One of the interesting personages in the kaleidoscopic history of Judges, Abimelech, the son of Gideon and a concubine, is closely associated with Shechem. Abimelech conspired with his mother’s relatives to kill all the other sons of Gideon and to have himself made king of Shechem (Judg.9.6). Trouble developed between Abimelech and the people of Shechem; a conspiracy against Abimelech was revealed to him by the ruler of the city. In the fighting that followed, Abimelech took the city and completely destroyed it. When a number of people took final refuge in the stronghold of the temple of Baal-Berith or El-berith, Abimelech gathered fuel and fired the stronghold, so that about one thousand persons perished in the conflagration (Judg.9.46-Judg.9.49).

The name Shechem occurs in historical records and other sources outside Palestine. It is mentioned as a city captured by Senusert III of Egypt (nineteenth century b.c.) and appears in the Egyptian cursing texts of about the same time. “The mountain of Shechem” is referred to incidentally in a satirical letter of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Shechem also figures in the Amarna Letters; its ruler, Lab'ayu, and his sons are accused of acting against Egypt, though the ruler protests that he is devotedly loyal to the pharaoh. The site of the ancient city is Tell Balatah, just east of Nablus. The tell has a mixed archaeological history: E. Sellin began work here in a.d. 1913 and resumed it in 1926. In 1928 G. Welter succeeded him as director; in 1934 the seventh and final campaign of the German archaeologists was in charge of H. Steckeweh, whose labors are of particular value because the previous work had shown inadequate handling of both pottery, chronology, and stratigraphy. In spite of limitations, the work produced some important results. In the first campaign a triple gate of Middle Bronze date was found in the NW section of the city; nearby, unearthed in 1926, was a large temple that has been identified as the temple of Baal-Berith. In 1926 the eastern gate of the city was found, along with part of the city wall. Middle Bronze Shechem had a fine battered (sloping) wall of large, undressed stones, found standing to a maximum height of thirty-two feet (ten m.), with some of its stones over six and one-half feet (two m.) long. Hyksos-type fortifications also occur at Shechem, with ramparts of beaten earth. Several cuneiform tablets of the Amarna Age add to the store of written materials from Palestine. In 1934 a limestone plaque bearing a representation of a serpent goddess and an inscription in alphabetic script was found. The most recent work at Balatah is that of the Drew-McCormick Expedition, with G. Ernest Wright as director. The first two seasons (1956, 1957) were devoted to a study of the fortifications and of the temple area. In 1960 work was continued on the temple and the palace underlying it, and the expedition set for its objective the recovering of the stratigraphy of the city in a residential complex. It is of great interest that the excavators conclude that the temple of Baal-Berith (Judg.9.4), “Beth Millo” (Judg.9.6), and the “tower” (Judg.9.46ff.) are designations of the same temple-citadel structure. It is significant for the chronology of Judges that it appears that the events of Judg.9.1-Judg.9.57 are to be dated to the first half of the twelfth century b.c. Considerable work for the future is outlined by staff members of the expedition.——CEDV

Looking down to Shechem from Mt. Gerizim (Josh. 24).
Jacob's Well in Shechem, where an unfinished Crusader church stands.

SHECHEM shĕk’ əm (שְׁכֶ֔ם; Συχέμ, ἡ Σίκιμα, τὰ Σίκιμα, etc; shoulder or slope; KJV usually has SHECHEM but SICHEM in Gen 12:6 and SYCHEM in Acts 7:16). 1. The son of Hamor the Hivite who raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and who was killed by Simeon and Levi (Gen 34; Josh 24:32; Judg 9:28). See further below, § 4 B.

2. A descendant of Joseph and of Manasseh (Num 26:31) and the founder of a family (Josh 17:2).

3. The second son of Shemida of the tribe of Manasseh (1 Chron 7:19).

4. An ancient Canaanite town in the hill country of Ephraim (Josh 20:7) in the neighborhood of Mt. Gerizim (Judg 9:7), being about thirty-one m. N of Jerusalem. It became an important Israelite political and religious center. The site is known today as Tell Balatah.

The name.

It was once thought that the name derived from Shechem the son of Hamor (Gen 33:18, 19) but it now seems more probable that the name referred to the geographical setting of the city, it being more or less on the slope of Mt. Gerizim. (On the origin of place names and their meaning see Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible [1967], 96ff.; for a similar use of anatomical terminology relating to geography, see “navel of the land” [Judg 9:37].) The name is now known to have been used in extra- and pre-Israelite sources. It occurs in Egyp. texts dating from 19th to 17th centuries b.c. and in the Amarna letters (see ANET, 230, 329, 477, 485-487, 489, 490). It appears as Sakmemi, Sakmami and Sekmem. The name also occurs in one of the early 8th cent. b.c. ostraca from Samaria.


Early archeological expeditions were conducted at the site of Tell Balatah by Carl Watzinger from 1907-1909 and by Ernst Sellin and others between 1913 and 1934. In 1956 further excavations were begun by the Drew-McCormick Expedition in collaboration with the American School of Oriental Research. The excavations have uncovered the history of the site from the beginning of the fourth millennium b.c. down to c. 108 b.c. when the city evidently met its end.

The first signs of occupation were Chalcolithic campsites (c. 4000 b.c.) discovered immediately above bedrock in the lowest strata. Some pottery fragments were found for the period following this, though it appears that the site was not actually occupied again till c. 1800 b.c. The city then quickly reached the height of its prosperity under the Hyksos (1700-1550 b.c.).

From the beginning of the Hyksos period, the story of the city is one of building and rebuilding. A massive wall was built around the city and a large palace built within it. In c. 1650 the palace area was covered over and the great temple of Shechem was erected in its place. Egyptian military expeditions destroyed the temple about a cent. later and it was then rebuilt on a smaller scale. This temple must still have been standing when the Israelites invaded the land (see the references to the Amarna letters above). The destruction of the city by Abimelech (see Judg 9:45) is evident in the archeological record which places it in the 7th cent. b.c. The site was then utilized for storage pits until the days of the monarchy when a granary was built there. The city appears to have been reasonably prosperous again during the 9th and 8th centuries b.c., though it could not compare with the status it had assumed under the Hyksos. There is ample evidence in the masses of brick and burned debris for the destruction of the city by the Assyrians when they invaded in 724-721 b.c.

For four centuries following this, the city reverted to village status until the Samaritan period. Between c. 325 and c. 108 b.c., the palace was again rebuilt and enjoyed some prosperity. There is a continuous coin record for this period of the town’s existence. The abrupt end to this numismatic evidence suggests that the town may have been finally destroyed by John Hyrcanus along with the city of Samaria in c. 108 b.c.

Physical features.

Ancient Shechem lay in the pass which runs between Mt. Ebal on the N and Mt. Gerizim on the S. Part of the ancient road connecting the E bank of the Jordan with the Mediterranean coast ran through this valley and connected with a N-S route known as “The Way of the Diviner’s Oak” at Shechem. The city enjoyed a good water supply and a fertile plain directly to the E. Shechem did not have the advantage of elevated terrain, thus necessitating its massive fortifications. Nevertheless, its location did mean control of some of the main roads through the mountainous regions of N Canaan, a feature of considerable military importance.

Shechem in the Bible.

Shechem first enters the Biblical narrative in Genesis 12:6f., when Abram left Haran and journeyed to Canaan with his family and possessions. Abram’s first stopping place was the oak of Moreh near, or at, Shechem. The Canaanites were still in the land, but Yahweh appeared to Abram and renewed his covenant promise. Abram built an altar there.

In later years Jacob camped before the city of Shechem on his return from Paddan-aram. Here he bought a parcel of land from the sons of Hamor, the Hivite prince of the area, and built an altar to El-Elohe-Israel (God, the God of Israel; Gen 33:18, 19; 34:2). Shechem defiled Jacob’s daughter Dinah, and this resulted in a formal agreement between the Shechemites and Israel to permit intermarriage between the two peoples. Simeon and Levi, however, took revenge, killing Hamor and Shechem and all the males, plundering the city and taking captive all the women and children with their possessions (ch. 34).

It was near Shechem that Jacob hid the foreign gods of his family under the oak (35:4). Interestingly, Jacob’s sons later pastured their flocks near Shechem where Joseph went to find them (37:12ff.). It seems that Jacob wished to be friendly with the Shechemites (34:30; 49:5-7) and it appears that the pillaging of the town mentioned above did not permanently mar relations between the two peoples. Indeed, the body of Joseph, brought up from Egypt, is recorded to have been buried at Shechem (Josh 24:32; cf. Acts 7:16).

Nothing is said of Shechem during the united kingdom period. It was at Shechem, however, that the northern tribes rejected Rehoboam and made Jeroboam their king, thus creating the divided monarchy (1 Kings 12:1-19; 2 Chron 10ff.). Shechem then became, for a time at least, Jeroboam’s capital in the N and he began to rebuild it (1 Kings 12:25). Within a short time, however, he moved the capital to Penuel and then to Tirzah, possibly in an effort to make the capital less vulnerable to Judean attack.

There is evidence that Shechem continued to exist with some degree of importance during the times of Hosea (see Hos 6:9) and Jeremiah (see Jer 41:5), though little is known of it in this period. Nothing is said, for example, of the fate of the town under Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. The OT itself gives no information concerning Shechem during the postexilic period. From other sources, however, we know that Shechem became the leading city of the Samaritans (Jos. Antiq. XI. viii. 6) and was taken by John Hyrcanus (op. cit. XIII. ix. 1). After the war of a.d. 70, the town was refounded and named Flavia Neapolis in honor of Flavius Vespasianus. The modern Nablus, W of Tell Balatah, derives its name from this rebuilt city. A small community of Samaritans has continued to live in the area in modern times.


E. Sellin, ZDPV (1926, 1927, 1928); E. Sellin, ZAW, L (1932), 303-308; E. Sellin and H. Steckeweh, ZPDV (1941); W. Harrelson, The City of Shechem: Its History and Importance (1953), Microcard Theological Series, no. 3, 1-603; E. Nielsen, Shechem, A Traditio-Historical Investigation (1955), 3-357; G. E. Wright, “The First Campaign at Tell Balatah (Shechem),” BASOR, no. 144 (1956), 9-23; ibid. “The Archaeology of the City,” BA, XX, no. 1 (1957), 19-32; ibid., “The Second Campaign at Tell Balatah (Shechem),” BASOR, no. 148 (1957), 11-28; B. W. Anderson, “The Place of Shechem in the Bible,” BA, XX, no. 1 (1957), 10-19; W. Harrelson, “Shechem in Extra-Biblical References,” BA, XX, no. 1 (1957), 2-10; H. C. Kee and L. E. Toombs, “The Second Season of Excavation at Biblical Shechem,” BA, XX, no. 4 (1957), 82-105; E. F. Campbell, R. J. Bull and G. R. H. Wright, BA, XXIV (1960); G. E. Wright, BASOR, no. 161 (1961); ibid., BASOR, no. 169 (1963); E. F. Campbell, Jr. and J. F. Ross, “The Excavation of Shechem and the Biblical Tradition,” BA, XXVI, no. 1 (1963), 2-26.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(shekhem, "shoulder"; Suchem, he Sikima, ta Sikima, etc.; the King James Version gives "Sichem" in Ge 12:6; and "Sychem" in Ac 7:16):

1. Historical:

2. Location and Physical Features:

There is no doubt as to the situation of ancient Shechem. It lay in the pass which cuts through Mts. Ephraim, Ebal and Gerizim, guarding it on the North and South respectively. Along this line runs the great road which from time immemorial has formed the easiest and the quickest means of communication between the East of the Jordan and the sea. It must have been a place of strength from antiquity. The name seems to occur in Travels of a Mohar (Max Muller, Asien u. Europa, 394), "Mountain of Sahama" probably referring to Ebal or Gerizim. The ancient city may have lain somewhat farther East than the modern Nablus, in which the Roman name Neapolis survives. The situation is one of great beauty. The city lies close to the foot of Gerizim. The terraced slopes of the mountain rise steeply on the South. Across the valley, musical with the sound of running water, the great bulk of Ebal rises on the North, its sides, shaggy with prickly pear, sliding down into grain fields and orchards. The copious springs which supply abundance of water rise at the base of Gerizim. The fruitful and well-wooded valley winds westward among the hills. It is traversed by the carriage road leading to Jaffa and the sea. Eastward the valley opens upon the plain of Makhneh. To the East of the city, in a recess at the base of Gerizim, is the sanctuary known as Rijal el-`Amud, literally, "men of the column" or "pillar," where some would locate the ancient "oak of Moreh" or "of the pillar." Others would find it in a little village farther East with a fine spring, called BalaTa, a name which may be connected with balluT, "oak." Still farther to the East and near the base of Ebal is the traditional tomb of Joseph, a little white-domed building beside a luxuriant orchard. On the slope of the mountain beyond is the village of `Askar; see Sychar. To the South of the vale is the traditional Well of Jacob; see Jacob’s WELL. To the Southwest of the city is a small mosque on the spot where Jacob is said to have mourned over the blood-stained coat of Joseph. In the neighboring minaret is a stone whereon the Ten Commandments are engraved in Samaritan characters. The main center of interest in the town is the synagogue of the Samaritans, with their ancient manuscript of the Pentateuch.

3. Modern Shechem:

The modern town contains about 20,000 inhabitants, the great body of them being Moslems. There are some 700 or 800 Christians, chiefly belonging to the Greek Orthodox church. The Samaritans do not total more than 200. The place is still the market for a wide district, both East and West of Jordan. A considerable trade is done in cotton and wool. Soap is manufactured in large quantities, oil for this purpose being plentifully supplied by the olive groves. Tanning and the manufacture of leather goods are also carried on. In old times the slopes of Ebal were covered with vineyards; but these formed a source of temptation to the "faithful." They were therefore removed by authority, and their place taken by the prickly pears mentioned above.