The old city of Shechem (Tell Balata) sits on a hill which rises approximately 98.4 ft (30 m) above its surroundings at the center of four large valleys: the Valley of Neapolis/Shechem in the immediate vicinity, the Sahel Maḥneh/Ḥoron to the south, the large and fertile Sahel Beit Dejan to the east, and a small valley called Sahel ʾAskar to the north. These valleys are key nodes in the road system of the northern highlands, with both the major north–south route through the hills and a major east–west route from the Jordan Valley to the Coastal Plain running right past Shechem. Such a location made Shechem singularly important in the northern hills. In later periods, the city center shifted off the Tell Balata to the new foundation of Neapolis, immediately to the west. Neapolis, in turn, grew and ultimately encompassed the ancient mound, making the continuity in settlement even more striking. Taking Shechem and Neapolis together, it is clear that when the northern hills flourished Shechem/Neapolis was always at the center.

The average temperature in winter is 10ºC, with an average surface temperature of –1.6ºC and an average summer temperature of 23ºC, reaching a maximum of 40ºC. Average rainfall in the Shechem area is approximately 26.2 inches (665 mm) per year, including on average approximately 62 days of rain annually. In the Shechem area there is an average relative humidity of 65 percent and a very high number of nights with heavy dew: 60 days in summer on average, 45 days in autumn, 30 days in winter, and 45 days during spring. On average, the total number of rainy days and days of dew is 242 days annually (66 percent of the year).


The temple precinct at Tell Balata with Mount Gerizim in the background. Baker Photo Archive

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The rocks of Mount Gerizim, Mount Ebal, and the mountains along the margins of the Valley of Shechem consist of limestone and chalk, from the Eocene epoch, as well as overlaying chalk layers from the Senonian–Paleocene epoch, which serves as an aquiclude for an aquifer flowing between the crevices of limestone. Along the Valley of Shechem and the mountains east of the chain of valleys (Jabel Kabir and Jabel Yinon) limestone rocks from the Cenoman–Turonian epoch are exposed in the aquifer and rest on a foundation of marl stone. The area of Tell Balata and the mountains of Gerizim and Ebal are part of a geological syncline with tilted rock layers from the mountains east of the tell and form part of an anticline. As a result there is a flow of groundwater from the entire area toward the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, and consequently there are a large number of springs in the Valley of Shechem in general and in the area adjacent to Tell Balata in particular. The total supply from springs in the valley of Shechem and around Tell Balata reaches approximately 631,371,177 gallons (2.39 million m3) of water per year. In all four valleys surrounding Tell Balata (Michmetat Valley/Ḥoron Valley, Beit Degan Valley, ʾAskar Valley, and the Valley of Shechem) there is the most fertile alluvium soil.

As stated, the combination of good climate, fertile soil, and a large amount of springs makes this one of the most fertile regions in the country; and it seems that it is the most productive of all areas of the central mountain region of Judea and Samaria. The fertility of the region is described in the blessing of Moses regarding Joseph (Deut 33:13–16). A similar description of the area can be found in the blessing of Jacob to his son Joseph (Gen 49:25).

The fertility of the Shechem area as greater than that of the Judean and Mount Hebron areas is described in the story of the wanderings of the sons of Jacob and Joseph’s search for his brother (Gen 37:12–14). Even in the twenty-first century, there is a tradition of summer migration from Hebron to the Shechem area and the Dothan Valley during the summer and autumn, and the link between this tradition and the story of Jacob and the wanderings of his sons from Hebron to this area should be noted. The great potential of Shechem as an agricultural haven for fruit trees is alluded to in the parable of Jotham (Judg 9:7–13) and the story of Abimelech (Judg 9:27).

Shechem in the Historical Sources.

Shechem is first mentioned in the writings of the later list of the Execration Texts as s-k-e-m-a-m-l (E6), which can be traced to Egypt’s Twelfth Dynasty (nineteenth century B.C.E.). The governor of the city was כ a-bἱ-ś-h-d-d-u (Habasi-Hadad), a name indicating origins from northern Syria. This source indicates that the city was the center of a regional political unit named after the city itself. In parallel, Shechem as a state or region is mentioned at the tomb of an Egyptian officer named Hu-Sabak and describes his conquest of the city and the adjacent area while serving as an officer in the army of Pharaoh Senwosret III (also Sesostris III, r. 1878–1843 B.C.E.):

"His majesty proceeded northward, to overthrow the Asiatics. His majesty arrived at a district, Sekmem was its name. His majesty led the good way in proceeding to the palace of “Life, Prosperity and Health,” when Sekmem had fallen, together with Retenu (rTnw) the wretched, while I was acting as rearguard."

The lists of cities in the Egyptian campaigns in Canaan that took place from the fifteenth to the thirteenth centuries B.C.E. did not include Shechem, which is probably due to the fact that it was not located in the vicinity of a major international thoroughfare. However, according to the fourteenth-century letters from Amarna, Shechem was quite active during the period, controlling distant areas important to the Egyptians. In the letters a fascinating account is given of Labʿayu, king of Shechem, and the various struggles between the city-states of Canaan. Though Labʿayu himself was apparently not from Shechem and was hired by the people to be their governor, Labʿayu’s dynasty ruled Shechem for at least four generations (EA 253). This dynasty supported various activities carried out by the people of Gezer against the kingdom of Jerusalem and apparently cooperated with Gat Carmel (EA 249, 250, 289). The sons of Labʿayu controlled Faḥal in the east Transjordan and the northern regions of Gilead (to Ashtaroth and the area of Geri, which was apparently located in the Golan Heights and the Bashan [EA 255, 256]). Shechem cooperated with nomadic groups named Apiru. According to the Amarna texts Labʿayu, his sons, and the Apiru tried to dominate the northern hills, even extending control into the international thoroughfares that passed through the east Sharon (controlled by the city of Gath-Padalla), the Dothan Valley, the Jezreel Valley (the cities Gina, Burkona, and Arvu), the southeast Carmel (Gat Rimon), and the Ein Harod Valley (EA 250). A miniature clay cylinder found in 1993 at the foot of Tell Beth-Shean in the Jordan Valley, written in Akkadian, mentions Tagi, the ruler of Gath-Padalla, and Labʿayu.

Labʿayu and his sons made a covenant with the people of Tanaach, who overthrew their king, Iṣdatah, and his city. Shechem’s rulers threatened Megiddo so that Megiddo’s queen had to beg for the aid of the king of Egypt (EA 244, 246, 252). Labʿayu and his allies at Gezer, in collaboration with the Apiru, invaded the cities that were in the kingdom of Jerusalem (EA 236, 287, 289, 290) and under the control of Shuwardatu, king of Gath (EA 285, 280). The threat of Shechem to the stability of the region led the Egyptians to insist that Labʿayu be brought to them. In circumstances that remain unclear Labʿayu fled and was killed (EA 245), but his sons continued their insurgency against the neighboring city-states of Canaan.

In the Iron Age, Shechem’s role seems to have diminished. The city is mentioned in the Samaria Ostraca (no. 44). In light of analysis of the Samaria Ostraca (Bornstein, 1991, pp. 106–108), it is possible to claim that Iron-Age Shechem’s territory included the valleys east of the city, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and their ranges, and south to the area of Berayim, which is identified with the village of Burin.

Result of the Excavations.

The first excavations at Shechem were conducted by an Austro–German team in a series of campaigns between 1913 and 1934. This excavation uncovered some of the city’s monumental features, but before the full report of the excavation was published, the diaries and artifacts were destroyed during the bombing of Berlin in 1943. Further excavations were conducted at Tell Balata by the American Schools of Oriental Research, Drew University, and the McCormick Theological Seminary (the Joint Expedition) in eight seasons between 1956 and 1964. From 2011 excavation and restoration were carried out by teams from Leiden University and funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization within the framework of the establishment of an archaeological park.

Settlement at Tell Balata began in the early Chalcolithic period and continued into the Early Bronze Age. However, this occupation was uncovered only in later constructional fills, so the precise extent and nature of settlement during these periods are unclear. From the first quarter of the third millennium B.C.E. (Early Bronze) to the early second millennium (Middle Bronze IIA) the area was abandoned. Resettlement occurred in the nineteenth century B.C.E. The earliest Middle Bronze–IIA remains were not uncovered over wide expanses but as very small trenches cut between later walls. For that reason, the architecture—bits of walls, floors, drains, and installations—is difficult to identify. Generally, the fragments appear to be domestic; and because the earliest walls run under the later fortification walls, it appears that this earliest settlement was unfortified. In field VI, one of the major excavation areas on the northwest side of the mound, substantial attention already seems to be given to remaking the landscape through the construction of platforms. At least one platform consisted of deep earthen fills surrounded by stone walls to create a podium of at least 968.8 ft2 (90 m2).

In the Middle Bronze IIB the inhabitants of Shechem began to construct a massive and elaborate series of fortifications to protect the city. The fortifications began with a thick brick wall on a deep stone foundation (wall D). This freestanding wall was soon augmented by a sloping rampart some 98.4 ft (30 m) thick, which terminated in a retaining wall. Soon after, a massive sloping rampart was constructed outside the wall. The rampart was constrained on the exterior by a retaining wall (wall C), which was preserved up to 16.4 ft (5 m) high in some places. The slope of the fills behind the wall, however, makes it clear that the retaining wall was at the very bottom of a much higher fortification system. Fortification systems of this type are typical of the Middle Bronze Age and demonstrate Shechem’s role as a major urban center in the region.

Within these fortifications, the excavators found that the Middle Bronze–IIB city was divided into at least two districts. The smaller district was divided from the rest of the city by a stone wall (wall 900) over 6.6 ft (2 m) thick. Within this enclosure, the ground level was more than 19.7 ft (6 m) higher than contemporary floor levels on the other side of the wall, showing that this area was an acropolis raised over the rest of the city. On this acropolis a street ran along the enclosure wall and, next to the street, a series of four distinct building phases each showed complex public structures with unusual features. One of the oddest features, according to G. Ernest Wright, the leader of the Joint Expedition, was an enclosed courtyard within the acropolis precinct. Since the acropolis itself was separated from the rest of the city, the courtyard was private already. Further, this enclosed courtyard was located directly below the forecourt of a later monumental temple. It is not unusual for successive temples to sanctify the same locale, so Wright argued that the complexes on the acropolis were part of a sacred precinct. From that stance, he then interpreted the pillar bases, bread ovens, and paved “entrance hall” as part of temple activity at the site. Unfortunately, no distinctively religious artifacts were found in the Middle Bronze–Age acropolis, so Wright’s conclusions have been called into question. The buildings are not the typical domestic dwellings, and their placement on the acropolis is surely auspicious; but the buildings themselves may simply be elite (or royal) dwellings.


Standing stones in front of the tower temple at Tell Balata. Kim Walton

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Whatever the precise function of the elite constructions, the building of an acropolis and a massive rampart indicates that Shechem became a stratified urban center in the Middle Bronze–IIB period. Within the acropolis a handle stamped with an Old Babylonian cylinder seal probably provides evidence that the growth of the city was connected to northern influences. According to excavations outside the acropolis, the city seems to have suffered some sort of a blow and perhaps a partial abandonment around 1650 B.C.E., but this was only a temporary setback to the burgeoning Bronze-Age city.

Around 1650 B.C.E., according to the excavators, Shechem was considerably enlarged by the construction of a new fortification. Using the excavations in the northwest as a guide, the new walls more than doubled the urban space within the walls. While the site had previously been protected by a typical Bronze-Age earthen rampart, it was now protected by a massive “cyclopean” wall. The wall was founded on bedrock, with a base about 13.1 ft (4 m) wide; it narrowed as it rose to about 6.6 ft (2 m) in width. The exterior stones were dressed to give the wall a smooth facade. The wall is preserved to a height of more than 29.5 ft (9 m), though its original height can only be guessed. The stones that make up this wall are massive, and some boulders more than 3.3 ft (1 m) long were levered into positions high within the walls. On top of the stone portion of the wall, a mud-brick superstructure completed the fortification.

Two gates were excavated as part of this fortification system. The earliest gate was in the northwest and was uncovered by the Austro–German team. This monumental gate (55.8 by 62.3 ft [17 by 19 m]) utilized towers that projected more than 13.1 ft (4 m) from the outer line of the fortification wall. The entire gate complex was bonded into the main fortification wall, indicating that it was either original to the fortifications or part of a major renovation of the wall. Within the tower three projecting piers would have housed the gates to block passage into the city. While the precise construction of the gates is unclear, grooves in these same stone piers would have reinforced the edges of the doors to keep them from being pried open during an attack. The gate contained flanking stairways, indicating that it was a multistory fortification. Though the approach to the gate was never securely excavated, some evidence exists that it would have consisted of an exposed ramp that further enhanced the defensive advantages of the gatehouse.

A second gatehouse was discovered on the eastern side of the city by the Joint Expedition. In many respects it was quite similar to the northwestern gate. It had projecting towers and internal staircases befitting a multistory construction, and both acted as recesses to store the open doors and reinforcements to the closed gates. Within the piers of this gate, excavators found huge orthostats, cut stone blocks used to protect the base of mud-brick walls. In this case, the orthostats were so large (over 6.6 ft [2 m] in length and 3.3 ft [1 m] in height) that their function was probably also related to the process of fortification. Some of the blocks had grooves cut into them, which may have facilitated the opening and closing of the city gates.

The fortification line of the Middle Bronze IIC was not a single wall. Inside the wall, major public buildings were constructed in a belt around the city, connected to the outer wall. These buildings were most extensively uncovered in the northwest, flanking the city gate. North of the gate Building 7200 included well-dressed stones covered in white plaster topped by a mud-brick superstructure. Holes in the stonework toward the gatehouse convinced the excavators of the Joint Expedition that this was a complex for housing the guards of the city gate itself. South of the gate Building 7300 was described by the Austro–German team as a palace. Though it may not have been the main palace of the city, it was surely an elite building with at least three rooms, including a sanctuary with an altar. These buildings reinforced the fortifications, and in at least one area the interior half of a building was rebuilt as a dedicated fortification wall (wall E) in order to fend off attacks at the end of the Middle Bronze Age.

Within the city the acropolis area was enlarged and a great tower, or midgal, temple was constructed on the podium. The temple had a length of 88.6 ft (27 m) and a width of just over 68.9 ft (21 m). Wright saw these dimensions as following an Egyptian cubit as a “sacred” measuring tool, but the precise dimensions vary somewhat across this ancient stone architecture. In any case, it follows the pattern of the other tower temples at Megiddo and Ugarit, and some of the earliest investigators of the site found a favissa with cultic objects. Within the building’s sizeable footprint, the walls were about 16.4 ft (5 m) thick, leaving a relatively small interior space on the ground floor. The ground-floor plan consisted of an entryway and a pillared hall. It was the conclusion of the excavators that the entrance had two phases, an earlier phase with a direct approach to the ground-floor room and a later phase with an extension of the eastern wall of the sanctuary in order to create a narrow opening. Following the pattern of such piers elsewhere in the fortifications at Shechem, the change in the opening was done in the service of reinforcing the doorway against forced entry. In the end this tower temple also appears to have been a fortress. In the second phase, large standing stones (massebah) were erected immediately outside the building. And in the forecourt the Austro–German expedition uncovered some sort of stone altar.

Because the temple was first excavated by the Austro–German team, many of the key stratigraphic connections between the floors and the walls of the structure were lost during the bombing of Berlin in 1943. The Joint Expedition concluded that the tower temple lasted only through the Middle Bronze Age. The temple, just like the rest of the city, was destroyed and abandoned at the end of the Middle Bronze IIC. In the Late Bronze Age, the tower temple (temple 1) was replaced by a much more modest structure with a wall just over 3.3 ft (1 m) thick (temple 2). The new temple was neither a tower nor a fortress but merely a square room whose entrance utilized the standing stones of the ruined Middle Bronze–Age temple, perhaps augmented by a few ephemeral features destroyed by later builders.

Shechem was abandoned for much of the late sixteenth and early fifteenth centuries B.C.E. After a gap in settlement, the city was built anew. The Middle Bronze–Age walls were restored, and the gates were reused. The eastern gate was renovated with the addition of a large tower. Excavations in the city showed wall lines reused from the Bronze Age and that occupation was more dense, filling in the courtyards of the Middle Bronze Age with new constructions. In the fourteenth century, the rich collection of artifacts points to a site of wealth and power. Two cuneiform tablets show that the inhabitants used written Akkadian for both correspondence and legal proceedings in this period. At the same time, the Shechem Plaque, an early alphabetic inscription, shows that at some point in the middle of the second millennium a new way of writing was also in use at the site.

The Joint Expedition argued that in the Late Bronze Age a new, smaller temple was built on the ruins of the tower temple on the acropolis. However, a reevaluation of the stratigraphy by Lawrence E. Stager changed the picture. The walls that were thought to be part of a Late Bronze–Age temple were actually deep foundations for a later Iron-Age building. And the finds from the Late Bronze Age, including the standing stones, all fit in the old Middle Bronze–Age tower temple. Stager concluded that the Middle Bronze–Age tower temple stood until the twelfth century B.C.E. If this reconstruction is correct, and it has been widely accepted, then the picture of Late Bronze–Age Shechem owes even more to the Middle Bronze–Age builders. The city changed in the Late Bronze Age, but in every case where the Middle Bronze–Age monumental architecture could be reused, it was.

Burned brick and collapsed walls provide evidence for a fiery destruction of the city at the end of the fourteenth century, though this was not a comprehensive destruction. The tower temple, for instance, remained standing. But in many parts of the lower city, destruction may indicate conquest by the Egyptians or perhaps some more local struggle. In any case, the city was rebuilt along the same lines and persisted into the twelfth century B.C.E. At that point the city was thoroughly devastated, the tower temple was demolished, and the site was abandoned for at least 150 years. Bronze-Age Shechem, the most important Bronze-Age capital of the northern highlands, was destroyed.

The process of reconstruction of the city began in the Iron IIA. The first resettlement is not well preserved, and it seems to have consisted of poorly constructed buildings spread across the mound. Though the evidence is sparse, it appears that this settlement was burned and quickly replaced by a fortified, well-planned settlement. A casemate wall was built above the old Middle Bronze–Age wall. The acropolis was turned into a large, perhaps regional granary; and throughout the lower city typical Iron-Age houses appeared with long narrow rooms, often bisected by a row of pillars which could have supported the floor beams of a second story. Housing units tend to be clustered together, with party walls dividing them. This type of cluster has been connected to the extended family bonds within the city. As time progressed, larger housing units were progressively subdivided, likely pointing to an increase in occupation density.

Shechem was destroyed at the end of the ninth century B.C.E. but quickly rebuilt along the same lines. The eighth-century city was particularly well preserved, highlighted by one of the best-preserved highland houses (1727) excavated in ancient Israel. This is an unusually large house, so it is not indicative all respects; but it still provides key insight into daily life in the Iron-Age highlands. The core of the building was laid with a central long room, flanked by rooms on both sides and opening to a broad room in the rear. This floor plan is a variant of the standard four-room house type that is typical of the Iron-Age highlands. On the first floor were a hearth, a grinding installation, a manger, small bins, sumps, silos, and paved floors. This hive of activity was likely where food was produced for the household (with the hearth and grinding stones) and animals were housed in the evening (on the paved floors). Most Israelite houses had similar multiuse ground floors. The excavators recovered large chunks of roofing material, consisting of layers of mud plaster sandwiched around sticks and laid over wooden beams. In the tumble of debris from the second story all sorts of bowls, jars, and other objects gave some sense that the second story was a substantial part of the living quarters in the Israelite household. This house was catastrophically destroyed, as was all of Shechem in the eighth century. In this house a small Assyrian adorant seal is a fitting find for a city burned to the ground by Assyrian soldiers.

The occupation of the city after the Assyrian conquest is not well understood. It was probably abandoned for a time, but some artifacts from later constructional fills under the Hellenistic buildings point to limited occupation in the seventh, sixth, and fifth centuries B.C.E. In the late fourth century, the city recovered, much along the lines that it always had but probably as a Samaritan stronghold. The Middle Bronze–Age wall lines were reestablished, and the inhabitants reshaped the interior of the city to accommodate new construction. In this case the filling operations were massive, and the mound was reshaped to allow new Hellenistic domestic constructions. In their houses the inhabitants engaged in the same types of grain and oil production, which had always characterized this fertile region. In the Hellenistic period the numismatic evidence is plentiful and determinative, including a hoard of tetradrachmas of Ptolemy I (r. 305–284 B.C.E.). At the end of the second century occupation at Tell Balata, the site of ancient Bronze- and Iron-Age Shechem, ended, probably as part of the campaign of John Hyrcanus (r. 135–104 B.C.E.) in 107 B.C.E.

Still, the region did not lose its importance. In the late first century, after the First Jewish Revolt, occupation shifted eastward to the new Roman foundation at Neapolis. Excavations at Neapolis have uncovered portions of the typical public monuments of this period, including a theater, a hippodrome (later amphitheater), streets, gates, and a water supply. The city of Shechem has always sat in the shadow of Mount Gerezim to the south, and the connection was probably quite strong in the Hellenistic period; but the foundation of Neapolis took this one step further through the construction of a staircase up to the former Samaritan high place. On this spot, a temple to Zeus was constructed in order to express Roman dominance over the Samaritans of the city.

Biblical Sources.

The vast majority of references to Shechem in the Hebrew Bible are in connection with stories set in the premonarchic period. For that reason, among others, the site played a key part in the history of biblical archaeology and the search for the patriarchs. In the end, while Shechem’s archaeological discoveries did not settle controversies over the date and nature of the patriarchal stories, the excavations have uncovered buildings which play a key role in several biblical texts.

Biblical stories describe diverse populations in Shechem and recount a complex relationship between the Israelites and Shechem’s inhabitants. Some have argued this relationship has parallels to the type of agreements that were made been Shechem and the Apiru as described in the Amarna letters (EA 246, 254, 289). The stories of Abraham emphasized that the population was Canaanite (Gen 12:6), while the stories of Jacob emphasized that the population of Shechem was a complex ethnic foundation of Hivites, Canaanites, and Perizzites (Gen 34:2, 30). The book of Genesis describes a good relationship between the families of the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob and the people of Shechem. Local residents sell to the family of Jacob a plot of land east of the city and its environs, and Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, is in an intimate relationship with the local prince. In the story of Dinah the city gate (two of which were found in excavation) is a key context for group decisions (Gen 34:20, 24). The people of Shechem are easily persuaded by their leaders to integrate the new patriarchal population within them as equals (Gen 33:18–19, 34:1–24). The Bible attributes the termination of the good relations between the people of Shechem and Jacob’s family to the act of killing and deceit perpetrated by Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, on Shechem (Gen 34:25–29) and highlights Jacob’s severe reaction against these sons. The sons do not receive Jacob’s blessing and are punished by the loss of future inheritance.

Another repeated theme in these stories is the sacredness of the great trees of Shechem. Abraham visits the oak of Moreh (lit. “diviner’s oak”); Jacob hides household gods underneath a terebinth at Shechem; Deuteronomy refers to the oak of Moreh as the site of a cultic ceremony, and Joshua concludes his speech by setting up a standing stone in the sacred grove (Josh 24:26).

Many of these themes culminate in Judges 9. In the story Abimelech is hired by a diverse lot from Shechem and receives funds to hire a battalion of “worthless and reckless fellows” to protect the city. Abimelech is made king within the sacred grove. The biblical redactor indicates that out of Gideon’s sons remained only a young son, Jotham, who goes to Mount Gerizim and speaks the parable of the trees, describing how ultimately Abimelech will burn down Shechem. Indeed, three years later the men of Shechem have had enough of Abimelech and form an alliance with the nomadic battalion of Gaal, son of Ebed. Following this, there is a war between Abimelech and the men of Shechem, led by the followers of Gaal, which ends with the torching and destruction of the city. The torching of the city itself is odd because of the two stages in the destruction: first the city, then the tower. From a simple reading of the biblical text it would seem that the tower was located within the city, although the biblical author separates the siege of the city from the siege of the tower. This indicates that the tower was not in the city but rather in a nearby locale.

There is no reason to search for the tower outside of the city. From the story itself it is clear that the author was acquainted well with the area of Shechem and its environs; the author describes the “shadows on the mountains,” which is evident from the eastern gate of the city (Judg 9:36), and the real possibility of hearing sounds and calls from the top of Mount Gerizim (Jebel e-Ras) to the city of Shechem. As such, the discovery of the acropolis that is positioned on the western side of the city, including the Middle Bronze–Age tower temple, is the best context for Abimelech’s second attack. Indeed, if the archaeological reconstruction of the Joint Expedition holds, then the lower city of Shechem was conquered and destroyed at least twice in the Bronze Age, yet the acropolis tower temple remained a standing fortress. This is likely one of those extraordinarily rare cases in which a biblical story can be linked with specific architectural remains. The Bronze-Age tower temple, a building variously described as the temple of Baal-berith (4), the Beth-millo (6), the Tower of Shechem (46), and the stronghold of El-berith (46) in Judges 9, was destroyed in the twelfth century B.C.E., an act which truly ended the Bronze-Age city.

According to the biblical description (1 Kgs 12:1–25), King Solomon’s heir, Rehoboam, arrived in Shechem with the purpose of receiving the allegiance of the other tribes. This could merely have been a convenient place to meet with the others, but more likely it reflects a memory of a long-lost day when Bronze-Age Shechem was the royal city of the northern hills. When Rehoboam’s bid for power is rejected, the text describes Shechem as Jeroboam’s first capital, likely drawing on the same memories. But the northern kingdom did not remain at Shechem for long, and soon the city of Samaria eclipsed Shechem as the royal city of the north.

Summary and Conclusions.

Shechem, the key city of the central mountain region of Israel, is located in one of the most fertile and productive areas in terms of land, sediments, and groundwater. It is situated near the main roads traversing the central mountain strip of the land of Israel. The written history of the city, as well as the archaeological excavations, indicates the centrality and importance of the city during the second millennium and early first millennium B.C.E. And these join with the biblical text to provide a clear example of the complex yet productive relationship between the Bible and archaeology.



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  • Wright, G. Ernest. “An Egyptian God at Shechem.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 99 (1983): 95–109.
  • Wright, G. Ernest. “The Place Name Balatah and the Excavations at Shechem.” Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 83 (1967): 199–202.
  • Wright, G. Ernest. Shechem: The Biography of a Biblical City. London: Gerald Duckworth, 1965.

Arye Bornstein