Daily Archives: August 3, 2010

The tabernacle at Shiloh

During the midst of the allocation of the land to the various tribes of Israel, all of them gathered at Shiloh (Shilo) and set up the tent of meeting or tabernacle (Joshua 18:1), which is also called the house of God in Joshua 18:31. Here they made the final division of the land (Joshua 18:8-10).

Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them. (Joshua 18:1 ESV)

The book of Joshua describes the location of Shiloh in specific terms.

However, there is an annual festival to the LORD in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel (east of the main road that goes up from Bethel to Shechem) and south of Lebonah.” (Judges 21:19 NET)

Shiloh in Old Testament times.

The location of Shiloh in Old Testament times. Map: BibleAtlas.org.

The Israelites decided to take the ark of the covenant down to the battle field near the coastal plain. The Israelites were camped beside Ebenezer and the Philistines were camped at Aphek (1 Samuel 4). This was a bad decision. The Philistines defeated the Israelites on that occasion and captured the ark of the covenant. In the same conflict two sons of the judge Eli, Hophni and Phenhas, died. When word reached the old man at the gate of Shiloh he died. It was especially the message that the ark had been taken that most affected Eli.

As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years. (1 Samuel 4:18 ESV)

The ark never returned to Shiloh. Eventually, after the Philistines sent it back to the Israelites, David took it to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6).

The first photo shows a view of the tell toward the east. Notice the roof of a tower that allows a view of the general area. A hi-res image is available here.

Tel Shiloh where the tabernacle once stood. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Shiloh where the tabernacle once stood. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From that tower we look north at the view of the hill country of Ephraim. The tell is now overgrown, but the rocks in the foreground are the outline of excavated building at the site. Hi-res here.

The view north from Tel Shiloh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The view north, and perhaps a bit east, from Tel Shiloh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shiloh was the home of Samuel. The biblical account of the intriguing story of Hannah who had no children is told in the early chapters of 1 Samuel. When Samuel was old enough to be away from home, his mother took him to live with Eli at the tabernacle in Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:24). God’s prophetic call came to Samuel at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3).

Shiloh is identified with Tell Seilun, a site located about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. Israel Finkelstein conducted an excavation of the tell between 1981 and 1984. He found eight strata from MB II to the Middle Ages.

The evidence for sacred continuity at the site from MB III–Iron I is instructive for the history of Israel. Surveys done by Finkelstein in the region of the central hills established that Shiloh was indeed in the heart of a settlement landscape that had greatly expanded in Iron I. The area surrounding Shiloh was perhaps three times as densely populated as any other region in the hills. Given that the top of the tell was long ago exposed, the nature of the shrine constructed by the Israelites is not ascertainable, whether it was a permanent building (cf. 1 Sam. 3:15) or a portable shrine (cf. 2 Sam. 7:6f). — Encyclopedia Jusaica.

Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) reports here that some new excavations are underway at Shiloh, but few details are given (HT: Joseph I. Lauer).