Found inside an ancient building with connections to Canaanite religion, this figurine from Tel Burna is published for the first time in the September/October 2015 issue of BAR. The figurine depicts a standing nude female figure holding two small infants. Photo: Itzick Shai.
A mysterious building has been unearthed at Tel Burna in Israel—and it could be a temple for Canaanite religion. Tel Burna dig director Itzick Shai explains why the building’s purpose remains uncertain despite the clear connections to Canaanite religion in his Archaeological Views column “How Canaanites Worshiped” in the September/October 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Tel Burna is located in the Shephelah region of Israel—the bread basket of the southern Levant. Some have argued that it is the most probable site for the Biblical town of Libnah (Joshua 10:29; 21:13; 2 Kings 8:22; 19:8; 23:31-32; 24:17-18; 2 Chronicles 21:10; Isaiah 37:8). Tel Burna is a large, flat-topped site whose fortifications can still be viewed in the modern period. Archaeological work conducted at Tel Burna shows that the site was a prominent city during the Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age and that during at least the earlier part of the Late Bronze Age, the residents practiced Canaanite religion.
The mysterious building discovered at Tel Burna dates to the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.) settlement, which is how we know that the cultic activity practiced was indeed Canaanite religion, even if it is unclear which of the Canaanite deities was being worshiped.
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Excavation director Itzick Shai elaborates on this building in his BAR column: “The overall plan of the building is still unclear. It had a large courtyard of approximately 52 square feet. The outside walls of the building were built of large field stones, and the floor was largely composed of exposed bedrock. The finds from the courtyard suggest that the building may have been a temple. They seem at least to indicate that religious activities took place in the courtyard.”
According to Shai, there are many finds from the building that suggest that Canaanite religion was practiced in this building, including ceremonial masks, figurines and unique Cypriot votive vessels. It is, however, premature to label the building a temple.
“On the other hand,” Shai goes onto say, “large Cypriot pithoi and seals suggest that economic and administrative activities also took place [in this building]. The integration of cultic and economic functions is not unusual, however.”
Read more about Tel Burna and its mysterious Late Bronze Age building in the Archaeological Views column “How Canaanites Worshiped” by Itzick Shai in the September/October 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review