Excavating at Shechem

Shechem was an important city in Canaan. The city was in existence many years before the Israelites conquered the land.

When Abraham left Haran to come to the land of Canaan, he traveled the land as far as Shechem. In Shechem, the Lord appeared to Abraham and promised him to give the land to his descendants. As a result of that encounter with God, Abraham  built an altar at Shechem and dedicated it to the Lord (Gen 12:5-7).

Many years later, when Jacob returned from Paddan-Aram, he went to Shechem, purchased some land from the sons of Hamor and settled there. It was at Shechem that Jacob built an altar to God and called it El-Elohe-Israel (Gen 33:18-20). At Shechem Joshua renewed the covenant with a new generation of Israelites (Josh 24:1-17). After the division of the kingdom, Jeroboam rebuilt Shechem and the city became the first capital of the Northern Kingdom.

Recently, Dutch and Palestinian archaeologists have been digging on a lot that has become an unofficial dump for garbage and old car parts of the city of Nablus, ancient Shechem. The  project is sponsored by the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, which is trying to recover the rich history of ancient Shechem.

An article published in The Huffington Post World gives some details of the history of Shechem dating back to the second millennium B.C.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

The king of Shekhem, Labaya, is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Pharaonic archive found at Tel al-Amarna in Egypt, which are dated to the 14th century B.C. The king had rebelled against Egyptian domination, and soldiers were dispatched north to subdue him. They failed.

The city also appears often in the biblical narrative. The patriarch Abraham, for example, was passing near Shekhem when God promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants in the Book of Genesis. Later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob was camped outside the walls when a local Canaanite prince raped his daughter, Dinah. Jacob’s sons sacked the city in vengeance. The body of Jacob’s son Joseph was brought from Egypt hundreds of years later by the fleeing Israelites and buried at Shekhem.

Nablus has since spread, and ancient Shekhem is now surrounded by Palestinian homes and car garages near the city’s eastern outskirts. One morning this week, a garbage container emitted smoke from burning refuse not far from the remains of the northwestern city gate in a curved wall built by skilled engineers around 1600 B.C.

A visitor can walk through the gate, passing through two chambers before emerging inside the city. From there it is a short walk to the remains of the city’s temple, with a stone stele on an outdoor platform overlooking the houses below.

The identity of the city’s residents at the time remains unclear. One theory posits that they were Hyksos, people who came from northern Syria and were later expelled from Egypt. According to the Bible’s account, the city was later Canaanite and still later ruled by Israelites, but archaeology has not corroborated that so far.

The article is illustrated with a few pictures of the city and the dig at Shechem. You can read the article by visiting The Huffington Post.

NOTE: For other articles on archaeology, archaeological discoveries, and how they relate to the Bible, read my post Can Archaeology Prove the Bible?.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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