The tabernacle at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3)

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Shiloh is identifiable from the description in Judges 21:19 and by the name preserved in Arabic form at Khirbet Seilun, 29 km north of Jerusalem. It was the Israelite shrine at which the tabernacle was installed (Joshua 18:1). At a yearly festival there the young virgins would dance (Judges 21:19-21). Elkanah and his family visited Shiloh annually, and Hannah placed the boy Samuel in the care of the priest Eli there (1 Samuel 1-3). It appears that the Philistines destroyed Shiloh after capturing the ark of the covenant in battle at Ebenezer (4:1-7:2). The city’s only mention in later Biblical history is as the hometown of the prophet Ahijah during the reign of Jeroboam I (1 Kings 14:4) and as an example of God’s judgement on His sanctuary (Psalm 78:60, Jeremiah 7:12-14, 26:6).

Archaeological findings correspond quite well to the Biblical record. Work by Danish excavators (1926-1932) and by Bar Ilan University (1981 onward) demonstrate that Shiloh was used as a cultic centre by pre-Israelite occupants during the Middle Bronze Age. Evidence suggests that its use as a sanctuary continued into Late Bronze Age. This suggests some continuity between pre-Israelite and Israelite usage: A site that had been regarded as sacred prior to the Israelite arrival became the place where the tabernacle remained.

Archaeology can tell us nothing about worship at Shiloh, and no vestiges of the original tabernacle remain. We can only infer the type of worship practiced there from what we read in various Biblical texts, especially 1 Samuel 1. Verse 3 of this chapter suggests that pious Israelites were expected to make at least one annual pilgrimage to the Shiloh shrine, and verse 11 demonstrates that they commonly went there to make a vow. This chapter also indicates that lay people, including women, were able to approach fairly close to the main shrine itself (1:9, 12). Priests and others who ministered there apparently lived in the immediate vicinity, some even sleeping within its precincts (3:1-3). Women served there, but, tragically, some priests took advantage of their authority and committed immoral acts with them (2:22).


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