Israeli archaeologist Aharon Kempinski contends that the square structure and its installations that Adam Zertal identified as an altar in “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” BAR 11:01, actually reflect three separate and successive Iron Age I settlement phases: first, pits and silos; second, a two-or three-room farm house; and finally, a watchtower. The colors in Kempinski’s three drawings are the same colors used for the corresponding Structures in Zertal’s BAR article.

The phase 2 house was destroyed in the 11th century B.C., says Kempinski—perhaps by Canaanites or perhaps in an attack by another Israelite tribe. Phase 3 settlers, Kempinski suggests, then created a defensive watchtower (yellow) by filling in the destroyed house to use it as a base for the watchtower. The pithos that Kempinski saw within the structure is located in his phase 3 plan.

Zertal’s Altar Reconstruction

But the excavator of the square structure, Adam Zertal, says that the cultic nature of the Mt. Ebal site cannot be denied. The yellow walls, according to Zertal, are part of an altar platform for burning sacrifices and a three-foot-wide ramp leading up to it. He maintains that the blue structures, built at the same time as the yellow, are two courtyards and a lower ramp that runs alongside the higher ramp and then turns into a ledge surrounding the altar platform.

Although Zertal disagrees with Kempinski’s contention that the circular installations (green) are non-cultic pits and silos, Zertal does attribute these installations to an earlier phase than that of the altar.

Zertal denies that any destruction occurred at Mt. Ebal in phase 2 or at any other time; he says that there was never a need for a watchtower at this cult site.