Tomb of Joseph (Nablus)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The tomb of Joseph (قبر يوسف), is a funerary monument located at the eastern entrance to the valley that separates Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, believed to be the burial site of prophet Joseph. Although the Bible does not identify a specific site in Shechem where his bones were laid to rest, the site has been venerated by Samaritans since the second century CE.


In the book of Joshua (24:32), Joseph’s bones are said to have been brought from Egypt by the Children of Israel and interred in Shechem. The Bible does not identify a specific site in Shechem where his bones were laid to rest. The rabbis suggest that Joseph instructed his brothers to bury him in Shechem since it was from there he was taken and sold into slavery.

Other Jewish sources have him buried either in Safed, or, according to an aggadic tradition, have him interred at Hebron according to his own wishes. This ambiguity is reflected in Islamic tradition as well, which points to Nablus as being the authentic site, though some early Islamic geographers identified the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as housing his tomb.

Moses is said to have gathered the bones and taken them with him during the Exodus from Egypt, using magic to raise the coffin, a tradition repeated by Josephus, who specifies that they were buried in Canaan at that time.

Shrine Complex

circa 400 CE

Courtyard and the Walls
The tomb complex is located on the road-side from Balata to ‘Askar, at the end of a row of fine fig trees. The building is in the Ottoman-style and consists of a northern courtyard with a central font and a domed inner room with a stone cenotaph as the focus of veneration. The open courtyard surrounding the tomb measures about 18 foot (5.5 m) square. The plastered, whitewashed walls, about 1 foot (0.30 m) thick, are in good repair and stand 10 foot (3.0 m) high. Entrance to the courtyard is from the north through the ruin of a little square domed building. There are two Hebrew inscriptions on the south wall.

circa 400 CE

Burial Chamber
The present "burial-chamber" structure, a small rectangular room with a cenotaph, dates from 1868, and is devoid of any trace of ancient building materials. The tomb (cenotaph) is not in line with the walls of the courtyard, nor is it in the middle of the enclosure, being nearest to the west wall.

Traditional Origins

circa 400 CE

For Schenke, the tradition of Joseph's burial at Shechem can only be understood as a secondary, Israelitic historical interpretation woven around a more ancient Canaanite shrine in that area. Wright has indeed argued that "the patriarch Joseph was not an Israelite hero who became Egyptianised, but an Egyptian divinity who was Hebraised".

Conder questions the fact that the tomb points north to south, inconsistent with Muslim tombs north of Mecca. This fact did not however diminish Muslim veneration of the shrine: The tomb points approximately north and south, thus being at right angles to the direction of Moslem tombs north of Mecca. How the Mohammedans explain this disregard of orientation in so respected a Prophet as "our Lord Joseph", I have never heard; perhaps the rule is held to be only established since the time of Mohammed.

Joseph's Tomb on Madaba Map

circa 400 CE

Also in the sixth century, during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527–565 CE), Joseph’s tomb was included on the Madaba Mosaic Map, indicating the shrine existed before Islamic era. This is also supported by a description of the tomb by the sixth century CE, Christian pilgrim and archdeacon Theodosius. Who mentions in his De situ Terrae Sanctae, “close to Jacob’s Well are the remains of Joseph the Holy” (Golden 2004: 187).

Burial in Egypt

circa 400 CE

According to the Bible, Joseph was embalmed and buried in a coffin in Egypt (Goshen/Avaris), after having his people swear to carry his bones away. Later midrash identify his first entombment in a royal mausoleum, or as cast into the Nile. A more recent discovery of a "statue of an Asiatic Dignitary", by Bietak is hypothesised as the original burial site of Joseph in Egypt.

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