Joshua’s Altar on Mount Ebal

Aryeh Savir, in an article titled “Ancient Hebrew Amulet Discovered at Joshua’s Altar in Samaria,” reports that archaeologists have found an ancient amulet made of lead and written in ancient Hebrew in the remains of the excavation carried out on Mount Ebal in Samaria, the place where Joshua built an altar to God.

The ancient amulet found at Joshua’s altar in Samaria.

The book of Joshua describes the purpose of the altar on Mount Ebal:

“Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, ‘an altar of unhewn stones, on which no iron tool has been used’; and they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD, and sacrificed offerings of well-being. And there, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel” (Joshua 8:30–33).

The following is an excerpt from the article:

The amulet is inscribed with the letter Alef and a mark reminiscent of a lotus flower.

The Book of Joshua describes how the Israelite General who commanded the conquest of Canaan, built an altar on Mount Ebal, acting on instructions from Moses after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River.

Haifa University archaeologist Adam Zertal, who passed away in 2015, identified the remains of an altar found at the site as the one described in the Bible, where Joshua distributed the land among the tribes.

Zertal’s research showed the area to be a unique ritual site for offering sacrifices. The dating of the altar to the period of the Israelites’ entry into the land, the similarity between the excavated structure and the altar described in the Bible, and the fact that only kosher animal bones were found at the site, led the researchers to conclude that this is the altar Joshua built on Mount Ebal.

Joshua’s altar is the only currently known remnant from the period of the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Prof. Zertal believed that this was the altar around which the covenant ceremony mentioned in the Book of Joshua took place.

In 2010, Prof. Zertal headed the excavations at El-Ahwat, which he identified as the Biblical Harosheth Haggoyim, a fortress described in the Book of Judges as the cavalry base of General Sisera, the commander of King Yavin’’s army (Judges 4).

If Zertal is right and if indeed this is the remains of the altar Joshua built on Mount Ebal, then this discovery is very significant because it provides important archaeological confirmation for one of the most important events in the history of ancient Israel.

NOTE: For other articles on archaeology, archaeological discoveries, and how they relate to the Bible, read my post Can Archaeology Prove the Bible?.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to Joshua’s Altar on Mount Ebal

  1. spiritplumber says:

    Biblical archeology is fascinating. What’s your take on the Asherah poles that we have found?


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