Exploring the Mountains of the Samaritans
Location - The peak of Mount Gerazim
Map Coordinates - 32.200237, 35.273376
Mount Gerizim is one of two mountains near the West Bank city of Nablus, known also as the Old Testament city of Shechem (or Sychar in the New Testament). For the Samaritan people (most of whom live here) Mount Gerizim is considered the holiest place on earth, with the majority of them living in the small village of Kiryat Luza, next to the mountain.
Who are the Samaritans?
The Samaritans represent the smallest, ancient, living ethnic community in the world, bound together by a profound religious belief. Only a small community of a few hundred people, they regard Mount Gerizim as the location chosen by God for a holy Temple.
Aside from the place where they worship, here, in contrast to traditional Judaism, is what the Samaritans believe:
1. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Mosaic Law) is the only Bible of the Samaritans.
2. Samaritans believe that they are the true race of Israelites that descended from Jacob. In contrast, the Jews contend that when the Assyrians raided the northern tribes of Israel in 720 BC, the interbreeding of the Assyrian foreigners with the Jews of the northern tribes produced a race of half-breeds (subsequently called Samaritans, based on the name of their homeland of Samaria). Conversely, the Samaritans consider themselves to be the only pure Jewish race, and that all others who call themselves Jews are merely half-breeds themselves, having descended by interbreeding with Europeans.
Why is Mount Gerizim so important to the Samaritans?
For the Samaritans, Mount Gerizim had been a sacred site for the worship of God for centuries. Mount Gerizim is to the Samaritans what Jerusalem is to the Jews.
It all goes back to Moses. Moses gave detailed instructions to Joshua for a ceremony of “blessings and cursings” to take place when the people of Israel entered Canaan (Deuteronomy 27:12). The ceremony was to take place on Mount Gerizim. After the law of Moses was written on stones, the people of Israel were divided into two groups. Half of Israel’s tribes were to gather on Mount Gerizim and the other half on its twin mountain, Mount Ebal. As the Levites read the blessings for obeying the law, the six tribes on Mount Gerizim were to pronounce a resounding “Amen!” When the Levites recited the curses for disobeying the law, the other six tribes on Mount Ebal were to give a great cry of “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:9–26) In this way, Mount Gerizim came to be known as the “mount of blessing.”
So, here is what the Samaritans believe about Mount Gerizim:
1. They believe that Mount Gerizim provided the first land for Noah’s disembarkation.
2. They believe that this mountain is the location where Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac. Jews, on the other hand, consider the location of the near-sacrifice to be Mount Moriah, identified by them as the Temple Mount. The Samaritans call the rock on which this attempted sacrifice took place “Rock Moriah”.
“Rock Moriah” where the Samaritans believe that Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac.
3. They believe that this is where Jacob had his dream of the staircase to heaven, rather than in Bethel farther south (see Genesis 28:10-22).
4. They believe that this is where God placed His holy dwelling in the tabernacle instead of the location farther south in Shiloh as recorded in Jeremiah 7:12.
5. They believe that according to Genesis 12:6-7, Abraham built an altar there, and that in Genesis 33:18-20 Jacob constructed an altar at this same location.
6. The Samaritans still perform blood sacrifices on this mountain, sacrificing lambs each Passover.
7. The Samaritans believe that more than 3600 years ago their ancestors came to live on Mount Gerizim, to which they make pilgrimages three times a year. These beliefs and traditions have been kept alive by Samaritans since then.
The Jews were hostile toward the Samaritans.
As a result of their beliefs, the Samaritans built a Temple on Mount Gerizim during the 5th century BC. However, in 112 BC this Temple was destroyed by the Jewish ruler, Alexander Jannaeus, the second Hasmonean king, who, in so doing, was attempting to either abolish Samaritan worship, or to force them to integrate into Jewish life.
The Woman at the Well.
By the time Jesus arrived at the base of this mountain, the Samaritan Temple had been in ruins for about 142 years. However, the mountain was still considered sacred, as the Temple Mount is still considered sacred to the Jews.
We know that there was a staircase built for people at the base of the mountain to ascend to the crest, and this is how people in the valley would have ascended to worship at Mount Gerizim during the time of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, in His discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well, she says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (referring to Mount Gerizim), and You say that in Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship.” (John 4:20)
In response Jesus replied
Woman, believe Me, that there is coming an hour when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem….But there comes an hour, and it now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking those to worship Him.
The Byzantine Empire was hostile toward the Samaritans.
In 392 AD, when Christianity became the only officially recognized religion in the Roman Empire, Samaritans were barred from worshiping on Mount Gerizim. Moreover, in 484 AD a Christian church was built on the summit of this mountain, dedicated to Mary Theotokis (Mary the God-Bearer).
The Church of Mary Theotokis.
By 529, the Roman Emperor, Justinian I made Samaritanism illegal, and constructed a protective wall around the church.
In response, in that same year, 529 AD a pro-Samaritan revolt had recaptured most of Samaria, destroying churches and killing the priests and officials. This is the year that the Samaritans burned down the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. However, in 531 AD Justinian completely quashed the revolt, and the surviving Samaritans were mostly enslaved or exiled. While this began the eventual decline of the Samaritan race, the mountain still kept its reputation to the Samaritans as a holy place.
After the Muslim takeover of the Holy Land the Church of Mary Theotokis was abandoned in the 8th century, and the fortress around it was dismantled in the 9th century. The ruins that visitors see today are mostly of the Byzantine Church which was built in 484 AD.