Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Israelite Temples outside Jerusalem

This is a list of biblical temple sites. Some of the sites in this list are built explicitly at God’s command. Others are built at the orders of legitimate prophets, such as Joshua. Others merely are said to exist (no explanation of their origin is given), and are used by legitimate prophets (such as Samuel). I assume that if a legitimate prophet either builds or uses a temple, that this implies the authorization and acceptance of God for that temple. Likewise I assume that if God appears at a temple it also demonstrates that that temple is acceptable to God. (As a general principle, the fact that a temple eventually falls into apostasy and is rejected is not an indication that it was never authorized or legitimate, since the temple at Jerusalem suffers exactly these same problems.)

Gilgal: God commanded the building of Gilgal in Joshua 4, especially verse 3. The temple at Gilgal was used by Samuel for the crowning of Saul (1 Sam 11:14-5) and the offering of Sacrifices (1 Sam 13-14); both activities were later done at the Jerusalem temple for later kings. Samuel’s actions occur while the Ark (and Tabernacle?) were at Kirjath-Jerarim. Later the site falls into apostasy and is rejected by the prophets (Amos 4:4, 5:5, Hos 4:15, 9:15, 12:11).

Ebal: The building of the altar at Ebal is expressly said to fulfill the command of God (Josh 8:30-35 fulfilling Deut 11:26-32, 27:1-26 (esp. 27:4).

Shechem: The temple at Shechem is not explicitly commanded by God to be built, but is the site of legitimate covenant making by Joshua (Josh 24). The temple of the Lord at Shechem is once called the “sanctuary of the Lord” (Josh 24:26). This shrine is probably the same site elsewhere called the “temple of El (God) of the covenant” (beit el berit) (Judg 9:46, which the KJV incorrectly translates “house of the god Berith”). The berit/coveant here refers to the covenant made in Josh 24. At any rate, the site used by Joshua is called the miqdash YHWH = “holy place of Yahweh,” a term used for the temple or tabernacle (Lev 5:15, Num 19:20, Ezek 48:10, 1 Chron 22:19). The beit/midqash at this site is not referring to the tabernacle, however, since that had been set up at Shiloh earlier (Josh 18:1), where it remained for a number of generations.

Shiloh: The ark and tabernacle were set up in Shiloh by Joshua (Josh 18:21); presumably with permission, if not command, of the Lord. The ark remained there until taken by the Philistines (1 Sam 4-5). Although it is ambiguous, there is evidence they built a permanent house (beit, 1 Sam 1:7, 1 Sam 1:24; 1 Sam 3:15) or temple (heikal, 1 Sam 1:9, 3:3) there; the terms are apparently interchangeable as they are with the Jerusalem temple. (Micah also brought an idol to “the house of God [that] was in Shiloh” (Jud 18:31). Some archaeological evidence which may be the remains of this temple may have been found (I. Finkelstein, “Excavations at Shiloh, 1981-1984” Tel Aviv 12 (1985):123-80). God's theophany to Samuel occurs here (1 Sam 3), implying His acceptance of the site.

Bethel: Bethel simply means house/temple of God. This temple was founded by Jacob after a theophany (Gen. 28:10-22, 35:7). Samuel visited the temple there on his circuit, so its cult (in the technical sense of the term as a system of ritual and practice, not in the colloquial sense of "a religion I don't like") must have been acceptable to the Lord (1 Sam 7:6). In 1 Sam 10:3 Samuel prophesies that: “three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you [Saul] there (at the Oak of Tabor), one carrying three kids, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine." This passage strongly suggests they were going up to worship and sacrifice at the temple there. This is confirmed in Judges 20 and 21, which describes the Israelite going to Bethel (remember, literally the "temple of El," or "house of God") to seek an oracle (20:18,23—which is answered, indicating the Lord's acceptance of this temple), and to offer sacrifice (20:26, 21:4). All of this is while the tabernacle and ark are at Shiloh. This temple is usurped by Jeroboam, when the worship is corrupted (1 Kg 12:25-33, 13:1-10). At that time at Bethel there was an authentic "old prophet" of the temple. He had apparently been residing at the temple while Solomon's temple was in operation (1 Kg 13:11-32), implying its authenticity was accepted during the early years of Solomon's temple. (Judg 20:26-27 implies that the Ark of the Covenant may have been kept in Bethel for a while, although Bethel/house of God is ambiguous and could be either the temple at Bethel, or the temple of God [at Shiloh].)

Bethlehem. Judges 19:18 may imply that there was a "house/temple of Yahweh" at Bethlehem.

Kirjath-jearim. The ark was kept there for twenty years after its return from the Philistines (1 Sam 6:21-7:2) from which it was taken to Jerusalem after David captures the city (2 Sam 6:1-11, 1 Chron 13:5-14). Priests were there continuing the temple ritual for the Ark (1 Chron 16:37-38).

Nob. 1 Samuel 21:1-9 describes a temple at Nob (a small settlement north of Jerusalem) which David visited while the ark was at Kirjath-jearim. The priests of this temple were massacred by Saul for helping David (1 Sam 22:16-19).

Gibeon. Some very interesting things are associated with the temple at Gibeon. While the Ark is at Kirjath-jearim, the Tabernacle is apparently kept at Gibeon; the appropriate rituals are apparently carried out at both sites (1 Chron 16:37-42). Thereafter, David established a sacrificial shrine at the threshing floor of Ornan (Aurunah) the Jebusite (1 Chron 21:28) on the future site of the Temple of Jerusalem. This is apparently where he brought the Ark of the Covenant to a new tabernacle he had built, while the old tabernacle was still in operation at Gibeon (1 Chron 15:1-16:6, 2 Sam 6:12-19). David did not sacrifice or seek oracles at the old tabernacle at Gibeon (1 Chron 21:30), but only at his own tabernacle/Ark at Jerusalem (1 Chron 21:28-22:1), which site is eventually chosen by God for Solomon to build the new Temple (1 Chron 22:2-19, 1 Chron 28). While preparations are being made to build the temple, and while David’s new tabernacle with the Ark rests in Jerusalem, Solomon returns to Gibeon, where the old tabernacle (but not the ark) is kept (2 Chron 1:3-5)—and where David had refused to inquire of the Lord or sacrifice (1 Chron 21:30). There Solomon offers a massive sacrifice, seeking an oracle, and receives his great theophany (2 Chron 1:1-13; 1 Kg 3:1-15). Immediately thereafter Solomon returns to Jerusalem and makes offerings at David’s tabernacle (1 Kg 3:15). It is quite clear here that there are two simultaneously operating royal cultic centers both authorized and accepted by God. (Note that the Kings version is mildly critical of Solomon for offering sacrifice at this “high place” (3:3-4), but does not deny the theophany that occurred there.)

What has been demonstrated up to this point is that there were several different simultaneously operating temples which received prophetic acceptance. None of the cultic activities at these sites are condemned until the apostasy of Jeroboam, after Solomon’s temple has been in operation for several decades. Two other temples (Dan and Mt. Gerizim) are never mentioned as acceptable to Yahweh or his prophets.

The following Israelite temples from the monarchy period are known only from archaeology: Megiddo, Arad, Lachish, Beer-Sheba, and possibly a small shrine at Hazor. They are clearly functioning Israelite temples where sacrifice was offered, broadly paralleling the form of Solomon’s temple. These temples are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, and therefore it is impossible to say if they were understood as being commanded by God, accepted by him, as practicing unacceptable worship of the Lord, or as indulging in apostate ritual and worship of other gods. Indeed, the story of Naaman seems to indicate that the worship of the Lord by converted pagans outside the land of Israel was also acceptable (2 Kg 5:15-19).

It is true that many Israelite temples, including Jerusalem, went through phases of syncretism and apostasy when non-Israelite gods were worshiped and Canaanite rites practices. This does not demonstrate that all non-Jerusalem temples were always considered apostate at all times and in all their practices. Indeed, from the overview of the evidence, above, it is quite clear that many temples were acceptable to the Lord before the building of the Jerusalem temple.

Did the Lord accept worship at non-Jerusalem temples after the building of the temple of Solomon? As noted above, Bethel, at least, seems to have remained acceptable until Jeroboam introduced idols; a legitimate prophet of Yahweh lived there until the days of Jeroboam. It is also quite clear that many other temples of Yahweh continued to operate until the days of Hezekiah (715-687 BC), a quarter of millennium after Solomon built his temple. These temples were dedicated to Yahweh, not to pagan gods (2 Chron 32:12, 2 King 18:22, Isa 36:7). The Assyrian commander Rab-saris mocks the Judahites’s reliance on the Lord because “has not he, Hezekiah, removed his [Yahweh’s] high places and his altars and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘Before one altar you shall bow yourselves down and upon it you shall offer incense.’” (2 Chron 32:12). In other words, before Hezekiah the Israelites had been worshipping Yahweh at many different temples.

Nonetheless, by the time of Hezekiah pagan deities were worshipped in these temples along with Yahweh. By the time of Hezekiah, all temples in Israel were viewed by some as being apostate, including Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s response is twofold: first, the purging of all apostate ritual and worship from the temple of Jerusalem, and its purification and reconsecration (2 Chron 29:3-36), and second, the closing of all apostate temples and shrines of Yahweh, both in Jerusalem (2 Chron 30:14), and outside Jerusalem (2 Chron 31:1, 2 Kg 18:4, 2 Chron 32:12, 2 King 18:22, Isa 36:7). These attempted reforms were not successful, since Manasseh falls into apostasy (2 Chron 33, 2 Kg 21), and Josiah (640-609 BC) is forced to again destroy all pagan temples outside Jerusalem and purifies of the temple of Jerusalem from pagan accretions (2 Chron 34:3-7; 2 Kg 23:4-20).

The problem here is not described as worshipping the Lord outside of Jerusalem, but worshiping pagan gods outside and inside Jerusalem. Non-Jerusalem temples of Yahweh were considered legitimate until the time of Hezekiah.

It is also clear from the archaeological evidence that the Israelite temples at Megiddo, Arad, Lachish, and Beer-Sheba were destroyed during the reforms of Hezekiah and/or Josiah.

One last note: although the Lord was worshipped in Temples outside Jerusalem, this does not undermine the supremacy of Jerusalem as the city chosen by the Lord, where the Ark and the Lord’s glory was to reside. The two ideas are in not incompatible. Besides the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah another important reason for the decline of non-Jerusalem temples after 586 BC was the fact that Judah was reduced after the Babylonian conquests to a small province. Other temples were not needed because most Jews in Judea were within easy access of the temple at Jerusalem.

For the Jews in the Diaspora, however, matters were quite different. At least two Diaspora temples are known: Elephantine/Aswan and Leontopolis/Tel Yehudia (near Heliopolis), both in Egypt. The Elephantine temple was apparently built before Cambyses’ conquest of Egypt (525 BC), and was destroyed by about 410 BC by the Egyptians. They had correspondence with the High Priest of Jerusalem to whom they looked for guidance, and were therefore apparently not unacceptable to the temple elites of Jerusalem. Leontopolis was founded around 160 BC and lasted over two centuries until 73 AD (after the temple at Jerusalem had been destroyed.). There is no biblical condemnation or acceptance of either of these two temples.

Another interesting, though ambiguous passage is Ezra 8:15-20, which may point to a Jewish temple in Babylon. There Ezra is making preparation to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. But before he does so, he stops at Casiphia in Babylon to recruit the help of the Nethinim, a technical term meaning “temple servants” (Ezra 2:43), literally, “those given” to the Temple. At Casiphia, Iddo is rosh (“head,” or “head [priest]”) of the “maqom [place] of Casiphia” (8:17). Maqom is a common term for sacred site (HAL 1:626-7), although it can be just a generic place; but grammatically there is no need for the word maqom with place name. Many scholars understand this phrase to mean: “Iddo was the chief [priest] at the temple (maqom) at Casiphia. At any rate, these nethinim apparently either know or do something related to the temple that Ezra’s group doesn’t know or can’t do.

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