Competing Temples

Competing Temples

While the glorious Temple of Solomon is featured prominently in portions of the Old Testament, there were at least two other temple copies erected in places other than the temple mount of Jerusalem.

One was apparently in Tel Arad (Palestine), and excavations show it being called a “House of YHWH” (בית יהוה). Unfortunately, it was positioned alongside some sort of shrine to Asherah, a Semitic goddess also referenced in the Old Testament.

The other temple copy was on Elephantine Island in the Aswan area of the Nile river. This temple was apparently constructed and utilized by Jewish soldiers in the fifth century B.C. The soldiers were originally sent there, it is alleged, during the time of Manasseh. This temple copy was ultimately destroyed by some Egyptians in the early-fifth century.

The proposed justification for their attack is somewhat humorous:

About 410 [BC], their temple was destroyed by a mob of local Egyptians, instituted by the priest of the god Chnum. Since Chnum was a ram-headed god, it may be that they were offended by the Passover celebrations.
—Lester L. Grabbe, Introduction to Second Temple Judaism, p. 5

There is a surviving letter in the Aramaic language with soldiers appealing to the High Priest of Jerusalem for assistance, but to no avail. The high priest was probably not interested in helping a competing sect of Judaism, of course.

Scholars are unsure what happened to this Jewish colony, as communication—or at least our record of such—ceased after this event.


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