Temples built for polytheistic worship, many pagan temples within the land of Canaan predated Solomon’s temple and some featured similar designs. The earliest excavated temples from the Chalcolithic Period (4600-3300 B.C.), such as those uncovered at Ein 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 cultic site at Eshtaol contained a standing stone, just over four feet high and smoothed on all sides; it was erected to face east.
The standing stone could be used as a monument, but if often represented male fertility or the presence of a deity. God forbade the Israelites from erecting stones 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 worshipers of Baal/Hadad (Judg 6:25; 1 Kings 16:32; Jer 19:5) and other deities of the Canaanite/Near Eastern pantheon (El, Asherah, Mot, Yam,).
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-basically the same deity as “Baal”; it dated from 2000-1600 B.C, and was found at Tell Mardikh in Syria, southwest of modern-day Aleppo. The temple was small, but it 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 1100-900 B.C. at Tell Tayinat near ancient Antioch (Syria). Excavations of Tell Tayinat have yielded temple implements, cuneiform tablets, carved idols, and a large column base featuring carvings of a winged bull and sphinx.
That temple was also designed in a similar manner to the temple at Tell Mardikh and, later, Solomon’s temple. It too had an outer court, inner court, and a holy place. Tell Mardikh and later, Solomon’s temple. It too had an outer court, inner court, and a holy place. Tell Tayinat’s ruins had a surrounding plaza with a long approach of steps, a wide causeway, and a possible altar base. END OF PART 1