The Oldest Temple in the World—- Part Four

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The little skit by the minions above and the Gobeckli Tepe Temple both raise questions about what it means to be human.

Are we all just hunter-gatherers moving through life driven by our urges and needs?   Or are we something much more than that?  What does it really mean to be human?   The Bible suggests that begin created in God’s image provides some sort of answer or clue.   Some scholars have thought being created in the image of God had to do with our being mini-creators and rulers of the world, like God on a smaller scale.  But that has to do with vocation, not nature. The reference to the image of God in the Genesis story suggests something about human nature— a unique capacity for relationship with God, a relationship which involves language and communication as the story of the Garden suggests.  It is interesting that the Hebrew word ‘tselem’  is the word for both image and idol in the OT.  In a sense humans were created to be God’s image, God’s representative on earth.  This is why making an idol of, much less worshipping something less than human as a deity is idolatry.  Humans are to be the ‘tselem’  not make ‘tselems’ of lesser things.  But there is more.  As the Bible moves along it becomes apparent that God intends for humans to reflect God’s character— God is holy, just, loving, kind, compassionate etc. and humans are expected to be so as well on a lesser scale.  We are to reflect the moral character on earth.  When we get to the NT and we are told that Christians are to be conformed to the image of Christ, again the issue is about character as well as other things. We are to be Christ-like in thought, word, and deed.   Furthermore this all provides a clue for the relationship between theology and ethics in the Bible.  God is holy and so should we be, and only humans have the capacity to reflect the moral character of God.  Image of God concepts show us the connection between theology and ethics.

But back to Gobeckl Tepe for a moment.  If that temple tells us anything it is that humans are in a compromised situation. That far from being a garden or a paradise, the world was more like a zoo where all the animals are running lose, and running the zoo!  In that sort of fallen world, the inherent human instinct and knowledge that they need divine help to survive and thrive is understandable.  But it also bespeaks of something else—- God seems distant, has to be summoned, has to be appeased, has to be beckoned.  But why?    Because deep in the heart of the humans at Gobeckli Tepe and elsewhere is a recognition that they are fallen creatures needing divine help.   But where did such a recognition come from?   If human fallenness was a created part of who humans were and what it meant to be human (is it really true that to be human one must be a sinner, one must engage in wicked and harmful behavior) why then the universal reaching out to God for something more, something better, for transformation and salvation from all that goes bump in the night, all the wee beasties.   As it turns out archaeology in this case has uncovered not merely  the inherent religious character of humans from Day One,  it also has uncovered its inherent vulnerability and instinctive need for God and for transendence above the human dilemma.     Think on these things.

  • Eric Sawyer


    I don’t know if I get that much from the stone artists of another time. If say, I imposed my understanding of Romans 1, I might see the statues as animals they worshipped, or even self-worship (as in the loin cloth statue) but isn’t it more likely that rather than running from wild beasts they had plenty of time to chop away at a rock and make cut comic representations of the animals, they’d just eaten.



  • ben witherington

    But these are not comic representations of anything. These are fierce images. And we have no evidence at all from early antiquity of people worshiping themselves. No, the essence of ancient religion was priests, temples, and sacrifice of animals and vegetation to one or more gods, and Gobeckli Tepe is an excellent example of this.


  • Eric Sawyer


    Any thoughts about the following:

    ‘Few humanoid forms have surfaced at Göbekli Tepe, but include a relief of a naked woman, posed frontally in a crouched position, that Schmidt likens to the Venus accueillante figures found in Neolithic north Africa; and of at least one decapitated corpse surrounded by vultures. Some of the pillars, namely the T-shaped ones, have carved arms, which may indicate that they represent stylized humans (or anthropomorphic gods). Another example is decorated with human hands in what could be interpreted as a prayer gesture, with a simple stole or surplice engraved above; this may be intended to represent a temple priest.’
    Schmidt 2006, 232–8, 261–4. (From: Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia – )


  • ben witherington

    Hi Eric:

    Yes, I have seen these things. The woman statue is like Astarte figurines, a goddess figure, not a human. My OT colleague thinks the same of the monoloith with the hands reaching down, but since the animals tend to be below such hands on the columns it makes better since that they are human figures making offerings. I have not seen the decapitate corpse, but the picture suggests it is incomplete or fragmentary.


  • Eric Sawyer

    Hi again BW3,

    I’ve looked at those figurines with the top half being very much that of a woman, but I’ve wondered if the bottom section was made like that purely so that they don’t fall over. (Interesting how the statues nonetheless resemble human form.)

    I’ve not made a detailed study of these matters (that should be obvious enough), but the following certainly confirms what you’re saying:

    ‘The figurines were regarded as having magical properties and were kept as household cultic amulets to enhance fertility and ensure abundance. They are commonly identified with the well-known Canaanite deities Astarte or Ashera. The use of such objects was vehemently condemned by the prophets of Israel. In excavations of the City of David in Jerusalem, more than two thousand cultic figurines were found, all of which had been smashed to bits. This may have been connected with the religious reform of Josiah in the late 7th century BCE, the primary aim of which was the abolition of idolatry and the establishment of the centrality of the Temple in Jerusalem.’
    From: Astarte Figurines –


  • Eric Sawyer

    You say:
    ‘….it makes better since that they are human figures making offerings. ‘

    Might it not have been symbolic of deities being closely associated with these beasts? (which they feared, hunted, ate and then carved to represent the idea perhaps of something like what is referred to as Mother Nature?)

    ‘Great Mother of the Gods, in ancient Middle Eastern religion (and later in Greece, Rome, and W Asia), mother goddess, the great symbol of the earth’s fertility. As the creative force in nature she was worshiped under many names, including Astarte (Syria), Ceres (Rome), Cybele (Phrygia), Demeter (Greece), Ishtar (Babylon), and Isis (Egypt). The later forms of her cult involved the worship of a male deity (her son or lover, e.g., Adonis, Osiris), whose death and resurrection symbolized the regenerative power of the earth.’
    From: The Great Mother of the Gods – The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia
    by Columbia University Press, and Wikipedia ~

    Please excuse my cut-n-paste routine, but I reaching here. I know you’ve done a commentary on the whole Zeitgeist bit, but have you written anything that I might explore to get a better take on this than say ‘John W. Loftus’ ;)