Dr. Scott Stripling is on record as stating that the Bible is “not mythology.” And the archaeologist is no stranger to uncovering artifacts that seemingly support the stories told in the ancient text. For instance, in 2018 he made headlines for finding a ceramic pomegranate that pointed toward the existence of the Ark of the Covenant’s tabernacle. Now, though, the Biblical scholar might actually have outdone himself. For Stripling believes he and his team have dug up three relics that prove beyond doubt that the Bible is historically accurate.
This is no coincidence, of course. After all, Stripling and his team have been digging at the ancient site of Shiloh in Israel for many years. Why here? Well, the location is signposted in the Hebrew Bible. Shiloh initially crops up in the Book of Joshua and existed through the time of Judges – thought to be about the 11th century B.C. That’s why archaeologists such as Stripling have long been trying to unearth its treasures.
And this time around Stripling is in no doubt about the significance of his latest discovery. “The Bible and other ancient religious texts is what has driven archaeology in this region,” the scholar told The Jerusalem Post newspaper in 2019. “We have to recognize the validity of the Bible… I am comfortable with the biblical story – and now we have proof of that story.”
In a way, this discovery marks the culmination of Stripling’s career, too. The so-called biblical archaeologist is provost and professor of archaeology and church history for The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas. But it’s his position with the Near East Archaeological Society that sees him digging for ancient artifacts across the world.
Shiloh is not the first archaeological site that Stripling has searched, either. For instance, in 2005 the professor oversaw the Tell el-Hammam Excavation Project. This is an area of Jordan that biblical experts believe is Sodom. And after working on that dig for five years, Stripling moved on to Khirbet el-Maqatir.
Stripling served as the director of the Khirbet el-Maqatir dig from 2010 through to 2017. And his team were certainly busy. In fact, the excavations at this location supposedly revealed the ancient city of Ai, as described in the Book of Joshua. Yet the professor hadn’t finished with field archaeology yet.
Indeed, in 2017 Stripling switched his attention to the excavations taking place in Shiloh. As mentioned earlier, Shiloh has long been noted as an area of archaeological interest – particularly for biblical scholars. In fact, the first digs took place in Shiloh almost a century ago, in 1922.
That initial excavation was the work of a team of experts from Denmark. And the same expedition subsequently visited Shiloh twice, in 1926 and 1932. These digs were far from the only projects to have taken place, either. To give another example, in 1981 a professor from Tel Aviv University named Israel Finkelstein led a three-year excavation of the area.
The Finkelstein project was a successful one, too. In fact, the archaeological team found a cache of bones that were reportedly found to be from the Bronze Age. And while the group seemingly didn’t read too much more into the discovery at the time, according to Stripling it might have deeper significance.
You see, the Tel Aviv team viewed the bones as indicative of the Canaanite people performing animal sacrifices at Shiloh. But for Stripling, there was also a biblical connection. “It was Leviticus, chapter 7,” Stripling told The Jerusalem Post. “The right side of the animal was the priest’s portion, which would have been consumed at Shiloh.”
This provided Stripling with further evidence for his belief that Shiloh was indeed an area of biblical significance. He told the publication that the way in which the dates confirmed for the bones aligned with the events depicted in the Bible showed “verisimilitude.” “It means consistency between what we read in the text and what we find on the ground,” he said.
So what makes Shiloh such fertile ground for archaeological discovery? Well, as we touched upon earlier, this city is said to have been the main refuge for the Israelites between the 12th and 11th centuries B.C. And after this, the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle reportedly found a home at the ancient site.
For those who don’t know, the tabernacle is an essential part of the history of Judaism. It’s believed that the tabernacle was a movable shelter that Moses created for Hebrew people making their way to the promised land. So the tabernacle allowed the wanderers access to a site of worship while on their travels.
And – just in case you’ve never seen the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark – the Ark of the Covenant is another incredibly significant part of the Jewish religion. You see, it’s said that God gifted Moses two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. These laws were then placed within the Ark for safekeeping.
So the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant reportedly lived at Shiloh during the 11th century B.C. But then the Philistines conquered the Israelites and took charge of these precious artifacts. Shiloh itself was razed to the ground in the aftermath, too, and it stayed in that decimated state for hundreds of years.
With such fertile historical and religious stories to work with, then, it’s little wonder that archaeologists have continually returned to the site. As Stripling told TV channel CBN News in 2019, “This is the first capital of ancient Israel, and it’s a sacred spot because the [tabernacle] was here… where people came to connect with God.”
And the archaeologist certainly appeared to be passionate about his work. “We’re dealing with real people, real places, real events,” Stripling said to CBN. And to illustrate his point, he discussed previously excavated coins. “We’re talking about coins of Herod the Great, Pontius Pilate, Thestos, Felix, Agrippa the First, Agrippa the Second. The Bible talks about these people,” he said.
Stripling continued, “You can read the Bible, you can walk the Bible, but the ultimate is to dig the Bible.” And as he talked, his passion was clear to hear. “It’s sort of like we came out of the soil, and as we dig into the soil, we connect with God and with each other, I think, in a very important way,” he enthused.
And perhaps the archaeologist had every right to feel enthusiastic. After all, Stripling and his team of experts and volunteers, who numbered about 200 and came from 11 different universities, have unearthed an abundance of relics. The ceramic pomegranate mentioned earlier – found during summer 2018 – was just the first to raise eyebrows.
Why was the discovery so significant? “The pomegranate is a sacred motif,” Stripling told The Jerusalem Post in 2019. “The only sites in Israel where we have found pomegranates like this one have been Levitical sites.” The archaeologist explained that the pomegranate is referenced in Exodus 23:33 as being part of the High Priest’s robe.
Specifically, the fruit is said to have adorned the bottom edge of the High Priest’s clothing. This is significant because, as Stripling informed The Jerusalem Post, it means that the pomegranate is the only sacred food to go “into the presence of God.” So Stripling argued that the food was “a major motif of the tabernacle and the temples.”
The archaeologists have also found a number of big pithoi over the three years of the dig. These jars were uncovered in areas that had once been used for storage while ancient Shiloh had existed. Stripling believed that the vessels had probably contained food that the Israelites had taken to the tabernacle.
That’s not all, either. The group of experts have also discovered a large cache of currency and pottery. In fact, CBN News reported that Stripling and his team had dug up as many as 2,000 shards of pottery each and every day. And as the experts learned more about these relics, the clay pieces became major sources for dating their other finds.
Yet the most important discovery for Stripling came in summer 2019. The biblical archaeologist believed that the team’s find directly related to 1 Kings 2:28: “When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar.”
And Stripling claimed that his team had found some of the horns mentioned in this passage. In August 2019, you see, a press release about the discovery explained that “three altar horns” were dug up during the excavation. Two of these relics were almost 15 inches long, and the other was 7 inches long.
According to Stripling, there will probably be a fourth horn, too – and he was hoping that his team would find that one soon. The press release went on to state, “The altar fragments may have been part of the early Israelite cultic system that operated [in Shiloh].” Yet, for Stripling, the relics could mean something else as well.
“I mean, we were never expecting to find the [tabernacle]. It was made of animal skins; it would have decomposed,” Stripling told website The Times of Israel. “But the supporting material culture I do believe we’re seeing in the excavation.” So the archaeologist thought he was on the correct path to make the ultimate discovery of a platform.
But, regardless of what the future holds, the discovery of the horns is certainly special. After all, excavations in Israel have so far only managed to unearth seven comparable altars. And while there is no sign of the actual altar block to date, the horns are a close match to ones discovered on the 63-inches-high altar in Beersheba.
So the horns find certainly appeared to indicate cult-like undertakings at Shiloh. But was there a permanent structure in place? Well, Stripling seemed to think so – and he was determined to dig out a platform. “We even expect it to be similar to the biblical dimensions,” he told The Times of Israel. Yet not everybody is so quick to see biblical connotations.
Atlanta-based academic Jacob L. Wright is an associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. He told The Jerusalem Post, “Let’s imagine we find a lot of things related to a cultic sanctuary at Shiloh and the Bible describes it the same way. Does that prove the biblical narrative is true? No.”
Wright also stated, “Archaeology has one story to tell, and the biblical narrative has another.” But he did caution: “Who knows? You don’t want to jump to conclusions.” Stripling hasn’t been put off by these sentiments, though. In fact, he argued that he lets science – rather than the Bible – guide his excavations.
The archaeologist told The Times of Israel, “The science is what the science is.” Stripling also insisted, “I’m very capable of bifurcating my beliefs from what we’re finding. We’re not trying to read something into the evidence that’s not there.” Yet it’s also fair to say that the religious text holds particular significance for Stripling.
In fact, the archaeologist confirmed to The Times of Israel that he reads the Bible “as a serious historical text” and that the book enlightens the work that he is performing. “It’s very meaningful, and sometimes I just have to stop and remind myself where I am,” the scholar said.
So what’s next in his search for the tabernacle? Well, Stripling is determined to continue to dig out the platform and get his discoveries published. And, of course, he’s going to be using the Bible to guide his choices. For instance, the archaeologist is reportedly “curious” about a structure the team have found that dates back to the Iron Age.
Apparently, this structure lines up with a building mentioned in the Bible because it faces from east to west. Stripling also reckons that its position atop a northern hill is significant – for that’s exactly where he’d expect to find a fixed tabernacle. And what’s more, the horns and the pomegranate all came from this area.
“It’s got me very curious, let’s say,” the archaeologist confirmed. And Stripling even hopes to find a platform that compares to the Bible’s description of a tabernacle with an inner and an outer court. For now, though, he last updated followers of the discoveries at the ancient site in January 2020.
In a blog entitled “Winter’s Finds At Shiloh,” Stripling laid out what his team had been investigating. And from the sounds of things, they’ve been very busy. “We just completed our winter sifting project,” Stripling wrote. “The finds were amazing.” Then, while teasing that parts of the discoveries remained “top secret,” he explained why he was so excited about them.
Primarily, it was because Stripling’s team had used a new technique called wet sifting to significantly expand on the findings of prior digs. “I estimate that previous excavations missed 50-75 percent of the small finds such as scarabs, bullae, beads, coins, etc,” the archaeologist enthused. And it seemed his work method was catching on with other teams.
In fact, Stripling boasted that the team had already constructed a movable “wet-sifting station” for an archaeological group working out of Israel’s University of Haifa. And that’s not all: another group was also interested in adopting the technique. So it could be that Stripling’s innovative methods will soon be commonplace in excavation circles.
For now, though, the work continues. But it seems like Stripling couldn’t be happier with that situation. After all, as he informed The Times of Israel, one of his preferred passages of the Hebrew Bible comes from Psalm 102:14: “Blessed are those who love your dust and cherish your stones.”