Shiloh — Israel’s First Holy City -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 12:1 (Winter 1983)
Article: Shiloh — Israel’s First Holy City
Author: Bryant G. Wood


Shiloh — Israel’s First Holy City

Bryant G. Wood

During Israel’s earliest days as a nation, Shiloh was the most important city in the country. Joshua established it as a religious and civic center shortly after the Conquest in about 1400 B.C. and it retained that status until it was destroyed by the Philistines around 1050 B.C. Soon after, in about 1000 B.C., David set up his capital at Jerusalem, the site that has been Israel’s “Holy City” ever since. But Shiloh played an important role in the early years of the young nation of Israel and so, in view of the renewed archaeological activity at the site, we would like to briefly survey the history of the city.

Shiloh is located some 18½ miles north of Jerusalem in the territory of Ephraim, on the main north-south road through the central hill country. Why this particular site was chosen by Joshua for his administrative center we are not told. According to the archaeological evidence, the site was deserted at the time Joshua took it over. That, plus the fact that it is centrally located, may be reason enough for Joshua’s decision. Although Shiloh was strategically located as far as civil and religious activities were concerned, from a military standpoint the choice was a poor one. The site is situated on a low hill, surrounded by several higher hills. This, no doubt, was a contributing factor to Shiloh’s defeat at the hands of the Philistines.

Shiloh in the Days of Joshua

After the Israelites had wrested control of the land from the Canaanite overlords, Joshua’s first administrative act was to erect the Tabernacle at Shiloh, thereby establishing it as the religious center of the fledgling confederacy (Joshua 18:1). An altar for offerings and sacrifices was constructed in front of the tabernacle (Joshua 22:29), and the Ark of the Covenant was housed inside (1 Samuel 3:3, 4:3). Thereafter, yearly pilgrimages were made to Shiloh by the people of Israel for worship and sacrifice (Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3, 21; 2:19).

Additional administrative acts were carried out by Joshua from his center at Shiloh. He completed the division of the land among the tribes (Joshua 18:2–19:51), established cities of refuge for those guilty of manslaughter (J...

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