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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Mar-a-Lago and Mount Ebal: A Tale of Two Cultic Sites

Altar at Mount Ebal (Wikipedia)

The two cultic sites of Mar-a-Lago and Mount Ebal are rarely linked. I may be the first to do so.

Mar-a-Lago is the home of a former President of the United States who is regarded by some of his followers in Jesus-like terms. It is a place where people go to kiss the king and receive his blessings or who do not go and are cursed for their disloyalty.

Mount Ebal is a mountain by ancient Shechem, modern Nablus on the West Bank, where biblical Joshua led the people Israel in a covenant renewal ceremony involving blessings and curses and where an archaeologist located a structure from that time period which he claimed was an altar.

The juxtaposition in my mind occurred because of the serendipitous occurrence of the former being in the news every day while I was reading two articles in a memorial volume dedicated to Adam Zertal, the archaeologist:

“Mount Ebal Site in the Context of the History of Archaeological Research” by Zvi Gal, and

“The Mount Ebal Site in the Context of the History of Biblical Scholarship” by Sandra L. Richter and Ralph K. Hawkins.

As I was reading the articles about the Mount Ebal site in biblical scholarship and reading/listening to the stream of explanations for the presence of government documents in the home of someone who no longer was part of the government, I was struck by the challenge that occurs in the processing of data: what do people do when the information they receive is at variance with their existing beliefs. Or if you reside in an academic paradigm can you ever escape no matter what evidence is presented? One should keep in mind that if academics can deny, ignore, avoid information contrary to their (lifelong) beliefs, it should be no surprise that Trumpicans are able to do the same.


As I was reading the article on Ebal, the problems raised and descriptions presented on the reaction to the discovery of new evidence by Zertal with potentially significant implications for the understanding the history of early Israel prior to the monarchy, the charges resonated with the very problem occurring in the non-biblical world in such areas as the corona virus hoax, the vaccine is worse that the disease, the stolen election, and the “raid” at Mar-a-Lago.

Here are some of the criticisms Gal raised about biblical scholars’ reaction to the discovery of the purported altar at Mount Ebal which would have been used by Joshua.

1. While Tel Shiloh where the ark that the Philistines captured “has been referred to widely and regularly by scholars as a cult center, Mount Ebal has been almost completely neglected despite its unique nature.

2. Negating the site or even worse ignoring it goes against both scientific and ethical criteria.

Gal’s article proceeds to analyze the two cultic sites of Shiloh and Ebal based on the archaeology and biblical texts. The crux of the issue refers to the absence of a temple or cultic place at Shiloh versus Zertal’s proposed altar that he claimed to have found at Mount Ebal.

Response to Zertal, as we know was immediate. However, apparently the dominant postmodern trend in archaeology, which completely disregarded biblical archaeology, deterred scholars to the body of evidence in front of their eyes, and most responses were either laconic or were oral in nature, including even expressions of ridicule.

Overall, the responses by the scholars became more and more extreme. Instead of being an altar, it had to be something else. One alternative after another was suggested. This followed the premise that throw a thousand plates of ketchup on the wall and see which one sticks; like everytime he leaves the White House the documents are declassified. But under no circumstances is one to face the truth: “They are mine!” Contrary to the popular mantra about the truth setting you free, in some cases the truth undermines a lifetime of academic work.

The archaeological community continued to ignore the site and Zertal’s interpretation, until his death.

Hawkins and Richter echo these comments by saying:

Just as the Ebal site has been neglected by archaeologists, it has typically been sidestepped by biblical scholars as well.

 Gal suggests the reasons for these actions are not academic in nature.

Indeed it seems that the almost overwhelming deterrent from dealing with the issue stemmed from the possible ramifications of understanding the biblical narrative. But again, the dominance of the postmodern trend in archeology was an impenetrable barrier for many scholars.

Gal posits that except for those implications, meaning taking the biblical account of Joshua’s actions seriously, the structure would be accepted as an altar. He notes the double standard taken by biblical scholars: “Lock her up” versus “witch hunt.” He asserts that the current trend in archaeology is imbalanced. Gal notes that the interpretation of archaeological findings depends on the personality and views of the scholars.

To put the point more plainly, once people have made up their minds about something important, they are not going to change it. Once people are in a rut or a paradigm, the energy required to move them out of the rut or paradigm is insurmountable. In political terms, that mean the House Select Committee will never persuade true believers that the election was not stolen and that Donald Trump tried to steal it.


However, one person’s cultic site is another person’s den of iniquity. While Trumpicans never will abandon their Lord and Savior, Blessed Be his Name, others may. Consider some of the events which have transpired in a little over a week during the quiet time before the House Select Committee resumes its programming.

Allen Weisselberg pled guilty. Combined with the 440 times Donald Trump also admitted his guilt along with Eric Trump’s 500 times, who is left to defend the Trump organization when it is brought to trial?

Rudy Giuliani or his lawyers must know that he is next in line. His pathetic attempt to collect payment from Trump for services rendered should be a signal to him that his former client has been thrown him under the bus. When the moment of truth finally comes and Ridiculous Rudy is about to be indicted, perhaps then he will realize that he has no reason to lie for his former client. The problems Rudy will have then is he is too unstable a person to be taken seriously and what proof does he have? It is conceivable that he will have little to bargain with except his word which does not amount to much.

Recordgate – A little over one week ago, no one had heard of it. Now it has leapt from obscurity to the head of the line. While everyone was anticipating Georgia as the first to indict, it is quite possible Mar-a-Lago indictments will come first. It is still too early to tell.

While no evidence will shake the convictions of Trumpicans, evidence will diminish the likelihood of others joining the bandwagon. The Trump blessing has worked well in the Republican Party primaries. But its power does not extend into the general electorate. Quite the contrary, the blessing may hurt the Trumpican candidate. The polling of Trumpican-selected candidates is poor. As the general election campaign hits high gear, the call to relitigate will seem more and more irrelevant. Continued Mar-a-Lago discoveries will only remind people of the criminal chaos they wish to leave behind…except for the true believers. The more the election becomes a referendum on 45 rather than 46, the better for Democrats. And 45 will be in the news every day and for the wrong reason.

Sometimes an altar really is an altar but people cannot accept it because of the consequences.

Sometimes Mar-a-Lago is a sinkhole and not cultic site after all even if Trumpicans cannot see it.