Tag Archives: Palestinian Authority

Excavations at Shechem

Dutch and Palestinian archaeologists are working at Tel Balata, the site of biblical Shechem, under the auspices of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities. The Associated Press report in Ha’aretz provides a brief summary of archaeological work at the site over the past century. Fox News reports on the excavation here.

We wrote about a visit to Shechem, with a summary of the biblical history of the site, here.

Other significant posts are listed for your convenience.

  • The Temple of Baal-Berith at Shechem here.
  • The Entrance to the Temple of Baal-Berith here.
  • The Sacred Standing Stone at Shechem here.

The photo below was made in December, 2009. The site of Shechem is in the foreground. Mount Gerizim is in the distance. Notice how the apartment buildings are crowded around the archaeological park. The site was in fairly good condition at the time, but there were no signs marking the ruins.

View of Mount Gerizim from Shechem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Mount Gerizim from Shechem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in 2009.

Below is a photo I made in 1973. Notice that there are more trees on Mount Gerizim, and fewer buildings around Tel Balata.

View of Mount Gerizim from Shechem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in 1973.

View of Mount Gerizim from Shechem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in 1973.

This next photo was made from atop Mount Gerizim in 1982. Ancient Shechem is located near the center of the photo below the line of trees. The location of Jacob’s Well is just out of the photo on the right.

A view of Shechem from Mount Gerizim in 1982. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view of Shechem from Mount Gerizim in 1982. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shechem has never been a very popular stop for tourists. Many will stop to see Jacob’s well without knowing that this important biblical site is just blocks away. We are delighted to know that archaeological work is going on in the West Bank Palestinian territory.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Brooks Cochran.

Jericho celebrates 10,000 years on 10-10-10

Since the excavations of Tell es-Sultan by Kathleen Kenyon (1952-1958), Jericho has publicized itself as the oldest city in the world. Kenyon thought she had found the earliest known fortifications.

Tell es-Sultan has been neglected as a tourist site over the years. In May I was pleased to see that the site had been cleaned up a bit with clearly marked paths and new signs. One new thing I saw was a fountain marked as “Elisha Spring Fountain.” It is probably the same water one would find in the toilet [for those who have not traveled outside the USA, that is a Restroom].

Jericho Fountain and Tel es-Sultan

Elisha Spring Fountain & Tell es-Sultan (Jericho). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Elisha’s Spring is on the east side of the tell. See our earlier post here. But, back to the 10,000 years. The mosaic in front of the fountain touts Jericho as “the lowest place on earth” and  “10,000 years old.” In fact, Jericho is about 82o feet below sea level (Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., Vol. 11).

Jericho sign in 2010 claims to be oldest city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jericho sign in 2010 claims to be oldest city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Palestinian Prime Minister held his weekly Cabinet meeting at Jericho Sunday “to mark the town’s birthday.” Authorities said the choice of October 10, 2010 (10-10-10) was random.

Biblical Jericho attracts a steady flow of pilgrims, but the small Jordan Valley oasis is making a major push these days to become a magnet for tourists, presenting itself as the oldest city on earth. Marking the 10,000th birthday Sunday is entirely random, though, with archaeologists saying they could be off by hundreds of years in dating the first human settlement in the area.

Read the complete article, which is mostly about Hisham’s Palace from the 8th century A.D., here.

One Sunday my wife and I were eating with an attorney and his wife. Through the window we could see the sign of the restaurant next door. It said something about serving the world’s best chicken. I asked my friend about the legality of signs like that. He said it was “acknowledged puffery.” I suspect we should view the signs at Jericho, and a lot of other places, in the same light.

Todd Bolen has a post about this subject, with additional photos, on the Bible Places Blog here.

French to train Bethlehem museum staff

Ma’an News Agency reports here,

France and the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities signed an agreement to build a museum in the city of Bethlehem, under a heritage preservation and promotion project.

The agreement, for some 700,000 Euro ($915,460 US), was signed on Wednesday in Bethlehem, and will finance the establishment of a national museum in the Old City of Bethlehem, the training of museographers in cooperation with French institutions including The Louvre and the French National Heritage Institution, as well as fund long-term planning and management.

The two year project is expected to begin this fall.

It has become difficult for tourists to visit Bethlehem. There are several reasons I can think of at the moment.

  • The security wall that Israel has built around Bethlehem. In order to visit Bethlehem the tour bus must pass from Israel into the Palestinian Authority controlled Bethlehem. Going in is often easier than coming out. Most of the time tourists are not required to leave the bus, but sometimes we must leave the bus and walk through the check point. Tourists probably only do this once or twice in their life, but honorable citizens of the PA must go through this every day they work in Israel.
  • The Palestinian Authority has not made it easy, either. Buses formerly parked in Manger Square near the Church of Nativity. I think it is good that they  now must park in a new parking garage. Drivers should be allowed to drive closer to the center of town to drop off passengers. Some older tourists find it difficult to climb the steep hill to visit the center.

Before I die I would like to see the wall that separates Bethlehem and Jerusalem dismantled and a portion of it placed in the Bethlehem museum as a reminder of the past. This requires an improvement in conditions now existing in the Middle East.

The Wall as seen in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Security Wall as seen in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Museum note, Joseph Lauer.

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).

The entrance to the temple of Baal-Berith

Edward F. Campbell, in a report on the 1960 excavation at Shechem, tells about Sellin’s discovery more than three decades earlier.

“While this work was underway, he found time to study some stones in the court before the temple. On each side of the door there was a large stone block, one of them nearly 4M ft. long, the other nearly 6 ft. long. Both had long depressions cut into their tops, and Sellin had first thought that they were watering troughs—though how such small depressions could have served any such purpose in front of the temple is difficult to imagine. Directly in front of the door in the courtyard to the southeast was a much larger stone with a similar though much deeper and wider trough, which also had been interpreted as a receptacle for water. Now, however, Sellin took note of a large, flat stone with rounded sides lying nearby. Though broken and much of it gone the reminder is still over 5 ft. high, some 4M ft. wide and 1 m ft. thick. Experiment showed that the smooth flat stone had been made to stand up in the trough, so Sellin put the two together. Two more flat stones were found to fit together in the left (southwestern) stone base beside the temple door. Sellin concluded that these three could only be installations of sacred standing stones that once framed the temple entrance—stones that in Old Testament Hebrew are called massebot” (Biblical Archaeologist: Vol. 20 1-4, electronic ed. (American Schools of Oriental Research).

The stone bases on either side of the entrance to the temple are visible today, and marked here by the red arrows. The base on the left has the broken sacred standing stone in place.

Courtyard and entrance to temple of Baal-Berith. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Notice the courtyard in front of the temple entrance. In a future post we will report how the largest standing stone was almost destroyed.

The temple of Baal-Berith at Shechem

The book of Judges describes the situation at Shechem after the death of Gideon.

After Gideon died, the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They made Baal-Berith their god. (Judges 8:33 NET)

Abimelech, the son of Gideon was such a desperate politician that he took money from the Shechemites from the temple of Baal-Berith (Judges 9:4). Dr. Bryant Wood describes the temple of Baal-Berith.

References to the “house of Baal-berith” (v. 4), “Beth-millo” (v. 6,20), “house of their god” (v. 27), “tower of Shechem” (vv. 46,47,49), and “temple of El-berith” (v. 46), all appear to be the same structure at Shechem. Berit is the Hebrew word for covenant, so the temple was for “Baal of the covenant.”

A large fortress (or Migdal) temple discovered on the acropolis of Shechem has been identified as the temple of Judges 9. It was  constructed in the seventeenth century B.C. and lasted until the destruction of the city by Abimelech in the twelfth century B.C. The largest temple yet found in Canaan, it measures 21.2 x 26.3 m, and has foundations 5.1 m thick that supported a multistoried superstructure of mud bricks and timber. On the east, two towers containing stairwells to the upper stories flanked the entrance. Inside, two rows of columns, three in each row, divided the space into a nave and two side aisles (cf. vv. 46-49)” (Bryant Wood. “From Ramesses to Shiloh.” Giving the Sense. Kregel, 2003).

The photo shows the foundation of the Temple of Baal-Berith at Shechem. This structure was brought to light in the

Temple of Baal-Berith in center of photo. Ebal in distance. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Temple of Baal-Berith in center of photo. Gerizim (L) & Ebal (R). Photo by F. Jenkins.

G. Ernest Wright says, “Before 1903 biblical geographers all thought that Shechem was once located where the modern city of Nablus is.” They associated the Roman city of Neapolis with Nablus. The German scholar Herman Thiersch found the walls of “old Shechem” June 26, 1903. He said, “The place is somewhat under cultivation with vegetables and seed-crops.” (G. Ernest Wright, Biblical Archaeologist: Vol. 20 1-4, electronic ed. (Philadelphia: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2001, c1957). This site is identified with the mound of Tell Balata.

The first excavations at Shechem were conducted by Prof. Ernst Sellin in 1913 and 1914. More extensive excavations took place between 1926-1928.

Shechem in biblical history

Tell Balata (Shechem) was excavated by Germans working periodically between 1907 and 1934. In 1956, G. Ernest Wright led the Drew-McCormick Expedition. Work continued in 1969 under the direction of Edward F. Campbell.
I had the privilege of visiting the ruins of Shechem last December. At the time I thought how sad to see such an important site neglected. Shechem is important in biblical history. Some of the significant events associated with the city are listed below.
  • Shechem is the first city of Canaan mentioned in the Bible. The land promise to Abraham was restated here (Genesis 12:6-7).
  • Jacob and his family settled at Shechem (Genesis 33:18). Jacob purchased a parcel of ground and erected an altar here.
  • Joseph’s brothers had gone from Bethlehem to near Shechem to graze their flocks (Genesis 37:12-13).
  • After entering Canaan, the Israelites gathered at Shechem on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal to hear Joshua read the blessings and cures of the Law (Joshua 8:30-34; cf. Deuteronomy 28-30).
  • Shechem was within the territory of Ephraim and served as a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7; 21:21).
  • Joseph was buried in a parcel of ground bought by Jacob (Joshua 24:32).
  • The Shechemites supported Abimelech in his bid to be ruler and gave him money from their temple of Baal-berith (Judges 8:33; 9). Jotham’s addressed the people of Shechem from Mount Gerizim with a fable (Judges 9:7ff.).
  • After the Exile, Shechem became a major religious center of the Samaritans. Their temple was built on Mount Gerizim (John 4:20-21).
  • Jesus visited Jacob’s Well near Shechem (John 4).

The photo below shows the excavated ruins of Tell Balata (Shechem). Mount Gerizim is on the left (to the south). Mount Ebal is on the right (to the North). The view is toward the west. The modern Arab town of Nablus is in the valley between these two mountains.

Shechem in the valley between Mount Gerizim & Mount Ebal.

Shechem — in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.

Palestinian archaeology gets a boost at Shechem

Ha’aretz reports that the Dutch government has donated 300,000 euros (about $408,000) to the Palestinian Authority to finance the excavation and conservation of Tell Balata in Nablus. This is the biblical city of Shechem. The full account is here.

The site, according to the Ma’an report, is listed by UNESCO in the Inventory of Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites of Potential Outstanding Universal Value in Palestine, with experts estimating some of its towers and buildings from the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age dating back 5,000 years.
The Netherlands’ representative to the PA, Jack Twiss Quarles van Ufford, said the initiate was meant to bolster PA Prime Minster Salam Fayyad’s plan to work toward a unilateral declaration of Palestinian by 2011.
“The creation of institutions can only be sustainable if it goes hand in hand with the strengthening of the cultural identity of the Palestinian people,” Twiss told Ma’an, adding that “sites like Tell Balata are simply too important to be neglected.”
The photo shows the previously excavated ruins of Tell Balata (Shechem) in the valley below Mount Gerizim.
Ruins of Tell Balata (Shechem) below Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of Tell Balata (Shechem) below Mount Gerizim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the next post we will note the importance of Shechem in biblical history.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer