Ancient Shilo - Historical Survey

Ancient Shilo was the first spiritual and political center ofancient Israelites during the Settlement period. Joshua bin Nun established the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shilo (Joshua 18:1), and it was here that the country was apportioned to the tribes (Joshua 18:10):


1 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled themselves together at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them. 10 And Joshua cast lots for them in Shilo before the Lord; and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions.



Shilo is only mentioned once in the Torah, when Jacob blesses Yehuda (Genesis 49:10), and apparently, the location, Shilo, is not what he intends there:


10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, as long as men come to Shiloh; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be.


In the rest of the books of the Tanach (Bible), the city is mentioned 31 times. In Shilo the cities of the Levites were apportioned. (Joshua 21:2), where the people gather at the time of a general draft (Joshua 22:12), and it is in Shilo that there is a special annual holiday where the maidens of Shilo would go out to dance amongst the grape vines (Judges 21:19-21). Shilo's importance as a religious center and as the central seat of the leaders of Israel reached its peak in the middle of the 11th century BCE, at the end of the time of the Judges. At that time Eli the High Priest and Samuel the Prophet were active in Shilo. The entire people would come to Shilo for the holidays (oleh haregel), and they would bring sacrifices with them (Samuel I, 3; Samuel I, 24). Its religious and political importance also attracted the enemies of Israel.

In the description of the battle at Even HaEzer, the location of Shilo is described precisely, as part of the description of the dramatic events that lead up to its destruction at the hands of the Philistines (Samuel I, 4). After Israel's defeat in the battle at Even HaEzer, which took place close to the coastal plains, the Philistines took advantage of their victory, climbed the hills, and torched Shilo. The destruction of the city is not mentioned specifically in the Bible, but is hinted at in the book of Jeremiah (7:12-14, 26:6-9) and in Psalms (78:60), and evidence has been found in the archeological excavations. After its destruction the Israeli leadership relocated to the hills of Benjamin, and later to Jerusalem. Shilo remained barren for some time, but during the time of Jeroboam, king of Israel, the city had already been resettled. The prophet Achiya of Shilo, who resisted the idolatrous reforms of Jeroboam, made his home there (Kings I, 14:7-10).

The Israelite community in Shilo survived the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 41:5). Jews lived continuously in Shilo through the destruction of the Second Temple as well, and the city was ultimately destroyed during the Bar Cochba revolts (during the years 132-136 C.E.), marking the end of approximately 1100 continuous years of existence as a Jewish city (not counting the years before the battle in Even HaEzer). The Jews were forced to abandon the city for 1835 years, and only in the Six Day War did Jewish soldiers again liberate the area of Shilo, and in January 1978, the city of Shilo was again re-established.


Determining the location of Ancient Shilo

Ancient Shilo is not mentioned in Egyptian, Assyrian, or Babylonian sources, but does appear in various Byzantine writings, rabbinic sources, and Jewish and Christian visitors; its location was known up through the middle ages. Rabbi Ishtori HaParchi (14th century) found it desolate, and writes that the graves of Eli and his sons are on the tell, as well as a structure called "the Dome of the Schechina" (Divine Presence). The site is not mentioned after that, and is lost in the depths of oblivion.

In 1838, the American explorer Edward Robinson (1794-1863) suggested that the remains of the Arab village Silon is related to the ancient city of Shilo. The process of identifying it was relatively simple. All he had to do was to compare the names of the two cities, and to open the Tanach (Bible) to the Book of Judges, chapter 21, verse 19:

19 And they said: 'There is the feast of God every year in Shiloh, which is north of Beit-El, on the east side of the path that goes up from Beit-El to Shechem, and south of Levona.'  20 And they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying: 'Go and lie in wait in the vineyards.  21 and see if the daughters of Shilo come out to dance in circles, then come out of the vineyards, and every man can catch himself a wife from the daughters of Shilo, and go to the land of Benjamin.


Beit-El is identified with the village Bitin, which lies south of Shilo. Levona can be located  in the village of Luban, just north of Shilo. The path, which is to say the ancient road, travelled along the same route as the modern road from Jerusalem to Shechem (Route 60), and Shilo lies just to its east. Silon therefore matches up exactly with the biblical description of the location of ancient Shilo. There was other information that further strengthened the identification: the area of the tell is approximately 30 dunam (30,000 square meters), and is located squarely in the middle of the inheritance of the tribe of Efraim (Joshua's tribe), at the northern end of a fertile valley (which can be identified as the location of the dance of the daughters of Shilo). 900 meters northeast of the tell is a large spring, whose pure waters served the tabernacle and the residents of the city, as a supplement to the wells which were dug in the city. The tell is defined by steep slopes on three sides, allowing easy access only from the south. Researchers that came after Robinson proved that his assertions were accurate.


The Danish Excavation Expedition

In 1922, the Danish explorer, Aage Schmidt, conducted several exploratory digs at the tell. He was smitten by the Shilo bug, and wanted to arrange a large archeological expedition to perform an exhaustive dig of the tell. This required the authorization and support of the British authorities. Schmidt was so thorough, that word of his exploits reached the ears of Churchill, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies. General Allenby and Lord Balfour were also involved. Schmidt's efforts paid off, and between the years 1926 through 1932, Tell Shilo was excavated by a Danish expedition led by Hans Anderson Kjær. Unfortunately, Kjær died in Shilo, due to an illness.

The expedition discovered sections of a Canaanite wall, in which were rooms that served as storehouses. In one of the rooms, the Danes found vessels from the Middle-Bronze Age II C (11th century before the common era). These vessels, together with the workers employed by Kjær, disappeared after the archeologist's death.

The expedition's most important discovery was in 1929, when they uncovered storerooms from the time of Eli the Priest and Samuel the Prophet, who both served in the Tabernacle (11th century before the common era). The storerooms were discovered by chance near the western Canaanite wall. They found six collar-necked jars, neatly arranged in a row, leaning against the wall. Because they were discovered within a thick layer of ash, it was apparent to the excavators that the jars were so well preserved because they were trapped in the enormous fire of the destruction of Shilo following the Philistine conquest. The members of the expedition couldn't make sense of the different levels of the storerooms, and to the good fortune of modern researchers, the Danes ceased their dig at the storerooms. (A noble deed that would be hard to find the likes of today - an archeologist admitting that he doesn't understand what he is uncovering, who halts the dig in order to prevent the destruction of the site). The Danes dug an additional ditch, and removed a single jar from one of the storerooms.

Collar-necked jars in the Tabernacle storerooms (two-level building with columns)Collar-necked jars in the Tabernacle storerooms (two-level building with columns)


A collar-necked jar is a very large storage vessel made of clay. It is characteristic of the settlement period and the time of the Judges, and a high concentration of jars of this type in a single storehouse is testimony that there was an important public place (the Tabernacle) proximate to the site. In the early 80's an Israeli expedition found many additional clay vessels, as will be described below. Four years before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, a small excavation was conducted by Holm-Nielson at various sites on the tell, but it did not reveal much new information.


Israeli Excavations

During the years 1981-1984 an expedition, sponsored by the Land of Israel Studies department of Bar-Ilan University, dug in Shilo. The head of the team was Israel Finkelstein, who was primarily interested in the Settlement Period and the time of the Judges (Iron Age I), but also uncovered important findings from the Canaanite period (Middle and Late Bronze Age).

At the same time (1981-1982), Ze'ev Yevin conducted a dig on the northern promontory of Tell Shilo for the Staff Officer for Archeology and the Israel Antiquities Authority. For political reasons, Yavin's excavations were halted before they were completed.


The Excavation's Findings

From the discoveries, it was learned that Shilo was first settled in the Middle Bronze Age II B (middle of the 18th century before the common era), and the city was demilitarized. The findings from this period are made up solely of clay vessels. In the Middle Bronze Age II C (1650 - 1550 before the common era) the site was encompassed by massive fortifications, which included a solid wall and a large dirt glacis which extended outside of the wall. There are two possible reasons for building a glacis:

To support the wall and prevent it from collapse, or

To make it more difficult for an enemy to attack the wall.

An example of an ideal glacis can be found at Herodion.

 In the picture: The central fortification, surrounded by a dirt embankment. In the picture: The central fortification, surrounded by a dirt embankment.

The wall of Shilo is built on bedrock, its foundations made of large unhewn stone, and the upper part apparently made of blocks, but of this nothing remains. On the eastern part of the tell, the wall has been uncovered, revealing a height of 8 meters. The glacis in this section of the wall runs for 25 meters along its base. On the northern part of the tell, rooms were built adjacent to the city wall.

In addition to the walls and the buildings which were discovered from the Canaanite city's heyday (1650 - 1550 before the common era), they also found tens of large jugs, fragments from ritual vessels, weapons and tools, and beads and clay figurines in the shape of a cow.

The Canaanite city was burned at the end of the Middle Bronze Age (1550 before the common era), and so far, no clear traces have been found of a permanent settlement at the tell from the Late Bronze Age (1550 - 1200 before the common era).

The Danish archeologists believed that there were no finds whatsoever from the Late Bronze Age, but Finkelstein found a layer clearly from this period on the north-eastern side of the tell. In an area measuring 200 square meters he found a pile of ash, a light stony material, with a very large quantity of fragments of clay vessels and animal bones. The pile reaches a depth of 1.5 meters. A large number of broken bowls and several candles, as well as broken Cypriot clay vessels, cooking pots, a female icon, a signature imprint on a handle, and a piece of gold jewelry in the shape of a fly. Several of the vessels were found intact or nearly whole, with were ash and animal bones inside them, which were apparently sacrificed andburied.

Approximately three fourths of the bones found were bovine, and the remaining were from sheep and goats.

From the beginning of the Bronze Age I (1200 before the common era), we find signs of permanent Israelite settlement in Shilo. Surfaces and floors that were used for the tents of Israel were found, as well as 17 granaries for wheat, work surfaces and a 4 centimeter seal, upon which was inscribed the figure of two gazelles (Professor Aharon Demsky proposes that the seal arrived in Shilo from northern Syria or from Turkey; a similar seal from the same period was found in Tirtza). A unique find was also uncovered: an Israelite clay fragment decorated with an inscribed rosetta which was popular on the eastern side of the Jordan river during the same period, which perhaps indicates that there were pilgrims who came across the Jordan to the Tabernacle in Shilo.

As noted, very impressive buildings from this period were found on the western side of the tell. Two-story building on pillars were built outside of the destroyed Canaanite walls, which used the wall's lower building blocks (2.5 meters in height) as its eastern wall. Within the buildings, which apparently were used as storerooms for the Tabernacle, more than thirty intact vessels were found, of them 24 pithos (large storage jars) with collar-necks, and a wealth of broken vessels; all this, in addition to the seven collar-necked jars and three other clay vessels that the Danes found; as well as a cauldron decorated with 14 handles, grinding stones which were used for making flour, and stones which were scorched with the burning of the city at the hands of the Philistines.

Dramatic evidence of the destruction was found on the north-west side of the city, where the excavations uncovered piles of scorched wheat which the city's defenders didn't have time to rescue from the granary. Inside the Shilo storehouses, a cooking pot was found still in place in a cooking pit from the time the city was destroyed, and a mound of scorched raisins in the middle of the room, which also give evidence to the destruction of the city.

There is no biblical description or archeological evidence as to whether the Tabernacle was burnt, or whether they succeeded in evacuating it before the Philistine attack. The excavations in the relevant area where it is estimated that the Tabernacle stood have not been completed. What Ze'ev Yevin did find in that area, is an idol in the shape of a woman with an inscription in ancient Egyptian with the following prayer:

"Would the King and Isis grant life and power to the Temple of ......" (and right there, in the most interesting place, the letters are broken).

Marina Popovich, Egyptologist and scholar of hieroglyphics, dates the style of writing to the 21st Egyptian dynasty, which ruled in the 11th century before the common era.

Which brings us to the ultimate Shilo question: Where was the Tabernacle?


Location of the Tabernacle

On the northern promontory of the tell, which was outside the Canaanite wall, lays an artificial area, etched into the rock, covering nearly 30 x 150 meters. That's three olympic swimming pools! The depth of the dig is 1 - 1.5 meters, and it is clear that somebody went to great efforts to prepare the area for public use.

In 1873, Wilson, British officer and archeologist, as well as a supporter of the Jews (Charles William Wilson 1836 - 1905) suggested that this area was the courtyard of the Tabernacle. The dimensions of the courtyard are specified in the instructions given to Moses for the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus:


And thou shalt make the court of the tabernacle: for the south side southward there shall be hangings for the court of fine twined linen a hundred cubits long for one side... And the breadth of the court on the east side eastward shall be fifty cubits.

Exodus 27: 9-13


The length of the courtyard is approximately 50 meters, its width 25 meters. This means that the northern promontory of Shilo has sufficient room for both the courtyard and for people to gather around it.


שרידי כנסיית הצליינים הדו שלבית מתחת למבנה מוסלמישרידי כנסיית הצליינים הדו שלבית מתחת למבנה מוסלמי


Yavin succeeded in excavating only about one fifth of the area before his work was halted, and so we lack sufficient archeological data to give us any insights into this suggested identification. In order to make a meaningful analysis, it will be necessary to excavate the entire area, and to examine the area and sift through the earth using the wet method (which was developed in the excavation of the Temple Mount dig, and is the accepted method today in Jerusalem). Likewise all the bones must be collected and analyzed in order to determine what animals they come from, which of them come from kosher animals, and when they date from (such as was done on Joshua's alter which was discovered by Adam Zertal at Mount Eval). Today the identification of the site of the Tabernacle rests solely on the biblical description and circumstancial considerations.

The identification of the site from the verses (Samuel I, chapter 4):



10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent; and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hofni and Pinhas, were slain. 12 And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shilo the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head. 13 And when he came, Eli sat upon his seat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out. 14 And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said: 'What is the meaning of the noise of this tumult?' And the man made haste, and came and told Eli. 15 Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were set, that he could not see. 16 And the man said unto Eli: 'I am he that came out of the army, and I fled today out of the army.' And he said: 'How went the matter, my son?' 17 And he that brought the tidings answered and said: 'Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there has been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hofni and Pinhas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken.'




According to the verses, the cry was heard in the city before the survivor made it to Eli. This means that in order to arrive at the Tabernacle and deliver the bitter news, the runner had to first traverse the city. As noted, the topography of the city permits for entry only from the south, and therefore the most protected area, looking at the layout of the land, is the northern promontory. The picture that we have from the verses is of Eli sitting in the north-western corner of the tell and of the Tabernacle, worried and fearful, watching over the main road. The survivor comes, and sees Eli from the road, sitting at his outlook, but does not come to him directly, since he must enter the city from the south. Along the way he passes on the bad news to the people of the city, thereby causing an uproar. Eli hears the noise of the crowd bursting from the city, and only afterwards is the survivor able to reach him and describe what happened in battle. It is a reasonable assumption that the survivor would not have gone the long way if he didn't have to. His failure to approach Eli first can only be due to topographical necessity.



Consideration of Yavin's findings

Two archeological layers were found on the northern area: one from the end of the Iron Age (beginning of the sixth century before the common era), and the second older and more interesting, but at this point we cannot pinpoint its age, as the excavations were ceased by the authorities before they were completed.

Two buildings were found from the end of the Iron Age, one built according to the plan of a house with four areas, and the second without a clear architectural plan, measuring 30 meters by 30 meters.

In the earlier layer the remnants of walls were found, as well as 17 large monoliths that might have been the bases of pillars.

They were found in three rows, eight in the eastern row, five in the middle row, and three more in the western row. Their placement can be roughly illustrated like this:


‪O    O    O    O    O      O        O        O                      ---->  

‪O O           O     O    O                             

‪                    O       O             O                                      



Ze'ev Yavin proposes that the spaces between the monoliths in the short rows were the entrance to the sanctified area. We can only hope that in the future, thorough excavations will take place at the site, which will determine whether there are additional similar monoliths in the expected location of the Tabernacle, and what the precise architectural plan of the entire area was.



Shilo from the Byzantine Period until the late Arab Period

The Jewish settlement in Shilo was continuous until the Bar Kochba revolt. Following the revolt's suppression, the city was abandoned until the Byzantine Period (324 - 638 of the Common Era), when a Christian city occupied Shilo. It was several times larger than the Jewish settlement which had preceded it several hundred years earlier. To date, three Christian churches have been definitively identified with certainty, one of them bi-leveled ("The Pilgrim's Church"). When visiting Ancient Shilo today, you can see one reconstructed church ("The Basilica Church").



Remnants of the bi-level Pilgrim's Church, beneath a later Moslem buildingRemnants of the bi-level Pilgrim's Church, beneath a later Moslem building




The Basilica Church, reconstructed in the early 30's of the 20th centuryThe Basilica Church, reconstructed in the early 30's of the 20th century



 The Basilica Church is 60 meters south of Tell Shilo, and was reconstructed by the Danish expedition. In 1990 the Staff Officer for Archeology cleaned the church and made it presentable for visitors. The Christian building was built on top of the eastern edge of the remains of an earlier Jewish building from the first century before the common era. The entire area of the church (15 meters by 40 meters) is covered by a colorful mosaic floor. Originally, images of animals and perhaps humans were integrated, but over the course of the Byzantine Period the figures were destroyed. According to the mosaic inscriptions at the entrance to the church, a mosaic artist named Zacharia created the floor. During the Arab Period (the 10th century of the common era), the church was converted into living quarters, and additonal sections of the mosaic were destroyed.

It is know that traditions of holy sites are passed on from one religion to another, and in many instances Moslems built holy sites on Christian holy sites, and the Christians built on sites holy to Judaism. Two buildings from the Moslem period in Shilo, Jama a-tim and Jama a-sitin, have been excavated, and found to be built on the remains of earlier religious structures.


The Moslem building called Jama a-sitin is 20 meters south of Tell Shilo. Underneath and surrounding it, the Staff Officer for Archeology discovered two churches, one on top of the other. The earlier church was built in the latter days of the fourth century, and the later church was built in the sixth century. The past head of the Staff Officer for Archeology, Yitzhak Magen, claims that the earlier church was built on a synagogue. A total of six mosaics were found in the church, one of them double. Four of the mosaics can be seen today in the Good Samaritan museum on the Jerusalem-Maale Adumim road.

In the mosaic from the earlier church, there are five inscriptions:

At the foot of the alter is a request to save the episcopus and the priest, as well as Zusis, the artisan who created the mosaic!!

On the northern side there is a request for mercy for Shilo and its inhabitants.

In the nave, the artist Zusis integrated an advertisement for himself, in these words: "I, Zusis the artisan, built the seats."

In the entrance to the northern aisle (wide arcaded passage) there is a request, "Help your servant", which is perhaps also an initiative of the artist, expressing a personal prayer.

South-west of the church, a large building from the Roman period was discovered, floored with a white mosaic, and housing a baptisterium. The structure (perhaps Jewish) precedes the construction of the church, and the baptisterium was installed during the Byzantine period for religious purposes. Close to the entrance of the church, a mosaic inscription was found, which mentions the episcopus of Shilo and the regional episcopus.



Mosaic mentioning Shilo. In the second row from the top the word "SILOYN" can be seen.Mosaic mentioning Shilo. In the second row from the top the word "SILOYN" can be seen.


One hundred and fifty years after the construction of the first church, a new church was built on top of the old one. In the northern aisle there remains a mosaic inscription (in the southern aisle the mosiacs have not been preserved), a double inscription, reading:

"Built in the days of the righteous priest, beloved by God, Delmitius."

"Lord, accept these offerings brought in this holy place, may the Lord protect it."

Double inscription from the later stage of the Pilgrim's church.Double inscription from the later stage of the Pilgrim's church.


A brief look at the discovery of the mosaics:


Another Moslem building was found 500 meters south of the tell, called Jama a-sitin. In the opinion of the archeologist Ze'ev Yavin, it was constructed on top of a synagogue from the Roman period.


Jama a-sitin in the 19th century. Secondary use of the lintel in the Moslem building.

Yavin cleaned out the building and found a decorated stone lintel from the Roman period, and Byzantine capitols and pillars. The lintel is currently in the Rockefeller museum, and it is likely that it was originally part of a synagogue, and was later integrated into the mosque.



Today you can see that originally the building had three entrances on the northern side (the structure faces south, towards Jerusalem), three windows to the west, and at least two windows facing south. The eastern wall is a later addition, and has no windows. The roof of the Moslem building rested on four pillars, that were topped with Byzantine capitols, apparently taken from Shilo's Basilica church.

Israeli hikers near the lintel before it was taken to the Rockefeller Museum




Enjoy your visit in Shilo!

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בניית אתרים ודפי עסקים ואוהדים לפייסבוק סטודיו לעיצוב גרפי , בניית אתרים ובניית דפים עסקיים ודפי אוהדים לפייסבוק - Dstudio