The Cult reform in the Kingdom of Judah
Since the discovery of the Arad Temple in Aharoni’s excavations, forty five years ago, its interpretation has remained a heated issue of debate on the archaeological agenda. The history of research on the Arad Temple, coupled with the remains of the horned altar found at Tel Beer-sheba, is a fascinating case within the complex relationship between Archaeology and the Bible. At both sites the cultic structures were found demolished and there usage was not rehabilitated. This data is confronted with the biblical accounts on cult reforms conducted by King Hezekiah in late 8th century BCE and King Josiah in late 7th century BCE.
Scholars of the Old Testament and Jewish History since the days of Wellhausen in late 19th century considered the account of Josiah’s reform as historical event that designates the Deutronomistic approach. The version on the reform by Hezekiah was considered by many scholars as historically unreliable.
The current interpretation of the archaeological data at both sites of Arad and Beersheba indicates that the cult centers were dismantled one phase prior to their destruction associated with Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah in 701 BCE. Thus the abolishment of cult in the Beer-sheba valley sites during the 8th century BCE raises the possibility of correlating the archaeological finds with the biblical statements about demolition of Bamot (high places) and destruction of Massebot (cult stele) in Judah during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4). Nevertheless scholars questioned these conclusions and suggested several alternative scenarios, all doubting the historicity of a cult reform in the 8th century BCE, and it’s association with King Hezekiah (Na’aman 1995; Fried 2002; Uehlinger 2005; Edelman 2008).
In my presentation I will provide the main claims for and against the argument that cult remains at Arad and Tel Beer-sheba show evidence for an intentionally abolishment, apparently by Hezekiah. This view was widely supported (Rainey 1994; Borowski 1995; Muennich 2004; Finkelstein and Silberman 2006; Herzog 2010).
Archaeology provides several important insights on the reality of cult practice in Judah. Differences in use of construction materials of the altars at both sites will be emphasized and explicate the lack of uniformity in the practice of cult. The fact that the reform of Hezekiah had political and economic aims, besides the cultic meaning, is self-evident. In Judah’s centralized government the economic, military and religious aspects of the state were combined and directed by the royal house.
The cult place at Arad was not rehabilitated after the demolition and the town at Beer-sheba was not rebuilt after Sennacherib’s destruction. Whatever was the reason for the dismantling of the temple at Arad, no cult structure was erected there when the fortress was rebuilt in the 7th century BCE. Contrary to the older concept of Old testament scholars the cult reform of Hezekiah gains support from the archaeological material and the historicity of Josiah’s cult reform should be placed in doubt.
Borowski, O. (1995). “Hezekiah’s reforms and the revolt against Assyria.” Biblical Archaeologist 58: 148-155.
Edelman, D. V. (2008). “Hezekiah’s Alleged Cultic Centralization.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32(4): 395-434.
Finkelstein, I. and N. A. Silberman (2006). “Temple and dynasty; Hezekia, the remaking of Judah and the rise of the pan-Israelite ideology.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 30(3): 259-285.
Fried, L. S. (2002). “The High Places (Bamot) and the Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah: An Archaeological Investigation.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 122(3): 437-465.
Herzog, Z. (2010). Perspectives on southern Israel’s cult centralization: Arad and Beer-sheba. One God, one cult, one nation : archaeological and biblical perspectives. R. G. Kratz and H. Spieckermann. Berlin & New York, Walter de Gruyter: 169-199.
Muennich, M. M. (2004). “Hezekiah and archaeology: the answer for Nadav Na’aman.” Ugarit-Forschungen 36: 333-346.
Na’aman, N. (1995). “The debated historicity of Hezekiah’s reform in the light of historical and archaeological research.” Zeitschrift fr die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 107: 179-195.
Rainey, A. F. (1994). Hezekiah’s reform and the altars at Beer-Sheba and Arad. Scripture and other artifacts: essays on the Bible and archaeology in honor of Philip J. King. M. D. Coogan, C. J. Exum and L. E. Stager. Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press: 334-354.
Uehlinger, C. (2005). Was there a cult reform under King Josiah? The case for a well-grounded minimum. Good kings and bad kings. L. L. Grabbe. London and New York, T&T Clark International: 279-316.