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Early Jewish Religion

Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish forces have partially destroyed a 3,000-year-old temple in northern Syria located near the village of Ain Dara, in Afrin, according to a monitoring group and the Syrian regime.

It was built in three structural phases in the period from about 1300 BC to 740 BC. This was preceded by the Chalcolithic period during the fourth millennium BC, and the tell remained occupied until the Ottoman period (1517 -1917).

The neo-Hittite temple of Ain Dara was built in around 1300 BC and is famous for its elaborate images of lions and sphinxes, a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion comparable to the cherubim of the First Temple.

A cherub is one of the unearthly beings who directly attend to God according to Abrahamic religions. The numerous depictions of cherubim assign to them many different roles, such as protecting the entrance of the Garden of Eden.

Ain Dara may have been devoted to Ishtar, goddess of fertility; or dedicated to the female goddess Astarte, or the deity Ba’al Hadad. The temple was at least 60 per cent destroyed by Turkish forces as they attacked the Kurdish-held area of Afrin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

It is an Iron Age Syro-Hittite temple noted for its similarities to Solomon’s Temple, also known as the First Temple, as described in the Hebrew Bible. The temples of Emar, Mumbaqat, and Ebla are also comparable.

According to the excavator Ali Abu Assaf, it was in existence from 1300 BC until 740 BC and remained “basically the same” during the period of the Solomonic Temple’s construction (1000 – 900 BC) as it had been before, so that it predates the Solomonic Temple.

Already the smaller Tell Tayinat temple, discovered during excavations in 1936 and located about 50 miles (80 km) away, had “caused a sensation because of its similarities to Solomon’s Temple.

Tell Tayinat temple is a low-lying ancient tell on the east bank at the bend of the ancient Orontes river, in the Hatay province of southeastern Turkey about 25 kilometers south east of Antakya (ancient Antioch).

It is located along the southwestern edge of the Amuq valley. The site lies some 800 meters from Tell Atchana, the site of the ancient city of Alalakh. It is a possible site of the city of Calneh mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The red-black burnished ware (Karaz ware) is recovered in large quantities from the Early Bronze Age (EBA) II and IIIa levels. It is among the most commonly used pottery on the site. This type of pottery diminishes through the end of the last phase of EBA. This pottery is believed to be influenced by the Kura-Araxes culture, arriving into this area around 3000 BCE.

The site was a major urban centre in two separate phases, during the Early Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. One of the key finds made at the site was a temple reminiscent in plan to the descriptions of King Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament.

Several large palaces in the style known as Bit-hilani were also excavated. A Bit-hilani (Akkadian: Bīt-Ḫilāni, meaning ‘house of pillars’) is an ancient architectural type of palace. It seems that Bit-hilani have become popular at the end of the 10th and during the 9th century BCE during the early Iron Age in northern Syria although it may have originated as early as the Bronze Age.

Contemporary records call it a Hittite-style palace, probably after the Neo-Hittite kingdoms of northern Syria. This building type has also spread to the Southern Levant, where it has been widely used.

This type of design with a large central space surrounded by a double wall with smaller rooms taking up the space within the walls may be based on designs first used in the late Ubaid period in southern Mesopotamia such as the Ubaid house.

Pillared porticos as gates or grand entrances were used by several cultures of the Bronze Age around the eastern Mediterranean sea. The examples of the Hittites and the Myceneans may be the best known. Through the megarons and propylaea of the mycenaean palaces the style may have lived into classical Greek designs.

The late hilani of the Levant may well be the combination of the old broad-room concept with a Hittite-style portico. In recent traditional architecture it may have a late resemblance in the design of the liwan house.

Liwan (from Persian eyvān) is a word used since ancient times into the present to refer to a long narrow-fronted hall or vaulted portal found in Levantine homes that is often open to the outside. An Arabic loanword to English, it is ultimately derived from the Persian eyvān, which preceded by the article al (“the”), came to be said as Liwan in Arabic and later, English.

During the Early Iron Age, this is thought likely to be the site of ancient Kinalua, the capital of one of the Neo-Hittite/Aramean city-kingdoms of Walistin (Aramaic) or Palistin (neo-Hittite). Among the culturally diverse Syro-Hittite states in the north Syrian river-plain the rulers of Kinalua continued to bear royal Hittite names in the 8th century BCE.

In August of 2017, it was reported that a majestic female statue was discovered at the site, within a monumental gate complex leading to the upper citadel of the city. At that time the city was known as Kunulua, and it was the capital of the Iron Age Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca 1000-738 BC).

This may be an image of Kubaba, divine mother of the gods of ancient Anatolia. Or it may be Kupapiyas, who was the wife – or possibly mother – of Taita, the dynastic founder of ancient Tayinat. But it’s also possible that the statue represents the wife of King Suppiluliuma. Archaeologist Timothy Harrison raised the possibility that women played quite a prominent role in the political and religious lives of these early Iron Age communities.

The Kura–Araxes culture or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from about 4000 BC until about 2000 BC, which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end.

The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain; it spread northward in Caucasus by 3000 BC. Its territory corresponds to large parts of modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, and parts of Iran and Turkey.

The name of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. It is sometimes known as Shengavitian, Karaz (Erzurum), Pulur, and Yanik Tepe (Iranian Azerbaijan, near Lake Urmia) cultures. Hurrian and Urartian language elements are quite probable, as are Northeast Caucasian ones. The presence of Kartvelian languages was also highly probable.

Influences of Semitic languages and Indo-European languages are highly possible, though the presence of the languages on the lands of the Kura–Araxes culture is more controversial. In the Armenian hypothesis of Indo-European origins, this culture (and perhaps that of the Maykop culture) is identified with the speakers of the Anatolian languages.

Rather quickly, elements of Kura–Araxes culture started to proceed westward to the Erzurum plain, southwest to Cilicia, and to the southeast into the area of Lake Van, and below the Urmia basin in Iran, such as to Godin Tepe.

Finally, it proceeded into the present-day Syria (Amuq valley), and as far as Palestine. It gave rise to the later Khirbet Kerak-ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire.

A theory has been suggested by Stephen Batiuk that the Kura-Araxes folk may have spread Vitis vinifera vine and wine technology to the “Fertile Crescent”—to Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The spread of wine-goblet form, such as represented by the Khirbet Kerak ware, is clearly associated with these peoples. The same applies to the large ceramic vessels used for grape fermentation.

Khirbet Kerak culture (Arabic: Khirbet al-Karak, “the ruin of the fortress”) or Beth Yerah (Hebrew: House of the Moon (god)”) appears to have been a Levantine version of the Early Transcaucasian Culture.

Khirbet Kerak is a tell located on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee in modern-day Israel. The tell spans an area of over 50 acres—one of the largest in the Levant. It contains remains dating from the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BCE – 2000 BCE) and from the Persian period (c. 450 BCE) through to the Early Islamic period (c. 1000 CE).

Khirbet Kerak ware is a type of Early Bronze Age Syro-Palestinian pottery first discovered at this site. It is also found in other parts of the Levant, including Jericho, Beth Shan, Tell Judeideh, and Ugarit.

Beth Yerah means “House of the Moon (god)”. Though it is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible or other Bronze or Iron Age sources, the name may preserve, at least in part, the Canaanite toponym of Ablm-bt-Yrh, “the city/fort (qrt) of his-majesty Yarih”.

As Ablm (Heb. Abel), this location is mentioned in the 14th century BCE Epic of Aqhat, and is thought to be a reference to the Early Bronze Age structure extant at Khirbet Kerak. The name Bet Yerah has generally been accepted and applied to the site of Khirbet Kerak, though the evidence for its being located there is circumstantial.

The 2009 discovery at the tell of a stone palette with Egyptian motifs, including an ankh, points to trade/political relations with the First dynasty of Egypt, at approximately 3000 BCE. Archaeologists use the terms Khabur ware and Nuzi ware for two types of wheel-made pottery used by the Hurrians.

The Hurrians occupied a broad arc of fertile farmland stretching from the Khabur River valley in the west to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in the east. By the Early Iron Age, the Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples. Their remnants were subdued by a related people that formed the state of Urartu. The present-day Armenians are an amalgam of the Indo-European groups with the Hurrians and Urartians.

The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni, the Mitanni perhaps being Indo-Iranian speakers who formed a ruling class over the Hurrians. The population of the Indo-European-speaking Hittite Empire in Anatolia included a large population of Hurrians, and there is significant Hurrian influence in Hittite mythology.

Khabur ware is a specific type of pottery named after the Khabur River region, in northeastern Syria, where large quantities of it were found by the archaeologist Max Mallowan at the site of Chagar Bazar.

The pottery’s distribution is not confined to the Khabur region, but spreads across northern Iraq and is also found at a few sites in Turkey and Iran. Archaeologists associate the pottery with the cuneiform texts dated to the reign of Shamshi-Adad I, although it is not clear how much earlier it was manufactured.

Four main Khabur ware phases are established, 1-4. While the starting date for phase 1 is inconclusive, a tentative date of ca. 1900 BC is suggested based on evidence from Tell Brak. The beginning of the second, and the main, phase of Khabur ware is dated to the reign of Shamshi-Adad I (ca. 1813 BC), based on evidence from Chagar Bazar, Tell al-Rimah, Tell Taya and Tell Leilan.

The third phase of Khabur ware is dated to ca. 1750, and lasts until ca. 1550. The fourth and last phase, is a period shared between Khabur ware and Nuzi ware, and ends with the its disappearance ca. 1400 BC.

The Hurrians were masterful ceramists. Their pottery is commonly found in Mesopotamia and in the lands west of the Euphrates; it was highly valued in distant Egypt, by the time of the New Kingdom.

Nuzi (or Nuzu; Akkadian Gasur; modern Yorghan Tepe, Iraq) was an ancient Mesopotamian city southwest of the city of Arrapha (Karka modern Kirkuk in modern Al Ta’amim Governorate of Iraq), located near the Tigris river.

The Nuzi texts are ancient documents found during an excavation of Nuzi, an ancient Mesopotamian city southwest of Kirkuk in modern Al Ta’amim Governorate of Iraq, located near the Tigris river. The site consists of one medium-sized multiperiod tell and two small single period mounds.

An archive contemporary to the Hurrian archive at Nuzi has been excavated from the “Green Palace” at the site of Tell al-Fakhar, 35 kilometres (22 mi) southwest of Nuzi. The texts are mainly legal and business documents.

They have been viewed as evidence for the age and veracity of certain parts of the Old Testament, especially of the Patriarchal age. These tablets have been described as showing parallels between the Bible and Hurrian culture such as making a slave an heir and using a surrogate for a barren wife.

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