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Religion in the Middle Bronze Age / Canaan, also known as “Religion in the Middle Bronze Age / southern Levant” Sala, Maura


Evidence of religion and ritual in Canaan / southern Levant during the Middle Bronze Age comes from sacred architecture and ritual spaces, cultic paraphernalia, as well as from a variety of iconographic representations (votives in the form of metal and clay figurines, glyptic). Written sources are scarce: local and contemporary religious texts are lacking. However, some information relating to the Canaanite cult comes from contemporary textual material from neighboring regions (e.g., the texts from Mari or the Egyptian Execration texts dating to the Twelfth Dynasty). Ritual and mythological texts from Ugarit are also often used in the reconstruction of the Canaanite religion, but they are from north Syria and date to the Late Bronze Age. Overall, Canaanite religion does not express a homogeneous tradition; it was rather expressed in heterogeneous terms in the different cultic contexts, reflecting the diversity of the various micro-regions in the southern Levant. The evidence points to a polytheistic religion. Deities of various kinds and names were worshiped in local sanctuaries. Such deities were organized in a pantheon and associated with particular places, e.g. as patron gods of the Canaanite cities. Nevertheless, the precise identification of Canaanite gods and goddesses venerated in the different sanctuaries remains difficult, as depictions of deities are limited and are found mainly in the form of votives (e.g., small metal and clay figurines). Likewise, the reconstruction of the pantheon(s) and the relationships between the deities vary from place to place. Sanctuaries were ultimately spaces within which social cohesion and group unity were shaped, through both the worship of the deities and ritual acts, mainly centered on propitiation of divinity and healing. We register both roofed temples and open-air cult areas. Most of the evidence comes from the city temples, linked to the officially sponsored religion: the latter belong to the type of the monumental symmetrical long-room temple, the so-called migdal temple with origins in Syria, including the temples of Hazor (Areas A and H), Megiddo, Shechem, Pella and Tel Haror. In addition to the central temples, rural temples and minor shrines have been unearthed at the sites of Tell el-Hayyat, Tel Kitan, Givat Sharett and Nahal Rephaim; while a small extramural cult site has been excavated at Nahariyah. Temples were often associated to large open spaces: fenced courtyards with altars, raised podiums and favissae, which housed various religious activities and returned a rich cultic equipment (e.g., offering and libation tables, incense stands, figurines, ritual pottery vessels). At the same time, open-air cultic precincts characterize the Middle Bronze Age settlements: these areas of worship included different installations (platforms, altars, standing stones) and votive pits with offerings of various organic and non-organic materials. Hence, open cult spaces independent or associated with temples, were important communal focal points of worship and had a multi-functional character: they were the center of offering rituals, libations and sacrifices, feasting and commensality, final deposition of cultic material, festivals and processions, which involved the members of the community (possibly even at the end of pilgrimages).

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