Daily Archives: March 11, 2010

The sacred standing stone at Shechem

Robert J. Bull, in a 1960 article in Biblical Archaeologist, tells the story of the earlier discovery of the sacred standing stone that still stands in the courtyard of the temple of Baal-Berith at Shechem.

“Sellin records that the altar base, when uncovered in 1926, was 2.20 meters long and 1.65 meters wide. Today there remain only a few stones arranged in an irregular pattern roughly 1 by 1 1/2 meters in extent. A large hollowed-out stone base and a broken piece of hard white limestone were uncovered by Sellin just southeast of the altar. The hollow in the base was 40 centimeters deep, and measured 45 cms. in width and 1.65 meters in length, while the limestone slab was 1.45 meters by 40 cms., and stood 1.65 meters in height. Since the limestone slab would fit into the base neatly; Sellin concluded he had found the main standing-stone or maṣṣebah of the city. A story which I am not able to confirm relates that Dr. Aage Schmidt, visiting the tell during a temporary absence of Sellin, came upon one of the workmen breaking up the limestone slab with a maul and prevailed upon him to cease until Sellin could be summoned!

Thus it was that some portion of the maṣṣebah was saved. In 1956, the Drew-McCormick Expedition found the socket and slab cast down from the bank of altar fill into the palace area some 6 meters below. One end of the base had been broken off, so that only an open ended niche remained, four-fifths of the original length. Of the maṣṣebah, only 1.45 meters of its original height remained on one side and only 62 cms. on the other. With great effort, a team of workers tugged and hauled these massively heavy stones back up onto the forecourt of the temple, securing the standing stone in its original base with cement. Once again the maṣṣebah dominates the area from a point where it probably stood originally, at least from what we can learn from the drawings and photographs in the Sellin and Welter reports” (Robert J. Bull, Biblical Archaeologist : Vol. 23 1-4, electronic ed. (American Schools of Oriental Research, 2001, c1960).

The broken sacred standing stone (massebah) stands in the courtyard in front of the entrance to the Temple of Baal-Berith. The near-barren Mount Ebal, where the curses of the law were read (Deuteronomy 27); Joshua 8:30-33), is visible to the north.

The sacred standing stone at Shechem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sacred standing stone at Shechem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dr. Bryant Wood says,

Since the temple existed in Joshua’s day, it is possible this was the “large stone” he set up “under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord” at Shechem (Josh. 24:26). The stela is undoubtedly the “pillar” where Abimelech was made king (v. 6)” (Bryant Wood. “From Ramesses to Shiloh.” Giving the Sense. Kregel, 2003).