view north on road from Jerusalem 
with Mt. Gerizim & Mt. Ebal in distance

Mount  Gerizim

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).

Yet 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 

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