BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Bathed in Morning Light

The sun temple in the Canaanite city of Azekah

Aerial view from the northwest of the Canaanite city of Azekah (center), with its commanding view over the fertile Elah Valley

Aerial view from the northwest of the Canaanite city of Azekah (center), with its commanding view over the fertile Elah Valley. Courtesy Photo Companion to the Bible, 1 Samuel.

Nestled in the heart of the Shephelah with a commanding view over the Elah Valley, the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1200 BCE) Canaanite city of Azekah surely held tremendous strategic and cultural significance. The remarkable sun temple discovered at the site offers critical evidence of this, with architectural features and ritual objects demonstrating a mixture of both local and Egyptian characteristics. In the Spring 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, archaeologists Oded Lipschits, Hannah M. Ripps, Manfred Oeming, and Sabine Kleiman share the highlights of their work at Azekah, with specific focus on the temple and its treasures.

Azekah’s heyday took place in the Late Bronze Age, during an extended period of Egyptian hegemony over the region. Its position overlooking the Elah Valley and several major highways made it one of the area’s most crucial strategic sites of the time. At its peak, the Canaanite city of Azekah clearly maintained strong ties with the Egyptian pharaonic administration, and the result was a thriving community with an upper and lower city, a pottery workshop, and even oil (or perfume) production facilities.

Adding considerably to this picture is the temple discovered on the eastern slope of the town. It appears to have been established in the 13th century BCE as an open-air sanctuary, similar in form to the sun temples of Egypt during this period. Its sanctuary, oriented toward the rising sun, included a large, round stone altar with an attached basin, both covered with plaster; next to the altar was a 1.5-foot-tall round pillar made of smooth limestone. These smooth white surfaces would have captured and reflected the brilliant colors of the sun’s morning rays.

Flat plastered stone installation and limestone pillar in the Azekah sun temple’s inner sanctuary

Flat plastered stone installation and limestone pillar in the Azekah sun temple’s inner sanctuary. Courtesy Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition.

During the 12th century, when the Canaanite city of Azekah was at its peak, significant temple renovations took place. The formerly open-air sanctuary was walled and roofed, becoming an enclosed building that followed the typical symmetrical plan of monumental Canaanite temples known from sites such as Lachish and Hazor. During these temple renovations, no less than seven lamp-and-bowl deposits were placed in the foundation, a well-known practice attested in Late Bronze and early Iron Age temples across the southern Levant.

The temple was laid out from southwest to northeast, with the innermost sanctuary at the eastern fringe of the Canaanite city overlooking the Elah Valley. The main entrance lay to the southwest, where a large open courtyard likely served as a gathering place for communal activities including feasting and libation rituals. A standing stone near a flat slab in the center of the courtyard may have served as a small sacrificial altar, and a large square podium stood at the northeastern end of the courtyard on the temple’s central axis.

FREE ebook: Israel: An Archaeological Journey. Sift through the storied history of ancient Israel.

* Indicates a required field.

Beyond lay the paved entryway into the temple’s inner sanctum. This part of the temple seems to have been roofed with an upper story, used for both storage and religious activity. On either side of the entryway were two small side rooms, one furnished with a bench and the other with two superimposed round stone installations. Finally, the entryway opened into the temple’s innermost sanctuary, where the low plastered stone fixture and the short pillar were retained from the earlier sun temple design, even after the temple renovations.

Inside the temple, excavators discovered several remarkable objects that demonstrate the temple’s religious hybridity. Among these items were a small bronze figurine likely representing the Canaanite storm god Baal, a variety of ceramic figurines of animals and humans, a faience statue of the Egyptian god Bes, and a small Egyptian-style triad amulet boasting images of Re-Horakhty, Seth, and Hathor on its face and a hieroglyphic inscription on the back.

The Canaanite city of Azekah was violently destroyed, along with its temple, at the end of the 12th century. Vivid evidence of this destruction was discovered inside the temple, where the remains of five individuals, all men, were found broken and buried beneath its collapsed walls. Two were killed in the courtyard, while the other three likely were stationed on the roof before it collapsed, possibly in a desperate attempt to defend the temple and the people of Azekah.

For a deeper dive into the sun temple at Azekah, read the article by Oded Lipschits, Hannah M. Ripps, Manfred Oeming, and Sabine Kleiman entitled “House of the Rising Sun: Azekah’s Canaanite Temple,” published in the Spring 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

——————
BAS Library Subscribers: Read the full article “House of the Rising Sun: Azekah’s Canaanite Temple” by Oded Lipschits, Hannah M. Ripps, Manfred Oeming, and Sabine Kleiman in the Spring 2024 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.
 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Cruel End of Canaanite Azekah

Digging In: Tel Azekah

Eshtaol Excavations Reveal the Oldest House in the Shephelah

The Ancient People of Tel Hazor

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

The Last Days of Canaanite Azekah
Purity and Impurity in Iron Age Israel
Why Lachish Matters

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

Related Posts

Codex Bezae
Jun 23
Does the Gospel of Mark Reveal Jesus’ Anger or His Compassion?

By: Biblical Archaeology Society Staff

Cropped illustration shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where God gave them the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Photo: From Charles Foster, The Story of the Bible (1897).
Jun 22
What Does the Bible Say About Infertility?

By: Biblical Archaeology Society Staff

Modern tefillin, painted black, being strapped to the arm. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, IAA.
Jun 21
What Color Were Ancient Tefillin?

By: Jennifer Drummond


Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend