In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Worship, Old Testament

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Ancient Near East Background
  • Post-Exilic and Persian Period

Biblical Studies Worship, Old Testament
Beth Tanner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0173


“Worship” is a slight misnomer in Old Testament or Hebrew Bible studies. It is more accurate to speak of the general term “religious practice” or the specific term “cultic practice.” The practice of religious expression changed over the period covered by the Old Testament, but not in a linear progression. Some of the earliest practices were still common in the later periods and local religious ceremonies continued long after the Temple was built in Jerusalem. In addition, since there were two distinct countries shortly after the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, any complete understanding of the topic must deal with the royal Temple cult of Jerusalem as well as the cultic and localized worship in the larger and more populous Israel. These issues make any organization of material on this topic problematic. One must realize that there were multiple forms of worship in Judah and Israel during all the periods covered by the Old Testament material, very roughly calculated as 900 BCE to 100 BCE. Early studies followed the historical progression in the Old Testament itself, and cultic worship practices were divided into three periods—pre-Temple, First Temple period, and Post-Exilic and Persian period—focusing primarily on the fact that the biblical narrative in Exodus-2 Kings follows this organizational scheme. Recent studies have abandoned that formula and discuss the different trajectories in royal or official cults of Judah and Israel as well as those of the popular religions practiced by the people. This change is the result of the recent publications of archaeological information from a large sampling of sites in the region. This information has provided a clearer picture of the practice of popular religion during this period. This makes specific divisions into clean categories difficult. For the sake of clear organization, this entry will use the following categories: general overviews, ancient near Eastern parallels, worship outside the Jerusalem cult (including the time prior to temple construction, worship in Northern Israel, and questions of monotheism), Jerusalem, the first Temple and the Royal Cult, and worship in the Persian period including Jerusalem, Samaria, and the Diaspora. Finally, any researcher should be warned that the division of these categories is not absolute and many of the works deal with multiple time periods and ways of worship. Excellent studies on these subjects will reference the biblical text, archaeological discoveries, and ancient near Eastern parallels. Our knowledge of ancient worship practices is limited because both biblical and archaeological information is scant. Overall, 20th-century scholarship hypothesized a form of worship for the Temple based on all available information. Scholarship of the early 21st century, however, is more descriptive and scholars hesitate to speculate beyond the evidence discovered via archaeological and relevant epigraphic sources. Because of the nature of the subject, many of the books in the bibliography are multiauthor volumes; the articles are not listed independently within the various sub-categories.

General Overviews

Albertz 1994 still stands as the gold standard because of its exhaustive scope. Especially helpful is the diagram on page 21 that explains the multi-dimensional aspects of this topic. Niditch 1997 chronicles the field post-Albertz, providing a needed update. Gittlen 2002 is an essay volume written primarily by archaeologists detailing religious practices both within and outside of the cult. The two volumes of essays (Miller, et al. 1987, Day 2005) contain fifty-five essays by leading scholars providing information on specific issues that complete an overview of the topics and the complexities of the issue. See also King and Stager 2001, Kraus 1966, and Keel and Uehlinger 1998.

  • Albertz, Rainer. A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period: From the Beginnings to the End of the Monarchy. Vol. 1. Old Testament Library. Translated by John Bowden. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994.

    The most complete resource available. The first volume covers the history of the discipline and the period of the monarchy. The second volume presents the Exilic, Persian, and Greek periods (A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period. Vol. 2, From the Exile to the Maccabees). Original publication: Religionsgeschichte Israels in Alttestamentlicher Zeit (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992).

  • Day, John, ed. Temple and Worship in Biblical Israel: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar. London: T & T Clark, 2005.

    This book contains twenty-three essays focusing on all periods of the Temple and worship practices. Part 1 is focused on the Pre-Israelite Period; Part 2 on the First Temple; and Part 3 on Second Temple Judaism. All of these articles cover the breadth of each topic. Papers originally delivered to the Oxford Old Testament Seminar between January 2001 and November 2003.

  • Gittlen, Barry M., ed. Sacred Time, Sacred Place: Archaeology and the Religion of Israel. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2002.

    Twelve essays written on a wide range of topics concerning the religion of the people. Some articles cover the broad topics of philology and Israelite religion. Others deal with specific issues such as the four-horned altar and studies of ancient tombs.

  • Keel, Othmar, and Christoph Uehlinger, eds. Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel. Translated by Thomas Trapp. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998.

    Another central reference book in a study of this topic. It addresses the issue of religion and worship from an art history perspective with over 600 images from the period. The work outlines the importance of these images in the study of worship practices and worship spaces. Originally published as Göttinnen, Götter, und Gottessymbole (Fribourg: Herder Verlag, 1992).

  • King, Philip J., and Lawrence E. Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.

    A brief yet comprehensive treatment of all aspects of religious life with ample photos and drawings. This is a good starting point to provide an orientation to study of the topic. See pp. 319–382.

  • Kraus, Hans-Joachim. Worship in Israel: A Cultic History of the Old Testament. Translated by G. Buswell. Oxford: Blackwell, 1966.

    Kraus is one of a generation of scholars who use references scattered throughout the Old Testament to create worship liturgies for the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Much of what Kraus has done has been challenged, but this still stands as a monumental attempt to recreate the liturgy and religious practices of the ancients. Originally published as Gottesdienst in Israel (Munich: Kaiser Verlag, 1962).

  • Miller, Patrick D., Paul D. Hanson, and S. Dean McBride, eds. Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

    This volume has thirty-three articles. Part 1 is concerned with cultic practice in the greater Ancient Near East environment and the second focuses on a wide range of topics concerning Israel and Judah’s religious practice.

  • Niditch, Susan. Ancient Israelite Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    This volume is not organized in typical chronological manner, but by topic, focusing on origins, legal/ethical dimensions, and ritual. This organization allows for different observations and explorations than the more traditional Albertz 1994 volumes.

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