UBC Undergraduate Research

Temple at Tel Arad Shishkova, Kristina


The Temple of Tel Arad is located within the military fort of Arad in the semi-arid Beersheba-Arad valley of the northeastern Negev in the southern Levant. The site of Tel Arad itself was originally excavated by Yohanon Aharoni and Ruth Amiran from 1962–1967. A final report for these excavations was never published, though substantive preliminary reports were published by Herzog (2002) and Singer-Avitz (2002). As a result of early excavation methodology, subsequent building atop the site, and slow progress toward publication, the exact dating of the Temple has been contested. The temple was originally understood as in use from the 10th through the end of the 8th century BCE (Stratum XI–VIII), a period of 350 years (Herzog et al. 1984). However, a re-evaluation of the stratigraphy and material culture have clarified that it was only operational in Stratum X and IX, a period of 50 years spanning from the middle to the late 8th century BCE with its termination appearing to predate the invasion of Judah by the the Assyrian Empire under Sennacherib in 701 BCE (Herzog 2002: 14, 49–50). During the 8th century BCE this region and the fort of Tel Arad were under the sway of the Judahite administration based in Jerusalem. As such, and while we lack specific textual or inscriptional data dating to this period, we may postulate that certain features of Judahite religious practice as indicated within the Hebrew Bible were also present in the Temple at Tel Arad. Thus, it is more than likely that the deity of the focus in the Temple at Arad was Yahweh (and a consort?). The temple measures 12 by 18 m and comprised nearly one sixth of the available space within the fort, demonstrating its importance to those within. The temple presents a tripartite division with an outer courtyard containing a large altar of unhewn stones for animal sacrifices, a main hall (hêkāl) with its interior walls surrounded by stone benches, and an innermost sacred area (dĕbîr). Inside this room was a standing stone (maṣṣēbah) on a small platform. Incense altars from the site bear evidence of the burning of frankincense and cannabis (Arie et al. 2020). The Temple at Arad was decommissioned at the end of the 8th century BCE, with its ritual cancellation resulting in the removal of the majority of material culture from within it. The lack of destruction suggests it may not have been the target of a series of religious reforms (2 Kings 18) as was previously assumed (Herzog 2010). Nonetheless, subsequent the cancellation of the temple, the worship of Yahweh became increasingly centralized in Jerusalem.

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