Czech archaeologists return to Jerusalem to take part in excavations at Tel Motza temple

After more than a two-year break, caused by Covid-related restrictions, Czech archaeologists have returned to Israel to continue excavations at the Tel Motza temple. Experts say the discovery of the shrine from the time of King Solomon, which matches the Biblical description of the first temple in Jerusalem, could rewrite history.

The Tel Motza temple was discovered back in 2012 by Israeli archaeologists on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The Iron Age shrine is believed to have been built around 900 BC and was used for about 300 years. The site of its location was labelled a royal granary specializing in grain storage which supplied its products first and foremost to Jerusalem.

A team of Czech experts first took part in the excavations two and half years ago. Now, after drawn-out bureaucratic proceedings, they were able to return to the site to continue with their research, together with other foreign and local experts. One of the members on the Czech team is Petr Sláma from the Protestant Theological Faculty at Charles University in Prague:

Photo: Štěpán Macháček,  Czech Radio

“The two main groups here are from the University of Osnabruck in Germany – there are around 25 of them, and 12 Czechs from Charles University.  But what is really interesting is that there are also pensioners or elderly people from the estates around here, who learned about the excavations on the internet or by seeing them from their window, and they actually paid to be able to take part in the digging and in the uncovering of their own history.”

Oded Lipschitz, an archaeologist from Tel-Aviv University, says that under normal conditions, there would be dozens of excavations taking place in the area. This year, the 40-member international team is the only one working here:

”Usually I cooperate with archaeologists. But because this is a project that is so important for the history of the Biblical period, for theology and cult, most of the people here are theologians. For me it is really interesting to work with people from all over the world who deal with Biblical aspects of archaeology. It’s really unique.”

According to Lipschitz, the Czech Biblical scholars may bring a new slant on the discovery, which he says may challenge the conservative way of thought of both Christians and Jews.

“We have a temple here that was built in the time of David and Solomon, only seven kilometres from Jerusalem. It looks exactly like the Temple that was built by Solomon in Jerusalem according to the Bible, according to the Book of Kings.

“It has the same direction, same size and same plan as the Temple, but this temple we excavated, while the temple from Jerusalem we only know from the Bible.

“So the fact that we had another temple, seven kilometres from Jerusalem, that existed at the same time is challenging every concept of anyone who has read the Bible. So yes, it’s a sensation.”