Khirbat ‘Ataruz is located in Jordan, 15 miles south of the town of Madaba, 6 miles west of the village Libb and 2 miles east of the ancient site of Machaerus, between the Wadi Zarqa Main on the north and the Wadi Sayl Haydan on the south. During the Iron Age it was a fortified town situated on an important crossroads that intersected on a ridge overlooking the Dead Sea. The ancient roads that led from the Dead Sea, the Wadi Sayl Haydan and the town of Madaba met at this important cultic site.
Ataruz is mentioned in both Biblical and historical sources. It has been associated with the ancient city of Ataroth in the Hebrew Bible. According to Numbers 34:32, “The children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer…” The Hebrew Bible mentions that the tribe of Gad was assigned its territory in Transjordan and built Ataroth as well.
Ataruz is also mentioned in the Mesha Inscription, where it says that the Gadites lived in the area around Ataroth from ancient times, and Omri the king of Israel built a city there. As the power of the Omride dynasty began to wane, Mesha saw an opportunity to “throw off the yoke” of the house of Omri. He sought to unify the region under his leadership by attacking the cities of Nebo and Jahaz. He also launched a campaign against the city of Ataroth and killed its inhabitants as an offering to his god, Chemosh. Later he rebuilt the town and its temple.
An Iron Age temple was found at Ataruz. In addition, many cultic objects were discovered there along with several altars and a pillar inscription. Current excavations focus on the northern and southern edges of the temple complex.
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Jebal Hamidah, Jordan
Iron Age II, Hellenistic
Chang-Ho Ji is professor of education and Middle Eastern studies at La Sierra University.
Robert D. Bates is research associate in Egyptology at Andrews University.
Ralph H. Hawkins is associate professor at Averett University.