In Israel’s Jordan valley, archaeologists have discovered a curious phenomena — six huge man-made footprints.
These structures, where the low outer stone wall is distinctively foot shaped, are quite large. One referred to as el-‘Unuq is 228 feet wide and 816 feet long — about two football fields in size.
Perhaps the most famous of these sandal-shaped sites is one found on Mt. Ebal. Discovered in 1980, its most unique feature is a massive altar found in the center measuring about 23′ by 30′ feet in size. It is also a story high — 10′.
Of course, such an altar, created of unhewn stone, required a huge ramp to get on top, which this one had. They also found charred animal bones and ash in and around the altar.
It was apparently a religious site where the people made animal sacrifices.
This is where it gets interesting. Adam Zertal, the archaeologist who discovered this site, believes this is the altar Joshua created when Israel first entered the Promised Land.
30 Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, in Mount Ebal, (Joshua 8:30 NASV)
Before they entered the Promised Land, Moses instructed Israel that they were to write the curses associated with the law and place them on Mount Ebal and at nearby Mount Gerizim they were to place the blessings (Deuteronomy 11:29).
In Deuteronomy 27, Moses further added they were to build an altar on Mount Ebal with unhewn or uncut stone. They were to cover the rocks in lime on which the curses were also to be written. Mount Ebal contains large lime deposits and remnants of ancient quarries.
In a large ceremony, Moses instructed half of Israel to go to Mt. Ebal and pronounce the curses and other half to nearby Mt. Gerizim where they declared the blessings. As you can see in the photo above, there is a small valley between the two mountains which even today naturally functions as a small amphitheater.
The altar found at Mount Ebal fits the description provided in Deuteronomy, but of course there are those who do not believe this is the same altar — some basically because they don’t believe the Bible.
But over the years, people are slowly accepting this could be Joshua’s altar.
At this and the other sandal-sites, they are also finding pottery similar in style to that used by a group who invaded the Promised Land during the 13th and 12th century BC, who most believe were the Israelis.
These huge footprints may have been the first areas of settlement created as Israel conquered the Promised Land.
In her article on Biblical Archaeology, Megan Sauter points to research by Professor Ralph Hawkins of Averett University who believes these are none other than the “gilgal” sites mentioned several times in the Old Testament.
According to Hawkins, gilgal means simply “circle [of stones].” These were gathering places for Israel and Hawkins believes the Bible refers to upwards of five gilgal sites.
There was the one at Mt Ebal, and another mentioned in Joshua 5:2-11, where the Israelis circumcised their sons. There are several other passages that refer to gilgal sites including 1 Samuel 7:16, Micah 6:5; Hosea 4:15 and Amos 4:4-5. Of course some of these may be referring to the same place.
But why would they be foot-shaped?
Well I have a theory.
Before entering the Promised Land, God gave Israel this interesting promise.
24 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours; your border will be from the wilderness to Lebanon, and from the river, the river Euphrates, as far as the western sea. (Moses — Deuteronomy 11:24 NASV)
3 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. (Joshua 1:3 NASV)
Everywhere Israel left a foot print that was to be their land. It was very similar to the promise God gave Abraham after he and Lot separated because their herds were too large.
Abraham journeyed to what today is Israel and God told the patriarch every where he tread, would be the land of his heirs (Genesis 13:16-18).
So were these giant footprints, Israel’s message to God — we have walked here? This is our land. We claim it as our inheritance.
They were also a reminder Who had given them the land.
- A Biblical altar on Mt. Ebal and other Israelite footprints in the Jordan Valley: Biblical Archaeology