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Arad Temple, 10th-6th century BCE

An Israelite temple was constructed the structures in a governmental fortress in southern Judah. While all agree that the structure functioned as a temple, scholars dispute the years the temple functioned and the date and cause of its demise. Yohanan Aharoni and the original excavation team dated the founding of the temple to the late 10th century BCE and its reverential burial to the reign of Josiah in the later 7th century BCE in compliance with the king’s religious reforms including the centralization of worship in Jerusalem (II Kgs 18- 22). Other archaeologists contest the dating on the basis of the pottery and stratigraphic relationships. They suggest that the temple may not have been built until the late 8th or early 7th c. BCE and ended with the fiery destruction of the fort in the early 6th c. BCE. Though the dating has not been resolved, this Israelite temple functioned at the same time as the Jerusalem Temple and continued either through the reign of Josiah or until the destruction of the kingdom by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

Though not strictly tri-partite, comparable to the Jerusalem temple as described in the Bible (I Kgs 6- 2-3) and the contemporary ‘Ain Dara temple, this temple consists of three successive spaces. A worshipped walked the length of a long rectangular courtyard (12 x 7.5m) with a large dirt and fieldstone altar (2.5m square) into a narrow broad room lined with benches (10.5 x 3m) to face an elevated, recessed niche (1.8 x 1.1m) in the center of the rear wall. Two small incense altars of stone, one .4m and the second .5m high, lay near the niche, and one or perhaps as many as three massebot (“standing stones”) stood in the niche. Two of the stones were found plastered into the niche wall. Either they were constructional stones with no cultic significance or they were decommissioned massebot secondarily plastered into the wall. The third stone, measuring nearly 1m high with smoothed sides preserving traces of red paint on the side, lay fallen in the niche. Comparable to statutes described or found in other temple niches and innermost rooms, the massebah symbolized or made manifest God’s presence in the temple. The identity of the deity worshipped is known from military and administrative correspondence found in the fort that invokes only Yahweh and no other gods.

The Arad Temple and the Bible

The Arad temple testifies to Israelite religious practice independently of the biblical account. Its very existence, a temple outside of Jerusalem that is not mentioned in the Bible, demonstrates that the biblical account is neither comprehensive nor necessarily representative of Israelite practice during the period of the Israelite monarchy.

For the southern kingdom of Judah, the Bible describes a single temple, the one built by King Solomon in Jerusalem (1 Kgs 6-7). Bamot (“high places”) where priests presided over animal sacrifices and the burning of incense are acknowledged but no other temples to the God of Israel are mentioned. Yet, the Arad temple, maintained by the Jerusalem government and dedicated to the God of Israel, demonstrates the existence of temples or shrines outside of Jerusalem. King Josiah’s initiative to centralize worship in Jerusalem suggests other temples existed but none are mentioned in the biblical text.

Not only does this temple prove the existence of temples outside of Jerusalem, it enshrined a massebah (“standing stone”) in the place of a divine image. While one might argue that a roughly-shaped stone does not constitute an image, thereby adhering to the injunction not to fashion an image of God, the stone stood as a manifestation of the deity, in the precise place an image stood, as the focus of worship. This example, positioned in a temple niche, provides the most convincing archaeological example of a cultic massebah. Other likely examples stand in city gates (Tel Dan), cult rooms (Hazor), in a street or pathway (Lachish), and a private courtyard (Tel Rehov). In the Bible, early references to standing stones register no opposition; for example Jacob erected and anointed a stone where God appeared (Gen 28-18-22). Not until the 8th c. BCE did priests and prophets begin to reject the practice (Lev 26- 1; Micah 5- 12; and perhaps Deut 16- 22).

In addition to erected standing stones in explicitly cultic contexts with altars, graven images, and asherim (eg. Exod 34-13; I Kgs 14-23; II Kgs 17-10), Israelites set up stones as burial markers (Gen 35-19-21; II Sam 18-18), to mark a treaty or covenantal ratification, for example between Jacob and Laban or God and the Israelites (Gen 31-45; Exodus 24-3-8; Joshua 24-25-27), to mark a border (Isa 19-19-20). In all of these contexts the stones may be understood as marking a divine manifestation, either as the deified dead (see the discussion under tombs), as unseen covenant partner or witness to a treaty, or as protective deity guarding the borders of his land.

For further details on the temple at Arad see OEANE “Arad- Iron Age Period” or the more technical and detailed description in NEAEHL “Arad- The Israelite Citadels.” Massebot are discussed in D. Manor “Massebah” ABD IV- 602.

Elizabeth Bloch-Smith

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