Sites and Insights: Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim

In the valley between these two famous mountains, some can still hear the biblical shouting of the Israelites.

July 16, 2012 13:12
4 minute read.

Shechem. (photo credit:


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Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

Anyone who has visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC has seen the plaque fixed on the top of the steps.The plate and its inscription mark the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” Standing on those steps in the shadow of the great emancipator’s memory, gave greater force to the words Dr. King spoke that day.

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The place of the message intensified the words.

I’m convinced that’s why Joshua gathered the young Hebrew nation to Shechem. The geographical context of his words played a significant role. What he said that day still applies to us. 

The Significance of Shechem

You’d never know it today, but Shechem, the site of modern Nablus, provided the most important crossroads in central Israel. Because of its central location and vital intersection, Shechem often found itself in major events in the biblical narrative.

Nablus, Shechem (

Abraham came first to Shechem when he entered Canaan (Genesis 12:6), and God confirmed the promise to give the land to him. Later Jacob settled here, and dug a well. Joseph was buried here (Joshua 24:32).


After the Exodus, the Lord commanded Israel to go to Shechem and recite the blessings and the curses of the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 27:4). Joshua did this, and dividing the nation, “Half of them stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal” (Joshua 8:33). Shechem stood in the valley between.

When I visited the valley between the hills, I envisioned the nation of Israel shouting the blessings and the curses. cites an acoustic experiment conducted in 1879 that demonstrated how the valley would have acted as a natural amphitheater—amplifying the voices of the Hebrew nation.

During the time of the Judges, Abimelech was proclaimed king at Shechem (Judges 9:6). After Solomon, Rehoboam “went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king” (1 Kings 12:1). Jeroboam chose Shechem as the capital for the Northern Kingdom, perhaps because of the significant history there for Ephraim.

Samaria became significant in Shechem’s history because the people who later worshiped on Mount Gerizim came to be known as “Samaritans” (named after the capital Omri had chosen). After the Assyrians dragged the Northern Kingdom into exile in 722 BC, the Assyrians repopulated the area with a mixed breed—partly Jewish, partly Assyrian.

Joshua designated Shechem as a city of refuge. Probably because of its ease of access in a time of possible flight, a man-slayer could take refuge from his avenger in Shechem, one of the three cities of refuge on the west side of the Jordan (Joshua 20:7; 21:21; 1 Chronicles 6:67).

Joshua’s Challenge at Shechem

So Joshua brought the nation to Shechem again—years after their antiphonal shouting. Here Joshua reminded them that Abraham was an idolater at one time and that Jacob buried his idols and worshiped God at Shechem.

Amazingly, Jacob’s well still exists just outside of modern Nablus. Visitors can descend below a modern church built over the site. Two thousand before our time—and almost two thousand years after Jacob’s—Jesus spoke to a woman by this well. His words were similar to Joshua’s. Jesus said the worshipers God seeks are those who worship Him in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Both Joshua and Jesus stressed the need for internal sincerity and truth and not external formality. I wonder if Jesus had his namesake’s words in mind as He spoke in Sychar beside ancient Shechem.

Shechem Jacob

Political tensions in Nablus for the past decade have caused most visitors and tourists to avoid the area. But recently, the archaeological site atop Mount Gerizim has opened. Tremendous Byzantine ruins are there. Thankfully, once again visitors can come to ancient Shechem—as long as proper arrangements are made with guides.

Mount Gerizim summit Byzantine Church (

When you go, choose a spot where you can see the two mountains on either side of the valley. Read Deuteronomy 27-30 there and ponder the significant history that occurred right before you. As it did with Joshua, maybe standing there will make a difference to you too.

Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

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