Shiloh

SHILOH (shī'lō, Heb. shīlōh). 1. The person referred to in the prophecy of Jacob in Gen.49.10: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs,” or as the footnote reads, “until Shiloh comes.” This has been interpreted in many different ways. The ASV footnote has “Till he come to Shiloh, having the obedience of the peoples.” Or, according to the Syrian, “Till he come whose it is.” The NIV has “until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” The principal interpretations are the following:

a. The passage is messianic. The difficulty of this interpretation is that nowhere else in the OT is Shiloh found as a personal name, and none of the ancient MSS apply the word personally to the Messiah. This application is not older than the sixteenth century (apart from the fanciful passage in the Talmud).

b. Shiloh was the town in central Palestine where Joshua placed the tabernacle after the conquest of Canaan (Josh.18.1). The reading, “Till he comes to Shiloh,” is favored.

c. Shiloh is not regarded as a proper name at all. It is thought to be a compound word meaning “whose it is.” This is apparently the reading presupposed in the LXX, the Peshitta, and the Jewish Targums, and seems to be alluded to in Ezek.21.27, “until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs.” The passage has a messianic reference if this reading is adopted.

2. A city in the tribe of Ephraim, about twelve miles (twenty km.) north and east of Bethel and about the same distance south of Sychar where Jacob’s well was, just east of the highway from Bethel to Shechem (Judg.21.19). It stood on an isolated hill that could easily be defended either against the Canaanites from the north or the Philistines from the SW. Here the children of Israel under Joshua assembled after the first phases of the conquest of Canaan and set up the tabernacle, thus making Shiloh the capital city of Canaan under the theocracy. Here the tabernacle remained until in the days of Samuel, about four hundred years later, when the ark was removed in a battle with the Philistines (1Sam.4.3) and was not returned to its place until shortly before the days of Solomon’s temple. From Shiloh the men of Benjamin, by Israel’s permission, kidnapped wives after the Benjamite war under the priesthood of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron (Judg.21.1-Judg.21.25). The godly Elkanah and his wife went to Shiloh before the birth of Samuel (1Sam.1.3). Here the boy Samuel received his call from God (1Sam.3.20-1Sam.3.21).

From the time of the removal of the ark, Shiloh gradually lost its importance, especially when David made Jerusalem the capital of the kingdom of Israel. This loss of importance was principally because God “abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among men” (Ps.78.60). During the reign of King Saul and especially during his war with the Philistines, Ahijah, great-grandson of Eli, was high priest of Israel, wearing the sacred ephod at Shiloh (1Sam.14.3). After the division of the kingdom, though the ark and the temple were at Jerusalem, and though Jeroboam, the apostate king, had set up centers of worship at Dan and at Bethel, another Ahijah, prophet of the Lord, was still at Shiloh, representing God before the true people of God in the northern kingdom. To him Jeroboam sent to inquire about his sick son (1Kgs.14.1-1Kgs.14.31), and here Ahijah pronounced the doom of Jeroboam’s house (1Kgs.14.13).

In the days of Jeremiah, Shiloh was a ruin (Jer.7.12, Jer.7.14), though there were some men there after the destruction of Jerusalem (Jer.41.5).

The city, identified with Tell Seilun about thirty miles (fifty km.) north of Jerusalem, was excavated by a Danish expedition in 1926, 1929, 1932, and 1963, directed by H. Kjaer and others. Basically the results confirm the biblical data. Shiloh was prosperous in the period of the judges (twelfth to tenth centuries b.c.) when it was fortified. It was destroyed and burned, probably by the Philistine invasion, and revived in the Israelite period. It reached its height in the Roman period from which a villa with a bath and a city wall were uncovered. A Byzantine basilica with a mosaic pavement from the fifth century a.d. was found there.——SB and ABF


What is left of Shiloh.

SHILOH shī’ lō (usually שִׁלֹ֔ה; sometimes שִׁלֹ֜ו or שִׁילוֹ; LXX Σηλώ, Σηλώμ; meaning uncertain).

A city in the territory of Ephraim located by Judges 21:19 as “north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem (q.v.), and south of Lebonah.” As such it was twenty m. N and slightly E of Jerusalem. The Ark of the covenant and the Tabernacle were there from the time of Joshua through Samuel’s time. Shiloh was thus an important Israelite center of worship. The modern site is known as Khirbet Seilun.

Excavations.

Shiloh was identified with Seilun on the basis of surface explorations and the similarity of names by E. Robinson in 1838. Danish expeditions in 1926, 1929 and 1932 confirmed this identification. There were traces of occupation in the Middle Bronze period (c. 2100 to 1600 b.c.) but no evidence of Canaanite occupation was found for the Late Bronze period (c. 1600 to 1200 b.c.). Evidence was found, however, for the occupation of the site again beginning about 1200 b.c. and continuing to about 1050 b.c. when Shiloh or parts of it were destroyed, prob. by the Philistines. The Israelites were evidently the first to build extensively at the site. No sign of the Temple of Jehovah which played a central role in the life of Samuel was found (1 Sam 1:9; 3:3). Evidence of a city wall, however, and also of a synagogue and a Christian church were found and these suggest that the site was remembered for many centuries later.

The location of Shiloh was well suited to be a quiet place of worship. It was surrounded by hills on all sides except the SW, and pasture lands and a water supply were nearby. The position is not strategic, however, and did not lend itself to defense nor to control of highways and land areas.

Shiloh in the Bible.

After the conquest, Joshua first dwelt at Gilgal and then at Shiloh (Josh 14:6; 18:1). Why Shiloh was chosen is not known, though the fact that it was seemingly uninhabited in Canaanite times may have suggested it as an “uncontaminated” location for worship. The tent of meeting was set up in Shiloh and the Israelites assembled there. Three men from each tribe were selected to travel the length and breadth of the Promised Land and to write a description of it. They then returned to Shiloh and Joshua cast lots to give the seven remaining tribes their inheritances (18:1; 19:51). Shiloh did assume some military importance for Israel when the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built their own large altar by the Jordan (22:9, 12).

The importance of Shiloh as a center for Israelite worship continued into the time of the Judges. The Biblical writer remarks upon the length of time that the house of God was there (Judg 18:31). There was a yearly feast of Yahweh held at Shiloh in which hundreds of dancing girls took part (Judg 21:19ff.). Some four hundred virgin girls had been brought from Jabesh-gilead to Shiloh to serve this purpose, and they eventually became wives to the Benjaminites who had suffered tragic defeat and who, through the loss of their wives, no longer had the means to perpetuate the tribe. This annual festival with dancing girls has suggested to some the existence of a kind of fertility cult at Shiloh.

While shiloh held the place of prominence in Israelite worship during this period, other places began to assume some importance as well. Thus we see that the Ark of the covenant was in Bethel at least for a time (Judg 20:26, 27).

Shiloh continues to figure largely in the religious life of Israel during Samuel’s time. Elkanah, Samuel’s father, went to Shiloh year by year to sacrifice to Yahweh. Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests in Shiloh at the time. It was in the temple at Shiloh that Hannah prayed for a child and there she brought him to be dedicated to Yahweh’s service. The two sons of Eli had largely corrupted the sacrificial system as it was meant to be practiced at Shiloh, and their conduct with the women who served at the entrance of the shrine was by no means above reproach. This has again suggested to some the presence of a kind of Canaanite fertility cult at Shiloh. Yahweh’s appearance to the boy Samuel at Shiloh and his establishment as a prophet there also emphasize the centrality of the place in the religious history of early Israel (1 Sam 3:21).


Shiloh in Genesis 49:10.

The reference to Shiloh, rendered “until Shiloh come” by the KJV and ASV, has been the occasion of a great deal of discussion and difficulty. This is in the blessings of Jacob and is contained in the particular blessing given to his son Judah. It seems impossible to give a truly satisfactory explanation of the problem.

Shiloh in this passage has been taken traditionally as a reference to the Messiah. The name would then have to be derived from shālâ, “to be at ease,” and would mean something like “the peace-giver.” This derivation, however, is linguistically difficult. Shiloh is not elsewhere in the Bible as a personal name and, significantly, the passage is not cited Messianically in the NT. Interestingly, the Qumran compilation of Patriarchal Blessings paraphrases the word “Shiloh” as “the rightful Messiah” or “the Messiah of righteousness,” rather than taking it as a personal name. In support of this rendering, Ezekiel 21:27, which is prob. an echo of Genesis 49:10, may be cited. The Dead Sea community took the passage to mean that royal power belonged forever to the house of David (who was of the tribe of Judah) in contrast to the Hasmonean priest-kings who ruled over them. Genesis 49:10 was interpreted Messianically before the Christian era, but Shiloh was not taken as a personal name, as far as is known, until the doubtful passage in the Talmud (see Sanh. 98b). Even then, Shiloh was not seriously put forward as a personal name until the 16th cent.

A second interpretation suggests that Shiloh does refer to the city mentioned above, and the passage indicates that Judah or Judean rule was to continue until it extended as far as Shiloh. If Shiloh is understood as being the center of Israelite worship and therefore as representative of Israel as a whole, the passage would find fulfillment in the prominence which the tribe of Judah gained and in the extension of her sovereignty by David. If in patriarchal times, Shiloh was reckoned as a kind of foe to be conquered, this interpretation would be beset by perhaps the least difficulties.

Two other suggestions, each involving a minor emendation, have been given. Shiloh could be read shellô, “to whom,” or “that which is,” being a contraction of asher lô. This is evidently the LXX understanding of the word and support from Ezekiel 21:27 is generally claimed for it.

Another emendation has been suggested, making the word mōshelô, “his ruler.” Interestingly, the Akkad. word for “prince” or “ruler” is shêlu or shîlu. This would read “his ruler” when repointed as shayyālô. Other Assyrian technical terms are found in the OT (e.g. Rab-shakeh; Tartan) and this may be a possible solution. It should be noted, however, that other Assyrian technical terms occur in the OT, only in the lit. dating from the time that Assyria was in contact with the Hebrews, namely the 9th cent. and later.

Bibliography

On the city and its excavations, see: W. F. Albright, BASOR, IX (1923), 10, 11; “The Danish Excavations at Seilun—A Correction,” PEQ, LIX (1927), 85-88; H. Kjaer, “The Danish Excavation of Shiloh. Preliminary Report,” PEQ, LIX (1927), 202-213; “The Excavation of Shiloh 1929,” JPOS, X (1930), 87-174; “Shiloh. A Summary Report of the Second Danish Expedition, 1929,” PEQ, LXIII (1931), 71-88. On the interpretation of Shiloh in Gen 49:10 see: G. R. Driver, “Some Hebrew Roots and their Meanings,” JTS, XXIII (1922), 70; J. Skinner, Genesis, ICC (2nd. ed. 1930), 518-524; J. Lindblom, “The Political Background of the Shiloh Oracle,” Supplements to VT, I (1953), 78-87; J. Allegro, “Further Messianic References in Qumran Literature,” JBL, LXXV (1956), 174-176; O. Eissfeldt, “Silo and Jerusalem,” Supplement to VT, IV (1957), 138-147. See also the commentaries on Genesis.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The prophecy in Ge 49:10, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, .... until Shiloh come," etc., has been the subject of very diverse interpretations. the Revised Version margin gives as alternative renderings, " `Till he come to Shiloh having the obedience of the peoples’ Or, according to the Syriac, `Till he come whose it is,’ etc."

(1) From the earliest times the passage has been regarded as Messianic, but the rendering in the text, which takes "Shiloh" as a proper name, bearing a meaning such as "peaceful" (compare Isa 9:6, "Prince of Peace"), labors under the difficulty that Shiloh is not found elsewhere as a personal name in the Old Testament, nor is it easy to extract from it the meaning desired. Further, the word was not personally applied to the Messiah in any of the ancient VSS, which rather assume a different reading (see below). Apart from a purely fanciful passage in the Talmud (compare Driver, Gen, 413), this application does not appear earlier than the version of Seb. Munster in the 16th century (1534).

(2) The rendering, "till he come to Shiloh," where Shiloh is taken as the name of a place, not a person, is plausible, but is felt to yield no suitable sense in the context. It is, therefore, now also set aside by most recent scholars.

(3) The 3rd rendering, which regards Shiloh as representing the Hebrew shelloh = shiloh for ’asher low, "whose (it is)," has in its favor the fact that this is evidently the reading presupposed in the Septuagint, the Peshitta, and the this is evidently the reading presupposed in the Septuagint, the Peshitta, and the Jewish Targums, and seems to be alluded to in Eze 21:27, "until he come whose right it is." In this view the passage has still a Messianic reference, though critics argue that it must then be regarded as late in origin. Other interpretations need not detain us. See for details the full discussions in Hengstenberg’s Christology, I, 54 ff, English translation, the commentaries of Delitzsch, Driver, and Skinner, on Genesis (especially Excursus II in Driver), and the articles in the various Bible dictionaries.

See also PROPHECY.



The position of Shiloh is indicated in Jud 21:19, as "on the north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah." This is very explicit, and points definitely to Seilun, a ruined site on a hill at the Northeast of a little plain, about 9 miles North of Beitin (Bethel), and 3 miles Southeast of Khan el-Lubban (Lebonah), to the East of the highway to Shechem (Nablus). The path to Seilun leaves the main road at Sinjil, going eastward to Turmus `Aya, then northward across the plain. A deep valley runs to the North of the site, cutting it off from the adjoining hills, in the sides of which are rock-hewn tombs. A good spring rises higher up the valley. There are now no vineyards in the district; but indications of their ancient culture are found in the terraced slopes around.

The ruins on the hill are of comparatively modern buildings. At the foot of the hill is a mosque which is going quickly to ruin. A little distance to the Southeast is a building which seems to have been a synagogue. It is called by the natives Jami` el-`Arba`in, "mosque of the Forty." There are many cisterns.

Just over the crest of the hill to the North, on a terrace, there is cut in the rock a rough quadrangle 400 ft. by 80 ft. in dimensions. This may have been the site of "the house of the Lord" which was in Shiloh.