Temples built for polytheistic worship; many pagan temples predated Solomon’s temple and some had similar designs. The earliest excavated temples from the Chalcolithic Period (4600-3300 B.C.), such as those uncovered at Eln Gedi in 1961 and Eshtaol in 2013, illustrate the ubiquitous nature of pagan worship in Canaan prior to the arrival of Abram (Gen 12:5). The culticsite at Eshtaol contained a standing stone, 1.3 meters in height, smoothed on all sides and erected facing east. The standing stone could be used as a monument but often represented
male fertility or the presence of a deity. God forbade the Israelites to place sculpted stones in their land for use in worship (Lev 26:1). It is unclear which deities were associated with such early temples, but they likely housed the earliest organized worship of Baal (Judg 6:25; 1 Kings 16:32; Jer 19:5) and other Canaanite deities. The best preserved temples in the Near East date to the late Bronze Age (3300-1200 B.C.) and early Iron Age (beginning 1200 B.C.). Italian archaeologists in the 1970s uncovered a temple for the storm god Hadad (a storm idol similar to “Baal”), dating from 200 to 1600 B.C., at Tell Mardikh in Syria, southwest of modern-day Aleppo. The temple was small but had a three-chamber design consisting of an outer court, an inner court, and a holy place. In 2008, archaeologists uncovered a Neo-Hittite temple dating from 1100 to 900 B.C. at Tell Tayinat near ancient Antioch. The site is in the same region as the biblical “kingdom of idols” Isaiah spoke of when he warned the Israelites of their impending destruction because of the sin of idolatry (Isa 10:10-11). Excavations of Tell Tayinat have yielded temple implements, cuneiform tablets, carved idols, and a large column base featuring carvings of a winged bull and a sphinx.
That temple was also designed in a similar manner to the temple. It also had an outer court, an inner court, and a holy place. Tell Tayinat’s ruins had a surrounding plaza with a long approach of steps, a wide causeway, and possible ruins of an altar base. During Jehu’s purge of Baal worshipers in Israel, he coverted a temple of Baal into a public toilet after killing all of Baal’s followers (2 Kings 10:23-28). The Bible also speaks of temples related to conquerors such as Tiglath-Pileser III and Sennacharib of Assyria. King Ahaz, when summoned to pay homage to Tiglath-Pileser in 732 B.C., became enamored with the Assyrian temple altar. Ahaz sent a description of Tiglath-Pileser’s altar Uriah the priest and ordered him to build a replica for the Jewish temple (2 Kings 16:10-18).