Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have unearthed a temple and a cache of sacred vessels dating from around 738 BC during excavations at the archaeological site of Tel Motza on the western outskirts of Jerusalem.
“The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. The uniqueness of the structure is even more remarkable because of the vicinity of the site’s proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom’s main sacred center at the time,” according to archaeologists Dr Anna Eirikh, Dr Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz.
“The current excavation has revealed part of a large structure, from the early days of the monarchic period. The walls of the structure are massive, and it includes a wide, east-facing entrance, conforming to the tradition of temple construction in the ancient Near East: the rays of the Sun rising in the east would have illuminated the object placed inside the temple first, symbolizing the divine presence within.”
They said a square structure, which was probably an altar, was exposed in the temple courtyard, and the cache of sacred vessels was found near the structure.
“Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown.”
“The assemblage includes ritual pottery vessels, with fragments of chalices – bowls on a high base which were used in sacred rituals, decorated ritual pedestals, and a number of pottery figurines of two kinds: the first, small heads in human form with a flat headdress and curling hair; the second, figurines of animals – mainly of harnessed animals.”
“The find of the sacred structure together with the accompanying cache of sacred vessels, and especially the significant coastal influence evident in the anthropomorphic figurines, still require extensive research,” the archaeologists explained.
Ritual elements in the Kingdom of Judah are recorded in archaeological research, especially from the numerous finds of pottery figurines and other sacred objects found at many sites in Israel, and these are usually attributed to domestic rituals. However, the remains of ritual platforms and temples used for ritual ceremonies have only been found at a few sites of this period.
“The finds recently discovered at Tel Motza provide rare archaeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general, and in the Jerusalem region in particular, prior to the religious reforms throughout the kingdom at the end of the monarchic period (at the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah), which abolished all ritual sites, concentrating ritual practices solely at the Temple in Jerusalem,” the scientists said.