the-approach-to-the-temple-biblical-shechemWhere Abimelech Massacred a Thousand

In the time of Abimelech, a powerful warrior in early Israel, great events occurred in a fortified temple in Shechem. I believe that temple was found in an excavation at Shechem more than 75 years ago. But neither the original Austro-German excavators nor the later American excavators recognized it as being the temple of El, Lord of the Covenant, featured in Judges 9. The American excavators believed the temple was in use only in the Middle Bronze Age IIC period (1650–1550 B.C.E.), too early to be linked with the Biblical story, which is set in the period of the Judges (about 1200–1000 B.C.E.)

Once properly dated, the great fortified temple at Shechem, variously known as the Tower (migdal) Temple or the Fortress-Temple,1 can be seen as the setting of the dramatic events narrated in Judges 9.

In the days before the Israelite monarchy, when charismatic “judges” ruled the tribes of Israel, a certain Abimelech, the son of the judge Gideon (also called Jerubbaal) and Gideon’s Shechemite concubine, sought to rule over Shechem. When Gideon died, the kingdom of Shechem was to be ruled by Gideon’s 70 sons (Abimelech’s half-brothers; Judges 8-30 tells us, somewhat unnecessarily, that Gideon had many wives). Abimelech appealed to and gained the support of his mother’s paternal clan (missûpah\at bêt ’abî immô), which must have been an influential voice among the “lords of Shechem,” the notables who preferred being ruled by a half-Shechemite, such as Abimelech, than by the other sons of Gideon, who had no family ties to their clans.2 Abimelech’s maternal kin persuaded the notables of Shechem to give Abimelech 70 shekels of silver from the “house of ba‘al-berith” (that is, the temple of the “Lord of the Covenant” [Judges 9-4], apparently an epithet for El-berith [Judges 9-46])—the temple we will be examining more closely here. With the money, Abimelech hired a band of ruffians and slew his 70 half-brothers, all except the youngest, so the story goes, who escaped the slaughter by hiding; Abimelech was declared king of the region at the “Oak-of-the-Pillar in Shechem” (Judges 9-6).3

But Abimelech’s rule was short-lived. After three years, the notables of Shechem began to worry that vengeance would be brought against them for Abimelech’s massive fratricide, in which they were complicit (Judges 9-22–23). At the same time Abimelech put down a revolt against his authority by the Hamorite clan (literally, the “Donkey” clan) of Shechem, led by Gaal. The townspeople, fearing Abimelech’s wrath, retreated to the “stronghold of the house of El-berith” (Judges 9-46)—a reference to the Shechem Fortress-Temple. Abimelech and his men chopped a bundle of brushwood and placed the wood alongside the Temple and ignited it, killing about a thousand people trapped inside.

Despite his success at Shechem, however, Abimelech soon met an ignominious demise. He attacked the town of Thebez; there, too, the residents fled to a fortified tower within the city, and again Abimelech prepared to ignite a fire next to the tower. But before he could do so, a woman flung an upper millstone on his head, crushing his skull. The mortally wounded Abimelech hastily ordered his armor-bearer to kill him with a sword, lest people say that he was killed by a woman.a

Ancient Shechem (Tell Balata, near modern Nablus) was first excavated by an Austro-German team between 1913 and 1934. The Fortress-Temple was discovered in 1926 by the German excavator Ernst Sellin. In subsequent years the Austro-German archaeologists, following the reigning field methodology of that day, dug a trench along the walls of the great temple, cutting off all stratigraphic connections between walls, floor levels, foundation trenches and other features—thus creating an “island” of successive floors and other debris isolated from the surrounding walls. (It was not until Kathleen Kenyon brought the British method to the Holy Land that archaeologists began to correct these counterproductive excavation techniques.)

Between 1956 and 1973 Shechem was excavated by the Drew-McCormick Expedition, led by the famous Biblical archaeologist G. Ernest Wright, then at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Robert Bull, of Drew University, was the field supervisor of Field VI, where the sacred precinct was located. There is no question that Shechem in antiquity was crowned by an impressive Fortress-Temple. The problem concerns the date. Wright and Bull dated the construction of the temple to the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1650–1550 B.C.E. They called this building Temple 1 but gave it a lifespan of only about 100 years; they believed that Temple 1 had been replaced after a gap in occupation from about 1550 to 1450 B.C.E. by a much smaller and completely different temple—Temple 2—built on the ruins of Temple 1.4

This very simple and modest Temple 2 became Wright’s candidate for the temple of El-berith mentioned in Judges 9—a rather strange mistake for him to have made, since he was ever attuned to the insights that texts, especially Biblical texts, had to offer the archaeologist. A sensitivity to the interplay between Biblical text and archaeology is a lesson I myself learned from Wright. If the tragic story of Abimelech and the Shechemites had any realistic elements in it, one would have considered Temple 1 a much better candidate for the charnel house in which one thousand Shechemites were incinerated than the undersized Temple 2.

In my view, Temple 2 is wholly illusory, and Shechem’s mighty Fortress-Temple lasted well into Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.), the period of the Judges and the Biblical episodes involving Abimelech. Temple 1 was not destroyed until about 1100 B.C.E. Once this great temple is redated, we can see a variety of correlations between the archaeological remains and the Biblical text.

How Wright and Bull misdated the temple is an interesting study in archaeological analysis. The Austro-German team had not only excavated most of the floors and debris that contained much of the pottery for dating the building, but they also had severed the crucial connections between the main walls of Temple 1 and its floors and debris layers, leaving the American team with just a few ribbons of stratigraphy preserved under walls of later construction, none which could be connected directly to Temple 1.

When the Drew-McCormick expedition was excavating, the Fortress-Temple of Shechem was the largest known from ancient Canaan- 70 feet wide and 86 feet long, with stone wall foundations 17 feet thick.5 The thick foundations supported a multistory temple made of mudbricks and timber. Two large towers flanked the entrance on the east side of the temple and projected 16 feet in front of it. The upper stories, or galleries, were reached by stairwells in the towers. Two rows of three fluted stone columns divided the main hall into a nave and side aisles.6 To span the columned hall, ceiling timbers must have been about 13 feet long. Temple 1 might have had a clerestory; that is, the upper part of the walls of the central hall (or nave) of the temple, above the roofs of the side aisles, was pierced by windows to illuminate the interior. Wright and Bull identified two phases in the life of Temple 1 (Temple 1a and 1b), which they thought correlated with two different floors they could see in the columns of earth; they were still preserved inside the building but cut off by the earlier excavators from the main walls of the temple.

Wright and Bull believed there was a gap of about a century before Temple 2 was built above Temple 1.7 They identified Temple 2 from scant remains, just two walls (labeled 5703 and 5704 in the plans), which they thought had originally been part of a rectangular structure about 41 feet by 52 feet and which they dated from about 1450 B.C.E. to about 1125 B.C.E., when it was supposedly destroyed in the fires of Abimelech. Then in the ninth century B.C.E., Wright and Bull believed, the walls of Temple 2 were incorporated into the foundations of the outer walls of a new structure (Building 5900), which they identified as a public granary.8 Thus, from what they believed were two “stray” lengths of wall, Wright and Bull created a non-existent temple.

Several factors led Wright and Bull to differentiate Walls 5703 and 5704 (Temple 2) from the two walls preserved of Building 5900 (the Granary) above them. Wall 5704 was one course high and a bit wider than the one-course-high Wall 5904 lying atop it. Wright and Bull disassociated the upper course (5904) from the lower course (5704), linking the upper course with the Granary and the lower course with Temple 2. They also thought that Wall 5703 was an anomaly. Though it lay directly on the much wider wall of Temple 1, they thought the form of its stones and construction style differed from the course above (5903). They then paired Walls 5704 and 5703 and, voila, Temple 2 was conjured into existence. I am convinced, however, that there never was a Temple 2. Walls 5703 and 5704 were simply the lower courses of Walls 5903 and 5904 and were part of Building 5900, the so-called Granary.

What about the factors that led Wright and Bull to distinguish these walls from the walls above? They can all be discounted. Wall 5704 was lower than most of the walls of Building 5900 because it was built not on top of the massive walls of Temple 1, as the other outer walls of Building 5900 were, but across the interior of the temple’s cella (the inner sacred area). Why was Wall 5704 wider than Wall 5904? Because the upper course was either partially robbed out in antiquity or because it had partially eroded. What about Wall 5703’s supposedly different appearance? I’m not convinced that there is a really significant difference between these two courses; the real difference seems to be that both the Granary walls and those of Temple 2 were built of a softer limestone than had been used in Temple 1.9 There is also the strange “coincidence” that both of the walls of Temple 2 were oriented in the same direction and were preserved for the same length as the courses above them assigned to the Granary.10

The invention of Temple 2 has important ramifications in understanding the chronology of the sacred precinct at Shechem. In Wright’s view, Temple 1 was in use in the Middle Bronze Age (1650 to 1550 B.C.E.), Temple 2 was in use in the Late Bronze Age and into Iron Age I (1450 to 1125 B.C.E.), and Building 5900 (the Granary) was in use during Iron Age II (860–810 B.C.E.).11 Temple 2, for Wright, was the logical candidate for the Temple of El-berith in Judges 9, despite its utterly unimposing character. By eliminating Temple 2 we free up several floors, surfaces and fills to be reassigned to Temple 1, thus continuing its life well into the Iron Age.

That Temple 1 is the temple referred to in Judges 9 is far more compelling. For Temple 1 is indeed an impressive structure—a real Migdal (Tower/Fortress) Temple. Unlike the imaginary Temple 2, Temple 1 was large enough to hold the thousand desperate Shechemites described in Judges 9, who had hoped the mighty structure would save them from Abimelech’s wrath. Temple 1 was the Temple of El-berith, that is, El, Lord of the Covenant.

Thanks to the work of Wright and his team and of his Austro-German predecessors, who made excellent plans of the building and its surroundings, we have a good idea of just how impressive the Shechem temple was. In the courtyard in front of the temple, about 21 feet east of the entrance, stood a large rectangular altar made of earth and stone. It measured 5.4 feet wide, 7.2 feet long and 1.2 feet high. Such a sizable open-air altar was probably meant for animal sacrifice.12

About 6 feet east of the altar stood an enormous stela, or slab, of shaped limestone, called Masseba 1 (masseba [plural massebot] is the Biblical term for a standing stone erected for a cultic purpose).13 The slab stela is almost 5 feet wide and 1.5 feet thick; it still stands almost 5 feet tall, although in antiquity it was probably twice that height, to judge from the proportions of known stelae. The upper half must have been broken off in antiquity (as also happened to the “House of David” stela from Dan and that of Shishak from Megiddo). Nearby the Austro-German excavators found a stone socket with a groove 5.4 feet long, 1.5 feet wide and 1.33 feet deep—the perfect fit to hold Masseba 1 upright. Two smaller stelae (Massebot 2 and 3) flanked the entrance to the temple.

Let’s look again at the Biblical passage in which Abimelech was made king by the “notables [or lords] of Shechem”- “All the notables of Shechem, everyone of Beth-millo came together. They went and made Abimelech king beside the Oak-of-the-Pillar [masseba], which is in Shechem” (Judges 9-6).14 The likeliest place for the anointing of Abimelech would have been on the acropolis of Shechem, in the courtyard of the most prominent building in the city and the region, the Temple of El-berith; that is, in the courtyard of Migdal Temple 1, beside the great slab stela.

No inscription on Masseba 1 has survived. But the size, shape and above all the quality of preparation of the great slab stela suggest that it was once plastered and then painted over with an elaborate inscription. The Bible alludes to such painted stelae in Moses’ address to the Israelites in Deuteronomy. There Moses instructs the Israelites- “On the day that you cross over the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and cover them with plaster. You shall write on them all the words of this law…you shall set up these stones…on Mt. Ebal” (Deuteronomy 27-2–4). Mt. Ebal, we should note, overlooks Shechem.

The two stelae flanking the entrance to the temple probably also bore inscriptions on a plaster coating. Obviously, the inscriptions were not engraved; otherwise some traces of incised letters would have survived. We find something similar in the “Precinct of Tanit” of Carthage, where victims of child sacrifice were buried. Most of the sandstone monuments bore no inscriptions but had once been plastered and had traces of paint from inscriptions and imagery.b A long inscription, dating to the eighth century B.C.E., and discovered on plaster lying face down at Deir ‘Alla (Biblical Succoth), in Jordan, dealing with the seer Balaam (see Numbers 22–24), has usually been considered a wall inscription by epigraphists. But its findspot and curvatures indicate that it might have fallen from a plastered stela.15 If so, it would be a parallel to Masseba 1 at Shechem, on which the plaster is no longer preserved.

Sacred pillars, as well as altars and sacred trees, played a big role in the cultic world of the Biblical Patriarchs, as G. Ernest Wright rightly emphasized. Many of the theophanies (visions of the divine) experienced by the Patriarchs are portrayed as taking place in open-air precincts, and temples are not explicitly mentioned. We can infer a temple, however, from the vision commonly known as “Jacob’s Dream of the Ladder” (Genesis 28). Actually the word once translated “ladder” (sullaµm) is, as the Biblical and Near Eastern scholar Ephraim Speiser notes, more properly rendered “stairway.”16 This stairway to the stars reached earth, and the angels of Elohim went up and down these steps from earth to heaven. In other words, Jacob dreamed of a temple with a monumental stairway having steps leading to its sacred portals, the gateway to heaven, the temple being the likeness of heaven on earth. Jacob awoke from his dream and exclaimed- “How awesome is this holy place (maqom)! This is none other than the House of Elohim and that is heaven’s gate!” He then took his pillow stone, set it up as a pillar (masseba), anointed it with olive oil and declared this holy site to be Bethel (that is, bêt-’el, the House, or Temple, of El).

One other element besides the altar and pillars completes the temple precinct at Shechem- sacred trees. In the passage in which Abimelech is crowned king, the Bible records- “They went and made Abimelech king by the Oak-of-the Pillar.” (Given the archaeological methods and recording techniques in use during the 1920s and 1930s, when the courtyard was excavated, it isn’t surprising that there is no direct archaeological evidence for the sacred oak, since all that would have been left of its presence would have been tree pits with little or no organic remains.)

One of the most remarkable discoveries of sacred trees in the courtyard of Canaanite temples occurred not in Canaan but in Egypt, at what became the Hyksos17 capital of Avaris (Tell el-Dab’a). There Manfred Bietak and his Austrian team, using meticulous digging techniques, have excavated the largest Canaanite temple ever discovered. This was not a Migdal Temple but rather the even-more typical long-axis Canaanite temple, divided into three separate rooms, the innermost one being the “holy of holies.” The Tell el-Dab’a temple measured about 70 feet wide by 105 feet long. It was built in the late 18th century B.C.E. In its large open-air courtyard, 70 feet from the main entrance, stood a great altar for animal sacrifice. Next to the altar were one or two tree pits. The sacred trees must have been evergreen oaks transplanted from Canaan, for still lying in place on the altar was a cache of acorns.18

Abimelech’s Oak-of-the-Pillar must be the same sacred tree as the “Oracular Oak” (’elon moreh), which grows in the sacred place (maqom) of Shechem during the era of the Patriarchs (Genesis 12-6). (The word maqom can refer to a site in general, to a sacred place, to a shrine or to a temple.) According to the J source of the Pentateuch,c Abraham travels to the Oracular Oak at Shechem and experiences a theophany there. In this vision Yahweh promises- “To your offspring I will give this land.” Abraham then sanctifies this holy ground by building an altar there (Genesis 12-7). In the E source, this altar is attributed to Jacob, who erects it on a plot of ground purchased from, of all people, the “sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem” (Genesis 33-19–20). In Genesis 35 (also E), Jacob, before he departs for Bethel to build an altar there, buries his people’s earrings and images of “alien gods” “under the terebinth (’ela) which is in Shechem.” The tellers and writers of the patriarchal tales would have us believe that in that era there was no temple at Shechem or on any other location that was to become the patrimony of the Israelites. Only altars, sacred trees and sacred pillars stood there, consecrated in olden days by the Patriarchs. (If the Oak-of-the-Pillar [masseba] is to be identified with the Oracular Oak, then we should probably also add the Oak-of-the-Diviners, mentioned in Judges 9-37, to our sacred grove in Shechem.19)

Israelite religion continued to take shape during the period of the Judges. It is most likely that many of the patriarchal stories were formulated at that time. The first archaeologist and historian to break away from the synthesis forged by William F. Albright and by many others (Nelson Glueck, Roland de Vaux, Kathleen Kenyon, G. Ernest Wright, Ephraim Speiser), all of whom located the milieu of the Biblical Patriarchs in the Bronze Age (from 2000–1400 B.C.E.), was Benjamin Mazar. He recognized that the setting of many of the ancestral stories belonged in the early Iron Age (1200–1000 B.C.E.).

In a brilliant essay published in 1969, he noted that the “way of life and the ethnic and socio-political picture reflected in the patriarchal accounts generally correspond to the end of the period of the Judges and the beginning of the Monarchy.”20 During the formative period of the Israelite Tribal League, it is clear that the “patriarchal narratives carry certain elements that perform a crucial function in league epic and cults. The Patriarchs legitimize the league sanctuaries of the land- Bethel, Shechem, Hebron, Beersheba.”21 As we have seen from the patriarchal folklore centered on the holy precinct of Shechem, the epic composers describe open-air sanctuaries in the hoary days of the ancestors—an altar, sacred trees and pillars—without ever mentioning the Canaanite or non-Israelite temple of which these courtyard features were an essential part. Through “patriarchal precedence” the early Israelites laid claim to the holy ground on which stood the old Canaanite temples, such as that of El-berith at Shechem.22

Groves and gardens were key features of sacred areas in the ancient Near East, yet archaeological evidence for them—“pits” and irrigation channels—has often been overlooked or misinterpreted. But from literary and iconographic evidence, we know that temples commonly had gardens around them or nearby. Behind the twin temples at Late Bronze Age Emar in Syria, for example, was an open-air courtyard or esplanade with a large sacrificial altar and numerous pits, very probably for a sacred grove.23

The Bible contains several references and allusions to sacred gardens related to temples-

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

And grow like the cedar of Lebanon;

Transplanted to the Temple of Yahweh (bet yhwh),

They will richly flourish in the court of our God. (Psalms 2-13–14)

The righteous also flourish “like a green olive tree in the Temple of Elohim” (Psalm 52-8). In this same temple grove grow the “cedars of El” (commonly mistranslated “mighty cedars” in Psalm 80-10). In addition to sacred gardens associated with Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, sacred and royal gardens also grew in the valleys east and south of the City of David.24

The Fortress-Temple at Shechem had a remarkably similar “sibling” at Megiddo, Temple 2048.25 The temples at Shechem and Megiddo both had long and roughly contemporaneous histories, each lasting for more than 500 years (about 1650/1600–1100 B.C.E.). The Megiddo temple was smaller (54 feet by 70 feet) than its contemporary at Shechem, but with two towers flanking its entrance and walls 11.5 feet thick, it was a formidable edifice in its own right, also deserving of the name Migdal, or Fortress-Temple.

Like the Shechem Fortress-Temple, the one at Megiddo was probably dedicated to the Canaanite god El. University of Chicago excavators at Megiddo found in the temple a bronze statuette of a seated male deity, covered from head to foot with gold foil and wearing a conical crown and earrings. In his left hand he holds a divine emblem. The discovery near the Megiddo temple of a clay model of a liver, used for divination, and finger cymbals to accompany music and dance is further evidence of cultic rituals in the area.26

For many years the Shechem and Megiddo structures were the only known examples of temples with direct access to their central hall and with flanking towers at the entrance. In addition to a recently excavated example at Pella, in Jordan, Eliezer Oren has now discovered a Migdal Temple at Tel Haror, in the northern Negev. It, too, dates to the latter part of the Middle Bronze Age II (1650–1550 B.C.E.) but was much smaller (30 feet by 50 feet) than the other two; its walls were more than 8 feet thick.27

Size of a sanctuary probably reflects a city’s political and religious importance; the ranking order in Canaan, from greater to lesser, would thus have been Pella, Shechem, Megiddo and Haror. These Fortress-Temples of Canaan evolved from earlier temples from northern Mesopotamia and Syria that had buttresses flanking the entrance (called by scholars the Antentempel); those temples go back to the late third millennium B.C.E. Temple P2 at Ebla (65 feet by 108 feet), dedicated to the goddess Ishtar and dated to early in the second millennium B.C.E., even more directly anticipates the later exemplars of Fortress-Temples in Canaan.28

A second major discovery in the courtyard of the Canaanite tripartite temple at Avaris, in Egypt, highlights another important role these temples played- They served as the sites for covenant and treaty ratification ceremonies. In front of the Avaris temple, near the altar, pairs of sacrificed donkeys were buried in pits.29 This temple may have been dedicated to Ba‘al Saphon, the Canaanite storm god and protector of sailors. He is later identified with the Egyptian god Seth. A cylinder seal found in the 18th-century B.C.E. palace at Avaris shows Ba‘al Saphon striding from mountain to mountain (just as Yahweh does in the Bible) with Sea (the god Yam, represented by a snake) below, a bull and a lion on one side and a ship and a dolphin on the other.30 In the temple courtyard at Tel Haror many sacred pits (called favissae) were filled with ritually slaughtered animals, such as birds, puppies and donkeys.31

Finding the remains of animals in temples is no surprise, but the animals were used not only as sacrifices to the gods. They also played an essential role in treaties between various peoples. One well-known tablet from 18th-century B.C.E. Mari reads-

“I went…in order to kill a donkey foal between the Haneans and Idamaraz. They brought me a puppy and a goat, but out of respect for my lord I would not allow a puppy or a goat, so I insisted on sacrificing a donkey foal, the offspring of a female donkey. Thus I made peace between the Haneans and Idamaraz.”32

The notion of killing a donkey foal (or some lesser sacrifice) in order to seal a treaty between two parties gave rise to the Hebrew phrase kerat berit (literally, “to cut a covenant”), meaning “to make a treaty.” Frank M. Cross has shown that the divine name El-berith, “God of the Covenant,” is attested already in a Hurrian hymn from the second millennium B.C.E.33 We can be confident that the Temple of El-berith, the Temple of El of the Covenant, was the name attached to the Fortress-Temple at Shechem from its earliest days. It was where covenants were “cut” between parties and oaths of alliance were sealed in the names of each party’s deity.

The preeminence of donkey sacrifice in ratifying treaties also explains why the Donkey Clan—the Hamorites—was the dominant clan living in Shechem and was associated with the temple of El, Lord of the Covenant.34 It was to this group that Gaal appealed when fomenting his revolt against Abimelech’s rule. He stoked the Hamorites’ genealogical pride by invoking “Hamor, father of Shechem.” To seal their agreement to rebel against the half-Shechemite Abimelech, they held a banquet in the “temple of their god,” which can be none other than the Temple of El-berith. There they “ate, and drank, and ridiculed Abimelech.” Gaal then scornfully asked them- “Who is Abimelech and who are we of Shechem, that we should serve him? Did not the son of Jerubbaal and Zebul his officer serve the men of Hamor, father of Shechem? Why then should we serve him?” (Judges 9-26–29). The results of this rebellion were an unmitigated disaster for the Shechemites, who fled to the Temple of El-berith for security. It also was a disaster for the ruler Abimelech, and the Israelite clan or tribe, that he represented. Abimelech would soon face a widespread revolt and would lose his life at the hands of the woman of Thebez.

As storytellers sat around the campfires recalling the disastrous relations between the Israelites and the Hamorites during the days of Abimelech, they probably also related the story of the horrible relations between these two groups later encapsulated in Genesis 34, the J portion of the Israelite national epic. As the story goes- “Out went Dinah daughter of Leah whom she bore to Jacob, to see the girls of the land. Shechem son of Hamor, the Hivite, chief of the land, saw her. He took her and lay with her and degraded her.”35 This act outraged Dinah’s brothers, especially Simeon and Levi.

Whether seduction or rape, the cohabitation of Shechem, the uncircumcised Hamorite, and the Jacobite (“Israelite”) Dinah violated the patriarchal principles by which marriages were arranged by the family “fathers,” with little or no consent being required from the daughter in question. For Dinah to become the wife of Shechem without the consent of the father redounded in shame on the father’s household and kin group. For intermarriage to take place, both parties must ratify a covenantal agreement. In this case all able-bodied males of Shechem had to agree to be circumcised, as the Israelites were, circumcision being the “cut,” or mark, of covenant; thereby, they became one kindred. The town council (the equivalent of the “lords of Shechem” in the Abimelech story), not aware that the whole proposal was a ruse by the “sons of Jacob,” approved this action. The clan members agreed, and all able-bodied males were circumcised. But on the third day, while the Hamorites were still sore, the tribes of Simeon and Levi attacked and massacred all the males in the town. No doubt this patriarchal story would have resonated with the inhabitants of the region in the aftermath of the Abimelech disaster. It seems quite likely that the Dinah episode took shape as a piece of folklore during this time of trouble between Shechemites and Israelites in the region.

Much more harmonious times are portrayed during Joshua’s covenant-renewal ceremony between Yahweh and the members of the Israelite Tribal League held at Shechem. There Joshua set up a “great stone under the oak tree in the temple of Yahweh” (Joshua 24-26).36 The setting can be none other than the courtyard of Temple 1 with the great Masseba 1 at its center. In the Joshua legend the temple no longer belongs to El, but has been appropriated by Yahweh, the god of the Israelites.

Until its destruction in about 1100 B.C.E., Temple 1 at Shechem was the premier religious center in the highlands of Canaan. There disparate kin groups met to seal new alliances in the name of their deity, and old alliances gathered annually to rekindle their allegiance to the Tribal League and its deity. Most of the Biblical lore focusing on Shechem must have been compiled or created during this time or shortly thereafter, when the great Fortress-Temple stood at the center of highland religion.
After Abimelech and his band of ruffians destroyed Shechem, the sacred precinct, including the ruined temple, was converted into a grain storage area. The former temple and its surroundings were riddled with pits, some bell-shaped and more likely used for grain storage than for a sacred grove.37 The summit provided good drainage for the subterranean silos. By this time the once great temple was but a memory. The sacred center of the kindred of Yahweh (Judges 5) shifted south to Shiloh, where it remained for the next half century before shifting once more, for good, to Jerusalem.

This article was adapted from “The Fortress-Temple at Shechem and the ‘House of El, Lord of the Covenant,’” in Realia Dei (Edward F. Campbell Festschrift; Scholars Press, Atlanta- 1999).

a. See Denise Dick Herr and Mary Petrina Boyd, “A Watermelon Named Abimelech,” BAR 28-01.

b. See Lawrence E. Stager and Samuel R. Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage—Religious Rite or Population Control?” BAR 10-01. See also in Frank Moore Cross- Conversations with a Bible Scholar, ed. Hershel Shanks (Washington, D.C.- Biblical Archaeology Society, 1994).

c. According to what scholars call the Documentary Hypothesis, the Pentateuch consists of at least four discrete textual strands that have been woven together to make one continuous narrative- J or the Yahwist (in German Jahwist) used in this strand; E, or the Elohist, who uses a more generalized term (Elohim) for God; P, the Priestly Code, which makes up much of Leviticus; and D, which stands for the Deuteronomist and consists of much of the book of Deuteronomy.

1. Benjamin Mazar introduced the term migdal temple, which was then adopted by G. Ernest Wright, to describe the Fortress-Temple at Shechem. Mazar, “The Middle Bronze Age in Palestine,” Israel Exploration Journal (IEJ) vol. 18 (1968), pp. 93–94.

2. Perhaps Abimelech’s mother came from the most powerful founding family and leading clan of Shechem, the Hamorites (literally, the “Donkey” clan), whose eponymous ancestor, Hamor, father of Shechem (Judges 9-28), is also “chief” of the land of Shechem in the patriarchal tale of Dinah (Genesis 34-2). All of the sons of Gideon, including Abimelech, however, would have been known primarily by their paternal household and identified with the Abiezerites, a clan of the Israelite tribe of Manasseh, with headquarters in Ophrah. Both the clans of Abiezer and Shechem are mentioned as “sons of Manasseh” in the land allotments of that tribe (Joshua 17-1–2) and as descendants of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 7-14–19). In the eighth century B.C.E., these two clans were living near each other in the vicinity of Samaria, the capital city to which the clan territories of Abiezer and Shechem sent wine and olive oil. See Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Louisville, KY- Westminster John Knox, 2001), pp. 312–14.

3. Reading, with most commentators, ’elón ham-masseba; see George Foote Moore, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges (Edinburgh- T.& T. Clark, 1985), p. 244; and the discussion by Edward F. Campbell, “Judges 9 and Biblical Archaeology,” in Carol L. Meyers and Michael P. O’Connor, eds., The Word Shall Go Forth (David Noel Freedman Festschrift) (Winona Lake, Indiana- Eisenbrauns, 1983), pp. 263–271.

4. For the latest designations of the Shechem strata and dates for them, see Edward F. Campbell, Shechem III (Boston- American Schools of Oriental Research, 2002), pp. 8–9, where Temple 1 (Migdal Temenoi 7–6) is equated with General Stratum XVI–XV; Temple 2a and 2b (Building 5700), with General Stratum XIV–XI.

5. An even larger Migdal Temple has been excavated at Pella (in modern Jordan) during the past decade by a team sponsored by the University of Sydney, Australia. The Pella temple is 78 feet wide and 105 feet long. It was first built in 1650 B.C.E., at about the same time as Shechem Temple 1; it was rebuilt on a smaller scale in about 1350 B.C.E. and once again about 900 B.C.E. and destroyed a century later.

6. G.R.H. Wright, “Fluted Columns in the Bronze Age Temple of Baal-Berith at Shechem,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly vol. 97 (1965), pp. 66–84.

7. Wright, Shechem, pp. 87–102; Robert J. Bull, “A Re-examination of the Shechem Temple,” Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 23 (1960), pp. 110–119. For the latest strata descriptions and their dates, see Campbell, Shechem III, pp. 8–9.

8. This (mis)interpretation was based in part on William F. Albright’s linking a tripartite building form, having three parallel narrow long rooms, with store-houses (Hebrew, miskeánôt), which he likened in form to “modern American farm granaries.” Albright, Tell Beit Mirsim III- The Iron Age (New Haven, CT- American Schools of Oriental Research), pp. 22–24.

9. Campbell, Shechem III, p. 177.

10. The Austro-German excavators who dug parts of these buildings thought, as I do, that Wall 5703 was part of the building above it. See Wright, Shechem, p. 96.

11. For my part I do not believe Building 5900 was a granary, but rather an administrative building. The plan fits that of the “four-room” house, although Building 5900 is much bigger than domestic dwellings of that type, and as mentioned above it does not fit the pattern of the tripartite buildings. See Yigal Shiloh, “The Four-Room House- Its Situation and Function in the Israelite City,” IEJ, vol. 20 (1970), pp. 180–190; Stager, “The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 260 (1985), pp. 11–22; John S. Holladay, “House, Israelite,” Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 3, pp. 308–318; King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, pp. 28–35.

12. Wright, Shechem, figs. 10 and 72.

13. Wright, Shechem, fig. 28.

14. For the sources and attitudes of various Biblical writers towards sacred trees, altars and standing stones, see the judicious treatment by Elizabeth C. LaRocca-Pitts, Of Wood and Stone- The Significance of Israelite Cultic Items in the Bible and Its Interpreters (Winona Lake, Indiana- Eisenbrauns, 2001; Harvard Semitic Museum Monographs 61), pp. 161–249. For an excellent guide to the sources of the Pentateuch, see Table A.1 in Theodore Hiebert, The Yahwist’s Landscape (New York- Oxford Univ. Press, 1996).

15. See the discussion in André Lemaire, “La disposition originelle des inscriptions sur plâtre de Deir ‘Alla,” Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici, vol. 3 (1986), pp. 79–93.

16. Ephraim Speiser, Genesis (Anchor Bible Series 1; Garden City, NY- Doubleday, 1964), p. 218.

17. Canaanites who ruled Egypt for nearly a century between 1640 and 1540 B.C.E.

18. Manfred Bietak, Avaris- Capital of the Hyksos (London- British Museum, 1996), pp. 36–40 and fig. 30.

19. See Benjamin Mazar, “Shechem—A City of the Patriarchs,” in S. Ahituv, ed., Biblical Israel- State and People (Jerusalem- Magnes Press and Israel Exploration Society, 1992), pp. 42–54.

20. Mazar, “The Historical Background of the Book of Genesis,” in S. Ahituv and B.A. Levine, eds., The Early Biblical Period- Historical Studies (Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Society, 1986), p. 54, originally published in Journal of Near Eastern Studies vol. 28 (1969), pp. 73–83.

21. Frank M. Cross, From Epic to Canon- History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore- Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1998), p. 47.

22. King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, p. 109

23. J.-C. Marqueron, “Die Gärten im Vorderen Orient,” M. Carroll-Spillecke, ed., Der Garten von der Antike bis zum Mittelalter (Mainz am Rhein- Phillipp von Zabern, 1992), pp. 45–80.

24. See my forthcoming book, Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden (Random House). Also see my “Jerusalem as Eden,” BAR 26-03; and “Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden,” Eretz-Israel 26 (Frank Moore Cross Volume, Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Society, 1999), pp. 183*–194* (English section).

25. For Megiddo’s Migdal Temple (2048) remaining in use until the 11th century B.C.E. and for the possibility of the Shechem Migdal Temple continuing until then, see Amihai Mazar, “Temples of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages and the Iron Age,” in Aharon Kempinski and Ronny Reich, eds., The Architecture of Ancient Israel (Jerusalem- Israel Exploration Society, 1992), pp. 170–171, especially notes 42–43.

26. Gordon Loud, Megiddo II- Seasons of 1935–39 (Chicago- Univ. of Chicago Press, 1948), plate 185, pp. 4–5.

27. Eliezer D. Oren, “The ‘Kingdom of Sharuhen’ and the Hyksos Kingdom,” The Hyksos- New Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, ed. Eliezer D. Oren (Philadelphia- University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1997), pp. 253–283. For Migdal Temple, see fig. 8.8 and the discussion, pp. 263–266; Eliezer Oren, “Haror, Tel,” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, ed. Eric Meyers (New York- Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), vol. 2, pp. 474–476; J.D. Klenck, Animals in the Canaanite Cultic Milieu- The Zooarchaeological Evidence From Tel Haror, Israel (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1996).

28. Paolo Matthiae, “Ebla and Syria in the Middle Bronze Age” in The Hyksos, pp. 379–414; see especially p. 394 and fig. 14.9. Also see N. Marchetti and L. Nigro, “Cultic Activities in the Sacred Area of Ishtar at Ebla during the Old Syrian Period- The Favissae F. 5329 and F. 5238” Journal of Cuneiform Studies vol. 49 (1997), pp. 1–44; and “The Favissa F. 5238 in the Sacred Area of Ishtar and the Transition form the Middle Bronze I to the Middle Bronze II at Ebla” in K. Van Lerberghe and G. Voet, eds,. Languages and Cultures in Contact (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 96) (Leuven, Belgium- Peeters, 2000), pp. 245–287.

29. Bietak, Avaris, pp. 36–40; figs. 30–31; pls. 13–15.

30. ietak, Avaris, pp. 26–29; fig. 25 and pl. 12 C–D.

31. Oren, “Haror,” pp. 474–475. At the time of J. D. Klenck’s study of the fauna from the Temple precincts (note 27), few of the equid burials had been excavated. He examined two of the skeletons and concluded that they were Equus asinus (donkey). His study of many of the dog burials revealed that they were all puppies, six months old or younger; their necks had been broken. See Oren, “The ‘Kingdom of Sharuhen’ and the Hyksos Kingdom,” fig. 8.15 for puppy burial and fig. 8.18 for donkey burials at Tell el-`Ajjul. See also Billie Jean Collins, “The Puppy in Hittite Ritual,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies vol. 42 (1990), pp. 211–16.

32. Archives Royales de Mari 37; translation by Stephanie Dalley, in Dalley, Mari and Karana- Two Old Babylonian Cities (London- Longman, 1984), p. 140.

33. Cross, Canaanite Myth, p. 39.

34. William F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (Garden City- Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957 [original edition, 1940]), p. 279.

35. Usually this is taken to be a “rape” scene; however, Tikva Frymer-Kensky makes a good case for it being read as a seduction; see her Reading the Women of the Bible (New York- Schocken Books, 2002).

36. In the Masoretic Text (the traditional Hebrew text of the Bible), ha-’alla has the consonantal spelling of “terebinth” but the stem pattern of “oak”; see Robert G. Boling, Joshua (Anchor Bible Series 6) (Garden City, NY- Doubleday, 1982), p. 532.

37. See fig. 3, bell-shaped Pit 5095, for example, in Campbell, Shechem III, p. 150, fig. 142; and Wright, “The ‘Granary’ at Shechem and the Underlying Storage Pits,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft vol. 82 (1970), pp. 270–278.