Thursday, January 18, 2007

Telling the Tel Shiloh Story

Telling the 'Tel Shiloh' story
Yisrael Medad
Jan. 16, 2007

Twenty-nine years ago, permission was granted to establish a civilian presence near Tel Shiloh. It was termed an archeological excavation team; its arrival followed a Gush Emunim effort the previous Succot, in September 1977, codenamed "Twelve Tribes," which saw 12 settlement groups set out to Bet El, Neveh Tzuf, Bet Horin and another nine sites, including Shiloh.
Then prime minister Menachem Begin allowed himself to be persuaded by Moshe Dayan, his foreign minister, to permit only those groups that had arrived at army camps or police stations to stay. The others were forced to leave.

But the families who had joined the effort to reestablish Shiloh - 45 kilometers directly north of Jerusalem, midway between Ramallah and Nablus - persisted. Education minister Zevulun Hammer, with the help of deputy defense minister Mordechai Tzippori, facilitated the upstart archeological enterprise.

Twenty-nine years later, archeology still remains a centerpiece of Shiloh, underscoring it as a legitimate place of Jewish revenant residency.

Shiloh was, and is, an archeological location of the first order, identified by Edward Robinson in 1838. Digs were conducted there by a Danish expedition under the direction of Hans Kjaer in the 1920s and 30s, unearthing Greek, Byzantine and early Islamic artifacts.

Dr. Israel Finkelstein excavated Shiloh from 1981 to 1984 and found Late Bronze pottery. That is usually associated with the period of the Judges - but Finkelstein claimed the pottery had just been dumped there. It's his opinion that Shiloh was not occupied during the period of the Judges.
FINKELSTEIN'S other opinions are even more controversial. He maintains there is no archeological evidence for the existence of Abraham, the other Patriarchs, Moses, or the Exodus, and that the monarchies of David or Solomon were much smaller than the Bible implies.

He bases himself on a method called "low chronology," which essentially rearranges the dates of biblical events. That approach is criticized by, among others, Michael Coogan, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, who contends that Finkelstein and his colleague "move from the hypothetical to the improbable to the absurd."

For Finkelstein, biblical narrative is little more than folktales, and legends: Thus there was no conquest, as presented in the Bible, of Jericho and the area of Beit El.

In a Haaretz interview, Finkelstein suggested that there were no desert nomads who invaded rapidly west, only groups of a local population that moved around the land in circular processes over hundreds of years. Finkelstein's archeology tells him there are no historical grounds for the Ark of the Tabernacle, Hannah and Samuel, and no tribal distribution of land by Joshua, as recounted in Judges XVIII.

LET US, though, return to what has been discovered at Shiloh. The most numerous and visibly obvious signs of previous occupancy are the basilicas. The first one unearthed, nicknamed the "Pilgrims' Church," now serves as the visitors center, its mosaic hidden away beneath concrete paving stones.

The second, the "Danish Church," is significant for the attempt made by the Danes to reconstruct it, utilizing floor plans which later digging proved incorrect.

This last summer's clean-up operation at a "new," third church revealed a magnificent mosaic floor with many geometric designs as well as illustrations of fauna and flora. There are crosses too.

The church itself, probably built circa 380 CE, attests to the spiritual significance Shiloh exudes for religions other than Judaism. But more importantly, an inscription was found which specifically referred to "Seilun [Shiloh] and its Inhabitants."

For us, the modern-day inhabitants of the former capital of the Israelite tribal federation, this 1,700-year-old reminder of the history of our people, the sacredness of our land and the theological significance of our presence - even if from a rival religion - is more than satisfying. Theories such as Finkelstein's are but a temporary academic fad and only strengthen our determination that the digging must go deeper.

We cannot afford to be lax in the sphere of science as we face fierce - and false - competition from an ethnic community which created a past for itself, then set out to destroy ours.

THE OSLO Accords fixed a mechanism for guarding holy sites. Article 32 of the Interim Agreement assigned responsibility over sites of religious significance to the Arab side. Both sides were to respect and protect the religious rights of all, rights that include protection of the sites, free access to them, and freedom of worship and practice. The Arabs have been singularly unfaithful in this regard, as the travesties of Joseph's Tomb and the Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue in Jericho have shown.

There are Muslim sites at Shiloh, and those of Christian significance as well. The crosses and the mihrabs are well guarded. The Jewish artifacts and treasures are also preserved - now that we are there.

Archeology is not a science of the past, but a platform for the future: a Jewish future in the national homeland of the Jewish people.

Not From Shiloh But...

My wife, Batya, and I on the balcony of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
Yes, where I work.
And behind, you can see what I see from my window every day: the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Not bad, eh?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More Info on Shiloh

And here's a nice entry on a Visit to Samaria about Shiloh.

More on Shiloh's Archeology

Shiloh Yields Some, But Not All, of Its Secrets
Location of Tabernacle still uncertain
By Israel Finkelstein

In the first half of the 11th century B.C., Shiloh was one of the most important sites in the central mountain ridge that runs through the Land of Israel. Here was the sacred religious center of the Israelite population of the hill country. Here the Ark of the Covenant rested within the Tabernacle for nearly a century, until the Ark itself was captured by the Philistines in the battle of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4). Here Eli served as high priest. Here Samuel, prophet and seer, grew up and served the Lord.

Interestingly enough, Shiloh is not mentioned in the patriarchal narratives. Nor is it mentioned in Egyptian documents from the New Kingdom (15th to 12th centuries B.C.).

Shiloh first appears in the Bible in descriptions of the Israelite Settlement in Canaan and in an episode from the period of the Judges. According to the Bible, it was at Shiloh that the land was divided among the tribes (Joshua 18:10) and the Levitical cities were allotted (Joshua 21:2). Here the people gathered in times of distress (Joshua 22:12), as well as for annual religious festivities (Judges 21:19–21).

Shiloh’s importance both as a religious center and as the seat of the leadership of the Israelite tribes reached its zenith toward the end of the period of the Judges, that is, during the first half of the 11th century B.C., the time of Eli and Samuel (1 Samuel 1–4).

Shiloh also figures prominently in dramatic events surrounding the battle with the Philistines near Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4), in the western approach to the hill country, not far from the coastal plain. When the battle was going badly for the Israelites, they had the Ark of the Covenant brought from Shiloh to lead them. But it was to no avail; the Philistines were victorious and captured the Ark.

After defeating the Israelites, the Philistines apparently took advantage of their victory to press on up to the hills and burn Shiloh to the ground. The Bible does not explicitly report the destruction of Shiloh, but the fiery end is alluded to a number of times in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:12–14, 26:6, 26:9) and in Psalms (78:60). Hundreds of years after the Philistine destruction of Shiloh, the prophet warns the people in the name of the Lord:

“Just go to My place at Shiloh, where I had established my name formerly, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel … Therefore I will do to the House which bears My name, on which you rely, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers just what I did to Shiloh” (Jeremiah 7:12, 14).

Obviously the meaning of Shiloh’s destruction had remained vivid. As we shall see, this destruction has now been confirmed by excavation.

Following the devastation of Shiloh, the Israelite center moved south to the territory of Benjamin and subsequently to Jerusalem. Shiloh remained deserted for a while, but by the reign of Jeroboam I (928–907 B.C.), king of the northern Kingdom of Israel, settlement at Shiloh had been renewed (1 Kings 14:2, 4), and there was still a settlement at the time of the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C. (Jeremiah 41:5).

Although the site was thereafter occupied almost continuously until the late Middle Ages, it never regained the importance it had achieved in the time of the Judges. Rabbinic sources, church literature, and pilgrims’ accounts from the Byzantine period contain references to Shiloh; and its location was still known in the Middle Ages when the Jewish traveler Eshtori ha-Parhi found it in ruins.

During his travels in the Holy Land in the 1830s, the American Orientalist Edward Robinson identified Khirbet Seilun (the ruin of Seilun) with ancient Shiloh. Actually, making this identification was comparatively easy. Not only was the site still known in the Middle Ages, but the historical sources provided relatively specific descriptions of its location. The credit for locating Shiloh really goes to the exceptionally detailed geographical data provided by the Book of Judges where we are told: “Behold, there is the yearly feast of the Lord at Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah” (Judges 21:19). The identification of Bethel with the village of Beitin, northeast of Ramallah, is well known; Lebonah must be located in the vicinity of the village of Lubban Sharqiya, near Shiloh on the northwest; and the “highway,” the ancient route, apparently followed a course close to that of the modern Jerusalem-Nablus road. The Onomasticon of Eusebius (fourth century A.D.) places Shiloh “ … twelve miles [from Neapolis (Shechem)] at Acrabitene,” that is, in the district named after the city whose name is still preserved in the name of the Arab village of Aqraba, northeast of Shiloh. As if all these literary references were not sufficient, the ancient name of Shiloh was preserved in the name of the Arab village of Seilun, still known in the 16th century (but later deserted). The identification of the site is thus sure. And, as we shall see, the excavated remains accord with the history of the site as reflected both in the Bible and in other written sources.

The tella of Shiloh is located in the heart of the territory of Ephraim, just east of the Jerusalem-Nablus road (as the Bible says), at the northern end of a fertile valley surrounded by hills. Almost a half-mile northeast of the tell is a large spring that supplements the runoff water collected in the cisterns on the mound itself.

The tell covers less than eight acres. The eastern, western and northern sides of the tell slope quite steeply, so the most convenient approach is—and was—from the south; indeed, it seems that the entrance to Shiloh was always on the southern side, but, as we shall see, this is precisely where excavation would be unprofitable because later construction has removed earlier remains.

Three considerations determined the location of Shiloh: proximity to the fertile valley, availability of a dependable water source and defensibility of the mound.

Shiloh was first excavated in 1922 by Aage Schmidt of Denmark, who conducted a few trial soundings. Schmidt became so excited by the site that he decided to organize a major excavation. He sought the support, among others, of Winston Churchill, then British minister of the colonies; of General Allenby, who captured Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917, and of Lord Balfour, whose name is attached to the famous Balfour Declaration that did so much to further the cause of a Jewish state in Palestine. As a result of Schmidt’s efforts, a Danish expedition headed by Hans Kjaer fielded three campaigns at Shiloh between 1926 and 1932. Four areas were then explored, the most important being on the northwest and western margins of the site. Unfortunately, in the 1932 season, Kjaer contracted dysentery; he was taken to Jerusalem, where he soon died. As a result, Schmidt and Nelson Glueck, the famous American archaeologist who helped Kjaer with pottery dating, closed the excavation.

For various reasons, including objective difficulties, this Danish expedition failed to achieve a clear picture of the history of the site. In 1963, another Dane, Svend Holm-Nielsen, dug test pits in several places on the tell, including the summit, but added little to what was already known.
The excavation of Shiloh was resumed in 1981, this time under the aegis of the Department of Land of Israel Studies at Bar-Ilan University,1 and four seasons of excavation were undertaken.
Our work on the tell, however, is but one aspect of a much larger and more comprehensive regional study that includes surveying the entire territory of the tribe of Ephraim, one of the most important of the tribes of Israel. The area of the survey covers about 400 square miles (1,050 square kilometers), bounded by Shechem on the north, Ramallah on the south, the fringes of the desert on the east, and the foothills of the central mountain range on the west. Although this region is located in the heartland of the historical Land of Israel, it is, strangely enough, practically terra incognita, archaeologically speaking. Our survey is emphasizing various environmental conditions and their influence on the pattern of settlement in each period. Thus far, we have located and examined more than 500 sites, many of which were previously unknown. The excavation of Shiloh and the survey of Ephraim are, as we shall see, closely connected. But now, let us return to the excavation.

When we began our excavation, we were immediately confronted with two typical problems in excavating hilltop sites: the summit of the tell had badly eroded, exposing bedrock in many places. Secondly, since construction in all periods attempts to lay building foundations directly on bedrock, the building activity of later periods—especially Roman, Byzantine and medieval construction—caused extensive damage to earlier strata. Older buildings had often been destroyed and sometimes even eradicated. This was especially true on the summit and southern slope of the hill. Of necessity, then, our efforts were concentrated on the margins of the tell and on the northern part, which had been spared the ravages of erosion and the damage of later construction.

Altogether we opened nine fields of excavation (see map), the three principal ones being Area C on the western slope, where the Danish expedition had also excavated, Area D on the northeastern side of the tell, and Areas F and H on the northwestern side of the tell, adjacent to an area also excavated by the Danes. Because the areas we excavated were spread over the tell, we were able to obtain a reliable picture of its occupational history and to understand the layout of the various settlements that existed there from time to time.

Shiloh was first occupied in the period archaeologists call the Middle Bronze Age IIB (c. 1750–1650 B.C.).2 This MB IIB occupation was apparently unwalled. In the next archaeological period, Middle Bronze Age IIC (c. 1650–1550 B.C.), massive fortifications were constructed, consisting of a solid wall and a large earthen glacis sloping down from the wall. The remains of this MB IIC glacis were discovered almost everywhere on the perimeter of the tell. The Danish expedition exposed part of the city wall, and we also unearthed large portions of it. As a result, we can now reconstruct the course of this fortification wall all around the perimeter of the entire MB IIC settlement, an area of over four acres.

The evidence for the MB IIB occupation consists solely of pottery found in the glacis and in earthen fills within the mound, all laid down in the MB IIC period. No architectural remains from the MB IIB occupation were uncovered. Among the MB IIB pottery we found a bone decorated with incisions, a fragment of a cultic stand with painted decoration, a jar handle bearing a scaraboid seal impression and a zoomorphic vessel shaped like a bull. The builders of the MB IIC glacis used the remains of the previous settlement (that were probably available on the slopes) and incorporated this debris into their massive fortifications.

The MB IIC fortification wall was founded directly on bedrock and was constructed of large field stones whose outer faces were occasionally slightly planed. The interior of the wall was filled with large- and medium-size stones. In the large section cut in our Area D, the wall was preserved to a height of 25 feet, and in Areas C and F it was found to be eight feet high. The wall ranged from ten to 17 feet thick.

The wall was not uniform in shape; in one place, on the northern side (excavated by the Danes), a solid rectangular tower projected both inward and outward from the wall. Elsewhere, the wall was constructed in a “sawtooth” fashion, with a projection every few meters—a masonry technique that easily accommodated the topography of the tell. Still elsewhere (in Area D), we found a kind of large offset projecting outward toward the slope. Near this offset another thick wall, similar to the city wall in construction, runs to the interior of the tell. This interior wall forms an inner fortification line, perhaps demarcating the northern part of the tell as a kind of fortified acropolis. The upper part of the city wall, which has not survived, may have been built of mudbricks.

This wall was destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, in the 16th century B.C. However, in all the periods after its destruction, we found an enormous number of stones from this wall utilized elsewhere, making it a kind of “quarry” of stones for secondary use.

The glacis built against the wall on the outside was constructed in a variety of ways. In the large section cut down to bedrock in Area D, on the eastern and steepest side of the tell, the glacis is especially impressive, both in terms of its strength and because of its colorful layers. The base of the glacis extends about 80 feet from the wall, and its height next to the wall is 20 feet. The angle of declination is about 25°. Buried in the glacis, at a distance of about six feet from the fortification wall, is another wall ten feet high and almost three feet thick that served to stabilize the glacis. Two masses of large rough stones were laid at the base of the glacis; these too served to stabilize the glacis and prevented it from sliding down the slope. The glacis consisted here of five principal layers: reddish-brown earth, white material with small stones, brown and red earthen debris, gray ashy material, and a yellowish gray layer at the bottom, found primarily next to the fortification wall and its nearby retaining wall. A “Hyksos” scaraboid with a geometric design was found in the white layer.

In other areas of the tell, the glacis is thinner and less complex. Sometimes it consists of but one relatively thin white layer that was laid directly on bedrock.

Inside the fortification wall, a row of Middle Bronze Age rooms was constructed against the wall in a belt extending for about 350 feet. These rooms were found by us—as well as by the Danish expedition—on the north and northwestern periphery of the tell. The rooms are bounded on one side by the fortification wall and on the other by a wall that was visible only on the inside of the rooms; on the other side of this wall, dirt and stone fill had been dumped. In other words, these rooms were some kind of basement, a fact that explains their impressive preservation, sometimes eight feet above floor level. The floors themselves were composed of beaten earth; in a few places, traces of plaster were found. Between the floors and bedrock there was a filling of light-colored earth, which was about three feet thick.

These rooms apparently served as storerooms; large quantities of vessels suitable for storage, but no daily domestic vessels such as cooking pots, were found inside. In Area F each room contained 12–13 huge storage pithoi and other jars, completely filling the limited space of about 60 square feet inside the room.

In a corner of one room, we discovered a most interesting group of silver and bronze objects; some of them are the only examples found so far in Israel. The bronzes included two large flat axes, a small flat axe, and a large shaft-hole axe of a type principally known in Anatolia and northern Syria. The silver jewelry included a large silver pendant, 4.7 inches (11.8 cm) in diameter, displaying a hammered Cappadocian symbol of a Hittite deity. The storerooms also yielded cultic stands, small votive bowls and a vessel in the shape of a bull. All of this suggests that these rooms—and perhaps all the rooms adjoining the fortification wall at the northern end of the site—were connected to a nearby sanctuary. Additional evidence that a sanctuary existed at Shiloh in the Middle Bronze Age comes from the finds of the Late Bronze Age, which will be described below.

Except for these rooms, no buildings of the Middle Bronze Age were found at Shiloh. In Area D and in the southern part of Area F, only stone and earth fills were found leaning on the fortification wall. Inside the wall, delimiting the belt of rooms on the north of the site, earthen fill was laid that slanted up toward the summit of the tell. Thus the following elements appear in a section through the northern end of the tell (from outside to inside): an earthen glacis, a solid fortification wall built of huge boulders, store rooms with floors laid on a dirt fill that goes down to bedrock, the wall delimiting these rooms, and, behind this, earthen fills slanting toward the top of the hill.

Shiloh was destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, in the 16th century B.C.3 By whom, we do not know. Traces of burning were found in the rooms along the fortification wall. Before the fleeing inhabitants could remove their belongings, these rooms were often buried under collapsed mudbricks.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Middle Bronze Age finds at Shiloh is that, already in this period, there appears to have been a shrine at the site. Shiloh thus joins several other sacred Israelite places where a cultic tradition had existed continuously ever since the Middle Bronze Age—long before the Israelite settlement in the 12th–11th centuries B.C.

The total lack of houses in the Middle Bronze Age settlement is also surprising. While it is possible that the residential quarter was at the southern end of the site, an area that could not be excavated because it is covered by the remains of later periods, nevertheless we have exposed enough in the northern part of the site to warrant raising another possibility—that Middle Bronze Age Shiloh was, in fact, mainly a cultic temenos (a sacred precinct) rather than an ordinary settlement.

The massive fortifications, including the great stone wall and the glacis, raise another question. Even if we assume people lived at Shiloh at this time, as at a regular habitation site, we would have to wonder how such a small population managed to execute such an impressive building operation. Calculating population density in the manner generally accepted today, no more than 400 people would have lived at a site of slightly more than four acres. Among these 400 people would be fewer than 100 men. Thus, people from all over the region must have participated in the building activities at Shiloh—a possibility that casts an interesting light on the city’s importance, perhaps as a cult site, already in the Middle Bronze Age.

However, a totally different way to understand the huge fortifications of Shiloh is connected with the pattern of settlement in the vicinity. The survey seems to indicate that some of the small Middle Bronze Age settlements discovered in the Ephraim hill country were abandoned before the end of that period. It is therefore possible that, in the Middle Bronze IIC, the population of these small villages established major, well-defended strongholds, like Shiloh, and found refuge in them.

Finally, there is the matter of the structure of the glacis, which has implications for other sites in the Land of Israel and in neighboring lands. Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether the function of the glacis was defensive—to protect the wall itself from enemy seige operations—or constructional—to strengthen the slope of the tell and stabilize the fortification wall. Our excavations indicate that at least at Shiloh, it was constructional. The greatest effort was invested in the glacis at precisely those places where the slope was relatively steep, while on the sides where the slope was more moderate, the glacis was less complex. Indeed, on the eastern slope, the surface of the glacis created a slope even more moderate than the original surface. From this we conclude that the principal motivation for the construction of this earthen glacis was to strengthen the foundations of the fortification wall as well as to counterbalance the pressure of the dirt and stone fills against the inner face of the wall—rather than to prevent an aggressor from approaching it.

Soon after the destruction of the Middle Bronze stronghold, there was renewed activity at Shiloh, but almost no construction.4 Apart from isolated pottery sherds found in various places on the tell, the Late Bronze Age (15th to 13th centuries B.C.) level was represented only in Area D, extending over an area of about 2,000 square feet; inside and on top of the Middle Bronze fortification wall, there was an accumulation of earth, ashes and stones, nearly five feet thick. This debris contained a very large quantity of broken pottery and animal bones, but no architectural remains. The pottery consists mainly of hundreds of shallow bowls found broken in especially large pieces, as well as juglets, lamps, chalices, imported Cypriote wares, local decorated vessels and a few cooking pots. Several vessels containing ashes and bones were found intact, or nearly so. Most of these vessels appear to have been broken deliberately after use and, together with the bones of animals, probably sacrificial—collected and perhaps even buried in one place.5 Among the small finds were a female figurine, the impression of a cylinder seal on a jar handle, and a piece of gold jewelry in the shape of a fly. On the whole, the debris has the character of a dump or intentional deposit.

Data from all over the tell indicate that there was no real settlement at Shiloh during the Late Bronze Age. Instead, on the summit of the tell, there was probably an isolated cultic place to which offerings were brought by people from various places in the region. The fact that there were very few permanent Late Bronze sites anywhere in the vicinity of Shiloh may indicate that many of these people lived in pastoral groups, in temporary dwellings. It is probable that these offerings, many of them Late Bronze I (15th century B.C.) in date, were brought to the site of the destroyed Middle Bronze Age sanctuary, which may even have been reconstructed. The steadily declining amount of pottery indicates a decrease in activity at the site, and then a complete cessation, apparently before the end of the Late Bronze Age.

This accords well with the picture emerging from our survey. During the Late Bronze Age, there was a drastic reduction in population all over the territory of Ephraim. The number of known sites decreased from approximately 50 to 5, and even those settlements were relatively smaller in size.

The Israelite settlement at Shiloh began in the 12th century B.C., at the beginning of Iron Age I, after the tell had been abandoned for some time. We found remains from Iron Age I virtually everywhere we dug. From this period we discovered buildings, stone-lined silos and other remains.

In Area D, adjacent to the inner face of the uppermost course of the Middle Bronze fortification wall, we exposed a rough pebble floor of Iron Age I that continued on top of the Middle Bronze fortification wall. We found no evidence of any permanent structures on this floor. Perhaps the pavement served as a work surface. Lying on the floor were crushed collar-rim store jars, typical Israelite pottery of the period. Among this pottery was a large seal, 1.6 inches (4 cm) in diameter, made from a black stone, and displaying two crossed representations of galloping horned animals.

The most impressive structures of the Iron I period were unearthed on the western end of the mound. They indicate that knowledge of building techniques was well developed at a relatively early phase of Israelite settlement. In this area, in a small exposure, the Danish expedition in 1929 found “Houses” A and B, in one of which were the famous collar-rim store jars, which they correctly associated with the Israelite settlement at Shiloh. They did not pursue these excavations because, by their own admission, they encountered difficulties in understanding the character of the area. Our team opened an excavation field immediately to the north of the Danish excavations (our Area C), which we subsequently expanded to join their areas. The buildings we excavated here were erected outside the perimeter of the Middle Bronze fortification wall, which was well preserved here and served as the rear wall of these buildings. When the Iron Age buildings were constructed, a portion of the Middle Bronze glacis was removed, and the side walls of the buildings were built against the continuation of the glacis, so that the Iron Age buildings were actually “sunken” into the Middle Bronze glacis.

The steep slope outside the Middle Bronze Age fortification wall necessitated the creation of two building levels with a terrace wall between them. The Middle Bronze fortification wall evidently served as a retaining wall for additional Iron Age structures erected higher up on the slope. The terrace wall was built of pillars consisting of big flat stones with the space between the pillars filled with small and medium field stones. Behind the terrace walls, fill created a solid flat surface on which the upper-level Iron Age structures were erected, including two pillared buildings separated by a corridor.

One of these buildings, which we call Building 312, had four parallel aisles separated from one another by three rows of pillars. The floor consisted of bedrock, stone slabs and crushed white material from the Middle Bronze Age glacis. In the other pillared building, Building 335, was a courtyard with a beaten earth floor flanked by two rooms carefully paved with stone slabs. Rows of pillars, preserved to a height of three feet, separated the courtyard from the side rooms; a low partition wall joined the pillars of each row. A rock-hewn, plastered cistern was discovered in the courtyard. In the eastern part of the building stood two additional pillars. A large hall was built on the lower level of this area, evidently serving as the basement of Building 312. The western wall of this hall was also the outer wall of the site on the side of the slope.

The pottery from these buildings is the richest ever discovered at any early Israelite site, and has implications for the use of the buildings. The Danish expedition uncovered ten whole vessels here; we found over 30 additional vessels and large pieces of many more. Dominating the collection are collar-rim store jars, the storage pithoi that characterize Israelite settlements in the hill country. Altogether, more than 20 of these pithoi have been found over the years, all leaning against walls, and with the bases of some of them inserted into the floor.

The ceramic assemblage also included smaller jars—the handles of one of them stamped by a scaraboid with a geometric design. There were also jugs and kraters. In addition, an ash pit yielded cooking pots. Several grindstones were found in these buildings as well. Carbonized raisins were found in a pile on the floor of one room.

These buildings were destroyed in a fierce conflagration. Burnt floors were found all over. Collapsed burnt bricks accumulated on these floors to a height of more than three feet. Some of the bricks had been baked by the blaze that had raged here. Roof collapse was discernible in many places. All this dramatic evidence of fire must be associated with the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines after they defeated the Israelites near Ebenezer in the mid-11th century B.C. Jeremiah knew what he was talking about when he later threatened the people with destruction like Shiloh’s.
In the debris on top of the brick collapse in one of the pillared buildings, we found evidence of cultic activity in Iron Age I. Two pottery sherds were decorated in relief with animal figures—the head of a lioness and a ram’s head. We also found fragments of a cultic stand with relief images of a horse, a lioness and a scene of a leopard attacking a deer. Near the summit of the tell, we found an Iron Age I installation with several collar-rim jars inside. Fourteen Iron Age silos, each about five feet in diameter were found in the northwest part of the hill (Area D); in two of these silos we discovered huge quantities of carbonized wheat. On the southern side of the tell Iron Age I remains were also found in what must have been a garbage dump (this discovery indicated to us the southern limit of the occupation at this time). Among the finds here was a practically complete rim of a collar-rim store jar with three rosettes stamped on it.6

What can we conclude from over four years of excavation and survey?

One of the surprising results of our work at Shiloh relates to the period before the Israelite settlement. There are accumulating indications of cultic continuity at the site—from the Middle Bronze II period onward; that is, the sacral tradition at Shiloh long antedates the Israelites! A sanctuary probably stood here as early as the Middle Bronze Age, and this may have been of central importance to the development of the site. Even after the destruction of the fortified Middle Bronze site, with its massive glacis, cultic activity continued in the Late Bronze Age, despite the absence, as far as can be determined, of any real settlement. I previously noted the possibility that Shiloh may have then become a central cultic site serving the population of the surrounding area, especially in the first part of the Late Bronze I (LB I).

The history of Shiloh in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages helps us to understand why Shiloh was chosen as the first Israelite sacred center.

Our work at Shiloh may help solve another puzzle: In the past, scholars have been divided as to the chronological order of Israel’s cult centers during Iron Age I. In short, which came first, Shiloh, Shechem, Bethel or Gilgal? The question is too complicated to go into at length here, except to note that the intensive surveys being conducted now throughout of the entire central hill country indicate that the regions with the greatest concentrations of early Israelite settlements are in the territories of Manasseh and Ephraim—in the north—and that from there the Israelite population spread southward, to Benjamin and Judah. It can therefore be hypothesized that the earliest cult center was in the north, probably in Ephraim. Benjamin grew in importance only after the density of the Israelite population in the hill country moved south in succeeding phases of Iron Age I. It would seem therefore that Shiloh preceded Bethel and Gilgal as cult centers serving the people of the hill country. The question of Shechem remains an open one.

Why, among all the sites in Manasseh and Ephraim, was Shiloh chosen? The early sacral traditions associated with the site and the fact that there was no flourishing Canaanite city here in the Late Bronze Age, on the eve of Israelite settlement, must have been contributing factors. But no less important was the pattern of settlement in the northern part of the central hill country, as revealed in the surveys. The territory of Ephraim was practically uninhabited by a sedentary population just prior to the extensive Israelite settlement. Manasseh, on the other hand, as both the Bible and archaeological evidence reflect, was settled with a sizable, well-established Canaanite population, among whom the Israelites had to find places for themselves. The Canaanite population continued to inhabit Manasseh for a long time after the Israelites arrived on the scene.

In short, at the beginning of the Israelite settlement, Shiloh was an outstanding candidate among the sites of the region because it was an old cult site that now stood deserted in an area with only the sparsest Canaanite population.

The results of our excavations at Shiloh also shed light on important chronological issues concerning the process of Israelite settlement. First of all, it is now clear that Yohanan Aharoni’s view,b which seemed to prevail several years ago, that Shiloh may furnish evidence for raising the beginning of Israelite settlement to the 14th and 13th centuries B.C., is no longer valid. Instead, Shiloh fits the pattern now emerging all over the country—there is no unequivocal archaeological evidence that Israelite settlement began as early as the 13th century B.C.
Another issue involves the date when Shiloh became an Israelite cult center. From our hypothesis that Shiloh was the first of the sacred sites in the hill country, it follows that this date should be regarded as the earliest archaeological evidence for the organization of the Israelite population within a framework broader than isolated local groupings. In light of all the data presently at hand, the erection on the western slope of the public pillared buildings, which, in our opinion, were annexes to the cultic complex that stood farther uphill, took place no earlier than the second half or end of the 12th century B.C. Such a date for the creation of the first supratribal center accords, to the best of our knowledge, with all the other chronological evidence, especially the date of the beginning of the process of Israelite settlement.
No doubt the cultic center at Shiloh also played an important economic role in the lives of the inhabitants of the hill country, as attested both by our excavation and our survey Storage vessels predominate in the assemblage uncovered in Area C; in an area no larger than 2,700 square feet (250 square meters), more than 20 large pithoi, seven jars and three kraters were found. Although a few cooking pots were also discovered here, this is no ordinary domestic assemblage, and it seems that at least parts of these buildings were used for storage.
The inability to excavate the higher area of the tell, which was eroded and damaged by later building activity, is an impediment to any attempt to draw conclusions about the plan of this early settlement. As I indicated, it is likely that these storerooms were in some way connected to the sanctuary and that perhaps the offerings brought to the sanctuary (see 1 Samuel 1:24) were stored here. If this was the case, these structures would be the only public buildings known in the hill country in Iron Age I (c. 1200–1000 B.C.).

As for the regional settlement pattern, our survey indicates that population density in the immediate vicinity of Shiloh was two and even three times greater than at other places in the territory of Ephraim. Some 100 sites of Israelite settlement have been found so far in our survey, of which 22 are apparently within a radius of about three to four miles of Shiloh. By comparison, in a similar radius around Bethel, only 12 sites from this period were discovered; moreover, as far as we can tell, at least half of these settlements near Shiloh began at a later phase of Iron Age I, when the site reached its zenith. It is clear, then, that the density of population in the region was influenced by the cultic and economic center of Shiloh.

The area of the Iron Age I site was only about three acres;7 most of it was probably occupied by the complex of the tabernacle and its auxiliary buildings. Was Shiloh, in addition, an ordinary settlement or was it strictly a sacred temenos with annexes? The answer to this question can only be obtained on the southern slope of the tell. Unfortunately, it is precisely this area that was so damaged by later construction as to render the chances of uncovering any early architecture here exceedingly slim. The question must, therefore, remain open for the time being. However, if the finds described above and the character of the site in the Bronze Age are any indication, then it would seem more likely that it was mainly a sacred temenos.

Finally, we must touch upon the tantalizing but unanswerable question about the location of the tabernacle. Various hypotheses have been suggested. Charles Wilson, who visited the site in the 1870s on behalf of the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund, suggested that the tabernacle stood on a natural rock surface just north of the tell; he based his suggestion on the many indications of hewing discernible on this flat area. Wilson’s proposal still finds some supporters today. However, recent excavations in this area undertaken by Ze’ev Yeivin of the Israel Department of Antiquities turned up no remains whatsoever of the Iron I period.

Nor have our excavations on the mound itself given an unequivocal answer to the question of the location of the tabernacle. We did find a few clues, however. For example, there is the negative evidence from the northern part of the tell, where no architectural remains of Iron I were found. So, assuming that the sanctuary was situated on the mound itself—and few would dispute this—the only other possible locations are the summit and the southern slope. There seem to be several points in favor of the summit. The amount of effort expended in erecting the pillared buildings on the steep slope—a segment of the Middle Bronze glacis was removed to create a level construction site—is astounding, especially given that the more moderate and convenient area on the northern side was free of buildings and therefore available. It is indeed hard to understand the decision to erect the pillared buildings on the slope unless they were planned and constructed as part of a larger complex, the greater part of which was to their east, in the direction of the summit; in other words, these pillared buildings were at the back of the complex.
Some support for this line of reasoning may be garnered from the debris found overlying the collapsed bricks of the pillared building we call Building 335. As noted above, this debris contained fragments of a cultic stand and other vessels ornamented in applied relief that may have been offering vessels. Where did this debris originate? The most likely explanation is that the material was dumped down the slope at a later period, when the area adjacent to it on the east, in the direction of the summit, was cleared in preparation for new construction. Our attempts to investigate the upper reaches of the tell, just east of Area C, were unsuccessful because the intensive Roman and Byzantine building operations had destroyed all earlier remains.

After the Philistine destruction of Shiloh in the middle of the 11th century B.C., the center of Israelite population moved southward, to the hilly territory of Benjamin. Shiloh lost its claim to prominence, and no important town ever arose here again. Following a period of abandonment, a small village, the poor remains of which were found in several places, occupied the site in Iron Age II (tenth to eighth centuries B.C.). The Danish expedition uncovered various Roman remains, as well as two Byzantine churches with ornamental mosaic floors south of the mound. We also found Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine remains in various places on the tell. But the days of glory for Shiloh were over. As the Bible reflects, and our excavations confirm, Shiloh never really recovered from the Philistine destruction in about 1050 B.C.

The Danish Excavations
Hans Kjaer, “The Excavation of Shiloh 1929,” Journal of the Palestinian Oriental Society 10 (1930), pp. 87–174.
Hans Kjaer, “A Summary Report of the Second Danish Expedition, 1939,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1931), pp. 71–88.
Marie-Louise Buhl and Svend Holm-Nielsen, Shiloh, The Danish Excavations at Tell Sailu┬Án, Palestine in 1926, 1929, 1932 and 1963: The Pre-Hellenistic Remains (Copenhagen, 1969).
Yigal Shiloh, Review of Buhl and Holm-Neilsen, “Shiloh,” Israel Exploration Journal 21 (1971), pp. 67–69.
Yohanan Aharoni, “The Ten Thousands of Ephraim and the Thousands of Manasseh,” in Eretz Shomron (in Hebrew), p. 46.
Recent Excavations
Israel Finkelstein and Baruch Brandl, “A Group of Metal Objects from Shiloh,” The Israel Museum Journal IV (1985), pp. 17–76.
Israel Finkelstein (editor), “Shiloh Excavations 1981–1984, Preliminary Report,” forthcoming in Tel Aviv.

Shiloh and Its Tabernacle - The Puzzle

Fixing the Site of the Tabernacle at Shiloh
By Asher S. Kaufman

In a recent BAR article (January/February 1986), Israel Finkelstein, the director of the important new excavations at Shiloh, reported to BAR readers the exciting results of his efforts. The title of the article, “Shiloh Yields Some, But Not All, of Its Secrets,” BAR 12:01, accurately describes the contents. The added blurb, “Location of Tabernacle Still Uncertain,” indicates that the last word has not yet been said regarding this intriguing question.

As BAR readers will recall, it was at Shiloh that the Israelites set up the desert Tabernacle after crossing the Jordan River, arriving in the Land of Promise and taking possession of the land. In Joshua 18:1 we are told: “And the whole community of the children of Israel assembled at Shiloh, and set up the Tent of Meeting there. And the land was under their control.”

The Tent of Meeting was the portable structure erected by Moses after the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 40:17ff.) in fulfillment of the Biblical injunction: “And let them make Me a Temple and I shall dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). Its central feature was the Mishkan (usually translated Tabernacle). The Mishkan consisted of two covered chambers. The first was the Holy of Holies (Hebrew, Kodesh Ha-Kodashim), measuring 10 cubits by 10 cubits. Separated from the Holy of Holies by the “Veil” (Hebrew, Parochet), on its eastern side, was the second chamber of the Mishkan, the Holy Place (Hebrew, Kodesh), a rectangle 20 cubits long and 10 cubits wide (Exodus 26). The Ark of the Covenant, containing the two stone tablets of the Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, was placed in the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:34). The Tabernacle was set in an open rectangular court together with the Altar of Sacrifice on the east and the Laver (Exodus 40). The terminology can be a little confusing because sometimes the Tabernacle is named the Tent of Meeting (as, for example, in Exodus 40:7). I shall call the whole structure, including the surrounding court, the Tent of Meeting (as in Exodus 33:7). The Tent of Meeting was the prototype of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, especially the former.

The Tent of Meeting remained at Shiloh until the Philistines destroyed the city about 1050 B.C., after the famous battle of Eben-Ezer.a When the battle was going badly for the Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant was taken from the Tent of Meeting and brought to them, but to no avail. The Philistines won the battle, captured the Ark, and then marched on Shiloh, ultimately destroying the Tabernacle there (1 Samuel 4; Jeremiah 7:12–14, 26:6, 26:9; Psalms 78:60). Until that defeat, for many years, Shiloh had served as the religious center of the Israelite tribal confederation. Here the tribal territories were allotted (Joshua 18:10); here the people gathered in times of distress (Joshua 22:12); here they celebrated their annual religious pilgrimage (Judges 21:19–21; 1 Samuel 1).

Naturally, any excavator of the site would be interested in locating the site of the Tent of Meeting with the Tabernacle. Finkelstein is no exception. Although admitting that he has not found the building itself, Finkelstein speculates that it was probably on the summit of the tell. He rather cavalierly dismisses the suggestion made by Charles W. Wilson of the Palestine Exploration Fund in London more than a hundred years ago that the Tabernacle was located about 160 yards (150 meters) north of the tell center on a flat rock surface. Finkelstein tells us only that Wilson:

“suggested that the Tabernacle stood on a natural rock surface just north of the tell; he based his suggestion on the many indications of hewing discernible on this flat area … However, recent excavations in this area undertaken by Ze’ev Yeivin of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums turned up no remains whatsoever of the Iron I period [the period of the Judges].”
Finkelstein concedes that his own excavations have not “given an unequivocal answer to the question of the location of the Tabernacle [while at Shiloh].” He also notes that “Wilson’s proposal still finds some supporters today.”

In his recent book on the Israelite settlement in Canaan,b he cites as supporting Wilson’s proposal an unpublished lecture of mine delivered in 1981 to the Israel Biblical Research Society that was circulated privately and that I made available to Dr. (then Mr.) Finkelstein. Otherwise, he says no more about Wilson’s proposal in his book than he does in his BAR article.

I believe Wilson’s location and the arguments—both new and old—in support of it deserve a more extended treatment than Finkelstein has given it, for there is much to be said in its favor.

Wilson seems to have been the first person in modern times to suggest a possible location of the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Wilson became acquainted with Palestine as a captain in the Royal Engineers of the British Army when he led the first scientific survey of Jerusalem in 1864–1865. This survey—conducted for the purpose of improving the sanitary state of the city—paved the way for the establishment in 1865 of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF), which conducted an ordnance survey of Palestine and promoted the scientific exploration of the country. Eventually, Sir Charles Wilson (he was knighted) became an influential figure on the Executive Committee of the PEF.

The ruins of the Arab village Seilun had previously been identified as ancient Shiloh by the American explorer, geographer and Biblical scholar Edward Robinson, who passed by there in 1838. Robinson, it should be noted, was the first to identify Shiloh in modern times. In 1322, the Jewish scholar and geographer Rabbi Ish Tori Happatchi correctly identified the place:1
“Shiloh is directly south of Shechem, although a little to the east, [at a distance of] about three hours’ [travel]. And it is on the way in going up to Jerusalem, with Shiloh placed on the left of the highway ascending from Shechem to Jerusalem. It is at the end of the first third [of this journey] and it is called Seilun. And realize that just as it is identified at the end of the book of Judges [21:19], so it is today, in that first of all you locate on your right Lebonah which is called [today] Lubin. Ascend further for about 1000 cubits and you will find on your left a spring of water; and from there take [the] path pointing south east for about an hour and there is Shiloh. There was still there a cupola which is named the Dome of the Shechinah [Divine Presence; Dome of the Shechinah is the translation of the Arabic phrase given in Hebrew characters.] …

Here is Wilson’s description of the spot he identified as the site of the Tabernacle:2
“Northwards the ‘Tell’ [of Seilun] slopes down to a broad shoulder, across which a sort of level court, 77 ft. wide and 412 ft. long, has been cut. The rock is in places scarped to a height of 5 ft., and along the sides are several excavations, and a few small cisterns. The level portion of the rock is covered by a few inches of soil. It is not improbable that the place was thus prepared to receive the Tabernacle … At any rate, there is no other level space on the ‘Tell’ sufficiently large to receive a tent of the dimensions of the Tabernacle.”

In 1926, a Danish expedition under the direction of Hans Kjaer excavated at Shiloh. A second expedition was mounted by the Danes in 1929. Their “chief aim [in this second expedition] was to find the very place of the old sanctuary,” but they readily admitted that they had failed to do so.3

While Wilson placed the sanctuary north of the tell (and, as we have seen, Finkelstein places it on the summit of the tell), the late Professor Michael Avi-Yonah of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in his short survey of the location of the sanctuary at Shiloh placed it south of the tell, with some qualification. According to Avi-Yonah:4

“The area south of the mound, … seems a much more likely spot for an open-air sanctuary around a Tabernacle; … Nonetheless, it is not impossible that the sanctuary stood inside the city proper.”

Obviously no definitive answer to the question is possible at this time. So we must deal in likelihoods and probabilities.

The first factor that favors Wilson’s site is that it conforms to the dimensions of the Tent of Meeting as described in the Bible.

According to the description in Exodus 26, the Tabernacle was 30 cubits long and 10 cubits wide. At that time, the cubit was six handbreadths long—16.9 inches (42.8 centimeters).c Accordingly, the Tabernacle was approximately 42.2 feet (12.84 meters) long and 14.1 feet (4.28 meters) wide.

A much larger space was needed, however, because the Tabernacle was enclosed within a court of much larger dimensions. The surrounding court was 100 cubits long and 50 cubits wide (Exodus 27:18). This translates into a court 140 feet (42.8 meters) long and 70 feet (21.4 meters) wide.

It appears that during its long stay at Shiloh, the Tent of Meeting was converted from its fully portable form to a semi-permanent structure. The Bible refers to the Tabernacle as a bayit, or house, in 1 Samuel 1:24, the same word used with reference to Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings 6:1 and elsewhere. The Mishnah,d which was compiled about 200 A.D., tells us: “They came to Shiloh … and [the Tabernacle] there was not roofed but [was] a house (bayit) of masonry in the lower [part] and curtains in the upper [part] … ” (Zevachim 14:6). This stone foundation wall would have added a few feet to the area needed for the Tabernacle and its enclosing courtyard, that is, the Temple compound.

All in all the Temple at Shiloh, including the Mishkan (Tabernacle) enclosed in a courtyard with a wall, was a rectangle a few feet more than 140 feet long and a few feet more than 70 feet wide—say 145 feet by 75 feet.

The site just north of the tell on which Wilson placed the Tabernacle allows for a complex of this size. Wilson located the Temple complex on a flat, hewn rock terrace north of the tell that is about 50 feet lower than the summit. This terrace can be divided into three areas; I call these areas A (in the middle), B (to the east) and C (to the west), as seen in aerial photographs of the site in the sidebar (Past and Present Efforts to Solve the Puzzle).

The length of area A alone is about 180 feet, which is more than adequate to accommodate the length of the court of the Tent of Meeting. The limiting dimension is the width. The narrowest part of area A is 78 feet, as measured on a map belonging to Ze’ev Yeivin.5 This width is sufficient for a stone-wall foundation for the courtyard 2 ½ cubits (over 3 feet) thick, with some room to spare.

A topographical map of the tell adapted from Kjaer’s excavation report appears in the sidebar. It seems impossible to fit an approximately level courtyard of the dimensions described in the Bible on the summit of the tell (where Finkelstein proposes to place the Tabernacle) or even in its close proximity. Again, the dimensions of this courtyard would be 145 feet by 75 feet.
The Tent of Meeting in the wilderness was aligned east-west (Exodus 26:22; Numbers 3:23, 38). This brings into play another element in identifying the location of the Temple compound at Shiloh. Surely, an attempt would have been made to align the Temple at Shiloh along an east-west axis, in accordance with the Biblical description of the Tent of Meeting. (Both the First and Second Temples were also aligned east-west, the latter precisely so and the former with a deviation of 6 1/8–3/8.e) The aerial photograph shows quite clearly that the site identified by Wilson as the location of the Temple compound (essentially areas A and B, according to the author) is indeed aligned approximately east-west. I have myself confirmed this by rough compass measurements on some of the rock cuttings on the site.

There are several other factors that tend to support Wilson’s identification of the site. As can be seen from the topographical map in the sidebar, Wilson’s site is protected by steep slopes on all sides, except on the south, the side facing the tell. Even today, the sole approach by road to the tell—and to the site Wilson proposed for the Tabernacle compound—is from the south. Finkelstein’s excavations confirm that the town of Shiloh lay on the tell, south of Wilson’s site. This location would provide further security to the sacred place to the north, if indeed it was located on Wilson’s site. When combined with the site’s natural defenses created by the steep fall-off on the north, east, and west, offering ready-made protection from a potential enemy, the site becomes particularly attractive from a strictly topological viewpoint.

A location north of the city for the Temple compound may even be indicated in the Biblical text itself. A young friend of mine, Dr. Samuel Gillis, originally made this suggestion to me. When the Israelites were losing the battle of Eben-Ezer, they sent to Shiloh for the Ark of the Covenant to be carried in battle against the Philistines. Even this failed to turn the tide, and the Philistines captured the Ark. The Philistines also slew the two sons of Eli, the high priest at the Shiloh Temple. A man from the tribe of Benjamin was then sent from the battlefield to Shiloh to report the tragic events. A careful reading of the text seems to indicate that the messenger had to pass through the town before reaching Eli and the Temple. Since the only entrance to the town, then as now, was no doubt from the south, this indicates that the Temple compound was just north of the city—precisely where Wilson’s site is located.

Here is the Biblical text:

“A man of Benjamin ran from the battle lines, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his uniform rent, and earth upon his head. And he came, and now Eli was sitting on the chair by the way-side waiting,6 because his heart trembled for the Ark of God; and the man came to tell [about the defeat, the fate of the Ark and the death of Eli’s sons] in the town, and the whole town cried out. And Eli heard the sound of the shouting, and said ‘What [is the meaning of] the sound of this tumult?’ And the man hastened, and came and told Eli” (1 Samuel 4:12–14).

From this, it seems that Eli was sitting on a seat by the wayside, near the Temple (see also 1 Samuel 1:9); that is, north of the city, according to Wilson’s site. The messenger, coming from the south, came first to the town and gave his report to the townspeople. Eli does not hear the contents of the report, but he does hear the people crying out at the news. Then the messenger goes to Eli and tells him as well. Wilson’s site conforms precisely to this scenario.

Wilson’s site is not within the city itself, and this too lends plausibility to his suggestion. In their desert wanderings, the Israelites positioned the Tent of Meeting outside the camp and far from it (Exodus 33:7). This relative location was no doubt preserved at Shiloh, with the town (centered on the tell) replacing the Israelite camp in this arrangement.

Archaeologists usually anticipate cultic centers on high places, as Finkelstein does. However, in the Torah (Deuteronomy 12:2, 4), the Israelites were warned not to follow this practice. Wilson’s court is nearly 50 feet lower than the summit of the tell.

Finally, the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah, chapter 1, Halakhah 12) refers to two distinct places—Shiloh (presumably the town), and the Tabernacle (Mishkan) of Shiloh. Although this text is nearly 1,500 years later than the event, it may well preserve an accurate historical memory that the Tabernacle was located apart from the settlement.

I return now to a factor referred to above only glancingly—the fact that Wilson’s site has been worked. Wilson noted that a “level court” had been “cut.” He also found “a few small cisterns” on this apparently manmade rock terrace. In some places he found that the terrace had been scarped to a height of 5 feet. My own brief examination of the site has confirmed extensive evidence of manmade hewing. The question is, when did this occur?

Part of Wilson’s site was excavated recently (1976, 1981, 1982) by Ze’ev Yeivin. On the basis of Yeivin’s results, Finkelstein dismisses Wilson’s site: “However, recent excavations in this area undertaken by Ze’ev Yeivin of the Israel Department of Antiquities turned up no remains whatsoever of the Iron I period.” All of Yeivin’s material was from later periods.

But this is not as devastating an argument as Finkelstein suggests. The aerial photograph in the sidebar was taken on February 23, 1983, shortly after Yeivin completed his trial excavation of this area. As the photograph reveals, Yeivin excavated only a fraction of Wilson’s site. Remains of the temple could easily have been missed, especially bearing in mind its semipermanent character.

Moreover, it could well be that little remains of the Temple compound. After all, it was built on a rock terrace. And, as Yeivin’s excavations reveal, there was subsequent occupation of the site. Finkelstein himself explains the absence of earlier remains on the summit of the tell:
“[because] construction in all periods attempts to lay building foundations directly on bedrock, the building activity of later periods … caused extensive damage to earlier strata. Older buildings had often been destroyed and sometimes even eradicated.”

This situation is, a fortiori, true of the rock terrace that is Wilson’s site. Subsequent construction could easily have removed all traces of earlier construction.

Finkelstein has never really addressed the arguments in favor of Wilson’s site. Instead, he speculates that the Temple compound once stood on the summit of the tell and has now been completely eroded away. This is possible, although, as I previously suggested, it would be difficult to find a flat area on the summit large enough to accommodate the Temple compound. By contrast, Wilson’s site is an artificially created terrace with a level rock floor that is sufficiently large to accept the Shiloh Temple.

The final question is whether any further research can be undertaken to determine whether Wilson’s site may still bear traces of the Temple compound that once stood there—if it did. I believe the answer is yes. The same method I have used for the Temple of Jerusalem should be tried. Aerial and ground surveys of the rock cuttings on Wilson’s site on a scale of 1:100 should be made to determine their alignment and dimensions. Are they aligned on an east-west (and perpendicular) axis, indicating that a wall or building was once aligned on this same axis? Are their dimensions fractions or multiples of the cubit used in the Settlement period? Further excavation in Wilson’s site (Yeivin’s excavations here were only trial squares) might also help to piece together this jigsaw puzzle. All it takes is time and money.

If I might conclude with my own cautious suggestion, I would speculate that the Tabernacle, or Mishkan, was situated on area A of Wilson’s site and that the wall enclosing the Tabernacle and creating the courtyard extended on to area B of Wilson’s site. I base this suggestion on the fact that adjacent sections of area A and area B are straddled on the north by a fairly straight rock cutting, thereby connecting them and possibly indicating that this part of the site was used for a special purpose. I add to this the fact that area A is higher than area B. As we know from both the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem, one ascends in sanctity.

The Jars of Shiloh

Jars? Jars you ask?

Well, keep reading below.

Did the Philistines Destroy the Israelite Sanctuary at Shiloh? The Archaeological Evidence

The shoals in the sea of archaeology are treacherous indeed. Take the case of Marie-Louise Buhl.
Ms. Buhl, a Keeper of the National Museum of Denmark, recently wrote part of the final report on the Danish excavations at Shiloh (1). Ms. Buhl’s task was admittedly complicated by the fact that the Shiloh excavations had been carried out by a Danish expedition about 40 years earlier—in three campaigns in the 1920’s and early 1930’s under the direction of Hans Kjaer. Kjaer tragically died of dysentery a month after the last season began. As a result, no final report was ever written until Ms. Buhl and a colleague assumed the task four decades later.

Prior to his death, Hans Kjaer did publish two preliminary reports on the excavations containing a major finding for students of the Bible: Shiloh had been destroyed in about 1050 B.C., about the time that the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Lord—after it had been taken from the central sanctuary at Shiloh to lead the Israelite forces in battle (See 1 Samuel 4). It seemed reasonable to conclude that the Philistines had destroyed the Israelite sanctuary at Shiloh following the fateful defeat of the Israelite army near Aphek.
Whether the Philistines destroyed Shiloh had always been a vexing question. Nowhere is it explicitly so stated in the Bible. That the Ark was placed at Kiryat Yearim, rather than at Shiloh, after it was returned by the Philistines, is certainly consistent with the hypothesis that Shiloh had been destroyed. Even more significant are several passages in Jeremiah written 450 years later: In one, the prophet warns in the Lord’s name, “Go, if you will, to my place that used to be in Shiloh, where once I made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel” (Jeremiah 7:12). Later, the priests in the Jerusalem temple demand of Jeremiah, “Why have you prophesied in the Lord’s name that this house shall become like Shiloh and this city an uninhabited ruin” (Jeremiah 26:9; see also Jeremiah 26:6 and Psalm 78:60). All these references had implied to many scholars, even before Kjaer’s archaeological evidence, that the Philistines had destroyed Shiloh after the battle near Aphek in which the Ark was captured.
On the other hand, the Bible contains several references to Shiloh as a place where people lived after the time when it was supposedly destroyed by the Philistines. For example, in 1 Kings, Shiloh is referred to as the home of the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29; 14:2; see also Jeremiah 41:5). If the Philistines destroyed Shiloh, how does it happen that people were living there afterward? The answer may be that a small village continued to exist at the ancient shrine. Or perhaps, as it was thought before the Danish excavations, the Philistines did not destroy Shiloh.
Kjaer’s excavations appeared to have settled the question. For once, archaeology seemed to speak to a specific Biblical incident, not just to the background. And its answer was confirmation of the Philistine destruction of Shiloh. This became the standard and conventional wisdom for more than 30 years. (See, for example, John Bright’s commentary on Jeremiah, 7:12 in the Anchor Bible series.)
Then in the 1960’s came Ms. Buhl’s final report on Kjaer’s excavations, in connection with which she made a thorough re-examination of the excavation materials. To her surprise—and the shock of the scholarly world—she discovered that Kjaer had misdated the destruction of Shiloh by more than 300 years. According to Ms. Buhl, the destruction of Shiloh had not occurred until about 700 B.C.
When Shiloh was destroyed depends on the dating of some storage jars. These jars—known as collar rim jars because they appear to have a little collar around the neck—were associated with a destruction layer of charcoal found in the excavation. Whole collar rim jars were recovered from this destruction level in a building known as House A and sherds of the same style jar were found in the destruction level on top of an early wall.
Kjaer’s preliminary report had dated these collar rim jars to the Iron Age I period and more precisely to about 1050 B.C., approximately the date of the battle in which the Philistines captured the Ark.

Ms. Buhl in the 1960’s came to a different conclusion: The collar rim jars from House A date from the Iron Age II period, not Iron Age I. “It is now beyond doubt” writes Ms. Buhl, “that House A … was destroyed by fire at the end of the 8th Cent. B.C., and that layers of ashes from the same time also were present in the basement of a neighboring house with a jar of the Iron II period”.

Ms. Buhl bases her conclusion primarily on materials from Yigael Yadin’s excavations at Hazor. Solid confidence can be placed in Yadin’s dating of his carefully excavated stratified finds. “With the help of the finds from the Hazor excavations”, Ms. Buhl tells us, “it has been possible to date the storage jars from House A … to the Iron II period”.

Ms. Buhl writes of her predecessor Hans Kjaer with a certain sympathetic condescension. Because of his own lack of knowledge, he was perhaps too easily influenced by others. “It is unjust to blame Hans Kjaer for these errors,” Ms. Buhl tells us. “He was a careful excavator, but, as a specialist in Danish prehistory who had to deal with numerous unfamiliar problems of both a practical and scholarly nature, he was obliged to consult others on many details.” Kjaer “was obviously influenced by others who believed that Shiloh had been completely destroyed by the Philistines at the time they captured the Ark.”

Nowhere does Ms. Buhl tell us who these unhelpful influences were, who it was that Kjaer consulted.

As a matter of fact, Kjaer was fully aware that he knew very little about Palestinian ceramic chronology. So he associated with him as his archaeological advisor, Ms. Buhl’s eminence grise, the greatest ceramic expert of his time, none other than William Foxwell Albright. It was Albright, not Kjaer, who dated these collar rim storage jars to c. 1050 B.C. Of course, even the great Albright made mistakes, but an archaeologist usually reaches this conclusion with somewhat more diffidence than Ms. Buhl writes of Hans Kjaer.

In this instance, however, Albright was correct. It was Ms. Buhl who erred.

The task of demolishing Ms. Buhl was left to Yigal Shiloh—whose relationship to the Biblical site of the same name has now been established. Shiloh is an archaeologist on the staff of Hebrew University and was one of Yadin’s chief assistants at Hazor. We have checked his conclusions with a number of pottery experts and all confirm the accuracy of his conclusions. None has any hesitation in disagreeing with Ms. Buhl.

Professor Shiloh has shown that while the collar rim jar continued to be produced in Iron II, as Ms. Buhl contends, the Iron II collar rim jar was a much smaller and squatter vessel than the Iron I collar rim jar, as shown in the illustration—which was prepared by Professor Shiloh. This is true of all the collar rim jars, including those from Hazor, which Ms. Buhl uses in her effort to establish that the Shiloh collar rim jars belong to the Iron II period. In addition, the collar itself varies somewhat in the two periods. The Iron I collar sits at the base of the neck or on the shoulder. The Iron II collar sits further up and creates a ridge in the middle of the neck.
Thus, we are back where we started from 45 years ago, with the archaeological evidence indicating a destruction of Shiloh in about 1050 B.C.

Another interesting aspect of the story is the use which has unfortunately been made of Ms. Buhl’s erroneous conclusion. The great English Bible scholar, Professor Peter R. Ackroyd of the University of London, swallowed Ms. Buhl’s conclusion whole and thus unwittingly served to perpetuate her mistaken conclusion. Writing in 1971 in the influential and popular Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible (1 Samuel), Professor Ackroyd tells his readers, “A recent re-examination of the evidence … has shown [the earlier conclusion that a major destruction occurred at Shiloh about 1050 B.C.] to be incorrect.” When queried as to why he had accepted Ms. Buhl’s conclusion, Professor Ackroyd replied that the answer was “quite simple.” “I am not,” he said, “an archaeologist.” Although conceding that he would probably handle the matter differently if he were writing today, Professor Ackroyd’s answer does point up the difficulty even a well-informed Bible scholar may have in handling archaeological materials in this age of specialization, which perhaps in part accounts for the fact that more use is not made of these materials by Bible scholars.

Perhaps at this point it would be well to sound our own note of caution. Ms. Buhl’s error does not mean that archaeology has proved the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines in 1050 B.C. It only tells us that there is some evidence of a destruction, how widespread we cannot be sure—at about this time. Although archaeology probably will never be able to answer the ultimate question of whether the Philistines destroyed Shiloh, it would be intriguing to return to the site for a major re-excavation in the light of all the new archaeological knowledge that has been accumulated in the last 45 years.

Finally, it is important to note that Ms. Buhl did correctly identify a great deal of evidence of Iron II occupation at the site, which Kjaer did not find. Thus, although Shiloh may have been destroyed by the Philistines, it continued to be occupied thereafter. This is consistent with the Biblical evidence of occupation at Shiloh (such as the prophet Ahijah) even after the Philistine capture of the Ark. In short, the archaeological evidence from Shiloh is consistent both with the Biblical implication of the Philistine destruction of Shiloh and also with the city’s continued occupation thereafter.

(For further details, see Y. Shiloh, Review, Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 21, p. 67 (1970); Y. Shiloh, “The Camp at Shiloh” in Eretz Shomron (Jerusalem 1973))
(1) See Marie-Louise Buhl and S. Holm-Nielsen, Shiloh, The Pre-Hellenistic Remains (National Museum, Copenhagen, 1969)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Shiloh in Tel Aviv?

Of course, it could be Sheila but below is a new bar opening on Ben-Yehudha Street in Tel Aviv and it reads "Shiloh":-

But up close, the use of the feminine form in the phrase "She's Not New...A Bar With Food" seems to point to Sheila and not Shiloh. But who knows? After all, what do Tel Acvivians know anyway?