By Vern Crisler

Copyright, 2003, 2006

Rough Draft


Donovan Courville was the first to note the difficulties that archaeologists have had in interpreting the archaeology of Shechem.  [Courville, The Exodus Problem and its Ramifications, 1971, Vol. 2, pp. 172ff.]  The most recent interpretation by Lawrence Stager, writing in Biblical Archaeology Review (Vol. 29, #4, p, 26), only highlights the problems pointed out by Courville.

I would agree with Stager’s conclusion that the Fortress Temple (Temple 1) was the temple destroyed by Abimelech, but we arrive at this conclusion on the basis of different premises.  Stager’s basic conclusion is true, but his premises are false.  (It’s possible in logic to have false premises and a true conclusion because the conclusion may be true for other reasons than those given in the false premises.)  The premiss of New Courville is that the end of the Middle Bronze Age (specifically MB2c) should be downdated to the time of Abimelech, whereas Stager thinks that the excavators of Shechem invented a Late Bronze Age temple, and that the MB2c Fortress Temple actually survived down to Iron Age times (the strata in which the period of the Judges is placed according to conventional chronology).  Thus, in Stager’s view, the MB2c Fortress Temple was destroyed by an Iron Age Abimelech.


 Before discussing the archaeology of Shechem, let us see what the biblical text has to say about the city of Shechem.

a. The Time of Abraham:

Shechem is first mentioned in Genesis 12.  Abraham had left Ur with his father Terah and had lived in Haran until the LORD called him to leave his country and kin.  Abraham journeyed to the land of Canaan and there passed through Shechem.  Obviously, the village or town was not called Shechem at that time since it was named after an individual living in Jacob’s time, but the Bible does not give us the original name of the village.  It is not even clear that a town or village existed during Abraham’s day.  It may have been little more than a watering-stop for those passing through on their way south.  The biblical text says Abraham passed through the land to the place of Shechem (Gen. 12:6), rather than to the city of Shechem.  So it’s possible that Shechem at this time was only a small religious center.  This is indicated by the presence of a sacred tree¾the oak or terebinth tree of Moreh.  This tree may have been repaired to often by the Canaanites in the land for liturgical purposes.  On the other hand, it’s also possible that the sacred tree was from a later time, and the writer is giving a contemporary geographic location for where Abraham stopped.  Whatever the case may be, we do know that after Abraham received the promise that his posterity would inherit the land of Canaan, he,


“built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him” (Gen. 12: 7).

The text seems to indicate that this altar was built near the terebinth tree, for Abraham went “as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh” (Gen. 12:6) where he received the promise, and thus it’s likely that he built the altar near the sacred oak.

b. The Time of Jacob:

We next see Shechem during the time of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob  (Gen. 34).  We are told that Jacob came to the city of Shechem (Gen. 33:18).  Moreover, he “pitched his tent before the city,” and “bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of  money” (Gen. 33:19).  It is to be noted here that Jacob did not pitch his tent inside the city of Shechem, nor did he purchase land within the city of Shechem. The text says that he pitched his tent before the city, that is, somewhere close by, apparently within walking distance or within eyesight.  Probably remembering what his grandfather had done, Jacob,

“erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel” (Gen. 33:20).

Since Jacob pitched his tent somewhere before the city, and purchased the parcel of land where he pitched his tent, and built an altar on this land, it follows that the altar was not built in the city, but before it.  In fact, when Hamor came to visit Jacob, he went out to Jacob to speak with him (Gen. 34: 6).  When Hamor had finished making covenant with the sons of Jacob (after the Dinah incident), he and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city, and spoke with the men of their city (Gen. 34:20).  When Simeon and Levi effected their revenge on Shechem they came boldly upon the city and killed all the males (Gen. 34:25).

All of these location references show that Jacob and his sons were not living in Shechem, but were living somewhere close to it.  After the killing of the Shechemites, Jacob could no longer stay in the land he had purchased but was divinely instructed to go to the city of Bethel and build an altar there to God (Gen. 35:1).  Before leaving, Jacob commanded his household and all who were with him to put away any idols they had, and to purify themselves.  When this was accomplished Jacob took the cultic paraphernalia and buried it all underground beneath the canopy of the sacred tree.  This is the same tree that was mentioned in the text recounting Abraham’s encounter with God at the place of Shechem, as far as the “terebinth tree of Moreh.”  The text, in describing what Jacob did with the idols, says,


“Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem” (Gen. 35:4; emphasis added).

It’s likely that the parcel of land that Jacob had purchased contained this sacred tree, and provides the main motivation for Jacob’s purchase of the land, and his pitching his tent on the parcel of land.  So it would seem then that a place just before the city, within walking distance, or within eyesight, was of great importance to Jacob, and would therefore be of great importance to Jacob’s descendents, the tribes of Israel.  Whether or not the sacred tree was on Jacob’s land, it seems clear that the city of Shechem¾built by Hamor for his son¾was not built around the sacred tree but somewhere by it.


c. The Time of Joshua:

Shechem was appointed as a city of refuge after the Conquest of Canaan by the Israelites (Josh. 20:7).  It was also the place where Joshua renewed the covenant with the tribes of Israel, and where they pledged to “serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:21).  We are told that Joshua set up a large stone (what archaeologists call a masseba) and,

“set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD” (Josh. 24:26).

Moreover, the bones of Joseph were,

“buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem….” (Josh. 24:32).

Something new appears to have been added to the sacred area (or “temenos”) where the sacred oak was located.  Joshua placed a large stone at the foot of the tree, which was by the sanctuary of the LORD.  It is not clear whether this sanctuary incorporated Abraham or Jacob’s old altars, or whether a new structure had been built.  In any case, we can see that a new “temenos” had grown up around the sacred oak, and the important thing to notice about this temenos is that it is not inside the city of Shechem.  We know this because in our previous discussion we noted that the sacred tree was by the city, not in it, and hence the temenos must also have been by the city.

d. The Time of Abimelech:

One of Gideon’s concubines, who had been living in the city of Shechem, bore a son to him by the name of Abimelech.  Israel entered into a state of apostasy after the death of Gideon, and the history of Abimelech is an illustration of this.  During their time of apostasy, the Israelites worshiped the baals, specifically “Baal-Berith”¾Baal of the Covenant.  It’s possible that “El-Berith”¾“God of the Covenant”¾was another name used to describe this god, cf., Judg. 9:46.  (There is no need for fanciful source theories to explain this.)  When Abimelech was grown, he entered into a conspiracy with the men of Shechem to kill all of the sons of Gideon.  So he persuaded his Shechemite brothers (born to Gideon’s Shechemite wife) to convince the men of Shechem to join him.  The men of Shechem took money from the “temple of Baal-Berith” and gave it to Abimelech to murder his seventy brothers at Ophra.  Abimelech hired a few worthless men and together they killed sixty-nine of the sons of Gideon.  One of the sons of Gideon escaped and later prophesied on Mount Gerizim regarding the future destruction of both Abimelech and Shechem.  Abimelech was made king at the temenos that had grown up around the sacred tree.  Let us note very carefully the language of the text:

“And all the men of Shechem gathered together…and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem” (Judg. 9:6).

Something has changed here.  The sacred tree and masseba are no longer by the city, or before the city.  Instead, they are in the city.  It would seem that the old city of Shechem¾patriarchal Shechem¾was no longer in existence, and that a new city had been built up around the sacred tree and temenos.  It is the position of the New Courville chronology that patriarchal Shechem was indeed destroyed sometime after the Conquest, and that the new city of Shechem was built up thereafter around the temenos plot that had originally been purchased by Jacob.  This is why Abimelech can be crowned by the sacred tree in Shechem.  Three years after he was crowned king, however, Abimelech and the men of Shechem had a falling out (Judg. 9:22).  Gaal, the son of Ebed, came to Shechem with his brothers, and bragged that if only the men of Shechem would make him governor, he could rid the Shechemites of Abimelech’s rule.  The actual governor of the city, Zebul, heard these words and warned his overking, Abimelech, that Ebed and his brothers are,

“fortifying the city against you” (Judg. 9:31).

Fortifying a city would consist of strengthening the walls and the gates, or repairing weaknesses, or building new defensive walls, etc.  It came to pass that Abimelech grew tired of Gaal and his boasts, and he and his men ambushed Gaal’s army and chased them to the gate of the city, where,

“many fell wounded, even to the entrance of the gate” (Judg. 9:40).

Evidently, Abimelech was prepared to defeat an army in the open, but the gate of the city was too strong for the forces he had on the field, so he was only able to chase Gaal’s army to the gate.  Some time must have passed.  Gaal and his men had time to lick their wounds, and while doing that, they probably limited their boasts just to replacing Governor Zebul, being careful not to mention Abimelech.  In the meantime, Abimelech took up residence at Arumah.  Zebul, however, found that he could no longer tolerate Gaal, and drove him and his brothers out of the city.  The next morning, the people of Shechem went out into their fields to work, and spies told Abimelech about it.  He and his men laid in wait the next day and when the people of Shechem came out again to work in the fields, Abimelech and the company that was with him,

“rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and the other two companies rushed upon all who were in the fields and killed them” (Judg. 9:44).

When the leaders of Shechem, “the men of the tower” heard that the gate had been taken, they entered into the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith, along with a number of others until about a thousand men and women had made it into the “protection” of the Temple.  When Abimelech heard about it, he took his men up to Mount Zalmon and instructed them to cut some wood.  They brought the wood back and set the boughs around the great temple of El-Berith, and,


“set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women” (Judg. 9:49).

Though it doesn’t give a strict chronological order, i.e., the order of battle, the Bible summarizes all these events, and the fate of the city on that day, by saying,

“So Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city and killed the people who were in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt” (Judg. 9:45).

Abimelech tried to do the same thing to the city of Thebez.  Like Shechem, Thebez also had a “strong tower in the city” (Judg. 9:51).  It was to this tower that all the people of Thebez fled to escape Abimelech.  Nevertheless, when he tried to burn down the tower, a woman dropped a millstone from the tower¾like Wormtongue dropping the Palantir in Lord of the Rings!¾and it critically wounded Abimelech in his head.  Abimelech did not want it to be said that he had been killed by a woman, so he had his armorbearer run him through with a sword.  The death of Abimelech and of the men of Shechem is stated to be in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jotham, the last surviving son of Gideon (Jerubbaal), in repayment for their treachery against the sons of Gideon.

Special Note: The “Diviners’ Terebinth Tree” mentioned by Gaal in Judges 9:37 was a different tree from the one Abimelech was crowned at, since Gaal was looking outward from the gate of the city to men coming down the hillside in the distance.  The terebinth tree where Abimelech was crowned was inside the city next to the masseba (Judg. 9:6).


e. The Time of Jeroboam, and later:

The Bible says that Jeroboam built Shechem and Penuel.  The Hebrew word “banah” can mean either build or repair (i.e., refortify).  For instance, we are told that Solomon “built” Gezer (1 Ki. 9:17), but Gezer had a long history before Solomon’s time (Josh. 10:33).  This means that Jeroboam’s building of Shechem could just as easily have been a repair of, or enlargement of, the city.  Thus, there is little reason to adopt Courville’s suggestion that Shechem lay in ruins from Abimelech’s time to the time of Jeroboam (cf. Exodus Problem, p. 174).  Indeed, it is the position of New Courville that Labayu rebuilt the city of Shechem during the Amarna period, and that Jeroboam was enlarging or repairing Labayu’s old city.  Apparently, Shechem was only a temporary capital for Jeroboam, for he seems to have moved eventually to Tirzah (compare 1 Ki. 14:2, 7, 11, 12, 17). Moreover, the Bible says the city was in existence during the time that Jeroboam was still in Egypt, i.e., before he had become king:

“Now Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king.  So it was, when Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard it (he was still in Egypt, for he had fled from the presence of King Solomon and had been dwelling in Egypt), that they sent and called him” (1 Ki. 12:1-3).

Somebody must have rebuilt the city of Shechem from scratch, and it doesn’t appear to have been either Jeroboam or Rehoboam.  Indeed, Shechem was in existence during David’s time, since David rejoices in the fact that he will divide, or portion out, Shechem (as one portions out spoil, cf., Psalm 60:6 & 108:7).  Thus, the city must have been rebuilt from scratch sometime between the time of Abimelech and the time of David, about a 164 year stretch.  The only other mention of Shechem after Jeroboam’s refortification of the city is in Jeremiah 41:5, where were are told,

“that certain men came from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, eighty men with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD.”

This shows that the city was in existence during Jeremiah’s day, in the 6th century.



a. Site Location:

Neapolis¾Jerome placed Shechem at Neapolis, a Roman city meaning New City, pronounced today as Nablus.  (Cf. G. E. Wright, Shechem: the Biography of a Biblical City, 1964, p. 5.).  Both the explorer Edward Robinson and the British Survey of Western Palestine agreed that ancient Shechem was under Neapolis.  A German scholar, A. Eckstein, wondered whether “this new city [Neapolis] was built on the site of ancient Shechem or in its vicinity….” (Ibid., p. 6).  Gabriel Welter, one of the excavators of Balatah, believed that ancient Shechem was under Neapolis (Ibid., p. 29).

Tell Balatah¾Church historian, Eusebius, in his Onomasticon (dictionary of biblical sites), as well as a pilgrim in an account of his travels, regarded ancient Shechem to be located near Balatah.  The sixth century Madeba mosaic map directs pilgrims to Balatah.  In 1903, German scholar Hermann Thiersch uncovered the ruins of Tell Balatah, and believed that “the earlier supposition (Nablus) is refuted” (Ibid., p. 2).  Since then, excavators from Ernst Sellin to G. E. Wright, have regarded Tell Balatah as the site of ancient Shechem.  Wright says,

“The problem of the location of a great city was solved. Eusebius was right after all, and Jerome was wrong” (Ibid., p. 8).

We have occasion, however, to believe that perhaps both were right.  In the New Courville chronology, the Israelites were the bearers of MB1 pottery, and during their re-urbanization phase, adopted the new MB2a pottery, which became the prototype for the pottery of Canaan until the end of the Middle Bronze age.  However, not all went well for the Israelites after the Conquest.  Within a few years of the Conquest, sometime during the MB2a period, the Egyptians of the reign of Sesostris 3 came up against Shechem and defeated it, for,

“his majesty reached a foreign country of which the name was skmm.  Then skmm fell, together with the wretched Retenue” (Ibid., p. 5).

In our opinion, the fall of the old city to the Egyptians must have left the city in ruins, and the sacred area by the old city¾the temenos¾became the center of a new city.  Thus, those who believed the ancient city of Shechem was under Nablus were probably correct, and future excavations at Nablus (if there are any) should reach Early Bronze 3 levels¾the time of Jacob per NCI.  At the same time, those who believe ancient Shechem was located at Tell Balatah are correct, for this was the city of Shechem from the early settlement period down to the time of Abimelech, and later of Jeremiah.


Note:  For an overview of all the sites in the Shechem area, see “The Shechem Area Survey,” BASOR, 190, p. 19, prepared by Edward F. Campbell.  Early Bronze pottery is found at some sites, such as Khirbet Kefr Kuz, Tell Sofar, etc.  Ephraim Stern points out that Khirbet Makhneh el-Fauqa, about 2.5 miles south of Balatah has EB3 pottery and concludes that “the region’s Early Bronze Age town must have been there.” (New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 4: 1347.)  It is curious that Campbell failed to mention that this town contained EB3 pottery.  It should be noted, however, that none of the sites (sans Balatah and Nablus) that were surveyed by the Campbell team were actually excavated.  The results were based on a “surface survey” and Campbell warns about drawing conclusions about the existence or non-existence of a site (during a particular archaeological period) on the basis of the absence of pottery, or the presence of a rare sherd or two, which could easily have been dropped by a passing shepherd (p. 21).  Our view is that patriarchal Shechem may lie under present-day Nablus, and might be found given more thorough excavations.  However, since it’s a modern city, it may be hard to do a thorough excavation, and it is also possible that the Romans cleared the site down to bedrock before building their New City.  It is also possible that patriarchal Shechem is not under present-day Nablus, and that a more thorough excavation of the other 39 sites around the Nablus-Shechem area might turn up EB3 pottery indicia—the period we have correlated with the patriarchs.  If Nablus turns out not to be the best site, then our second choice would be el-Fauqa as noted above.

b. Excavations

Ernst Sellin began the first excavations of Tell Balatah.  Besides discovering gates and walls, the most important discovery was the house of the Covenant-God (El-berith) that Abimelech had destroyed.  This was a “migdal” or fortress temple, and corresponds to what later excavators would call Temple 1.

In 1956, G. E. Wright led the most modern, scientific excavation of Tell Balatah.  This is known as the Drew-McCormick Excavations, and consisted of Wright, Dean Anderson, Lawrence Toombs, Robert Bull, and Douglas Trout.  This was the first truly modern excavation at Shechem using the techniques pioneered by Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho.  The results of these excavations were reported in several BASOR articles, usually titled, “First Campaign at Tell Balatah (Shechem),” “Second Campaign,” etc., all the way up to “Eighth Campaign” published in 1971.  In the meantime, Wright published the results of the work up to 1965, titled Shechem: the Biography of a Biblical City.  These publications provide the most scientific analysis of the stratigraphy of Tell Balatah (though excavations are continuing).

c. The Fortress Temple

In my opinion, to talk about Shechem and its relation to the Bible, one must talk not only about the Fortress Temple, but also about the fortifications of Shechem.  Lawrence Stager discusses the Temple, but he fails to discuss the fortifications of the city.  The reason the fortifications are important is that the Bible says Abimelech not only destroyed the Temple, but also destroyed the city itself, and sowed it with salt.  We should expect then, that the Temple and the fortifications of the city would be destroyed at the same time.  Failure to keep this correlation in mind makes it impossible to understand the history of Shechem.

Stager realizes what the problem is with respect to the Temple.  He agrees that Sellin found the Fortress Temple destroyed by Abimelech, but since this Temple is dated to the MB2c strata, which is much too early for Abimelech’s time on conventional chronology (about a 450 year difference), he has to find a way to get the Temple out of the Middle Bronze Age and bring it down to the Iron Age 1 period.  (Readers should remember that conventional chronology mutilates the biblical period of the Judges, reducing it by about 200 years.)  Stager says,

“There is no question that Shechem in antiquity was crowned by an impressive Fortress-Temple.  The problem concerns the date.  Wright and Bull dated the construction of the Temple to the end of the Middle Bronze Age, about 1650-155 B.C.E. [sic].  They called this building Temple 1 but gave it a lifespan of only about 100 years; they believed that Temple 1 had been replaced after a gap in occupation…by a much smaller and completely different temple¾Temple 2¾built on the ruins of Temple 1.  This very simple and modest Temple 2 became Wright’s candidate for the temple of El-berith mentioned in Judges 9¾a rather strange mistake for him to have made…If the tragic story of Abimelech and the Shechemites had any realistic elements in it, one would have considered Temple 1 a much better candidate for the charnel house in which one thousand Shechemites were incinerated than the undersized Temple 2” (Biblical Archaeology Review, 2003, Vol. 29, No. 4, p. 29).

I agree to a certain extent with Stager’s point here, but then he says,

“In my view, Temple 2 is wholly illusory, and Shechem’s mighty Fortress-Temple lasted well into Iron Age I (1200-1000 B.C.E. [sic]), the period of the Judges [sic] and the Biblical episodes involving Abimelech.  Temple 1 was not destroyed until about 1100 B.C.E.  Once this great temple is redated, we can see a variety of correlations between the archaeological remains and the Biblical text” (Ibid., p. 29).

Here is what must be regarded as a desperate move by a conventional chronologist, one who recognizes that Temple 1 is the Fortress Temple destroyed by Abimelech, but who cannot reconcile its MB2c date to the period of Abimelech as described in the Bible.  So what does he do?  He in effect attacks the competence of the excavators!  This is not the first time this has happened.  Kathleen Kenyon’s methodology at Samaria was initially attacked by archaeologists [such as Wright!] because they found the archaeology of the city to be out of accord with the biblical text, as interpreted through the lenses of  conventional chronology.  So now we have the same thing happening.  So glaring is the anachronism between the archaeology of Shechem and the biblical text, as interpreted through the lenses of conventional chronology, that Stager is willing to challenge, in effect, the competence of the field excavators of Shechem.  He says,

“How Wright and Bull misdated the temple is an interesting study in archaeological analysis” (Ibid., p. 29)

Now Stager is a scholar, and his essay was first published in a Festschrift for one of the Shechem excavators, Edward F. Campbell, in the book Realia Dei, 1999.  Since Stager is a scholar, one needs to respect his contributions on these topics.  However, respect for Stager’s status as a scholar doesn’t mean non-scholars have to slavishly follow everything he says.  This is especially true if he’s attacking other scholars, and specifically, the experts who did the field work at Shechem.  We have to evaluate the putative evidence he presents against the conclusions of these men, and determine whether it holds up under scrutiny.

Alarmingly enough, Stager devotes two whole paragraphs to challenging the Drew-McCormick view that a Late Bronze age temple came between the Fortress Temple and the Iron age grain warehouse.  In the first paragraph, he disagrees with Wright and Bull’s distinction between the walls of the LB temple, and the walls of the IA warehouse, and he claims that Temple 2 was “conjured into existence” (Ibid, p. 31).  In the second paragraph, he attempts to refute Wright’s distinction between walls.  The reason wall 5704 is wider than the one above it, 5904, is that the latter had been either “partially robbed out” in antiquity or “partially eroded.”  The different appearance of wall 5703 from wall 5903 above it, noted by the excavators, is denied by Stager, who says he’s “not convinced that there is a really significant difference between these two course,” and that the real difference is that softer limestone was used for the granary walls and the Temple 2 walls from what had been used in Temple 1 (cf. Ibid., p. 31).

Stager refers to Wright committing a “strange mistake” in not recognizing Temple 1 as the Temple destroyed by Abimelech.  It should be noted, however, that as early as 1956 Wright believed that Temple 1 was the Fortress Temple of Abimelech’s time.  He said that Shechem “contained the largest temple so far known in pre-Roman Palestine.  This structure, some 21 m. long by 26 m. wide [about 86 ft, 6 in.], had walls ca. 5.30 m. thick [about 16 ft. 8 in.], the thickness of a city fortification; it must surely have been the temple of ba’al berit (“Lord of the Covenant”) mentioned in the Abimelech story….”  (G. E. Wright, “The First Campaign at Tell Balatah (Shechem),” BASOR, 1956, Number 144, p. 9).  Thus the 1956 G. E. Wright would have  been an ally of Lawrence Stager.  Note what Wright says.  He says that Temple 1 “must surely have been” the temple destroyed by Abimelech.  He seems to have had very little doubt about it.


In 1956, Wright said that the Shechem Fortress Temple could not be dated, but believed that it “was probably still in existence during the twelfth century or early in the period of the Judges, when it was known as the temple of the ‘Lord of the Covenant’ (Baal-berith…) which Abimelech destroyed” (G. E. Wright, The Biblical Archaeologist, 1957, Vol 20: 1, p. 25).  He further argued that the grain warehouse was on top of Temple 1: “Over the ruins of the temple…a new building was erected….[T]his new thick-walled building was a granary….” (Ibid., p. 25).

Even as late as 1961, both Wright and Toombs were holding out that Temple 1 was the one destroyed by Abimelech: “The temple on the city’s western side, together with its immediate surrounding, is referred to as Field V.  This great structure, which must certainly be identified with the ‘house of Baal-berith’ (Judg. 9:4; or ‘El-berith,’ 9:46), was completely unearthed by Sellin in 1926” (L. Toombs, G. Wright, “The Third Campaign at Balatah (Shechem),” BASOR, 1961, Number 161, p. 13).  However, in the same issue, p. 28ff., field supervisor Robert Bull reported on the presence of a structure above Temple 1.  This structure, Temple 2, “undoubtedly falls within the LB period, judging from the quantities of LB pottery associated with the building of the podium in its first phase.”

The evidence for an LB temple must have been so overwhelming that Wright eventually had to give up Temple 1 as the temple of Abimelech.  This view is completely at odds with the archaeological evidence, but was forced on Wright by the straightjacket of  conventional chronology.  By the time he wrote his book on Shechem, he no longer identified Temple 1 as the temple destroyed by Abimelech, but opted for Temple 2 (cf. Shechem, p. 101).

Thus, Stager, in so far as he thinks Wright was eager to “conjure” up a building between the Fortress Temple and the grain warehouse, simply fails to note the history of Wright’s views on the archaeology of Shechem.  If anyone wanted to associate the Fortress Temple with Abimelech, it was Wright.  Eventually, however, he had to take the archaeological evidence seriously, and give up his previous views, views that Stager is now trying to resurrect.  So we must assert here that there is reasonable doubt about who is making the “strange mistake” in his interpretation of the stratigraphy of Shechem.  Wright devotes 8 pages of his book to discussing the Late Bronze Age temple, and anyone who wants to compare his discussion with Stager’s two paragraph discussion is welcome to do so.  (The BASOR articles are also helpful.)  As an example, Wright and Bull didn’t just find differences in the walls between the LB temple and the grain warehouse.  They also found different floors (Wright, Shechem, p. 98).  Moreover, not only were they able to find the LB temple below the grain warehouse and above Temple 1, they were also able to distinguish two phases of it, LB phase 1 and LB phase 2!

I note also that Stager is inconsistent.  On the one hand, he implicitly attacks the competence of the archaeologists when they discover an LB2 temple between the Fortress Temple and the grain warehouse.  At the same time, however, Stager praises the archaeologists for their work in excavating and describing Temple 1 (cf., BAR, p. 31).

Courville, in his discussion of Shechem, argued that Wright should have kept to his earlier view that Temple 1 was the Fortress Temple of Abimelech’s time (cf. Exodus Problem, p. 185).  Unlike Stager, however, I agree with Courville that the best solution would be to date the Temple down to the era of Abimelech by dating MB2c down to the era of Abimelech.  Unfortunately, conventional chronologists still have their heads stuck in the sand, because they don’t¾as one politician used to say it¾have the courage to change.

What is missing from Stager’s discussion is any kind of acknowledgement of just how seriously the archaeology of the fortifications of the city of Shechem contradict an Iron Age destruction of Shechem.  Wright could only say that the fortifications of Shechem “during the subsequent Israelite and Samaritan periods is shrouded with many obscurities” (Shechem, p. 79).



In his book, The Exodus Problem and its Ramifications, Donovan Courville called attention to a four hundred year gap that exists in the archaeology of Shechem (p. 177). This was based on statements of Wright and his team that they could not find any evidence of occupation of the city between the 8th and 4th centuries.

“Thus far in two seasons we have found no clear evidence of any occupational debris at Shechem between the eighth and the fourth centuries B. C.” (BASOR, 148, p. 24.)

This was also stated earlier in the same article: “No clear evidence has been found for habitation on the site between the eighth and fourth centuries” (p. 13).  This means that no archaeological material was found, not that there was no history of Shechem during this period.  Courville says that this view of an archaeological dark age persisted until the end of the excavations in 1963.  Wright, in his book Shechem, writing in 1965, says that the 6th, 5th, and 4th centuries were periods of weakness for Shechem (p. 149). He does relate stratum 6 to the 7th century and stratum 5 to the 6th century (pp. 166, 167), but it’s
not clear whether he is revising his earlier view of no occupational debris, or presupposing it.  He states that the team early on believed that stratum 5 had been lost or eroded away, but subsequent investigations revealed a round house that they felt could be attributed to stratum 5 (Wright, p. 167).  In addition, they discovered a “definite level” for stratum 5, characterized by poverty, which was in their view subsequently destroyed by the Persians.

Thus, it would be a mistake to hold that Wright and company were not able to find anything between the 8th and 4th centuries, despite the paucity of indicia for the levels ascribed to these centuries.  Courville gave an explanation for this presumed four hundred year gap in terms of his redating of the MB2c period down to the time of Abimelech.  This was based on the statements of E. Campbell that a gap existed in the archaeology of Shechem from the first half of 12th century¾which is about 1175¾to the ninth century (800’s).  However, there may be a simpler explanation for the “gaps” in the later history of Shechem.  I could not find in the writings of Wright and company much of a discussion as to why stratum 6 was assigned to the 7th century (to be regarded as the strata of the Assyrian occupation).  There was little that remained of stratum 6, but Wright dated it by “Assyrian Palace Ware” which he found in considerable quantity (Wright, p. 164).  However, Peter James, et al., call attention to the fact that this pottery may be Neo-Babylonian rather than Assyrian (Centuries of Darkness, p. 181).  They reference the archaeologist, John Holladay, who wrote the essay “Of Sherds and Strata: Contributions toward an Understanding of the Archaeology of the Divided Monarchy” published in Magnalia Dei [the Mighty Acts of God], a memorial volume for G. E. Wright.  Holladay says,

“This regular conjunction of ‘Assyrian’ wares with late seventh-century forms raises the question of the proper dating and historical attribution of the ‘Assyrian Palace Ware’ found in Palestinian sites.  In the past, it has generally been attributed to the Assyrian occupying forces of the late eighth century B. C.  Recent studies based on the Nimrud excavations, however, suggest that the floruit of ware like that at Tell Jemmeh, Tell el-Far’ah (N), Samaria, Shechem VI, Ramat Rahel VA, En Gedi, etc., should be placed in and following the last days of the Assyrian empire….[T]he presence of these late forms of ‘Assyrian’ ware in unquestionably late seventh-century Palestinian stratification…becomes an embarrassment unless we recognize them as actually post-Assyrian in date. That is, we must recognize them as witnessing to a Babylonian influence in at least the aforementioned sites.” (Magnalia Dei, p. 272.)


If this reassignment of “Assyrian” palace ware to the Babylonian period is correct, then it becomes possible to close up some of the gaps in the later history of Shechem, as illustrated by the following chart:

New Courville—Tentative Correlation of Shechem strata with BC dates and events:


Date, c



150-107 BC


last city on tell, destroyed by John Hyrcanus

190-150 BC



225-190 BC



250-225 BC



300-250 BC



331-300 BC



537-331 BC


Israelite & Persian occupation

587-538 BC

6a & b

Nebuchadnezzar resettles land; “Assyrian Palace Ware” (i.e., Babylonian)

604-587 BC


Destruction by Nebuchadnezzar

731-604 BC


First Assyrian deportation and occupation of Israel

783-732 BC


Rebuilding of city; grain warehouse built over LB temple

850-783 BC


Destroyed by the earthquake of Uzziah’s day, c. 783

The correctness of this revision of the chronology of Shechem would be strengthened if evidence of an earthquake could be found in stratum 9b.  Indeed, it was the view of one of the field supervisors, S. Horn, that city 9b was destroyed by an earthquake.  Wright says,

“All of the walls shown in Fig. 75 [in Wright’s Shechem] were peculiar in that the east-west walls tilted to the north, and the north-south walls tilted to the west.  To field supervisor Horn this suggested that an earthquake may have been the cause; otherwise why was the tilting so consistent?  Ashy destruction layers were present, though not found consistently throughout the stratum.  If earthquake was the sufficient natural cause for the end of IX B, then we cannot date it other than to say that it probably occurred during the period approximately 880 to 830 B.C. [sic].” (Shechem, p. 153.)

However, since the grain warehouse was built in Jeroboam 2’s time per Wright, there is no reason why the earthquake that destroyed Shechem 9b could not have been as late as Jeroboam and Uzziah’s time, with 9a being the rebuilding of the city after the destructions.  The only thing preventing this, I think, is the uncertain chronology brought about by the misdating of the “Assyrian” palace ware, thus pushing all strata to earlier times.

The end of Shechem 9b correlates to the end of Hazor 9, which was destroyed by a “conflagration” (E. Stern, New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Vol 2, p. 606; Wright, Shechem, p. 153).  Wright thinks both destructions were due to Ben-hadad’s attacks against Ahab, though the Bible does not mention anything about Shechem in connection with this war.  A palace at Megiddo stratum 5a-4b was also destroyed at this time, and a stratum 4a stable was built in its place.  Currently, archaeologists adopt the strained view that Megiddo 4a was the time of Solomon and that he demolished a perfectly good palace and put a stable in its place.  However, the above revision enables us to see that the palace probably came down as a result of Uzziah’s earthquake, and that it was the 8th century Israelites who decided to put a more functional building in its place.  In addition, the end of Shechem 9b would correlate to the end of Building Period 2 at Samaria, which also suffered a catastrophe.



Both Wright and Stager believe that Abimelech destroyed the temple of Shechem circa 1175 BC (or whenever Abimelech lived), but they differ as to which temple was destroyed.  Wright believed at first that it was the migdal or fortress temple that was destroyed by Abimelech, but he subsequently gave this view up and adopted the theory that the LB temple was destroyed by Abimelech, and that the migdal was destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze age.  He says:

“It was noted…that Shechem has a gap in its history as a city of nearly a century’s duration, between ca. 1540 and 1450 B.C. [sic].  That Temple 1 was completely destroyed in the destruction of the city by the Egyptians [sic] is indicated by the fact that the rebuilding in the Late Bronze Age, perhaps by a father or grandfather of Lab’ayu, is quite different from the original structure.” (Wright, Shechem, p. 95.)

As we have seen, Stager rejects Wright’s view, and denies the existence of an LB temple.  He dates the migdal’s destruction to the Iron age.  Thus, both Wright and Stager hold that Abimelech’s destruction of the Shechem temple (whichever it was) took place in the Iron age¾the period usually ascribed to Abimelech in conventional chronology.  The view of Courville, however, is that it’s not just the temple that needs to be explained, but also the destruction of the city itself¾its walls and gates.  If conventional chronology is correct, why is there no evidence for the destruction of Shechem’s fortifications between the MB2c strata and the Iron 2 strata?  Courville says,

“[I]f this assumption [that the migdal survived to Abimelech’s day] were to be considered permissible, then there should be archaeological evidence of an additional and later destruction [of the East gate] between Middle Bronze IIC, in the 16th century, and the much later destruction c. 800 B.C.  After all, the Abimelech story emphasizes the total and complete destruction of the city with only incidental mention of the burning of the roof over the heads of the people who had gathered in the hold for refuge.” (Exodus Problem, Vol. 2, p. 181.)

Courville argued that the massive MB2c temple was the temple destroyed by Abimelech, and that the destruction of the city’s fortifications at the end of MB2c should also be ascribed to Abimelech: “The date however is not 1600-1550 B.C.  When it is recognized that the proper background for the Conquest belongs to the end of Early Bronze, then this destruction in Middle Bronze II C is to be correlated with the period of the late judges, and this is where the story of Abimelech is found in Scripture.” (Exodus Problem, Vol. 2, p. 186.)  It hardly needs to be said that New Courville agrees with this aspect of Courville’s chronology.

If Stager’s claim is false that the MB2c migdal of Shechem survived down to the Iron age, it might be thought that there is evidence for a destruction of temple 2b, the one Wright eventually decided on as the temple destroyed by Abimelech.  Wright mentions that he found carbonized material at this level in the LB temple, and it might be inferred from this that some sort of “violent disturbance” took place.  The fact is though, whatever may have happened to the LB temple, the excavators found no violent disturbance of the fortifications of the city during the LB/IA transition.  Note that it’s very important to distinguish between the temple and the fortifications of the city.  If the temple was destroyed, or pulled down, or burned with fire, it must have happened at the end of the Late Bronze Age or beginning of the Iron age since Iron 1A debris was in the pits after the temple’s presumed destruction. (Shechem, p. 102).  And if Wright is correct in locating this period in the time of Abimelech, we should also expect to see¾as Courville argued¾the fortifications of the city demolished during this general time period.

Here are some basic facts regarding the fortifications of the city:




Wall A

MB2c, late “Hyksos”

Wall B

MB2c, late “Hyksos”

Wall C

MB2c, early “Hyksos”


MB2c, early “Hyksos”

Wall D

MB2b, pre-“Hyksos”

Wall E

MB2c, late “Hyksos”

East Gate

MB2c, late “Hyksos”

Northwest Gate

MB2c, late “Hyksos”

Wall D was the earliest wall and served as the western edge of the sacred acropolis (the temenos area).  Eventually, the C-Embankment used wall D as an inner retaining wall and wall C as an exterior retaining wall (both walls apparently covered over when the embankment was later extended).  Wall A was connected to the North West gate and seems to have circled the whole city.  Later, wall B and the East Gate were added within the wall A system to strengthen it, while wall E was also added for extra strength at the end of the MB2c period.


Stratum 15: This is the last MB2c level, and provides evidence of massive destruction of the city.  There is little need to review all this evidence since it is widely accepted, but there are some curious facts that most scholars, including Courville, have not discussed.  If the end of the MB2c strata represents the time of Abimelech, then we should expect to find the inhabitants strengthening the fortifications of the city at the end of MB2c period.  During their rebellion against Abimelech, the Israelites living in Shechem, were fortifying the city under the leadership of Gaal ben-Ebed. Judges 9:30-31 says,

“When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused.  And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, ‘Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against you.’”

According to Wright: “Hence the Wall A system belongs to MB II C, but during the course of the same period it was strengthened on the east and north by the Wall B system” (Shechem, p. 69).   Furthermore, “The nature of this fortification system and the fact that in both Fields III and I it is above and just 11 m. (36 ft.) inside Wall A, proves that it was built as a means of strengthening the Wall A system from the Northwest Gate around to the East Gate, and on south beyond the limit of excavations.  The fact that the bank between the two in Field III was a cemented glacis is a further support to this conclusion….One would think that this intensive effort would indeed have made an impregnable city.” (Ibid., p. 71.)

No doubt the followers of Gaal ben Ebed thought so themselves.  Wright further says, “Wall A and Fortress-temple 1a were erected about 1650 B.C. [sic], during the period of the Fifteenth Dynasty, when concentration of power was great.  Yet it was also a time when security was the paramount concern, and the people of Shechem, as elsewhere, were willing to exert themselves to unparalleled efforts in fortification for self-defense.” (Ibid, p. 100.)

All to no avail.

In the first part of this essay (surveying the biblical data for what went on at Shechem), it was noted that there were two attacks on Shechem, one that nearly overran the gate of the city, and the second that succeeded in overtaking the city and burning it to the ground.  Judges 9:39-41 says,

“So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many fell wounded, to the very entrance of the gate. Then Abimelech dwelt at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they would not dwell in Shechem.”

Here we see some possibilities for explaining the destruction that occurred at the East gate prior to the final destruction of the city, and we also see that the driving out of Gaal may have resulted in some internal destruction to the city.  Of the signs of destruction at the East gate, Wright says, “It appears evident that the East Gate suffered destruction some time after it was erected, but, still within the MB II C period, it was reconstructed.” (Ibid., p. 73.)  According to Wright, new steps were added and the road was repaired:

“The steps show little evidence of wear….[T]hey cannot have been long in use when they were completely covered by fallen brick debris from the towers above.  A fierce battle had taken place and the towers were burned and at least partially destroyed.  Rebuilding was evidently rapid.  The debris of the gate, including the disarticulated fragments of at least six human bodies, was swept into the step area until its level was raised nearly to the threshold level.  A new street was created….Then came a second destruction of much greater violence.  It filled the south guardroom stairwell with 2 m. of brick debris which spilled out through the door into the gate’s court….Thick masses of brick and carbonized wood from the large timbers which reinforced the brick fell inside the city when Wall B was destroyed along its entire length.  As suggested above, apparently an enemy had pulled out enough brick and beams from the inside foundations to make the whole mass fall inward on the city, instead of outward down the slope.” (Ibid., p. 74.)

From what Wright has said, we can see that the East gate suffered some destruction¾though not total¾just before the final destruction of the whole gate and wall system.  When Abimelech chased Gaal back to the city, he could go no farther than the gate in his pursuit.  The many men who died at the gate were obviously Gaal’s men, and the remains of some of those who died were covered over by the new steps for the gate.  The disarticulated bones of human beings mentioned by Wright above indicate that some sort of military engagement at the gate had taken place.  Abimelech went away for a while, and Zebul eventually drove the much weakened Gaal from the city.

The second destruction was the burning of the city by Abimelech (as we are arguing).  This is evidenced by the fact that the walls were destabilized from the inside, rather than from the outside.  Of course, Wright assigns these destructions to the Egyptians and divides the signs of destruction at the East gate by 10 years (Ibid., p. 75), but the first claim merely assumes the correctness of conventional chronology, and the second is just a guess based on the fact that there is little wear on the rebuilt steps of the East gate.  Moreover, the archaeological material can only give relative dating, not absolute dating, and 10 years could as easily be 10 days.

The burning of the migdal by Abimelech must have given him the idea of burning the city gates and walls to the ground.  This was made easier by how the walls were constructed.  Wright says,

“When it was first destroyed, evidently by the Egyptian army [sic]…the Egyptians [sic] were able to set fire to the wall because there was so much wood in it and in battlements upon it, and to pull sufficient brick from its lower part as to cause it to fall inward, instead of outward down the slope. The great quantity of charcoal remains of the wooden beams indicates an exceedingly hot fire. The distance the fallen debris spread within the city from the wall base was at least 14 to 15 m. (46 to 49 ft.) in Field III.” (Ibid., p. 70.)

Wall E was apparently the last fortification to be built before the MB2c destruction: “Dever detected that still another fortification wall, wall E, which overlay the Middle Bronze Age IIC complexes south of the northwest gate, had been built at the very end of the Middle Bronze Age IIC, probably as a desperate defensive effort against attacks accompanying the expulsion of the Hyksos [sic] by the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty (c. 1540 BCE) [sic].”  (Article on Shechem by E. Campbell, in E. Stern, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, [1993], Vol. 4, p.

Describing the end of MB2c Shechem, Campbell says, “Everywhere, evidence of destruction, probably in two quickly successive phases, covers the uppermost (stratum XV) Middle Bronze phase. Thus ended a two-hundred year period of prominence as a city-state….” (Ibid., pp. 1351-52.)

The final destruction of the city left a long gap in occupation. “The city was so violently ruined, and so many people were killed by the Egyptians [sic], that nearly a century goes by before the city begins to flourish again.” (Shechem, p. 76).  Further, “The greatest disturbance shown in the section [of Field 8] is marked by a layer of dark-brown field soil running across the whole section, roughly separating the Middle from the Late Bronze Ages.” (Ibid., p. 48.)  Wright concludes that after the MB2c destruction of the city, it was used for raising crops, “[T]his layer of field soil suggests that the tell was used for farming during the period of the gap” (Ibid., p. 48).  Thus, the sowing of the city with salt by Abimelech may have stopped the city from growing again for a long time, but it did not stop the farmers from using the tell as a place to grow their crops, salt or no salt.


While no pottery or other indicia were found that could help date the destruction of the MB2c migdal, it was reasonable for Wright and his colleagues to conclude that its destruction took place at the end of MB2c when the rest of the city was destroyed. “This massive structure (Temple 1) was destroyed at a date which cannot be accurately fixed from the evidence available within the temple, but which probably coincided with the general destruction of the city attested at the East Gate and in Fields III and VIII, about 1550 B.C. [sic].  Subsequently, a less substantial structure (Temple 2) was built on the ruins of the former temple.  Its foundation date is uncertain, but undoubtedly falls within the LB period, judging from the quantities of LB pottery associated with the building of the podium in its first phase.” (Wright, BASOR, No. 161, p. 32, section by Field Supervisor Robert Bull; cf., Wright, Shechem, p. 95).

Stager’s attempt to bring the destruction of the migdal down to the Iron age must ultimately fail if Wright, et al. are correct about the existence of an LB temple on the ruins of the MB2c city.

Stratum 14: The city was rebuilt in the LB1b period, perhaps by the ancestors of Lab’ayu. The Northwest and East Gates were rebuilt, and a new temple was built over the strata of the MB2c migdal temple.  There is no way of knowing at this point how long the city was in ruins before the rebuilding in LB1b, despite Wright’s claim of a hundred years.  Such reckoning ultimately would depend on the connection of the archaeological ages to a supposedly correct Egyptian chronology¾a view that New Courville and other alternative chronologies are challenging.

Stratum 13: This represents the Amarna age (LB2a) when Lab’ayu ruled in Shechem with the support of the Habiru (or Hebrews).  This strata represents Shechem at its most prosperous, but there are signs that structures within the city were burned at the end of this period, i.e., in Fields 7, 8, 9, and 13.  Nevertheless, while buildings inside the city may have been damaged there is no indication by the excavators that the fortifications of the city were destroyed, and no mention is made of any great disturbance at the temple:


“LB phase 2 is the best conceived and best constructed of the LB phases.  Such comparative wealth and civic energy most probably belong to the period when Lab’ayu of Shechem controlled a small empire extending from just north of Jerusalem to the region of Megiddo.  The phase ended in a destruction by fire at least of the eastern building; preliminary correlations with Fields VII, VIII and IX indicate that the destruction was general throughout the city.  In Field XIII the disaster brought down upper stories and roofs and crushed debris on the lower floors.”  (Campbell, Ross, Toombs, “Eighth Campaign,” etc., BASOR, no. 204, p. 14.)


The burned buildings at this level could be related to the capture of Lab’ayu by his enemies, who eventually executed him.  Despite the internal destructions, the excavators clearly did not think the city of Lab’ayu had been destroyed.  Wright says that Temple 2b was a “repair of Temple 2,” which he says


“involved a new floor and a new altar about 1200 B.C. [sic] or somewhat earlier.  The repair may perhaps be correlated with the repair and slight altering of the East Gate guardrooms, and with the flagstone pavement which in Field III separated the thirteenth- from the twelfth-century deposits.”  (Shechem, p. 101.)


Some have taken this to mean that the temple of Stratum 13 suffered some sort of destruction, and therefore needed to be repaired for that reason.  (Cf. John Bimson, New Chronology List, post of Dec 6, 2003.)  Nevertheless, Wright does not say that the LB temple was destroyed or suffered any significant destruction during this stratum, only that the temple and a gate had some repairs done to them.  Wright specifically denies that there was any significant destruction of the fortification system between the putative 13th and 12th century levels:


“The main historical point to this stratification is that there is no evidence of sharp conflict, separation or destruction between the thirteen- and twelfth-century phases….”  (Shechem, p. 78.)


Thus, the repair-work done in the next stratum cannot serve as a basis for inferring a destruction of the temple or fortifications of the LB2a city, the city of Lab’ayu.  Bimson cites L. E. Toombs to the effect that Stratum 13 ended in “destruction by fire,” and that “The city, quickly rebuilt retained most of the features of its forerunner. The defensive system, the temple on the acropolis, the shrine in Field IX, and the housing in Field VII underwent little modification.”  (Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, vol. 5, p. 1183.)  Bimson concludes: “So Toombs also includes the Temple among the features that were ‘quickly rebuilt’–and note that he also mentions the defensive system in this category, which further contradicts your source.”  (NC List, post, Dec. 6, 2003.)


In response to Bimson, the first thing to note is that Toombs’ claim of destruction by fire is ambiguous, in that it is not clear whether he is referring to internal buildings within the city, or to the walls and gates of the city, i.e., the fortifications.  Apparently, he is merely summarizing what was said above about fields 7, 8, 9 & 13 during the “eighth campaign.”  Furthermore, the repair work done to the next city provides no grounds for any inference about the previous city.  As the excavators said:


“The Late Bronze city once ruled by Lab’aya and his sons never suffered a destruction….Rather there is a smooth and apparently peaceful transition from the Late Bronze Age to the pre-Philistine Iron Age (Iron 1A).  This is especially apparent in one of the guard rooms of the late Bronze East Gate. Here we found five levels of late Bronze floors superseded, without an intervening destruction layer, by no less than fourteen super-imposed Iron 1 floors.” (cited by Courville, Exodus Problem, Vol 2, p. 182; cf., Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 26, p. 10; compare with Wright, Shechem, p. 78.)


If Toombs has found new evidence that can prove that the fortifications of the city and the LB temple of Stratum 13 were destroyed, it is incumbent upon him to publish this material in BASOR or BAR or in some other easily accessible archaeology journal.  Until then, we must reject Bimson’s interpretation of the archaeological evidence related to Stratum 13 and maintain what was reported in the original archaeological excavations.


Stratum 12-11: This represents the LB2b period.  New Courville holds that this is the period of Saul through Jeroboam, so we should expect to see some changes to the city during this period, but no destruction.  We read in the Bible that Jeroboam refortified the city, and this appears to be supported by the archaeological evidence. “A more radical change in architecture took place about 1300 B.C. [sic] when walls 3706 and 3663 went out of use and the main north-south construction line was shifted eastward about 1.50 m.  This construction represents the transitional phase between LB and Iron I.  Its foundation pottery is LB II in date, while the pottery in its destruction debris belongs to Iron I….” (BASOR, Vol. 204, p. 15.)  We would thus place Jeroboam at the end of the LB2b period, and ascribe the destruction indicia of stratum 11 to the Sea Peoples (Iron 1), even though they did not remain in the city, apparently.  Or else the destruction may be ascribed to the Syrians, who were at war with Israel during this period.

Stratum 10: This stratum also suffered destruction, but in our view, this is probably related to the wars with the Syrians, Ben-Hadad or Hazael (cf., 2 Chron. 16, 2 Kings 6:24, 8:28, etc.)

We have already discussed the rest of the strata of Shechem and found good reason to ascribe the end of Stratum 9b to Uzziah’s earthquake (c. 783 BC), and the end of Stratum 7 to the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar.


As we have seen, there is little evidence that the city itself was destroyed at LB/IA or in the early Iron age.  The lack of any destruction of the city’s fortifications during these periods is quite problematic for conventional views.  Indeed, it’s not really that evident that temple 2b was burned to the ground.  It may have been burned, or knocked down in some way, and its columns used elsewhere, but there isn’t much archaeological detail to hang a conclusion on, especially with regard to what it might tell us about the fortifications of the city. Later builders filled in the pits of the LB temple with carbonized debris, but we don’t know where they got the debris. It looks as though someone were absconding with the temple’s columns or column bases. Wright believes these pits show that the city was destroyed in the Iron age, but we must read Wright a bit judiciously before accepting his conclusion. He is basing his conclusion for the destruction of the city itself on his reading of the putative evidence from temple 2b. He says,

“The logical conclusion is that the charcoal and quantities of twelfth-century pottery found in these pits must have come from a twelfth-century destruction of the city” (Shechem, p. 102).

Notice that Wright is developing a “logical conclusion” ¾namely that the evidence from the temple shows that the city must have been destroyed.  But as we have seen, there was no significant destruction of the fortifications of the city at this time.  As noted above, other excavators on the site said, “The Late Bronze city [“city”, not “temple”—VC] once ruled by Lab’aya and his sons never suffered a destruction….Rather there is a smooth and apparently peaceful transition from the Late Bronze Age to the pre-Philistine Iron Age (Iron 1A) [sic; pre-Sea Peoples-VC].  This is especially apparent in one of the guard rooms of the late Bronze East Gate. Here we found five levels of late Bronze floors superseded, without an intervening destruction layer, by no less than fourteen super-imposed Iron 1 floors.” (cited by Courville, Exodus Problem, Vol 2, p. 182; cf., Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 26, p. 10; compare with Wright, Shechem, p. 78.)

Thus, even if Wright is correct that someone burned the LB2 temple to the ground, it would be hard to establish that the same thing happened to the whole city.  Wright had to give up the idea that the migdal was burned by Abimelech and opted instead for the LB temple.  He further had to find some evidence for the destruction of the city at this time since the Bible says Abimelech destroyed both the temple and the city, and yet other archaeologists on the scene at Shechem could find no evidence for an LB/IA destruction of the city.  Wright had to deduce the destruction of the city from the presumed destruction of the temple, combined with the biblical story.

There were several resurfacings of the floors of the LB and Iron ages, but no signs of destruction: “The main historical point to this stratification is that there is no evidence of sharp conflict, separation or destruction between the thirteenth- and twelfth-century [sic] phases.” (Shechem, p. 78.)  It should also be pointed out that this lack of evidence of the destruction of the gate during the LB and early Iron age runs against Wright’s theory that Abimelech destroyed the city during a later part of the early Iron age.

An IA2b grain warehouse (8th century, Samaria ware) follows LB Temple 2b, so that if the latter were destroyed by Abimelech, there is still a gap in which we find Shechem not being used as a city of refuge, nor being divided as spoil by David, nor used by Rehoboam as his coronation city, nor being rebuilt by Jeroboam.  This is about a 300 year gap that cannot be explained on the basis of conventional chronology.

The archaeologist, Toombs, says that there was no destruction level between the LB level and the Iron Age level, but claims to have found signs of destruction everywhere during the early Iron Age period (BASOR, No. 204, p. 15).  Toombs was excavating Field 13 on the 8th campaign, a site that is next to the temple courtyard, and he was able to find signs of destruction (black striations).  But if this is so, it must be a destruction limited to some of the interior buildings, for the gates were not disturbed in any significant way, as pointed out above.  Indeed, Toombs says that the catastrophe is everywhere indicated by the accumulation of black striations over the “building remains.”  This would seem to indicate that the fortifications of the city remained standing¾a fact at odds with Toombs’ claim that the Iron 1 destruction indicia should be ascribed to Abimelech.


We would suggest that this is the same problem that both Wright and Stager face as well, that it is one thing to find evidences of destruction within the city¾whether it’s of the temple, the palace, the temenos area, or of other inner structures. It is quite another to find a match between these interior destructions of the city, and a destruction of the fortifications of the city (the walls and the gates).  Prior to the later Iron Age, only the destruction at the end of MB2c matches the inner city destruction with the destruction of  the fortifications, and indeed with the destruction of the migdal temple.

The history of Shechem is unique, and its archaeology matches the Bible in a remarkable way.  My feeling is that the archaeology and history of Shechem could bring about a veritable Copernican revolution in historical studies if scholars were willing to awaken from their conventional chronological slumbers.  Surely such things as the misinterpretation of the archaeology of Shechem, and (say) the wiping out of the Davidic and Solomonic kingdoms by the Finkelsteins of the world should have awakened all the sleepers by now.  As such, I regard the matching of the MB1 period with the Exodus/Conquest, and the end of the MB2c period with the time of Abimelech, as providing the twin pillars that hold up the foundation of a new understanding of the chronology of the ancient world. And this new chronology provides a much stronger basis for unraveling the chronology of the ancient world than is to be found in the king lists of Manetho.  All that it takes is a little less stubbornness, and a little more willingness to look at the big picture in doing chronological work.