The Hebrew name Shechem is probably derived
from the word for back or shoulder
- an apt description of Shechem's location in the narrow
valley between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal approximately
65 km North of Jerusalem. It was strategically
located controlling major North-South and East-West
roads, but lacked natural defenses and for that reason
required heavy fortification. In addition to Jacobs
Well (400m to the South East) it is thought that the
city derived its water supply via a conduit from a cave
in Mt. Gerizim, while the fertile
plain of Askar provided the city with food.
- Name and Location
Expeditions to Shechem
- The History of
- Shechem in Theological
Expeditions to Shechem
Until 1903 the exact location of Shechem
had been uncertain. The Jewish writer Josephus writing about AD 90 placed the city between Mts. Gerizim
and Ebal (Antiquities, 4.8.44). Later the church
historian Eusebius (c. 260 - c. 340 AD) and a pilgrim
from Bordeaux (333 AD) placed it on the outskirts of
Neapolis (modern Nablus)
near Jacobs Well. Jerome (345-420 AD) repeated
Eusebius location, but elsewhere made it clear
that he doubted that Shechem was anything other than
the predecessor of Neapolis. Modern scholarship followed
Jerome until 1903 when a party of German scholars led
by Prof. Hermann Thiersh quite by accident discovered
the ruins of Shechem. Eusebius had been quite accurate:
the site of Shechem, known as Tell Balatah was located
East of Nablus beside the traditional site for the tomb
of Joseph (Josh. 24:32) and near Jacobs Well
(John 4:5-6) (Wright, 1967: 355).
Wishing to keep the excavation in
German hands Thiersh did not make his discovery public
and it was 1913 before the biblical scholar Ernst Sellin
led the first expedition to begin excavation. Following
the 1913-14 campaign the work was interrupted by the
outbreak of war and it was 1928 before work recommenced,
with further digs in 1932 and 1934. The results of these
expeditions were often inadequately mapped and recorded
and the interpretation of the finds is dubious. Although
their work produced much useful data poor methodology
and fieldwork as well as personal rivalry complicated
later digs (Moorey, 1991: 64). In 1954 the American
Drew-McCormick Expedition under George Ernest Wright
started work on the site and continued in 1956-57, 1960
and 1962. The results of this work will be referred
The History of Shechem
Shechems strategic location
and plentiful supplies of both food and water explain
why it was occupied for thousands of years. The city
is referred to many times both in biblical and extrabiblical
records. These together with the extensive archaeological
work that has been carried out enable us to trace with
a fair degree of certainty the history of the city.
3.1 Before the Patriarchs. It is likely that Shechem was one of the oldest settlements
The earliest written record comes from an inscription
on the Stele of Khu-Sebek who was a noble in the court
of Sesotris III (c. 1880-1840 BC). It reads: his
majesty reached a foreign country of which the name
was skmm [Shechem]. Then skmm fell, together
with the wretched Retunu [an Egyptian name for
the inhabitants of Syro-Palestine]. An Egyptian
execration text (a clay tablet on which curses are inscribed
and then ceremonially broken) dating from the mid nineteenth
century refers to one Ibish-hadad of Shechem, indicating
that Shechem was an important centre of resistance against
Egyptian rule (Toombs, 1992: 1179).
3.2 The days of the Patriarchs.
3.2.1 Abraham. The first reference to Shechem in Scripture occurs in Genesis 12:6-8.
This passage records how Abram travelled southwards through Canaan until he reached
the great tree of Moreh at Shechem in the centre of
the land. There the Lord appeared to him and in response
he build an altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord.
The oak or terebinth of Moreh was to feature
significantly later in the Old
Testament, but it is important to note that although
the location may well have been a place of Canaanite
worship Abram did not associate himself with that worship
(Hamilton, 1990: 377).
3.2.2 Jacob. On his return from Paddam Aram Jacob settled for a time
within sight of the city of Shechem and bought the second
plot of land in Canaan (33:18-20; cf. 23:1-20). There Jacob set up an altar to God,
the God of Israel (El Elohe Israel). While he
and his family were encamped near the city, the son
of one its leading citizens, Shechem son of Hamor, took
Jacobs daughter Dinah and raped her. Having found
her to his liking he then persuaded his father to obtain
Jacobs consent to marry Dinah. Jacobs sons
tricked Hamor into disabling all the men of the city
by persuading them to be circumcised themselves on the
pretence of removing a ceremonial obstacle to intermarriage.
Simeon and Levi pressed home the advantage they had
gained by putting the city to the sword and rescued
Dinah, who was apparently being held in Shechems
Jacob was troubled by the slaughter
and feared for the lives of his family when the Canaanites
heard about what had taken place. Having been commanded
by the Lord to move to Bethel he purified his camp of
all the foreign gods and buried them under the terebinth (35:1-5).
3.3 Conquest to Monarchy
3.2.1 Tribal allotment. Shechem
was part of the tribal territory of Manasseh (Josh.
17:7). It was also both a city of refuge (20:7)
and a Levite city, set aside for the Kohathite clan
Renewals at Shechem. The book of Joshua records
two covenant renewals carried out by Joshua (8:30-35;
24:1-27; cf. Deut.
27:11-13). Although the first does not mention Shechem
by name, it is clearly implied by its location between
the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal. There is no evidence
either from scripture or archaeology that the Israelites
conquered the city by force (Toombs, 1992; 1183-1184).
This fact has served to fuel a number of the recent
theories of Israels origins (see
4 below), but does not mean that the original
Canaanite inhabitants remained there during the conquest.
It seems far more likely that the city was captured
without a fight and that it was inhabited by Israelites.
At the conclusion of the ceremony Joshua ...took
a large stone and set it up there under the oak near
the holy place of the Lord (Josh. 24:26 NIV),
almost certainly outside the city were both Abraham and Jacob had sacrificed (3.2.1, 3.2.2).
3.3.3 Josephs Place of Burial. While he was in Egypt Joseph gave specific instructions regarding the arrangements
for his burial (Gen. 50:24-26). Josephs bones
were removed from Egypt at the Exodus (Exod. 13:19)
and buried in the tract of land that Jacob had bought
3.3.4 Abimelech & the Kingship. Following the death of Gideon Abimelech, the son of
his Shechemite concubine (Judges
8:31) claimed the kingship that his father had refused
(9:1-3: cf. 8:22-23). Having persuaded the citizens
of Shechem to follow him he set about murdering all
but one of his brothers (9:3-7). Jotham, the only surviving
son of Gideon addressed the citizens of Shechem by way
of a prophetic parable which foretold their destruction
by fire (9:7-21). After three years the people of Shechem
decided that they had had enough of Abimelechs
rule and attempted to make Gaal son of Eded their leader
(9:22-30). Abimelech learnt of Gaals rebellion
and attacked the city from the plain to the east as
the people were going out to work in the fields (9:31-45).
Once the city had fallen Abimelech turned his attention
to the stronghold of the temple of Baal berith,
where about a thousand of the citys inhabitants
had taken refuge. Rather than lay siege he set fire
to the tower, killing the remaining citizens of the
city (9:46-49). Abimelech himself was slain shortly
afterwards attempting to repeat this procedure in the
nearby city of Thebez (9:50-55).
3.4 Monarch to Exile
3.4.1 Davids Laments. Shechem is mentioned by David in two national laments attributed to him (Psalm
The verses cited remind the audience that it is the
Lord who has measured and given the land; the people
are only his tenants. He is also sovereign over the
3.4.2 Jereboams Capital.
Following the death of Solomon all Israel was summoned to Shechem to make Rehoboam
his son king, probably because of its historic associations.
Rehoboams foolishness resulted in the division
of the kingdom with Jereboam son of Nebat ruling the
ten northern tribes (2 Kings 12:1-17; 2 Chron. 10:1-17).
Jeroboam initially chose Shechem as his new capital
and fortified it against attacks from the South (1
Kings 12:25). The archaeological evidence for these
fortifications is confused, but they appear to have
taken the form of casemate walls (Toombs, 1992: 1184).
The city lost much of its prestige when Jereboam moved
his capital first to Peniel in the Transjordan (12:25)
and then to Tirzah about seven miles to the North of
Shechem (14:17) (see Map 1).
Hosea refers to the depths the Northern
Kingdom had descended to in graphic language when he
speaks of bands of priests who murder those on the road
to Shechem (6:9). Such activity was not unknown in the
days before the monarchy (cf. Judges 9:25) and was facilitated by the narrow ravines
through which the city was approached (Toombs, 1992:
1175). Shechem was a city of refuge and as such was
supposed to be a place of safety. Ironically the situation
in the land had degenerated so far that those fleeing
the avenger of blood were in danger from the very people
who were meant to protect them.
3.4.3 Destruction. Archaeological
evidence suggests a destruction of the city during the
reign of Menahem (2
Kings 15:13-16). In 724 the city fell again to the Assyrians and was reduced to a heap of ruins along with all the
other cities of the Northern Kingdom (Toombs, 1992:
3.5 After the Exile. Shechem
was all but abandoned after its fall to the Assyrians.
That there were still some Israelites living there is
evidenced by Jeremiahs account of the ill-fated
delegation from that city (41:4-7). After this time
the city shows no sign of occupation for about 150 years.
3.5.1 A Samaritan City. The
Assyrians settled exiled peoples from other nations
in the Northern Kingdom. According to 2 Kings these
peoples were taught how to worship the Lord in order
to bring prevent attacks by lions, seen as divine judgement.
However, the people simply added the worship of Yahweh
to their own beliefs and worshipped both (2
Kings 17:24-34). During the rebuilding of the temple
in Jerusalem the Samaritans sent messengers offering
their help so that they might take part in the temple
worship. The sharp rebuff they received led them to
fiercely oppose the reconstruction and a long lasting
hostility between the two peoples (Ezra
4:1-3; cf. Luke
the Great defeated the Persians he was initially supported by the Samaritans, who put
8 000 troops at his disposal in his campaign against
Egypt. When Alexander left they attempted to free themselves
from his rule:
While Alexander was in Egypt, the Samaritans
in Samaria revolted and killed the newly appointed governor,
Andromachus. In retaliation Alexander destroyed the
city of Samaria and established a garrison of 600 troops
there. Many of the Samaritans fled to the foot of Mt.
Gerizim and, with Alexanders permission, built
a temple to rival the Jewish
temple in Jerusalem (Anderson, 1988:303-304).
In 128 BC the Jewish leader John Hyrcanus
(134-104 BC) levelled the temple on Mount Gerezim, adding
to the long hatred between the two peoples. In 107 BC
he captured Samaria and it is thought that the final
destruction of Shechem also took place at this time.
The defensive walls were buried so that the could no
longer be used. The surviving population relocated to
the nearby towns of Sychar and Neapolis (Anderson, 1988:
304; Wright, 1965: 183-184).
3.6 Shechem in the New Testament. The city of Shechem no longer existed in the time of Jesus,
but it was referred to as a historic location.
3.6.1 Stephens Speech. Stephens speech as recorded by Luke in Acts 7:2-53
provides a review of the history of Israel from the
time of Abraham.
Verse 16 and its reference to Shechem has proved particularly
difficult to explain. The problem arises because it
apparently contradicts the text of Genesis by stating
that Abraham, rather than Jacob bought the plot of land
at Shechem from the sons of Hamor (Gen.
33:18-19; cf. 23:3-20). Commentators have suggested
a number of explanations for this: a) Abraham was the
original purchaser of the field and Jacob merely renewed
the transaction as he did with the well Abrahams
servants had dug (Gen.
(Archer, 1982: 379-380). This solution relies on an
argument from silence as Genesis makes no mention of
any land purchase at Shechem by Abraham. More importantly
there is no reference to a tomb on the plot that Jacob
bought. b) Jacob bought the site in Abrahams name,
so in effect Abraham bought the land (Stott, 1990: 134).
c) Luke records Stephens speech accurately, a
speech that contains a number of generalisations and
conflations after the manner of popular Judaism of the
period. Four similar difficulties of the same sort occur
in verses 2-8 of the same chapter, indicating that Stephen
was not intending to be absolutely accurate in the details
he presented (Longenecker, 1981: 340-341). This seems
to be the best explanation of the passage.
in Theological Discussion
The city of Shechem and its environs
has formed an important theme in many of the reconstructions
of Israels history produced this century. The
theories differ widely, but all are sceptical of the
accuracy of the Old
Testament account as it has come down to us.
4.1 W.O.E. Oesterley & T.H.
Robinson. Oesterley & Robinson, in common with
many other liberal scholars this century, saw the patriarchal
narratives as describing an animistic religion. Discussing
Gen. 12:6-8 they point out that the Oak of Moreh
should be translated terebinth of the teacher,
which, according to them, meant that it was a tree at
which divine teaching was given.
The tree was regarded as sacred.
Abraham halts at it because he expects a divine manifestation
there; and he is not disappointed
there is no
room for doubt that we have here an instance of the
development of the belief that spirits took up their
abode in trees (Oesterley & Robinson, 1935: 22).
35:4 describes Jacob burying the foreign gods and ear-rings under
the Shechem terebinth, Oesterley & Robinson
see this as further evidence of the worship of trees.
By burying the gods under the oak they were
placed under the power of the tree sanctuary of Jacobs
God and thus rendered harmless (Oesterley & Robinson,1935:
23). They also find evidence of animism in Gen. 35:8,
where they link the name Oak of weeping,
with the Canaanite practice of weeping for Tammuz (cf. Ezek.8:14)
(Oesterley & Robinson,1935: 23-24).
12:6-8 it should be noted that the oak or terebinth was a spreading tree much valued for its shade. In the
same way shade trees (for example the Pipal tree
in Nepal and the Banyan in India) are places
of meeting or markets. It is therefore not surprising
that Abraham chose this place to make his camp under
one, or that Jacob found one a convenient spot for burying
idols and ear-rings (35:4). Further evidence for this
point can be seen in the fact that in other instances
God appeared to Abraham in places unconnected with trees
(Harrison, 1970: 386).
4.2 Martin Noth (1902-1968). The city of Shechem plays an important role in Noths
major work The History of Israel. Noth rejected
the biblical account of the conquest and argued instead
that Israels occupation of the land took place
through a gradual process of infiltration (Noth, 1996:
68-74). Noth suggested that the amphictyonies of Greece
and Italy provided a model for understanding the emergence
of Israel in Canaan. He noticed that these cultures
provided examples of groups of tribes gathered around
a central shrine and united by the worship of a common
deity - an organisation known as an amphictyony (Noth,
1996: 87-88). From this loose association a more structured
political union could develop. The shrine near Shechem
was identified as the probable location of the Israelites
first central shrine (Noth, 1996: 91-93).
Noths proposal deeply influenced
the study of Joshua and Judges for many years, but has
now been largely abandoned because it demanded that
the structure of Greek and Italian amphicytonies be
read into the text and not out of them. In addition
Noths theory that these amphictyonies developed
into political structures has also been shown to be
seriously flawed (Chambers, 1983: 44-48; Gottwald, 1979:
4.3 Norman K. Gottwald. Gottwald
held that Israel emerged from within the population
of Canaan and not by invasion from outside of it. Shechem
was viewed as a neutral Canaanite city which worshipped Baal-berith and not Yahweh.
(Gottwald, 1979: 563-564). Baal-berith was worshipped
at a sacred site inside the city and Yahweh at a tree
outside the city (Gen.
12:6; 33:18b-20; 35:4; Deut.
9:6, 37). This would explain the continued existence
of a temple to Baal-berith in Shechem (Judges
9:4) which does not require the reintroduction of a
Canaanite cult (Gottwald, 1979: 564). Joshuas
speech (Josh 24) is therefore seen as institution of
Yahwism and not as a renewal of a pre-existing covenant.
The Shechemites were among those who declined the adoption
of the new faith (Gottwald, 1979: 567).
An important part of Gottwalds
argument for the separation of the sites of worship
is the absence of a sacred pillar inside the city of
Shechem. However, archaeology has demonstrated that
during the period 1450-1100 BC there was a standing
stone inside the temple precinct in Shechem. Further,
Gottwald ignores the reference to the temple of El-berith
in Judges 9:46.
It is far more likely that the name indicates the syncretistic
worship that Israel had descended to (cf. Judges
8:33-35) rather than the existence of a separate
Canaanite enclave (Campbell, 1983: 264-265).
Anderson, R.T. 1988.
Samaritan, G.W. Bromiley, gen. ed. International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised, Vol. 4. Grand
Archer, Gleason L.
1982. The Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Campbell, Edward F.
1983. Judges 9 and Biblical Archaeology,
Carol L. Meyers & M. OConnor, eds. The
Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of
David Noel Freedman on His Sixtieth Birthday. Winona
Lake, Indiana: Eisebrauns.
Chambers, Henry E.
1983. Ancient Amphictyonies, Sic et Non,
William W. Hallo, James C. Moyer, Leo G. Perdue, Scripture
in Context II: More Essays on the Comparative Method. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns: 39-59.
Gottwald, Norman K.
1979. The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion
of Liberated Israel 1250-1050 BCE. London: SCM Press.
Hamilton, Victor P.
1990. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
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N. 1981. Acts, F.E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. The Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol. 9.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Moorey, Roger 1991. A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Cambridge:
The Lutterworth Press.
W. 1998. God and His People: Covenant and Theology
in the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Noth, Martin (1996) The History of Israel, 2nd edn. London: Xpress
& T.H. Robinson, 1935. Hebrew Religion. London:
Stott, J.R.W. 1990.
The Message of Acts, The Bible Speaks
Today. Leicester: IVP.
Thompson, J.A. 1983.
Shechem, E.M. Blaiklock, & R.K. Harrison,
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1992. David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief, Anchor
Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5. London: Doubleday.
Wright, G. Ernest
1965. Shechem: The Biography of a Biblical City.
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Wright, G. Ernest
1967. Shechem, D. Winton Thomas, ed. Archaeology
and Old Testament Study. Oxford: Clarendon Press:
and the Early Church. © 1998 Robert I. Bradshaw.
Reprinted by permission.