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Coordinates: 32°12′49″N 35°16′55″E / 32.213618°N 35.281993°E / 32.213618; 35.281993
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Archaeological site of Tell Balata, identified with ancient Shechem
Shechem is located in the West Bank
Location within the West Bank
Shechem is located in Eastern Mediterranean
Location within the Eastern Mediterranean
Alternative nameSichem
LocationTell Balatah, West Bank
RegionSouthern Levant
Coordinates32°12′49″N 35°16′55″E / 32.213618°N 35.281993°E / 32.213618; 35.281993
TypeCapital city
Foundedc. 1900 BCE
Abandoned67 CE (destroyed)
Associated withCanaanites, Israelites, Samaritans

Shechem (/ˈʃɛkəm/ SHEK-əm; Hebrew: שְׁכֶם, romanizedŠəḵem; Samaritan Hebrew: ࠔࠬࠥࠊࠝࠌ, romanized: Šăkēm), also spelled Sichem (/ˈsɪkəm/ SIK-əm; Ancient Greek: Συχέμ, romanizedSykhém)[1] was an ancient city in the southern Levant. Mentioned as a Canaanite city in the Amarna Letters, it later appears in the Hebrew Bible as the first capital of the Kingdom of Israel following the split of the United Monarchy.[2] According to Joshua 21:20–21, it was located in the tribal territorial allotment of the tribe of Ephraim. Shechem declined after the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel. The city later regained its importance as a prominent Samaritan center during the Hellenistic period.[3]

Traditionally associated with the city of Nablus,[4] Shechem is now identified with the nearby site of Tell Balata in the Balata al-Balad suburb of the West Bank.

Geographical position[edit]

Balata in the 1880s in the PEF Survey of Palestine. Nablus is stated as being the location of Biblical Shechem, in contrast to the modern identification with Tell Balata.

Shechem's position is indicated in the Hebrew Bible: it lay north of Bethel and Shiloh, on the high road going from Jerusalem to the northern districts (Judges xxi, 19), at a short distance from Michmethath (Joshua 17:7) and of Dothain (Genesis 37:12–17); it was in the hill-country of Ephraim (Joshua 20:7; 21:21; 1 Kings 12:25; 1 Chronicles 6:67; 7:28), immediately below Mount Gerizim (Judges 9:6–7). These indications are substantiated by Josephus, who says that the city lay between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, and by the Madaba map, which places its Sykhem between one of its two sets of "Tour Gobel" (Ebal) and the "Tour Garizin" (Garizim). The site of Shechem in patristic sources is almost invariably identified with,[5] or located close to,[6] the town of Flavia Neapolis (Nablus).


Shechem was a very ancient commercial center due to its position in the middle of vital trade routes through the region. A very old "Way of the Patriarchs" trade route runs in the north–south direction.[citation needed]

Amarna letter EA 252. Letter from Labayu (ruler of Shechem) to the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III or his son Akhenaten. 14th century BCE. From Tell el-Amarna, Egypt. British Museum


The oldest settlement in Shechem goes back to about five thousand years ago, during the Chalcolithic period (3500-3000 BCE). At that time agriculture was already practiced.[7]

Bronze Age[edit]

Early Bronze[edit]

Subsequently, during the Early Bronze Age, activity seems to have moved to the nearby area of Khirbet Makhneh el-Fauqa.[8] Some publications claim that Shechem is mentioned in the third-millennium Ebla tablets, but this has been denied by competent archaeologists.[9]

Middle Bronze[edit]

The first substantial building activity at Shechem (Strata XXII-XXI) dates from the Middle Bronze Age IIA (c. 1900 BCE).[8] It became a very substantial Canaanite settlement, and was attacked by Egypt, as mentioned in the Sebek-khu Stele, an Egyptian stele of a noble at the court of Senusret III (c. 1880–1840 BCE). Fortifications were made in the MB IIB (XX-XIX).[10]

Late Bronze[edit]

The Sebek-khu Stele, dated to the reign of Senusret III (reign: 1878–1839 BCE), records the earliest known Egyptian military campaign in the Levant. The text reads "Then Sekmem fell, together with the wretched Retenu", where Sekmem (s-k-m-m) is thought to be Shechem, and the "Retunu" or "Retjenu" a people of the Levant.
in hieroglyphs
Era: New Kingdom
(1550–1069 BC)

In the Amarna Letters of about 1350 BCE, Šakmu (i.e., Shechem) was the center of a kingdom carved out by Labaya (or Labayu), a Canaanite warlord who recruited mercenaries from among the Habiru. Labaya was the author of three Amarna letters (EA 252, EA 253, and EA 254), and his name appears in 11 of the other 382 letters, referred to 28 times, with the basic topic of the letter, being Labaya himself, and his relationship with the rebelling, countryside Habiru.

Shechem may be identical to the Sakama mentioned in an account dated to the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt (around 1200 BCE).[11][12][13][14] (See Papyrus Anastasi I.)

Iron Age[edit]

During the Babylonian Captivity (606 to 536 BCE), those Judahites who remained in the land of Israel reestablished the altar at Shechem to keep the Israelite worship system going when access to the Temple in Jerusalem was cut off.[15]

Classical antiquity[edit]

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Shechem was the main settlement of the Samaritans, whose religious center stood on Mount Gerizim, just outside the town. In 6 CE, Shechem was annexed to the Roman Province of Judea. Of the Samaritans of Sichem not a few[clarification needed] rose up in arms on Mt. Gerizim at the time of the Galilean rebellion (67 CE), which was part of the First Jewish–Roman War. The city was very likely destroyed by Sextus Vettulenus Cerialis,[16] during that war.

In 72 CE, a new city, Flavia Neapolis, was built by Vespasian 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) to the west of the old one. This city's name was eventually corrupted to the modern Nablus. Josephus, writing in about 90 CE (Jewish Antiquities 4.8.44), placed the city between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Elsewhere he refers to it as Neapolis.

In Emperor Hadrian's reign, the temple on Mt. Gerizim was restored and dedicated to Jupiter.[17][full citation needed]

Like Shechem, Neapolis had a very early Christian community, including the early saint Justin Martyr; we hear even of bishops of Neapolis.[18] On several occasions the Christians suffered greatly at the hands of the Samaritans. In 474 the emperor, to avenge what Christians considered an unjust attack by the Samaritans, deprived the latter of Mt. Gerizim and gave it to the Christians, who built on it a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.[19]

Later history[edit]

The city of Nablus was Islamicized in the Abbasid and Ottoman periods.[citation needed] In 1903 near Nablus, a German party of archaeologists led by Dr. Hermann Thiersch stumbled upon the site called Tell Balata and now identified as ancient Shechem. Nablus is still referred to as Shechem by Israeli Hebrew speakers, even though the original site of Shechem lies east of the modern-day city.[3]

Shechem in 2013

In the Bible[edit]

Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)[edit]

Shechem first appears in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 12:6–8, which says that Abraham reached the "great tree of Moreh" at Shechem and offered sacrifice nearby. Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges hallow Shechem over all other cities of the land of Israel.[20] According to Genesis (12:6–7) Abram "built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him… and had given that land to his descendants" at Shechem. The Bible states that on this occasion, God confirmed the covenant he had first made with Abraham in Harran, regarding the possession of the land of Canaan. In Jewish tradition, the old name was understood in terms of the Hebrew word shékém – "shoulder, saddle", corresponding to the mountainous configuration of the place.

On a later sojourn, two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, avenged their sister Dinah's abduction and rape by "Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land" of Shechem. Shimon and Levi said to the Shechemites that, if "every male among you is circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you and take your daughters to ourselves."[21] Once the Shechemites agree to the mass circumcision, however, Jacob's sons repay them by killing all of the city's male inhabitants.[22]

Following the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan after their Exodus from Egypt, according to the biblical narrative, Joshua assembled the Israelites at Shechem and asked them to choose between serving the God of Abraham who had delivered them from Egypt, or the false gods which their ancestors had served on the other side of the Euphrates River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they now lived. The people chose to serve the God of the Bible, a decision which Joshua recorded in the Book of the Law of God, and he then erected a memorial stone "under the oak that was by" in Shechem.[23] The oak is associated with the Oak of Moreh where Abram had set up camp during his travels in this area.[24]

Shechem and its surrounding lands were given as a Levitical city to the Kohathites.[25]

Owing to its central position, no less than to the presence in the neighborhood of places hallowed by the memory of Abraham (Genesis 12:6, 7; 34:5), Jacob's Well (Genesis 33:18–19; 34:2, etc.), and Joseph's tomb (Joshua 24:32), the city was destined to play an important part in the history of Israel.[citation needed] Jerubbaal (Gideon), whose home was at Ophrah, visited Shechem, and his concubine who lived there was mother of his son Abimelech (Judges 8:31). She came from one of the leading Shechemite families who were influential with the "Lords of Shechem" (Judges 9:1–3, wording of the New Revised Standard Version and New American Bible Revised Edition).[26]

After Gideon's death, Abimelech was made king (Judges 9:1–45). Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, made an allegorical speech on Mount Gerizim in which he warned the people of Shechem about Abimelech's future tyranny (Judges 9:7–20). When the city rose in rebellion three years later, Abimelech took it, utterly destroyed it, and burnt the temple of Baal-berith where the people had fled for safety. The city was rebuilt in the 10th century BC and was probably the capital of Ephraim (1 Kings 4). Shechem was the place appointed, after Solomon's death,[citation needed] for the meeting of the people of Israel and the investiture of his son Rehoboam as king; the meeting ended in the secession of the ten northern tribes, and Shechem, fortified by Jeroboam, became the capital of the new kingdom (1 Kings 12:1; 14:17; 2 Chronicles 10:1).

After the kings of Israel moved, first to Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17) and later on to Samaria, Shechem lost its importance, and we do not hear of it until after the fall of Jerusalem (587 BC; Jeremiah 12:5). The events connected with the restoration were to bring it again into prominence. When, on his second visit to Jerusalem, Nehemiah expelled the grandson of the high priest Eliashib (probably the Manasse of Josephus, Antiquities, XI, vii, viii) and with him the many Jews, priests and laymen, who sided with the rebel, these betook themselves to Shechem; a schismatic temple was then erected on Mount Garizim and thus Shechem became the "holy city" of the Samaritans. The latter, who were left unmolested while the orthodox Jews were chafing under the heavy hand of Antiochus IV (Antiquities, XII, v, 5, see also Antinomianism in the Books of the Maccabees) and welcomed with open arms every renegade who came to them from Jerusalem (Antiq., XI, viii, 7), fell about 128 BC before John Hyrcanus, and their temple was destroyed (Antiquities, XIII, ix, 1).

The Book of Judith, which is considered scripture to the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and other Christian churches is set in a city called "Bethulia". Because there is no Bethulia, it is widely assumed that this is a pseudonym for another city. The most common theory is that the city of Bethulia is really Shechem, based on the geography described in the book. The Jewish Encyclopedia went as far as to state that Shechem is the only city to meet all the requirements for Bethulia's location, and stated: "The identity of Bethulia with Shechem is thus beyond all question".[27]

New Testament[edit]

Shechem is mentioned in The Book of Acts (Acts 7, Acts 7:16).

It is not known whether the Samaritan city of Sychar (Greek: Συχαρ, Sykhar) in the Gospel of John (John 4:5) refers to Shechem or to another nearby village: "So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph."[28]

John 4 (John 4:15) mentions one of the women of Sychar going to Jacob's Well. Some scholars believe the location of Sychar is at the foot of Mount Ebal, but other scholars disagree because the proposed location is 1 km (0.62 mi) from Jacob's Well, which they think is not close enough for the women of Sychar to have fetched their water there. Based on John 4:15, these scholars have argued that Shechem is the Samaritan city of Sychar described in the Gospel of John.[28]

Some of the inhabitants of Sychar were "Samaritans" who believed in Jesus when he tarried two days in the neighborhood (John 4). Sychar and/or Shechem city must have been visited by the Apostles on their way from Samaria to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25).([citation needed]

Distinguish from[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ LXX.
  2. ^ "I Book of Kings 12:25". Archived from the original on 12 November 2016. Retrieved 16 July 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Shechem | Israel, Mountains, & History | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  4. ^ ' The present Nābulus is a corruption merely of Neapolis; and Neapolis succeeded the more ancient Shechem. All the early writers who touch on the topography of Palestine, testify to this identity of the two.' William Smith (ed.) Dictionary of the Bible,, rev. and edited by H.B.Hackett and Ezra Abbot, Hurd & Houghton New York 1870, vol.IV, "Shechem"' pp.2952–2958, p.2953.
  5. ^ St. Jerome, St. Epiphanius
  6. ^ Eusebius, Onomasticon, Euchem; Medaba map
  7. ^ Tell Balata Archaeological Park: guidebook. Palestine. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. 2014 unesco.org
  8. ^ a b The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land Archived 2 June 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Volume 3. Ephraim Stern, ed. Israel Exploration Society & Carta, 1993
  9. ^ James D. Muhly, Ur and Jerusalem Not Mentioned in Ebla Tablets, Say Ebla Expedition Scholars, BAR 9:06, Nov-Dec 1983. – “There is no reference to Jerusalem in the Ebla tablets, the Italians say, nor is there any mention of Megiddo, Lachish, Shechem or the Biblical Cities of the Plain.”
  10. ^ Seger, J. D., & סיגר, ג. (1975). הביצורים מתקופת-הברונזה התיכונה II בשכם ובגזר / THE MB II FORTIFICATIONS AT SHECHEM AND GEZER: A HYKSOS RETROSPECTIVE. Eretz-Israel: Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies / ארץ-ישראל: מחקרים בידיעת הארץ ועתיקותיה, יב, 34*-45*. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23619089
  11. ^ a b Gauthier, Henri (1928). Dictionnaire des Noms Géographiques Contenus dans les Textes Hiéroglyphiques Vol. 5. p. 10.
  12. ^ a b Wallis Budge, E. A. (1920). An Egyptian hieroglyphic dictionary: with an index of English words, king list and geological list with indexes, list of hieroglyphic characters, coptic and semitic alphabets, etc. Vol II. John Murray. p. 1033.
  13. ^ Muller, Asien und Europa, p. 394, Leipzig, 1893.
  14. ^ Hannig, Rainer (1995). Großes Handwörterbuch Ägyptisch-Deutsch (2800 – 950 v. Chr.). P. von Zabern. p. 1385. ISBN 3-8053-1771-9.
  15. ^ Oded Lipschits, The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Judah under Babylonian Rule (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005).
  16. ^ Josephus, The Jewish War, III, vii, 32
  17. ^ Dion Cass., xv, 12
  18. ^ Philippe Labbe, "Concordia", I, 1475, 1488; II, 325
  19. ^ Procopius, Buildings, v, 7
  20. ^ 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., 184.
  21. ^ Genesis 34:15–16
  22. ^ "Brit milah, the Biblical origins", My Jewish learning
  23. ^ Joshua 24:1–27
  24. ^ Genesis 12:6
  25. ^ Joshua 21:21
  26. ^ Gill's Exposition of Judges 9, accessed 29 October 2016
  27. ^ "Jewish Encyclopedia - Book of Judith".
  28. ^ a b Douglas, J. D.; Tenney, Merrill C. (3 May 2011). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Zondervan. ISBN 978-0-310-49235-1.


  • Cornel Heinsdorff: "Christus, Nikodemus und die Samaritanerin am Jakobsbrunnen", Berlin/New York 2003, 218–220, ISBN 3-11-017851-6
  • Stager, Lawrence (2003). "The Shechem Temple Where Abimelech Massacred a Thousand". Biblical Archaeology Review. 29:4 (July/August): 26–35, 66, 68–69.

External links[edit]