DISCUSSION

Mount Ephraim and Benjamin

40. Sychem also Sikima and Salim - (Tell Balatah)


Ancient Canaanite and Israelite city situated between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim in a fertile and well-watered valley in the heart of the central hill country of Erez Israel. Shechem has been identified with the ancient mound known as Tell al-Balata, 1 mi. (2 km.) east of modern Nablus, also called Shechem in modern Hebrew parlance. The site has been excavated by an Austrian expedition (1913-14), German expeditions (1926-32), and an American expedition from 1957 onward. In the Bible, Shechem is first mentioned in connection with Abraham's arrival in Canaan; he sanctified the place and built an altar there at "Elon [the terebinth] of Moreh" (Gen. 12:6). After leaving Succoth Jacob returned to Shechem where he bought land and his sons Simeon and Levi destroyed the city following the rape of their sister Dinah (ibid., 33:18ff.). Joseph was later buried in the plot of land purchased by Jacob (Josh. 24:32). Excavations at Shechem have revealed that the town existed already in the Middle Bronze Age II (Patriarchal period). Remains uncovered from this period include a defensive wall, a large beaten-earth platform, and a cylinder seal impression from the time of the Egyptian 12th Dynasty. The first mention of the town in Egyptian documents (in the tomb inscription of Khu-Sebek from the time of Sesostris III, 1878-1843 B.C.E., and in the later Execration Texts) belongs to the same period. The town flourished in the Hyksos period (c. 1750-1650 B.C.E.), when it was strongly fortified by a double defensive wall; another wall enclosed the acropolis and a large building, 66 X 98 ft. (20 X 30 m.), probably a temple, was also built. In the late Hyksos period (1650-1550 B.C.E.) a great temple was erected, 108 X 92 ft. (33 X 28 m.), with massive walls 18 ft. (5 1/2 m.) thick. It contained a beaten-earth altar and an entrance flanked by a pair of maevot ("pillars"). The city gates were of the triple type, made of pairs of parallel limestone blocks. After the Egyptian conquest of Canaan (18th Dynasty) Shechem suffered a decline; the temple was reconstructed on a lesser scale with much weaker walls; a huge maevah stood in front of its entrance. Shechem at this time, however, was still politically important; it was ruled by Labayu known from the Tell el-Amarna letters as an ally of the Habiru and a rebel against Pharaoh. Shechem is not mentioned among the cities conquered by the Israelites under Joshua but it was the scene of the great covenant for which Joshua assembled the tribes (Josh. 24) and it has thus been suggested that Shechem was peacefully absorbed by the invading tribes. The archaeological evidence furnishes no proof of a violent destruction of the city as noted at other Canaanite sites and its transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron period was apparently peaceful. In the period of the Judges, Shechem was the center of the kingdom of Abimelech son of Gideon (Jerubbaal) who was "made king by the terebinth of the pillar that was in Shechem," after being supplied with money from the "house of Baal-Berith" ("Lord of the Covenant," Judg. 9). Later, however, the people of Shechem rebelled against Abimelech who conquered the city and razed its walls. The various localities in the city mentioned in this narrative have been tentatively identified by the excavators: the "Beth-Millo" ("house of Millo") with the above-mentioned Hyksos temple built on a platform (Judg. 9:20); the "terebinth of the pillar" is taken to refer to a sacred tree near the maevah of the Late Bronze Age temple (ibid., 9:6); the city gate with the East Gate, the only one in use from the Late Bronze Age onward (ibid., 9:35, 40, 44). The filling of pits beneath the temple with charcoal and early 12th century B.C.E. pottery may represent evidence of Abimelech's destruction of Shechem. After Solomon's death his son Rehoboam was repudiated as king by the ten tribes at Shechem (I Kings 12). Jeroboam, crowned king in his place, established his first capital at Shechem (ibid., 12:25). Some archaeological evidence was found for his rebuilding of the East Gate (c. 922 B.C.E.). In the period of the Divided Monarchy Shechem comprised some well-built quarters, with two-storied houses, and poor sections; its other buildings include large granaries which recall the role of Shechem reflected in the Samaria ostraca as a center for the collection of taxes in kind. In about 724 B.C.E. the richer quarters of the city were apparently destroyed by the Assyrians. These houses were rebuilt and the new stratum contains a quantity of Assyrian pottery. Further destructions of the city seem to have been connected with Assyrian punitive expeditions in 673 and about 640 B.C.E. Shechem was resettled as a poor town and this settlement disappeared in the fifth century B.C.E. In the Hellenistic period the town revived as an extensive and powerful city. Its resettlement has been connected with the expulsion of the Samaritans from Samaria itself after their revolt against Alexander the Great; they established their settlement near Mt. Gerizim on which their sanctuary stood. The Hellenistic city was destroyed in 129 B.C.E. by John Hyrcanus; great amounts of earth were spread over the remains and the mound was leveled off. The site later contained an insignificant village. Eusebius (Onom. 150:1ff.) and the author of the Madaba Map still distinguish between the site of Shechem and the city of Nablus (Neapolis) established in 72 B.C.E. but most later writers erroneously equate the two.

Michael Avi-Yonah, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Shechem"


Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 49)
The text is almost literally quoted from Eus.On. 150: 1-7. The famous city, often mentioned in the Old Testament and elsewhere, is identical with Tall Balata (coord. 176-180) east of Nablus. The name Salem is taken from Gen. 14:18. The enigmatic city of Melchizedek, 'king of Salem' and 'priest of God Most High', has been identified with Shechem, with Salumias south of Skythopolis and, of course, with Jerusalem. There is, indeed, a village called Salim (coord. 181-179), 4 km east of ancient Shechem. The mosaicist, following Eusebius against most ancient authors, distinguishes between Shechem and Neapolis, although Tall Balata was scarcely populated in Byzantine times.


General plan of historical sites around Nablus

Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994, s.v. "Platanus")
Balata was perhaps Platanus, a Samaritan place of worship with a holy tree.

For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Sychem", 238.

Map Section 5 Place Sources

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Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:39:27
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
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copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000