What went on in ancient sanctuaries? In spite of the information we get from texts such as the Hebrew Bible, from inscriptions and iconography, and from archaeology, we know precious little about what “ordinary people” did when they visited a temple in ancient Palestine. Yet we do have some clues. The dedicatory inscriptions from the Yahweh temple on Mt. Gerizim help us envision what a visit to an ancient sanctuary may have entailed.
First, however, before reconstructing this everyday worship, a brief introduction to the temple on Mt. Gerizim and to the inscriptions excavated there in the 1990s is necessary.
On Mt. Gerizim, which is close to present-day Nablus in the West Bank, there once stood a temple dedicated to Yahweh. The sanctuary was constructed during the Persian period 1 In its first building phase, the sacred precinct was a relatively small and square enclosure (about 330 by 330 ft) with two main gates in the north and south walls and a few auxiliary buildings. During the Hellenistic period around 200 B.C.E., the sanctuary area was significantly expanded, especially to the south and east, and a number of auxiliary rooms, courtyards, and even a fortification were added to the enclosure. In the sanctuary’s eastern wall, a third gate was added with a monumental ramp or staircase leading up to it.around 450 B.C.E. and was in continuous use until its destruction in 110 B.C.E.