Hebrew In Israel | Enter The Temple – Learn Torah

"...he set about repairing the altar of YHWH that had been broken down." 1 Kings 18:30

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Hebrew In Israel | Enter The Temple – Learn Torah

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In 2013 I had the pleasure of studying archaeology under Dr. Chaya Katz of the Open U, and do archaeological studies in actual sites under Dr. Amit Dagan of the Bar-Illan U.  One of the sites we studied was Khirbet Qeiyafa near the the Elah Valley.  On the site Dr. Yoseph Garfinkel has discovered portable temples made of clay which might represent temples which were common in Israel.  If this is true, we might be looking at a prototype temple which was used as the model for the Temple of Solomon.

The image here presents the front of the temple.  Based on these findings, Garfinkel has proposed a reconstruction of the 1st temple, and has attempted to interpret some architectural words which have been lost through time.  It is important to comment that this style was also found in the ANE in general, and that most scholars agree that the base form of the temple was a common one used in the ancient world.  The models were not very big and the opening was about 25-30 centimetres.  The structures were not used to house anything and were left empty deliberately.  The houses in the pagan practice would have a small statue, but Israel, not worshiping idols, left the space empty to represent the non-idol ideology of the Torah.

The Importance of the Find

One might wonder how important this find is.  The answer is of two points:

The first is the fact that we see a home worship which does not contain any idols.  It has been a long-standing opinion of scholars that Israel was idol worshiping before they became monotheistic.  This finding rules out this claim, and proves that idols were forbidden from the beginning, affirming the words of the Tanakh.

The second point, as stated above, is the better understanding of what the temple looked like.  This also adds an understanding of the entrance of the 2nd temple, and why it had five wooden arches in the entrance.


In the Ancient World

In the depictions of Hammurabi receiving the right to create laws, we find Shamsh (or Shapsh) the sun god–god of justice and light–sitting on a temple as a throne.  The layered structure, represented by the lines beneath the god, is the same artistic style found on the fronts of the small clay portable temples.

The idea I am proposing is that the god is in his dwelling place in the heavens passing the right to create laws from his divine throne.  A possible interpretation given by Y. Garfinkel is that the temple is the dwelling place of the god, so it is possible that the scene happened in a temple.

The Temple as a Source of Law

Temples were not only centres of worship, but also functioned as the source of knowledge of the will of God.  Torah is described as coming out of Zion, and the high priest was an “oracle” of divine knowledge.  The Levites were given cities all over Israel, not only to live in one, but as proposed by Dr. Menahem Haran (“Ages and Institutions in the Bible”, Am Oved 1972), as cities which functioned as religious centres.  Levites would have instructed Israelites seeking law from these cities, and if there was an unclear ruling, they would seek the main centre in Jerusalem.  The spread of religious objects such as the mini temple, might indicate a much more open idea of temples, and that the central temple was not the only one.  Even the Mishkan was one of probably several temples.  However, the Mishkan was the central one.

Final Thought

As a final thought I must say the following:  This discussion revolves around the meaning of Deuteronomy and the centralisation ideology as presented by scholars.  However, it seems that this idea is probably incorrect, and a new understanding must be given.  Israelites had multiple religious centres which were not necessarily for idols.  An example of this can be found in the story of Eliyahu on Mount Carmel and the the damaged altar of YHWH (1Kings 18).  Jews living in Babylon and Egypt kept cultic practices in the lands of their exile, preforming offerings which presumably were only to be done in the temple (Rapport.U “From Cyrus to Alexander” p.150).  Hence, it is possible that these early Torah keepers did not see a contradiction between a central temple and smaller temples.  This idea might be found in Exodus 20:21 where it says “…in any place (where) I will mention my name, I will come and bless you”.  This verse can mean the existence of multiple places, and does not contradict the idea of one central place.  Much can and should be said about this, but I will leave it with this for now.

Photo Attribution: Khirbet Qeiyafa Exhibition in Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; Cropped and adapted; original from Bukvoed (Own work) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hammurabi image: Public Domain


Originally Published: 10 February 2017

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