As Bible scholars and history buffs flock to biblical sites and discuss ancient temples, one that is lesser known is the temple at Tel-Arad. That’s likely because it made only a brief appearance in Scripture.
Arad is a city in the south of Israel, on the border of the Negev and Judean Deserts. Tel-Arad lies five miles west of the modern city of Arad.
As Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land, the king of Arad stopped them from moving from the Negev to the Judean Mountains in their 40th year in the wilderness. Israelites sought the Lord and promised that if He would deliver the people there into their hands, they would destroy their cities. (Numbers 21:1-3). The Lord answered their prayers.
Later descendants of Israel would settle there and build the temple. This site was ultimately buried but excavated in 1962.
At the excavation site, you can see the ruins of a complete temple. It consists of two rooms. The Holy place with a wide layout similar to Jeroboam’s temple in Tel-Dan. After entering the holy place, there is a smaller square room, which was the holy of holies. Here stand two standing stones, one representing Yahweh and the other the goddess Ashtoreth. (They previously sat side-by-side, but the second has been moved behind the first, and so is out of view in the photo.) This supports stories of Israelites, including Solomon, beginning to mingle pagan worship with worship of God.
“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.” 1 Kings 11:4-5 (NIV)
As is spelled out in scripture, standing stones, the holy of holies and the door of the Temple always lie at the west side of the temple. Israeli Archeologist and scholar Eli Shukron discusses this practice during a Living Passages tour visit to Israel in April. Standing stones were a memorial to something God had done, free from all inscription or decoration. Worshipers poured wine and oil over them.
As time went on, however, some of these God-ordained practices were warped as Israelites again turned to worship of Pagan deities.
It is thought that the temple at Tel-Arad was covered over in the 8th century BC, during King Hezekiah’s reign. A faithful follower of God, Hezekiah ordered the destruction of all high places except for the Jerusalem’s temple.
“In the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)” 2 Kings 18:1-6
Perhaps worshipers didn’t want to destroy their temple at Arad, so they covered it over with sand and rocks. That’s how archeologists found it in the 1960s.
The temple at Tel-Arad is a fascinating look at an ancient temple and the Israelite’s journey of faith, which often took some detours. You can visit this and other fascinating biblical sites on a Christian tour to Israel through Living Passages. Find out more here.