ISRAEL - Ancient West Bank Site Draws Christians

Arno Froese

Deep in the West Bank, Israeli settlers have transformed an archaeological site into a biblical tourist attraction that attracts tens of thousands of evangelical Christians each year.

Tel Shiloh is believed to have been the site of the biblical tabernacle, but not everyone is pleased at how the ruins are presented to visitors.

Like many Holy Land sites, Tel Shiloh sits at the confluence of competing narratives of archaeology, religion, and nationalism. Critics say the site promotes a narrow interpretation of history popular with Israeli settlers and their Christian supporters.

For centuries, Jews, Muslims, and Christians have associated the site with the home of the biblical tabernacle, the portable shrine where the Israelites housed the Ark of the Covenant.

Because of its biblical significance, the archaeological ruins have become a pilgrimage site for evangelical Christians.

Since its completion, Tel Shiloh—rebranded as Ancient Shiloh: City of the Tabernacle—has seen tourism skyrocket to around 120,000 visitors in 2018, said site director Lilyan Zaitman. Over half were evangelical Christians.

Unlike other major sites in the West Bank, Tel Shiloh is managed by the local settler council and Mishkan Shiloh, a private nonprofit organization, rather than Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority.

Despite Tel Shiloh’s long and varied history, the site drives home its Jewish relevance, with little attention paid to other periods or peoples, whether Canaanite, Byzantine or Muslim. This has drawn criticism from archaeologists and activists.

Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein led excavations at Tel Shiloh in the 1980s. He said there is evidence of continuous religious activity at the site for centuries leading up to the early Iron Age, the period associated with the emergence of the ancient Israelites.

As with any archaeological site, Finkelstein said “our responsibility is to give the facts, and then we can of course say that there is more than one way to interpret the finds.”

No evidence of the tabernacle has been found, but archaeologists are looking. Excavations are being carried out by the Associates for Biblical Research, whose stated aim is “demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through archaeological and biblical research.”, 27 March 2019

Arno's commentary

There is no end in sight to discovering Israeli roots in the Promised Land. But, to find hard evidence of the Biblical tabernacle is all but impossible, since this tabernacle served as a portable and temporary residence of the God of Israel. This structure was not built out of stones for permanency. Nevertheless, it is admirable to see how eagerly Israeli archeologists uncover the ancient past, documenting even the smallest finds to show the Jewish presence in the land.

There is much more that needs to be shown, for the Promised Land—of which much is presently Arab-occupied Israeli territory—reaches up to the Euphrates River in the north. Second Samuel 8:3 testifies: “David smote also Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates.”

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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