Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel_arad_all
Aerial view of Tel-Arad

Did you know that Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was not the only temple that existed in Judah during the divided monarchy period? In a discussion of top biblical sites, Tel-Arad is unlikely to make the list with most people. In fact, some of you may be saying, “Tel-what? I’ve never heard of it. Where is it?” This is probably because it is not frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, and it is not connected with any particularly memorable story.  In spite of that, it is a mistake to sell Tel-Arad short as it has some of the most interesting archaeological finds in Israel, including another temple!

Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea
Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea

Tel-Arad is located in the southeastern area of Israel known as the Negev, 22 miles east-northeast of Beersheba and 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea. Although this area experiences little rainfall, Arad is situated in a strategic geographical location by ancient trade routes coming from the south and southeast. The Canaanites were the original settlers of this area and established a large city here between 3000-2300 B.C. Numbers 21:1-3 says that the King of Arad attacked Israel while they were making their way toward Canaan. The Israelites achieved an overwhelming victory and named the place “Hormah” which means “utter destruction.” Joshua 12:14 also mentions the defeat of a king of Arad. According to Joshua 19:1-8 this area was given to the tribe of Simeon (Arad appears in v. 4 as “Hormah”). Judges 1:16 tells us that the Kenites (the relatives of Moses’ father-in-law) also settled in this area, as did the infamous Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8-10).

The Fortress at Tel-Arad

The fortress at Tel-Arad
The fortress at Tel-Arad

Although there was a small settlement during the time of Solomon, it was during the divided monarchy period that a fortress was established at Tel-Arad. The fortress would have served to protect Judah’s southern border against its enemies, in particular, the Edomites. That this was a dangerous area is evidenced in the fact that the fortress was destroyed 6 times during the divided monarchy period! One of those destructions may have been the result of the great earthquake of 760 B.C. (see Amos 1:1 for a mention of this earthquake).  Three of the destructions of the fortress came during the eighth century B.C. According to the Bible, the Edomites were a constant problem during this time (2 Kgs. 15:7; 16:6). It is likely that one of the destructions of the fortress occurred during Hezekiah of Judah’s rebellion against the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 B.C., who is said to have destroyed all the fortified cities of Judah (2 Kgs. 18:13). However, the fortress was rebuilt, but was finally destroyed as a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 B.C. Inscriptions from Arad (which we will talk about below) indicate that the Edomites may have been responsible for the destruction, as it is well known that they assisted Babylon at this time (see the Book of Obadiah).

The Temple at Tel-Arad

The temple complex at Tel-Arad. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com
The temple complex at Tel-Arad. The altar of sacrifice appears in the center of the picture with the temple in the background on the left. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com/arad.htm

Although Bible students are aware of the temples erected in northern Israel by Jeroboam I (see my articles on Tel-Dan), and that Judah continued to have problems with the “high places” (e.g., 2 Kgs. 14:1-4), most, are not aware that Tel-Arad sported a complete temple that included all of the ingredients of Solomon’s temple. I had the opportunity to visit Arad in the summer of 2008 and walk through this temple complex. Since it is not possible to excavate the ruins of Solomon’s (or Herod’s) temple, it is fascinating to get a first hand view of what an ancient Israelite temple looked like. The altar of burnt offering in the courtyard is made of unhewn stones and follows the specifications laid down in Exodus 27:1. The temple itself consists of two rooms, as described in Scripture. The first, (the holy place) is a broad room resembling the same layout as Jeroboam’s temple in Tel-Dan. In contrast, the holy place in Solomon’s temple consisted of a long room. After entering the broad room one can then approach and enter a square room which would have been the holy of holies. It was fascinating to stand in this room and think about what would have taken place here. Who would have entered this room and when? Since there was no Ark of the Covenant here, what was done in this room? Was the Day of Atonement ritual practiced here? Did the high priest come down from Jerusalem, or did another appointed priest have access to the holy of holies in Arad? Many questions, but not many answers!

This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!
This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!

There are a couple of other fascinating things about entering the holy of holies at Tel-Arad. One is the altars of incense placed on either side of the entrance, and the other is the two “standing stones” (masseboth in Hebrew) inside. These stones (which I am crouching between in the photo below) supposedly represent Yahweh and his Asherah, or wife! This is an excellent example of the corruption of true Yahweh worship and why the Scripture insists that God was only to be worshipped at the place which He chose (Deut. 12:1-8). This sanctuary was covered over before Sennacherib’s destruction in 701 B.C. and never reused. It is thought that this is probably due to the reforms of King Hezekiah mentioned in 2 Kings 18:1-6.

Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah
Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah

The Tel-Arad Ostraca

One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad
One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad. Photo from Mnamon Ancient Writing Systems

Ostraca are pieces of broken pottery that were often used in ancient times as writing material. Archaeologists have discovered 88 Hebrew ostraca at Tel-Arad. This is an amazingly large quantity and, along with the temple complex, is evidence that Arad was a regional administrative and perhaps religious center. Among the 88 pieces, 15 are whole. The inscriptions date from the eighth to sixth centuries B.C., with the possibility of some being as old as the tenth century B.C. No other archaeological site has ever yielded ostraca that date from different periods in Israelite history. These ostraca not only provide insight into various stages of Judah’s history, but they help biblical scholars note the development and change of the ancient Hebrew language. A few of the ostraca mention the Edomites as enemies. It is this evidence that suggests the Edomites played an important part in the final destruction of Arad. Another ostracon (sg.) seems to be a “royal” inscription. It only exists in part, but it appears to be a letter from the king of Judah announcing his accession to the throne, with a reference to the “King of Egypt” as well. If this is correct, then this letter may be from Judah’s new king Jehoahaz who became king after the Pharaoh of Egypt (Necho II) killed his father Josiah at the battle of Megiddo in 609 B.C. (2 Kgs. 23:31). Another important ostracon mentions a priestly family (the family of Keros) who are referred to in Ezra 2:44 and Nehemiah 7:47. This same ostracon mentions “the house of Yahweh” which is the only nonbiblical reference to any preexilic temple to Yahweh (unless it is one day proven that the Jehoash inscription is authentic–for more info see the following link at bibleplaces.com). Tel-Arad is indeed a fascinating site with a lot to offer those who are interested in the history of ancient Israel. Ask your tour guide to add it to your itinerary the next time you go to Israel! For more information on ancient Arad, and examples of translations of some of the ostraca go to the following link: jewishvirtuallibrary.

All photos, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and are only to be used for educational purposes.

Note: Some of the information from this article was taken from Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, eds. Bill T. Arnold & H. G. M. Williamson (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), pp. 39-41, 372-373. You can order a copy of this dictionary at:

Amazon USA / UK51o-OY-pC3L._SY445_

6 thoughts on “Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple”

    1. I would have to disagree. There were a number of competing Temples in Israelite religion (Bethel & Dan, as well as two in Egypt during the 2nd temple period), but the Bible only recognizes the legitimacy of the one in Jerusalem.

  1. Great Article. You said, “This same ostracon mentions “the house of Yahweh” which is the only nonbiblical reference to any preexilic temple to Yahweh (unless it is one day proven that the Jehoash inscription is authentic–for more info see the following link at bibleplaces.com)”

    There is also the Mesha Stele, which I believe is dated to 840BC. In it the King of Moab boasts to have taken the vessels of YHWH in conquering the town of Nebo. This perhaps is another extrabiblical reference to a prexilic YHWH temple at that site.

    1. Hi Dan,
      Thanks for your comments. Yes, you may be right. If one existed in Nebo perhaps it is similar to the one recently unearthed at Tel-Lachish. Apparently a number of the city gates had places of worship. This is no doubt what is meant by the “high places of the gates” (2 Kgs. 23:8). Tel-Dan is another example. The difference between these and that one at Arad, however, is that the one in Arad is a full-blown temple, not just a high place in the city gate. God bless!

  2. Fascinating so this temple was not in use during the time Christ taught in Herods temple correct? Also why are people trying to say this is the real Herods temple that was destroyed in 70ad is there in truth to this claim?

    1. Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for the comment and question. According to my understanding of the archeological data the temple in Arad was last destroyed during King Josiah’s reign (640-609 B.C.). Therefore, it was destroyed about 550-600 years before Herod rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. I’m not familiar with the claim that Herod built the temple in Arad. Herod is famous for the temple in Jerusalem which he began building around 20 B.C. and which was only finished around 64 A.D. It was then destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

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