In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Temples and Sanctuaries

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Defining Religious Space
  • Domestic Spaces
  • Local Spaces
  • The Battlefield
  • Imaginary Spaces

Biblical Studies Temples and Sanctuaries
Stephen C. Russell
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0235


Among ancient temples and sanctuaries, readers of the Bible are perhaps most familiar with Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, which adjoined the royal palace and hosted religious rituals of national importance. But the Jerusalem temple was only one locus of religious activity in ancient Judah. Indeed, a wide variety of spaces served ritual functions in the ancient Near East, from household domiciles to national temples, from city gates to open-air altars. This article defines religious space; introduces the reader to the literary, archaeological, and iconographic sources available to the historian of ancient Near Eastern religions; and points to some domestic, local, national, and imaginary spaces that served religious functions. The focus is especially on scholarship published since the late 20th century.

General Works

Several general works provide accessible starting points for the reader interested in religious space in the ancient Near East. Russell 2016 provides a brief introduction to religious space and offers resources for more detailed study. Anyone interested in ancient Near Eastern temples should read Hundley 2013, which presents in a single, accessible volume a comprehensive treatment of temples and the concept of divine presence throughout the ancient Near East. The essays in Boda and Novotny 2010 treat temple building across the ancient Near East, and the volume includes very helpful appendixes cataloguing relevant ancient textual evidence. Zevit 2001 succinctly presents a great deal of the relevant archaeological and textual evidence for ancient Israel. Parry, et al. 1991 offers a comprehensive, though now somewhat outdated, bibliography of the topic.

  • Boda, Mark J., and Jamie R. Novotny, eds. From the Foundations to the Crenellations: Essays on Temple Building in the Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 366. Münster, Germany: Ugarit-Verlag, 2010.

    Collection of essays focusing on textual evidence for biblical and other ancient Near Eastern temples. Three appendixes catalogue relevant ancient textual evidence and thus serve as an extremely useful guide to the historian interested in ancient temples.

  • Hundley, Michael B. Gods in Dwellings: Temples and Divine Presence in the Ancient Near East. Writings from the Ancient World Supplement Series 3. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

    Comprehensive treatment of temples and divine presence in the ancient Near East. The book attends both to archaeological evidence for the location, form, and cultic activity of temples and to the textual evidence illuminating the larger ideological frameworks within which temples functioned, especially the concept of divine presence. Hundley observes what is shared and what differs between the various regions he treats: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Hittite Anatolia, and Syria-Palestine.

  • Parry, Donald W., Stephen D. Ricks, and John W. Welch. A Bibliography on Temples of the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean World: Arranged by Subject and by Author. Ancient Near Eastern Texts and Studies 9. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1991.

    Catalogue of works treating the archaeological and textual evidence for temples in ancient Israel, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.

  • Russell, Stephen C. “Religious Space and Structures.” In The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Companion. Edited by John Barton, 356–377. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.

    Brief survey of religious space and structures in ancient Israel and Judah.

  • Zevit, Ziony. The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches. London: Continuum, 2001.

    A comprehensive and accessible introduction to the religions of ancient Israel that treats both textual and archaeological evidence. Pp. 123–266 survey Israelite and Judahite cultic sites and architecture.

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