Scenes From the Promised Land
Gerizim—‘On This Mountain We Worshiped’
THE Samaritan woman at the well. Does not that phrase bring to your mind the touching account of Jesus’ witnessing informally to a woman at “Jacob’s fountain” in Sychar, a Samaritan city? Would you like to sharpen your view of that meaningful event?—John 4:5-14.
Note the two mountains above, which are about 30 miles [50 km] north of Jerusalem.a On the left (south) is tree-covered Gerizim; abundant springs contribute to its fertility and beauty. To the right (north) is Ebal, slightly higher but rocky and barren.
Between them runs the fertile valley of Shechem. Recall that when God’s friend Abram (later named Abraham) traveled down through the Promised Land, he paused at Shechem. Here he built an altar to Jehovah, who had just appeared to him and promised this land to his seed. (Genesis 12:5-7) What an appropriate place to make such a promise, in the heart of the land! From the summit of either Gerizim or Ebal, the patriarch could view large portions of the Promised Land. The city of Shechem (modern Nablus) was a vital hub, being on the north-south mountain road close to an east-west road between the coast and the Jordan Valley.
Abraham’s altar was only one notable religious development here. Later, Jacob purchased land in this area and carried on true worship. He also dug or paid for the digging of a deep well, near the base of Gerizim. Centuries later the Samaritan woman told Jesus: “Our forefather Jacob, who gave us the well . . . , drank out of it.” It may have been spring fed, which could explain why the apostle John termed it “Jacob’s fountain.”
The mention of true worship in connection with Gerizim and Ebal may also call to your mind that Joshua brought Israel here, as Moses had directed. Joshua built an altar on Ebal. Imagine half of the people in front of Gerizim and the rest before Ebal as Joshua read “the law, the blessing and the malediction.” (Joshua 8:30-35; Deuteronomy 11:29) Years later, Joshua returned and in final admonition said: “As for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah.” The people covenanted to do the same. (Joshua 24:1, 15-18, 25) But would they, really?
The answer may help you to understand Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. You see, the true worship followed by Abraham, Jacob, and Joshua did not continue here in Samaria.
After the northern ten tribes broke away, they turned to calf worship. So Jehovah permitted the Assyrians to conquer this area in 740 B.C.E. They carried away much of the population, bringing in as replacements foreigners from elsewhere in the Assyrian Empire, worshipers of strange gods. Some of those pagans likely intermarried with Israelites and learned some teachings of true worship, such as circumcision. But the resulting form of Samaritan worship certainly was not fully pleasing to God.—2 Kings 17:7-33.
In their mixed worship, the Samaritans accepted as Scripture only the first five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. About the fourth century B.C.E., they put up a temple on Mount Gerizim, in competition with God’s temple in Jerusalem. In time the Gerizim temple was dedicated to Zeus (or, Jupiter) and was eventually destroyed. Still, Samaritan worship continued to be centered on Gerizim.
To this day, Samaritans hold an annual Passover celebration on Gerizim. A number of lambs are slaughtered. Their carcasses are dipped in barrels of boiling water so that the wool can be plucked off, and then the meat is cooked in pits for hours. At midnight hundreds of Samaritans, many from Jerusalem, have their paschal meal. On the left, you can see the Samaritan high priest, his head covered, officiating at a Passover celebration on Mount Gerizim.
Remember what the Samaritan woman told Jesus: “Our forefathers worshiped in this mountain.” Jesus set her, and us too, straight: “The hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you people worship the Father. . . . Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”—John 4:20-24.
a You can examine this photograph in larger size in the 1993 Calendar of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
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