Ebal and Gerizim (Anomalies noted)
mattfeld at mail.pjsnet.com
Thu Jul 13 12:24:33 EDT 2000
Locating Ebal and Gerizim (Some Anomalies noted)
It is puzzling to some commentators that after the fall of Ai, the narrator
has the blessing and curses being enacted at Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, near
Nablus (Shechem), because these areas lying farther to the north, have not
yet been conquered (Joshua 8:24-35). A ceremony "deep" in unconquered enemy
territory, immediately following the fall of Ai seems strange. Perhaps the
rabbis realizing this, moved the location of the mountains closer to Bethel
(Beitin) and Ai (et-Tell) ? Was the text edited by later generations to make
these mountains appear to be near to Bethel and Ai, contra Samaritan
The Medeba map is believed to have been based on a Roman road map prepared
by Eusebius, the bishop of Caesaria (3rd-4th century C.E.), and updated for
the floor mosaic in the 6 th century Byzantine church at Madeba in ancient
It is interesting to note that some rabbinical traditions as preserved in
this oldest surviving map of the Holy Land, locate Mt. Ebal and Gerizim near
Jericho instead of at Nablus, as observed:
"As Jewish guides were the only experts who could identify the biblical
sites, the early Christians had no alternative but to use their services,
and as a result many Jewish traditions in regard to various locations have
found their way into the Medeba Map. Thus, for example, the mountains Ebal
and Gerizim have been transferred to the neighborhood of Jericho, in
contradiction to the Samaritan tradition which was opposed by the rabbis. On
the other hand the author added on his own authority the names of the two
mountains (in Aramaic) at their true site near Sichem (Neapolis)." (cf.
Cartography I/1, Michael Avi-Yonah, "The Medeba Map," David H. K. Amiran, et
al., Atlas of Israel, Jerusalem, Survey of Israel, Ministry of Labour, 1970)
"The famous mountains Gerizim (Gabal at-Tor) and Ebal (Gabal Islamiya) are
listed twice on the Madaba map: above and beneath the plain of
Nablus/Shechem and at the edge of the mountains northwest of Jericho. Eus.
On. 64:9-17 locates them near Jericho, adding the following explanation: "
The Samaritans show other ones near Neapolis, but they are wrong, for the
mountains shown by them are too far from each other, so that it is
impossible to hear one's voice when calling to each other (See Deut.27).
This is, however, an error. The Samaritans laid claim to these mountains,
considering them to be their own holy mountains. Consequently, the orthodox
Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere felt forced to locate the biblical mountains
at another spot; the Samaritans were not allowed to be right. Eusebius
followed orthodox Jewish tradition. The mosaic artist preferred a Solomonic
solution: he listed the mountains twice, indicating by larger letters that
he regarded their location near Neapolis as being correct." (cf. p.48,
Herbert Donner, The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kok Pharos Publishing House,
Kampen, The Netherlands, 1992, ISBN 90-390-0011-5)
My Observations on the Madaba Map:
I note that Ebal (Greek: Gebal) is north of Gerizim, and both are north of
Ephron (modern at-Taiyibeh, 5km E of Beitin [locations given by Donner]),
Remmon (ar-Rumman, 5.5 km E of Beitin), and Bethel (Beitin). This suggests
to me that the mountain peaks above and east of modern Yebrud are possibly
the rabbi's Ebal and Gerizim.
The map has a lot of distortion to it. But plainly Ebal and Gerizim are to
the north of Bethel (modern Beitin), and overshadowing the Arabah valley and
Jericho and Gilgal.
The mountains are said to lie to the west of the road in the Arabah, where
lies Gilgal (De 11:30). I understand a road going north-south, from Jericho
and Gilgal, exists, and that to the west of this road lies "in outline" the
peaks of these mountains. In other words, the lower slopes of these
mountains form the western border of the Arabah (Gilgal being shown on the
Madebah map as in the Arabah, ENE of Jericho).
Commentators have expressed surprise about the biblical description of these
mountains, noting that the peaks about Shechem/Nablus are not visible from
the Arabah and the vicinity of Gilgal/Jericho. The rabbis in placing these
peaks west of Jericho do make them visible from the Arabah valley.
I note that we are told these mountains are near "the terebinths of
Moreh"(De 11:30, Tanakh, 1988). I suspect what is being described here is
the forested slopes of the mountain peaks above Yebrud, and south of Seilun
(Shiloh), this area being called Beni Murrah on the Palestine Exploration
Fund Map (1878, 1:63,000 sheet 14. I note that this same region appears as
"Murra," on another, later map, cf. "Jerusalem," 1:100,000 scale, Survey of
Ebal is probably Arabic Tall Azur, modern Israeli Baal Hazor, the highest
peak in the chain of mountains forming the western border of the Arabah. The
Madeba map shows Ebal to be a higher peak north of Gerizim, so perhaps the
lower slope of Baal Hazor is Gerizim ? Just below Tall Azur lies the village
of Deir Jarir; a slope near Jarir is called Ras ez-Zeimerah (just south of
the village), could Jarir-ez-zeim(erah) preserve Gerizim (cf. Sheet XIV,
grid: n/r, Palestine Exploration Fund Map, 1:63,000 London, 1878) ?
Bethel (Beitin) and Ai (et-Tell) lie about 10 km. (6 miles) away from Baal
Hazor and Jarir/ez-zeimerah. With this location, the covenant ceremony would
be within walking distance from Ai (et-Tell) to Ebal (Tall Azur ?) and
Gerizim (Jarir-ez-Zeimerah ?) vs. a "considerbly long walk" from et-Tell/Ai
There are problems with placing the mountains next to Bethel and Ai,
archaeologists have determined that the Nablus area is the correct location
and that rabbinical traditions are wrong, the Samaritans were right.
Any thoughts on any of this from the viewing audience ? I would be
interested in any other rabbinical or early christian traditions placing
these mountains near Bethel/Ai rather than Nablus.
All the best,
Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Walldorf by Heidelberg
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