Archeologists got a rare glimpse of religious life in the days of Israel's Judean kings when they discovered an ancient temple and tools apparently used in rituals around 2,750 years ago at the Tel Motza excavation site west of Jerusalem. The project, which is being managed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, began recently ahead of construction on part of Route 1 between Shaar Hagai and Jerusalem.
Anna Eirikh, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, who are in charge of the project on behalf of the authority, pointed out that the shape of the ancient temple found at the site was unusual. "It is a rare find in light of the lack of other such discoveries dating back to the time of the Kingdom of Judah and the First Temple. The temple is also an outstanding find due to its proximity to Jerusalem, which served as the Judean kingdom's ritual center at that time," Eirikh said. "Among other items, pottery with male figures etched on them, one with a beard, were also found, though we are unsure as to their meaning."
Tel Motza has been known as an important archeological area for some time. Many items have been discovered there dating from various ancient periods. At the beginning of the 1990s and 2000s the site was excavated as part of the work being done on Route 1. At that time, excavators asserted that the site was associated with the Biblical city of Motza, which is mentioned in the book of Isaiah as a city in the tribe of Benjamin, bordering the tribe of Judah.
The archeologists based their belief on important discoveries at the site that were associated with the rulers of the Judean kingdom during the First Temple era. Among the findings was a public structure, a large warehouse, and a large number of granaries. Excavators believe the location served as a storage area for grain harvested for Jerusalem and was managed by high ranking officials.
The recent discovery has added a new dimension to the understanding of the site's purpose. According to Eirikh, "At the current excavation, part of a large structure was uncovered dating back to the days of the kingdom. The walls of the structure are massive and it has a wide entrance facing east, the way all such ancient oriental temples were designed. The sun's rays appearing from the east shed light upon an object laying inside the temple area, symbolizing God's presence in the structure. A square structure discovered in the courtyard of the temple is believed to be an ancient altar. Several ritual tools were found beside the altar, including tall pots used for various rituals at that time, decorated reeds, and several clay vessels of two different types — one group with images of people etched into them with head coverings and curly hair, and another group with images of animals, mainly leashed beasts."
Rituals performed during the Judean kingdom era have been researched and studied mostly through the clay images and other ritual tools discovered at various excavation sites throughout the country, and which generally served as tools in private rituals. Only rarely were the altars and temples in which the rituals were performed also discovered.
"The discovery at Tel Motza serves as a rare archeological testimony of temples and structures where rituals were performed in the Judean kingdom, Jerusalem and the surrounding environment prior to the ritual reforms. The reforms were imposed in the entire area (during the times of Hezekiah and Isaiah), banning all ritual sites and concentrating the activities instead at the main temple in Jerusalem," Eirikh said.