Ancient Jerusalem’s Economy Powered by Animal Sacrifice

The Journal of Archaeological Science had published a study of animal remains uncovered around the Temple complex in Jerusalem, suggesting that animals raised and traded for temple sacrifice drove a large portion of Jerusalem economy:

An analysis of bones found in an ancient dump in the city dating back 2,000 years revealed that animals sacrificed at the temple came from far and wide.

“The study shows that there is a major interprovincial market that enables the transfer of vast numbers of animals that are used for sacrifice and feasting in Jerusalem during that time period,” said study co-author Gideon Hartman, a researcher at the University of Connecticut.

The finding, published in the September issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, confirms visions of the temple depicted in historical Jewish texts and suggests the economic heart of the city was its slaughtering operation. 

At the time, Jerusalem was a bustling metropolis without any natural economic resources, as it was landlocked and far from most major trade routes.

According to the Talmud, a Jewish religious text, the city’s economic heart was the Holy Temple, the only place where Israelites could sacrifice animals as offerings to God. Parts of the animal that weren’t sacrificed as a burnt offering were often left for people to feast on.

Some passages in the text depict priests wading up to their knees in blood, and others describe 1.2 million animals being slaughtered on one day. And the ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also describes an enormous slaughtering operation.

But historians wondered whether these descriptions were hyperbole or fact.

City dump

A few years ago, archaeologists unearthed a massive dump on the outskirts of the old walled city of Jerusalem. Dating revealed the dump was used between the start of King Herod’s reign in 37 B.C. and the Great Revolt in A.D. 66. [See Images of the Massive Bone Dump ]

Whereas most city dumps contain animal bones, this one contained an unusually large proportion of them for an agricultural society, Hartman said.

“Meat was not eaten on a daily basis. It was something that was kept for special events,” Hartman told LiveScience.

What’s more, most of the animals were young, suggesting they were raised for sacrifice.

Read more.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.


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