Was There an Altar or a Temple in the Sacred Precinct on Mt. Gerizim?

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism

After the recent excavations by Itzhak Magen on the main summit of Mount Gerizim it has become clear that the Samari(t)an sanctuary stood within a sacred precinct in the Persian and Hellenistic times. So far, no direct evidence of the nature of the sanctuary has been unearthed. The excavator and many contemporary scholars assume it was a temple building. However, some scholars question the accuracy of this assumption and believe that the sanctuary more likely was an altar. This paper reviews both the arguments that speak for an altar and those that speak for a walled and roofed temple.

  • 4

    Edward F. Campbell“Jewish Shrines of the Hellenistic and Persian Periods,” in Symposia Celebrating the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Founding of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1900-1975), ed. Frank Moore Cross, Zion Research Foundation Occasional Publications 1-2 (Cambridge, ma: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1979), 159-67, esp. 162.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5

    Frank Moore Cross“The Priestly Tabernacle in the Light of Recent Research,” in Temples and High Places in Biblical Times: Proceedings of the Colloquium in Honor of the Centennial of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem, 14-16 March 1977, ed. Abraham Biran (Jerusalem: Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion1981), 169-80esp. 178.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 11

    See also Ferdinand Dexinger“Limits of Tolerance in Judaism: The Samaritan Example,” in Jewish and Christian Self-Definition. Vol. 2: Aspects of Judaism in the Graeco-Roman Perioded. E. P. Sanders, A. I. Baumgarten, and Alan Mendelson (Philadelphia: Fortress1981), 88-114esp. 92.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 13

    Étienne Nodet“Israelites, Samaritans, Temples, Jews,” in Samaria, Samarians, Samaritans: Studies on Bible, History and Linguisticsed. József Zsengellér, sj 66, Studia Samaritana 6 (Berlin: de Gruyter2011), 121-71esp. 122. See also Étienne Nodet, Samaritains, Juifs, Temples, CahRB 74 (Paris: Gabalda, 2010), 9: “Il y avait certainement un ou plusieurs autels, mais pas de cella.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 14

    Nodet“Israelites, Samaritans, Temples, Jews,” 123; Nodet, Samaritains, Juifs, Temples, 10.

  • 16

    Jürgen Zangenberg“The Sanctuary on Mount Gerizim: Observations on the Results of 20 Years of Excavation,” in Temple Building and Temple Cult: Architecture and Cultic Paraphernalia of Temples in the Levant (2.-1. Mill. b.c.e.): Proceedings of a Conference on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Institute of Biblical Archaeology at the University of Tübingen (28-30 May 2010), ed. Jens Kamlah and Henrike Michelau, adpv 41 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz2012), 399-418at 409.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 17

    Zangenberg“Sanctuary on Mount Gerizim,” 411.

  • 19


  • 22

    Zangenberg“Garizim – ‘Berg des Segens’,” 31.

  • 23

    Zangenberg“Sanctuary on Mount Gerizim,” 409. In Samaritan tradition, the twelve stones are the large stones that Moses commanded the Israelites to set up on Mt. Gerizim (Deut 27:4 sp, although the numbers twelve is derived from Josh. 4:3). On Magen’s interpretation see Magen, Mount Gerizim Excavations, Volume ii, passim.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 24

    Jürgen Zangenberg“Between Jerusalem and the Galilee: Samaria in the Time of Jesus,” in Jesus and Archaeologyed. James H. Charlesworth (Grand Rapids, mi: Eerdmans, 2006), 393-432, at 425; see also Zangenberg, “Garizim – ‘Berg des Segens,” 33, and Zangenberg, Frühes Christentum in Samarien: Topographische und traditionsgeschichtliche Studien zu den Samarientexten im Johannesevangelium, Texte und Arbeiten zum neutestamentlichen Zeitalter 27 (Tübingen: Francke1998), 40. Joe D. Seger, “Shechem,” oeane 5:23 also believes that the temple on Tel er-Ras was constructed by the refugees from Alexander’s expulsion of the citizens of the city of Samaria in 331 bce who resettled in Shechem, but he thinks this was the Samaritan temple, stating: the refugees “built their temple on top of the mountain, at Tell er-Ras, thus entering into a rivalry with the Jewish orthodoxy in Jerusalem.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 30

    Bezalel Porten and Ada YardeniTextbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt, Vol. 1: Letters (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University1986), text A4.9. On the Elephantine texts see also below.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 31

    See Becking“Do the Earliest Samaritan Inscriptions?” 218.

  • 32

    This was pointed out by Zangenberg“Sanctuary on Mount Gerizim,” 412. See also Nodet, “Israelites, Samaritans, Temples, Jews,” 123-24.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 35

    So KnoppersJews and Samaritans128.

  • 38

    For the following see Reinhard Pummer“The Mosaic Tabernacle as the Only Legitimate Sanctuary: The Biblical Tabernacle in Samaritansim,” in The Temple of Jerusalem: From Moses to the Messiah: Studies in Honor of Professor Louis H. Feldmaned. Steven Fine, brla 29 (Leiden: Brill2011), 126-30.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 40


  • 41

    Moshe FlorentinThe Tulida: A Samaritan Chronicle: Text, Translation, Commentary (Jerusalem: Yad Yitzchak Ben Zvi; The Rabbi David Moshe and Amalia Rosen Foundation1999) 79 (7a, line 50) [Hebrew].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 43

    StenhouseKitāb al-Tarīkh40.

  • 44


  • 49

    StenhouseKitāb al-Tarīkh76.

  • 50


  • 51


  • 52

    Ibid.94-95. The measurements are half of those of the bronze altar in Solomon’s temple according to 2 Chr 4:1.

  • 54

    StenhouseKitāb al-Tarīkh106.

  • 56


  • 58

    For the references see Pummer“Mosaic Tabernacle,” 128-29.

  • 59

    Baillet“Samaritains,” 847-948.

  • 67

    See already Martin NothGeschichte Israels (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht1966), 319 n. 1: “Den Kolonisten in Elephantine scheint dieser Gegensatz [between Samaria and Jerusalem] verborgen geblieben zu sein.” If one follows Dušek’s theory that the temple was built in the reign of Darius ii (424-405 bce) in the years between 424 and 407 bce, the Jews of Elephantine, writing between 410 and 407 bce, would not have known of its existence; see Jan Dušek, Les manuscrits araméens du Wadi Daliyeh et la Samarie vers 450-332 av. J.-C.chane 30 (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 547.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 73

    As Howard Jacobson“Theodotus ‘On the Jews’,” in Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, (ed. Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society2013), 721notes with regard to Theodotus calling Shechem a “holy city,” “there is no reason to think that a Jew could not have called Shechem a ‘holy city’ if that is what Samaritans called it. How often we hear a Christian saying ‘the holy city of Mecca’ in spite of the fact that, for the speaker, the city is not necessarily holy.”

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 74

    Reinhard Pummer“Samaritan Material Remains and Archaeology,” in The Samaritansed. Alan D. Crown (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck1989), 173 n. 211.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 77

    For a discussion see PummerThe Samaritans in Flavius Josephus19-20.

  • 81

    So already KippenbergGarizim106.

  • 83

    See Yitzhak Magen“The Cave of Machpelah in the Second Temple Period,” in Judea and Samaria Researches and Discoveriesed. Yitzhak Magen, Judea and Samaria Publications 6 (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority2008), 59-94.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 84

    Ibid.67. Achim Lichtenberger, Die Baupolitik Herodes des Großenadpv 26 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999), 143 doubts that the two buildings served as stylistic models for the Jerusalem temple.

  • 85

    Magen“Cave of Machpelah,” 74. There may have been a gate that is presently covered by construction (p. 71). Lichtenberger, on the other hand, thinks it is conceivable that Herod “sowohl Hebron wie auch Mamre als jüdische Wallfahrtsorte ausbaute”; see Lichtenberger, Baupolitik Herodes, 148-49.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 86

    Magen“Cave of Machpelah,” 89.

  • 87

    See Yitzhak Magen“Elonei Mamre: A Cultic Site from the Reign of Herod,” in Judea and Samaria Researches and Discoveriesed. Magen, Judea and Samaria Publications 6 (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority2008), 95-114.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 88


Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 163 100 3
Full Text Views 259 30 0
PDF Downloads 39 24 0