Diviners' Oak (Shechem) and surrounding region
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Gaal spoke again and said, "Behold, people are coming down by the middle of the land, and one company comes by the way of the oak of Meonenim."
she'-kem (shekhem, "shoulder"; Suchem, he Sikima, ta Sikima, etc.; the King James Version gives "Sichem" in Genesis 12:6; and "Sychem" in Acts 7:16):
This place is first mentioned in connection with Abraham's journey from Haran. At the oak of Moreh in the vicinity he reared his first altar to the Lord in Palestine (Genesis 12:6 f). It was doubtless by this oak that Jacob, on his return from Paddan-aram, buried "the strange (the American Standard Revised Version "foreign") gods" (Genesis 35:4). Hither he had come after his meeting with Esau (Genesis 33:18). Eusebius, in Onomasticon, here identifies Shechem with Shalem; but see SHALEM. To the East of the city Jacob pitched his tent in a "parcel of ground" which he had bought from Hamor, Shechem's father (Genesis 33:19). Here also he raised an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel, "God, the God of Israel" (Genesis 33:20). Then follows the story of Dinah's defilement by Shechem, son of the city's chief; and of the treacherous and terrible vengeance exacted by Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34). To the rich pasture land near Shechem Joseph came to seek his brethren (Genesis 37:12). It is mentioned as lying to the West of Michmethath (el-Makhneh) on the boundary of Manasseh (Joshua 17:7). It was in the territory of Ephraim; it was made a city of refuge, and assigned to the Kohathite Levites (Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:21). Near the city the Law was promulgated (Deuteronomy 27:11 Joshua 8:33). When his end was approaching Joshua gathered the tribes of Israel here and addressed to them his final words of counsel and exhortation (chapter 24). Under the oak in the neighboring sanctuary he set up the stone of witness (24:26). The war of conquest being done, Joseph's bones were buried in the parcel of ground which Jacob had bought, and which fell to the lot of Joseph's descendants (24:33). Abimelech, whose mother was a native of the city, persuaded the men of Shechem to make him king (Judges 9:1-6), evidently seeking a certain consecration from association with "the oak of the pillar that was in Shechem." Jotham's parable was spoken from the cliff of Gerizim overhanging the town (Judges 9:7). After a reign of three years Abimelech was rejected by the people. He captured the city, razed it to the foundations, and sowed it with salt. It was then the seat of Canaanite idolatry, the temple of Baal-berith being here (Judges 9:4, 46). In the time of the kings we find that the city was once more a gathering-place of the nation. It was evidently the center, especially for the northern tribes; and hither Rehoboam came in the hope of getting his succession to the throne confirmed (1 Kings 12:1 2 Chronicles 10:1). At the disruption Jeroboam fortified the city and made it his residence (2 Chronicles 10:25; Ant, VIII, viii, 4). The capital of the Northern Kingdom was moved, however, first to Tirzah and then to Samaria, and Shechem declined in political importance. Indeed it is not named again in the history of the monarchy. Apparently there were Israelites in it after the captivity, some of whom on their way to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem met a tragic fate at the hands of Ishmael ben Nethaniah (Jeremiah 41:5). It became the central city of the Samaritans, whose shrine was built on Mt. Gerizim (Sirach 50:26; Ant, XI, viii, 6; XII, i, 1; XIII, iii, 4). Shechem was captured by John Hyrcanus in 132 B.C. (Ant., XIII, ix, 1; BJ, I, ii, 6). It appears in the New Testament only in the speech of Stephen (Acts 7:16, King James Version "Sychem"). Some (e.g. Smith, DB, under the word) would identify it with Sychar of John 4:5; but see SYCHAR. Under the Romans it became Flavia Neapolis. In later times it was the seat of a bishopric; the names of five occupants of the see are known.
2. Location and Physical Features:
There is no doubt as to the situation of ancient Shechem. It lay in the pass which cuts through Mts. Ephraim, Ebal and Gerizim, guarding it on the North and South respectively. Along this line runs the great road which from time immemorial has formed the easiest and the quickest means of communication between the East of the Jordan and the sea. It must have been a place of strength from antiquity. The name seems to occur in Travels of a Mohar (Max Muller, Asien u. Europa, 394), "Mountain of Sahama" probably referring to Ebal or Gerizim. The ancient city may have lain somewhat farther East than the modern Nablus, in which the Roman name Neapolis survives. The situation is one of great beauty. The city lies close to the foot of Gerizim. The terraced slopes of the mountain rise steeply on the South. Across the valley, musical with the sound of running water, the great bulk of Ebal rises on the North, its sides, shaggy with prickly pear, sliding down into grain fields and orchards. The copious springs which supply abundance of water rise at the base of Gerizim. The fruitful and well-wooded valley winds westward among the hills. It is traversed by the carriage road leading to Jaffa and the sea. Eastward the valley opens upon the plain of Makhneh. To the East of the city, in a recess at the base of Gerizim, is the sanctuary known as Rijal el-`Amud, literally, "men of the column" or "pillar," where some would locate the ancient "oak of Moreh" or "of the pillar." Others would find it in a little village farther East with a fine spring, called BalaTa, a name which may be connected with balluT, "oak." Still farther to the East and near the base of Ebal is the traditional tomb of Joseph, a little white-domed building beside a luxuriant orchard. On the slope of the mountain beyond is the village of `Askar; see SYCHAR. To the South of the vale is the traditional Well of Jacob; see JACOB'S WELL. To the Southwest of the city is a small mosque on the spot where Jacob is said to have mourned over the blood-stained coat of Joseph. In the neighboring minaret is a stone whereon the Ten Commandments are engraved in Samaritan characters. The main center of interest in the town is the synagogue of the Samaritans, with their ancient manuscript of the Pentateuch.
3. Modern Shechem:
The modern town contains about 20,000 inhabitants, the great body of them being Moslems. There are some 700 or 800 Christians, chiefly belonging to the Greek Orthodox church. The Samaritans do not total more than 200. The place is still the market for a wide district, both East and West of Jordan. A considerable trade is done in cotton and wool. Soap is manufactured in large quantities, oil for this purpose being plentifully supplied by the olive groves. Tanning and the manufacture of leather goods are also carried on. In old times the slopes of Ebal were covered with vineyards; but these formed a source of temptation to the "faithful." They were therefore removed by authority, and their place taken by the prickly pears mentioned above.