site located on top of one of the northernmost peaks of Mt. Gerizim (Jebel et-Tur), 831 m above sea level, overlooking the short, narrow east-west pass between Mt. Gerizim (881 m above sea level) and the highest Mt. Ebal (940 m above sea level) to the north. On the western watershed of the pass 350 m below the tell, lies Nablus (ancient Neapolis), the largest city in Samaria. Jacob's well (Bir Yaqob) and Tell Balaṭah (ancient Shechem), once the chief city of the Samaritans, lie at the entrance to the pass on the eastern watershed. On the highest peak of Mt. Gerizim, 750 m south of Tell er-Ras, an expanse of limestone bedrock, devoid of structure, marks for the Samaritan community the location of their temple. Nearby are the octagonal remains of the Theotokos church built in about 484 CE by the emperor Zeno and the remains of fortifications built around the church by the emperor Justinian in about 532 CE. Farther south lie the Hellenistic remains of the walled Samaritan town of Lozeh.
Charles W. Wilson of the Survey of Western Palestine examined Tell er-Ras In 1866 and noted it was a partly artificial mound containing building remains. A century later, Robert J. Bull of Drew University discovered frusta of red Aswan granite columns at the foot of Mt. Gerizim and, in a search for the structure from which the columns came, led a team, formed initially from the Drew-McCormick Expedition to Tell Balaṭah, to excavate Tell er-Ras 1964, 1966, and 1968. The tell, 120 m long by 80 m wide, covered with limestone chips and marble architectural fragments, was isolated from the rest of Mt. Gerizim by an east–west fosse approximately 100 m long, 30 m wide, and 8 m deep cut into the limestone bedrock. Stratigraphic excavation uncovered the remains of building A (21.48 m long north-south × 14.14 m wide), with a three-stepped stylobate, a 8.24 m × 3.05 m pronaos and a 8.24 m × 10.13 m naos, a marble floor, and Corinthian captial fragments. The .85-meter-diameter Aswan granite column frusta discovered at the foot of Mt. Gerizim matched the diameter of the column bases excavated at the tell. Building a was identified as a tetrastyle, prostyle, pseudoperiptal temple centered on a platform 64.91 m long north–south × 44.21 m wide. The platform, made up of earth, rubble and cement, was encompassed by a rectangle of stone walls 9 m high and 2 m thick. At the northern end of the platform, a 7.74-meter-wide staircase descended to a broad esplanade of green marble squares and areas of patterned mosaic. The esplanade served as the upper terminus of a very long and very steep stairway that led from the city of Neapolis up the side of Mt. Gerizim to Tell er-Ras. In 1968, Bull excavated eighty of the 7.50-meter-wide stairway steps, some cut into bedrock, some arranged in flights of five steps or more between landings, some with evidence of marble facing, and all on a line from a point beside the mosque, Rijal el-῾Amud, at the foot of Mt. Gerizim, to the temple at Tell er-Ras.
In the second and third centuries CE, the reverse of coins struck at the Neapolis mint exhibited the likeness of a tetrastyle, peripteral temple at the top of a mountain peak. A stairway ran from a colonnade at the mountain's base up the mountain side to the temple on top (Hill, 1914, pp. 48–50, pls. 5–7). The earliest and most detailed coins were issued under Antoninus Pius (138–161 CE) and the last and least detailed, under Volusianus (251–253 CE). Marinus of Neapolis (fl. 440 CE) indicated that the emperor Hadrian had built a temple to Zeus Hypsistos on Mt. Gerizim (Photius, Bibliotheca 242.348B. 18–20). A stairway of three hundred steps (gradii) on the side of Mt. Gerizim was reported by the Bordeaux Pilgrim (fl. 333 CE; Itineraarium Burdigalense 587.3), but Epiphanius (315–403 CE; Libri de XII Gemmis 258) stated that the stairway contained more than fifteen hundred steps, a number confirmed by Procopius of Gaza (d. 440 CE; Commentarii in Deuteronomium 440). The discrepancy in the number of steps reported in the stairway was due to the fact that broad steps or platforms were discovered at intervals of five steps or more in the line of steps up the side of the mountain. The Bordeaux Pilgrim counted the platforms (gradii) while Epiphanius and Procopius knew or counted the individual steps.
The temple was modified in the third century when six vaulted cisterns were built in front of and against the north platform wall necessitating a new approach to the temple. In the fourth century, earthquakes collapsed the vaulted cisterns, filling the cisterns with voussoir and architectural elements from the temple. The latest coins recovered from the sealed silt layers of the cisterns were those of Julian II (360–363 CE).
In 1966, beneath the foundations of the Zeus temple, Bull excavated a second major structure, building B, 20.94 m long north-south × 20.04 m wide and 8.50 m high. Stratigraphic excavation disclosed that building B was founded on the leveled bedrock of Tell er-Ras at 819 m above sea level and constructed of at least eighteen courses of unhewn limestone slab taken from the local geological bedding planes and laid in without mortar. No construction was found internal to building B. Its geometric form was roughly that of a half cube with approximately 4,000 cubic m of limestone slab laid in courses with obvious care and precision. It was first assumed that building B was a foundation built by the Roman builders of the Zeus temple, but after further excavation, it was discovered that building B stood in the center of a rectangular courtyard of stone walls 60 m long × 40 m wide and 1.50 m thick made of unhewn stone and without mortar. The 7-meter-high courtyard of walls rested on leveled bedrock and a gateway 7.50 m wide was found at the center of the north courtyard wall. The 2-meter-wide walls of the Zeus temple platform, built of ashlar and mortar, were constructed against the standing 1.50-meter-wide unhewn stone walls that formed the building B courtyard. After building B at the center of the double-walled courtyard was stabilized with revetments of rubble and cement, the courtyard was filled earth and stone to form the massive platform on which the Zeus temple stood. Thick layers of sterile white huwwar were found in trenches dug against the sides of building B. The tip lines of the huwwar visible in the balks of the trenches beside building B have an angle of repose for the dumped huwwar that indicates it was dumpted from a height two or more meters higher than the discovered hight of building B. Prior to building A, building B and at least part of its courtyard had been covered by layers of sterile earth that contained no dating material. Below the huwwar, earth, rubble, and cement makeup of the temple platform and at the bottom of the walls in the north–east corner of the building B courtyard, pottery dating from the third and second centuries BCE was found. Also in the lowest silt layers of a rock-hewn cistern found beside the steps of the temple platform, water vessels of the third century BCE were recovered.
From 1983 to 1988 Yitzhak Magen of the Israel Department of Antiquities uncovered additional stairways and extensive Hellenistic remains on Mt. Gerizim, including Lozeh.
The identification of building A with the Zeus temple at Tell er- Ras seems assured. The identification of building B is less clearly understood. The fact that a massive, carefully fashioned structure of unhewn stones was constructed on the leveled bedrock of Mt. Gerizim and surrounded by a courtyard of walls built of unhewn stone indicates that a major building complex predated the Zeus temple at Tell er-Ras. Limited ceramic evidence indicates that the building B complex was standing in the third century BCE. The massive size of the building B complex, its location directly above the ancient Samaritan capital city of Shechem, and its third-century BCE date suggest it was part of the Samaritan temple that Josephus (Antiq. 11.302ff., 13.255ff.; War 1.62ff.) notes was built on Mt. Gerizim and modeled after the Jerusalem temple.
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Robert J. Bull