view north on road from
with Mt. Gerizim & Mt. Ebal in distance
Ridge southwest of Shechem on
the only east-west route through central Samaria. The
summit is almost 2900 ft. above sea level & more than 700 ft. above
the narrow pass between Gerizim & the even higher ridge on the north
side of the road, Mt. Ebal [3100 feet]. These mountains were of both
strategic & religious importance from the time of the Hebrew
patriarchs (18th c. BCE). They gained particular significance for later
Israelites as the site of the first covenant renewal ceremony between the
12 tribes under Joshua (13th c. BCE). During four centuries of Israelite
monarchy shrines to the south [Jerusalem] and north [Bethel] became more
important than the area around Shechem.
But Gerizim reemerged as a
religious center rivaling Jerusalem in the mid-5th c. BCE. Israelites
who were excluded from the Judean temple because they did not meet the
standards for purity established by Jewish religious reforms developed in the Babylonian exile were authorized by
Sanballat, the Persian governor of Samaria, to erect their own temple on Mt. Gerizim.
Josephus credits extensive reconstruction of
this shrine to Alexander the Great
(ca. 331 BCE). Under Greek dominion
(330-130 BCE) Samaritan leaders sought to get Hellenistic
rulers to favor their shrine over the temple at Jerusalem. So, when
Judean armies occupied Samaria under Johanan
Hyrcanus they destroyed the temple on Gerizim (127 BCE).
Samaritans continued to regard the mount itself as sacred. Samaritan
tradition identified it as the site for the appearance of an
eschatological prophet who would restore the Mosaic covenant. So it
remained the focal point of Samaritan worship much as Jerusalem did for
Jews after the destruction of their temple by the Romans (70 CE). The
Samaritan Passover celebration is still conducted annually on its summit.
view north from top of Mt.
Gerizim towards Mt. Ebal
with ancient site of Shechem to right
Perspective on the
World of Jesus
Copyright © 1999-2019
Mahlon H. Smith
All rights reserved.
an American Theological
Library Association Selected Religion Website
OCLC catalog no.: 62046512