Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

more useful olive-trees', Abraham rested and built the first altar which the Holy Land had known. 2. What is thus faintly discerned in the life of the earlier

Patriarch, comes out clearly in the life of his descendFirst Settlement of ant Jacob. From the heights of Gilead, through Jacob.

the deep rent of the valley of the Zerka, or Jabbok, which forms one of the most remarkable features in the eastward view from the summit of Gerizim, Jacob descended with his “two bands;" probably by the same route as that through which his ancestor, from the same region of Mesopotamia, had entered the land. He advanced through the valley, which, leading direct from the northern fords of the Jordan, opens on the wide corn-plain already described, and pitched his tent before the city; and the spot where he had at last found a home after his long wanderings, became the first possession of himself and his race in Palestine. “He bought 'the’ parcel of the' field, where he had spread his tent," "of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for an hundred pieces of money'."

The wide “field,”—“ the cultivated field,” as it is thus distinctively called,-indicates by the mere fact of its selection the transition of the Patriarch from the Bedouin shepherd into the civilised and agricultural settler. In that “ field ” he remained. With the prudence characteristic of his whole life, he never advanced into the narrow valley between the mountains, where the city of Shechem itself stood; he and his sons still had their cattle in “ the field;" it was only the rashness of his children which drew them into the neighbourhood of the city, “to see the daughters of the land,” and to avenge the insult to their house'.

3. The same causes which had rendered Shechem and its First Capi

neighbourhood the primeval possession of Israel in tal of the Palestine, rendered it naturally the first capital, when Conquest. his descendants, emerging like him from the Bedouin life of their desert-wanderings, advanced from the last of their tent-encampments at Shiloh to fix themselves as a powerful nation in the heart of the country. Its central position, and

? Gen. xxxiii. 19.

See Van de Velde, i. 387.

3 Gen, xxxiv. 1, 7, 26.

its peculiar fertility, made it the natural seat of settled habitation in the north, even to a greater degree than the Vale of Mamre and Eshcol ensured, as we have seen, the same early privilege for Hebron in the south. “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by the spring;' 'whose branches run over the wall.” This is the great benediction of the possession of Jacob's favourite son. “So exceeding verdant and fruitful ” (to use the words of Maundrell, in whom the sight of this valley awakened a connection of thought unusual for himself and his age,) " that it may well be looked upon as a standing token of the tender affection of that good Patriarch to the best of sons'." But besides these natural advantages, the place was also consecrated by its ancient sanctuary. It was not merely the comfields and the valleys, nor even the sacred terebinths, nor yet the burial-place of the embalmed remains of Joseph, that gave its main interest to Shechem in the eyes of a true Israelite. High above the fertile vale rose the long rocky ridge of Mount Gerizim', facing the equally long and rocky range of Ebal. From the highest, that is, the eastern summit

Sanctuary of that ridge, not equal in actual elevation to Jerusalem, of Mount

Gerizim. but much more considerable than the Mount of Olives, above the level from which it rises, a wide view embraces the Mediterranean Sea on the west, the snowy heights of Hermor on the north, and on the east the wall of the trans-Jordanic mountains, broken by the deep cleft of the Jabbok. The mountain that commands this view, which is to Ephraim what that from Gibeon or Olivet is to Judæa, was from very early times a sacred place. It is difficult to disentangle the more ancient traditions from those which have been accumulated round it by the Samaritans of a later age; but it is in the

1 Gen. xlix. 22.

Early Travellers, p. 435. 3 It can hardly be doubted that Gesenius (Thes. i. 301) is correct, in deriving the name from an ancient tribe, of whom only one other trace remains in history-the “Gerizi,” or “Gerizites,” -1 Sam. xxvii. 8, (see the margin of our Bibles) probably an Arab horde which had formerly encamped here. So the Zemarites, once mentioned as a Canaanite tribe (Gen. x. 18), reappear in the local

name of Mount Zemaraim in Benjamin, 2 Chron. xiii. 4, and Joshua xviii. 22. So the Amalekites, who are mentioned in 1 Sam. xxvii. 8 as the neighbours of the Gerizites, gave their name to “the mountain of the Amalekites," also in the tribe of Ephraim (Judg. xii. 15). “Ebal" is more uncertain. Nor is the present aspect of the mountain, as compared with Gerizim, so barren as to justify its derivation from ebal, to strip of leaves."

[ocr errors]

highest degree probable that here, and not at Jerusalem, was the point to which the oldest recollections of Palestine pointed as the scene of Abraham's encounter with Melchizedek, and the sacrifice of Isaac; that the smooth sheet of rock on the top of the mountain, with the cave beside it, was from the most ancient times a seat of primitive worship, and is the most authentic remnant of such worship now existing in Palestine. It is possible that something similar once existed, or may even still exist, on the twin height of Ebal'. At any rate, these two mountains, with the green valley between them, are described as sacred places, hovering before the minds of the Israelites, even before their entrance into Palestine, and as being at once occupied by them with this view, as soon as they entered. “When the Lord thy God hath brought thee in unto the land whither thou goest to possess it, ... thou shalt put the blessing upon Mount Gerizim, and the curse upon Mount Ebal. Are they not on the other side Jordan, . .. . . in the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the desert' over against Gilgal, near' the 'terebinths' of Moreh '?" And accordingly, the curses and blessings are said to have been delivered on this spot in the very first days of the entrance, as though they had found their way at once from the Valley of the Jordan to this their sacred mountain, “The border of his sanctuary; the

1 The modern name of its western ex- Jordan. But the LXX renders “Arabah" tremity is Imad ed-Deen (the “pillar of here, as often elsewhere, dvouwv; and the religion”); of its eastern extremity, positive statement that the mountains “Sitti Salamiyah,” from the tomb were by the terebinths of Moreh, (to which of a female Mussulman saint. There the Samaritan Pentateuch adds “which is an account of the ascent of Ebal in were by Shechem”,) compels us to adhere Bartlett's Jerusalem, p. 251. (See also to the common view. The mention of Ritter, Pal. 640.)

Gilgal in Deut. xi. 30, is probably * Deut. xi. 29, 30. Jerome, “Onomas- introduced in reference to the scene of ticon,” (voce Gebal) distinguishes the Ebal the discourse of Moses on the east of and Gerizim spoken of here and in Joshua Jordan ; and in Joshua viii. 30, we may viii. 30-35, from the mountains of believe it possible that the Israelites Shechem, and he charges the Samaritans should have marched at once for that with gross error in having confounded one purpose from Ai to Shechem. (See them. “Sunt autem juxta Hierichunta Chapter IV.) In the Lxx, the narrative duo montes vicini inter se invicem re- is slightly transposed. 2. The wide spicientes, e quibus unus Gerizim, alter interval between the two mountains at Gebel dicitur. Porro Samaritani arbi- Shechem is (as Jerome remarks) difficult trantur hos duos montes juxta Neapolim to reconcile with the statement, that the esse, sed vehementer errant." It is words were beard across the valley. “Plucertainly a curious fact that two moun- rimum inter se distant; nec possent invicem tains were shown as such in his time near benedicentium sive maledicentium inter Jericho, probably part of the range of se audiri voces.” But the ceremony may Quarantania ; and there is at first sight have taken place on the lower spurs of much to be said in favour of this position. the mountains, where they approach more 1. The mention of Gilgal, first in Deut. xi. nearly to each other-and I am informed 30, and then by implication, in Joshua that even from the two summits shepviii. 30 (compare v. 10 and ix. 6), natu- herds have been heard conversing with rally leads us to look for the mountains each other, as also from one summit of in the neighbourhood of Jericho; and the Mount Olivet, the boys are able to hold Hebrew text, “that dwell in the desert," conversations on trivial natters with (Arabah, mistranslated “champaign,'') those on the other. Robinson (Later can only be applied to the valley of the Res.) mentions a spot in the Lebanon,

3

* mountain which his right hand had purchased'.”

With these combined forces of natural advantage and religious association, it is not surprising that during the whole of the early period of the settlement in Canaan, Shechem maintained its hold on the people. It was the seat of the chief national assemblies'. Within its ancient precincts, even after the erection of Jerusalem into the capital, the custom was still preserved of inaugurating a new reign. And Rehoboam went to Shechem: for all Israel were come to Shechem to make him king.”

4. One episode in the history of Shechem which took place during this period, is recorded in such detail, and is

Insurrecso illustrative of all the points we have noticed, that tion of

Abimelech. it must be briefly mentioned — the narrative of Abimelech's conspiracy to make himself king; the formation of the league of cities, under the protection of Baal-Berith, the 'god of the league,' and the insurrection of the original Canaanites of Shechem against the conquerors. One after another these features are introduced; the adjacent forest of Mount Zalmon'; the terebinths of Jacob; the “field”” before the city; the "shadows of the mountain-tops.” Most striking, too, is the appropriateness of the parable of Jotham-the first of the Biblical parables; deriving, like its more famous successors, additional force from the scene of its delivery. He addressed the

where voices can be heard for two miles. Compare also the statement respecting Jotham's speech on Gerizim in Judg. ix. 7; and compare the account of the Samaritan insurrection in A.D. 480, when the insurgents shouted from the mountain to their companions in the city of Neapolis (Wil. liams, Holy City, I. 287).

i Ps. lxxviii. 55. Such at least seems the most probable explanation according to the context. (Compare also Exodus xv.17.)

4 See the explanations of Judg. ix. by Patrick; and by Ewald (2nd edit. ii. 4444448).

5 Judg. ix. 48. It is possible that Zalmon may be another name for Ebal. At any rate it must have been near. The name occurs only once again, Ps. lxviij. 14, “white as snow in Zalmon.'"

Judg. ix. 37; “the plain of Meonenim" is properly “the terebinth of enchantments.” See Chapter II. ix. p. 142, note.

? Joshua xxiv. 1, 25.

31 Kings xii. 1. Compare the long tontinuance of Rheims, the ancient metropolitan city of France, as the scene of the French coronations.

7 Judg. ix. 32, 42, 43; in 27 and 44, wrongly translated in the plural, "fields."

8 Ibid. 36.

6

[ocr errors]

Shechemites, we are told, as he stood " in the top of Mount Gerizim.” This can hardly mean the summit, which is too far removed from the town, both in distance and in height, to allow of such a juxtaposition. But a lofty rock protrudes from the north-eastern flank of Gerizim, immediately overhanging what must have been the site of the ancient city. From thence Jotham might easily make himself heard, and readily escape down the mountain side. The dramatis persone of his parable were all before him. First, there was the olive, the special tree of Nâblus, clearly marked out as the rightful sovereign ; next to this would follow the rarer, but still commanding fig. tree, and the trailing festoons of the vine; last of all, the briar or bramble, whose worthless branches are still used for the fire-wood of the sacrificial oven, and whose unsightly bareness contrasts on the hill side with the rich verdure of his nobler brethren.

This is the last appearance of the primitive Shechem in the Jewish history. It was razed to the ground by Abimelech', and the place is no more mentioned till its revival in the monarchy.

5. Shechem, during its revival under Jeroboam, as the capital Sanctuary of the northern kingdom, furnishes no occasion of Samaritan remark; but its local recollections were gathered up sect. in considerable force when, under the contemptuous name of “Sychar, " it became, after the return from the exile, the seat of the mixed settlers commonly called Samaritans. Through all these vicissitudes, Gerizim, the oldest sanctuary in Palestine, retained its sanctity to the end. Probably in no other locality has the same worship been sustained with so little change orinterruption for so great a series of years as in this mountain, from the time of Abraham to the present day. In their humble synagogue, at the foot of the mountain, the Samaritans still worship,the oldest and the smallest sect in the world; distinguished by their noble physiognomy and stately appearance from all other branches of the race of Israel. In their prostrations at the

9

1 Judg. ix. 45. The site of the city thus destroyed by Abimelech was shown in Jerome's time near Joseph's sepulchre (De locis Hebraicis : voce Sichem). This, how. ever, was more likely the site of the city

destroyed before the building of Neapolis.

2 John iv. 5; perhaps so called by a play on the word “Shechem," in allusion to the “drunkenness" (shiccor) of its inhabitants. Isaiah xxviii, 1–7.

« EelmineJätka »