Ancient Jerusalem had not just one temple

Excavations at Tel Motza have uncovered a First Temple period ritual structure. Photograph- Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Since the early 1990s archaeologists and historians were aware that there had to be more than one temple in and around Jerusalem. At the end of the 2013 excavation season they seemed to have their efforts rewarded.

It took until 2012 that researchers at the Iron Age site at Tel Motza, located less than 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) outside Jerusalem (the City of David), their digging seemed more to lead in the direction of their assumptions. Though having discovered the remains of a temple there, it wasn’t until just last year that they excavated it further, ahead of a main road project.

Many surveys and excavations had been conducted in the area previously, with large scale salvage excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in preparation for the construction of a section of the new road to Jerusalem in 1993, 2002, 2003 (directed by Zvi Greenhut and Alon De Groot and assisted by Hamudi Khalaily and Anna Eirikh) and in 2012–2013 (directed by Anna Eirikh, Hamudi Khalaily, Shua Kisilevitz and Zvi Greenhut). The site was identified as an archaeological tell that had been occupied intermittently from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (8th-7th millennia BCE) to the 20th century. The abundance of remains and finds dating to the Iron Age II (10th to 6th centuries BCE) found during these excavations, confirmed the identification of the site with biblical Moẓah, mentioned for the first time in the Book of Joshua as a city in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin:

25 Gibeon, Ramah, Beeroth, 26 Mizpah, Kephirah, Mozah, 27 Rekem, Irpeel, Taralah, 28 Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath—fourteen towns and their villages. (Joshua 18)

The finds indicate that Moẓa was settled continuously during the Iron Age II (10th to 6th centuries BCE) and the site was labaled “a royal granary specializing in grain storage, which supplied its products first and foremost to Jerusalem” (Greenhut and De Groot 2009: 223) due to the dozens of silos and two storage buildings found in it.

Likely built around 900 B.C.E. and operated for a few hundred years, until its demise in the early sixth century B.C.E., this find challenges the biblical claims that King Hezekiah centralized worship at Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and eliminated all rival shrines. In reality, the Tel Moẓa temple fits into the greater economic and administrative context of Judah and reflects an advanced level of localized civic administration in the early ninth century B.C.E..

“The Bible details the religious reforms of King Hezekiah and King Josiah, who assertedly consolidated worship practices to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and eliminated all cultic activity beyond its boundaries,”


Shua Kisilevitz, Archaeologist in the Jerusalem Region of the Israel Antiquities Authority, currently working on her Ph.D. in Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University under the supervision of Prof. Oded Lipschits and Prof. Israel Finkelstein.

Shua Kisilevitz and review co-author Oded Lipschits, the director of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, wrote in the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine

The only other known temple from this time period in the kingdom, besides the First Temple,

“is a small temple in the southern border fort of Arad, which served the local garrison,”

Kisilevitz said.

However, it appears that there were sanctioned temples in the kingdom whose continued existence was permitted, despite Hezekiah’s and Josiah’s reforms, Kisilevitz and Lipschits said.

Discoveries at the First Temple period site of Tel Motza include anthropomorphic (as well as zoomorphic) figurines. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

At the found temple could well be a place where roughly 150 congregants worshipped Yahweh/Jehovah but, as findings seem to indicate, also used idols to communicate with the divine.



Royal seal of King Hezekiah found near southern part of the wall surrounding Jerusalem’s Old City


In case you would love to visit the site and make your hands dirty digging, you are welcome to visit the site from 21 March – 3 April!:
> Find out: 2020 Excavation Season at Tel Moza from 21 March – 3 April!

6 thoughts on “Ancient Jerusalem had not just one temple

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