Josh 8:30-35 Joshua builds an altar on the slopes of Mt Ebal (above the Vale of Shechem, to the north of Ai) (see 4 on Map 48 & Deuteronomy 27:4-8). He reads aloud the whole of the Law of Moses including the blessings if they follow the LORD and the curses if they abandon him (see Deuteronomy 11:26-30).
Mt Ebal looking across the Vale of Shechem to Mt Gerizim (Someone35)
Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim
Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim stood at the very centre of the ‘promised land’ of Canaan. Dominating the hill country to the north and south of the Vale of Shechem, this location had a great religious significance to the descendants of Jacob (the people of ‘Israel’) when they began to conquer the land of Canaan in c.1406 BC.
It was here at Shechem (near modern-day Nablus), over four hundred years earlier, that Abram had built an altar by the sacred tree of Moreh in c.1855BC to commemorate his meeting with God (see Genesis 12:6). Here, in c.1691BC, his grandson Jacob (‘Israel’) set up an altar to El Elohe Israel (‘God, the God of Israel’) (see Genesis 33:18-20) and later buried the household gods brought from Haran, symbolising a turning away from idolatry and a commitment to the one true God (see Genesis 35:4).
Following the conquest of Ai, Joshua assembled the Israelites on the slopes of Mt Ebal to read aloud the Law of Moses (see Joshua 8:30-35). Half the people stood facing Mt Gerizim across the valley, and half stood facing the summit of Mt Ebal, as commanded by Moses (in Deuteronomy 11:29): “You are to announce the blessings from Mt Gerizim and the curses from Mt Ebal” (see also Deuteronomy 27:12 - 28:68).
Shechem became an important religious centre after the conquest of Canaan. At the end of the campaign, Joshua addressed all the people here and urged them to be faithful to the LORD their God (see Joshua 24:1). He renewed the covenant with God and set up a large stone at Shechem to act as a witness (see Joshua 24:25-26). Later, Joseph’s body, brought from Egypt, was laid to rest at Shechem (see Joshua 24:32).
After the fall of Samaria (the capital of Israel) in 721 BC, and the subsequent intermarriage between the few remaining Israelites and the new Assyrian settlers, the mixed-race ‘Samaritans’ built their own temple on the slopes of Mt Gerizim. These slopes had been ‘blessed’ at the time of the conquest of Canaan (see above), and the Samaritans believed Abraham had prepared to sacrifice Isaac at this spot (see Genesis 22:1-14). The Samaritan temple on Mt Gerizim rivalled the Jewish temple in Jerusalem until it was destroyed in c.128 BC. This is the ‘temple’ referred to by the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well (see John 4:20).
Today, Samaritans still slaughter a ceremonial lamb at Passover on the slopes of Mt Gerizim, though the remains of the ancient Samaritan sanctuary on the summit of Mt Gerizim are now dominated by the remnants of a 5th century Byzantine church.