1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Shechem

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SHECHEM (mod. Nāblus), an ancient town of Palestine, S.E. of Samaria, which first appears in history as the place where Jacob and his family settled for a while (Gen. xxxiii. 18; cf. John iv. 12). It was occupied then by Hivites (Gen. xxxiv. 2), and a tragedy took place in connexion with the chieftain's violation of Jacob's daughter Dinah. It was set apart as a city of refuge (Jos. xx. 7) and was occupied' by the Kohathite Levites in the tribe of Ephraim (xxi. 21). Here, between Ebal and Gerizim, Joshua made his last speech to the elders of the Israelites (Jos. xxiv. 1). The mother of Abimelech the son of Gideon was a Shechemite, and Shechem was the centre of his short-lived kingdom (Jud. viii. 31, ix.). Here Rehoboam made the foolish speech which kindled the revolt of the N. kingdom (1 Kings xii. 1). after which it was for a time the headquarters of Jeroboam (1 Kings xii. 25).

Shechem was evidently a holy place in remote antiquity. The “oak” under which Jacob hid his teraphim (Gen. xxxv. 4) was doubtless a sacred tree, as there the images (which it was not seemly to bring on a pilgrimage to Beth-el) would be safe. The god of the Canaanite city was Baal-Berith: his temple was destroyed when Abimelech quelled the rising of his fickle subjects (Jud. ix. 4, 46). A great standing stone under an oak-tree here was traditionally associated with Joshua's last speech (Jos. xxiv. 26). During the latter part of the Hebrew monarchy we hear nothing of Shechem, no doubt on account of the commanding importance of the neighbouring city of Samaria. It no doubt owed its subsequent development to the destruction of Samaria and the rise in the district surrounding of the Samaritan nation founded on the colonists settled by Sargon and Assurbani-pal. To Josephus it was “the new city” by the inhabitants called Mabortha (B. J., IV. viii. 1), but the official name Nepalis or Flavia Neapolis, so called to commemorate its restoration by Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus), soon became universal, and is still preserved in the modern name Nāblus—a signal exception to the general rule that the place-names of Palestine, whenever disturbed by foreign influence, usually revert in time to the old Semitic nomenclature.

There was a bishopric at Neapolis during the Byzantine period, and an attack made by the Samaritans on the bishop (Pentecost, A.D. 474) was punished by the emperor Zeno, who gave Gerizim to the Christians. It was captured by the crusaders under Tancred soon after the conquest of Jerusalem (1099), they held it till 1184, when they lost it to Saladin. The principal mosque of the town is a church of the crusaders converted to Mohammedan worship. Towards the end of the 18th century it was the headquarters of the turbulent sheikh Kasim el-Ahmad. In 1834 the soldiers of Ibrahim Pasha pillaged it.

Nāblus is now the chief town of a subdivision of the province of Beirut. It lies in the valley between Ebal and Gerizim, on the main caravan route from Jerusalem northward. The situation is famous for its beauty. There are about 24,0004 inhabitants—all Moslems except about 150 Samaritans and perhaps 700 Christians. The inhabitants are notorious for fanaticism and lawlessness, and Europeans are usually greeted with vile epithets. There are missions, both Protestant and Roman Catholic; and an important hospital under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society. There is a flourishing trade in soap, which is here manufactured, and a considerable commerce in wool and cotton with the regions E. of the Jordan.

In the neighbourhood of Nāblus are shown: (1) a modern building which covers the traditional site of the tomb of Joseph, as accepted by Jews, Samaritans and Christians. The authority for the burial of Joseph at Shechem is the speech of Stephen (Acts vii. 16), though Josephus places the sepulchre at Hebron (Ant. II. vin. 2). Moslem tradition also regards Shechem as the burial-place of Joseph; but it appears as though the actual site, as shown, has not been always in one unvarying spot. (2) The well of Jacob, about a mile and a half from Nāblus on the way to Jerusalem, which is an excavation of great depth. The tradition fixing this hallowed place seems to have been constant throughout the whole of the Christian centuries, and it is one of the very few “holy places” shown to travellers and pilgrims in Palestine, the authenticity of which deserves consideration. It is one of the small number of sites mentioned by the Bordeaux pilgrim (A.D. 333).

The site of the sacred oak has been sought at two places: one called El-’Amūd, “the column”—where is “Joseph's tomb”; and the other at Balāta (a name containing the consonants of the Semitic word for “oak”), near Jacob's well.  (R. A. S. M.)