Hebrew U discovery reshapes understanding of Temple

Discovery of 3 small shrines have revealed use of ancient architectural consistent with Solomon's Temple

May 8, 2012 17:19
3 minute read.
Ritual objects discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Ritual objects discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa 370. (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)


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A Hebrew University archeologist has discovered artifacts from a 3,000-year-old community that have created a new understandings of how the First Temple was built, the university announced on Tuesday.

Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archeology at the university, displayed models of items excavated in Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in the Valley of Elah, about 30 km. southwest of Jerusalem.

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The religious community, which Garfinkel believes was Jewish, based on the lack of pig bones and graven images, kept small shrines in rooms of three buildings. The small ritual objects are box-like in shape and made from basalt or clay. The shrines predate the First Temple by at least 30 years, but utilize important architectural designs written in the Torah that describe how the Temple should be built.

The discovery of these ritual objects has allowed archeologists a new understanding of the Temple’s construction, explained Garfinkel.

More than 20 architectural terms that describe the Temple no longer exist in modern language, so models of the Temple are based on educated guesses. For example, the Torah states that the Temple had “slaot,” which was previously understood as “columns,” and “sequfim,” which was widely translated as “windows.” But after studying the small shrines, Garfinkel concluded that the number of slaot corresponded to triglyphs, ornamental decorations above the columns, and the number of sequifim was consistent with a triple recessed doorway, rather than windows.

Garfinkel said the objects’ discovery has dramatically changed the way Bible scholars envision the Temple.

“Our effort in biblical scholarship is to understand the text,” he said. “Now this model enables us to understand two terms out of 20.

We don’t know all of the terms, but it’s a step.”

The practice of having shrines in homes is described in II Samuel, Chapter 6: “He brought the Ark of God from a private house in Kiryat Ye’arim and put it in Jerusalem in a private house.”

Khirbet Qeiyafa was a border city in the Kingdom of Judah opposite the Philistine city of Gath.

Oxford University used carbon dating methods on 10 burned olive pits to conclude the city existed for a short time between 1020 and 980 BCE and was violently destroyed. Unlike similar Canaanite and Philistine cities from the same period, no graven images of humans, gods, or animals were discovered at the site.

Additionally, there were no pig bones among the debris of sheep, cattle and goat bones.

These facts, coupled with the organization of the buildings in the Roman manner consistent with other Jewish cities, led Garfinkel to conclude that the settlement was most likely Jewish or practiced Judaic values such as monotheism.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is also the site of the oldest discovered Hebrew inscription, which was found in 2008. A stone inscription bears the Hebrew “Al Ta’as” – “Don’t do” – though the rest of the inscription is unclear.

Doctoral student Michael Freikman, who was part of the group that excavated the site, said two of the shrines were discovered on the last day of the dig, in July 2011. “That’s the law of archeology, you always find the most important things on the last day,” he said.

Katharina Streit, a master’s degree student from Germany, said the students didn’t initially appreciate the importance of the discovery because they had no idea what they had found. “When we saw the first one, we didn’t know what it was, because we had never seen anything like it before, including in books or anything,” she said.

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