Joshua’s Altar, a heritage site in Israel, and the location of a groundbreaking recent archaeological discovery, is in danger of being destroyed. The Palestinian Authority, with no regard for history, the Judeo-Christian heritage, or respect for archaeology, was recently caught attempting to clear the site of Joshua’s Altar, located on Mt Ebal in central Samaria. Inside the cab of the bulldozer that was confiscated were found municipal plans from the Arab town of Asira Ash-Shamaliya, to build 32 houses at the site of the altar.
Unfortunately, because the site of Joshua’s Altar is designated as Area B under the Oslo Accords, Israel does not have as much control over the site as it should. Some think that Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was on the verge of changing the site’s designation just days before he was assassinated in 1995, at the same time that Oslo II was being finalized.
The reality however, is that it shouldn’t matter what designation the land is under. Jew, Muslim or Christian – should all have the same position towards heritage sites, especially when considering an archaeological site of these proportions.
The History of Joshua’s Altar
Joshua’s Altar was originally excavated by Professor Adam Zertal in the 1980s. At that time, even though he was an atheist, Zertal discovered an altar on the mountain of Ebal, in central Samaria, which fit the specifications of an ancient Israelite altar. His team also discovered thousands of bones, nearly 100% of which were from young kosher animals.
In 2019, and after a team of HaYovel’s staff and volunteers had assisted in removing a discarded pile of dirt from Professor Zertal’s excavations in the 80s, Scott Stripling, a senior archaeologist who has been working in Israel for decades, found a lead tablet by putting the discarded dirt through a process known as wet sifting. This tablet contains ancient Hebrew writing with the name of God written twice, and several phrases that have to do with God’s promised curses in the event of Israel’s disobedience. If you read the account of Joshua bringing the children of Israel into the land of Canaan, you’ll discover that six tribes stood on Mt Ebal and six tribes stood on Mt Gerizim, the blessings and curses of God’s covenant were read, and all the people answered “Amen”.
Not only did the discovery of this tablet, which was peer-reviewed by the archaeological community world-wide, affirm that this is indeed the site of Joshua’s Altar, but the Hebrew writing on the tablet predates any other Hebrew writing by at least 200 years. The tablet is still under review, but it also has the potential to shed light on the date of the children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
Thousands of Sites in Judea and Samaria Are In Danger
This extraordinarily significant discovery however, could very well just be the beginning. There is still much more to be excavated from the site of Joshua’s Altar, and the discovery of the lead tablet has archaeologists excited to continue researching the site.
While several groups in Judea and Samaria are doing all they can to protect the site of Joshua’s Altar from impending destruction and vandalism, the danger is still great. Unfortunately, this is only one heritage site among thousands that are in danger.
According to Regavim, an Israeli NGO dedicated to the protection of Israel’s national lands and resources, there are 6,000 sites of historical and archaeological importance in Judea and Samaria that are recognized by the scientific community, but only 2,300 have been officially declared protected archaeological sites.
This means that 3,700 sites are exposed to constant vandalism, theft and destruction. Even though these sites should be protected by explicit international treaties, Arabs are constantly caught vandalizing and stealing artifacts from sites all over Judea and Samaria.
Preserving the Eternal, an Israeli organization dedicated to protecting archaeological sites in Judea and Samaria, conducted a survey of 150 random archaeological sites in this region, and found that 80% of them have been severely damaged and vandalized.
Thanks to many of you, our team was able to purchase a drone to help patrol the site of Joshua’s Altar in the face of impending destruction. For the last week, we have kept up daily drone patrols, and on Shabbat and festivals, we will be flying every hour during the daytime to ensure that the Arabs do not take advantage of the holidays to bring a bulldozer to the site and begin clearing it for their newly planned neighborhood.
This is one small step in the face of thousands of sites all across Israel’s Biblical Heartland that are continually in danger of being destroyed.
These sites are not just of historical or archaeological importance. Rather, they are the bedrock of the Bible’s veracity, the Jewish people’s existence in the land of Israel, and our shared Judeo-Christian heritage. More than 80% of the Bible was written or occurred in the place that the world calls the West Bank. Wine and olive oil presses are embedded in the rocks in this region, grave sites of the Jewish people’s ancestors, ancient synagogues and churches, altars, pottery shards, biblical footprints, and many more such sites are all to be found in Judea and Samaria. They are all in danger of being erased.
The bottom line is simple. The enemies of Israel, and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are attempting to erase the faith of millions of Jews and Christians by destroying the physical evidence that dots the landscape of Israel’s Biblical Heartland. As believers in the Bible, we know that these enemies of God will not ultimately win. However, our job in the meantime is to stand strong with Israel’s right to be sovereign in their homeland, including Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Israel’s very Heartland.