By Ilanit Chernick
In an exciting and rare find announced on the eve of Chanukah, a small ceramic pomegranate dating back to the times of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the First Iron Age was found in ancient Shiloh, the ancient Shiloh Visitors’ Center said on Sunday morning.
At the end of the pomegranate is a hollow rack and the pomegranate appears to fit the biblical description, in both its shape and size, of the pomegranates that were hung on the priest’s coat, but this particular one was made of clay and was perhaps a replica used for decoration in the Mishkan.
The pomegranates on the hem of the High Priest’s’ garment, which were made of turquoise, purple and scarlet wool.
The 20 mm-long clay pomegranate, which was unearthed still had four out of its five prongs intact. It is known from the Bible that the pomegranate was also used as a common decoration in the Temple and was a distinctly Jewish symbol.
Following the find of the pomegranate, Dr. Scott Stripling Associates for Biblical Research Director of Excavations at Shiloh, said that it seems “exposing a pomegranate in Shiloh is another proof that Shiloh was a sacred place for the Jewish people in its early days.”
The pomegranate was found in a joint excavation of the Archaeological Staff Officer and the Associates for Biblical Research in Texas that took place this summer in Shiloh.
Moriya Shapira, director of ancient Shiloh Visitors’ Center, explained to TPS that Shiloh was the first capital city of Israel, and it was the beginning of the history of the Jewish nation once they returned from the exile in Egypt.
“Joshua Ben Nun was their leader, and he brought the Mishkan to Shiloh and decided to build it there, which was its first permanent place,” she said. “The Mishkan stood in Shiloh for 369 years – for almost 400 years it was the center, meaning the center during three books of Tanach, Joshua, Judges and the beginning of Samuel, so many important and well-known stories happened in Shiloh, the most famous being Chana praying for a child, Joshua throwing the lots and dividing the land among the tribes, as well as the girls dancing in the vineyards during Tu B’Av [the Jewish festival of love], which started in Shiloh.”
Site manager Yair Orbach said they were happy that the information on the pomegranate find were released for publication just before Chanukah.
“Even in Shiloh and in the days of Chanukah, priests led the people, and it is amazing that it is possible today to come and see the remains of these priests,” he said.
Asked more about Shiloh’s connection to Chanukah, Shapira told TPS that the “place is very connected” to the holiday “because it’s one of the places we have found findings from the Chashmonaim.
“We found findings that the Chashmonaim [Hasmoneans] were fighting against the Yevanim [Ancient Greeks] in Shiloh, we found evidence that they actually won their battle in Shiloh,” she explained. “The pomegranate is from much earlier, that’s from the time of the Mishkan, but it relates to Chanukah because Chanukah is the holiday of the Kohanim [High Priests]. The Kohanim were the leaders and they led the [Maccabean] revolt [from 167 BCE to 160 BCE].”
Shapira added that several years ago, an olive press was also found next to where the Mishkan stood. This was not a regular olive oil press – it was a “first press olive oil press,” and its olive oil was used for the Menorah.
“A very heavy stone that was hung on a pole and then they dropped it and the first drops [of oil] that came out of the olives were used for the menorah,” she said, adding that a second regular olive oil press was found from a later period dating after the Mishkan.