An Altar West of Shiloh

A rock-hewn altar was discovered west of ancient Shiloh in 2002. It is situated at the edge of the Israeli settlement of Givat Harel, about a mile west of Shiloh. The altar is hewn from a single, massive stone, and features four horns. The altar was studied by Yoel Elitzur, an archaeologist who lives in nearby Ophrah. Part of what makes this altar so interesting is its massive size, as well at its proximity to Shiloh, home of the Israelite tabernacle for over three centuries.

View of the Givat Harel altar from the west, with Shiloh in the background.

The altar is located about half way down the slope of the ridge. It measures approximately 8 ft on each side, with an exposed height of about 5 ft. This is quite  close to the measurements of the sacrificial altar that was used at the tabernacle. “And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square, and its height shall be three cubits. You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it . . .” (Ex 27:1-2). A cubit is about 18 inches.

Photo illustrating the large size of the Givat Harel altar.

The top of the altar has been flattened, providing a good base for sacrifice. Elitzur reported that he found a burnt and blackened rock about a meter away from the altar, “clearly burnt at a very high temperature.” He concluded that it originated from the altar, providing evidence for its actual use.

Top of the Givat Harel altar.

What is the date of this altar? Elitzur found scattered pottery in the area, but nothing particularly associated with the altar. He notes that it almost certainly pre-dates the Exile (586 BC), since high places, as a rule, do not appear after that. He suggests that it might be as early as the time of the biblical judges (c. 1350 BC), and perhaps as late as the end of the Iron Age (586 BC). Elitzur also notes the similarity between this altar and the so-called Manoah Altar near ancient Zorah.
While earlier photos show this altar in a generally neglected state, the area has recently been cleaned up and developed, including a new walkway with railing leading from the street, and a gravel bed around the base of the altar. Hopefully being so accessible will encourage more people to visit this unique site.

Development around the Givat Harel altar.

This altar is situated half way down the slope of the ridge, so Shiloh is not directly visible from this altar. However, if one climbs to the top of the ridge, Shiloh is easily visible across the valley.

View of Shiloh from the ridge above the Givat Harel altar.

If you wish to visit the Givat Harel altar, either by Google Earth or in person, the coordinates are 32° 3’26.00″N 35°16’22.19″E. There is one sign for the altar at the entrance to the Givat Harel settlement, but no others were visible when I visited, and only the friendly directions from a local businessman allowed me to find it.
For further info on this altar, see Yoel Elitzur and Doron Nir-Zevi, “A Rock-hewn Altar Near Shiloh,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, January-June 2003, p. 30-36, available here; or Yoel Elitzur and Doron Nir-Zevi, “Four-horned Altar Discovered in the Judean Hills,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 30:3, May/June 2004: 35ff. Earlier photos of this altar are available at the BibleWalks Shiloh Altars page.

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