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

2You shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.

Exod 29:12

12and shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and all the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the ba ... View more

Exod 30:2

2It shall be one cubit long, and one cubit wide; it shall be square, and shall be two cubits high; its horns shall be of one piece with it.

Exod 38:2

2He made horns for it on its four corners; its horns were of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze.

Lev 4:7

7The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord; and the rest of the blood ... View more

Lev 4:18

18He shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the Lord in the tent of meeting; and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the ba ... View more

Lev 4:25

25The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour out the rest of i ... View more

1Kgs 1:50

50Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar.

1Kgs 2:28

28When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah though he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and grasped the horns of the ... View more

Exod 20:25

25But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it.

Deut 27:6

6You must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. Then offer up burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God,

Josh 8:31

31just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, “an altar of unhewn stones, on which no ... View more

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