Feasts and Feet – How Archaeology Helps Us Understand the Bible Better


Feasts and Feet – How Archaeology Helps Us Understand the Bible Better

This weekend, the Jewish people will celebrate the feast of Shavuot also known as the “Feast of First Fruits”. Along with Passover and Sukkot, Shavuot belongs to a unique group of Biblical holy days called in Hebrew “Regalim” or in the singular “Regel”. They are also referred to as “Hag / Chag”.

“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast (Regalim) to me. You shall keep the Feast (Hag) of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast (Hag) of Harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast (Hag) of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God.” (Exodus 23:14-17 ESV emphasis added)

In most English translations, both Regel and Hag are usually translated as Feast. This seems puzzling when we understand that Regel means “foot” in Hebrew, and Hag is from the Hebrew verb which means “to circle around”. Are Regel and Hag synonymous? Or do they have different meanings?

In the book of Leviticus, the Bible makes it clear that there is a central location to which the Israelites must go to “appear before the Lord”:

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.” (Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV emphasis added)

Where was the central place of worship for the Israelites prior to the establishment of Shiloh and then Jerusalem as central holy sites? So many questions and not a lot of answers from the Biblical text. Can Archaeology help us?

In my prior article, I mentioned that there is surprisingly clear archaeological evidence for the invasion of the Israelites into Canaan as described in the book of Joshua, including hundreds of sheep pens associated with a nomadic people, which suddenly appear in the Jordan Valley around the year 1300 BC. But this wasn’t the only surprise. Those same semi-nomadic people also built six enormous foot-shaped structures in the Jordan Valley and Samaria, the remains of which are still visible to this day.

The Argaman foot enclosure, Jordan Valley – Manasseh Hill Country Survey volumes 4

Professor Adam Zertal researched these structures and came to the conclusion that they are all ancient Israelite-worshiping structures that the Bible calls a “Gilgal”.

While these Gilgals vary in size, orientation and location, they have some striking similarities:

  1. A stone walkway that follows a path that doesn’t correspond to the surrounding geography, showing that the shape of the enclosure has a meaning.
  2. The stone way could be a low wall 20 – 30 centimeters high with two rows of stone or a procession road allowing worshippers to walk around the enclosure.
  3. The structure is adjacent to the slopes of a mountain. The slope served as a theatre,  enabling worshippers to sit and view the ceremonies taking place inside the enclosure.
  4. The enclosures had an inner enclosure and an altar / bama (cultic high ground)
<em>Archaeologist Dror Ben Yosef during the excavation of the Yafit foot structure procession road<br ><em>

In his book, “The Footsteps of God”, Zertal discusses the meaning of the foot shape in the Bible at length. He believed that the symbol of the foot originated from the Egyptian culture, and was a sign of conquest and control. The Israelites coming out of Egypt, adopted this symbol and “imported” it into Canaan during the conquest. There is also Scriptural support for their use of the foot symbolism, in God’s promise to Israel.

“Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.” (Joshua 1:3 ESV emphasis added)

<em>Nubian and Asiatic captives under the feet of Pharaoh Temple of Amenhotep II 1425 BC <br ><em>

Zertal continued his research and excavation of these foot shaped structures and came to some interesting conclusions that could answer our questions above.

The Israelites convened to worship the Hebrew God at a place that has the shape of a foot, or Regel in Hebrew. That is why the Bible calls the three pilgrimage feasts Regel or Regalim, because these feasts were first celebrated by Israel in The Land at these Foot Structures.

In the Hebrew language, “Pilgrimage” translates to “Aliya La Regel” which literally means “going up to the foot”. This term also originates from the early worship of the Israelites in the foot shaped structures.

What about the word Hag/Chag – “to circle around”? Looking at the procession roads at these foot-shaped enclosures, it becomes clear that the Israelite worship at the foot structures included walking in the procession roads that circled each enclosure.

“Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers.” (Psalm 48:12 ESV)

Even today, we can still see Jews circling around the main podium at synagogue during the feast of Tabernacles. During Jerusalem Day, Jews circle the Old city walls with flags.

<em>Location of the six foot structures discovered by the Manasseh Hill Country Survey team<em>

For thousands of years, Jews and Christians have been reading the Bible. This reading is often disconnected from the reality on the ground in the Holy Land.

The return of the Jewish people to their homeland together with the revival of the Hebrew language, and the ongoing archaeological research unearthing amazing new finds almost every day, brings deeper understanding of the Scriptures and fascinating conclusions.

Chag Shavuot Sameach – Happy Circling to everyone!

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