Ancient Worship in Israel—Before the Israelites

A new exhibit of a large treasure trove at Haifa’s National Maritime Museum is offering a glimpse of Canaanite cultic practices that existed when the Israelites arrived in the Holy Land.

The cache of more than 200 cult objects was unexpectedly discovered in a favissa—a repository for cultic items—during an excavation near Haifa at Tel Qashish led by archaeologists Uzi Ad and Dr. Edwin van den Brink on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The favissa, a hollow in the bedrock, was excavated in preparation for the installation of a gas pipeline.

A favissa—a repository for cultic items. Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority/Photographer: Assaf Peretz

The extraordinary cultic collection—which the excavators date to the 13th century B.C.E.—included nearly a hundred well-preserved intact objects, as well as another 100–150 broken items. Among the cultic vessels were goblets, including one with a human face, cult stands, incense burners, libation bowls, tableware and storage jars. Some of the objects were produced locally while others came from Cyprus and Mycenae, Greece, indicating flourishing trade and similar cultic practices across the eastern Mediterranean.

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A goblet with a human face. Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority/Photographer: Clara Amit

According to the excavators, the cult objects were used for idol worship in a local pagan temple, but neither the deity nor the temple have yet been identified. They suggest that the vessels were carefully deposited in the favissa for protection before the fiery destruction that brought an end to Tel Qashish at the close of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1200 B.C.E.). Alternatively, they may simply have been moved from the temple when there was no more room or they were no longer in use.

“Strata: Ancient Worship in Israel—Before the Israelites.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2013, 18.

7 Responses

  1. JMN says:

    Well, things around here have changed little over 3200 years. A Never ending story of carnage and rampage, what a coursed land!. All of this suffering for a almost barren land, what a waste.

  2. Amanda says:

    The Israelites were Canaanites themselves! FOR SECULARISM!

  3. anthonyg25 says:

    Every time I read about the late bronze age the word fire turns up. Israel, Turkey, Greece just about everyone seems to have had a fire around 1200 BC, what happened?

  4. Bruce Boone says:

    To read this article is to realize there was a flourishing Canaanite presence in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean which was then, at the behest of a genocidal Yahweh decimated, and, as per instructions from the Israelite God, they were to be destroyed down to the last man woman and child–all this still continues to bring a great sadness upon me. The Bible is not all good news. And the immorality of the genocidal parts, carried out by the Israelites on behalf of their Elohim, cannot but make me greatly fear that the current repression of Palestinian peoples from this land, ethnic cleansing of them, possession of their properties–will probably be justified by many in the name of just such biblical passages as those in Judges. What a shame. How sad. Who will speak up, among Jews, against this? Who among Christians?

  5. Music of Ancient Israel before Biblical Times says:

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