I just published two new books. One is called “Who was the biblical Samuel” and the second is “Unusual Bible Interpretations: Hosea. The following is a chapter from the Samuel book.


The Destruction of the Temple before the First Temple

While it is well known that there were two ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem, the “first” destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the “second” by the Romans in 70 CE, what is not known by many is that there was a temple in the land of Israel before the first, in the city of Shiloh. Joshua 18:1 states that Moses’s successor Joshua established “the tent of meeting there.” I Samuel 3ff states that the Ark was in this temple.[1]

The city of Shiloh is mentioned twenty-four times in the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis though Samuel.[2] Shiloh was a place where the house of God was located,[3] where the people celebrated,[4] where lots were cast for the assignment of the various tribal areas,[5] and where sacrifices were offered to God.[6]

Unlike the two temples which were in Jerusalem, in territory belonging to the tribe of Judah, the Shiloh temple was in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim, the tribe of the later King Jeroboam who broke away from the kingdom of the Davidic family in the ninth century and became king of the northern kingdom called Israel. Shiloh is situated north of Bethel.[7]

The destruction of the temple at Shiloh is told in I Samuel 4.[8] We do not know how many years passed between the erection of the temple in Shiloh and its destruction by the Philistines. I Kings 6:1 states that Solomon built his temple 480 years after the Israelite exodus from Egypt. If this number is correct, the Shiloh temple would have existed for around four hundred years. Scholars suggest a shorter period of around two hundred years.

After the destruction of Shiloh and its temple, the priestly family of Shiloh moved to Nob.[9] King Solomon deposed this priestly family and substituted another.[10]

Why is the Shiloh temple not remembered with a fast day as the other two temples? We do not know, and can only guess. It is possible that Jews felt that too many bad events were associated with Shiloh, such as the civil war in Judges 20 and 21.[11] The prophet Jeremiah states: “For go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I [God] caused my name to dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.”[12] Similarly the Psalmist states that Israel provoked God with their graven images, and God “greatly abhorred Israel; and he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent that he made to dwell among men, and delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the adversary’s hand.”[13]



[1] The Bible gives no reason why the temple was placed in Shiloh. It is possible that the site was chosen because it is near Bethel, where the patriarch Jacob set up an altar (Genesis 35). See my chapter “Did the Bible intend for Shiloh to be Israel’s capital and its spiritual center” in my book Joshua, Unusual Bible Interpretations (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2015).

[2] Genesis once, Joshua eight times, Judges five, and Samuel ten. In Genesis 49:10, Jacob predicts that Judah’s descendants will rule over Israel “until you come Shiloh.” No one knows what Jacob meant. One idea is that Judah ruled over all the tribes until the tribes split with Jeroboam becoming king of the northern tribes and Rehoboam of the southerners. This occurred in Nablus (Shechem), which is near Shiloh. See my series Onkelos on the Torah on Genesis, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2006), verse 49:10.

[3] Judges 18:31

[4] Judges 21.

[5] Joshua 21:2.

[6] I Samuel 1 and 2.

[7] Judges 21:19. It is identified today by some scholars with Tell Seilun, thirty miles north of Jerusalem.

[8] Scholars debate whether the destruction of Shiloh took place in the course of this war with the Philistines or later in history. See Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel (Downers Grove, I.L.: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 73.

[9] I Samuel 21:1–9.

[10] I Kings 2:27.

[11] This is admittedly not a good explanation. The sages also criticized the two Jerusalem temples and said they were destroyed because of baseless hatred. Babylonian Talmud Yoma 9b and Shabbat 32b.

[12] Jeremiah 7:12.

[13] Psalm 78:56–64.