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