Sacrifices at Tel Dan

Jonathan Greer wrote an article, “Archaeological Views: Cultic Practices at Tel Dan—Was the Northern Kingdom Deviant?” in which he studies the religious practices at Tel Dan.  His study focuses on the “thousands of animal bones excavated from the sacred precinct at Dan.”

Greer’s article was published in the March/April 2012 issue of the Biblical Archaeological Review. Below is an excerpt from the article:

Archaeologically speaking, very little is known of the ancient Israelite cult as it was practiced by the kings and priests of Biblical Israel. While evidence for “folk religion” (e.g., the ubiquitous pillar figurines) is well known, evidence of royal or elite religion is harder to come by. One reason for this is that the center of official Israelite religion, at least according to the Bible, was Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a site that cannot be excavated in the current political climate.

The Jerusalem Temple was not ancient Israel’s only royal sanctuary, however. According to the Bible (1 Kings 12), the infamous Jeroboam, first king of the northern kingdom of Israel, established a sanctuary at Dan intended to rival the Temple in Jerusalem. Over the past four decades, archaeologists working at Tel Dan, especially the late Avraham Biran,a have uncovered a treasure trove of cultic material from the site’s so-called “sacred precinct.” Here, on the northwest side of the mound, they found temple-like architecture, the remains of a massive four-horned altar, painted cult stands, and a metal bowl and shovels associated with sacrificial rites.

Dan, therefore, provides an intriguing—and, at this point, unique—window into the realia of royal Israelite worship. But, since the Biblical writers often condemn the northern kings as religious heretics who had come under the influence of foreign gods, and we know of foreign—particularly Aramean—presence at the site, how “Israelite” were the practices carried out there?

You can read a more detailed summary of Greer’s article by visiting BAR online.

A summary of the article also appears in Bible History Daily.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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