Abimelech at Shechem -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 18:2 (Spring 2005)
Article: Abimelech at Shechem
Author: Bryant G. Wood

Abimelech at Shechem

Bryant G. Wood

For some 800 years, from the time of Jacob until the time of Gideon, Shechem was an important highland urban center controlling the area from Megiddo to Jerusalem (Wood 1997). It is no surprise, then, that Gideon’s son Abimelech went to the leaders of Shechem1 to gain support for his failed attempt to become king of the Israelite tribes. Three archaeological discoveries at Shechem relate to the narrative of Judges 9.

Temple of Baal-berith

References to the “temple of Baal-Berith” (v. 4), “Beth-Millo” (vv. 6, 20), “temple of their god” (v. 27), “tower of Shechem” (vv. 46, 49) and “temple of El-Berith” (v. 46) all appear to be the same structure at Shechem (Stager 2003; 1999: 242, 245; Toombs 1992: 1184; Campbell 1983: 269; Campbell and Ross 1963: 16). Berith is the Hebrew word for covenant, so the temple was for “Baal of the covenant.” A large fortress temple discovered on the acropolis of Shechem has been identified as the temple of Judges 9 (Stager 2003; 1999). It was constructed in the 17th century BC and lasted until the destruction of the city by Abimelech in the 12th century BC. The largest temple yet found in Canaan, it measures 70 x 86.3 ft (21.2 x 26.3 m), and has foundations 17 ft (5.1 m) thick that supported a multistoried superstructure of mud bricks and timber. On the east, two towers containing stairwells to the upper stories flanked the entrance. Inside, two rows of columns, three in each row, divided the space into a nave and two side aisles (cf. vv. 46–49; Stager 2003: 29–31; 1999: 229, 243–45).

Plan of the fortress temple at Shechem, showing the locations of the altar and standing stones (Hebrew, masseboth) in the courtyard in front.

Massebah, or “standing stone” in front of the fortress temple at Shechem. This may be the stone that Joshua erected at Shechem (Jos 24:26) and the “pillar” where Abimelech was made king (Jgs 9:6).

In front of the temple was a courtyard with a large earthen and stone altar, 7.2 x 5.4 ft (2.2 x 1.65 m) and 1.1 ft (35 cm) high, 21 ft (6.5 m) from the temple entrance. An enormous limestone stela, or massebah, stood 6.6 ft (2 m) further to the southeast. It is 4.8 ft (1.48 m) wide, 1.4 ft (42 cm) thick, and, although broken, 4.8 ft (1.45 m) high. Since the temple existed in Joshua’s day, it is pos...

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