Thursday, August 11, 2005

Arad 18 and the Temple of the Lord

(This post is my contribution to the Kesher Talk blogburst for Tisha B'Av.)

It has been claimed that, since the Ivory Pomegranate and Moussaieff Ostraca have been rejected as forgeries, there is now no epigraphic evidence of the existence of the "Temple of Yahweh" in ancient Israel. This is not quite true; an ostracon from Arad, dating to the early 6th century BCE, mentions a byt YHWH, "house of Yahweh" (Arad Ostracon no. 18).

The relevant portion of the ostracon reads as follows: ולדבר אשׁר צותני שׁלמ בית יהוה הא ישׁב. Translations vary. James Lindenberger translates "As for the matter about which you gave me orders — all is well. He is staying in the Temple of YHWH." Lindenberger's comment is this:
Only the temple in Jerusalem can be meant. At an earlier time there was a small temple in Arad, but it had been destroyed before this letter was written.
William Dever translates "the house (i.e. temple) of Yahweh is well; it endures," and he comments: "This may be a reference to the earlier tripartite temple of Arad brought to light by Aharoni, or it may refer to the temple in Jerusalem." But even if the Arad temple was standing (contra Lindenberger), there seems to be no reason why Eliashib, who was presumably in Arad, would need to be informed about the welfare of the temple there.

The "house of YHWH" could be another temple in another location in Judah, but I think that it is probable that the Jerusalem temple is meant. But regardless of how Arad 18 is interpreted, the mention of this temple should remind us that the temple of the national deity was not an optional institution in the ancient Near East; it was an absolute religious and political necessity for any state. Those who deny the existence of a "First Temple" in ancient Judah, standing in the national capital Jerusalem, find themselves in defiance, not only of the biblical record, but of all historical analogy, and must be suspected of having something on their agenda other than an interest in history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Lindenberger, Ancient Aramaic and Hebrew Letters, 1994; W. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, 2002, p. 212.

UPDATE (8/12): See today's post at Paleojudaica for the larger context.

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