CHLS Joins ABR in Historic Dig in Shiloh
The Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies (CHLS) provides a regular column to AG News that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. In this article, Jeremy Stein, the CHLS Content Development coordinator, shares about his experience and the findings at an archaeological dig at the Biblical Shiloh.
This past summer, archaeologists and staff members of the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies, Dr. Mark Jenkins and I, were invited to join with the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) in their historic dig at the site of Biblical Shiloh, the original capital of the Land of Israel and the resting place of the Tabernacle for over 300 years.
The excavations this year at Shiloh were extremely impressive in terms of volume of students, with over 140 volunteers, as well as representation with over 30 different states, 11 universities, and four countries represented. The participants included pastors, students, professors, business professionals, day volunteers, retirees, and anyone in between. The dig itself was led by Dr. Scott Stripling, provost at The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas, and director of Excavations for the Associates for Biblical Research. Stripling has deep ties to the Assemblies of God as a graduate of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.
The site of Shiloh has critical importance to followers of the Word of God not only as the place that really formed the foundation of Israel as a nation, but also the place where the physical presence of God rested for the second longest length of time, next to the Temple Mount of Jerusalem.
The biggest difference between Shiloh and the Temple Mount is that no excavations can take place on the Temple Mount today due to the presence of two large mosques and the world famous Dome of the Rock shrine. That leaves the Western Wall as a place of gathering because of its proximity to where the presence of God once was, yet it comes up short nonetheless.
However, that is not the case at Shiloh. Although the resting place of the Tabernacle has yet to be found, every spade and shovel in the ground brings us that much closer to the place where the Ark of the Covenant once was, and the presence of God once rested.
One of the main questions that is always asked to staff at any archaeological dig site is, “What are you looking for?” The truthful answer: “Nothing.”
“We are not looking for anything, instead we are looking to expose historical reality, yet we find evidence of a sacrificial system while we do this at Shiloh,” says Stripling, the lead excavator. This has been the truth for generations at Shiloh, which has been excavated before.
The current excavations at Biblical Shiloh are relatively new excavations, beginning in 2017, making this season’s dig only the second. Before this current dig, two major excavations have taken place over the past century, the first of which took place over the course of three seasons from 1926-1932. These excavations were done by Danish teams overseen by W.F. Albright, known as the father of biblical archaeology in the Land of Israel.
The second major dig at the site was completed by archeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University during the years 1981-1984. Both excavations concluded that the evidence for a large scale sacrificial system at Shiloh was present, however they were unable to locate with certainty the location in which the Tabernacle stood. This conclusion is a reality that can still be seen today at the excavations — numerous evidences allows the current team of excavators to see this first hand.
One such evidence that has been uncovered are a number of bone deposits — pits where bones were disposed.
“After over 20 years of excavating, the number of bones that we have seen in the deposits surprises me,” says Stripling, “But what is amazing is that we see a shift from 4 percent pig bones to 1 percent as we enter into a later locus (strata/layer of dirt), which may not seem like it is a significant shift, however it is.”
Whether these bones are the remains of consumption or of sacrifice (which is probable, based off the relative sheer number of them), the shift away from swine use is indicative of a reflection of the Levitical law. Along with the collection of bones found, drawing a connection to the Levitical life, a ceramic pomegranate was also unearthed, nearly identical to one found in the excavations at Jokneam, in the Jezreel Valley, a city designated as a Levitical city (Joshua 21:34).
Now, although these finds lead the team at Shiloh to understand the presence of a sacrificial system at Shiloh, they do not expect to find a Tabernacle itself for multiple reasons.
Firstly, and most obviously, a construct made primarily of wood beams and animal skins would not have stood the test of time and after 3,000 years would have become one with nature once more.
Secondly, and more importantly to the purpose of the dig at Shiloh, is that the traditional idea of a tent-like tabernacle (mishkan) in Shiloh may not be supported either in the finds or in the text of the Bible itself. At Shiloh, large interior walls from the early Iron Age, the time of the period of the Judges and the Tabernacle, have been unearthed.
These walls lead us to know that during the time of the Tabernacle’s location at Shiloh there was long-term dwelling taking place in the city of Shiloh, attested by the fact that the city, already controlled by the Amorites upon Israel’s introduction into the land of Canaan, were not utterly destroyed.
Israel’s (and God’s) plan for the land of Canaan was never for the people to build their own cities. Instead, according to Deuteronomy 6:10-11 and Joshua 24:13, they planned to live in the places of the others who already lived in the land. It is for this reason that the Israelites only completely razed three cities in their conquest of the land, and conquered and inhabited the buildings and dwellings of the others.
In relation with the finds of these large interior walls, the team at Shiloh have also unearthed an incredibly large number of storage rooms. These storage room appear to have been built by the Amorites, due to the high amount of Middle Bronze Age pottery. However we also find a high amount of Iron Age storage jars, showing continued use by the Israelites, which allows the team to conclude that these rooms saw continual usage throughout history as they were converted from Amorite use into Israelite use.
As previously noted, the idea of buildings being used and inhabited instead of tents, though not usually traditional in our inner thoughts and depictions of the world of Joshua and the Judges, appears to be supported textually as well — the idea of a place of mobile worship is only required in Numbers Chapter 1, while Israel was journeying to the land.
By the time the Tabernacle is established in Shiloh, Israel has no plans to ever leave the land which God has promised them; they expect permanent dwelling and begin building. Likewise, the Tabernacle is not referred to again as a “tent” (2 Samuel 7:2) until after the fall of Shiloh and the removal of the Ark in 1 Samuel 4. Therefore, the possibility of the tabernacle being a solid structure (mikdash or beit) instead of being a tent (Mishkan), as commonly believed, is a strong reality and this find may back up.
However, on site it is not always the largest finds that draw the most attention. Some of the smallest artifacts create the biggest buzz, as was the case with four Egyptian scarabs that were unearthed this season. Egyptian scarabs (from the Latin word for scarabus, which means beetle) are small oval shaped stone carvings, usually no bigger than a quarter, but sometimes smaller than a dime, that were used as amulets and impression seals in the ancient world. On one side of the stone would be a carving of a dung beetle, a connection to Khepri (the Egyptian dung beetle god, who was believed in Egyptian polytheistic mythology to push the sun across the sky each day), while the other side pictured iconography that was unique to whatever Egyptian pharaoh the scarab was crafted under.
It is not uncommon to find the names of the commissioning pharaoh included in a cartouche (small closed oval included inside the iconography, which held hieroglyphics) in the iconography, which leads to the incredible importance of these finds on any archaeological site. As no pharaoh used the iconography of another pharaoh, each scarab that is found allows for strong identification of the age of the area and locus (historical layer of dirt) that the scarab comes from.
So far in the past two seasons of digging at Shiloh, six Scarabs have been unearthed, four from this season alone. Of these four scarabs found, three have been dated to the Hyksos period (a period in which Egypt is overrun by foreign invaders in the 16th and 17th centuries BC, a time suggested by some scholars to connect Egypt with the rise of Joseph, as proposed by the book of Genesis) while the final scarab come from the 18th dynasty in the reign of Tutmoses III (1479-1425 BC).
From these scarabs it can be deduced that undoubtedly there is connection with this site and the land of Egypt — either the area was subjected to Egypt at times (which is seen in the reign of Tutmoses III, who makes the land of Canaan a vessel state during his reign) or there were people who lived in Shiloh who may have once lived in Egypt. If latter of these two options is the case, then by finding scarabs, such as the ones already unearthed, will lead us closer and closer to locations that may have been of the utmost importance in the age of Israel’s inhabitation of the site.
The Center for Holy Lands Studies and ABR invite you to be a part of the history that is being made at Shiloh by joining us next summer to uncover the history that once was. No prior experience is needed in order to participate as all training is provided for and complete on site with ABR, and is open to all ages. In the upcoming seasons the team at Shiloh will continue to open up new areas of the Tel (mound on which the city is built upon) while continuing to dig deeper in areas already opened. The team will also conduct dry sifting and wet sifting of the dirt of two past digs of Finkelstein and Albright in order to see if any new finds can be made with the introduction of new technologies. For information or to get involved, email the Center for Holy Lands Studies at [email protected] or call 1-885-700-CHLS (2457).