The Philistines destroyed the city of Shiloh. The Bible doesn’t tell us this explicitly, but it offers some strong hints: “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” (Jeremiah 7:12). Now, thanks to excavations by Israel Finkelstein, we know what was done to Shiloh—indeed it was obliterated. And we know how—by fire.
In “Shiloh Yields Some, But Not All, of Its Secrets,” Finkelstein reports on excavations he directed from 1981 to 1984 at the Israelite religious center of Shiloh, where, according to the Bible, the Ark of the Covenant was housed for almost 100 years. The prominent Israeli archaeologist from Bar-Ilan University describes and illustrates an enormous variety of finds from this small, eight-acre site: a Middle Bronze Age fortification wall 25 feet high; silver and bronze jewelry, weapons and tools, and evidence of a cultic installation. But these finds do not point clearly to a location for the Tabernacle that held the Ark.
Born in Tel Aviv and educated at Tel Aviv University, Finkelstein has excavated throughout Israel, occasionally digging at several sites in one season—from southern Sinai to Tell Ira in the Negev, and at Izbet Sartah, Bnei Braq, and Tell Aphek. Recently, Finkelstein and colleague Aviram Perevolotsky shared with BAR readers ideas about “The Southern Sinai Exodus Route in Ecological Perspective,” BAR 11:04.
On Mt. Ebal, a 3,000-foot-high peak in the tribal area of Manasseh, archaeologist Adam Zertal discovered a large, square stone structure that he identifies as an Israelite altar. Zertal’s report of his excavations, “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” BAR 11:01, prompted wide reader interest and much scholarly debate. In this issue, we present the dissenting view of one distinguished Israeli archaeologist, Aharon Kempinski, who argues that the structure was not an altar, but just a simple house that was turned into a watchtower about 1070 B.C. (“Joshua’s Altar—An Iron Age I Watchtower”). Zertal defends his position and responds to Kempinski with new evidence unearthed since his article was published in BAR a year ago (“How Can Kempinski Be So Wrong!”).
Kempinski recalls that his first archaeological discovery was votive vessels exposed by rain in the sand of Nahariya, his hometown. A short time later, the 13-year-old boy joined a dig directed by Moshe Dothan at a Canaanite temple site near this Israeli coastal city. Since that initiation into archaeology, Kempinski has excavated at Bogazkoy and Ilica in Turkey and at many sites in Israel, including Ein Gedi, Achziv, Megiddo and Beer-Sheva. Author of The Rise of Urban Culture—Palestine in the Third Millennium B.C., Kempinski teaches archaeology at both Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University and has served as visiting lecturer at the University of Tubingen and at Harvard University.
Zertal was a farmer until the age of 35. Born and raised on Kibbutz Ein-Shemer, he worked in the late ’60s and early ’70s in The Central African Republic with an Israeli agricultural aid project. But in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, his legs were badly injured. During a long period of recovery and physical therapy, Zertal began a new career; he studied archaeology, and in 1978 he began an extended survey on foot of the tribal area of Manasseh, near the kibbutz where he had grown up and become an expert farmer. While exploring Mt. Ebal, he discovered the stone structure that may be an Israelite altar.
With the new year comes our special annual section, “Excavation Opportunities 1986,” for amateur archaeologists of all ages looking for a unique summer experience. Twenty digs from the Negev to the Galilee need volunteers. Along with write-ups of individual excavations, the section presents photos from past excavation seasons and enthusiastic descriptions in the volunteers’ own words that bring the work—and the rewards—to life.
One volunteer, Robert Holst of Irvine, California, spent the summer of 1983 searching not for ancient palaces, but for irrigation trenches and olive pits, and found it far from dull. In “Digging at the Grass Roots Level,” Holst, professor of Biblical languages and literature at Christ College Irvine, describes an unusual dig in a valley near Jerusalem, where archaeologists and volunteers are discovering the complex farm network that supplied food to ancient Jerusalem.
The Philistines destroyed the city of Shiloh. The Bible doesn’t tell us this explicitly, but it offers some strong hints: “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” (Jeremiah 7:12). Now, thanks to excavations by Israel Finkelstein, we know what was done to Shiloh—indeed it was obliterated. And we know how—by fire. In “Shiloh Yields Some, But Not All, of Its Secrets,” Finkelstein reports on excavations he directed from 1981 to 1984 at the Israelite religious center of […]