BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Canaanite Idol in a Judahite Temple?

Pagan God Ba‘al possibly worshipped at Tel Moẓa, near Jerusalem

Canaanite Idol at Tel Moza

A Canaanite idol? Statue fragment recently found at Tel Moẓa. Photo: David Rafael Moulis

As first reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, archaeologists may have discovered material evidence that early Judeans worshiped Canaanite idols—at a site less than four miles outside of the Temple Mount. What appears to be the bottom part of a stone statue of the Canaanite god Ba‘al came to light this past summer at Tel Moẓa, where a Judahite temple was discovered in 2012. Built around 900 B.C.E. (shortly after the time of King Solomon), the Moẓa temple must have functioned alongside the Jerusalem Temple.

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The limestone fragment was identified within the wall of the temple, where it had been repurposed as a building component around 900 B.C.E. That the statue was broken and reused does not mean that it was destroyed in an act of iconoclasm (the purposeful destructions of icons and idols). According to Shua Kisilevitz, who codirects the excavation, the reuse of obsolete idols as building materials in temples was a common practice and sign of reverence across the ancient Near East. The fragment logically predates the structure in which it was reused. It likely comes from an earlier phase of the site when statues of deities were more common, theorizes Talley Ornan of the Hebrew University.

Canaanite Idol Tel Moza with Shua Kisilevitz

Shua Kisilevitz, codirector of the Tel Moẓa excavation, with the limestone fragment thought to be the legs of a Canaanite idol.
Photo: David Rafael Moulis

If the fragment does indeed represent the legs of a pagan deity, it will be a remarkably rare find that could rewrite how archaeologists and historians understand Judahite religion at that time. It would mean that Judahites worshiped a pantheon of gods, even during the First Temple period. Understandably, the directors of the Moẓa excavation remain hesitant to come to definitive conclusions until they can thoroughly examine and interpret the fragment (the formal academic publication is expected next year).

The Moẓa temple was in continual use from the late tenth century B.C.E. until the early sixth century. It likely existed and functioned through the religious reforms of kings Hezekiah and Josiah (late eighth and late seventh century B.C.E., respectively) that supposedly centralized YHWH’s worship around the Jerusalem Temple. Contrary to this policy, the large size and location of the Moẓa temple show that it was likely royally sanctioned; a temple of which the kings of Judah would have known. We now know that there were more temples dedicated to the biblical God outside of Jerusalem at that time, including at Arad. However, the Moẓa temple may not have been dedicated to YHWH but to Ba‘al.


Related reading in the BAS Library:

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Archaeological Views: How Archaeologists Decide Where to Dig: The Case of Tel Burna

How to Tell a Canaanite from an Israelite

 

Read more in BHD:

Canaanite God Baal Found in Israel

First Person: Banning Ba’al

Canaanite Cult Complex Discovered at Tel Burna

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1 Responses

  1. Johnie Brake says:

    I always read such articles contending that Israel often worshipped Canaanite gods with confusion. Does not the Bible tell us exactly the same thing? It does, in many places. Such an archaeological finding is a confirmation of the Bible, not a controversy.

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1 Responses

  1. Johnie Brake says:

    I always read such articles contending that Israel often worshipped Canaanite gods with confusion. Does not the Bible tell us exactly the same thing? It does, in many places. Such an archaeological finding is a confirmation of the Bible, not a controversy.

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