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Ancient Shiloh: Israel Worshipped Here Before Solomon’s Temple

by: Daniel Wright on February 14, 2021

On a chilly day in March of 2015, I joined members of the Scholar’s Insider Tour (including Gary and Bob) as we walked across a stretch of newly-unearthed ruins at biblical Shiloh. Recent archaeological digs here have produced stone walls, mosaics, foundations, and artifacts more than 3000 years old—with the earliest strata being Canaanite, followed by early Israelite. And while its lengthy history also includes remnants from the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Islamic, and Ottoman Turkish periods, my particular interest centers on the height of the early Israelite period. It’s true that this region of Israel isn’t usually included in Christian tour itineraries, but thankfully, that appears to be changing. Coming here is eye-opening and important. I believe that a clear understanding of ancient biblical sites like Shiloh, across the central mountains of Israel, is critical for anyone (especially Christians) seeking to understand what the Bible and modern Israel are really all about. 


As the raven flies, Shiloh is located about 20 miles north of Jerusalem in the region of Samaria, or as Israelis pronounce it, the Shomron, (ha-SHOWME-rone). Samaria is the northern portion of the central highlands of Israel including part of what the UN and the rest of the world call “the West Bank.” This historic region is part of the land (formerly under Jordanian control) that Israel conquered during the Six-Day War in June of 1967. Samaria is the Israelite heartland. It is here that the lion’s share of familiar biblical events took place! 

Joshua recorded, “And the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the Tabernacle of the congregation there. And the land was subdued before them. And there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes, which had not yet received their inheritance. And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you? . . . And the men arose, and went away: and Joshua charged them that went to describe the land, saying, Go and walk through the land, and describe it, and come again to me, that I may here cast lots for you before the LORD in Shiloh. And the men went and passed through the land, and described it by cities into seven parts in a book, and came again to Joshua to the host at Shiloh. And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the LORD: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions.” (Joshua 18:1-3, 8-10) 

Think of it. In this early timeframe, the original Tabernacle of Moses was set up and put into full service exactly here, atop this hillock, just north of the walled city. This included the legendary Ark of the Covenant, the Golden Lampstand, the Altar of Incense, the Table of the Shew Bread, the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Laver. All of the original furnishings hand-crafted at Sinai and subsequently used for the forty wilderness years were now at rest in the Promised Land, right here at Shiloh. I believe this is the last place where they were all assembled,“according to the pattern.” (Exodus 25:40) It is significant that centuries before the Temple of Solomon—long before Jebus (Jerusalem) was even in the hands of Israel—the LORD seems to have first chosen this place for His Holy Name to dwell. 

The Tabernacle remained here, and over time, the priests seem to have modified the sanctuary, erecting stone walls for protection, thus creating a kind of hybrid, proto-Temple. The end result was a partially stone rectangular building that also incorporated tent-like elements. This idea is hinted at in 1 Samuel 1:9, calling this sanctuary, “the temple of the LORD.” So, even the nomenclature was shifting from the word “tent” to “temple.” The Shiloh sanctuary’s true architectural appearance, particularly toward the end of its 350+ year tenure here, is open to speculation. We simply don’t know. Antiquities authorities hope that continued archaeological work here may shed new light on this topic. 

One feature at the site, which has intrigued me for years are what I call “Trailing Stones.” You can see them (on the map & photo) just behind the Tabernacle’s western wall, trailing to the right, down the slope. These are essentially two, roughly concurrent, rows of descending stones along with (perhaps tooled) bedrock. 

So, what were they for? Could they have had some function specifically tied to the Mishkan? Maybe they are the remains of what was originally an “ascent,” for guiding the steps of pilgrims climbing up the hill to worship, or perhaps they were used for channeling blood, libations, offerings, or ashes. I plan to continue inquiring about the Trailing Stones, and will report in this column any findings, should I get a definitive answer. Any reader thoughts and comments are always welcome. 


To me, the most significant event to happen at Shiloh was the audible voice of the LORD spoken to the boy Samuel, “And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; and ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; that the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down. And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.” (1 Samuel 3:1-10) 

Revelation and judgment were imparted to Samuel that night. He heard the audible voice of the LORD within the Tabernacle! Should we not all yearn for the same word ourselves? We know His sheep hear His voice. So the question becomes, are we listening today? Shalom!