Artifact Packed 3,000-Year-Old Canaanite Temple Unearthed In Israel
A rare 3,000-year-old Canaanite temple full of ancient religious artifacts has been unearthed in southern Israel.
Built around the time of the ancient Israelite invasion described in the Bible, the temple at Lachish is the first ancient Canaanite temple discovered by archaeologists in more than five decades. The rare site of worship was found extraordinarily well preserved and inside the temple archaeologists discovered an ancient idol of the Canaanite god Baal to whom sacrifices were made in the temple’s inner sanctuary.
Peeling Back Layers of Worship
Discovered in the 10th century BC city of Lachish, that is now part of Tel Lachish National Park, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Jerusalem, and it was unearthed accidentally when archaeologists were looking for evidence of an Iron Age occupation in the fifth level of the buried city.
The new research was first reported in January in the journal Levant by professors Yosef Garfinkel, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who led the excavations, and Michael Hasel, an archaeologist at the Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. Garfinkel told Live Science that the discoveries shed “new light on the ancient religion of the region,” but that over time the cities were built on top of the remains of older ones, leaving layers of ruins, which add to the complexities of excavating.
Digging Up Ancient Egyptian Cultural Influences
The archaeologists believe the temple was attacked causing the walls and ceiling to collapse, which sealed many objects inside. It was as early as day two of the excavation when they found, poking through the top soil, a silver-plated bronze figurine of the principal Canaanite god Baal. Then a few days later another figurine was discovered of the god Resheph, the deity associated with plagues, war, and thunder in ancient Canaanite religion. Both gods are shown “smiting their enemies” with one arm held high and Garfinkel said the statues had been found in the temple’s innermost sanctuary: “the holy of holies of the temple.”
Two tiny figurines depicting 'smiting gods' (could be Baal and Resheph) that were found by the altar of the Canaanite temple. (Tal Rogovski / Hebrew University of Jerusalem )
As well as the two spectacular god figurines, pottery and several pieces of precious jewelry, including two gold earrings dating from before 1150 BC were also found. What’s more, the researchers also recovered bronze cauldrons, decorated dagger blades and axes; arrowheads and glass and gold beads. According to Garfinkel, ancient Egypt had “a lot of cultural influence” in Canaan and therefore, this is why small oval Egyptian scarab beetles and a silver amulet depicting an Egyptian goddess holding a lotus flower in her hand were discovered at the ancient Canaanite temple.
An archaeologist inspecting a bronze cauldron found at the Canaanite temple excavation site. (Tal Rogovski / Hebrew University of Jerusalem )
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The Ancient Origins of A,B,C…
The Book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible describes Lachish as the second-most-important city in the region after Jerusalem and that the ancient Canaanite city had fallen to the invading Israelites around the 13th century BC. Archaeologist Garfinkel said Lachish was sacked by the neo- Babylonians in the early sixth century BC and on several other occasions from 1550 BC, and that the newly discovered temple was destroyed at about 1150 BC in the middle of the 12th century BC.
Pottery found at the Canaanite temple excavation site. (Clara Amit / IAA)
Among the artifacts, a rare Canaanite inscription was discovered, which illustrates the earliest known example of the Canaanite and Hebrew letter “samekh,” which appears in the Hebrew alphabet as a version of the English “s” sound. Garfinkel said over the years archaeologists had discovered examples of “A, and B, and C, and D” but the Canaanite or Hebrew glyph for samekh had never before been seen.
Inscription found in the Canaanite temple excavation site, which has the earliest known example of the Canaanite / Hebrew letter “Samekh” (circled). (Emil Eljem / IAA)
Garfinkel informed in his paper that before this simple system of communication, cuneiform writing techniques in Mesopotamia and the hieroglyph system of Egypt were “very complicated,” comprising of hundreds of signs, and only qualified scribes knew how to read and write. The Canaanite alphabet, however, could be read and written with much more ease. Garfinkel noted that from these early beginnings, the ancient Canaanite alphabet “spread all over the world” from Canaanite to Hebrew, Greek, Latin and finally in English.
Top image: Left: Archaeologists at the Canaanite temple excavation site in Lachish, Israel. Source: The Fourth Expedition To Lachish / Southern Adventist University . Right: (top) Two tiny figurines depicting 'smiting gods' (could be Baal and Resheph) that were found by the altar of the temple and (bottom) weapons and jewelry found at the site. Source: Tal Rogovski / Hebrew University of Jerusalem
By Ashley Cowie