Mount Gerizim (Mount of Blessings) is a high mountain in the West Bank near Nablus. On the flat summit of the mountain are the remains of one of the largest cities from the Persian and Hellenistic Periods covering 400 dunams. The remains encompass a temple city where the ancient Samaritans once lived and worshiped.
Who Are the Samaritans?
The Samaritans are an ethnic group that claims to be the direct descendants of the Children of Israel. They live only in Israel and speak an ancient Arabic language. The Samaritans live according to the Torah and have unique traditions. Originally the Samaritans believed in the sanctity of the Jewish temple on Temple Mount, and they may have even been involved in its construction (Ezra 4:2).
But at some point, the Samaritans split from the Jews and built their own holy temple on Mount Gerizim. According to Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim is the biblical Mount Moriah, the site of the binding of Isaac and the placing of the Foundation Stone. During the Roman Period, there would have been over a million Samaritans in Israel. In the 5th-century a church was built on Mt. Gerizim and in 529, the Roman Emperor, Justinian I made Samaritanism illegal. A wall was built around the church and Samaritans were denied access to their sacred site.
An uprising followed that resulted in the surviving Samaritans being enslaved or exiled. Justinian I had a castle built on the mount to protect the church from any future Samaritan raids. Today there are approximately 800 Samaritans still living in Israel, mostly in close proximity to Mt. Gerizim.
What to See at Mt. Gerizim
Ancient City - The ancient Hellenistic city was built around a sacred precinct. Surrounding the ruins are the sturdy outer city walls. You can see the remains of houses, streets, stores, and two market squares. Most of the homes had an inner courtyard with the rooms built looking onto the central open space. At the time, this city would have been home to about 10,000 residents.
Sacred Precinct - The center of the city was the Sacred Precinct, an area preserved for worship where a temple stood on a raised platform. During the Persian Period (late 5th-century BC) there was a small platform that was enlarged to cover 100mx200m during the Hellenistic Period (2nd-century BC). Giv’ot Olam-According to Samaritan tradition, this large rock is the Foundation Stone commemorating the blessings given by Moses to Joseph (Deuteronomy 33:15).
Altar of Isaac - According to Samaritan tradition, the sacrifice of Isaac took place on this rock known as the Altar of Isaac.
Tomb of Sheikh Ghanem - In the north-eastern corner of the excavated site stands a small domed structure. According to Muslim tradition, this is the final resting place of Sheikh Ghanem, one of the soldiers of Sultan Saladin the Magnificent. To this day, the Arab residents of nearby Nablus take oaths at this site. Medieval Jewish tradition held that this was the burial site of Hamor, the father of Shechem.
Octagonal Church - See the remains of the 5th-century church built by the Christian Roman rulers.
Visiting Mount Gerizim
Mt. Grizim is near the Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza and the Jewish community of Brakha, in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank. To reach it you need to take route 60 from Jerusalem to Tapuah Junction, then continue north to Mahane Horon Junction, before turning west in the direction of Brakha. Just before the entrance to Brakha, turn right and follow the signs to the Mount Gerizim Archaeological National Park. The park is open from Monday to Friday and there is an entrance fee.