What is the altar of Joshua, the site destroyed by Palestinian road works?

In 1980, Haifa University archaeologist Adam Zertal was conducting a major archaeological study in the West Bank Shechem – or Nablus – area of ​​the West Bank, when a pile of stones caught his attention. He soon discovered a rectangular structure about 9m. x 7m. fada. Considering its features and location, about five years later the scholar was ready to say that the building he found was the altar that Joshua built after the Israelites entered Earth. the Promise.

Four decades later, the debate over marking the site among scholars did not stop, with many scholars dismissing Zertal’s study.

However, a few days after a report of damage in the area caused by construction work carried out on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Dr. Shay Bar from the University of Haifa, who took over the task of excavating and publishing the site’s findings after Zertal’s death in 2015, confirmed that there are a number of factors that support his identification, even though which requires a lot more work before it can provide a definitive answer.

Mt. Ebal is mentioned several times in the Bible, starting from the Deuteronomy. The site is currently in Area B and therefore falls under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.

“At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of Yahweh had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Doctrine of Moses. iron was cast. They offered burnt offerings to the Lord, and they offered sacrifices of goodness, ”they read a passage from the Book of Joshua.

For those who believe that the Bible referred to historical events, what is described in the Book of Joshua occurred during the Iron Age I (1200–1000 BCE).

Zertal set out to explain the position of the altar, as well as its structure, which he pointed out to be very similar to the altar that stood in the Second Temple of Jerusalem a thousand years later.

The archaeologist has been severely criticized by many colleagues for his recommendation.

“Archaeological studies are based on two elements, data and interpretation,” Bar explained to the Jerusalem Post. “However, to explain detection, it is important to rely on complete data. The results of excavations at the site have never been published. As a result, many people who have offered their views over the years have done so without looking at the whole picture. “

The archaeologist said that all scholars agree that the site dates back to the Iron Age I. In addition, many consider it to have been a cultural site – even though some suggest that its purpose was completely different, perhaps a kind of tower to the surrounding fields.

The structure features two small rooms connected by a ramp that led to the upper part.

“We could see the same arrangement in the altar later in Jerusalem,” said Bar, adding that the building is surrounded by about 30 places, filled with pegs and animal remains. could be brought there as an offer to the priests.

“I’m not ready to answer whether Joshua was the only one building this site, because I think it would be unethical to do that based on data alone,” Bar said. “But, I’d say a few things.”

“In the current state of research, if I look at the architecture and the pottery, and the other conclusions it seems to me that we are in fact talking about a cultural site from the appropriate time,” he said. “The Mt. Ebal meters per meter has been surveyed for the past 45 years by the Menashe Hill Rural Survey team under Prof. Zertal and later myself. Apart from this structure, the mountain is almost completely bare. People did not live here, there are no water sources, it would be difficult to cultivate this area. But in the Iron Age, someone, maybe Joshua, maybe someone else built an elegant site with a good view to the north and east. ”

“The Bible talks about an altar built there, and it is the only historical source available, so it seems quite reasonable to say that this is Joshua’s altar, although we cannot “We need to do more to prove it in the future,” said Bar. “Only when I do, can I give a definite answer.”

Regarding the damage, Bar said that nothing had been destroyed yet as it only covered the outer part of the site, and not the old structure itself, but was concerned about what might happen in the area. a future without proper protection and management.

The damage was caused by workers building a road linking the town of Asira ash-Shamaliya with the nearby Palestinian city of Nablus, also known as the biblical city of Shechem.

The city has apologized for the alleged damage.

“We are currently working on the refurbishment of the road linking the town to the east of Nablus,” the town said. “The work is being carried out by a private contractor, who damaged a wall near the road. Apparently the contractor will repair the damage, which was unfortunately caused. “

On Friday, President Reuven Rivlin called on the IDF to investigate the damage.

“The reports of damage to the altar site … are of great concern to me, and I am writing to you to investigate the matter in detail to ensure that such damage is not prevented. “Rivlin wrote in a letter to another Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz.” Our land has many sacred sites of great religious, historical and archaeological value. including the altar of Joshua … heritage sites of incredible national and universal value. “

“Even for those who do not believe that the altar was built by Joshua, I think the site remains one of the most important in Israel since the Iron Age I,” Bar concluded.

Tovah Lazaroff and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.