A team of Israeli and American archaeologists has unearthed a 3,200-year-old Canaanite temple in Israel. The ruins of the Canaanite temple were discovered within a large Bronze Age settlement in what is now National Park Tel Lachish. The temple, which dates back to the 12th century B.C., was once part of the ancient Canaanite city of Lachish.
The team was headed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of its Institute of Archaeology and Prof. Michael Hasel at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, have opened a window onto the Canaanite society that inhabited the land during that era.
The Canaanite culture, which dominated the 2nd millennium BCE in the Near East, created most of the prominent tells in the Mediterranean climatic zones of the region and the simple alphabetic writing system that was the forerunner of many of the alphabetic writing systems in use today in large parts of the world, according to the authors.
Lachish was one of the most important Canaanite cities in the Land of Israel during the Middle and late Bronze Ages; its people controlled large parts of the Judean lowlands. The city was built around 1800 BCE and later destroyed by the Egyptians around 1550 BCE. It was rebuilt and destroyed twice more, succumbing for good around 1150 BCE.
The settlement is mentioned in both the Bible and in various Egyptian sources and was one of the few Canaanite cities to survive into the 12th century BCE.
“And the Lord delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, which took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls therein…”–Joshua, 10:32
“The city was a major Canaanite center city, as we know from historical sources,” Garfinkel said. “There is no other site in this region as prominent. It is the right location, the right place, and the name ‘Lachish’ was found on some inscriptions found there.”
Among the crucial findings were a pottery shard featuring the Hebrew letter samekh, which represents the oldest-known engraving of the letter, gold artifacts and a pair figurines depicting smiting gods.
Smiting gods are found in the Levant in temples from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I. The authors write that the figurines are commonly identified with two Canaanite gods, Baal or Resheph, who are both known as war gods, “although it is impossible to identify our figurines with either due to the lack of clear attributes.”
The smiting gods measure a scant 10 cm (4 inches) and 8.5 cm (3.3 inches). The two little male figurines are made of bronze and were originally coated with silver.
Researchers also unearthed a host of artifacts from the site, including bronze cauldrons, jewelry inspired by the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor, daggers and ax-heads decorated with images of birds and scarabs, which are ancient beetle-shaped carvings. A gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name of Pharaoh Rameses II was also discovered, along with two bronze figurines of armed “smiting gods” and a pottery sherd engraved with an ancient Canaanite script.
“This excavation has been breath-taking,” shared Garfinkel. “Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel. What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings.”
The layout of the temple is similar to other Canaanite temples in northern Israel, among them Nablus, Megiddo and Hazor. The front of the compound is marked by two columns and two towers leading to a large hall. The inner sanctum has four supporting columns and several unhewn “standing stones” that may have served as representations of temple gods. The Lachish temple is more square in shape and has several side rooms, typical of later temples including Solomon’s Temple.
Only time will tell what treasures still remain to be uncovered in the ancient city of Lachish.