view from  Mt. Gerizim towards site of ancient Shechem at base of Mt. Ebal

Shechem

Ancient Canaanite city located 40 miles north of Jerusalem & 5.5 miles southeast of Samaria (Sebaste) on the only natural inland route between Judea & Galilee. The city was located at the southeastern end of the narrow pass between Mt. Gerizim [2930 feet] & Mt. Ebal [3130 feet]. 

According to early Hebrew tradition, Abraham & Jacob built altars there [Gen 12:6, 33:20]. And local legend identified the well at the crossroads just north of town as Jacob's, whom Hebrew tradition claimed had purchased a nearby field [Gen 33:19]. But Shechem gained its primary symbolic significance when Joshua made it the covenant center for the Israelite confederacy (13th c. BCE; Josh 24, Deut 27). Though the city & its fortified temple to the god of the covenant were later destroyed by Abimelech, son of the charismatic Israelite chieftain Gideon, it was rebuilt by Solomon. And later Israelite kings, including Solomon's son Rehoboam & his rival Jeroboam were anointed there. It served as the first capitol of the northern kingdom of Israel, until Omri built Samaria as a more defensible strategic site. 

Shechem regained importance after the Babylonian exile, when natives excluded from the temple in Jerusalem by repatriated Judean exiles built a rival shrine on Mt. Gerizim. Tensions between these rival shrines, each claiming to be the sole heir of Mosaic tradition led to clashes between Jews & Samaritans during the Hellenistic era. When the Hasmonean dynasty in Jerusalem occupied the province of Samaria, Johanan Hyrcanus destroyed Shechem & burned the temple on Mt. Gerizim (127 BCE). 

Ancient Shechem was never rebuilt. But the importance of Mt. Gerizim led to the foundation of a small Samaritan town nearer to the well at the crossroad. According to John 4, Jesus stopped there briefly on his way to Galilee. After the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple (70 CE), a new city [Neapolis] was built in honor of the emperor Vespasian 1.5 miles west of the ruins of the historic city. A small community of a few hundred Samaritans with its own high priest still lives in this city---which today is called Nablus---, sacrificing lambs each Passover on Mt. Gerizim.

For further information about archaeological & historical evidence, see:

  • Rousseau, John J. & Rami Arav. Jesus & His World. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) pp. 267-268.

Other resources on line:

 Perspective on the World of Jesus 

Copyright 1999-2017 by Mahlon H. Smith
All rights reserved.

an American Theological Library Association Selected Religion Website
OCLC catalog no.: 62046512