The Temple of Beth-Shemesh

I just read about the discovery of a temple at Beth-Shemesh in Israel, dated to the 11th century B.C. (see the link below).  This got my attention right away because (1) Beth-Shemesh was a border town in Old Testament times, between the Israelites and Philistines, (2) the 11th century B.C. was the time of the last judges and King Saul, and (3) a story from the Old Testament took place in Beth-Shemesh, right at that time.  According to 1 Samuel 4-6, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant in a battle, but after a wave of plagues hit the cities where the Ark was kept, they decided to return it.  To find out if God was behind the plagues, they loaded the Ark on an ox-cart, and sent it off without a driver, to see if the oxen would take it to Israel.  They did, and when the cart reached Beth-Shemesh, the locals rejoiced and made a sacrifice of the oxen, until a number of them were struck dead for not handling the Ark properly.  Then the Ark was sent to another town, Kiriath-Jearim, and because nobody there wanted to touch it, after what had already happened, it stayed there for at least forty years, until King David came along and took the Ark to Jerusalem.

The article goes on to say that the site was identified as a holy place because of the animal bones found there, and that it was destroyed once and rebuilt.  The archaeologists are guessing it was an Israelite place of worship, which the Philistines destroyed when they took Beth-Shemesh, and the Israelites rebuilt it later, when they took Beth-Shemesh back.

So far so good, but I have a few questions which the story did not answer.  First, how did the archaeologists get the 11th century B.C. date?  I am assuming it was carbon-14 dating, or a comparison of the local styles of pottery.  This matters because at other sites in the Holy Land, it now looks like the artifacts were dated to the wrong period.  The ashlar stone walls at Megiddo, for example, are usually dated to the time when the Canaanites ruled the city, when King Solomon may have been the one who really built them.

Second, how did they decide it was an Israelite temple, and not a Philistine or Canaanite one?  It would have helped if the article mentioned what kind of animal bones were found; if they included pig bones, you can rule out the Israelites.  In those days, the Israelites were only allowed to perform sacrifices where the Ark was (usually at Shiloh), so sacrifices only could have been done legally during the brief period when the Ark was at Beth-Shemesh.

Have we found the exact spot where a Bible story (1 Samuel 6) took place?  It’s an exciting thought.

11th-century temple uncovered near Jerusalem | Fox News.

Published in: on November 14, 2012 at 10:03 am  Leave a Comment  

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