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Ebal

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(Hebrews עֵבָיל , stone), the name of one or two persons, and also of a hill.

1. (Sept. Γεμιάν [Vat. MS. omits], Vulg. Hebal.), A various reading for OBAL (See OBAL) (q.v.), the son of Joktan (1 Chronicles 1:22; compare Genesis 10:28).

2. (Γαιβήλ v. r. Ταιβήλ [1 Alex MS. Γαοβήλ ], Vulg. Ebal.) The fourth son of Shobal, son of Seir, the Horite of Idumaea (Genesis 36:23; 1 Chronicles 1:40). B.C. ante 1694.

3. (Sept. Γαιβάλ , Josephus Γίβαλος,Vulg. Hebal.) A mountain on the northern part of the tribe of Ephraim, on the north-eastern side of the valley in which was situated the city of Shechem (now Nablous), in Samaria (q.v.). See Mills, Three Months at Nablus (London, 1864).

1. It was here that the Israelites were enjoined to erect an altar, setting up plastered stones, and respond to the imprecations uttered in the valley, according to the divinely prescribed formula, upon those who should prove faithless to the Sinaitic law (Deuteronomy 11:29; Deuteronomy 27:4; Deuteronomy 27:13), while the responses to the blessings were to be uttered by the other division of the tribal representatives stationed upon the opposite mountain, Gerizim. Both the benediction and the anathema were pronounced by the Levites, who remained with the ark in the center of the interval (compare Deuteronomy 27:11-26, with Joshua 8:30-35, with Joseph. Ant. 4, 8, 44, and with the comments of the Talmud, Sota, 36, quoted in Herxheimer's Pentateuch). But, notwithstanding the ban thus apparently laid on Ebal, it was further appointed to be the site of the first great altar to be erected to Jehovah: an altar of large unhewn stone, plastered with lime, and inscribed with the words of the law (Deuteronomy 27:2-8). On this altar peace-offerings were to be offered, and round it a sacrificial feast was to take place, with other rejoicings (Deuteronomy 27:6-7). Scholars disagree as to whether there were to be two erections a kind of cromlech and an altar; or an altar only, with the law inscribed on its stones. The latter was the view of Josephus (Ant. 4:8, 44; 5:1, 19), the former is unhesitatingly adopted by the latest commentator (Keil, Comment. on Joshua 8:32). The terms of Moses' injunction seem to infer that no delay was to take place in carrying out this symbolical transaction. It was to be "on the day" that Jordan was crossed (Joshua 27:2), before they "went in unto the land flowing with milk and honey" (Joshua 27:3). Accordingly Joshua appears to have seized the earliest practicable moment, after the pressing affairs of the siege of Jericho, the execution of Achan, and the destruction of Ai had been dispatched, to carry out the command (Joshua 8:30-35). After this Ebal appears no more in the sacred story. By a corruption of the above- cited texts, the Samaritans transferred the site of the appointed altar to the opposite mountain, which has hence attained the greater notoriety. (See GERIZIM).

2. The question now arises, where were Ebal and Gerizim situated? The all but unanimous reply to this is, that they are the mounts which form the sides of the fertile valley in which lies Nablu's, the ancient SHECHEM-Ebal on the north and Gerizim on the south.

(1.) It is plain from the passages already quoted that they were situated near together, with a valley between.

(2.) Gerizim was very near Shechem (Judges 9:7), and in Josephus' time their names appear to have been attached to the mounts, which were then, as now, Ebal on the north and Gerizim on the south. Since that they have been mentioned by Benjamin of Tudela (Asher, 1:66) and Sir John Maundeville, and among modern travelers by Maundrell (Mod. Trav. page 432). The main impediment to our entire reception of this view rests in the terms of the first mention of the place by Moses in Deuteronomy 11:30 : A.V. "Are they not on the other side Jordan, by the way where the sun goeth down, in the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the champaign over against Gilgal, beside the plains of Moreh?" Here the mention of Gilgal, which was in the valley of the Jordan near Jericho, of the valley itself (Arabah, mistranslated here only, "champaign"), and of the Canaanites who dwelt there, and also the other terms of the injunction of Moses, as already noticed seem to imply that Ebal and Gerizim were in the immediate neighborhood of Jericho. This is strengthened by the narrative of Joshua, who appears to have carried out the prescribed ceremonial on the mounts while his camp was at Gilgal (compare Joshua 7:2; Joshua 9:6), and before he had (at least before any account of his having) made his way so far into the interior of the country as Shechem.

This is the view taken by Eusebius (Onomasticon, s.v. Γεβάλ ). He does not quote the passage in Deuteronomy, but seems to be led to his opinion rather by the difficulty of the mountains at Shechem being too far apart to admit of the blessings and cursings being heard, and also by his desire to contradict the Samaritans; add to this that he speaks from no personal knowledge, but simply from hearsay (λέγεται ), as to the existence of two such hills in the Jordan valley. The notice of Eusebius is merely translated by Jerome, with a shade more of animosity to the Samaritans (vehementer errant), and expression of difficulty as to the distance, but without any additional information. Procopius and Epiphanius also followed Eusebius, but their mistakes have been disposed of by Reland (Palaest. p. 5034; Miscell. pages 129-133).

With regard to the passage in Deuteronomy it will perhaps assume a different aspect on examination.

1. Moses is represented as speaking from the east side of Jordan, before anything was known of the country on the west, beyond the exaggerated reports of the spies, and when everything there was wrapped in mystery, and localities and distances had not assumed their due proportions.

2. A closer rendering of the verse is as follows: "Are they not on the other side the Jordan, beyond (אִחֲרַים, the word rendered 'the backside of the desert' in Exodus 3:1) the way of the sunset, in the land of the Canaanite who dwells in the Arabak, over against Gilgal, near the terebinths of Moreb?" If this rendering is correct, a great part of the difficulty has disappeared. Gilgal no longer marks the site of Ebal and Gerizim, but of the dwelling of the Canaanites, who were, it is true, the first to encounter the Israelites on the other side of the river, in their native lowlands, but who, we have it actually on record, were both in the time of Abraham (Genesis 12:6) and of the conquest (Joshua 17:18) located about Shechem. The word now rendered "beyond" is not represented at all in the A.V., and it certainly throws the locality much further back; and, lastly, there is the striking landmark of the trees of Moreh, which were standing by Shechem when Abraham first entered the land, and whose name probably survived in Morthia, or Mamortha, a name of Shechem found on coins of the Roman period (Reland, Miscell. page 137 sq.). (See GILGAL).

In accordance with this is the addition in the Samaritan Pentateuch, after the words "the terebinths of Moreh," at the end of Deuteronomy 11:30 of the words "over against Shechem." This addition is the more credible because there is not, as in the case noticed afterwards, any apparent motive for it. If this interpretation be accepted, the next verse (31) gains a fresh force: "For ye shall pass over Jordan [not only to meet the Canaanites immediately on the other side, but] to go in to possess the land [the whole of the country, even the heart of it, where these mounts are situated (glancing back to Deuteronomy 11:29)], the land which; Jehovah your God giveth you; and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein." It may also be asked whether the significance of the whole solemn ceremonial of the blessing and cursing is not missed if we understand it as taking place directly a footing had been obtained on the outskirts of the country, and not as acted in, the heart of the conquered land, in its most prominent natural position, and close to its oldest city Shechem.

This is evidently the view taken by Josephus. His statement (Ant. 5, 1, 19) is that it took place after the subjugation of the country and the establishment of the tabernacle at Silioh. He has no misgivings as to the situation of the mountains. They were at Shechema (ἐπὶ Σικίμων ), and from thence, after the ceremony, the people returned to Shiloh.

The narrative of Joshua is more puzzling. But even with regard to this something may be said. It will at once be perceived that the book contains no account of the conquest of the center of the country, of those portions which were afterwards the mountain of Ephraim, Esdraelon, or Galilee. We lose Joshua at Gilgal, after the conquest of the south, to find him again suddenly at the waters of Merom in the extreme north (Joshua 10:43; Joshua 11:7). Of his intermediate proceedings the only record that seems to have escaped is the fragment contained in Joshua 8:30-35. Nor should it be overlooked that some doubt is thrown on this in Joshua 8:30-35, by its omission in both the Vat. and Alex. MSS. of the Sept.

The distance of Ebal and Gerizim from each other is not such a stumbling- block to us as it was to Eusebius; though it is difficult to understand how he and Jerome should have been ignorant of the distance to which the voice will travel in the clear elastic atmosphere of the East. Stanley has given some instances of this (Sinai and Pal. page 13); others equally remarkable have been observed by those long resident in the neighborhood; who state that a voice can be heard without difficulty across the valley separating the two spots in question (see also Bonar, page 371).

It is well known that one of the most serious variations between the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch and the Samaritan text is in reference to Ebal and Gerizim. In Deuteronomy 27:4, the Samaritan has Gerizim, while the Hebrew (as in A.V.) has Ebal, as the mount on which the altar to Jehovah and the inscription of the law were to be erected. Upon this basis the Samaritans ground the sanctity of Gerizim and the authenticity of the Temple and holy place, which have existed there. The arguments upon this difficult question will be found in Kennicott (Dissert. 2), and in the reply of Verschuir (Leovard. 1775; quoted by Gesenius, De Pesst. Sam. page 61). Two points may merely be glanced at here which have apparently escaped notice.

1. Both agree that Ebal was the mount on which the cursings were to rest, Gerizim that for blessings. It appears inconsistent that Ebal, the mount of cursing, should be the site of the altar and the record of the law, while Gerizim, the mount of blessing, should remain unoccupied by sanctuary of any kind.

2. Taking into account the known predilection of Orientals for ancient sites on which to fix their sanctuaries, it is more easy to believe (in the absence of any evidence to the contrary) that in building their temple on Gerizim, the Samaritans were making use of a spot already enjoying a reputation for sanctity, than that they built on a place upon which the curse was laid in the records which they received equally with the Jews. Thus the very fact of the occupation of Gerizim by the Samaritans would seem an argument for its original sanctity. On the other hand, all critics of eminence, with the exception of Kennicott, regard this as a corruption of the sacred text; and when it is considered that the invariable reading in Hebrew MSS. and ancient versions, both in this passage and the corresponding one in Joshua 8:30, is "Ebal,"' it seems strange that any scholar would for a moment doubt its correctness. Kennicott takes an opposite view, maintaining the integrity of the Samaritan reading, and arguing the point at great length; hut his arguments,are neither' sound nor pertinent (Dissertations on the Hebrew Text, 2:20 sq.). The Samaritans had a strong reason for corrupting the text, seeing that Gerizim was their sanctuary; and they desired to make it not merely the mountain of blessing, but the place of the altar and the inscribed law. (See SAMARITANS).

3. Ebal is rarely ascended by travelers, and we are therefore in ignorance as to how far the question may be affected by remains of ancient buildings thereon. That such remains do exist is certain, even from the very meager accounts published (Bartlett, Walks about Jerusalem, App. page 251 sq.; and Narrative of Rev. J. Mills in Trans. Pal. Archeol. Assoc. 1855), while the mountain is evidently of such extent as to warrant the belief that there is a great deal still to discover.

The report of the old travelers was that Ebal was more barren than Gerizim (see Benjamin of Tudela and Maundrell, in Early Travels in Palestine, pages 82, 433; Wilson, Lands of the Bible, 2:71); but this opinion probably arose from a belief in the effects of the curse mentioned above. At any rate, it is not borne out by the latest accounts, according to which there is little or no perceptible difference. They are not isolated mountains, but culminating points of a chain. Their declivities facing the vale bear a singular resemblance to each other. They are equally rugged and bare; the limestone strata here and there project, forming bold bluffs and precipices; but the greater portion of the slopes, though steep, are formed into terraces, partly natural and partly artificial. For this reason both mountains appear more barren from below than they are in reality, the rude and naked supporting walls of the terraces alone being thus visible. The soil, though scanty, is rich. In the bottom of the vale are olive groves, and a few straggling trees extend some distance up the sides. The broad summits and upper slopes have no trees, yet they are not entirely bare. The steeper banks are here and there scantily clothed with dwarf shrubbery; while in spring and early summer, rank grass, brambles, and thistles, intermixed with myriads of bright wild flowers-anemones, convolvulus, tulips, and. poppies-spring up among the rocks and stones. Ebal is "occupied from bottom to top by beautiful gardens" (Mills; see also Porter, Handbook, page 332). The slopes of Ebal towards the valley appear to be steeper than those of Gerizim (Wilson, pages 45, 71). It is also the higher mountain of the two. There is some uncertainty about the measurements, but the following are the results of the latest observations (Van de Velde, Memoir, page 178):

Nablus, above sea, 1672 ft.

Gerizim do. 2600 " ... above Nablus, 928 ft.

Ebal do. about 2700" ... do. 1028

According to Wilson (Lands, 2:71; but see Robinson, 2:277, 280, note), it is sufficiently high to shut out Hermon from the highest point of Gerizim. The structure of Gerizim is nummulitic limestone, with occasional outcrops of igneous rock (Poole, in Geograph. Journ. 26:56), and that of Ebal is probably similar. At its base above the valley of Nablus are numerous caves and sepulchral excavations. This was, doubtless, the necropolis of Shechem (Robinson, 3:131; Van de Velde, 2:290). The modern name of Ebal is Sitti Salamiyah, from a Mohammedan female saint, whose tomb is standing on the eastern part of the ridge, a little before the highest point is reached (Wilson, page 71, note). By others, however, it is reported to be called 'Imad ed-Din, "the pillar of the religion" (Stanley, page 238, note). The tomb of another saint, called Amad, is also shown (Ritter, page 641), with whom the latter name may have some connection. On the south-east shoulder is a mined site bearing the name of Askar (Robinson, 3:132). (See SYCHAR).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ebal'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/e/ebal.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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