Mount Ebal

EBAL, MOUNT ē’ băl (Heb. הַ֖ר עֵיבָֽל, known variously as Gr. Γαιβάλ, also as Jebal and Hebal). It is a 3,080 ft. mound of rock with little vegetation N of the valley of Shechem. It is opposite Mt. Gerizim and the two mountains form a steep embankment on the sides of the valley which runs E and W. The Mt. of Ebal was the scene of the reading and reaffirmation of the law before the encampment of Israel by Joshua and the priests and elders (Josh 8:30ff.). This was a renewal of the blessing upon Mt. Gerizim and the cursing upon Mt. Ebal pronounced by Moses prior to the entrance into Canaan by the Israelites (Deut 11:29ff.). This command was reiterated in Deuteronomy 27:4ff. These mountains and the highlands S of Esdraelon were divided between the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim. Omri, the king of the rebellious ten northern tribes, built his capital at Samaria which was later used as the name for this whole hilly region. During the period of Assyrian conquest all these cities and the areas around Ebal were depopulated and the inhabitants carried off to Mesopotamia. New Sem. peoples were deported to Samaria and the resultant fused culture with vestiges of the Jewish religious practice is called Samaritan.

Numerous small incidents have occurred in this area between the inhabitants and the invaders who periodically passed through these hills. The view from the summit of Mt. Ebal is frequently praised by 19th cent. travelers. Its height of almost 1,500 ft. above the valley proper makes it an excellent observation post; a fact not lost on the innumerable armies who crossed this land. The Muslims hold that the severed head of John the Baptist is buried here, and a small memorial building was erected over the traditional site in the Middle Ages. There are also ruins of early orthodox churches and what may have been monastic settlements which once stood on both Gerizim and Ebal. Recent excavations at the site of ancient Shechem have shown that the area was inhabited from the middle of the 4th millennium b.c., but received its greatest impetus to growth during the era of Israelite kingship at Samaria.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

e’-bal, (har `ebhal; Gaibal):

Rises North of the vale of Shechem, over against Mt. Gerizim on the South. The mountain (Arabic el-Iclamiyeh) reaches a height of 1,402 ft. above the floor of the valley, and 3,077 ft. above the level of the Mediterranean. The Samaritans feign that Gerizim is the higher; but it is more than 200 ft. lower than Ebal. These two mountains overhang the pass through which runs the main artery of intercourse between East and West, the city of Nablus lying in the throat of the valley to the West. The ancient Shechem probably stood farther to the East. The lower slopes of Ebal as one ascends from Nablus are covered with gardens and orchards, the copious streams from the fountains under Gerizim washing its foot, and spreading fertility and beauty. The vine, the fig and the olive grow luxuriantly. Higher up we scramble over rough rocky terraces, where grow only the ubiquitous thistles and prickly shrubs.

From the broad summit a view of surpassing interest and beauty rewards the climber’s toil. Westward beyond the hills and the plain of Sharon with its coast line of yellow sand running from Jaffa to Carmel, stretch the blue waters of the Mediterranean. From Carmel to Gilboa, Little Hermon and Tabor, roll the fruitful breadths of Esdraelon: the uplands of Galilee, with Nazareth showing on the brow above the plain, rise away to the buttresses of Lebanon in the North. From the snowy peak of Hermon the eye ranges over the Jaulan and Mount Gilead to the Mountain of Bashan in the East, with the steep eastern wall of the Jordan valley in the foreground. The land of Moab is visible beyond the Dead Sea; and the heights around Jerusalem close the view on the South.

Round this splendid mountain, seen from afar on all sides, religious associations have gathered from old time. The Moslem Weley on the top--the usual white-domed sanctuary--where it is said the head of the Baptist is buried, is doubtless the modern representative of some ancient seat of worship. The ruins of a church show that Christians also came under the spell of the hill.

The slopes of Ebal toward Gerizim played their part in that memorable scene, when, having conquered the central region of Palestine, Joshua led the people hither, erected an altar of unhewn stones, wrote upon the stones--either engraving on the stone itself, or impressing on plaster placed there for the purpose--a copy of the law, and then, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded, placed half the tribes on the slope of Gerizim, and half on those of Ebal, and the ark with the priests and Levites in the center. Then with dramatic responses from the two divisions of the people, the blessings and the cursings of the law were read (Jos 8:30 ff; compare De 27:11 ff). In all the future, therefore, this mountain, towering aloft in the very heart of the land, would remind beholders far and near of their people’s covenant with God. It has sometimes been questioned if the reading of the law could be heard by the people in the way described. The formation of the sides of the valley at the narrowest part, and the acoustics, which have been tested more than once, leave no reasonable doubt as to the possibility.

The importance of the mountain from a military point of view is illustrated by the ruins of a massive fortress found on the summit.