Welcome to Shiloh, Where the Modern and Ancient Collide

“And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh; for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” (I Samuel 3:21)

One of the most dramatic sites in Israel is the newly refurbished and rebranded Tel of Shiloh, where the archeological remains of the Tabernacle lie. A person can literally stand in the place where Jews sacrificed to the Lord 3,500 years ago.

Shiloh was established by Joshua, son of Nun, approximately 3,500 years ago, as the spiritual capital of Israel. The Tabernacle was placed there, and Jews from all over the land came to worship at the location (Joshua 18:1). The Tabernacle stood in Shiloh for over 350 years according to Jewish tradition, and its remains can still be seen today.

Ever since the administration of the site was taken over by the Binyamin Regional Council, it has been built up to become a place that will engage modern visitors from all ages and walks of life. The council, along with Avital Sela, the site manager, began a number of programs that fuse the modern and the ancient, providing a unique experience that cannot be found anywhere else in the country.

Tel Shiloh is home to a newly finished visitor’s center, which includes a viewing station as well as an interactive multi-media presentation in which visitors can pick any number of historical guides to give explanations of different parts of the ancient site.

But that is not all that the site boasts. “We have intensive workshops regarding all different types of work and services that were involved in the daily life of running the Tabernacle,” explained Sela to Breaking Israel News. “The workshops include hands-on sessions that help visitors understand just what it took to keep the Tabernacle humming.”

One of the most special features of historical Shiloh, said Sela, was the emphasis placed on the importance of women during Biblical times. Women even worked around the Tabernacle, helping to run the holy site. Today, visitors to Tel Shiloh are able to experience first-hand the tasks that women traditionally performed. “[The workshops we do] also include various types of work that women were involved with to help with the upkeep of the Tabernacle,” Sela said.

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Several large festivities take place at Tel Shiloh and in the surrounding area during each holiday season. These activities also focus on the importance of the role of women during Biblical times. During the Jewish holiday of Tu B’av (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av), there is a reenactment of the original holiday of love, which is discussed in the book of Judges (Judges 21:19-25).

The ancient celebration involved women dancing in the vineyards around the Tabernacle and through the city to celebrate the day. Today’s celebration mimics the ancient one: there is a modern Jewish dance festival held each year on the same day, in the same place. As the women of old did, so do the women of today.  

Another celebration which pays respect to the women of the Bible will take place on Wednesday, September 9th, or the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Elul. According to Jewish tradition, it is on this day that God began creation, which culminated seven days later on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. This day is commemorated by Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

To mark the 25th of Elul, Tel Shiloh is celebrating by holding a concert and reading the prayer of Chana, mother of the Prophet Samuel. The prayer was chosen in honor of Samuel’s role in the beginning of the Jewish Kingship and the Davidic dynasty.

Shiloh also has an extensive Christian history. In addition to the ruins of the Tabernacle, the site is home to the ruins of four churches dating from the Byzantine era. One of them dates as far back as 400 CE.  Equally astounding is the mosaic-tiled flooring that is found in Jamia El Arbain, one of the churches in the area. The beautiful mosaic features an image of the Star of David dating back to the 8th century CE. While the Star of David in modern times is closely associated with Judaism, finding one in a church of the Byzantine era has helped archaeologists realize that in ancient times it was a geometric symbol used by other religions as well.  

Mosaic floor of the Byzantine basilica in Shiloh. (Wikimedia Commons)
Mosaic floor of the Byzantine basilica in Shiloh. (Wikimedia Commons)

But Tel Shiloh isn’t just a site to commemorate the past. It is a place that embraces Jewish continuity and a Jewish future. In addition to having a mutually beneficial relationship with the local thriving Jewish community of Shiloh, the site attracts over 100,000 visitors each year, including people of all ages from all over Israel as well as approximately 50,000 tourists from around the world.

One of Tel Shiloh’s newest projects is the Biblical marathon, which is organized to reenact the run of “the man from Benjamin”, described in I Samuel 4:12. The run, which is scheduled for the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in 2016, will begin just outside of the city of Rosh Ha’ayin and end in Shiloh, covering approximately 42 kilometers.

“That is what Shiloh and the Tel are all about,” said Sela. “Here we juxtapose the ancient with the modern, and create a unique experience that people cannot find in other places. Whoever wishes to come to a place that has a long and cherished history, that dates back to Biblical times but can also speak to a modern audience, this is the place for you.”

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