Lachish Temple Sheds New Light on Canaanite Religion

Ruins of Lachish Temple from above

The Canaanite city of Lachish was destroyed around 1150 B.C.E. The ruins of its Northeast Temple preserved numerous artifacts related to the local cult. Photo: Courtesy of the Fourth Expedition to Lachish.

Exciting new insights into ancient Canaanite worship have recently come from Lachish. Located in the southern Judean foothills, Tel Lachish was an important Canaanite city-state that controlled a main road connecting the Mediterranean coastal plain with Hebron and Jerusalem during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. First established around 1800 B.C.E., it was destroyed by the Egyptians about 250 years later. The Book of Joshua (10:5, 32) tells us that Lachish later joined a coalition of Canaanite cities against the invading Israelites, though the city was eventually captured and destroyed, and all its inhabitants killed.

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The first archaeological exploration of Tel Lachish was more than 80 years ago. The recent Fourth Expedition to Lachish was conducted in 2013–2017. Co-directed by Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Michael G. Hasel and Martin G. Klingbeil of Southern Adventist University, this archaeological investigation brought to light a Canaanite temple. In addition to Lachish’s two previously excavated temples—the Fosse Temple and the Acropolis Temple—the Northeast Temple (named for its location at the site) dates to the last decades of the Canaanite occupation of Lachish. Together with the city, the temple was destroyed in the mid-12th century B.C.E. In its ruins, archaeologists discovered several artifacts related to worship practices.

Lachish figurines representing Baal or Resheph

At the entrance to the temple’s holy of holies were discovered a bronze scepter and male figurines. Photo: Courtesy of the Fourth Expedition to Lachish.

Writing for the Fall 2021 issue of BAR, Itamar Weissbein introduces these unique objects in his article “Canaanite Worship at Lachish: New Details Emerge.” A graduate student in the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Weissbein first describes the temple, its architecture, and layout. He notes that while the temple’s plan is similar to that of the so-called Tower Temples, its modest size and the presence of side rooms (accessed from the central hall) are typical of smaller Canaanite shrines.

Despite its secondary status—evidenced by its smaller size and peripheral location within the site—the Northeast Temple has greatly enriched our understanding of

The bronze figurines likely represent the Canaanite god Baal or Resheph. Photo: T. Rogovski.

Canaanite cultic practice. “In front of the entrance to the holy of holies, we uncovered two bronze figurines, a cultic scepter head, a variety of gold, carnelian, and faience beads, gold leaves, a scarab, and pieces of a special bronze situla,” writes Weissbein. He further explains, “the two figurines depict warlike males, brandishing a weapon (a mace or club). They are made of bronze with remains of a silver coating, especially on their faces. Below their feet are pegs, used to attach them to wooden stands. The figurines seem to have been adorned with necklaces, as evidenced by beads found around them and attached to one body. In addition, one of the figurines seems to have worn a small silver pendant as a necklace.”

To explore the meaning of all the cult-related objects and the three foundation deposits discovered in the Northeast Temple, read Itamar Weissbein’s article “Canaanite Worship at Lachish: New Details Emerge,” published in the Fall 2021issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Subscribers: Read the full article “Canaanite Worship at Lachish: New Details Emerge” by Itamar Weissbein in the Fall 2021 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Read More in the BAS Library:

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Why Lachish Matters: A Major Site Gets the Publication It Deserves by Philip J. King

Lachish—Key to the Israelite Conquest of Canaan? by David Ussishkin

What Happened to the Cult Figurines? Israelite Religion Purified After the Exile by Ephraim Stern

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