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The Bible Comes Alive

New Archaeological Finds Shed Light on First Temple Period

JERUSALEM – “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot," or in this case a highway. When Israel’s National Roads Company wanted to expand the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, they decided to first carry out an excavation to make sure they would not be paving over important archaeological finds.

“This was a total surprise,” Anna Eirikh, the director of the excavation told The Media Line. “We knew there was a large Iron Age settlement in the area but we didn’t expect to find an actual temple.”

Eirikh said there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period of the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II. The walls of the temple structure are massive with a wide east-facing entrance. They also found a square structure, probably an altar, in the temple courtyard. Dozens of sacred vessels, including ritual pottery vessels, were found at the site.

Eirikh says what is striking about the find is that the site is so close to Jerusalem.

“It is less than one day’s walk from Jerusalem,” she said. “We found some kind of cult practice so close to Jerusalem even though all the Prophets in the Bible fought against it. But we don’t know exactly what they were worshipping.”

Among the finds were figurines, including small heads in human form with a flat headdress and curling hair. There were also figurines of animals.

“We can’t know if it was idol worship or worshipping the Jewish God in a different way,” Pablo Betzer, the district archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, told The Media Line. “But this did seem to be part of some ritual.”

The finds were in the modern Israeli town of Motza, which archaeologists believe is the Biblical “Mozah” mentioned in the Book of Joshua.

Netzer also said the large number of objects found, as well as a considerable number of silos, means the site was also likely to have been used as a storehouse, run by high-ranking officials, for Jerusalem’s grain supplies.

It also explains why prophets and kings, such as Isaiah and Hezekiah, attacked the idea of worshipping outside of Jerusalem. They eventually abolished all ritual sites and concentrated practice solely in the Temple.

“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,” Eirikh said.

During this period Jews were divided between the Kingdom of Judah in the area of Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of Israel, further north.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most important, how significant is this current discovery?

“I’d say a 9 or even a 10,” said Betzer. “This will lead to a lot of new research on the time of the Bible.”