Can the Bible, Bones and Bronze Age Jugs Finally Pinpoint the Tabernacle that Housed the Ark of the Covenant?
Separate archaeological teams working at the vast ancient site of Shiloh city on the West Bank are confident they have made finds consistent with the area being the location of an ancient tabernacle described in the Bible as being a long-term holding place for the Ark of the Covenant.
A Site of Biblical Significance
The Bible describes the building of a holy tabernacle with the purpose of storing the Ark of the Covenant which was used to carry the Ten Commandments and is also depicted in Exodus (25: 8-9) as ‘Gods dwelling place among his people’ as the Times of Israel article described. It has been described as a structure built of woven layers of curtains held up by 48 standing boards covered in gold. They are held in place with 5 bars per side, and other items made from gold, silver, brass, furs, and jewels. A holy place indeed, and no doubt worthy of a quest to find its location. The Bible is talking of an occurrence around 1400 BC (Late Bronze Age) and indicates that Shiloh is the location of this tabernacle which has caused great interest in the area.
An illustration of what the tabernacle may have looked like. (unknown illustrator)
The Times of Israel reports that a major investigation into the site was undertaken by a team led by Professor Israel Finkelstein, then of Bar-Ilan University, during four seasons of excavation in 1981-84. He failed to find a conclusive link to the Biblical account saying as The Times of Israel reports,
“In my own excavation, the only finds from the Late Bronze Age came from a pit which included what seemed to be cultic refuse.”
He adds, however, that archaeology has gone through a significant revolution in recent years and “Had I known these methods 35 years ago, I would have used them: radiocarbon dating, molecular analysis of the content of vessels, geo-archaeology and the like.”
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Shiloh, looking south. (Credit: Tim Velasco)
This month, ten jugs from the time the Jewish people first entered Israel were discovered by a dig in the area by the Shiloh Association together with Archaeological Unit of Israel’s Civil Administration, reported Breaking News Israel. This shows there was settlement in the area at the time spoken of in the Bible. The fact that the jugs were left indicates that perhaps the area was evacuated, an occurrence that could have happened around the time of the Philistine invasion. Hanina Hizami of the Civil Administration team was hopeful, saying as reported by Israel Hayom,
“This is a very exciting find. The destruction could have been caused by the Philistine invasion and the fire that raged [at Shiloh],”.
In the same spot, a kobaat, which is a type of ritual chalice was found. Although indicative of activity and religious activity in the area, these finds are indicative rather than conclusive.
Some of the jugs unearthed at the site of the ancient Jewish city Shiloh. (Credit: Shiloh Association)
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Enter the Tabernacle Hunters
Last month, an archaeological group of experts and volunteers from the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) and led by Dr. Scott Stripling, took up the hunt for the tabernacle. In the first of many planned digs they hope to prove the Bible to be historically correct in its description of Shiloh as the location of the tabernacle that held the revered Ark for 400 years.
According to the Times of Israel report the group ‘has religious faith’ that makes it confident it will find proof where previous archaeological investigations have failed. However, while hopeful, Dr Stripling is realistic about the search, telling Fox News,
“We have just begun the process of accumulating evidence but we’re confident that the tabernacle rested at Shiloh.”
The ABR website states the group is ‘dedicated to demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through archaeological and Biblical research’. Their Biblical research places the tabernacle at Shiloh, and so now the digging has begun.
ABR's Excavation squares at Tel Shiloh (Credit: Tim Velasco)
The Findings of the Dig
The recent first season dig by ABR lasted one month and finds were made from day one, when the team reported finds of a seal impression from the Middle Bronze III period, coins, pieces of stone vessel and two ivory decorations.
Of course, any evidence of the presence of a 3,500–3000-year-old tabernacle will likely be found under the surface. Throughout the excavations, a great number of animal bones have been found. Stripling believes these could be connected to sacrificial practices at the tabernacle.
“If the bones match the animals of the Biblical sacrificial system and the type and age specified, then we may be looking at evidence that the tabernacle sat nearby,” said Stripling as reported by Fox News.
The bones have been sent to ABR’s zoo archaeologist for analysis.
Clues are Inconclusive
The dig has produced a huge amount of more everyday material that requires further analysis, “We registered 700 objects this last [excavation] season – seal impressions, scarabs, tools, weapons, jewelry, utilitarian objects, cultic objects,” said Stripling according to Fox News, “And about 2,000 pieces of pottery a day.”
Example of the many pottery pieces found by the ABR dig (Credit: ABR)
Although the finds correlate with the Bible’s account and so are encouraging for the tabernacle hunters, nothing so far has been found that could be seen as definitive evidence of the tabernacle at the site. But for Dr Stripling the quest is in its infancy and there are plans to continue the search for evidence for decades if necessary. He stated the groups intentions to Times of Israel,
“After the north face, we’ll go to the summit and excavate under the Byzantine buildings. We can’t rule out where the mishkan [tabernacle] was, but if I say what’s in my gut, I think maybe on the summit,” he said, in a theory that agrees with one proposed but untested by Finkelstein in the 1980s.
The precise position of the tabernacle and establishing its very existence through the archaeological research still seems a long way off - but the tenacious tabernacle hunters could be closing in.
Top image: Picture of the Inner Court of Tabernacle of Moses with the Ark of Covenant (unknown illustrator)
By Gary Manners