The Lord Calls Samuel – c. 1117 B.C. & Israelite Shrines and Worship Before the Temple of Solomon

Finger Pointing UpNow that’s a twist, Samuel and his parents worship You, but the other sons are perverted devils.

They’re so much afraid of You that they fear even speaking bad to their father, but they continue to follow the ways of Satan. 

I gotta see what happens next?

“And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli.  And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. 

And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;

1. Bronze Age snake shrine from ancient Canaan
This remarkable and rare object is a Bronze-Age snake shrine from ancient Canaan.
It bears a superficial resemblance to a Chalcolithic funerary urn but it in fact a devotional piece which reflects a cultic affiliation to snakes which is technically known as ophiolatry.

It is shaped in the form of a long barrel vault, sealed at one end and open at the other.

The open end is surrounded by a quadrangular façade which is considerably taller than the main body of the piece.

Unlike the body, which is plain, the portions of the façade above and below the entrance are decorated with a series of curvilinear, serpentine designs that frame the doorway.

The precise function of these pieces is not clearly understood, but there are indications that they contained an actual snake and/or offrenda dedicated to them, in a religious/ritual setting such as a chapel or perhaps prosperous domestic setting.

The ancient populations of the Middle East and Northern Africa believed snakes to be sacred and holy due to their apparent immortality in shedding their skins and emerging ‘reborn’.

As a result, various cults and devotional institutions dedicated to snakes sprang up from Mesopotamia to Canaan, as well as further afield in Crete and even Nubia, where the tradition is believed to have originated.

Materials dedicated to this practice of worship have been found at many sites, notably including Megiddo, Shechem and Hazor.

Later incarnations of the faith have been found in northern Syria (Hittite), at the Assyrian site of Tepe Gawra and also in 6th century B.C. Babylon.

And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep” (1 Sam 3:1-3).

God called out Samuel’s name, but he thought it was Eli, his father, so he answered to him.  But Eli told him he didn’t call him and for him to go back to bed.  This happened three times, the third time Eli told Samuel that it was God calling him and for him to answer to God.

“And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth. 

2. Clay Figurines
Thousands of clay figurines like this one suggest that the early Israelites worshiped more than a single God.

And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. 

In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. 

For I have told him that I will Judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. 

And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever(1 Sam 3:10-14).

Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had told him, but Eli wanted to know, so Samuel told him.

“And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. 

3 cultic building
During the 2010 excavation archaeologists uncovered what they call a “cultic building” near the southern Iron Age gate.

“Cultic” is the term archaeologists use for any religious or worship-related find.

The photo above shows what appears at first glance to be a simple, intact pottery jar.

This intact, plain-looking piece is actually a shrine for a household idol.

The picture below shows the reverse side.

And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD.

And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD” (1 Sam 3:19-21).

Israel pitched beside Ebenezer and the Philistines at Aphek to fight and at the end Israel had lost about 4,000 men.  So the children of Israel decided to go to Shiloh and retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from Hophni and Phinehas, believing if they had it with them they couldn’t lose the war.

“And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp.

And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.

Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.

Be strong and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.

And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.

And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” (1 Sam 4:7-11).

One of the Israel soldiers ran and told Eli that the Philistines had killed his sons and stolen the Ark.

Eli was 98 years old, heavy, and blind.  When he heard that the Ark was stolen he was shaken so badly that he fell of his seat backwards and broke his neck and died.

“And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.

And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken” (1 Sam 4:21-22).

Israelite Shrines and Worship
Before the Temple of Solomon

4. small clay house shrines
House shrines like this one are Biblical artifacts found in excavations and on the antiquities market (due to archaeological looting) that enrich our understanding of ancient Israelite religion and iconography.
These small clay house shrines abound on the antiquities market and in private collections, often the victims of archaeological looting, as are many Bible artifacts found on the market.

Used from the third millennium B.C. through the Biblical period, the house shrines are thought to have originated in the Jordan River valley—mostly in Transjordan.

Despite their numerous presence on the antiquities market (often via archaeological looting), only a few have come from professional excavations, including a couple from Israelite sites that can contribute to our understanding of ancient Israelite religion.

Although the exact function of these house shrines is still unknown, they are rich with familiar iconography from ancient Israelite religion.

From the tree-like columns to the lion bases and the doves perched atop the roofs, all of these are well-known symbols of the goddess Asherah and her counterparts from Biblical artifacts found in the ancient Near East.

Some of the shrines even have female figures, which may represent the goddess herself or her worshipers.

The house shrines suggest the strong presence of alternative popular beliefs in ancient Israelite religion, probably practiced in the home by a majority of the population, that went against the official Israelite monotheism and elite Temple-centered worship that the Biblical writers promoted.

Following the conquest Is­raelite worship was conducted at the tabernacle at Shiloh. This was in keeping with the laws of the sanctuary given in Deut  12:5,13-14.

However, in the books of Joshua through 1 Chronicles at least 20 local shrines, altars or high places are mentioned as pre-Solomonic places of worship, with roughly 1/3 of these referred to in Samuel.

The Israelites did at times follow Canaanite cultic practices, worshiping local Baal and Asheroths.  Canaanite worship local shrines involved the erection of  sacred pillars representing the deities; the planning of sacred trees; engagement in sacrifice, feasting and ritualized prostitution, and participation in pilgrimages to cult sites.

5. The stone shrine. Notice the seven triglyphs along the top of the door.
The stone shrine. Notice the seven triglyphs along the top of the door.
This shrine may help us understand long-forgotten technical terms in Hebrew, as described below.

The stone model helps us to understand obscure technical terms in the description of Solomon’s palace as described in 1 Kgs 7:1-6.

The text uses the term “Slaot,” which were mistakenly understood as pillars and can now be understood as triglyphs.

The text also uses the term “Sequfim”, which was usually understood as nine windows in the palace, and can now be understood as “triple recessed doorway.”

Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 6:5, 31-33, and in the description of a temple by the prophet Eze 41:6.

These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia.

Now, with the help of the stone model uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the biblical text is clarified.

For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible.

Human sacrifice was practiced as well.  Did worship at Israelites high places differ?  It often did, and its important to realized that not all of the outlying shrines were illicit or pagan.

After the apparent destruction of Shiloh the Israelites returned to traditional custom, worshiping God at local, open-air cult sites as the patriarchs had done.

The Baals and Ashteroth were removed, God alone was wor­shiped and the grossly pagan features of Canaanite worship were absent.

Israelite worship included pilgrimage, the offering of sacrifices and libations, feasting, musical praise and prayer and fasting.

Sites were probably chosen as places of worship on the basis of associations with the patriarchs or on their connection to great moments in Israel’s history or prior appearances of the Lord.

The presence of the ark of the covenant lent sanc­tity to some sites, as did the tabernacle to others.

Common to all Israelite high places was an altar, but some sites had other associated structures as well.

Prior to the construction of the temple in Jerusalem, worship at local shrines was common practice among the Israelites.

The multiplicity of shrines in early Israel helps us to make sense of the apparently contradictory rules concerning worship that we find in the law.

On the one hand, we see frequent reference to the central sanctuary as “the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name” (e.g., Deut 12:11).

We also see clear indication that the line of Aaron was the only legitimate priestly line; all other Levites were subordinates who were entrusted with sanctuary duties but did not serve as priests.

On the other hand, some texts seem to imply that all Levites had priestly authority.

The solution lies in the fact that Israel did have one central shrine, the place where the ark of the covenant resided and where the priests of Aaron’s line officiated. This shrine was first at Shiloh and later at Jerusalem.

However, most people could not make fre­quent trips there, and thus there were nu­merous other sites throughout Israel where the people could worship routinely.

Any Levite – but only a Levite – it appears, could serve as a priest at one of these outlying shrines.

However, if a Levite came to the cen­tral shrine, he could perform only subordinate duties (could not wear the priestly vestments or assume the duties of the Aaronic priests).

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