In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Near Eastern Temples

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Theoretical Perspectives: General Studies
  • Theoretical Perspectives: Specialized Studies

Biblical Studies Near Eastern Temples
Michael Hundley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0243


Temples were nearly ubiquitous across the ancient Near East. Rather than serving as a gathering place for a worshipping congregation, a temple served as a terrestrial divine abode. In it, the god(s) lived amid society, yet carefully sequestered from it behind walls and doors. While primarily a residence, the temple also granted people limited access, usually for the purpose of divine service. The people believed that gods dwelt outside of the realm of human experience. Temples bridged the gap between human and divine, allowing regulated access to the deity, usually present in the form of a cult statue, and giving people the opportunity to influence the gods. Through this mutually beneficial interchange, the gods received the service they desired, while the people hoped their service would elicit divine protection and blessing. Protection and blessing, though, were conditional. The gods would remain and stay favorably disposed only if they were satisfied with their accommodation and service. Temples then, at least in theory, were lavishly and fastidiously constructed and maintained in order to keep the gods happy. This article focuses on the major temples, especially those from 1500–500 BCE, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Hittite Anatolia, and Syria-Palestine. The article also focuses on the structure and ideology of the temples, not the rituals performed within them. For the most part, biblical and Israelite references will be kept to a minimum, as they are numerous enough to warrant their own article. Too numerous to include, archaeological reports generally have been excluded, yet they are referenced in the works cited and may be found with a Google web search.

General Overviews

Studies listed in this section are broad-ranging in scope, covering multiple cultures and multiple time periods. Wightman 2007 covers virtually all ancient cultures and is best suited as an entry point to further studies and for its numerous useful diagrams. Ragavan 2013 is also broad, yet better suited to more advanced students. Meyers 1997 is a useful introductory reference work addressing major archaeological sites. Sasson 2000 provides a more in-depth survey of major ancient Near Eastern themes. Hurowitz 1992 is most suited for those interested in biblical comparisons. Boda and Novotny 2010 provides an accessible and up-to-date synthesis of the textual evidence for temple building, while Kaniuth, et al. 2013 offers generally excellent and up-to-date contributions for more advanced students and scholars. Hundley 2013 provides an accessible synthesis of temples and divine presence divided by region.

  • 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. Münster, Germany: Ugarit-Verlag, 2010.

    An edited volume in honor of Richard Ellis with up-to-date articles on textual evidence for temple building in ancient Mesopotamia, Ugarit, Anatolia, Iran, and in the Bible. Accessible for advanced undergraduates students, nonspecialist academics, and the informed public.

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

    Synthetic study dedicated to temples and divine presence in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Hittite Anatolia, and Syria-Palestine. Accessible for advanced undergraduate students, nonspecialist academics, and the informed public. Could serve as a textbook.

  • Hurowitz, Victor A. I Have Built You an Exalted House: Temple Building in the Bible in Light of Mesopotamia and Northwest Semitic Writings. Sheffield, UK: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1992.

    Analyzes and compares a number of Mesopotamian, Syro-Palestinian, and biblical building accounts with a view toward situating the biblical perspectives in their ancient Near Eastern context. Accessible for advanced undergraduate students and nonspecialist academics.

  • Kaniuth, Kai, Anne Leihnert, Jared L. Miller, Adelheid Otto, Michael Roaf, and Walther Sallaberger, eds. Tempel im alten Orient: 7. Internationales Colloquium der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft, 11.–13. Oktober 2009, München. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2013.

    A conference volume with important articles in German and English on multiple aspects of temples in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Syria-Palestine. Accessible for advanced undergraduate students and nonspecialist academics.

  • Meyers, Eric M., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. 5 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    A useful entry point to the archaeology of the ancient Near East, with entries distributed by site and topic, each with references for further study. Accessible for undergraduate students, nonspecialist academics, and the informed public.

  • Ragavan, Deena, ed. Heaven on Earth: Temples, Ritual, and Cosmic Symbolism in the Ancient World. Chicago: Oriental Institute, 2013.

    Broad-ranging essays cover sacred spaces in the ancient world from China to Mesoamerica. Includes essays on the Hittites, Mesopotamians, and Egyptians. Accessible for advanced undergraduates and nonspecialist academics.

  • Sasson, Jack M., ed. Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. 2 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000.

    Standard compendium of articles on the ancient Near East, with articles from specialists on various topics, including temples and religion. Accessible for undergraduate students, nonspecialist academics, and the informed public.

  • Wightman, Gregory J. Sacred Spaces: Religious Architecture in the Ancient World. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2007.

    Extremely broad survey of religious architecture with numerous helpful diagrams, covering virtually every geographic region, including chapters on Mesopotamia and Elam, Egypt, Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, and the Arabian Peninsula. Accessible for undergraduate students, nonspecialist academics, and the informed public. Could serve as a textbook.

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