Boxes As Models of Centralized Worship

Credit: ASOR,

Leviticus chapters 14 and 15 discuss the rules of the skin condition ‘tzaraat’ and of the emission of the ‘zav,’ and the ways in which one can become ritually pure from these conditions. In both cases, the afflicted person is required to bring an offering to a central cultic location. For cases of ‘tzaraat,’ “On the eighth day they must bring two male lambs and one ewe lamb a year old, each without defect, along with three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil for a grain offering, and one log of oil. The priest who pronounces them clean shall present both the one to be cleansed and their offerings before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” In the case of the female ‘zava’ “The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.”

At Khirbet Qeiyafa, archaeologists working the site discovered two boxes that they argue are model temple shrines, perhaps used to house a divine symbol.

The first shrine box was made of pottery and is roughly eight inches tall. It is designed as featuring two pillars, birds on the roof, guardian lions and a folded textile curtain. (An image of it can be seen via the following link:

The second shrine box stands at nearly 14 inches tall and was carved from limestone. Its design featured seven roof beams with three planks each above the entrance and recessed doors around the entrance.

Yossi Garfinkel, the lead archaeologists on the site has argued that these model shrines can teach us about the elements of Israel’s cultic site at Jerusalem, Solomon’s Temple, as described in the Bible. For Garfinkel, the two pillars on the clay model are comparable to the two pillars of Yachin and Boaz in Solomon’s Temple, and the folded textile matches the ‘parochet,’ or curtain that covered the front of the temple.

Garfinkel similarly argues that the stone shrine box can enlighten us about Solomon’s Temple. For him, the three vertical planks of the beams are ‘triglyphs,’ a design element, and the correct meaning of the term ‘tzlaot’ in 1 Kings 7. He further argues that the recessed doorways were a part of Solomon’s Temple’s design elements.

The comparisons between the two shrine boxes and Solomon’s Temple can be seen in the following image:

For Garfinkel, the connection between the design elements of the two box shrines and the design elements of the Bible’s Temple would further suggest that the Qeiyafa site was connected to an Israelite/Judathite kingdom centered in central hill country and evidence for an established kingdom in the 11th – 10th century BCE.

The photo above is of the Iron Age outer wall at Khirbet Qeiyafa.