Israelite Horned Altar

Four-horned altar, 9th-8th centuries B.C.E. Limestone, excavated by the team led by Yohanan Aharoni in 1973 at Beersheba, in southern Israel. As reconstructed, the altar measures approximately 160 cm square and 110 cm tall. This photograph is of the original reassembled altar when it was still at the site.

The design of the altar evokes numerous references in the Hebrew Bible to altars of different sizes and functions being crowned with “horns” (Exod 27:2, Exod 29:12, Exod 30:2, Exod 38:2; Lev 4:7, Lev 4:18, Lev 4:25; 1Kgs 1:50, 1Kgs 2:28). Its finely sculpted construction is seemingly at odds, however, with biblical injunctions to build altars only out of unhewn stones (Exod 20:25; Deut 27:6; Josh 8:31). The presence of this large, well-constructed altar strongly suggests the existence of a temple or other cultic complex at Beersheba during the early Israelite monarchic period (9th-8th centuries B.C.E.). The altar and any associated cultic structures seem to have been dismantled by the late 8th century, however. Some scholars have suggested a connection between this change and the cultic reforms of King Hezekiah, but that association remains speculative.

Israelite Horned Altar

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

Dug up, often from an archaeological site.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Exod 27:2

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Exod 29:12

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Exod 30:2

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Exod 38:2

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Lev 4:7

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Lev 4:18

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Lev 4:25

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1Kgs 1:50

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1Kgs 2:28

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Exod 20:25

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Deut 27:6

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Josh 8:31

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