Temple and rare cache of sacred vessels from Biblical times discovered at
The finds, dated to the early monarchic period and including pottery
figurines of men and horses, provide rare testimony of a ritual cult in the
Jerusalem region at the beginning of the period of the monarchy.
They were uncovered during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority,
prior to work by the National Roads Company on the new Highway 1 section.
Rare evidence of the religious practices and rituals in the early days of
the Kingdom of Judah has recently been discovered at Tel Motza, to the west
of Jerusalem. In excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently
conducting at the Tel Motza archaeological site, prior to work being carried
out on the new Highway 1 from Sha'ar HaGai to Jerusalem by the National
Roads Company (previously the Public Works Department), a ritual building (a
temple) and a cache of sacred vessels some 2,750 years old have been
According to Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz,
directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority,
"The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light
of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the
period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. The uniqueness of the
structure is even more remarkable because of the vicinity of the site's
proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom's
main sacred center at the time." According to the archaeologists, "Among
other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them
bearded, whose significance is still unknown."
Tel Motza and the surrounding region are renowned for their prime
archaeological importance. Many finds have previously been uncovered at the
site, from a variety of different periods. From the 1990's to the beginning
of the present millennium, the site was excavated in preparation for the new
route taken by Highway 1. At the time, the site's archaeologists proposed
once more identifying the site with the Biblical settlement "Mozah"
mentioned in the Book of Joshua – a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin
bordering on Judaea (Joshua 18: 26). The proposal was based, among other
things, on the discovery at the site of a public building, a large structure
with storehouses, and a considerable number of silos. At the time,
archaeologists identified the site as a storehouse, run by high-ranking
officials, for Jerusalem's grain supplies.
The current excavations have revealed evidence that provides another aspect
to our understanding of the site. According to archaeologists Eirikh, Dr.
Khalaily and, Kisilevitz, "The current excavation has revealed part of a
large structure, from the early days of the monarchic period (Iron Age IIA).
The walls of the structure are massive, and it includes a wide, east-facing
entrance, conforming to the tradition of temple construction in the ancient
Near East: the rays of the sun rising in the east would have illuminated the
object placed inside the temple first, symbolizing the divine presence
within. A square structure which was probably an altar was exposed in the
temple courtyard, and the cache of sacred vessels was found near the
structure. The assemblage includes ritual pottery vessels, with fragments of
chalices (bowls on a high base which were used in sacred rituals), decorated
ritual pedestals, and a number of pottery figurines of two kinds: the first,
small heads in human form (anthropomorphic) with a flat headdress and
curling hair; the second, figurines of animals (zoomorphic) – mainly of
harnessed animals. The archeologists stress that "The find of the sacred
structure together with the accompanying cache of sacred vessels, and
especially the significant coastal influence evident in the anthropomorphic
figurines, still require extensive research."
Ritual elements in the Kingdom of Judah are recorded in archaeological
research, especially from the numerous finds of pottery figurines and other
sacred objects found at many sites in Israel, and these are usually
attributed to domestic rituals. However, the remains of ritual platforms and
temples used for ritual ceremonies have only been found at a few sites of
this period. According to the site's directors, "The finds recently
discovered at Tel Motza provide rare archaeological evidence for the
existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in
general, and in the Jerusalem region in particular, prior to the religious
reforms throughout the kingdom at the end of the monarchic period (at the
time of Hezekiah and Isaiah), which abolished all ritual sites,
concentrating ritual practices solely at the Temple in Jerusalem."