Archeology in Israel: Shilo


tel shilo archeology in Israel
The Ancient Synagogue in Shilo


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Visting Tel Shilo

By L.H. Krane

Shilo is not famous today as any great city, but many years ago it was the center of those who sought the presence of G-d. The mishkan, which was the holy sanctuary or tabernacle, housed the ark in which the very Ten Commandments resided. This was the ark that Moses had put the Ten Commandments in and together with the mishkan came with Joshua into the Land of Israel and found its home in Shilo.

Although the "tent of the Tabernacle" was a portable dwelling place for G-d's presence, because the Jews who wandered in the desert for forty years had to collapse it as they traveled and reconstruct it when they settled. However after settling in the Land of Israel, the temporary structure of the tabernacle changed to a more permanent edifice.

The city of Shilo which surrounded the mishkan was alive and prosperous for 369 years. It had originally been a Canaanite city that Joshua conquered. Now you may not think that 369 years is not a long time, but when you consider that America was only established in 1776, a mere 230 years ago, by comparison Shilo has been around for much long time.

It was here at Shilo that Hannah, the wife of Elchanan, came to pray for a son. It was that very son who became the prophet Samuel who anointed both King Saul and King David and about whom a good portion of the Book of Samuel speaks. Shilo is the place where Eli the High Priest served G-d. It was here at Shilo that the Jews make their pilgrimage three times each year long before King Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem.

tel shilo archeology in Israel
Note the Decorative Base Stone and the Smaller Stones in the Ancient Synagogue

Today the ancient city of Shilo is a ruin, an archeological dig. Nearby there is a new city, a small, delightful and young religious settlement called Shilo after its proximity to Tel Shilo.

As we approached the ancient site, which in Hebrew is called a Tel, we passed an interesting small building that served as both a synagogue and later as a mosque. The tell tale sign that it dates from ancient times is the very large stones which are found at the base of the building. As we look up we notice that the size of the stones begin to get smaller; a sure tip off that these are from later periods.

tel shilo archeology in Israel
A Decorative Mosaic Floor near the Ancient Synagogue

The mosaic floors which surround the synagogue are interesting in that they have to "graven" images. There are only decorative designs. This tells us that they are from a very early period. Mosaics found in Tiberius in comparison had images in their mosaics. This means that it must have been from a period before the Greeks. Yet, we do find a Greek inscription in the mosaic – so either our premise is incorrect and it is from a later period, or that the original flooring was altered to accommodate the inscription.

tel shilo archeology in Israel
Two Arches from the Byzantine Period rest on a reconstructed floor

Inside the synagogue we find that there is a two tiered floor. A lower floor with the mosaics, and then on top of that are large stones upon which two arched pillars that appear to be from the Byzantine period that support the roof. It appears that the earlier generations had made the mosaic floor and later generations had covered it with large stones as flooring.

tel shilo archeology in Israel
Note the Different Sizes of the Rocks used for the Building. The small ones are later additions

Leaving the synagogue, we proceeded to the Tel. The Tel is sparsely dug and although there are many indications of a large city, it still requires much work to bring it to its peak of clarity.

The area on which the Tabernacle is said to have rested is on the north side of the slope. Indeed we can see large rocks with heavy cuts in them indicating that something in a rectangular form was on this site.

tel shilo archeology in Israel
Note how the natural rock is hewn in a straight line. This is on the Northern Slope where the Ancient Tabernacle was located

Next to the site we can find signs of an oil or wine press and large underground storage facilities.

tel shilo archeology in Israel
One of many entrances to underground cisterns

In addition, we found many relics of large heavy stone vessels possible used by the Priests who served in the mishkan. Stone does not become ritually impure therefore it may well have been used inside the Tabernacle.

tel shilo archeology in Israel
One of may Rock Vessels which lie about the site of Shilo

There is still much to be uncovered in Shilo. We passed many areas of interest that still required excavation. Oh that I was only many years younger and stronger, I would have loved to excavate Shilo!

tel shilo archeology in Israel
These walls are evidence of much more work that needs to been done to properly excavate Tel Shilo

After touring the site, I felt a tremendous need to pray on the spot where the mishkan stood. As I stood in prayer, I began to feel a very real and intense connection going through my body connecting me from the earth up to the heavens. It was a very strange but beautiful feeling that I have never had, even at the Kotel, Jerusalem's Western Wall. I understood this to mean that there exists some of the original holiness in this site.


from the December 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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