Christian archaeological team brings the Bible to life after finding altar horns in Tel Shiloh

Altar Horn. Photo Credit: Mike Luddeni

Archaeology and archaeological expeditions have permeated the land of Israel for generations. Some have come on a mission to prove the Bible’s authenticity, others to find the holes in the biblical narrative, still others have come with open minds and honest question purely for academic reasons; all had the space and ruins to explore. The city of Shiloh is one such archaeological site that has been excavated multiple times over the past century, and is currently being excavated by American Christian Archaeologist Dr. Scott Stripling. 

Dr. Stripling at Shiloh.

Stripling has been excavating sites in Israel for two decades. A native Texan, he holds a doctorate in Archaeology and Biblical History and is Provost and Professor of Biblical Archaeology and Church History at The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas. In 2017 Stripling and his team (comprised of students and volunteers) began excavating Shiloh at the invitation of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Dr. Stripling had considered ending his previous 21 year excavation in Khirbet el-Maqatir in Judea/Samaria, and after receiving the invitation he took some time to consider and pray over the offer. As he describes it,  “it [the praying] only lasted one day”, because the next morning when he opened one of his Bibles it opened to Jeremiah 7:12,

“Indeed, go now to My place that was in Shiloh, where I first made My Name dwell. Now see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.”

Seeing he couldn’t have received a clearer answer, Stripling accepted the invitation. 

Shiloh is the biblical site where the Tabernacle once stood after the Israelites had come into the land. Here, Joshua set about to send the remainder of the tribes to their allotted land, here the Tabernacle was set up, Hannah pleaded before G-d to have a son, and here Samuel served under the High Priest Eli. We don’t read much about Shiloh after the events of Samuel, but passages in Psalms 78 and Jeremiah 26 indicate that the city was later destroyed. Archaeological research has found signs of a burned city in Shiloh during the time of the Philistines. 

Almost a hundred years ago the site of ancient Shiloh was excavated for three seasons by a Danish team and then in the 1980s an Israeli team continued in the dig site. Stripling’s team brings in fresh blood not only eager to see biblical history discovered but also to incorporate the latest technological aids in their search. Their water sifting system has produced 80% more artifacts than the traditional dry sifting system. The team also utilizes drones and 3D models to help them map out the dig locations.

Just what has their search revealed in the three seasons of excavation? The most recent and newsworthy find has been a horn of an altar which was found in the stratum that dates back to the Tabernacle period. Striplings is very clear that he is not currently claiming that this is a horn from THE altar of the Tabernacle, but the location of horn was found amongst other artifacts that relate to Israelite worship and life. Time and research will tell the story behind this horn. Could the grouping of artifacts be purely coincidental? When posed with this question Stripling pointed out that just across the highway there is another excavation site on an ancient Canaanite town. There they have also found horns of altars, but there the artifacts around the altars bare clear marks of a pagan canaanite culture. 

The altar horns are not the only biblical related discoveries the team has found. Currently they are working to uncover a large building also from the Tabernacle period as well as a city wall. What is interesting is that these buildings appear to have been there when Israel, under Joshua, conquered the land. Stripling calls to mind the verse in Deuteronomy 6 that states:

Now when Adonai your God brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—to give you great and good cities that you did not build,”

Shiloh drone shot. Photo credit: Greg Gulbrandsen

In addition the team has found multiple storage rooms with rimmed jars that would have been used for holding grains, fruits, and other items brought to the area. For Striping, these rooms and items clearly point to the tithes and offerings G-d commanded the Israelites to bring to the priests. At the end of the 2018 season, the team discovered a ceramic pomegranate measuring almost 3in that had hooks attached to it for hanging. These types of pomegranates are what is believed to have been hung from the Levitical priests’ robes.  

Dr. Stripling is not shy about sharing his beliefs and that it is his faith that drives his passion. When speaking to the Jerusalem Post he stated that “We have to recognize the validity of the Bible… I am comfortable with the biblical story – and now we have proof of that story, really.” I asked him if he has run into any trouble with the local religious community in Shiloh due to his team’s presence. He responded that “the community in Shiloh has embraced the team.” The modern Shiloh community is happy with the open mindedness of the crew and their passion for the biblical narrative. The community even hung a welcome banner for the team at the start of the third season. 

While many archaeologists in the field will say archaeology does not match with the Bible, Dr. Stripling has strong words for them. “What we find in the ground matches! [the biblical narrative]” In his years of excavation in Judah/Samaria and his work with the Temple Mount Sifting project he has found “a high degree of consistency” with what we read in the Bible. 

Dr. Stripling invites believers in Israel to visit the Tel Shiloh dig site and even volunteer for a day to help with the excavations. Visit his website to contact him and stay up to date on the Shiloh Excavations.