The mound of Shiloh (Khirbet Seilun), some 7.5 acres (3 ha) in size, is located 24.8 miles (40 km) north of Jerusalem. The site’s identification is based primarily on Judges 21:19, where Shiloh’s location is described as “north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” The sites of Bethel (the village of Beitin, northwest of Ramallah) and Lebonah (in the vicinity of Al Lubban esh Sharqiyyah village) are known. Also known is the location of the ancient Road of the Patriarchs, between Bethel and Shechem/Nablus on the route of the contemporary road connecting Jerusalem and Nablus, some 1.6 miles (2.5 km) west of the site. Therefore, the identification of biblical Shiloh is quite certain. Shiloh is also mentioned in later historical sources: Eusebius, who wrote in the fourth century C.E., places it “twelve miles [of Neapolis or Shechem],” and in the Madaba map it is shown southeast of Neapolis, in the district of Acrabitence. Shiloh’s location had been preserved well into the late Middle Ages. In the fourteenth century Eshtori ha-Parhi mentioned the place-name, which was also preserved in the name of a small village in an Ottoman taxation list of the early sixteenth century C.E.

Excavations.

The site was first excavated in 1922 by a Danish expedition directed by Aage Schmidt, who carried out a survey and a few digs on a lesser scale. This was followed by three more seasons, in the years 1926 to 1932, by another Danish expedition under the direction of Hans Kjaer. William F. Albright, who was digging in Tel Beit Mirsim at the time, served as the expedition’s advisor. In 1963 Svend Holm-Nielsen carried out a brief excavation, aimed at resolving some of the stratigraphic problems left by the earlier excavations. In 1981 to 1984, a wide-scale excavation was carried out by a Bar-Ilan University expedition, directed by Israel Finkelstein, Shlomo Bunimovitz, and Zvi Lederman. The various excavation areas cited here refer to the Israeli excavation results.

The Middle-Bronze Period.

The earliest settlement stratum on the site is dated to the Middle Bronze IIB (1700–1600 B.C.E.). This settlement was apparently unwalled, and its remains contain only pottery without any building segments. In Area D large quantities of pottery were discovered at the lowest level of the glacis. Presumably, these sherds originated in the refuse dump, which at a later period was used to form the glacis. The finds that were also revealed in Areas C, F, H, K, and M included, in addition to the pottery assemblage, a sherd of a painted ritual stand, a scarab impression on a jar handle, a zoomorphic vessel in the shape of a bull, and a bone decorated with an incised pattern.

At the next settlement stage, which is dated to the Middle Bronze IIC (1600–1550 B.C.E.), an area measuring some 4.25 acres (1.7 ha) was surrounded by a fortification system, comprising a wall and a glacis. Remains of this system were exposed by both the Danish and the Israeli expeditions. The former uncovered remains of the fortifications in two areas of the excavation, one in Area H of the Israeli expedition and another one farther north. Additional sections of the wall were unearthed by the Israeli expedition in Areas C, D, F, J, K, and M: one, 111.5 ft (34 m) long, in Area D and the other, 118.1 ft (36 m) long, in Areas F, G, and H. The wall, built of fieldstones laid directly on bedrock, was between 9.8 and 18 ft (3 and 5.5 m) thick and in Area D was preserved to a height of 21.9 ft (6.7 m). The glacis, which abutted the base of the wall, was 82 ft (25 m) wide at its lower part and 20.7 ft (6.3 m) wide next to the wall. At the center of the glacis, a wall was built to further stabilize it. Large boulders were laid at the edge of the glacis as an additional support measure.

In Area F, a series of rooms whose walls were preserved to a height of 7.5 ft (2.3 m) was found adjacent to the wall. This preservation is a result of the fact that while the southwestern side of the rooms is adjacent to the wall, on their northwestern side they are bordered by a terrace wall running parallel to the fortification. The terrace wall may have served as basis for an additional level of structures. Another possible explanation is that these rooms served as cellars of the upper structure, which was built at a higher level. The finds that were revealed contained a rich assemblage of storage jars, ritualistic vessels, miniature bowls, bronze objects (tools, weapons), and silver jewelry. An additional find was a white-slipped, bull-shaped zoomorphic vessel decorated with red and brown painted strips. These finds indicate that the place was used, presumably, for ritual; and the rooms built against the wall may have served as storerooms to a nearby temple. The site was destroyed by fire at the end of the Middle-Bronze period.

The Late-Bronze Period.

Neither the Danish nor the Israeli expedition unearthed any architectural remains datable to the Late-Bronze period. In Area D, a 4.9 ft (1.5 m) thick accumulation of a light gray material, mostly ash, with piles of stones of various sizes, was found, containing fragments of hundreds of vessels and animal bones. The pottery assemblage included bowls, lamps, juglets, and chalices. In addition to the ceramic finds, this stratum yielded a female figurine, a cylinder-seal impression, and a gold pendant in the shape of a fly. The nature of the findings, consisting mainly of ash, animal bones, and hundreds of pottery sherds, suggests that originally they were portions of offerings which were brought to a shrine. After being used, they were laid in a favissa (underground cellar), which later was dumped within Area D. The absence of any architectural remains datable to the Late-Bronze period allows one to assume that, unlike the preceding period—when Shiloh was the site of a sedentary settlement—during this period it served as a place of worship for nomadic groups living in the vicinity. These groups, in search of pasture for their herds, routinely spent the summer in the valleys and hill region and the winter in the more eastern regions of the desert frontier and the Jordan Valley. The change in the nature of the settlement is also apparent in the zoological record in comparison to the Middle Bronze Age. The Late-Bronze finds include undomesticated species as well as horse bones. The ceramic assemblage indicates the settlement had existed only during the Late Bronze I–IIa period.

Iron Age I.

Throughout the Late Bronze IIb–III Shiloh remained abandoned, and it was only in the early Iron Age I that an Israelite settlement was established on the site. Architectural remains dated to this period were found in all areas excavated by the Israeli expedition, yet since the various areas are unconnected, the stratigraphy of the Iron Age–I substages could not be established. In Area D, the excavators attributed to the earliest Iron Age–I settlement a stone floor, built near the top of the destroyed Middle-Bronze fortification wall. In their opinion, the floor may have served as a foundation for huts or tents as no evidence of any permanent construction was found nearby. Smashed collared-rim jars were found on the floor, alongside a seal made of black stone and decorated with the transverse figures of two horned animals. Silos uncovered in Areas H, K, and M also belong to this stage. Remains from the next settlement stage were uncovered in Area C. Two pillared buildings (structures 312 and 335) had been inserted into the Middle-Bronze glacis outside the boundaries of the

Shiloh

Collared-rim storage jar. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel/Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority/The Bridgeman Art Library

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Middle-Bronze fortification wall. The floors of the pillared buildings were partly stone slabs and partly beaten earth with various installations dug into these floors. In the courtyard of building 312 a rock-cut plastered cistern was unearthed. All in all, 25 collared-rim jars were found leaning against the structures’ walls. A similar group of such jars was unearthed and photographed by the Danish expedition. The jars disappeared in transit from Shiloh to Jerusalem, and thus, the only evidence of their existence is in the photos taken by the excavators. The structures were destroyed in a fierce fire. The excavators dated the destruction to the mid-eleventh century B.C.E. It may be noted that anther date was suggested by Finkelstein later. In light of 14C finds from stratum V he dated the destruction layer to the end of the eleventh to early tenth centuries B.C.E..

Shiloh from the Middle Bronze Age to Iron Age I.

An analysis of the settlement in Shiloh and its vicinity permits a reconstruction of the site’s history which takes into account long-term processes. When examined from a longue durée (long-term) perspective, the settlement suggests a ritual continuum beginning in the Middle Bronze IIC to the Late Bronze and Iron Age I. It seems that in the Middle-Bronze period, the place served as a sacred center to both local residents and the population of nearby sites. The transition from sedentary to seminomadic life had no effect on the affinity to the site as a sacred place. During the Late Bronze I the site served as a ritualistic center to a herding population that arrived seasonally during the summer. Presumably, after the settlement itself was abandoned, at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, local residents in the area preserved the custom of offering at the earlier place of worship. Based on the ceramic finds discovered on site, this activity can be dated solely to the Late Bronze I.

From the early Iron Age I onward Shiloh regained its role as a place of ritual. Based on the biblical description of the tabernacle in Shiloh, as well as the large number of collared-rim storage jars found on site, one may assume the site to have been both a religious and economic center. Perhaps the ancient sacred tradition associated with Shiloh, on the one hand, and the fact that on the eve of the Israelite settlement the site was abandoned, on the other hand, led the first Israelites to choose the place as the sacred center of the emerging Israelite entity. Shiloh remained a ritual center throughout the settlement period until its destruction by the Philistines in the eleventh century B.C.E.

Later periods.

After the destruction of the settlement in the eleventh century B.C.E. the site was abandoned. The site was resettled during the Iron Age IIb but during this stage only on a small scale. Remains, which include sherds and a few walls, were uncovered from the Hellenistic period, the Early Roman period, and the Byzantine period.

Shiloh in Biblical Sources.

Shiloh is not mentioned in Egyptian sources dated to the Middle- and Late-Bronze periods or in any of the biblical sources relating to the Patriarchs. However, in accounts of the Settlement and Judges eras, Shiloh is portrayed as a central site, sacred to the Israelite tribes, where the tabernacle containing the Ark of the Covenant was kept and where it remained for over 300 years. The first biblical accounts associated with Shiloh are Joshua’s allocation of the territories to the 12 tribes: “Then the whole congregation of the Israelites assembled at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.… Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord; and there Joshua apportioned the land to the Israelites, to each a portion” (Josh 18:1, 18:10). Shiloh is also mentioned in Joshua 21:1–2 in the allocation of the Levitical cities: “The heads of ancestral houses of the Levites approached the priest Eleazar, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the ancestral houses of the Israelite tribes, and spoke to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.” Other verses describe Shiloh as a site of pilgrimage where celebrations were held and maidens came out and danced in the vineyards: “So they instructed the Benjaminites as follows: Go and lie in wait in the vineyards. As soon as you see the girls of Shiloh coming out to join in the dances, come out from the vineyards; let each of you seize a wife from among the girls of Shiloh, and be off for the land of Benjamin” (Judg 21:20–21).

Reference to the pilgrimage to Shiloh is found in the story of the birth of the prophet Samuel. Elkana and his wives, Hannah and Peninah, go “every year to worship and to offer sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh” (1 Sam 1:3). Samuel himself was taken to the temple in Shiloh, where he was raised by Eli the priest. The destruction of Shiloh is described in 1 Samuel 4, during the decisive battle between the Israelites and the Philistines in Ebenezer (identified with the site of ʾIzbet Sartah). Although the Ark of the Covenant was taken from Shiloh to the battlefield, the Israelites were defeated and the Ark was captured by the Philistines. When a man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield to Shiloh to bring the news, Eli, the high priest, fell dead (1 Sam 4:12–18).

The destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines is not mentioned explicitly in the biblical source, but one can assume this in light of their victory. Four hundred and fifty years later, the prophet Jeremiah mentions Shiloh’s destruction in his prophecies (Jer 7:12). It is not coincidental that Shiloh was mentioned by Jeremiah since the origin of his family was likely Shiloh. The book of Kings relates that Ahijah, who prophesied in the reign of Jeroboam (r. 922–901 B.C.E.), was called the Shilonite, that is, a man of Shiloh (1 Kgs 12:15). Shiloh is mentioned for the last time after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, when men of Shiloh come, “their beards shaved and their clothes torn, and their bodies gashed, bringing grain-offerings and incense to present at the temple of the Lord” (Jer 41:5).

[See also BETHEL and SHECHEM.)]

Bibliography

  • Albright, William Foxwell. “The Danish Excavations at Shiloh.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 9 (1923): 10–11.
  • Buhl, Marie-Louise, and Svend Holm-Nielsen. Shiloh: The Danish Excavations at Tall Sailun, Palestine, in 1926, 1929, 1932, and 1963: The Pre-Hellenistic Remains. Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, 1969.
  • Finkelstein, Israel. The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1988.
  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Eliazer Piasetzky. “The Iron I–IIA in the Highlands and Beyond: 14C Anchors, Pottery Phases, and the Shoshenq I Campaign.” Levant 38 (2006): 45–61.
  • Finkelstein, Israel, Shlomo Bunimovitz, and Zvi Lederman. “Excavations at Shiloh, 1981–1983.” Qadmoniot 65 (1984): 15–25 (Hebrew).
  • Finkelstein, Israel, Shlomo Bunimovitz, and Zvi Lederman. Shiloh: The Archaeology of a Biblical Site. Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 10. Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology, 1993.
  • Kjaer, Hans. “The Danish Excavation of Shiloh.” Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement (1927): 202–213.
  • Kjaer, Hans. “Shiloh: A Summary Report of the Second Danish Expedition, 1929.” Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement (1931): 71–88.
  • Shiloh, Yigal. “Reviews: Marie-Louise Buhl, & S. Holm-Nielsen: Shiloh: The Danish Excavations at Tall Sailun, Palestine, in 1926, 1929, 1932, and 1963, the Pre-Hellenistic Remains.” Israel Exploration Journal 21 (1971): 67–69.

Hayah Katz