Mount Gerizim

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Old view of Mount Gerizim
Highest point
Elevation881 m (2,890 ft) Edit this on Wikidata
Coordinates32°11′58″N 35°16′22″E / 32.19944°N 35.27278°E / 32.19944; 35.27278Coordinates: 32°11′58″N 35°16′22″E / 32.19944°N 35.27278°E / 32.19944; 35.27278
Gerizim is located in State of Palestine
Location of Mount Gerizim within Palestine
Gerizim is located in the West Bank
Location of Nablus within the West Bank

Mount Gerizim (/ˈɡɛrɪˌzɪm/; Samaritan Hebrew: ࠄࠟࠓࠂࠟࠓࠩࠆࠝࠉࠌ ʾĀ̊rgā̊rīzēm; Hebrew: הַר גְּרִזִיםHar Gərīzīm; Arabic: جَبَل جَرِزِيمJabal Jarizīm or جبل الطور Jabal al-Ṭūr) is one of two mountains in the immediate vicinity of the key West Bank city of Nablus, and forms the southern side of the valley in which Nablus is situated, the northern side being formed by Mount Ebal.[1] The mountain is one of the highest peaks in the West Bank and rises to 881 m (2,890 ft) above sea level, 70 m (230 ft) lower than Mount Ebal.[2] According to Professor Robert Martin "In Samaritan tradition, it is the oldest, the most central, and the highest mountain in the world, towering above the Great Flood and providing the first land for Noah’s disembarkation."[3] The mountain is particularly steep on the northern side, is sparsely covered at the top with shrubbery, and lower down there is a spring with a high yield of fresh water.[4]

Trilingual road signs directing toward Mount Gerizim and Kiryat Luza (Shomronim – Samaritans in Hebrew)

The mountain is sacred to the Samaritans who regard it, rather than Jerusalem's Temple Mount, as having been the location chosen by God for a holy temple. The mountain continues to be the centre of Samaritan religion to this day, and most Samaritans live in close proximity to Gerizim, mostly in Kiryat Luza, the main village. Passover is celebrated by the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim,[5] who consider it the location where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac.[6] Jews, on the other hand, consider the location to be Mount Moriah, traditionally identified as the Temple Mount.

The Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza and an Israeli settlement, Har Brakha, are situated on the mountain ridge.[citation needed]

Biblical account[edit]

Old City of Nablus and Mount Gerizim in background

Moses instructed the Israelites, when first entering Canaan, to celebrate the event with ceremonies of blessings and cursings on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal respectively.[7][8] The Pulpit Commentary suggests that these mountains were selected for blessings and curses "doubtless, because of their relative position, and probably also because they stand in the center of the land both from north to south, and from east to west". It has been suggested that "Ebal was appointed for the uttering of the curse, and Gerizim for the uttering of the blessing, because the former was barren and rugged, the latter fertile and smooth", but the Pulpit Commentary editors state that "this is not borne out by the actual appearance of the two hills, both being equally barren-looking, though neither is wholly destitute of culture and vegetation".[9] However, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges argues that "the [north] face of Gerizim, the mount of blessing, is the more fertile; the opposite face of Ebal, the mount of curse, much the more bare."[10]

The Masoretic Text of the Tanakh says the Israelites later built an altar on Mount Ebal, constructed from natural (rather than cut) stones, to place stones there and whiten them with lime,[4] to make korban (peace offerings on the altar), eat there, and write the words of this law on the stone.[citation needed] The Samaritan Pentateuch version of Deuteronomy, and a fragment found at Qumran,[11] holds that the instruction actually mandated the construction of the altar on Mount Gerizim, which the Samaritans view as the site of the tabernacle, not Shiloh.[12][13] Recent Dead Sea Scrolls work supports the accuracy of the Samaritan Pentateuch's designation of Mount Gerizim rather than Mount Ebal as the sacred site.[14]

An instruction immediately subsequent to this orders that, once this is done, the Israelites should split into two groups, one to stay on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses, while the other goes to Mount Gerizim and pronounces blessings.[15] The tribes of Simeon, of Levi, of Judah, of Issachar, of Joseph, and of Benjamin were to be sent to Gerizim, while those of Reuben, of Gad, of Asher, of Zebulun, of Dan, and of Naphtali, were to remain on Ebal.[15] No attempts to explain this division of tribes either by their Biblical ethnology or by their geographical distribution have been generally accepted in academic circles.[13]

The text goes on to list twelve curses, which were to be pronounced by the Levite priesthood and answered by the people with Amen.[16] These curses heavily resemble laws (e.g. "cursed be he who removes his neighbour's landmark"), and they are not followed by a list of blessings described in a similarly liturgical framework; some scholars believe that these more likely represent what was written on the stones, and that the later list of six explicit blessings,[17] six near-corresponding explicit curses,[18] were originally in this position in the text.[13] The present position of these explicit blessings and curses, within a larger narrative of promise, and a far larger narrative of threat (respectively), is considered by these scholars to have been an editorial decision for the post-Babylonian-exilic second version of Deuteronomy (Dtr2), to reflect the Deuteronomist's worldview after the Babylonian captivity had occurred.[13]

Samaritans' Passover pilgrimage on Mount Gerizim.

In the Book of Joshua, after the Battle of Ai, Joshua built an altar of unhewn stones there, the Israelites then made peace offerings on it, the law of Moses was written onto the stones, and the Israelites split into the two groups specified in Deuteronomy and pronounced blessings and curses as instructed there.[19] There is some debate between textual scholars as to whether this incident in Joshua is one account or two different accounts spliced together, where one account refers to Joshua building an altar, and making sacrifices on it, while the other account refers to Joshua placing large stone slabs there that had been whitened with lime and then had the law inscribed on them.[4] Either way there are some who believe that the sources of Joshua predate Deuteronomy, and hence that the order to build the altar and make the inscription is likely based on these actions in the sources of Joshua, rather than the other way round, possibly to provide an etiology for the site acceptable to the deuteronomist's theology.[20]

Much later in the Book, when Joshua was old and dying, he gathered the people together at Shechem, and gave a farewell speech, and then wrote these words in the book of the law of Yahweh, and set up a stone as a witness, placing it next to the sanctuary of Yahweh, under the oak tree.[21] Depending on the way in which the sources of Joshua were spliced together, this may just be another version of the earlier narrative Joshua placing the whitened stones slabs with the law inscribed on them, and some scholars believe that this narrative may have originally been in an earlier location within the Book of Joshua.[13]

Scholars consider it plausible for the sanctuary to have been pre-Israelite.[13] It is possible that the name of the mountain is indicative of this, as it is thought that Gerizim may mean mountain of the Gerizites, a tribe in the vicinity of the Philistines that, according to the Hebrew Bible, was conquered by David. A straightforward etymology for Gerizim would give the meaning of mountain cut in two.[22] According to the narrative about Jotham in the Book of Judges, Shechem was a site where there was a sanctuary of El-Berith, also known as Baal-Berith, meaning God of the covenant and Lord of the covenant, respectively;[23] scholars have suggested that the Joshua story about the site derives from a covenant made there in Canaanite times.[24] In the narrative of Judges, the pillar that was in Shechem is seemingly significant enough to have given its name to a nearby plain,[25] and this pillar is thought to be likely to have been a totem of El-Berith; the Joshua story, of a stone being set up as a witness, simply being an attempt to provide an aetiology in accordance with later Israelite theology.[22]

In the Biblical narrative, the oak tree, seemingly next to the sanctuary, was evidently in existence as early as the time of the Patriarchs, as Jacob is described in the Book of Genesis as having buried the idols of strange gods (formerly worshipped by his household) beneath it.[26] According to a Jewish midrash, one of these idols, in the shape of a dove, was later recovered by the Samaritans, and used in their worship on Mount Gerizim.[4]

Post-exile history[edit]

Passover on Gerizim in the 1890s

After the end of the Babylonian Captivity, a large schism between the Samaritans and Judaism developed, with the Samaritans, but not the Jews, regarding Mount Gerizim as the holy place chosen by God.[4] Subsequently, in the Persian Period, the Samaritans built a temple there probably in the middle of 5th century BCE.,[12] arguing that this was the real location of the Israelite temple.[27]

The religious tension between the Jews and the Samaritans led to the temple on Gerizim being destroyed by either John Hyrcanus in the 2nd century BCE (according to Josephus)[28] or by Simeon the Just (according to the Talmud). The date of the Samaritan temple destruction, the 21st of Kislev, became a holiday for the Jews during which it is forbidden to eulogize the dead.[29] However, the mountain evidently continued to be the holy place of the Samaritans, as it is mentioned as such by the Gospel of John[30] and coins produced by a Roman mint situated in Nablus included within their design a depiction of the temple; surviving coins from this mint, dated to 138–161 CE, show a huge temple complex, statues, and a substantive staircase leading from Nablus to the temple itself.[31]

In Jesus' discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well he revealed his feeling about worship there:

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

Eventually, when Christianity became the state church of the Roman Empire, Samaritans were barred from worshiping on Mount Gerizim. In 475 CE a Christian church was built on its summit.[22] In 529, Justinian I made Samaritanism illegal, and arranged for a protective wall to be constructed around the church.[4][22] As a result, the same year, Julianus ben Sabar led a pro-Samaritan revolt, and by 530 had captured most of Samaria, destroying churches and killing the priests and officials. However, in 531, after Justinian enlisted the help of Ghassanids, the revolt was completely quashed, and surviving Samaritans were mostly enslaved or exiled. In 533 Justinian had a castle constructed on Mount Gerizim to protect the church from raids by the few disgruntled Samaritans left in the area.[4][22]


As a result of the fortified church and previous Samaritan temple, extensive ruins still exist at the somewhat plateau-like top of Gerizim. The line of the wall around the church can easily be seen,[4] as can portions of the former castle, and initial archaeological study of the site postulated that the castle built by Justinian had utilised stones from an earlier structure on the site (probably the Samaritan temple).[22] In the centre of the plateau is a smooth surface, containing a hollow, which archaeologists consider to be reminiscent of dolmens found in southwestern Syria, and which Samaritans consider to be a portion of their former temple.[22]

Ruins on Mount Gerizim c1880.

A more substantial archaeological survey was undertaken in the middle of the 20th century, while the site was in the possession of Jordan, in the region of the mountain known as Tel el-Ras, situated on the northernmost peak at the end of the northern ridge. This excavation, which continued under Israel's jurisdiction, uncovered Corinthian columns, a large rectangular platform 215 ft by 145 ft (65m by 44m) surrounded by 6 ft (2m) thick and 30 ft (9m) high walls, and a 25 ft (8m) wide staircase leading down from the platform to a marbled esplanade.[31] The complex also has a series of cisterns in which Late Roman ceramics were found.[31] These discoveries, now named "Structure A", have been dated to the time of Hadrian, due to numismatics and external literary evidence, and are believed to be a temple dedicated to Zeus.[32]

Underneath these remains were found a large stone structure built on top of the bedrock. This structure, now known as "Structure B", nearly half cubic (21m by 20m in width and length, and 8.5m high), consists almost entirely of unhewn limestone slabs, fitted together without any binding material, and has no internal rooms or dividing walls.[32] The structure was surrounded by a courtyard similar to the platform above it (being 60m by 40m in size with 1.5m thick walls), and was dated to during or before the Hellenistic period by ceramics found in a cistern cut into the bedrock at the northern side.[31] The excavating archaeologist considered "Structure B" to be the altar built by the Samaritans in the 5th or 6th century BCE.[32]

See also[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ "Mount Gerizim". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  2. ^ Matthew Sturgis, It aint necessarily so, ISBN 0-7472-4510-X
  3. ^ Anderson, Robert T., "Mount Gerizim: Navel of the World", Biblical Archaeologist Vol. 43, No. 4 (Autumn 1980), pp 217-218
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. ^ "Photograph of this". Archived from the original on 2016-05-12. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
  6. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage (October 11, 2017). "Mount Gerizim and the Samaritans". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  7. ^ Deuteronomy, 11:29-30
  8. ^ Yitzakh Magen, 'The Dating of the First Phase of the Samaritan Temple on Mt Gerizim in Light of Archaeological Evidence,' in Oded Lipschitz, Gary N. Knoppers, Rainer Albertz (eds.) Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E., Eisenbrauns, 2007 pp.157ff.p.183
  9. ^ Pulpit Commentary on Deuteronomy 11, accessed 2015-11-25.
  10. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Deuteronomy 11, accessed 2015-11-25.
  11. ^ "An Unknown Dead Sea Scrolls Fragment of Deuteronomy James H. Charlesworth". Archived from the original on 2011-12-10. Retrieved 2014-05-01.
  12. ^ a b Yitzakh Magen, 'The Dating of the First Phase of the Samaritan Temple on Mt Gerizim in Light of Archaeological Evidence,' in Oded Lipschitz, Gary N. Knoppers, Rainer Albertz (eds.) Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E., Eisenbrauns, 2007 pp.157ff.p.176
  13. ^ a b c d e f Peake's Commentary on the Bible
  14. ^ Charlesworth, James H. (2012-07-16). "The Discovery of an Unknown Dead Sea Scroll: The Original Text of Deuteronomy 27?". OWU Magazine. Archived from the original on 2015-11-26.
  15. ^ a b Deuteronomy 27:11–13
  16. ^ Deuteronomy 15–26
  17. ^ Deuteronomy 28:3–6
  18. ^ Deuteronomy 28:16–19
  19. ^ Joshua 8:31–35
  20. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who wrote the Bible; Jewish Encyclopedia, Book of Joshua, Deuteronomy, et passim
  21. ^ Joshua 24:1–27
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  23. ^ Judges 9
  24. ^ Judges 9; Peake's commentary on the Bible et passim
  25. ^ Judges 9:6
  26. ^ "Genesis 35:4". Retrieved 2014-05-01.
  27. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, et passim
  28. ^ Berlin, Adele (2011). The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Oxford University Press. p. 330. ISBN 978-0-19-973004-9. John Hyrcanus I, who embarked upon further territorial conquests, forcing the non-Jewish populations of the conquered regions to adopt the Jewish way of life and destroying the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim.. See also: Jonathan Bourgel, "The Destruction of the Samaritan Temple by John Hyrcanus: A Reconsideration", JBL 135/3 (2016), pp. 505-523; Idem, |title=The Samaritans during the Hasmonean Period: The Affirmation of a Discrete Identity? |journal=Religions |date=November 2019 |volume=10 |issue=11 |pages=628 |doi=10.3390/rel10110628
  29. ^ "Megillat Taanit". Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  30. ^ John 4:20
  31. ^ a b c d W.J. Bennett and R. Bull, Tell er-Ras, Publication of Archaeological Materials and Data from Mt. Gerizim, West Bank, 1998
  32. ^ a b c Robert J. Bull, The Excavations of Tell er Ras

External links[edit]