A team of archaeologists from Tel Aviv University has unearthed a structure near a Beth Shemesh digging site outside Jerusalem that resembles a temple from nearly 3,100 years ago.
However, it’s what’s inside the temple that is garnering so much attention.
The temple-like structure had sturdy walls and a pile of bones was found nearby. “There is a lot of evidence that this was indeed a temple,” archaeologist Shlomo Bunimovitz said. “When you look at the structure and its content, it’s very clear that this is not a standard domestic space but something special.”
Archaeologists also discovered a large stone slab sitting on top of two rocks that they initially thought may have been a pillar or support beam that had collapsed. Upon further investigation, archaeologist Zvi Lederman and his team determined that it was meant to be a table.
More importantly, the excavators believe the table may have been a resting spot for the Ark of the Covenant described in 1 Samuel. After God punishes the Philistines for stealing the Ark, they return it in 1 Samuel 6:14-15a:
“The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock.”
This “large rock” is what archeologists believe they have discovered. Just a few verses later in verse 18, “The great stone beside which they set down the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth-shemesh.”
According to Zvi Lederman, “This would be a rare case in which we can merge the biblical narrative with an archaeological find.”
Although both Lederman and Bunimovitz can see a connection between the stone slab that was discovered and the biblical narrative, they aren’t prepared to make a definitive conclusion, mainly due to inconsistencies between the biblical account and the evidence. For example, 1 Samuel mentioned that the table was located in a field rather than in the temple.
Bunimovitz believes that the author of the biblical text was well aware of the importance of the stone slab and therefore incorporated it into the narrative to assist with its authentication.
Bunimovitz claimes that the Bible is “not a historical document, but an ideological one. But in every ideological narrative, if you want it to be believed and accepted, you have to insert some real elements.”