Mount Ephraim and Benjamin

34. Selo, where the ark stayed - (Kh. Saylun)

The amphictyonic capital of Israel in the time of the Judges, situated north of Beth-El, east of the Beth-El-Shechem highway and south of Lebonah (Judg. 21:19), in the mountains of the territory of Ephraim. Archaeological excavations have shown that the place was already settled in about the 19th-18th centuries B.C.E. (Middle Bronze Age II A); however, it is not mentioned in any pre-biblical source. The site was abandoned and resettled at the beginning of the Israelite period. Under Joshua, the tabernacle was erected at Shiloh (Josh. 18:1). Here lots were cast for the various tribal areas (Josh. 18) and for the levitical cities (Josh. 21:2) and here Israel assembled to settle its dispute with the tribes beyond the Jordan (Josh. 22:9, 12). Shiloh was the center of Israelite worship. During one religious celebration, the daughters of the city danced in the vineyards, an occasion used by the Benjamites, who could not get wives in any way except by abducting them (Judg. 21). Elkanah and his wife Hannah came there to worship and Hannah vowed her child Samuel to the Lord, whom he served as a servant of the sanctuary at Shiloh (I Sam. 1-2). In this sanctuary, the sons of Eli the priest sinned and the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel (I Sam. 3). When the Ark was taken from the city on its fateful journey to Eben-Ezer, never to return to Shiloh, a Benjamite brought news of the disaster to Eli, causing his death there (I Sam. 4). Excavations have revealed that the place was utterly destroyed in that period, a fact alluded to in later times (Jer. 7:12, 14; 26:6, 9; Ps. 78:60). However, its priestly family retained its importance for some time after moving to Nob (I Sam. 21:1-9). Ahijah the son of Ahitub, a priest from Shiloh, appeared with the ephod in the camp of Saul before the battle of Michmas (I Sam. 14:3). The priestly family of the city was finally deposed by Solomon (I Kings 2:27). Ahijah the Shilonite prophesied the future kingship of Jeroboam the son of Nebat (I Kings 11:29-31; 12:15; 15:29; II Chron. 9:29). It was apparently in Shiloh that Jeroboam's wife consulted the prophet and heard the doom of the dynasty I Kings 14:2-16). Jeremiah refers several times to the destruction of the city as a warning (7:12, 14; Ps. 78:60); his comparison of the fate of Shiloh with that foreseen for the Temple led to his being accused of blasphemy (Jer. 26:6-9). After the destruction of the Temple, the people of Shiloh were among those Ephraimites who came to sacrifice at Jerusalem (Jer. 41:5).
Shiloh is identified with Tell Seilun, 30 mi. (48 km.) north of Jerusalem, south of the ascent of Lebonah. Archaeological excavations there were undertaken by a Danish expedition directed by H. Kjaer (1926, 1929), A. Schmidt (1932), and S. Holm-Neilson and B. Otzen (1963) [Eds. addition: J. Finkelstein renewed the excavations in 1981-1982, continuing the work done there by the Danish expeditions]. In general, the excavation results confirm the biblical data. The city enjoyed an era of prosperity in the period of the Judges (12th-10th centuries B.C.E.), when it was fortified. It perished in a violent conflagration, probably a result of the Philistine conquest. It revived in the latter part of the Israelite period, and reached a high point of development under the Romans. From the latter period, a villa with a bath and a city wall were uncovered. In the fifth century (the Byzantine period), a mosaic-paved basilica, measuring 25 X 12 m., was erected south of the tell; further north was a smaller chapel.

Michael Avi-Yonah, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Shilo" (extract)

Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 45)
The 'ruined altar' of Shilo was shown to pilgrims from the fourth century onwards (St. Jerome, Peregr. Paulae XVI; id. In Sophoniam,1­Patr. Iat. 25, col.19S3) following the Jewish tradition recorded by Josephus (Antiq. V, 68) which located Shiloh in the mountains west of Gilgal. It should be noted that the map does not show (perhaps for lack of space) the church on the site, which is already mentioned ca.386 (Paula et Enstochium, VIIIed. Tobler p. 47). The site was still being visited in the time of Theodosius (4ed. Geyer, p. 139). The identification with modern Seilun is not disputed.
Two unnamed villages appear south of Shilo­perhaps Geba and Jeshana?
West of the mountain chain just discussed lies a plain (white cubes) bordered on the West by another mountain ridge. This plain represents the Valley of Shechem. The mapmaker has treated it as a separate entity, unconnected with the mountains to east and west of it; in consequence Sychar appears south of Shiloh, their respective positions being thus reversed.

Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)

Shiloh in Christian Times

Shiloh is well known because of Samuel's deeds which are vividly recounted in the Scripture. The place was much frequented while the Ark of the Covenant was kept there, but thereafter it declined. The excavations conducted by Danish archeologists in 1926 and 1929 have shown that the site was inhabited also in the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab periods. Within the scope of the present book I shall illustrate only the remains of the Byzantine period, when Christians dwelt here.
The Church. The first historical notice pertaining to Christianity in this place is due to St. Jerome. In a letter to Paula and Eustochius, dated about 392-393, after a description of the holy places, he writes: "With Christ at our side we shall pass through Shiloh and Bethel and through other places where churches have been built like so many banners of the Lord's victories" (Ep.46,13, PL 22, 492). Since at this time there was certainly a church at Bethel, as is known from other sources, it seems that Jerome, with this rather emphetic sentence, was really relating an historical fact. However, he does not state that the church was erected over the exact place of the old Jewish cult.
The same author twice describes the altar of the Jews as 'overthrown' (Ep. 108,13, PL 22, 888; In Sophoniam I, 15/16, CCSL 76A, 673); and, taking his words literally, some scholars have maintained that Shiloh was uninhabited at this time. But this does not seem to be Jerome's meaning. He wished simply to show the 'victory' of Christianity over Judaism, namely, of the New Testament over the Old.
Unlike what happened in Bethel, the official church of Jerusalem did not schedule an annual pilgrimage to Shiloh , and no such festival is mentioned in the Calendar of the church of Jerusalem. On the contrary, Samuel's feast was held on August 20 in the village of Masephta (Mizpah: Garitte, Calendrier, 307). Even the pilgrims seemingly did not visit Shiloh, for the only one that mentions its name - the sixth-century pilgrim Theodosius (ch. 4, CCSL 175, 116) - wrongly locates it mid-way between Jerusalem and Emmaus, namely, at Cariathiarim. The mistaken identification lasted for centuries, as appears, for example, on the Florentine map of 1300, which places Shiloh at Nebi Samwil where the Samuel' tomb is found.
The mosaic map of Madaba wrongly locates Shiloh east of Shechem, omitting to picture the church.
The Moslem Period. In 638 the Moslems conquered Palestine and gradually transformed the country, converting the other peoples to the Islamic faith. This fate befell also Shiloh. Moslem pilgrims to Shiloh mention a mosque called es-Sekineh where the memory of Jacob's and Joseph's deeds was revered. The earliest source, el-Harawi, who visited the country in 1173 when it was occupied by the Crusaders; Yaqut, who wrote in 1225, and el-Quarwini, who wrote in 1308 (Marmardji, 94-95), all say much the same. We quote from the first : 'Seilun is the village of the mosque es-Sekineh where the stone of the Table is found. However, the truth is that the Table came down in the church of Sihyawn. I heard that Jacob lived in Seilun and that Joseph came out of there with his brothers. The well into which he was thrown is between Singil and Nablus, to the right of the road. It is the most genuine of what has been said.
In conclusion, in the Middle Ages there was the village which purported to preserve the Table of the Covenant which others said was kept in the Church on Sion, confusing it with the table of Jesus' Last Supper (Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems, 527). Since the holy place had become Moslem, Christians no longer visited it and it was forgotten until recent times.
The memory of the Table endured among the locals, and Clermont-Ganneau was told of it on a visit here in 1874 (ARP II, 305). The erection of a mosque in Shiloh reveals that the population had embraced Islam. There is no further talk of churches.
The Synagogue and the Mosques. The literary sources are better understood through a visit to the spot. When the excavations began, all that was known was the mosque or Weli Yetaim, to the north, with its roof still intact, and whose structure utilizes ancient columns and capitals taken from ruined buildings and also other remains, among them two small pillars from a church which adorn the sides of the mihrab. Today the mosque is in the same state, with well-preserved walls. To the south there was a building called Jame' es-Sittin ('The mosque of the Sixty'), at the foot of the hill, with escarped walls and a carved lintel placed over the door: it is decorated with a central amphora flanked by wreaths, and it has been drawn and protographed many times. The building contains also other ancient remains; it is believed to have been a synagogue. Soundings made after 1967 have revealed a beautiful room to the west, built of dressed stones and twice plastered with white lime, with a niche facing south, namely, toward Jerusalem. Column shafts and classic capitals have also be unearthened. These elements belong to an ancient synagogue. Since 1967, the lintel that was placed on the north door has been removed. A pillar from a church or a synagogue is encased in the wall over the west door - or window.
At a higher level to the east is the mosque, much smaller than the synagogue and built of cheaper materials; to this day it is still half buried. One gets the impression that both mosque and synagogue, and the churches too, were used contemporarily, at least for a time.
The Churches. The Danish archeological expedition in 1929 excavated two churches placed between the two buildings described above. Today it is customary to call the north church'basillica' and the south one 'monastery' (Ovadiah, Corpus, 164-165, nos. 163-164), although the excavators called the first a basilica and the second 'pilgrims' church.' I derive my information about both from the report of Hans Kjaer, director of the excavations (JPOS 10 [1930], 126-174), and from several visits to the place.
The Monastery. As can be seen from the ground plan - a slightly modified version of the one drawn by Sven Beck, the excavation architect -the compound consists of a chapel to the southeast and of rooms to the north and west, a small monastic complex. The walls were made of large blocks, roughly dressed but uniform (see Figure), so that the masonry does not give the impression of reutilization of old buildings but looks like a completely new structure, as for instance the one at Deir es-Sidd. Two rooms (nos. 1 and 4 in the plan) were used for worship; the others as dwellins. The main hall (1) has remains of mosaic floor in the partially preserved apse, featuring grape clusters and an intertwined cord border. The nave floor has a geometric pattern of lozenges with a border of convenzionalized leaves Near the south wall there is a platform that probably served as a pulpit. The north room (4) has a mosaic floor composed of three parts. The first is a carpet ornamented with criss-cross bands forming squares with crosses in the middle; in the centre is a round medallion enclosed in a square and containing a five-line Greek inscription: 'hyper anapauseos Porphiriou kai Iakkobou adelphy', that is, 'For the rest of Porphyry and of James (his) brother'. To the east there is a panel with a tree in the middle, flanked by two feeding stags and by two fishes. The third panel has small squares and geometric designs. The dominant element is the scene with the animals which, given its location, has a symbolic meaning here as in other churches. This vignette can be compared with the well-known compositions of the Madaba region.

Shilo. Plan of the Monastery (B. Bagatti)

(1) Chapel; (2) narthex; (3) atrium; (4) room with the mosaic of the animals; (5-12) living rooms; (8) cistern; (13) wine press; (14) water reservoir.

In the dwelling rooms there is a cistern, still in use today, covered with a large, almost circular stone (126cm in diameter). The ground plan shows many stones crowding the inner spaces: I believe that they are not enormously thick walls, as tmaintained by the excavators, but platforms for storing things, possibly also the sleeping mats or mattresses. The thresholds of three rooms can be cleary discerned. The door sill of the main entrance, in the west wall, consists of a 174x75cm stone with pivot holes and long grooves for proper closing. The threshold of the first room is 90cm wide on the inner side.
The Basilica. When Kjaer's report was published, the building had not yet been completely excavated. Nevertheless, the excavator stated that it was ' a true basilica,' at least in its proportions. Judging from the south wall which can still be examined (it is made of ashlars laid in courses 44 and 25 cm high), the complexive length of the basilica and atrium is 40 meters. The width, also measured externally, is 14.10 m, but a 6.40 m wide room adjoins the building on the south side.
The church had three naves, and 12 bases and 2 beautiful Corinthian capitals (62 cm high and 72-61 cm wide) are preserved. Their appearance recalls the well-known fourth-century style, with separate leaves revealing the ribbing of the back leaves, and a smooth leaf under the corner. They may be considered of four-century work, and thus incline us think that this church, at least in its early stage, is the one seen by St. Jerome. The basilica was covered with rafters as indicated by the many fragments of tiles scattered in the area.
The floor, only partly preserved, is in mosaic (now both this and the monastery church floor are covered with earth). The carpet features interwining circles and rhombs enclosing broken spots ithat were repaired in antiquity. I am inclined to believe that within there were figures destroyed during the iconoclastic movement. If this is the case, the liturical life of the church must have lasted until the eighth century.
An inscription uncovered in the narthex reads: 'ke mnestheti tou doulou Zacharias kai tou graphantos is agatha+' that is, 'O Lord, remember for good your servant Zacharias and the writer'" Its editor, J. Starr (BASOR 57 [1935], 26-27), notes that the phrase "is agatha" is nothing but the translation of the Aramaic dekir letab commonly used in the synagogues of Palestine. This draws attention on the relations between Christians and Jews in the fourth-sixth centuries, when seemingly this inscription was written and the church was paved with these mosaics. The synagogue, which has now been partially exposed, with the decorated lintel and a recess in the wall for theThora scrolls, according to the custom inaugurated in the third-fourth centuries, and evidently lasting for some centuries afterward, attests that Jewish cult building functioned at the same time as the church. Jews and Christians thus lived together in the village. The presence of Jews in their ancient home land in the fifth century inclines us to believe that they had remained there continuously, and that the Christians there were of Jewish extraction. This would explain the use of the Aramaic idiom. Without a complete excavation, it is impossible to ascertain when the sinagogue went out of use; but this probably happened after the Arab conquest, when the Moslems replaced it with the es-Sittin mosque - also called el Arbai'im, 'of the Forty'.'
Where was the traditional place where the Ark had been kept? If the Moslems in the Middle Ages claimed to have a memorial of it in their mosque, it may be assumed that that mosque was the one later renamed called 'of the Forty.' It is reasonable to believe that the Moslems had inherited this Jewish memory from the Jews.
But did the Christians claim that the traditional place was in their hands? The presence of large bossed stones in the monastery has lead some archeologists to assume that the Christians had adapted an old building, which might be supposed to have been the traditional memorial. That would fit well with St. Jerome's remark about the Jewish holy place being deserted in his days, if the remark could be interpreted literally; but the excavations have shown that this view is untrue. On the contrary, the synagogue seems to go back exactly to the saint's time, and approximately in this period lived Rabbi Simon ha-Shiloni, 'of Shiloh', mentioned in the Talmud (Neubauer, 159). On the other hand, no Christian source ever claimed that the Christians had in their possession the site of the ancient altar.

For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Silo", 232.

Map Section 5 Place Sources

logo logo

Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:44:18
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
Webmaster: John Abela ofm - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex
copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000