“When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.” (Deuteronomy 11:29)
The two mountains mentioned in the above verse can be found in the city of Nablus (previously Shechem) in Israel. I will focus on the first mountain, Mount Gerizim, and look at the second in another article. Mount Gerizim is one of the highest mountains in the landlocked territory of West Bank, which is bordered by Jordan and Israel. The mountain reaches 2890 feet, which is 230 feet above sea level. According to Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim was considered to be both the oldest and highest mountain in the world.
The Samaritans continue to regard Mount Gerizim as the location chosen by God for a holy temple. The Jews, on the other hand, regard Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to be the true location. In John 4, Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman at a well. She does not understand why Jesus, a Jew, is talking to her and points out their differences. In verse 20 she states, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Passover is still celebrated by the Samaritans on the slopes of Mount Gerizim. They also consider it the location of the “Binding of Isaac” – the place Abraham almost sacrificed his son.
The first time Mount Gerizim is mentioned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 11:29) corresponds with the Israelites’ entry into Canaan. Moses instructs them to celebrate their arrival with a ceremony of blessings on Mount Gerizim and a ceremony of cursing on Mount Ebal. It is thought these two mountains were chosen for this purpose because they stood at the centre of the land. Mount Gerizim had plenty of fertile land, whereas Mount Ebal had a barren and rugged face.
In Deuteronomy 27, the Israelites were split into their tribes. Half were to remain on Mount Gerizim and the rest on Mount Ebal. Verse 12 states, “When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on MountGerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin.” There has been no agreement amongst scholars as to the significance of the separation of the tribes.
Mount Gerizim next appears in the book of Joshua. After the Battle of Ai, Joshua built an altar on the mountain and the Israelites came forth with offerings and blessings.
The mountain also has some significance in the book of Judges. Jotham, the youngest of Gideon’s 70 sons was dismayed to discover that his brother Abimelek had been crowned king. When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.” (Judges 9:7) Jotham metaphorically uses trees to explain that the people of Shechem have made a poor decision. He believes they have revolted against his father’s family and warns them that if they have acted dishonourably, God will punish them. As we see later in the chapter, God stirred up animosity between the king and the people. King Abimelek, in an attempt to regain his favour by force, ends up being killed by a woman.
An argument between the Jews and Samaritans about the true location of God’s chosen holy place has been going on since the 5thcentury BC. The Babylonian exile had ended and the Persian Period begun, during which the Samaritans built a temple upon Mount Gerizim. A Jewish High Priest later destroyed the temple: either John Hyrcanus or Simeon the Just. Nonetheless, the Samaritans continued to worship on the mountain.
Later, the Christian Roman Empire banned the Samaritans from worshipping on Mount Gerizim and built a church on the summit in 475 AD. Emperor Justinian I made Samaritanism illegal, which led Julianus ben Sabar, a messianic leader, to lead a pro-Samaritan revolt, capturing the majority of Samaria and destroying churches. Unfortunately, Justinian’s armies eventually got the upper hand and the surviving Samaritans were either exiled or enslaved.
Ruins of Justinian’s church can still be seen at the top of Mount Gerizim. Archaeologists believe the architects used portions of the old Samaritan temple for the foundations of the structure. Today there is neither a church nor a Samaritan temple on the mountain; however, Samaritans are safe to worship there.
Just for fun, here are some of the major differences between Jews and Samaritans:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon