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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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GERIZIM.—In relation to the life and teaching of Jesus, the interest of Mt. Gerizim lies in its being the mountain to which the woman of Samaria referred on the occasion when Jesus uttered His memorable words, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father’ (John 4:21).

The establishment of Mt. Gerizim and its temple as the sacred Place of the Samaritans in rivalry to Jerusalem, is bound up with the growth of the jealousy and hatred between Jews and Samaritans, which had attained such magnitude in the days of our Lord. The story given by Josephus of the founding of the temple on Mt. Gerizim (Ant. xi. viii. 2–4) is that Manasseh, brother of Jaddua, high priest at Jerusalem, married the daughter of Sanballat (Nehemiah 4). For this marriage he was threatened with expulsion unless he divorced his wife. He thereupon appealed to Sanballat, who built for him the temple on Mt. Gerizim, and made him its first high priest. This story ‘seems to be derived from some apocryphal Jewish account of the origin of the Samaritan temple’ (Sayce, art. ‘Sanballat’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible). According to Nehemiah 13:28, a grandson of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat, and was expelled for this ‘mixed marriage.’ More reliable, if less definite, ground is to be found in 2 Kings 17:24-28, from which we learn that the king of Assyria sent back one of the priests whom he had carried away from the Northern Kingdom, to teach the heathen peoples whom he had settled there ‘the manner of the God of the land.’ Thus the worship of Jehovah was preserved in Samaria, and gradually asserted itself over the ‘gods of their own’ which every nation made. In the days of Ezra, when the temple at Jerusalem was being rebuilt, the Samaritans, who are called ‘the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin,’ desired to assist in the task, for they said, ‘We seek your God as ye do.’ This request was refused (Ezra 4:1-3), and thus the founding of a rival shrine became inevitable. See also art. Samaritans.

The claim of the Samaritans, that Mt. Gerizim was the true centre of the worship of Jehovah, rested upon a statement in their version of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 27:4 f. where ‘Gerizim’ is substituted for ‘Ebal’ of Massoretic Text) definitely prescribing that an altar should be built there. They also supported the claim of their shrine by traditions in which it was represented as the mountain on which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac (cf. G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] 334, note), the place where Abraham was met by Melchizedek, and also the scene of Jacob’s dream.

Apart from such traditions, the position of Mt. Gerizim and its vis-à-vis Mt. Ebal, at the head of the pass leading right through from the river Jordan to the sea, and also at the point where the great north road from Jerusalem to Galilee intersects this pass, has given them a commanding place in the topography of the Holy Land, and has led to their association with important events in the history of Israel. Shechem, which lay between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, is associated with the entrance of both Abraham and Jacob into the promised land (Genesis 12:6; Genesis 33:18). It was near Shechem that Jacob purchased the parcel of land from the children of Hamor, on which he erected an altar, and sank a well for his family and flocks. It was in this parcel of land that Joseph was buried (Joshua 24:32). Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, again, were the scenes of the great inaugural service of all Israel on taking possession of the promised land (Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 11:32; Deuteronomy 27:11-12, Joshua 8:33-34). And it was at Shechem that Joshua gathered together the people for the renewal of the covenant, ‘and took a great stone and set it up there under an oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord’ (Joshua 24:1; Joshua 24:28). It was on Mt. Gerizim that Abimelech, Gideon’s son, spoke his parable of the trees (Judges 8:31; Judges 9:1; Judges 9:7; Judges 9:20). It was at Shechem also that all Israel gathered to make Rehoboam king (1 Kings 12:1), and this was the original capital of the Northern Kingdom.

In order to understand the significance of the question which the woman put to Jesus at the well (John 4:20), it is necessary to remember that she must have been well instructed in the notable history of Mt. Gerizim, and would accept all the traditions of her people without question. At the same time her own religious faith was probably bankrupt. She had not found God on Mt. Gerizim. There is a vein of scepticism in her words, as of one who, having lost personal faith, points with scorn to the differences of those who worship the same God. Yet even in her scepticism there is a faint hope apparent that this ‘prophet’ may have a living message for her. On the historical question involved Jesus pronounces quite definitely in John 4:22, but not before He has lifted the whole subject out of this barren controversy and set it in relation to the fundamental principles of His teaching. There is embedded in the very beginning of the Samaritan worship of Jehovah the idea that Jehovah is the ‘God of the land’ (2 Kings 17:27), and throughout the whole controversy between Jerusalem and Mt. Gerizim there is to be found the assumption that His worship must have a local centre. To this Jesus makes answer, ‘God is Spirit.’ It follows at once from this fundamental idea of the true nature of God that the essential quality in worship which is acceptable to Him is not the place where it is offered, but the disposition of the worshipper. Wendt points out that our Lord’s teaching in this passage as to the true nature of worship is a corollary of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, that the heart (the whole inward nature) is the true seat of the righteousness of the people of God. So that for the ethical expansion of John 4:23-24 we naturally turn to Matthew 5-7, even as in John 4:24 we find the great doctrinal foundation alike of right conduct and right worship.

Literature.—Stanley, SP [Note: P Sinai and Palestine.] v.; G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] 120, 332; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 5; Muirhead, Times of Christ, 108; Dods, ‘St. John’ in Expos. Bible, ix. and x.; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, i. 320; artt. ‘Gerizim’ and ‘Shechem’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; Commentaries.

Andrew N. Bogle.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gerizim'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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