Temple of Malchizedek Found?
In 2010 Archaeologist Eli Shukrun unearthed a very unusual ancient structure in the City of David above the Gihon spring. It comprised four parallel rooms along the eastern slopes, with foundations carved in the bedrock. The northernmost room had a square hole in one of its walls and a vat carved into its floor. Such features are typical of ancient olive presses. This room also contained a storage space where many pottery shards were uncovered. Most date to the 18th century BCE, and some to the 8th century BCE. Shukrun concluded that this structure functioned in the Middle Bronze Age (18th-17th centuries BCE) but was also known, perhaps even used, up to the 8th century BCE (The “Israelite period”).
Room for an Altar?
The room behind it had a rectangular raised platform in its NW corner, from which a drainage ditch was carved to its eastern end. Shukrun suggested this was the place of an altar, whose ditch drained the blood of sacrifices. The southernmost room had mysterious “V” shaped carvings on its floor and another carved round vat.
But the most significant discovery was made in the adjacent room, where a standing stone (“Matsevah”) was found in its NW corner. It is a thin (5 cm wide) stone, 55 cm tall, and supported by other stones to be raised. Having a seemingly cultic function, and set between a room with an altar and a room with “V” shaped carvings (tripods base for animal slaughter?), What was its purpose?
Shukrun suggested that the complex was designed for worshiping a Canaanite deity and was in use, or at least known, up to the 8th century BCE. But which God was glorified here? And by whom?
The Bible provides a hint. In the book of Genesis (14:18), the bible describes a meeting between Abraham and a Canaanite King – “Melchizedek King of Salem.” Psalms 76:3 indicates “Salem” is just another name for – Jerusalem (“His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.“). Being so, Melchizedek was the king of Jerusalem when the cultic center was in use.
But can Melchizedek be related to any cultic activity? And which God did he worship? Genesis 14:18 indicates ” King Melchizedek of Salem.. was a priest of God most high“.
Is this the temple of Melchizedek, king of Salem? Did he worship a Canaanite version of the God of the Israelites? And was it so sacred that even centuries later, in the days of the Israelites, it was still known?
Interestingly, the latest pottery found in the structure dates to the 8th century BCE, the time of King Hezekiah.
Indeed, the bible indicates that, among others, King Hezekiah led a religious reform and abolished former cultic centers (2 Kings 18:4) –
He [Hezekiah] removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.
Is it Hezekiah who also gave the order to abandon this Canaanite cultic center? If Shukrun is correct, this could be one of the most significant discoveries ever made in biblical archaeology. Sadly, no inscriptions were found to associate these finds with Melchizedek or even cultic activity clearly, yet the circumstantial evidence is quite intriguing and overwhelming.
A site tour can be combined with a day tour of Jerusalem.