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Bronze Age Temples

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The earliest Canaanite temples of the Bronze Age consisted of a broad room, open porch and court. Facing the entrance in the broad room was a stone altar for sacrifices. Over time, temples developed into tripartite buildings, consisting of an entrance porch and a main room with a cult niche, sometimes called the "Holy of Holies." Excavated temples reveal cult objects such as libation tables, incense altars, cylindrical offering stands, seals and bronze figurines. A few temples have produced tall basalt stele and seated statues of a male god.

Sacred places in the ancient Near East often remained holy over very long periods of time. Over a period of more than 400 years, a superimposed series of five temples were built at Beth Shean.

When Egyptian soldiers arrived at Beth Shean they rebuilt a small Canaanite temple in a modified Egyptian style. From the 15th-11th century BCE, three more rebuildings occurred. The last temple may correspond to the Philistine "temple of Astarte" mentioned in the biblical story of the death of Saul, the first king of Israel.

 

When the Philistines came to strip the dead they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. . . They put his armor in the temple of Astarte and hung his body from the walls of Beth Shean.
1 Samuel 31:8, 10

These temples were lavishly equipped with objects indicating an interesting mixture of Egyptian and Canaanite religious practices. Small faience objects, rattles, bowls, cat figurines and an ivory clapper are associated with the worship of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. Canaanite religious practices are represented by ceramic ritual vessels, nude goddess figurines, and seated gods in bronze and gold.

Memorial stele erected in the temple courts show Egyptians making offerings to "Mekel, Lord of Beth Shean" and to the Canaanite goddess "Antit," proving that Egyptians included Canaanite gods in their worship.




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