Mount Gerizim

Exploring Israel

Mount Gerizim is the holiest mountain for the Samaritans. 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


Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim

So while in Judaism Jerusalem became the holy city, specifically Temple Mt. On the contrary, the Samaritans believe that Mt. Gerizim is the location chosen by God for a holy temple. In Fact, it was during the Persian Period that the Samaritans built a temple on top of Mt. Gerizim. Probably in the middle of the 5th Century BCE; Actually believing that this was the real location of the Israelite temple (Solomon’s Temple). Which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Moreover, the growing tensions between the Jews and the Samaritans led to the destruction of the Samaritan Temple on top of Mt. Gerizim. So we know it was destroyed either by John Hyrcanus in the 2nd century BCE (According to Josephus Flavius). Or by Simeon the Just, according to the Talmud. In fact, the date of the destruction of the Samaritan Temple, the 21st of Kislev, became a holiday for the Jews during which it is forbidden to eulogize the dead.

The Good Samaritan Museum

Mount Gerizim National Park

However, the mountain evidently continued to be the holy place of the Samaritans. For example, it is mentioned as such by the Gospel of John. And coins produced by a Roman mint situated in Nablus, included within their design a depiction of the temple. Moreover surviving coins from this mint; dated to 138-161 CE; show a huge temple complex. Including statues and a substantive staircase leading from Nablus to the temple itself.

Mount Gerizim: The Biblical Account

The Covenant Renewed at Mount Ebal

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. Are they not beyond the Jordan, west of the road, toward the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites who live in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the oak of Moreh” (Deuteronomy 11: 29-30).

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

This description led Rabbi Eliezer (in the Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 7:3) to state that this does not relate to Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal in Samaria. But rather the verse refers to two mounds that the Jews called Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Which they found in the Jordan Valley; when they entered the country. Where it is written, “against Gilgal, beside the oak of Moreh”. But in the Samaritan version of these verses, it is written: “against Shechem [Nablus]”.


Ruins of the Byzantine Church of Mt. Gerizim

Rabbi Eliezer’s words echo the harsh theological debate that was going on between the Samaritans and the Jews. Both in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora; and particularly in Egypt; during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The basis of the dispute about the antiquity and sanctity of Jerusalem and Mount Gerizim is a continuation of the argument about the Torah and the holy places and the end of the war and destruction of the temple on Mount Gerizim.

Which is the Sacred Site?

The Masoretic Text Vs The Samaritan Pentutauce

The Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible says that the Israelites later built an altar on Mount Ebal. Moreover, the altar was constructed from natural stones rather than cut ones. In order to place stones there and whiten them with lime; to make peace offerings on the altar; eat there; and write the words of this law on the stone.

On the contrary, the Samaritan Pentateuch version of Deuteronomy; and a fragment found at Qumran; holds that the instruction actually mandated the construction of the altar on Mount Gerizim. Which the Samaritans view as the site of the Tabernacle, and not Shiloh. Whereas recent Dead Sea Scrolls research supports the accuracy of the Samaritan Pentateuch designation of Mount Gerizim rather than Mount Ebal as the sacred site.

Mount Gerizim In The Book of Joshua

In addition, In the Book of Joshua, after the battle of Ai Joshua built an altar of unhewn stones there. Also, it says that 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.

Yotam’s Parable

So the very last mention of Mt. Gerizim in the Hebrew Bible is in Yotam’s Parable:

“When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. 8 One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’

9 “But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’

10 “Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’

11 “But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’

12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’

13 “But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?’

14 “Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’

15 “The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’ (Judges 9:7-20)

Mt Gerizim in the New Testament

In Jesus’ discussions 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.” (John 4:21-24)

Of course, there is the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan but that is something worth talking about on a different post. 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.

In 529, Justinian I made Samaritanism illegal and arranged for a protective wall to be constructed around the church. 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

Mount Gerizim: Archaeology

In 1982 archaeological excavations were begun on Mount Gerizim. And have continued consecutively for twenty-two years. The excavations at Mount Gerizim have turned up new scientific data. Which provided answers to numerous long-standing historical and archaeological questions since the beginning of the twentieth century.

At the crux of the dispute is Josephus’ contention that the temple on Mount Gerizim was built by Sanballat, who lived at the time of Alexander the Great, and was constructed to resemble the temple in Jerusalem.

Sanballat the Horonite

Today we can state with certainty that the first phase of the temple on Mount Gerizim was erected in the middle of the fifth century BCE. When Sanballat the Horonite; a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, who lived more than one hundred years before the Sanballat that is mentioned by Josephus.

Sanballat from the time of Nehemiah was probably a resident of  Hawara (Horon), located at the foot of Mount Gerizim. And was a descendant of the last Israelites who remained in Samaria after the destruction of the city by the Assyrians.

Sanballat the Horonite who was a pahat – governor of Samaria on behalf of the Persian Empire – decided to build a temple to a supreme god on Mount Gerizim, which was sacred to both the people of Samaria and the people of Judah, and thus sever all ties with Jerusalem and its temple.

Based on the archaeological excavations, it turns out that two temples were constructed on Mount Gerizim.  First was built in the fifth century BCE. And a second, a larger edifice, at the beginning of the second century BCE. A large city, populated with more than ten thousand people, rose up on 400 dunham around the temple.

The residents of this city were mainly priests who strictly observed the laws regarding impurity and cleanliness. Particularly the uncleanliness of gentiles; the commandment forbidding the making of graven images or likenesses. These priests fulfilled all of the laws of the Torah as they are written.

Moreover, the Torah was very strict regarding the purity of the temple; sometimes holding the priests accountable under penalty of death. Now there is no doubt that the priests who served in the temple on Mount Gerizim in the Persian; or the beginning of the Hellenistic period possessed the Five Books of Moses.

How Influential Was the Temple in Mt. Gerizim?

The Samaritan Temple at Mt. Gerizim in the second century BCE; was no less influential than the one in Jerusalem. In Fact, it was sanctified by the Samaritans in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora. Particularly in Egypt; which led to an intense conflict between Jews and Samaritans.

So it began first as a theological argument about Mount Gerizim and Mount Moriah as holy places. But by the end of the second century BCE, it had evolved into a bitter war between the Hasmoneans and Samaritans. In fact, John Hyrcanus besieged Mount Gerizim and razed the city to the ground. In every house that was excavated a thick burnt layer was discovered and many coins of John Hyrcanus and his son Yannai were recovered.

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.

Ending Notes:

Despite the destruction of their Temple;  the Samaritans continued to reside around Mount Gerizim. Even Though they were forbidden from going up to the hill and praying there. Just in the 4th CE, about four hundred years after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans; did the Byzantine rulers allow the Samaritans to restore the compound. But this was short-lived.  In 484 CE the Byzantine emperor Zenon destroyed what remained of the compound and built a church dedicated to Maria Theotokos atop of it.

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arik-about

Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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