Shechem ('Sichem, Shkhem or Shachmu'Sh-chea-mm, Hebrew: שְׁכֶם / שְׁכָם, Standard Šəḫem Tiberian Šəḵem; "Shoulder", modern Tell Balatah (Balata al-Balad) West Bank, present-day Salim and 6 km east of present-day Nablus) was a Canaanite city mentioned in the Amarna letters, and later became an Israelite city in the tribe of Manasseh. It was the first capital of the Kingdom of Israel.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the city was razed and reconstructed up to 22 times before its final demise in AD 200. Within the remains of the city can still be found a number of walls and gates built for defence, a government house, a residential quarter and the ruins of a temple raised to Zeus by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (reigned 117 – 138), the latter dating to the second century AD.
Its position is clearly indicated in the Bible: it lay north of Bethel and Shiloh, on the high road going from Jerusalem to the northern districts (Judges xxi, 19), at a short distance from Machmethath (Joshua 17:7) and of Dothain (Genesis 37:12-17); it was in the hill-country of Ephraim (Joshua 20:7; 21:21; 1 Kings 12:25; 1 Chronicles 6:67; 7:28), immediately below Mount Gerizim (Judges 9:6-7). These indications are completed by Josephus, who says that the city lay between Mount Ebal and Mt. Garizim, and by the Madaba map, which places Sychem, also called Sikima between the Tour Gobel (Ebal) and the Tour Garizin (Garizim). We may therefore admit unhesitatingly that Sichem stood on (St. Jerome, St. Epiphanius), or very close to (Eusebius, "Onomast.", Euchem; Medaba map), the site occupied by the town of Nablus, the Neapolis, or Flavia Neapolis of early Christian ages.
Pre-Roman history and Biblical tradition
The old city of Shechem dates back to about an estimated four thousand years.
At Shechem, Abram "built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him ... and had given that land to his descendants" (Gen 12:6-7). This Biblical account, considered by some to be the first place Abraham, Sarah, Lot and their party stopped upon their entry to Canaan. The Bible states that on this occasion, God confirmed the covenant he had first made with Abraham in Harran, regarding the possession of the land of Canaan. On a later sojourn, the sons of Jacob avenged their sister's rape (or by another interpretation, seduction) by massacring the city's inhabitants. Joshua assembled the Israelites in Shechem and encouraged them to reaffirm their adherence to the Torah. During the Judges period, Abimelech was crowned king in Shechem.
Shechem was a commercial center due to its position in the middle of vital trade routes through the region. It traded in local grapes, olives, wheat, livestock and pottery between the middle Bronze Age and the late Hellenic Period (1900-100 BC).
In the Amarna Letters of about 1350 BC, Shachmu (i.e. Shechem) was the center of a kingdom carved out by Labaya (or Labayu), a Canaanite warlord who recruited mercenaries from among the Habiru. Labaya was the author of three Amarna letters, and his name appears in 11 of the other 382 letters, referred to 28 times, with the basic topic of the letter, being Labaya himself, and his relationship with the rebelling, countryside Habiru.
Shechem first appears in the Tanakh in Genesis 12:6–8, which records how Abraham reached the "great tree of Moreh" at Shechem and offered sacrifice nearby. Later Joseph's bones were brought out of Egypt and reburied at Shechem. That the city of Sichem, the name of which (Hebrew shékém — 'shoulder, saddle') appears to have been suggested by the configuration of the place, existed in the time of Abraham is doubted by a few who think it is referred to in Genesis, xii, 6, by anticipation; but there can be no question touching its existence in Jacob's time (Genesis 33:18, 19); it is certainly mentioned in the El-Amarna letters (letter 289), and is probably the Sakama of the old Egyptian traveler Mohar (fourteenth century B.C.; Muller, "Asien u. Europ.", p. 394, Leipzig, 1893).
Owing to its central position, no less than to the presence in the neighborhood of places hallowed by the memory of Abraham (Genesis 12:6, 7; 34:5), Jacob's Well (Genesis 33:18-19; 34:2, etc.), and the tomb of Joseph (Joshua 24:32), the city was destined to play an important part in the history of Israel. The city, including its Bronze Age temple, fell to the Israelites sometime before 1000 BC.
There it was that, after Gideon's death, Abimelech, his son by a Sichemite concubine, was made king (Judges 9:1-6). Yotam, the youngest son of Gideon, made a famous speech on Mount Gerizim known as Yotam's allegory where he warned the people of Shechem about Abimelech's future tyranny (Judges 9:7-20). When the city has, three years later, risen in rebellion, Abimelech took it, utterly destroyed it, and burnt the temple of Baal-berith where the people had fled for safety. From the excavations, it was learnt that the city was destroyed in 1100 BC.
It was rebuilt in the 10th century BC and was probably the capital of Ephraim (1 Kings 4). Shechem was the place appointed, after Solomon's death, for the meeting of the people of Israel and the investiture of Roboam; the meeting ended in the secession of the ten northern tribes, and Sichem, fortified by Jeroboam, became for a while the capital of the new kingdom (1 Kings 12:1; 14:17; 2 Chronicles 10:1).
When the kings of Israel moved first to Tirzah, and later on to Samaria, Shechem lost its importance, and we do not hear of it until after the fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.; Jeremiah 12:5). The events connected with the restoration were to bring it again into prominence. When, on his second visit to Jerusalem, Nehemias expelled the grandson of the high priest Eliashib (probably the Manasse of Josephus, "Antiq., XI, vii, viii), who refused to separate from his alien wife, Sanaballat's daughter, and with him the many Jews, priests and laymen, who sided with the rebel, these betook themselves to Shechem; a schismatic temple was then erected on Mount Garizim and thus Shechem became the "holy city" of the Samaritans. The latter, who were left unmolested while the orthodox Jews were chafing under the heavy hand of Antiochus IV (Antiq., XII, v, 5) and welcomed with open arms every renegade who came to them from Jerusalem (Antiq., XI, viii, 7), fell about 128 B.C. before John Hyrcanus, and their temple was destroyed ("Antiq.", XIII, ix, 1).
During the Roman conquest of Samaria, Shechem was destroyed and a Neapolis or "new city" was built nearby. Eventually, this name was corrupted to the Arabic Nablus.
Classical and modern history
In Classical times, Shechem was the main settlement of the Samaritans, whose religious center stood on Mount Gerizim, just outside of the town. In Acts 7:16 the place is called Sychem, and in the Gospel of John 4:5 it is called Sychar.
Shechem is also the location of Jacob's Well, where John 4:5–6 describes Jesus' meeting with the woman of Samaria. Josephus, writing in about AD 90 (Jewish Antiquities 4.8.44), placed the city between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, and other ancient writers knew that it was on the outskirts of "Neapolis" (Nablus), but its archaeological site was only stumbled upon in 1903 by a German party of archaeologists led by Dr. Hermann Thiersch at a site known as Tell Balatah, beside the traditional site of Joseph's Tomb mentioned in (Joshua 24:32).
In A.D. 6, Shechem was annexed to the Roman Province of Syria. Some, no doubt, of its inhabitants (whether Sichar of John 4:5, is the same as Sichem or a place near the latter we shall leave here undecided) were of the number of the "Samaritans" who believed in Jesus when he tarried two days in the neighborhood , and the city must have been visited by the Apostles on their way from Samaria to Jerusalem (Acts 8:25). Of the Samaritans of Sichem not a few rose up in arms on Mt. Garizim at the time of the Galilean rebellion (A.D. 67); the city was very likely destroyed on that occasion by Cerealis . In A.D. 72, a new city, Flavia Neapolis, was built by Vespasian a 2 kilometers to the west of the old one. This city's name was eventually corrupted to the modern Nablus.
Some fifty years later Hadrian restored the temple on Mt. Garizim, and dedicated it to Jupiter . Neapolis, like Shechem, had very early a Christian community, including an early saint, Justin Martyr; we hear even of bishops of Neapolis . On several occasions the Christians suffered greatly from the Samaritans, and in 474 the emperor, to avenge an unjust attack of the sect, deprived the latter of Mt. Garizim and gave it to the Christians who built on it a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
Since the Islamic conquest in 636, the city of Nablus has remained overwhelmingly Muslim. At the same time, it is still referred to as Shechem by Israelis and Hebrew speakers.
- Sichem is an old spelling for Zichem, a Flemish municipality which was named after the biblical Sichem; it is now merged into Scherpenheuvel-Zichem.
- Sekem is an Anthroposophical and Islamic foundation and farming village centered on principles for Biodynamic agriculture in Egypt; this name refers to Shechem, and to the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph pronounced 'Sekem' meaning 'vitality' or 'life'.
- Cornel Heinsdorff: "Christus, Nikodemus und die Samaritanerin am Jakobsbrunnen", Berlin/New York 2003, 218-220, ISBN 3-11-017851-6
- Stager, Lawrence (2003). "The Shechem Temple Where Abimelech Massacred a Thousand". Biblical Archaeology Review 29:4 (July/August): 26–35, 66, 68–69.
- (John 4)
- ("Bell. Jud.", III, vii, 32)
- (Dion Cass., xv, 12)
- (Labbe, "Conc.", I, 1475, 1488; II, 325)
- (Procop., "De edif", v, 7)
- Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Shechem. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.
- This article incorporates text from the entry Sichem in Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.
- Full archaeological and Biblical discussion of Shechem
- Guide to the Jewish Communities around Shechem
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Shechem
- Shechem Why was the city of Shechem an important archaeological find?