Christianity ‘turned to archaeology to promote bible’ says expert

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Israel’s Holy Temple is the single most important place of worship in the Hebrew World as, according to the Bible, it was designated to be the place where God would dwell among his people. For hundreds of years, this Temple stood in two incarnations atop the Temple Mount in the heart of ancient Jerusalem. But both the First and Second Temple were destroyed by foreign forces – the Babylonians in 587 BC and the Romans in 72 AD, respectively – and have not been rebuilt since.

Tom Meyer, a professor of Bible studies at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California, US, has now told there was a third Jewish Temple tucked away in the Negev Desert in southern Israel.

This “one-of-a-kind” house of worship was discovered by archaeologists in the 1960s at the Canaanite Iron Age site of Arad or Tel-Arad, just six miles west of its modern counterpart.

According to the Bible, before the Temple was built in Jerusalem, it stood at the ancient city of Shiloh in Samaria, in the modern-day West Bank.

The Temple existed as a mobile, tent-like structure known as the Tabernacle and housed the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant.

According to Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, God designated a single, centralised place of worship for his chosen people.

The Temple at Arad, however, was built in the northwest corner of the Tel-Arad fortress and operated for some 300 years despite this commandment.

Professor Meyer said: “A one-of-a-kind Jewish Temple dedicated to YHWH has been found, not in Jerusalem, but in Arad, an important fortress city located on the Spice Route in the Biblical Negev, south of Hebron.

“The Israelite Temple unearthed at Arad by Israelite archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni (1962 to 1967) is the first and only Israelite sanctuary discovered in an archaeological excavation.”

Much like Jerusalem’s Temple, the Temple at Arad held a Holy of Holies – a sacred inner sanctum – and was built facing eastward.

Leading up to this Holy of Holies, archaeologists discovered three steps and two limestone incense altars.

Professor Meyer said: “A recent reexamination of the incense altars from the forbidden Temple has found traces of frankincense and cannabis, likely obtained from the caravans travelling the nearby Spice Route.

“In the Holy of Holies, two unhewn stones were found.

“Mirroring the sanctuary in Jerusalem, Arad’s temple also had an altar, although Arad’s was constructed of mud bricks and unhewn fieldstones.”

At the foot of the sacrificial altars were two bowls with identical inscriptions reading “set apart/holy to the priests”.

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A storage room was also discovered next to the Holy of Holies where a number of inscribed pottery shards known as ostraca were uncovered.

Each shard contained the name of an individual or a family.

Professor Meyer said: “Two of these names are known from Bible times as members of the priestly family.

“Along the same lines, a list including references to payments to families such as ‘the sons of Korah’ and the sons of Bezalel,’ also well-known priestly families, were discovered.

“Throughout the centuries, starting with the time of Solomon, the Israelites preserved this forbidden Temple as they continued to upgrade the important fortress city in which it dwelt.”

Eventually, Professor Meyer concluded, the Temple at Arad was torn down by the Biblical King Hezekiah and later by King Josiah in the seventh century BC.

The Temple’s remains are now part of the Tel-Arad National Park and restoration works are underway to preserve the ancient site.

According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Tel-Arad is one of the country’s most important archaeological sites.

The parks authority said: “The entire site became covered with dust while the fortress continued to function.”

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