(guhr' ih zihm and ee' buhl ) Closely related place names meaning, “cut off ones” and “stripped one” or “baldy.” Two mountains which form the sides of an important east-west pass in central Israel known as the valley of Shechem. Ancient Shechem lies at the east entrance of this valley, and modern Nablus stands in the narrow valley between the two mountains. Shechem is located some 40 miles north of Jerusalem and, because of the mountainous terrain, controls all roads through the central hill country of Israel.
Gerizim (modern Jebel et-Tor) stands 2,849 feet above the Mediterranean and 700 feet above the valley. Ebal (modern Jebel Eslamiyeh) was located directly opposite Gerizim and Isaiah 2,950 feet above sea level. Both of the mountains are steep and rocky and perhaps gave reason to the probable meaning of Shechem: “shoulder(s).” The mountains, standing like two sentinels, could be fortified and assure control of this important valley. Excavations have shown architectural features which imply its commercial and military importance in the area.
When the Israelites conquered central Israel, Joshua carried out the directive given by Moses, and placed half of the tribes on Mount Gerizim to pronounce the blessing (Deuteronomy 27:12
) and the other half on Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses (Deuteronomy 11:29
; Joshua 8:30-35
). Joshua built an altar on Ebal (Joshua 8:30
Jotham proclaimed his famous kingship fable to the citizens of Shechem from Mount Gerizim (Judges 9:7
), thus using its sacred tradition to reinforce the authority of his message. After the Assyrians captured the Northern Kingdom, the mixed race of people began mixing pagan worship and worship of Yahweh (2 Kings 17:33
Gerizim disappears from biblical history until after the Babylonian Exile and the Persian restoration. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that Alexander the Great gave permission to the Samaritans to build a temple on Mount Gerizim. Archaeologists think they have found remains of this temple, 66 x 66 feet and 30 feet high, built of uncut rocks without cement. Josephus also reported that John Hyrcanus destroyed the temple in 128 B.C. Archaeologists have also found remains of the temple to Zeus Hypsistos which Hadrian, the Roman emperor, built after A.D. 100. Over 1500 marble steps led to the pagan temple. The small Samaritan community continues to worship on Gerizim today, just as they did in Jesus' lifetime when He met the Samaritan woman drawing water from Jacob's well. She pointed to traditional worship on the mountain (John 4:20
). See Samaritans.