Sunday, January 31, 2010

Site of Tabernacle at Shiloh

Excerpts from

Fixing the Site of the Tabernacle at Shiloh, Asher S. Kaufman, BAR 14:06,
Nov/Dec 1988.

Click here to view the original article

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.

...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].”

...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.

...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.”

...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.

...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...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).

...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.

...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.

a. Eben-Ezer has been identified as Izbet Sartah, see “An Israelite Village from the Days of the Judges,” BAR 04:03. But see J. Maxwell Miller, “Biblical Maps—How Reliable Are They?” Bible Review, Winter 1987.

b. The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 1988).

c. The medium cubit in the Land of Israel was divided into six handbreadths. Over a period of many years, scholars and explorers have offered values of its length ranging from 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) to 26 inches (66 centimeters).

According to Mishnah Kélim 17:9, three different standards of length were assigned to the medium cubit. There is a precise correlation between the determination of these lengths from archaeological finds in the Temple area of Jerusalem and the literary evidence. The respective standards are: the cubit of Moses and of the First Temple, 16.9 inches (42.8 centimeters); the small cubit used exclusively in the construction of the Second Temple, 17.2 inches (43.7 centimeters); and the large cubit, or the normal standard, 17.6 inches (44.6 or 44.7 centimeters). The terminology of the standards—the words in italics—is that used in Kélim 17:9. The value for the large cubit fits many archaeological data of the Holy Land.

The Tent of Meeting was designed according to the cubit of Moses. On the assumption that the minimum width of area A (77.8 feet or 23.7 meters) corresponds to 50 cubits and that the foundations of the court of the Tent of Meeting were made from the bordering terrain (a rock scarp in part), the cubit of Moses could not have been greater than 18.7 inches (47.4 centimeters). All this assumes that the Tent of Meeting was located on Wilson’s site. (See Asher S. Kaufman, “Determining the Length of the Medium Cubit,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 116 (1984), pp. 120–132.)

d. The Mishnah is a concise collection of laws, regulations and customs governing religious practices during the latter part of the Second Temple period and subsequently after the destruction of the Temple.

e. Asher S. Kaufman, “Where the Ancient Temple of Jerusalem Stood,” BAR 09:02.

1. Kaftor Waferach [כפתור ופרח] (translated Calyx and Petal—see Exodus 25:33) by Happatchi, completed in 1322. This is my translation of the Hebrew text as it appears on page 47 in the second printed edition of the book edited by Hirsch Edelmann (Berlin, 1852). As far as I know, there is no English translation of the book.

2. Charles W. Wilson, “Jerusalem,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (London, 1873), p. 38.

3. Hans Kjaer, “Shiloh. A Summary Report of the Second Danish Expedition, 1929,” Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1931), pp. 71–88.

4. Michael Avi-Yonah, s.v., Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter, 1971), vol. 14, col. 1402.

5. I am most grateful to Dr. Ze’ev Yeivin for putting at my disposal large-scale maps of Wilson’s court.

6. It is generally agreed that the Hebrew text (three words) relating to “by the way-side waiting” is difficult to comprehend. I humbly believe that the translation here fits the context. It does not differ substantially from the New Jewish Publication Society translation (“waiting beside the road”).


See here as well and also here.

1 comment:

yoni said...

wie wie wie such a treasure trove. thanks for this. btw any fool can see where the mishkan was, assuming that tel shilo is in fact ancient shilo. the summit contains many caves, cut from bedrock, which are much higher than the plateau of wilson's site, indicating that it was the summit also in joshua's time and didn't have enough room for the mishkan complex. the area and orientation of wilson's site are also more or less correct, and quibbling about "moses's cubit" in light of the rabbinical disagreements on the matter is petty. furthermore the area is both protected by surrounding mountains and a natural ampitheater.

finally, there is no mitzva to place god's house on the highest point, either of the surrounding mountains or the hill in question itself, rather the BEST place- which isn't necessarily the windswept hilltop.

ahem. my shilo theory. ahem.