In recent years, two early Israelite cult sites have been discovered. The first is referred to as the “Bull Site” because archaeologists were led to it by the accidental discovery there of a cultic bronze statuette of a bull.a The second early Israelite cult site encloses the massive altar discovered in the course of an archaeological survey on Mt. Ebal.b
Both sites date to approximately the early 12th century B.C., the early part of Iron Age I in archaeological terms; in Biblical terms, this is the period of the Judges, when the Israelites first emerged in the Promised Land. About this dating, there is no dispute.
But a bitter dispute has arisen about the Mt. Ebal site. Is it really a cult site or is it nothing more than an old farmhouse.c
Now a highly regarded American scholar has entered the lists. He has not only considered the question of whether the Mt. Ebal site is cultic, but wonders about the Bull Site as well, and even questions whether these sites are Israelite sites.
In the January/June 1987 issue of the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (a venerable scholarly journal that appears only twice a year, despite its name), Michael Coogan, formerly at Harvard and now at Stonehill College, develops four criteria for identifying a cultic site (in the absence of written evidence):