Shua Kisilevitz of Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority and Prof. Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University are leading the 2021 summer dig of the temple at Motza (alternatively spelled Moza) from the same period as the First Temple. Possibly also like Solomon’s temple, this one, a little over six kilometres from the temple at Jerusalem, may have served to worship various deities, including Yahweh.
On Monday, the archaeologists unearthed a rather weather-beaten horse figurine. Another one, that is. The coarsely depicted quadruped was apparently one of many figurines that had squatted on a shelf inside the temple, which was built in exactly the same format as the First Temple (reportedly built by Solomon), according to the biblical account of what that edifice had been like. Because popular religion incorporated pagan elements, it could well be that this temple did not meet the standards of the biblical writers.
The Babylonians may have destroyed Judah and kicked out its populace, but they did not destroy Solomon’s temple. The culprits were the Edomites, a small kingdom in the southern Transjordan, says Richard Elliott Friedman, a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia and author of the best-selling book “Who Wrote the Bible?”
In a short article published in Academia, “The Destruction of the First Jerusalem Temple,” Friedman suggests that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple were two separate events, which a biblical scribe collapsed into one and thus led us all to misplace the blame.
At first glance this seems unlikely. The Hebrew Bible explicitly states no less than three times that the Babylonians burned down the Temple when they took the city:
“Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, [came] unto Jerusalem, and he burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house burnt he with fire” (2 Kings 25:8-9 KJV; and very similarly stated in Jeremiah 52:12-13 and 2 Chronicles 36:19).
But, Friedman argues, these accounts are likely erroneous. The Book of Jeremiah relates that a few months after the Babylonians took Jerusalem, Ishmael ben Nethaniah, the same man who killed the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah Gedaliah, killed 80 men from Nablus and Shiloh
“having their beards shaven, and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 41:5; KJV).
How could the Babylonians have burnt down the Temple, if it was still standing and receiving offerings?
Friedman believes the attack on the first temple of Solomon took place a little later, in a separate event, and that when the historian who wrote the account that underlies the accounts in 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 52, and 2 Chronicles 36, described the traumatic events of those years, he simply conflated the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple into one event.
Friedman argues that while the Babylonians did destroy much of Jerusalem when they occupied the city, the Temple remained intact and thus could still be a pilgrimage destination for the unfortunate victims of Ishmael son of Nethaniah. But shortly after, when exactly and under what circumstances he does not know, the Edomites, who settled during the Yehud Medinata or Persian period in an area comprising the southern hills of Judea down to the area north of Be’er Sheva, came to Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.
In contrast to the great temple in Jerusalem, this one survived the ages, and may survive many more thanks to the shelter provided by Route 1.