Archaeologists Discover a 3,200-Year-Old Pagan Ritual Hall in Israel

Archaeologists Discover a 3,200-Year-Old Pagan Ritual Hall in Israel

Excavators from Israel have announced the discovery of three millennia-old pagan ritual evidence, which supports the hypothesis of pagan worship at Tel Burna back then. Experts suggest that the new finds could shed light on Tel Burna and Canaanite ritual practices.

New Finds Provide Evidence of Pagan Worship at Tel Burna

Israeli and international archaeologists have been trying for many years to spot a cultic site presenting ritual practices. Now Haaretz has recently reported , that researchers conducting excavation works at Tel Burna have discovered several masks and more cultic vessels that makes them sanguine that Canaanite ritual festivities took place 3,200 years ago at Libnah, a Canaanite city in the Kingdom of Judah listed among the 13 Kohanic cities (Joshua 21:13).

Zoomorphic Canaanite figurines, Tel Burna, dating to around 3,200 years ago. (Credit: The Tel Burna Archaeological Project )

The excavations works in the city were launched eight years ago (2009), when Dr. Itzhaq Shai of Ariel University and his team spotted a quadrangle inside a sturdy building, nearly 16 meters (52.4 ft) long, constructed directly upon substratum. Back then, archaeologists couldn’t be certain about the purpose of the building, but after unearthing several objects emanating signs of pagan cultic activity, they will now postulate the building’s use with more certainty. The objects include a massebah (a pillar made of stone, associated with worship or memorial activity) depicting a deity or a cultic object, cultic vessels such as goblets and chalices, figurines, zoomorphic vessels, and two ceramic masks. “The fact that we have a massebah and a concentration of cultic vessels clearly indicates that the activity within this courtyard was not daily life, but ritual practice," Dr. Shai told Haaretz .

Judahite stamped handles (left to right: LMLK, private (with the names L'Z'R/HGI) and rosette. Found at Tel Burna (Credit: The Tel Burna Archaeological Project )

According to Dr. Shai, the new finds bolster his theories, as he had previously suggested that “not every ancient site sporting a war god or female figurine is a temple to Baal or Anat," as Haaretz reports . Interestingly, among the fascinating new finds uncovered this year were included three unique, small vessels of Greek-Cypriot origin. The meticulous examination that followed, showed that each vessel had contained a different kind of oil and they were most likely used for ritual purposes.

Revealing Vast Jars and Charred Bones

Furthermore, two immense pithoi imported from Cyprus, each with a capacity of 200 liters, were found along with charred bones of young sheep, goats and pigs. “The presence of imported giant pithoi in and of itself is indicative that Libnah was an important site of worship to the Canaanites in the 13th century BC,” Dr. Shai tells Haaretz . "Since the pithoi were discovered in the same context as the cultic vessels, we assume these were also part of this activity," he concludes.

Broken pithoi found at a Canaanite palace dating about 4,000 years ago, Tel Kabri. Credit: Eric Cline

Dr. Shai also suggests that the large cups and cultic vessels possibly imply the use of scent and aromatic equipment, while he appears to be more confident about the votive vessels and figurines being clearer indications of pagan worship involving offerings. “The masks could indicate the starting or ending point (or both) of religious processions, or the presentation of a religious icon, such as a deity,” Dr. Shai also proposes.

Discovery Could Shed Light on Canaanite Rituals

Additionally, Professor Philipp Stockhammer of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich views the new finds as a great opportunity (for the archaeologists and historians) to study and understand better the Canaanite rituals, but he advises everyone to be cautious, as it might not be easy to interpret the Burna evidence. “Most of the vessels were found directly on the bedrock, and it is difficult to interpret their relation to the nearby walls. All that I can say at the moment is that Burna seems to have a unique concentration of foreign-related objects used together in the framework of hardly understood offering/ritual practices, and we definitely need to continue the fieldwork there in order to better understand the evidence in Burna and Canaanite ritual practices more general,” Stockhammer told Haaretz , clearly stating that there’s much more work to be done.


    Ancient 3,200-year-old Canaanite temple unearthed in Israel

    • The temple ruins date back to about the 12th Century BC in the city of Lachish
    • The entrance has two pillars and two towers leading to a large rectangular hall
    • The team found two bronze figurines said to be armed ‘smiting gods’ by the alter
    • They also found an example of early proto-Canaanite writing on pottery pieces

    An ancient 3,200-year-old Canaanite temple has been discovered in Israel which was part of a biblical city destroyed by Joshua.

    Inside, archaeologists found various statues of different gods, including two bronze figurines said to be ‘smiting’.

    The temple, from about the 12th century BC, was once part of the powerful Canaanite city of Lachish.

    This city was mentioned in the book of Joshua, with Lachish supposedly delivered by God into the hands of Israel, where ‘[they] put it and all the people in it to the sword’.

    The team of archaeologists found a temple with two large pillars leading to a larger entrance area in what was the city of Lachish

    The team found a mixture of pottery, storage boxes and statues in the ruins of the ancient 3,200 year old temple and are now examining them in more detail

    WHO WAS BAAL?

    Baal was worshipped widely by a number of Bronze Age communities, particularly in the Middle East.

    A depiction of the priests of Baal at the altar with the prophet Elijah

    He was prominent amongst the Canaanites and may have arose as a figure for worship in their cities.

    Baal was seen as a fertility god, in fact known by the title Lord of the Earth and the God of Rain and Dew.

    This was particularly important for the Canaanites as the rain and dew were vital for fertile soil.

    Worship of Baal became popular in Egypt from about 1400 BC.

    Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Southern Adventist University in Tennessee say this is a ‘unique opportunity’ to study the Canaanite’s.

    The Late Bronze Age temple had two pillars and two towers leading to a large rectangular hall – unusual for the period, according to Professor Yosef Garfinkel.

    They found a host of other objects in the temple, including two bronze figurines said to be armed ‘smiting gods’ – housed near the altar.

    ‘The settlement is mentioned in both the Bible and in various Egyptian sources and was one of the few Canaanite cities to survive into the 12th century BCE,’ Hebrew University explained in a statement.

    The layout was common in the earlier Bronze Age and similar to bible descriptions of the First Temple in Jerusalem said to have been built by King Solomon.

    It was a rare discovery for the researchers – who say a find along these lines and of this scale only happens every few decades.

    ‘Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel,’ Garfinkel told the Times of Israel.

    The site of Lachish, where the temple is located, was first found by William Foxwell Albright in 1929. He is considered the founding father of Biblical archaeology.

    Garfinkel’s team started excavating the site nearly seven years ago in 2013 – then spent longer examining the findings.

    ‘We uncovered the temple and we dedicated three or four years to it, because it is very rare to find Canaanite sites in Israel,’ Garfinkel told the Jerusalem Post.

    ‘This kind of structure was only discovered in Megiddo, Nablus and Hazor. But this is the first time we revealed such a large monumental symmetrical kind of temple.’

    Among the discoveries were pieces of jewellery with Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting rulers and gods from the Nile country

    They found some objects showing Egyptian pharaohs that were covered in gold leaf as well as bronze cauldrons and daggers

    Two tiny figurines depicting ‘smiting gods’ were found by the altar of the temple. These figures were of either the god Baal or Resheph

    ‘What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings.’

    The temple had small rooms along the sides that would have been used for storage, in fact they found boxes with wheat inside them.

    As they moved further into the remains they found an ‘inner sanctum’ with columns and nearly 10ft high standing stones in a circle of smaller stones.

    In the temple the team found an amulet inspired by the Egyptian goddess Hathor who was worshipped by miners and said to welcome the dead to the afterlife.

    It wasn’t just Egyptian gods represented in the temple, they also found statuettes of Baal – a god not worshipped in the country and of purely Canaanite origin.

    It was one of two statues of smiting gods and the type of figurines are found in the area in temples from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age.

    They are usually of Baal or Resheph, who are both known as war gods, ‘although it is impossible to identify our figurines with either due to the lack of clear attributes.’

    Weapons and jewellery were among the items discovered at the 12th century BC Canaanite temple at Lachish

    Four pieces of a gilded bronze situla bearing an engraved hieroglyphic inscription were found within the remains of the temple

    They also found bronze cauldrons, daggers and axe heads adorned with imagery common to Egypt including bird images, scarabs and a bottle inscribed with the name Ramses II – a powerful Egyptian pharaoh.

    During the period the template originated the people of Lachish controlled large parts of the Jusean lowlands and the city was one of the most important in the area.

    Canaanites and ancient Egyptians had a mutual influence on one another, according to Garfinkel, at one point up to about 1549 BC the Canaanites actually ruled Egypt – but that changed with the rise of King Tutankhamun and Nefertiti.

    A significant amount of pottery was uncovered in the Canaanite temple including urns, bowls and other containers

    When the famous rulers came to power ancient Egypt also came to the height of its success and violently swept over what is now Israel.

    The city of Lachish where the temple was found had a very bloody history – first arising as a powerful Canaanite stronghold around 1800 BC.

    It lasted a few hundred years before being destroyed in 1550 BC by the Egyptians as they rolled over the region during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III.

    WHAT WAS THE CITY OF LACHISH AND WHAT HAPPENED TO IT?

    The city of Lachish was the second most important stronghold for the Canaanites in the southern kingdom of Judah during the late Bronze Age.

    It is situated southwest of Jerusalem and is now represented by a national park called Tel Lachish – featuring a distinctive mound of Earth.

    What was the ancient city of Lachish is now represented by a mound of Earth in the national park – Tel Lachish

    The city was heavily fortified during the Middle Bronze Age by a sloping bank and a fosse – it played an important role in the history of the region.

    During the Late Bronze Age it was a large Canaanite city-state.

    Lachish had an intense and very bloody history, just like most of the towns and cities located in the region.

    It first began to rise as a major Canaanite city around 1800 BC and lasted about 400 years before it was destroyed – for the first time – in 1550 BC.

    This was at the hand of the Egyptians under Pharaoh Thutmose III as they moved over the area during the 18th Dynasty expansion.

    The Canaanites rebuilt the city but it was destroyed again in 1300 BC – they rebuilt it again for a second time.

    About 60 years later the city was destroyed again – about 1150 BC.

    The site of Lachish was first found by William Foxwell Albright in 1929. He is considered the founding father of Biblical archaeology.


    Uncovering the Past: Feasting Halls, Viking Warriors, and Fake News

    As some Pagans and Heathens attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

    Did the Ark of the Covenant contain Pagan gods?

    Archaeologists have long looked for the Ark of the Covenant, a large case the Bible says contains the broken pieces of the Ten Commandments. Yet some are now positing that if the ark is found it will more likely be found in Kiryath Jearim, not the city of David, and contain statues of Pagan gods.

    Scholars say that the Bible was written by several authors over a long period of time and that the portions detailing the ark’s removal from Kiryath Jearim to David’s city were more recent additions. In fact, they now suspect that the ark may not have been moved at all.

    These same scholars also note that persons living during the time period when the ark was thought to exist either worshiped Canaanite gods like Baal and El or the early Israelite gods Yahweh and Asherah.

    Why do they think the ark could contain statues of Pagan gods rather than the Ten Commandments? Throughout the Levant, it was common practice for pre-Islamic Arabs to carry chests that contain two sacred stones or statues of Pagans gods. These items were later replaced with copies of the Koran. So the ark, mentioned in the Bible, may have likewise contained statues.

    Baal was a god associated with war and fertility. The Ark of the Covenant was carried by Israelites into battle and thought to have supernatural powers to rally troops to victory. The Bible also tells the story of Hannah, the prophet Samuel’s mother, whose sterility is cured by the ark.

    The Bible’s presentation of the Israelites as strict monotheists is also being corrected by archaeologists and scholars. They are now thought to have been a polytheist religious society slowly evolving and incorporating influences and ideas from surrounding cultures.

    Perhaps if the ark is found, it may contain statues of Pagan gods and shards of the Ten Commandments.

    Pagans were feasting in Israel

    A 3,200-year-old Pagan feasting hall has been found in Israel. Archaeologists were initially hesitant to classify the hall as having religious significance, but the contents of the hall show it was used for Canaanite ritual feasting.

    The hall was found in what was Libnah, a Canaanite city that would become Judahite after it was conquered by the Judahite Kingdom.

    The hall was almost 52 feet in length and was well constructed. It contained a pillar of stone, usually associated with worship, Celtic vessels, figurines, zoomorphic vessels, and two ceramic masks. There were also three rare pithoi, small vessels containing oil for libations, ad charred bones of sheep, goats, and pigs.

    Archaeologists have had a difficult time reconstructing Canaanite religious practices, but hope sites like this one can shed new light on the practice. For those Pagans attempting to reconstruct the Canaanite religion, keep your eye on this dig.

    Oops! Viking dude is a lady

    The pitfalls of assuming sex even happen to scientists. DNA analysis of one of the most famous Viking warriors proves the bones are those of a woman, not a man.

    The Birka warrior, found in the late 1880s, was assumed to be that of a man because of what the grave contained. It housed swords, arrowheads, a spear, and two sacrificed horses. This shows a flaw in the art of archaeological interpretation. Archaeologists interpret what they see through the lens of the culture they live in. In this case, assuming the gender of the warrior base on modern expectations of gender roles.

    This mistake was made despite Viking lore spelling out that not all warriors were men. In addition to tales of shield maidens who fought along side male warriors, there is the story of Inghen Ruaidh, a female warrior who lead a fleet of ships to Ireland.

    After this finding was published, a team led by Uppsala University archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson tested the bone’s DNA. The tests were conclusive that the bones were that of a woman, not a man.

    The change in sex identification of this warrior now changes the idea that tales of Viking women warriors were just fables. Not only that, but since the Birka warrior was found with gaming pieces on her lap, suggesting she was a respected tactician, this changes the view of women in leadership positions within Viking culture.

    Roman fake news – in full color

    Archaeologists have reconstructed what the Arch of Titus looked like, and it was full of color and disinformation.

    Professor Steven Fine of Yeshiva University has digitally reconstructed the arch using the bright colors that were probably used to paint the arch.

    He discovered that the famed menorah, depicted on the panel showing Roman soldiers parading with treasures looted from the Second Temple in Jerusalem, was painted a bright yellow. It has just been in the last 30 years that archaeologists and museum curators have realized just how brightly colored Roman and Greek statues and buildings were. After noting the menorah was painted yellow, his access to the arch was cut off.

    He then made educated guesses as to the other colors. The sky would be blue, the leaves green, and so on. He cautions that, although he feels confident about the color selections, without further testing he can’t be 100% sure.

    As to why the arch was created in the first place, it was propaganda. The arch was built to commemorate Vespasian winning the Judean War. Which wasn’t really a war but a local rebellion in a far-flung province. The structure was built to glorify Vespasian and solidify the Flavian dynasty.

    Fake news, it appears, is nothing new

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    About Cara Schulz

    Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.


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    When Sennacherib came to power in 705 B.C.E., he inherited an empire in flames.

    Under his father Sargon II, the Assyrian army had been beaten back by rebels in Tabal, today central Turkey. Following Sargon's II's death that year, civil unrest spread like wildfire inside the empire.

    To consolidate his rule, Sennacherib went campaigning. First he secured his rear, vanquishing unrest. That done, in 701 B.C.E. Sennacherib embarked on what he called his "third campaign." His first objective in the westward drive was to secure Phoenicia. Most of the coastal cities surrendered at the mere sight of his forces.

    But not all kings surrendered and offered tribute. The rulers of Ekron, Gaza and King Hezekiah of Judah balked.

    The Hebrew sources for what ensued are 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Micah, and Isaiah. We also have the annals of Sennacherib reliefs found in the Assyrian city of Nineveh (Iraq) and remains of a siege found in Lachish (Israel) Herodotus, the Greek historian who lived in the 5th century B.C.E., and 600 years later, the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus.

    Sennacherib shown at the gates of Lachish, ordering its "slaughter", from Nineveh relief at the British Museum oncenawhile

    A very badly frightened king

    The Assyrians describe Sennacherib's third campaign in the Annals of Sennacherib and the Rassam Cylinder, a ten-sided artifact 49 centimeters in height found in Nineveh and written in cuneiform, which among other things gloats about plunder taken during the campaign. The Assyrian sources are the oldest and most contemporary historical record of the campaign: the earliest, the Rassam cylinder dates to 700 B.C.E. other versions of Sennacherib's annals dates to 694-689 B.C.E.

    There are some holes in the Assyrian tale. The Assyrians say Jaffa was part of the Ashkelon kingdom, but the two cities were far apart and Ashdod – run by a different king altogether - lay between them. Finally, the Assyrians claimed to have taken 200,150 captives from Judah, which sounds a tad far-fetched.

    Of course, the purpose of ancient record-keeping was not accuracy per se, but to convey a message. In this case: Backed by the god Ashur, the Assyrian king overpowered rebels and subdued Judah (Israel had already become part of the Assyrian provincial system under Sargon in 720 BCE) kings who refused to bow before them were ousted, and replaced with vassal kings. Rebellious leaders were punished horribly. On the Judahite king:

    "[Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage" (Translated from the annals of Sennacherib by Mordechai Cogan, The Raging Torrent 125, 2nd edition, Jerusalem 2018).

    The Assyrians portrayed King Hezekiah of Jerusalem, a principal enemy, as a coward quailing before the Assyrian might, as toothless as his god Yahweh, who failed to prevent the Assyrians from capturing 46 of his strongholds. Sennacherib sneered that Yahweh would prove to be as impotent as the gods of other lands that had already fallen (2 Kings 18:17-35, Isaiah 36:2-3).

    Among Sennacherib's victories was the powerful Judahic city of Lachish. Apparently cowed by the loss of Lachish, "caged" Hezekiah delivered a vast ransom: 30 talents of gold, worth $2 million today, silver (the Assyrians say 800 talents, the Bible says 300 – which would have been worth around $11 million), luxury items – and his daughters and women.

    Deportation of spoils, prisoners from Lachish after Sennacherib and the Assyrians rolled over the city Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)

    In the terms of the time, that meant the gods of Assyria were mightier than the neighbors'. The Judahic version naturally cast the sparing of Jerusalem in a different light, as a proactive deed of the deity: Yahweh sent an angel who struck down 185,000 Assyrians in a single night, and Sennacherib fled (2 Kings 19:35-37. Isaiah 37:33-37. 2 Chronicles 32:21).

    "this is what Jehovah says about the king of Assyria: He will not come into this city, Or shoot an arrow there, Or confront it with a shield, Or cast up a siege rampart against it" – 2 Kings 19:32

    Up against god himself

    After the fall of Lachish, Hezekiah pays the tribute demanded by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14-16) Ergo, Sennacherib continued to assail Judah after its king had capitulated (2 Kings 19:8-9). Why would the Assyrian king do that?

    The people of Judah angered Jehovah by worshipping Baal, bringing divine vengeance upon their heads (2 King 17:16-17). Assyria was merely Yahweh's rod to administer that discipline:

    The Assyrian, the rod to express my anger and the staff in their hand for my denunciation!” – Isaiah 10:5

    And that, dear reader, could explain why Sennacherib, after taking the tribute from Hezekiah, continued to attack Judah. Yahweh made him do it.

    In that light, King Hezekiah's efforts to fight bolster Jerusalem's defenses, to forge military alliances against the Assyrians and finally, to buy them off, were foredoomed: only Yahweh could settle the score with the Assyrians.

    But Yahweh did that very thing too, according to the Bible.

    Angel vs. bacteria

    The Bible also says 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died in one night while besieging Jerusalem. That decidedly beefy number could stem from misinterpretation of the original Hebrew. Or, did Yahweh get involved after all on the Judahic side as well?

    Divine intervention in and of itself is a theme in the Old Testament (Exodus 11:4-12:29, 2 Samuel 24:15-17). The Prophet Samuel describes an angel bringing pestilence against the Israelites. Some scholars think "angel of god" is biblical euphemism for "epidemic". Others simply dismiss the verse as purely theological, and unhistorical.

    Alan Millard, emeritus professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic languages at Liverpool University, thinks that scholars who simply dismiss the account as purely theological, are simply ignorant of the attitudes of ancient people.

    “Assyrian and other royal inscriptions do ascribe the unexpected to divine intervention, even when we might say it was ‘just the weather’. An Egyptian pharaoh said the god Amun overruled the winter weather that might have prevented a princess from the Hittites in Turkey from reaching Egypt. Ashurbanipal, Sennacherib’s grandson, told of fire falling from heaven at the command of the god Assur to destroy an invading army,” he told Haaretz.

    Assyrian relief depicting warriors on horses, 8th century B.C.E. From Ashurbanipal's palace at Nineveh De Agostini / Getty Images

    By and large the biblical and Assyrian accounts harmonize on many core events. Crucially, both accounts agree that Sennacherib did conquer Lachish, and overran almost all of Judah but not Jerusalem. Leaving gods out of it, there could be other explanations for Jerusalem and Hezekiah's survival. Such as, mice.

    The Jewish historian, Josephus, writing in the 1st century C.E., later connected the dots:

    When Senacheirimos returned to Jerusalem from his war with Egypt, he found there the force under Rapsakes in danger from a plague, for God had visited a pestilential sickness upon his army, and on the first night of the siege one hundred and eighty-five thousand men had perished with their commanders and officers” - Jospehus, Ja. 10.17.21

    Something terrible happened to the terrible Assyrians as they camped outside the Jerusalem walls, resulting in their defeat.

    Something terrible also happened to the Assyrians in Egypt, according to Herodotus:

    "During the night a horde of field mice gnawed quivers and their bows and the handles of shields, with the result that many were killed, fleeing unarmed the next day" - Herodotus 2.141

    Herodotus, who lived in the 5th century B.C.E., tells that Sennacherib marched to Egypt with a force of Arabians and Assyrians. The Egyptian soldiers were petrified but the god Ptah visited the king and priest, Sethon, in a dream and promised he would prevail. Heartened by the divine vision, Sethon gathered a band of merchants, craftsmen and traders and camped at Pelusium, a city in the Nila Delta, to face Sennacherib. They won, the Assyrians lost.

    That bit about omitting soldiers and bringing along tradespeople could be ancient hyperbole for "look how we weak defeated the strong," and if anything, supports belief that some battle really did happen.

    It's also plausible that mice could bring down an army. If 185,000 Assyrians suddenly upped and died, mouse-born plague is a possibility. But that was in Jerusalem and Herodotus is describing the Egyptian defeat.

    Possibly two stories of two different Assyrian humiliations – in Jerusalem and Egypt – became confused over the centuries. It seems implausible that the mighty warriors were brought to their knees time and again by loquat-sized rodents.

    Something fishy in the state of Judah

    There is a common thread in the Assyrian, biblical and Herodotus' accounts: divine intervention in the affairs of mortals. Sennacherib's annals talk of "the utter dread" of the weapon wielded by their god Ashur.

    The Assyrians do not specify what kind of weapon Ashur used. Herodotus and the Bible are clearer on this point: Yahweh's weapon was an angel of death.

    To the ancients, the gods ruled the world and settled the affairs of men. The ancient kings and priests mediated with the invisible higher powers on behalf of the people. Thus the personal annals of kings gave credit, or justified their actions, in the name of the gods.

    Theoretically, the Assyrian account should be more reliable on Sennacherib's campaign into Judah, because it is contemporary and should theoretically be more accurate also Herodotus' and the biblical accounts incorporated diverse material from various ages and origins and are therefore less credible. But though contemporary, the Assyrian account was as god-struck and saturated with propaganda as anybody else's.

    Writers of yore weren't fussed about a story being "true." A chronicler would say King A conquered a city and King B was defeated. A royal annalist would say that King B offended God and therefore was punished by allowing King A to seize his city.

    Throughout Sennacherib's drive into the Levant, the Assyrians' clear-cut policy was to quash rebellious kings and replace them with loyalists. The Assyrians were infamous through the ancient world for their cruelty. Warrior monarch Ashurnasirpal describes:

    “I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, . . . and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled. . . .

    "Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire . . . Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace. . . . The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.” –– Translated by Daniel .D. Luckenbill, Ancient records of Assyria and Babylonia, Chicago

    No wonder people were terrified of them and resistance would crumble. No wonder the Phoenician coastal cities surrendered without hesitation at the mere sight of the Assyrians no wonder the Phoenician king fled overseas.

    No wonder Hezekiah instantly paid heavy tribute after Lachish fell.

    Since Assyrians were not famed for having a live-and-let-go policy for their enemies, questions emerge about what on earth happened in the Judah campaign.

    Relief of winged bull for Sennacherib at Nineveh (704-681 B.C.E.) Universal History Archive / REX

    Why did Sennacherib change policy? Why didn't he dethrone the rebellious king Hezekiah and replace him with a loyal subject? Why wasn't Jerusalem captured like the other capital cities?

    At the end of the day, it had to be that murine or other calamity struck the Assyrian camp and the Assyrians had to break off the campaign (Herodotus 2, 2 Kings 19:35-37, Isaiah 37:33-37, 2 Chronicles 32:21). That is the only feasible explanation why the Assyrians didn't conquer Jerusalem. They were simply incapable.

    To deliberately show leniency to rebels would have made Sennacherib look weak, resulting in more uprisings.

    Sins of the father

    However, that Jerusalem rout must have been a hideous embarrassment, which leads us to the seemingly unrelated fact that the Assyrian palace in Nineveh has inscriptions boasting about the victory at Lachish, while the annals omit the whole thing. Now let's connect some dots.

    It was not the custom of the Assyrians to record their defeats on the palace walls of Nineveh. Defeat indicated divine disapproval. Sargon's sudden death in Cappadocia (Turkey) was viewed as a bad omen, a divine punishment, throughout all of the Assyrian Empire, resulting in uprisings.

    Sennacherib knew this and went to great pains to overcome the sins of his father. One measure was to abandon the capital city Sargon built at Khorsabad and commission a new palace at Nineveh.

    The vast palace Sennacherib erected in Nineveh covered an area 450 meters by 210 meters. Among other things it portrayed taking spoils from Lachish:

    Sennacherib, king of the universe, king of Assyria, seated upon a armchair the spoils of Lachish passed before him”-– Mordechai Cogan, The Raging Torrent 135 (2nd edition, Jerusalem 2018)

    Every foreign or domestic dignitary seeking audience with the king would have seen the relief. Why? Because it showed that the campaign into Judah hadn't been a complete fiasco.

    The Assyrians were not above altering historical records as expedient. Sennacherib's sixth campaign against the Elamites is recorded as victorious, but he omits mentioning that right afterwards the Elamite king struck back, venturing as far as Babylon and capturing the Assyrian viceroy.

    Similarly, the unsuccessful capture of Jerusalem was recorded boastfully, describing the 200,150 prisoners and talents of silver and gold: 300 silver talents would have been worth almost $2 million in today's tender, and 30 gold talents were worth nearly $12 million. One wonders again about veracity: where would Hezekiah have taken huge sums like that, if the Temple was laid bare every time a foreign army drew near (2 Kings 12:18,16:8 2 Chronicles 16:2,3).

    At the end of the day, all accounts – the Assyrians, the Bible, and Herodotus, interpreted events. They didn't invent them.

    Something unexpected happened to the Assyrian army, which the people of the ancient Near East attributed to divine meddling.

    The ancient kings had to keep their subjects and gods happy and propaganda was the most effective way to distort history and cover up failure. Sennacherib's failure to conquer Jerusalem was embarrassing and was over-compensated by grand reliefs on palace walls and extravagant claims of plunder. The fact that one of the main instigators of the Assyrian rebellion, Hezekiah, remained on the throne, albeit denuded of his wealth and women, may say it all.


    Temples and Sanctuaries

    It seems reasonable to suppose that the ancient Celts used impressive existing megalithic structures in their religious ceremonies, at least in their early history. Such sites as Stonehenge in southern Britain and Carnac in northwest France provided handy stone structures and alignments that, although predating the Celts by centuries, would have added a certain mystique and gravitas to rituals. Indeed, so connected were druids with these Neolithic sites that in the medieval period they were considered their architects.

    Sacred areas were created at or near urban sites. One type, sometimes known as Viereckschanzen after a great number were discovered in southern Germany (although they exist at Celtic sites from France to Bohemia), was a square or rectangular cleared area surrounded by earthworks. These human-made perimeters consisted of a rampart, outer ditch, and a single gate (most often on the east side). The bare sacred space often had wooden poles driven into it, presumably for supporting a number of roofed structures and/or for carving symbols and images on. Some of these ritual precincts (but not usually the ones in Germany, which are curiously devoid of artefacts) had deep shafts dug in them where votive offerings were placed. Pottery shards in these shafts most often date to the 2nd and the 1st century BCE.

    A partially reconstructed Romano-Celtic sanctuary stands on the Martberg plateau above the town of Pommern in western Germany. Lenus Mars, a Celtic healing god, was worshipped in the main temple and many sick people came to be cured, as votive offerings indicate. / Photo by Carole Raddato, WHE, Creative Commons

    The Celts created life-size wooden statues of human figures, which stood at sacred sites, both natural and purpose-built. The carved wooden statues are usually featureless (but not always, some are very realistic) and wear a hooded cloak. The figures may well have been adorned with massive neck torcs which have also been recovered and were too large and heavy to be worn by a person. Another type of sculpture erected at sacred sites was carved stone pillars, sometimes with four sides, sometimes hemispherical and all decorated with heads and or complex vegetal designs.

    Stone temples first appeared amongst the Celts from the 4th century BCE. Typically given monumental doorways decorated with reliefs and paintings, the roofing was made of thatch or intertwined branches which were then covered with clay and lime. For the Celts, the head was considered the home of the soul and so it is not surprising that masks were a common decoration of temples. In Gaul, temples sometimes had stone columns with niches in which were placed real human heads or skulls. A Celtic temple at the fortified site or oppidum of Sallurii in northern Italy is described by the Roman writer Strabo (c. 64 BCE – 24 CE). Here, a long pathway lined with sculptures of Celtic warriors led up to the sanctuary on a low hill where a chamber was filled with yet more heads, earning its name, the Hall of the Heads. This temple was destroyed by the Romans in 124 BCE.

    Following contact with the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, the Celts built more sophisticated temples that came to house representations of gods which were the focus of rituals and worship. These followed the norms of classical architecture with a columned portico or veranda leading to a single cella within. The whole temple might be enclosed by a low wall and they were sometimes built in pairs or even threes. At the same time, there is evidence of small stone temples or shrines at oppida.

    A 1st century CE bas-relief showing the Celtic god Cernunnos and Apollo (left) and Mercury (right). (Musée Saint-Remi, Rheims, France) / Photo by G. Garitan, Wikimedia Commons

    Chamalières is a good example of a natural sacred Celtic site which developed into a Gallo-Roman one. Located in central France, it is the source of two natural springs and so a typical choice for a sacred site. Thousands of wooden human figures have been excavated at the site, and its continued use in later times is attested by the discovery of an incantation inscribed on a lead tablet dating to the 1st century CE.

    The druids had their own sacred places where they gathered at annual events. Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) mentions in his Gallic Wars such a site in the region of the Carnutes tribe in central France (around modern Orléans), and we know, too, that Mona (Anglesey, Wales) was considered a holy island for druids prior to the mid-1st century CE. In the 1940s CE, the lake on Anglesey, Llyn Cerrrig Bach, was explored when a military airport was being built at the site. The lake and nearby bog gave up many of their Celtic artefacts, presumably thrown in as votive offerings over the centuries from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE. There were swords, shield bosses, spear points, cauldrons, decorative metal pieces for riding gear and chariots, slave chains which include collars, and a great number of animal bones.


    Archaeologists In Israel Discover Ancient Human Remains In Biblical City Dated Back Over 3,200 Years Ago

    Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered treasure and 3,200 year-old bodies at what is said to be the site of the Biblical city of Gezer, believed to have been destroyed in a devastating raid by the ancient Egyptians. (Newsweek Image)

    (NEWSWEEK) – Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered treasure and 3,200 year-old bodies at what is said to be the site of the Biblical city of Gezer, believed to have been destroyed in a devastating raid by the ancient Egyptians.

    Excavations of the city appeared to show how three inhabitants, two adults and a child, met a violent end after a series Egyptian pharaohs attempted to bring Gezer to heel, finally reducing it to rubble in the 13th Century B.C., Haaretz reported.

    In one large building—some 20 by 15 meters in size—in the south of the city, archaeologists discovered the three skeletons, two still with earrings in their ears.

    Trending: Horrifying Video Shows How Cancer Spreads Through the Bodies of Mice

    Meanwhile, the debris inside the room gave an indication of final, traumatic hours of the trio’s life.


    Archaeologists Unearth 3,200-Year-Old Canaanite Temple in Israel

    A team of Israeli and American archaeologists has unearthed a 3,200-year-old Canaanite temple in Israel. The ruins of the Canaanite temple were discovered within a large Bronze Age settlement in what is now National Park Tel Lachish. The temple, which dates back to the 12th century B.C., was once part of the ancient Canaanite city of Lachish.

    The team was headed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of its Institute of Archaeology and Prof. Michael Hasel at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, have opened a window onto the Canaanite society that inhabited the land during that era.

    Temple at Tel Lachish (Courtesy of the Fourth Expedition to Lachish)

    The Canaanite culture, which dominated the 2nd millennium BCE in the Near East, created most of the prominent tells in the Mediterranean climatic zones of the region and the simple alphabetic writing system that was the forerunner of many of the alphabetic writing systems in use today in large parts of the world, according to the authors.

    Lachish was one of the most important Canaanite cities in the Land of Israel during the Middle and late Bronze Ages its people controlled large parts of the Judean lowlands. The city was built around 1800 BCE and later destroyed by the Egyptians around 1550 BCE. It was rebuilt and destroyed twice more, succumbing for good around 1150 BCE.

    The settlement is mentioned in both the Bible and in various Egyptian sources and was one of the few Canaanite cities to survive into the 12th century BCE.

    “And the Lord delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, which took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls therein…”

    –Joshua, 10:32

    “The city was a major Canaanite center city, as we know from historical sources,” Garfinkel said. “There is no other site in this region as prominent. It is the right location, the right place, and the name ‘Lachish’ was found on some inscriptions found there.”

    Pottery sherd with the letter “samech” highlighted. (Credit: T. Rogovski)

    Among the crucial findings were a pottery shard featuring the Hebrew letter samekh, which represents the oldest-known engraving of the letter, gold artifacts and a pair figurines depicting smiting gods.

    Smiting gods are found in the Levant in temples from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I. The authors write that the figurines are commonly identified with two Canaanite gods, Baal or Resheph, who are both known as war gods, “although it is impossible to identify our figurines with either due to the lack of clear attributes.”

    Two ancient figurines found at the temple in Tel Lachish likely represent Baal and Resheph, deities worshipped by the Canaanites. (T. Rogovski)

    The smiting gods measure a scant 10 cm (4 inches) and 8.5 cm (3.3 inches). The two little male figurines are made of bronze and were originally coated with silver.

    Researchers also unearthed a host of artifacts from the site, including bronze cauldrons, jewelry inspired by the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor, daggers and ax-heads decorated with images of birds and scarabs, which are ancient beetle-shaped carvings. A gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name of Pharaoh Rameses II was also discovered, along with two bronze figurines of armed “smiting gods” and a pottery sherd engraved with an ancient Canaanite script.

    Some of the pottery uncovered in the temple [Credit: C. Amit/IAA]

    “This excavation has been breath-taking,” shared Garfinkel. “Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel. What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings.”

    The layout of the temple is similar to other Canaanite temples in northern Israel, among them Nablus, Megiddo and Hazor. The front of the compound is marked by two columns and two towers leading to a large hall. The inner sanctum has four supporting columns and several unhewn “standing stones” that may have served as representations of temple gods. The Lachish temple is more square in shape and has several side rooms, typical of later temples including Solomon’s Temple.

    Only time will tell what treasures still remain to be uncovered in the ancient city of Lachish.


    An Ancient Canaanite Temple Sheds Light on Judaism’s Early Competitors

    As the Hebrew Bible frequently mentions, the worship of Baal and other pagan deities was the norm in the land of Canaan before the Israelite conquest, and continued to appeal to Israelites themselves for centuries thereafter. Archaeologists discovered a temple dedicated to the worship of these gods in Lachish, about 24 miles southwest of Jerusalem—built in the times before Kings Saul and David. After a five-year excavation, they have published a comprehensive report on their findings. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

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