Under the auspices of the The Zionist Council in Israel, we recently visited Shilo (or Shiloh), in the heartland of Samaria. Shilo was the first capital of the Israelites during the period when Joshua divided the Land of Israel by lottery among the 12 tribes (15th c BCE). For 369 years, until Shilo’s sacking by the Caananites, the Ark of the Covenant, located within the Tabernacle, resided in Shilo (Book of Joshua).
The Tabernacle (Mishkan) – the portable Temple used in the desert and during the conquest of the Land, was constructed by Hur, as described in the Book of Exodus. The Tabernacle was the resting place for the Ark and also contained other vessels that were used for the worship of God. The Ark was constructed by Bezalel, grandson of Hur, during the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert, after fleeing their servitude in Egypt. Spiritually, the Ark was the manifestation of God’s physical presence on earth. It was used until the destruction of the First Temple, when it disappeared (perhaps into a vast warehouse?). The Ark was the most important symbol of the Jewish faith, the only physical manifestation of God on earth.
The location of Shilo in the territory of the Tribe of Ephraim, geographically the center of the 12 tribes’ holdings, was significant to the unity of the Israelites. Shilo was the place of pilgrimage for the Children of Israel. Three times during the year the faithful brought their festival offerings there (Passover, Shavuos, Succos). Later, when King David made Jerusalem the united capital of the Israelites (late 11th c BCE), Shilo was no longer the place of pilgrimage. (jewishvirtuallibrary.org)
There is a modern town of Shilo located above Tel Shilo, the archeological site (Tel). It was recently in the news as the possible location of replacement housing for evacuees from the small community of Amona, which Israel’s High Court has said must be destroyed because it allegedly sits on private Palestinian Arab land. The tel, where we visited, showcases the spiritual life of the Jewish people until its destruction, probably during the reign of King Saul (11th c BCE). There are also artifacts from other periods, notably the end of the Second Temple (130 BCE – 70 CE), the Byzantine period (350 – 618 CE), and the early Muslim period (638 – 900 CE).
As we walked to the highest point of the tel, we had a beautiful view of the valley below. This is where the summer grape-harvest festival took place, when the daughters of Shilo danced in the fields before the men of the Tribe of Benjamin, who sought brides from among them (Book of Judges). This festival is recalled even today in Israel by Tu B’Av, Israel’s more ancient version of Valentine’s Day.
We particularly enjoyed the documentary about Shilo, which was shown in a modernistic building at the top of the tel, with a small but interesting museum underneath. The audio visual exhibition was recent and up to date. An added treat was the 3D tour of the Mishkan, which site is currently being excavated. It is quite exciting to virtually enter the ancient abode of the Ark, “walking” among the artists’ interpretations of how it looked, based on the Biblical descriptions.
We stood near the exact place on Tel Shiloh where some scholars believe the Tabernacle was placed. We heard the story of Hannah, who was childless. When she came to pray for a son in front of the Tabernacle, Eli, the High Priest, saw her praying silently. Eli mistook her for a drunkard. When Hannah explained herself, Eli assured her that she would indeed bear a son, which she did. Hannah dedicated her promised son, Samuel, to serve in the Tabernacle. Samuel the Prophet later anointed, albeit reluctantly, the first King of Israel, Saul.
We had our lunch under the trees in a lovely park next to the souvenir/snack shop, enjoying the perfect October weather. Our excellent guide, Israel, amused us with tales of Shilo’s history, mentioning several times that his wife was an archeologist at the site. There were a number of other tourists, including off-duty soldiers, and Arab and Jewish workers.
Israel pointed out the Path of the Patriarchs in the valley below. This north-south route on top of the Hebron, Judean, and Samarian mountain ridge is the most logical route Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would have traveled between Beersheva, Hebron, Mt. Moriah (Jerusalem), Bet El, and Shechem (Nablus). The Romans and subsequent conquerors used this existing road system and improved it. Today, the Path of the Patriarchs coincides with Rte 60, which runs from Beersheva to Nazareth.
The modern Shilo residents come to the tel for special events, such as bar and bat mitzvas, school plays, or weekly classes under the ancient trees. Just a few years ago Shilo was neglected and practically forgotten. Shilo is now an official tour site and is becoming a popular tourist destination.
After lunch we continued traveling on Rte 60, which is known as a wine route because of the fact that there are 12 wineries located along it. We had an interesting stop at the Tura Winery in the small village of Rehelim. After an educational film, we enjoyed a tasting of some of their excellent table and dessert wines. Nearly everyone took advantage of the opportunity to buy wine, along with chocolates and other home made items. We enjoyed the excellent Chardonnay in our succah!
The winery was an excellent ending to our visit to Shilo, the first capital of the Israelites. You can check out the Zionist Council (Anglo Division) at www.facebook.com/zionist.council