A mountain now identified as Jebel Eslamiyeh (Har ʽEval), situated in the district of Samaria. Mount Ebal is opposite Mount Gerizim, these mountains being separated by a beautiful, narrow valley, the Vale of Shechem (Nablus Valley), in which nestles the city of Nablus, not far from ancient Shechem. Only its lower slopes sustain such vegetation as vines and olive trees, the higher elevations being quite barren and rocky. Like other mountains in Samaria, Ebal consists of a limestone core with an outer shell of chalk. It stands to the NE of Mount Gerizim and rises to a peak of over 900 m (3,000 ft) above the level of the Mediterranean. Mounts Ebal and Gerizim are situated to the W of the Jordan River.—De 11:29, 30.
Looking N from the summit of Ebal, one can see the greater part of the land of Galilee and also Mount Hermon. The heights in the vicinity of Jerusalem can be seen to the S, and the Plain of Sharon and the Mediterranean to the W. To the E it is possible to see as far as the Hauran across the Jordan. Abram (Abraham) once camped in the valley between these two mountains, near the big trees of Moreh.—Ge 12:6.
Moses told the Israelites that when Jehovah brought them into the land that they were going to possess, they “must also give the blessing upon Mount Gerizim and the malediction upon Mount Ebal.” (De 11:29, 30) He also instructed that great uncut stones be selected, whitewashed with lime, and set on Mount Ebal. An altar was to be erected there, upon which sacrifices were to be presented to Jehovah. Moses also said, “You must write on the stones all the words of this law, making them quite clear.”—De 27:1-8.
After Israel crossed the Jordan, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali were to “stand for the malediction on Mount Ebal,” and the other tribes were to “stand to bless the people on Mount Gerizim.” At that time the blessings to be enjoyed by those obeying God’s law, as well as the curses or maledictions to be experienced by those breaking his law, would be recited. (De 27:12-14) When the curses for disobedience were pronounced, all the people were to say “Amen!” that is, “So be it!” to show they agreed that practicers of wickedness merited condemnation.—De 27:15-26.
After Israel’s victory at Ai, Joshua complied with Moses’ instructions, building an altar to Jehovah in Mount Ebal. Upon stones (perhaps, but not necessarily, those of the altar itself) he wrote “a copy of the law of Moses that he had written before the sons of Israel.” Then, in front of the congregation of Israel (including the alien residents) assembled as Moses had directed, Joshua “read aloud all the words of the law, the blessing and the malediction, according to all that is written in the book of the law.” Half the congregation stood in front of Mount Ebal and the other half in front of Mount Gerizim, the ark of the covenant and the Levites being between the two groups. (Jos 8:30-35) The slopes of Mount Ebal in relation to the slopes of Mount Gerizim provided excellent acoustics for this occasion. Notably, too, these things occurred approximately in the heart of the land of promise and in the vicinity where Jehovah promised the land to Israel’s forefather Abram (Abraham).—Ge 12:6, 7.
Jewish tradition holds that the Levites, standing between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, faced Mount Gerizim when pronouncing a blessing, to which the people assembled there answered “Amen!” Then it is said that they turned to face Mount Ebal and pronounced one of the curses, to which those assembled on that side said “Amen!” The Scriptures, however, do not outline the exact procedure followed on that notable occasion.
At Deuteronomy 27:4 it is said that the stones were to be set up in Mount “Gerizim” according to the Samaritan Pentateuch. However, the reading is “Ebal” according to the Masoretic text, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Greek Septuagint. Joshua 8:30-32 indicates that it was on Mount Ebal that Joshua set up the stones on which “a copy of the law of Moses” was written.—See GERIZIM, MOUNT.
[Picture on page 671]
A view from Mt. Gerizim across toward Mt. Ebal