Tel Burna: Structures of Libnah being unearthed. (credit: The Tel Burna Archaeological Project)

And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right..And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this.”. – 2 Kings 17: 9-12 (ESV)

“The excavators exploring Tel Burna are not saying they necessarily found a temple per se. But they are now confident: Canaanite ritual festivities happened here,” according to Israeli news organization, Haaretz. A recent story in the newspaper Haaratz by Philippe Bohstrom reported that The Tel Burna Archaeological project (about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem) headed by Dr. Itzhaq Shai of Ariel University had unearthed rare masks, cultic tableware, and a stone pillar possibly associated with worship of a deity or cult object.

”The fact that we have a massebah (the stone pillar) and a concentration of cultic vessels clearly indicates that the activity within this courtyard was not daily life, but ritual practice,” Shai is quoted as telling Haaretz.

Drawing of votive figurine bits found at Tel Burna. (credit: The Tel Burna Archaeological Project)

Haartz reports, “Professor Philipp Stockhammer of Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich views the discovery as an opportunity to gain insight into Canaanite rituals, but cautions that the Burna evidence is still barely understood, and more fieldwork needs to be done.”

At The Thinker Blog, we heartily agree. By the standard thinking, archaeologists working the Tel Burna site date the Pagan Ritual Hall at Libnah at around 1,200 BC. But what if the date was several 100s of years later–for instance 900 B.C. as the New Chronology presented in Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus suggests. We know, in the biblical account, that the city of Libnah was part of the Israeli Conquest of Canaan, and that control of the city moved back and forth between Israelis and neighboring countries over the next few centuries.

Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah and fought against Libnah. And the LORD gave it also and it’s king into the hands of Israel. And he struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho– Joshua 21 31-32 (ESV)

Also, some archaeologists tended to dismiss the possibility of Israelite presence where pagan ritual is found. They point to the monotheistic idea presented in the scriptures.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments – Exodus 20:4-6 (ESV)

You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their Idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. – Deuteronomy 29:16-18 (ESV)

However, the reason these commands needed to be given was because of the tendency of the Israelites to serve other gods, starting with the golden calf as soon as they had come out of Egypt. The Israelites were reprimanded time and again in Scripture for their tendency to leave the God who loved them for idols of wood and stone. Passages like the one below show that these were not isolated incidents, but a pervasive and widespread reality.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, and they served Idols of which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this.“ Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets. – 2 Kings 17:7-13 (ESV)

So, while we congratulate the archaeologists of Ariel University for their discovery of this pagan ritual site at Libnah, we encourage further exploration and careful consideration of the New Chronology as we ponder whether this is truly a Canaanite site or an Israelite occupation gone bad.

Judahite stamped handles. (credit: The Tel Burna Archaeological Project)

Finds that apparently belong to a time period centuries after the pagan ritual hall were also excavated at the site. These have been firmly linked to the kingdom of Judah. As Haaretz reports, “Archaeological evidence of the Judaic period is categorical. Archaeologists have found pottery jars with unique jar handles associated with the Judaic monarchs.” Other finds include drawings of heads of Judean Pillar figurines.

These finds, together with the cultic worship items, were all found essentially at bedrock level. The question remains, Do they show a shift from Canaanite to Israelite cultures, two different phases of Israelite culture or a mixture of the two? Only further excavation, study, and contemplation of the dating system will help provide answers.

In either case, these finds support the picture painted by the Bible (such as in the passages above) that pagan worship was rampant among both the Israelites and the Canaanite peoples around them and in their midst. Keep thinking!