Thanksgiving came about as late in the month as it can this year, leaving shoppers with fewer shopping days before Christmas. Even so, the only frantic shopping seems to be among those in search of the few deeply cut Black Friday specials whose limited quantities provoke near-unlimited mahem.

Queuing up at the crack of dawn or fighting over a parking space seems alien to me: whatever bargains may await can’t be worth the hot tempers and high drama that accompany them.

Not that I avoided Black Friday altogether, but a few minutes and several clicks of the mouse were sufficient for the purchases I had in mind. Like others who prefer cyber-commerce to crowded stores, I worry more about how many shipping days are left before Christmas, rather than shopping days.

Photo by Ya’akov Vardi, Israel Antiquities AuthorityThat leaves more time to read up on really interesting stuff, like the recent discovery of the oldest building ever found in Israel: the remains of a house that go back 10,000 years, to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age. The Levant has been occupied by so many people for so many thousands of years that important finds may turn up most anywhere, and all major construction projects must be preceded by an archaeological survey.

That’s how these finds came to light, in advance of construction to widen Highway 38 near Beth Shemesh, in the Shephelah region southwest of Jerusalem. In addition to the house, which dates to the earliest transition from nomadic to settled life, archaeologists working with the Israeli Antiquities Authority discovered a 6,000-year-old building that appears to have served as a temple. Cultic use is indicated by the presence of a large standing stone that was smoothed on all sides and had no apparent purpose other than as an object of worship.

Just think for a minute about the significance of such finds: people had lived and farmed and worshiped there for thousands of years before Abraham was a twinkle in his mother’s eye. Civilization in the area was already ancient when the Israelites first made their debut.

And speaking of Israelites, new finds from a dig at Shiloh include a stone altar that goes back to the Iron Age (roughly 1200-650 BCE). The altar, about two-feet square and 18 inches high, had been reused in a wall dating to the much-later Byzantine period. As such, it is very difficult to date precisely, though it has given rise to much speculation.

Could it be associated with the presence of the tabernacle at Shiloh where Eli and Samuel served toward the end of the period of the Judges? Does it suggest continued cultic activity at Shiloh even after the Philistines destroyed the city around 1100 BCE, not long before the emergence of the monarchy in Israel? Did worship and sacrifices continue at places outside of Jerusalem during the First Temple period, even though Deuteronomy called for a single site only? Enquiring minds want to know.

Scoring a new wifi-enabled tablet for $29 at Walmart may ring the bells for some folks, but I’ll happily stick with old rocks and avoid the frenzy.


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