M. Weinberg

During an archaeological survey in 1980, the author discovered an apparent altar, the principal structure of a bamah (high place), buried within a stone heap on a northeastern ridge of Mt. Ebal. The site contained many potsherds dating from the early part of Iron I (1200–1000 B.C.E.), and Zertal believes this could be the place where Joshua, in accordance with Moses’ instructions, conducted the ritual of the blessing and the curse before representatives of the 12 tribes of Israel (Joshua 8:33–34).

Large unhewn fieldstones compose walls 5 feet thick and 9 feet high, forming a nearly square structure (24.5 feet by 29.5 feet), at center in the upper photo. Laid directly on bedrock, with neither a floor nor an entrance—and originally filled with layers of stone, earth and ash—these walls form the altar’s platform, in Zertal’s opinion. Mixed with the earthen fill were Iron Age I potsherds and animal bones that closely match the description of animal sacrifice in Leviticus 1. The walls’ corners point to the cardinal directions with less than one degree of error, an alignment that suggests a cultic function as well. The arrow points to an apparent 23-foot-long ramp, which has a 22-degree incline. The additional walls adjacent to the ramp enclose a courtyard. If Zertal’s interpretation is correct, the altar site provides possible evidence for a nearby crossing of the Jordan River when the Israelites entered Canaan.