The Sacred Precinct on Mount Gerizim -- By: Yitzhak Magen

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 14:2 (Spring 2001)
Article: The Sacred Precinct on Mount Gerizim
Author: Yitzhak Magen


The Sacred Precinct on Mount Gerizim

Yitzhak Magen

When Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar (modern Nablus), she said to Him, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain” (Jn 4:20). She was referring to Mount Gerizim 2 km (1.2 mi) to the southwest, the center of Samaritan worship since the eighth century BC. After nearly two decades of work, the Samaritan sacred precinct and a later Byzantine church have been laid bare, thanks to the efforts of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Yitzhak Magen, director of the excavations, summarizes the findings in the following article.—Ed.

Mount Gerizim is located south of Shechem and the Roman city of Neapolis. It rises to an elevation of 886 m (2900 ft) above sea level. Two important roads led to the mountain in ancient times: one from the north, from the vicinity of Shechem, and the second from the south. On Mount Gerizim are the remains of a Hellenistic city and a Byzantine church and its enclosure, covering over 100 acres in area. The archaeological excavations at the site began in 1982, directed by the author. Archaeological Staff Officer for Judaea and Samaria, and continued without interruption through 2000.

The name Mount Gerizim occurs in the Old Testament from the beginning of the Israelite experience in the Land of Canaan. The Children of Israel were commanded to conduct the ceremony of blessing and cursing upon Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal after entering the Land of Israel:

When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mourn Ebal the curses (Dt 11:29).

Mt. Gerizim, looking south-southwest. In the center is the foundation of the octagonal Church of Mary Theotokos (Mother of God) built by Emperor Justinian in AD 529. To the left of the enclosure surrounding the church is the grand entryway and courtyards associated with the Hellenistic period Samaritan temple. To the right are structures associated with the Byzantine church.

Later, the division of the tribes and the words of blessing and curses are presented (Dt 27:11–26). This was fulfilled by Joshua immediately after the conquest of Ai (Jos 8:30–35). Mount Gerizim is again mentioned in the parable of Jotham, of whom it is said “he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim” (Jgs 9:7). Mount Gerizim is not ...

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