One of the not–to–frequently mentioned actions that the ancients practiced at city gates was worship ([always?] illicit).
2 Kings 23:8 Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines at the gates—at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate. (NIV)
One of the best places to envision an example of one of these shrines is at a not–too–frequently visited place in Israel called et–Tell—probably to be identified as biblical Geshur (home of Absalom; see below for location). One of the spectacular finds is a massive four–chamber Iron Age Gate.
View looking west into the entrance of the east gate of et–Tell. Note the basalt paving stones and the two upright standing stones on each side of the gate. On the right (north) side are three steps that led up to a “high place” (= worship center?).
The carved basalt stela found at the Iron Age Gate at et–Tell (probably biblical Geshur). Note the bull headed figure that is place upon a tripod and wearing a sword. It may be a representation of the storm god Hadad. The stela dates to the 9th or 8th centuries BC.
View looking north at the High Place and stela located on the north side of the Iron Age gate that leads into the city. On the left is one of the seven(!) stelae that were found in the gate area—this one is not inscribed. Slightly to the right of center note the three steps that lead up to a high place that has a basin—carved black basalt—on the top platform. Note the replica of a stela with the deity Hadad engraved on it.
Et-Tell is located about 2 miles north of the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee on the east side of the Upper Jordan River. It is often identified with the New Testament city of Bethsaida but in fact the remains from the Old Testament period are much more significant and it is probably to be identified as biblical Geshur (home of Absalom).
More on sanctuaries at the city gate on Monday.