at the excavation site – including figures of human form, of horses, a place of worship decorated with a pair of lions or sphinxes, a stone altar, an offering table and a full well of ash and animal bones – they offer “an important opportunity to study religion in the area at that time and provide a framework that contextualizes the formation of the Kingdom of Judah,” they explain.
According to the study, building a central place of worship was a natural progression for a growing community. “As the function of the Tel Motza site as a barn intensified, a temple was built to ensure economic success and strengthen the control of local leaders over the community,” archaeologists say.
The temple guaranteed control of local leaders over the community, researchers say
The analysis of the economic function of the site together with its religious function strengthens the idea that a local government system emerged in the Motẓa region in the 10th century BC. “We suggest that the temple was the company of a local group, which initially represented several large families or perhaps villages that came together to share their resources and maximize production and yield,” the researchers write.