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Mount Gerizim

GERIZIM, MOUNT (Heb. הַר גְּרִזִּים), mountain in Ereẓ Israel, S. of Shechem. After crossing the Jordan River, the children of Israel were commanded to build a stone altar on Mt. Ebal, to engrave upon it "all the words of this law" (Deut. 27:4–8), and to "set the blessing upon Mt. Gerizim, and the curse upon Mt. Ebal" (ibid. 11:29; 27:12–13). According to Joshua 8:30, this was Joshua's first act after the conquest of Ai. Har-Gerizzim (as written in the masoretic text; Har Gerizim, according to *Ben-Asher; usually Hargerizim in the traditional Samaritan text of the Pentateuch) is the present-day Jebel al-Ṭūr (shortened from the Samaritan name Tura Brikha). Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal rise above the city of Shechem (Nablus), in the south and north respectively; Gerizim is approximately 2,600 ft. (881 m.) high and Ebal approximately 2,800 ft. (940 m.). Between them lies the valley of Shechem. Both hills are composed of oolithic limestone, ten springs descending from their slopes to the fertile and well-watered valley. Mt. Ebal has comparatively little vegetation and no water issuing along its southern side, because the slope of the tilted rock is northward; one exception is at the southeast end of Ebal, where a spring makes it possible for the village of Askar to exist. The slopes of Mt. Gerizim, on the other hand, are covered with trees to the very top of the ridge, and the slope of the rock causes the main springs to issue on the side of the valley facing the city of Shechem. The contrast in the amount of water on the two sides of the valley is very marked. A pilgrim's legend from the Middle Ages, which has often been reprinted, relates that Mt. Gerizim, the blessed mountain (Deut. 11:29), is pleasant and fertile, while Mt. Ebal, cursed by divine decree (ibid.), is desolate and barren.

The identification of the two mountains is made clear in the Bible (Deut. 11:29–30; cf. Gen. 12:6; Judg. 9:7), and this identification is maintained throughout the sources (Sot. 7:5; Jos., Ant., 4:305; 11:340) down to modern times. As a result of an obscure topographical identification in Deuteronomy 11:30 – "Are they not beyond the Jordan, behind the way of the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites that dwell in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the terebinths of Moreh?" – and apparently in the wake of a dispute with the Samaritans, another tradition, ascribed to R. Eliezer, appears in the Talmud, which identifies the two mountains with two mounds which the children of Israel erected for themselves near Gilgal, and not with the two mountains near Shechem (TJ, Sot. 1:3, 21c; TB, Sot. 33b). This view was later adopted by the fathers of the Christian Church (Eusebius, Onom. 64:1920). On the Madaba Map, both traditions appear: next to Shechem is written Tur Garizin, and next to Jericho Ebal-Gerizin. Apparently, the Bible does not mean to imply that these two mountains are situated in the Arabah near Gilgal, but simply refers to the general direction in order to distinguish between this Arabah and the Arabah associated with the hill-country of the Amorites (Deut. 1:1; 4:49). Perhaps "behind the way of the going down of the sun" indicates the region west of the road which passes through the northern Arabah (from Jericho to Beth-Shean).

Later Mt. Gerizim is mentioned when the Samaritans erected their temple there about the time of Nehemiah (in the time of Alexander the Great, according to Jos., Ant., 11:310–11, but this is apparently a mistake; cf. Neh. 13:28, according to which a man of priestly stock was cast out by Nehemiah for intermarriage with the Samaritans). From then on, the Samaritans considered this temple to be their most holy spot, and their tradition ascribes nearly all of the biblical account of the patriarchs' deeds and the places associated with them (the land of Moriah, Beth-El, etc.) to Mt. Gerizim. There are 13 names for Mt. Gerizim, the "Kibla" of the Samaritans, the place toward which they turn in prayer. The fourth of the five articles in the declaration of their creed proclaims its holiness. *Markah dedicated a whole chapter in his Memar to the praise of this mountain (II, 10) in connection with Ex. 15. He enumerates it as one of the choicest things created by God and set apart as divine. The Samaritan text for Deuteronomy 27:4–5 reads: "And it shall be when ye are passed over the Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in Mt. Gerizim" (in place of Mt. Ebal in the masoretic text; cf. Sot. 33b). It is of interest that they even add Mt. Gerizim at the end of the Ten Commandments in both Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21, considering it to be the chosen mountain (Har ha-Mivḥar), even from the time of the creation of the world. (The Samaritans read baḥar, "has chosen," for the masoretic text yibḥar, "will choose," in Deut. 12:14.) The Samaritans gave it the title "mountain of blessing" or "blessed mount" (Tūrbarīk; Samaritan Book of Joshua, ch. 21; Gen. R. 32:10; Song. R. 4:4, no. 5; Tura Brikha; Deut. R. 3:6; Tura Kaddisha) and they claimed that the mountain was not submerged at the time of the Flood (ibid.).

Mt. Gerizim became the main point of divergence between the Samaritans and the Jews. (Cf. the end of Kut.: "At what point can the Samaritans be accepted into Judaism? When they reject their belief in Mt. Gerizim.") In the time of Ptolemy I Soter (323–284 B.C.E.), there was an argument over this point between the Samaritans and the Jews of Alexandria (Jos., Ant., 12:1ff.). When Antiochus IV Epiphanes passed decrees against the Jews, he converted the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim into a pagan shrine in honor of Zeus Xenios or Hellenios (II Macc. 5:23; 6:1; Jos., Ant., 12:257ff.). This temple was destroyed in 129 B.C.E. by John Hyrcanus (Jos., Ant., 13:255ff.; cf. Meg. Ta'an. 333). However, it remained a holy site for the Samaritans, and all religious acts were performed "in the name of Mt. Gerizim" (TJ, Yev. 8:1, 9a). Due to the Samaritan belief in the ancient sanctity of the mountain, the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate massacred a large gathering of Samaritans who had assembled to look at vessels which Moses allegedly made for the Tabernacle and which one of the Samaritans claimed he would show them (these vessels had supposedly been concealed on Mt. Gerizim; Jos., Ant., 18:85).

In the war against Rome (66–70), the Samaritans joined the rebellion and assembled on Mt. Gerizim to halt the Romans, in spite of the news they had received that the Jews of Galilee had been defeated. Vespasian sent Cerialis, commander of the fifth legion, against them and he besieged them with 3,000 infantry and 600 cavalry. The Roman troops massacred more than 11,000 of the Samaritans on the 27th of Sivan, 67 C.E. (Jos., Wars, 3:307ff.). After the war of Bar Kokhba (132–135) the emperor Hadrian erected a pagan shrine to Zeus Hypsistos (or to Serapis) on the top of Mt. Gerizim and placed the bronze gates from the Temple in Jerusalem there. From the time of Antoninus Pius onward, this sanctuary appears on the coins of Neapolis, the city which Titus had built on the site of the village of Ma'abarta, near ancient Shechem. In the time of the emperor *Julian, this sanctuary was destroyed and the Samaritans used the bronze gates as the door of the synagogue (ha-knishah) called Ḥelkat ha-Sadeh, which their priest Akbon built in the city of Neapolis. Another synagogue was erected by Akbon's predecessor, Baba Rabbah, "near Mt. Gerizim, Beth-El," "below the mountain" (apparently the site of the present-day Rijl al-ʿAmūd), in the time of Theodosius i (379–395 C.E.).

With the predominance of Christianity in the country, the religious status of the Samaritans suffered. Judging from John 4, Gerizim was also a sacred spot for the Christians. After a Samaritan uprising in the time of Zeno (474–491 C.E.), the Samaritans were expelled from the mountain and their synagogue was taken from them by command of the emperor (484 C.E.). The Christians erected a Church of the Virgin Mary there and placed a stone from Calvary in it. Following a Samaritan rebellion in the time of Justinian, the area around the church on Mt. Gerizim was encompassed by a fortified wall. In the time of the caliph al-Mansūr (754–755), the Christian church was destroyed, and under al-Ma'mūn (813–833) Justinian's wall was razed.

Remains of buildings sacred to the Samaritans still stand on the mountain (Khirbat al-Lūza; al-Ṣakhra ("the rock"); the place of the 12 stones). There are also remains of the Church of the Virgin Mary and Justinian's wall. The remains of the church were excavated by a German expedition during 1927–28 and by the Department of Antiquities of the British Mandatory government in 1946. It is on Mt. Gerizim that the Samaritans still observe all their festivals and all public holy ceremonies, as the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, and prayers on all their feasts and holidays. The entire congregation dwells on its slopes from the tenth of Nisan until the day after the end of the Maẓẓot Festival. Today houses have been built to accommodate them instead of the tents of former years. The offering takes place not on the top of the mountain, the holiest spot where their temple once stood, but at a lower place to the west of it, possibly because the holy spot has been defiled by a Muslim cemetery.


N. Adler (ed.), The Travels of R. Benjamin of Tudela (1908), 22–23; I. Ben Zvi, Sefer ha-Shomeronim (1935); Conder-Kitchener, 2 (1882), 186ff.; J. Montgomery, The Samaritans (1907; repr. 1968); Abel, Geog, 1 (1933), 360ff.; A. Reifenberg, in: Eretz Israel, 1 (1951), 74ff.; A.M. Schneider, in: zdpv, 68 (1951), 211ff.; G.E. Wright, Shechem: The Biography of a Biblical City (1965). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Magen, "The Church of Theotokos on Mount Gerizim," in: G. Bottini et al. (eds.), Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land, New Discoveries (1990), 333–42; idem, "Mount Gerizim – A Temple City: Summary of Eighteen Years of Excavations," in: Qadmoniot, 33 (2000), 74–118; E. Stern and Y. Magen, "The First Phase of the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim," in: Qadmoniot, 33 (2000), 119–24; Y. Magen et al., "The Hebrew and Aramaic Inscriptions from Mount Gerizim," in: Qadmoniot, 33 (2000), 125–32; Y. Magen, "Mount Gerizim During the Roman and Byzantine Periods," in: Qadmoniot, 33 (2000), 133–43.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.