University archaeologists believe they have uncovered the site where in the 19th century before Christ the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob worshipped, where Joshua rallied the tribes of Israel, and where Abimeleeh was crowned as Israel's first king.
At such a sacred site in the old Biblical city of Shechem in Jordan an altar and a sacred oak existed, according to a tradition preserved orally by the Hebrew people for some 1000 years before the Bible was first written down during the 11th century B.C.
The archaeologists--from over a dozen American and foreign institutions--located Shechem's sacred area this summer below the courtyard of the city's temple-fortress. The excavations, which were begun in 1957 and resumed in 1960 and this summer, have provided scholars with the long history of the sacred area.
An Accurate Record
According to G. Ernest Wright of Harvard, who directed the archaeological team, this accurate historical record can be critically compared with the ancient oral traditions. The achievement is similar to the light shed on the Greek legend of Troy by Schliemann's excavations in Asia Minor.
The Drew-McCormick-Harvard expedition at Shechem is the largest archaeological dig in the Holy Land and has become an important site for training graduate students and teachers in Palestinian archaeology.
Shechem was one of the great cities of its area in ancient times; its 4000 years of history now lie buried in a ten-acre mound, or "tell," just east of Nablus in Jordan. When it flourished during ancient Egyptian and Biblical times, it occupied a strategie position at the eastern opening of the pass between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerasim. At the edge of the site is the modern village of Balatah, whose beautiful spring and nearby Jacob's Well once supplied Shechem with water.
Shechem is the first city mentioned in Bible; when Abraham and Jacob visited it, the city was a stronghold of an empire ruled from Egypt. It was during this early era at the very beginning of what is called the "Hyksos" age (13th century B.C.) that Shechem's inhabitants enclosed the sacred place within a large courtyard, with rooms for priests and pilgrims adjoining it. They also erected a fortification wall outside it to put the sacred area within the confines of the city.
Aftre having been rebuilt four times in a century, this structure was abandoned about 1650 B.C., the ruins covered over, and a massive temple-fortress erected--the largest in Palestine. A new 35-foot-high wall was built to protect the temple, and two great city gates constructed. It remained in Egyptian hands for 400 years until the 13th century B.C., when the Israelites under Joshua conquered the land of Palestine.
Throughout this period Shechem was the religious, as well as political, center of north-central Palestine, long before Jerusalem took over that role under King David.
After the death of King Solomon, all Israel assembled at Shochem to make Rohebeam, the son of Solomon, their king. But there the ten tribes of Israel revolted and joined together into the Northern Kingdom of Israel, with Shochem as its first capital.
Rival of Jerusalem
Later during the time of Alexander the Great, the Samaritans, a dissident religious sect, tried to make the city the rival of Jerusalem. (The Samaritans believed that Mt. Gerasim, rather than the sacred hill of Jerusalem, was the mountain where God first entered into covenant agreement with his people.) Shochem's final destruction occurred about 107 B.C., when the Samaritan capital was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, high priest and prince of the Judeans in Jerusalem.
The Old Testament story of the Israelites first began to be written down during the 10th century B.C., though a variety of poems, legal documents, and lists were perhaps written from before this. But the history of the Israelites in the Holy Land began hundreds of years earlier, and the first scribes relied upon oral traditions that had passed down from generation to generation. The tradition of a sacred area, with an altar and a sacred oak, in the city of Shochem begins in Genesis and reappears from time to time in the Old Testament down to the book of Judges.