The general situation and appearance of Mount Gerizim are described, and its position identified, in the article EBAL. Josephus calls it the highest of all the mountains of Samaria (Ant.
11.8.2), and uniformly places it in the immediate vicinity of Shechem, in agreement with holy Scripture (e. g. Ant.
5.1.19, 11.8.6, 13.9.1), so that the observation of St. Jerome, “Samaritani arbitrantur hos duo montes juxta Neapolim esse, sed vehementer errant,” --as though only the Samaritans assigned them that position,--is inexplicable. That Gerizim was regarded with special veneration by the Samaritans prior to the erection of the temple, by which the schism was perpetuated, cannot be doubted.
The circumstances which led to the erection of the temple are mentioned by Josephus (J. AJ 11.8.2
). Manasseh, the brother of Jaddua the high priest, having married Nicaso, the daughter of Sanballat, was required by the Jews either to divorce his wife, or to withdraw from the priestly office. His father-in-law persuaded him to retain his wife, on the promise that he would procure permission to erect on Mount Gerizim a temple similar to that at Jerusalem.
This permission he obtained from Alexander the Great, while engaged in the siege of Tyre, and its erection could scarcely have been completed when Sanballat died ( § 4). From this time forward sacrifices were offered at this temple to the Most High God, until the Samaritans, in order to escape a participation in the persecutions of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes, requested of him that their temple might be dedicated to Jupiter Hellenius, according to Josephus (J. AJ 12.5.5
), but, according to the author of the second book of Maccabees
(6.2), followed by [p. 1.992]
), to Jupiter Xenius. Shortly after, in the debate before Ptolemy Philometor (Ant.
13.3.4), the Samaritan advocates ignore its Pagan dedication, and claim Mosaic authority for its erection; failing to establish which, they were put to death.
The temple of Sanballat was destroyed by Hyrcanus, the Jewish high priest, after it had stood 200 years (Ant.
13.9.1); and we have no notice of its restoration. Indeed, the allusion of the Samaritan woman (John,
4.20) would seem to intimate that “this mountain” was no longer the seat of their worship; but a temple was afterwards erected, probably over the ruins of the former,--whether for the Samaritans or the Pagans is not clear, as Διὰς ὑψίστου ἁψιώτατον ἱερὸν,
in a heathen author, may mean either. (Damasc. ap. Phot. Bibl.
cod. 242. p. 1055.)
But there can be no doubt that this is the temple represented on the reverse of the coins of Flavia Neapolis from the time of Titus to Volusianus.
The temple is situated on the summit of a mountain, with numerous steps leading to it. (Eckhel, vol. iii. pp. 433, 434; Williams, Holy City,
vol. i. p. 241, n. 4.)
It was in the possession of the Samaritans in the fifth century, when, in A.D. 474, it was transferred to the Christians by the emperor Zeno, in reprisals for the ruin and desecration of five churches, by the Samaritans, in the city of Neapolis.
The church dedicated to the Virgin was slightly fortified, and guarded by a small de. tachment of the large garrison of the city.
In the reign of Anastasius it was recovered for a short time by the Samaritans, who were finally ejected by the emperor Justinian, when the mountain was more strongly fortified. (Procop. de Aedif. v.
7; Robinson, Bib. Res.
vol iii. pp. 123--125.) From that time to the present the Samaritans have had no edifice on the site, but for a very long period have been in the habit of sacrificing on the mountain at their three great festivals; a practice which is continued to the present day. “The spot where they sacrifice the passover, seven lambs among them all, is pointed out just below the highest point, and before coming to the last slight acclivity.
It is marked by two parallel rows of rough stone laid upon the ground; and a small round pit, roughly stoned up, in which the flesh is roasted.” A little beyond this, and higher up the mountain, “are the ruins of an immense structure, bearing every appearance of having once been a large and strong fortress.” They are called El-Kŭl'ah
(the castle) by the Samaritans, and are probably the remains of the fortress erected by Justinian. (Robinson, Bib. Res.
vol. iii. p. 99.) Round a large naked rock, a little to the south of the castle, which is reputed the most sacred place of all, are traces of walls, which may possibly indicate the position of the temple, particularly as the Samaritans profess that this is the place where the ark formerly rested in the tabernacle. Further south, and indeed all around upon this eminence, are extensive foundations, apparently of dwellings, as if ruins of a former city.
There are also many cisterns; but all.now dry.