The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has just opened the archaeological site on Mount Gerizim in Samaria. A few years ago we drove up to see the Samaritan Passover sacrifice (quite an experience!) but the site was closed. This is the first opportunity in many years to visit and I can report that it’s definitely worth it. Mount Gerizim is one of two mountains that overlook the West Bank city of Nablus (in Hebrew Shechem, of which there are many Biblical references). Mount Gerizim at 886 meters above sea level (higher than Jerusalem) is one of the highest mountains in Israel. Today, the Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza and an Israeli settlement, Har Bracha are situated on the mountain ridge.
In Deuteronomy 27:2-13 Moses and the Elders command the nation to build an altar of large, natural white-washed stones on Mount Ebal (the mountain across from Gerizim) and to make peace offerings on the altar, eat there and write the words of the Law on the stones when they cross the Jordan River into the land of Israel. The Israelites are then to split into two groups, one to stay on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses, while the other goes to Mount Gerizim and pronounce blessings.
According to the Samaritan version of Deuteronomy and a scroll fragment found at Qumran, the instruction where to build the altar is Mount Gerizim not Ebal. The mountain is sacred to the Samaritans who regard it, rather than Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on Mount Moria, as the location chosen by God for the Holy Temple (Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you – Exodus 25:8).
At the end of the 5th century BCE, Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, constructed a temple on Mount Gerizim and a large city grew around it and flourished during the Hellenistic period. Religious tension between the Jews and the Samaritans led John Hyrcanus to destroy the temple on Gerizim in the 2nd century BCE according to Josephus (in the Talmud, it is destroyed by Simon the Just). Later when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the Samaritans were barred from worshiping on Mount Gerizim. In 484CE the Byzantine ruler Zenon constructed a fortified monastery with a Christian octagonal martyrium inside, in honor of Mary Mother of God (Theotokos) – the plan is virtually identical to the Kathisma church on the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
There are the remains of quite intricate mosaic floors in some of the areas.
In 529CE, Emperor Justinian made Samaritanism illegal, extended the enclosure to the north (destroying the Samaritan temple to its foundations) and built a protective wall around it.
According to Muslim tradition, the tomb of Sheikh Ghanem one of Salah al-Din’s commanders was built on the foundations of the northeastern tower.
In the excavations of the city both public and residential buildings were uncovered as well as olive presses.