Visit Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal
A little off the beaten path, near Shechem (Nablus), is the site of the altar built by Joshua, as described in the Book of Deuteronomy. Your tour of Israel will be greatly enhanced by a visit to Mount Ebal and the archaeological remains of the biblical altar at its peak.
The Book of Deuteronomy instructs the tribes of Israel to gather on Mount Ebal and the adjacent Mount Gerizim, for a reading of the blessings the Israelites will receive if they keep the commandments – and the curses that will be rained upon them if they do not. The event itself is recounted as having taken place in the Book of Joshua, after the famous battle at Ai. Here, Joshua built an altar of unhewn stones, as required by the biblical commandment.
Today, on Mount Ebal, you can still see the large walled structure, built into the bedrock and filled with layers of stone, ash and earth. Pottery fragmants found at the site lead some archaeologists to the conclusion that this was the altar built by Joshua. Slowly burnt bones from bullocks, goats and fallow deer may be remains of sacrifices offered up on the altar.
The area of Shechem was chosen for this famous proclamation because of its central location and proximity to the Jordan River, which the Israelites crossed when they ended their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and first reentered the Holy Land – the conclusion of the Exodus narrative. Shechem was the site of a number of other important biblical events, including God’s promise to Abraham that he would inherit the land and Jacob’s sons’ battle with the natives who defiled their sister Dina. Joseph was buried in Shechem, and hundreds of years later, Jerobaam made it the capital of the Northern Kingdom after the split from the Davidic dynasty.
The Samaritan sect has settled near Mount Gerizim, which is the center of their religious worship. Visit the Samaritan Museum and the archaeological park on Mount Gerizim to learn more about this religion, which broke off from Judaism in ancient times and remains deeply tied to the Holy Land, the Biblical text and the area of Shechem in particular.
In addition to the ancient altar, you can also see the impressive Byzantine ruins on the mountain. If you are lucky enough to visit Mount Ebal on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, the Judean mountains, Mount Gilead and maybe even the peak of Mount Hermon, often covered in snow.