Rafid, Shiloh’s “Older Sister”

Across the modern highway from biblical Shiloh lies another ancient site, Khirbet er-Rafid. The two sites flank a wide, fertile valley that is ideal for growing crops. Rafid lies near the ancient road that parallels the modern highway. Shiloh is farther from the ancient road, but nearer to the local water source, the Shiloh spring.

Since Shiloh is a prominent biblical site, it attracted attention from archaeologists early on, and excavations have taken place at Shiloh off and on for the past 100 years. Rafid, on the other hand, was never excavated.

That changed this year, however, and this week I joined the first season of excavations at Rafid, directed by Aharon Tavgar. I am enjoying the excavation. The team is small, and everyone gets along well and seems to be having a good time. The excavation focusses on three areas, appropriately titled “Area A,” “Area B,” and “Area C.” I am an area supervisor in Area C.

The goal in excavating Area C is to uncover a structure. Two walls were visible from the surface before the excavation began. It quickly became apparent that the structure must date to the Late Hellenistic period, since all the pottery from this area dates to that period.

The soil in Area C is very shallow, and we reached bedrock quickly. However, we discovered an installation of some sort carved into the bedrock, so we focussed on excavating the installation to understand what it is. The primary theory at this point is that it is a wine press. One problem with this theory is that it seems to be inside the structure. Wine presses are usually outdoors, so this doesn’t make sense. We will continue excavating to try to figure it out.

Aharon has nick-named Rafid “Shiloh’s older sister,” since it seems to have first been occupied in the Early Bronze Age, while Shiloh was not built until the Middle Bronze Age. Perhaps, if the climate was wetter in the Early Bronze Age, it would have been more logical to settle near the ancient road at Rafid. Later, when the climate became dryer in the Middle Bronze Age, the local inhabitants may have had good reason to move across the valley and build Shiloh nearer to the water source.

Here is a chart comparing the occupation of Shiloh with that of Rafid through the ages. This is based on preliminary results of the Rafid excavation, so it might change as we learn more about the site. As you can see, Rafid was founded first, but Shiloh was occupied longer and more consistently, probably due to its proximity to the water source.

Early Bronze✔️
Middle Bronze✔️✔️
Late Bronze✔️
Iron Age I✔️
Iron Age II✔️✔️

4 responses to “Rafid, Shiloh’s “Older Sister””

  1. Awesome … enjoy your excavation time.

    Don McNeeley

    President, Tidewater Bible College

    Book Review Editor for the Near East Archaeological Society

    Remember that Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php 2:8) for you and me.

    “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a

    burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer 20:9).


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