News recently broke of a structure discovered at Tel Motza, located 4 miles outside of Jerusalem, which has been identified as a “rival” Iron-Age Judahite temple. In reality this was old news, as the structure was actually discovered in 2012. The original excavations ended in 2013, but were renewed this past year. A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review explored the history of the site and the structure that had been identified as a temple. Scholars have pointed to various cultic finds in support of the original identification, including a stone altar in the courtyard with evidence of animal sacrifice, as well as clay figures, both human and horse-like, that had been broke and buried in the courtyard. They believe the structure at the site operated as a temple from 900 BC until the early sixth century BC. This past year, excavations at Tel Motza were renewed, with a goal of unearthing the structure which had been backfilled with sand to protect it. The work in 2019, focused on small-scale probes and collection of soil and organic samples.
ABR cautions that it would be wise to wait until further excavations have confirmed whether this structure was indeed a temple before jumping to conclusions prematurely. Furthermore, even if it is confirmed that this was temple, it could be seen as affirming the biblical description of Judah’s propensity for offering sacrifices at various high places outside of Jerusalem throughout the Iron Age, as well as their worship of other gods, such as the Asherim. Scripture records that the sacrifices were made at high places outside of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reigns of Rehoboams (1 Kgs 14:22-24), Asa (I Kgs 15:14), Jehoshaphat (1 Kgs 22:43), Jehoash (2 Kgs 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kgs 14:4), Azariah (2 Kgs 15:4), Jotham (2 Kgs 15:35), and Ahaz (2 Kgs 16:4). While Hezekiah removed the high places (2 Kgs 18:4), his son Manasseh quickly rebuilt them (2 Kgs 21:3). Interpretations about the structure at Tel Motza must be made within this cultural context.