The destruction of Shiloh (Jeremiah 7)

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Illustration: Area around Tel Shiloh

Located in the middle of Israel’s hil country, Shiloh was the nation’s first holy city.

At the conclusion of the conquest, around 1400 B.C., Joshua erected the tabernacle at Shiloh, thereby establishing this location as Israel’s religious centre (Joshua 18:1). Thereafter, yearly pilgrimages were made to Shiloh for worship and sacrifice (Judges 21:19, 1 Samuel 1:3, 21, 2:19). It remained the central shrine of Israel for over 300 years, until the city was destroyed, presumably by the Philistines, in the early eleventh century B.C. Israel remained without a primary religious locus for more than a century after that, until Solomon constructed the temple in Jerusalem around 966-959 B.C. (1 Kings 6:37-38).

In the early eleventh century B.C. the Philistines defeated Israel at Ebenezer and the ark of the covenant was captured (1 Samuel 4:1-11). Although this is not specifically stated in Scripture, it appears that the Philistines followed up their victory by destroying Shiloh (Psalm 78:58-61, Jeremiah 7:12-14, 26:6). One way or another, it i clear that Shiloh ceased to exist at about this time since, at Ebenezer, this city is no longer mentioned in the Bible. Therefore, when the Philistines returned the ark, it was taken to Beth Shemesh, rather than to Shiloh. Following the defeat at Ebenezer, Samuel took up residence at Ramah and ministered in Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:16-17).

Shiloh was first inhabited during the Middle Bronze II period. This pre-Israelite site at the time covered an area of about four acres and was surrounded by a wall of field stones and an earthen glacis. This site was destroyed in the sixteenth century B.C.; large storage containers, bronze weapons and silver Jewelry were unearthed there. Remains from the Late Bronze I period suggest that this location was a cultic or ritual centre, but since no masonry has been found from the period, it was probably not regular settlements\ at the time.

Excavations at Shiloh have revealed a significant building complex from the Iron I period, which takes us through the time of Eli. The Iron I period excavations produced fourteen silos and two Israelite storage buildings with rooms full of large, collared-rim jars (a type of pottery used by the Israelites). This period of habitation was terminated by a fierce conflagration, probably the work of Philistines in around 1050 B.C.

No evidence of the tabernacle has been discovered, but the situation of the storage buildings suggest that they were part of a larger complex on the summit, constituting a public storage facility, exhibiting sophisticated construction techniques, including stone drum pillars, wooden columns and paved floors. The bedrock was cut to level the floor and hew out a cistern, which was then plastered. Inside, archaeologists uncovered the richest assemblage of pottery ever unearthed from the late twelfth through early eleventh centuries B.C., including over 20 large storage jars. The fire that destroyed this complex resulted in a thick layer of ash containing carbonized roof beams and bricks burned to a reddish-yellow hue. Shiloh ultimately became proverbial for divine judgement for an apostate shrine (Jeremiah 7:12). The discovery of Iron II material verifies the site was at least sporadically utilized after the destruction – probably by transient peoples, since no permanent settlement evidence from this period exists.


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