An ancient 3,200-year-old Canaanite temple has been discovered in Israel which was part of a biblical city destroyed by Joshua.
Inside, archaeologists found various statues of different gods, including two bronze figurines said to be ‘smiting’.
The temple, from about the 12th century BC, was once part of the powerful Canaanite city of Lachish.
This city was mentioned in the book of Joshua, with Lachish supposedly delivered by God into the hands of Israel, where ‘[they] put it and all the people in it to the sword’.
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The team of archaeologists found a temple with two large pillars leading to a larger entrance area in what was the city of Lachish
The team found a mixture of pottery, storage boxes and statues in the ruins of the ancient 3,200 year old temple and are now examining them in more detail
WHO WAS BAAL?
Baal was worshipped widely by a number of Bronze Age communities, particularly in the Middle East.
A depiction of the priests of Baal at the altar with the prophet Elijah
He was prominent amongst the Canaanites and may have arose as a figure for worship in their cities.
Baal was seen as a fertility god, in fact known by the title Lord of the Earth and the God of Rain and Dew.
This was particularly important for the Canaanites as the rain and dew were vital for fertile soil.
Worship of Baal became popular in Egypt from about 1400 BC.
Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Southern Adventist University in Tennessee say this is a ‘unique opportunity’ to study the Canaanite’s.
The Late Bronze Age temple had two pillars and two towers leading to a large rectangular hall – unusual for the period, according to Professor Yosef Garfinkel.
They found a host of other objects in the temple, including two bronze figurines said to be armed ‘smiting gods’ – housed near the altar.
‘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,’ Hebrew University explained in a statement.
The layout was common in the earlier Bronze Age and similar to bible descriptions of the First Temple in Jerusalem said to have been built by King Solomon.
It was a rare discovery for the researchers – who say a find along these lines and of this scale only happens every few decades.
‘Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel,’ Garfinkel told the Times of Israel.
The site of Lachish, where the temple is located, was first found by William Foxwell Albright in 1929. He is considered the founding father of Biblical archaeology.
Garfinkel’s team started excavating the site nearly seven years ago in 2013 – then spent longer examining the findings.
‘We uncovered the temple and we dedicated three or four years to it, because it is very rare to find Canaanite sites in Israel,’ Garfinkel told the Jerusalem Post.
‘This kind of structure was only discovered in Megiddo, Nablus and Hazor. But this is the first time we revealed such a large monumental symmetrical kind of temple.’
Among the discoveries were pieces of jewellery with Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting rulers and gods from the Nile country
They found some objects showing Egyptian pharaohs that were covered in gold leaf as well as bronze cauldrons and daggers
Two tiny figurines depicting ‘smiting gods’ were found by the altar of the temple. These figures were of either the god Baal or Resheph
‘What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings.’
The temple had small rooms along the sides that would have been used for storage, in fact they found boxes with wheat inside them.
As they moved further into the remains they found an ‘inner sanctum’ with columns and nearly 10ft high standing stones in a circle of smaller stones.
In the temple the team found an amulet inspired by the Egyptian goddess Hathor who was worshipped by miners and said to welcome the dead to the afterlife.
It wasn’t just Egyptian gods represented in the temple, they also found statuettes of Baal – a god not worshipped in the country and of purely Canaanite origin.
It was one of two statues of smiting gods and the type of figurines are found in the area in temples from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age.
They are usually of 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.’
Weapons and jewellery were among the items discovered at the 12th century BC Canaanite temple at Lachish
Four pieces of a gilded bronze situla bearing an engraved hieroglyphic inscription were found within the remains of the temple
They also found bronze cauldrons, daggers and axe heads adorned with imagery common to Egypt including bird images, scarabs and a bottle inscribed with the name Ramses II – a powerful Egyptian pharaoh.
During the period the template originated the people of Lachish controlled large parts of the Jusean lowlands and the city was one of the most important in the area.
Canaanites and ancient Egyptians had a mutual influence on one another, according to Garfinkel, at one point up to about 1549 BC the Canaanites actually ruled Egypt – but that changed with the rise of King Tutankhamun and Nefertiti.
A significant amount of pottery was uncovered in the Canaanite temple including urns, bowls and other containers
When the famous rulers came to power ancient Egypt also came to the height of its success and violently swept over what is now Israel.
The city of Lachish where the temple was found had a very bloody history – first arising as a powerful Canaanite stronghold around 1800 BC.
It lasted a few hundred years before being destroyed in 1550 BC by the Egyptians as they rolled over the region during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III.
WHAT WAS THE CITY OF LACHISH AND WHAT HAPPENED TO IT?
The city of Lachish was the second most important stronghold for the Canaanites in the southern kingdom of Judah during the late Bronze Age.
It is situated southwest of Jerusalem and is now represented by a national park called Tel Lachish – featuring a distinctive mound of Earth.
What was the ancient city of Lachish is now represented by a mound of Earth in the national park – Tel Lachish
The city was heavily fortified during the Middle Bronze Age by a sloping bank and a fosse – it played an important role in the history of the region.
During the Late Bronze Age it was a large Canaanite city-state.
Lachish had an intense and very bloody history, just like most of the towns and cities located in the region.
It first began to rise as a major Canaanite city around 1800 BC and lasted about 400 years before it was destroyed – for the first time – in 1550 BC.
This was at the hand of the Egyptians under Pharaoh Thutmose III as they moved over the area during the 18th Dynasty expansion.
The Canaanites rebuilt the city but it was destroyed again in 1300 BC – they rebuilt it again for a second time.
About 60 years later the city was destroyed again – about 1150 BC.
The site of Lachish was first found by William Foxwell Albright in 1929. He is considered the founding father of Biblical archaeology.