Mount Gerizim

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Mount Gerizim (جَبَل جَرِزِيم) also known in Arabic as Jabal et Tur (جبل الطور) is one of the two mountains in the immediate vicinity of the West Bank city of Nablus (biblical Shechem).


In Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim is held to be the highest, oldest and most central mountain in the world. 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.

Relifious Significance

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 of the worldwide population of Samaritans live in very close proximity to Gerizim, mostly in Kiryat Luza, the main village. Passover is celebrated by the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, and it is additionally considered by them as the location of the Binding of Isaac (the Masoretic Text, Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scroll versions of the Book of Genesis state that this happened on Mount Moriah, which Jews traditionally identify as the Temple Mount).

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. 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".

Notable Structures

Isaac's Sacrificial Site According to the Samaritan Tradition
"The Place where Abraham offered Isaac, according to the tradition of the Samaritans, is a little rock-sunk trench at the southeast corner of the plateau, on the summit of Gerizim. It resembles the trough used for the Passover feast, and measures about 8 feet by 5 feet. A semicircular flight of seven steps (traditionally called the Seven Steps of Adam out of Paradise) leads down in this direction from the west". --- The Palestine Exploration Fund report of 1872 and 1875 provided a description of the altar (SWP Vol 2 p 188).

Octagonal Byzantine Church
In 475 CE a Christian church (illustration) was built, on the orders of Byzantine ruler Zeno, on its summit. In 529, Justinian I made Samaritanism illegal, and arranged for a protective wall to be constructed around the church. The church is located in a precinct protected by an inner wall of 55m by 70m. The layout of the church is that of an octagon, typical of the commemorative Byzantine churches, such as the Kathisma (which was also named Theotokos) and St. Peter's house in Capernaum.

Hellenstic Oilpress
The oil press is located inside the Hellenstic dwelling, adjacent to the street below the sacred precinct. It measured 19 x 22m and was entered through the north side. A crushing stone (1.16m diameter) and basin (2.1m diameter), seen in the rear, crushed the olives as the first step. Then, the crushed olives were collected into a basket. The second step is the oil press, a lever based installation consisting of elements which are seen on the front side - pressing weights and axis are seen here. The juice poured into the collecting vat on the lower left side. The third step was to collected the olive juice into jars, then move them to the storerooms on the right.

Tomb of Shaikh Ghanim
The tomb of Sheikh Ghanem is a single, domed structure in the north-eastern corner of the precinct. According to Muslim tradition, this is the tomb of Sheikh Ghanem, born in the village of Burin, who was one of the soldiers of Saladin. Jewish traditions from the Middle Ages view it as the burial site of Hamor, father of Shchem. The Arabs of Nablus and the surrounding area customarily swear oaths and offer sacrifices at the site.

Mount Gerizim Altar
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, not Shiloh. 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.

Pre-Israelite Sanctuary
Scholars consider it plausible for the sanctuary on mount Gerizim to have been pre-Israelite. 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.

See Also


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