Summary: Shiloh has a prominent place in Israel’s history, and now you can volunteer at excavations to help discover its ancient mysteries.
“Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did …” – Jeremiah 7:12 (ESV)
Shiloh – Israel’s First Capital
Long before Jerusalem became Israel’s capital, Shiloh was the nation’s most important religious location. Joshua led Israel to Shiloh (Josh 18:1) in ca. 1400 B.C., and there the Israelites erected the tabernacle and Joshua apportioned tribal territories. Interestingly, 1400 B.C. is an established archaeological marker that separates Late Bronze Age I from Late Bronze Age II. In other words, something changed in the culture around 1400 B.C. Was it the arrival of the Israelites from Egypt?
Biblical and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that the Exodus occurred in 1446 B.C. For details on this, see my chapter in Zondervan’s newly released Five Views on the Exodus. After the 1446 B.C. Exodus, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and Transjordan for 40 years. Thus, they miraculously crossed the Jordan River and entered Canaan in 1406 B.C. We do not know the exact length of the initial Conquest detailed in Joshua, but it was about six years. This brings us to 1400 B.C.
Historical Research on Shiloh
I serve as the Director of Excavations for the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) at Shiloh. Prior to launching the Shiloh excavation in 2017, we excavated at Khirbet Nisya (1979–2003) and Khirbet el-Maqatir (1995–2016). ABR has also conducted extensive research at Jericho and Mt. Ebal and participated in digs at Hazor and Jerusalem. Suffice it to say, we are well acquainted with Israel’s material culture, especially in the Highlands of Judea and Samaria.
I believe that the ABR Shiloh excavation can illuminate the first centuries of Israel’s post-Egypt existence in Canaan, from the pitching of the tabernacle in ca. 1400 B.C. to the Philistine destruction of the site in ca. 1075 B.C. The luminaries who spent time at Shiloh include Joshua, Caleb, Eli, Samuel, Hannah, Elkanah, and Ahijah. Rabbinic sources give us names of some Shiloh residents at the time of Jesus. The remains of Shiloh’s late Second Temple period village cover the earlier periods of occupation like a thick mantle, so there is no doubt that it was occupied in the first century. (See Scott Stripling’s article exposing anti-biblical bias.)
While the New Testament does not mention Jesus visiting Shiloh, it seems likely to me that he would have stopped here on his journey to Sychar recorded in John 4:1–5. The prominence of Shiloh motivated the 19th century explorers to search for Israel’s first capital. In 1838, the great American orientalist Edward Robinson followed the geographical clues in Judges 21:19, and they led him to Khirbet Seilun (Arabic), also known as Tel Shiloh (Hebrew). Conrad Schick and Major Charles Wilson followed in Robinson’s footsteps. Wilson wrote the following:
Mr. Schick forwards a sketch of the ruins of Seilun [Shiloh] …. The interest attaching to Shiloh, as the place in which the ark rested from the latter days of Joshua to the time of Samuel, is so great that a short description of the existing ruins may be acceptable (Palestine Exploration Quarterly 1873, 38).
In 1922, a Danish team executed several sondages (trial excavation pits) and returned in 1926 under the capable direction of Hans Kjaer, with support from W.F. Albright, to excavate. News of the excavation spread quickly as evidenced by Chester McGown’s statement:
Numerous questions remain unanswered. Was the site [Shiloh] practically unoccupied during the Bronze Age, or did the Israelites occupy a site already sacred? When did they take it, during the Bronze Age, or at the beginning of Early Iron? This is another of the sites, which, like Ai and Jericho, can assist in determining the date and character of the Hebrew conquest. Was the place unoccupied during the Middle and Late IA, after the loss of the ark? And was it destroyed by the Philistines, or did it gradually fall into ruins after the loss of the ark?” (“Archaeological News.” American Journal of Archaeology 34, no. 1 (1930): 96)
The Danish team returned for two additional seasons in the 1930s under Kjaer’s direction and a final season in 1963 under Svend Holm-Nielson. From 1981–1984, Bar Ilan University conducted further excavations led by Israel Finkelstein. Between 1985 and 2016, the archaeological officer of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria conducted several salvage projects.
The Danish, Bar Ilan, and Civil Administration expeditions exposed less than ten percent of ancient Shiloh, so conclusions remain tentative. My team is attempting to pull together all previous publications and harmonize them with the results of our new excavation. Timely publication is essential to the task of historiography.
ABR Excavation at Shiloh
From the outset of the current expedition, my goal was to bring state-of-the-art technology into the field to empower our analysis of Shiloh’s material remains. This includes wet sifting, metal detection, drone photography, photogramatic imaging, infrared and ultraviolet lighting, digital data entry in the field, and soil luminescence testing. (See the Shiloh discovery that matches biblical altars.)
After three seasons at Shiloh, building on the work of those who preceded us, we now understand the site’s stratigraphy and occupational history. We have amassed significant evidence of the tabernacle and its sacrificial system: storage rooms, a monumental building, ceramic pomegranates, stone altar horns, and a bone deposit. Each new discovery reminds us of the Bible’s veracity. After all, the Bible describes a sacrificial system at Shiloh, and this perfectly synchronizes with our findings.
We train volunteers (no experience required!), and they work under seasoned archaeologists. Our team, from many countries and all walks of life, have the incredible opportunity to excavate the evidence of what God did at this place where he first caused His name to dwell. Our guiding verse is Jeremiah 7:12: “Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name and see what I did ….”
A Day in the Life of a Volunteer
To beat the heat, our day begins early with breakfast at 4:15 AM and departure from our Jerusalem hotel at 4:59 AM. During the 30-minute bus ride, we have devotions and discuss the day’s strategy. As the sun rises, teams organize their work areas and begin processing Shiloh’s sacred soil. On a typical day there are walls, mud bricks, glass, coins, objects (sometimes very special ones like scarabs or seal impressions), and lots of pottery. The pottery constantly reminds us that God is the potter, and we are vessels he is forming and mending for his glory (2 Cor. 4:7).
Square supervisors usually move volunteers around so that they can learn various aspects of the dig. We have lunch (burgers, pizza, etc.) delivered at 10:30 AM. After lunch, we work until 1:00 PM when Perry Gerhart, one of our team members, blows the shofar to signal it is time to break down the tents, take photos, and wash the day’s pottery, which averages almost 2,000 pieces each day. Magnum bars, cold drinks, and air conditioning entice us into the gift shop in the entryway while we await the bus which departs at 2:15 PM for the 45-minute drive back to our headquarters. Paperwork and meetings await supervisors, but volunteers can grab a shower followed by a nap or a walk into Jerusalem’s Old City for those who still have energy. (Learn more about the investigation seeking evidence to confirm the location of the Tabernacle.)
Dinner is served at 6:00 PM, and every other night we have special lectures and team meetings. On weekends, folks can join our tour group, tour on their own, or just relax. People form lasting friendships, and many come back, like Elkanah and Hannah, year after year. Click here to learn “What a Dig Needs.”
If learning how to do scientific archaeology in an environment of faith appeals to you, come join my team at Shiloh. You can help us accurately expose and document the historical record of what God did at Shiloh. While further excavation is required to be certain, I think we are on the verge of identifying the Tabernacle’s location at Shiloh, but I need your help. For all details about excavating at Shiloh visit digshiloh.org.
TOP PHOTO: Aerial view of SHILOH. (credit: Greg Gulbrandsen)