Mount Gerizim, now known as Jebel et-Tor, together with Mount Ebal to the NE, is situated in the heart of the district of Samaria. Standing opposite each other, these mountains are the most eminent ones of the region and guard a significant E-W pass. Between the two mountains is a fertile valley, the Vale of Shechem, in which modern Nablus is situated. Shechem, a strong and important city of Canaan before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, stood at the eastern end of the valley, about one and a half miles (c. 2.4 kilometers) SE of Nablus. The strategic location of Mounts Gerizim and Ebal gave them military and political significance, the area also being one of religious importance.
Mount Gerizim’s summit rises over 2,800 feet (c. 853 meters) above the Mediterranean Sea. Though somewhat more than 200 feet (c. 61 meters) lower than Mount Ebal, Gerizim offers an excellent view of surrounding territory. From it one can see to the N the snowy peak of Mount Hermon, to the E the fertile valley of the Jordan, to the S the mountains in the territory of Ephraim and to the W the Plain of Sharon and the blue Mediterranean.
Abram (Abraham) once camped “near the big trees of Moreh” between Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, and there received Jehovah’s promise: “To your seed I am going to give this land.” (Gen. 12:6, 7) Jacob also camped in this vicinity.—Gen. 33:18.
In harmony with instructions given by Moses, the tribes of Israel assembled at Mounts Gerizim and Ebal under Joshua’s direction shortly after their conquest of Ai. There the people heard the reading of the blessings they would receive if they obeyed Jehovah, and the maledictions that awaited them if they disobeyed him. The tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin stood in front of Mount Gerizim. The Levites and the ark of the covenant were situated in the valley, and the other six tribes stood in front of Mount Ebal. (Deut. 11:29, 30; 27:11-13; Josh. 8:28-35) Apparently, the tribes stationed in front of Mount Gerizim responded to the blessings read in their direction, whereas the other tribes responded to the curses read in the direction of Mount Ebal. While it has been suggested that the blessings were read toward Mount Gerizim because of its greater beauty and fertility in contrast with rocky, largely barren Mount Ebal, the Bible does not furnish any information on this matter. The Law was read aloud “in front of all the congregation of Israel, together with the women and the little ones and the alien residents who walked in their midst.” (Josh. 8:35) This vast throng could hear the words from positions in front of either mountain, probably due, at least in part, to the excellent acoustics of the area.—See EBAL, MOUNT.
In the days of Israel’s judges, Gideon’s son Jotham addressed the landowners of Shechem while standing “on the top of Mount Gerizim.” (Judg. 9:7) Even today a ledge about halfway up the mountain is called “Jotham’s pulpit,” but it is merely a traditional site.
A Samaritan temple rivaling the one in Jerusalem was constructed on Mount Gerizim about 432 B.C.E. and was destroyed about 110 B.C.E. According to tradition, it was built by Sanballat and desolated by John Hyrcanus. (See Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, chap. VIII, pars. 2, 4; Book XIII, chap. IX, par. 1; Wars of the Jews, Book I, chap. II, par. 6) Even up to modern times the Samaritans have celebrated festivals such as the Passover on Mount Gerizim, at what they believe to be the site of the ancient temple. It was evidently with reference to Mount Gerizim that the Samaritan woman told Jesus Christ: “Our forefathers worshiped in this mountain; but you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where persons ought to worship.”—John 4:5, 19, 20.
As depicted on ancient coins discovered at Nablus, a temple of Jupiter having a 300-step approach once stood on Mount Gerizim. A church was built on the mountain in the fifth century C.E. and another was constructed by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Ruins suggested as being of Justinian’s time are now found on the summit.
[Picture on page 647]
Mount Gerizim (left) and Mount Ebal separated by the Vale of Shechem