(back or shoulder), an important city in central Palestine, in the valley between mounts Ebal and Gerizim, 34 miles north of Jerusalem and 7 miles southeast of Samaria. Its present name, Nablus, is a corruption of Neapolis, which succeeded the more ancient Shechem and received its new name from Vespasian. On coins still extant it is called Flavia Neapolis. The situation of the town is one of surpassing beauty. It lies in a sheltered valley, protected by Gerizim on the south and Ebal on the north. The feet of these mountains, where they rise from the town, are not more than five hundred yards apart. The bottom of the valley is about 1,800 feet above the level of the sea and the top of Gerizim 800 feet higher still. The sit of the present city, which was also that of the Hebrew city, occurs exactly on the water-summit, and streams issuing from the numerous springs there flow down the opposite slopes of the valley, spreading verdure and fertility in every direction. Travellers vie with each other in the language which they employ to describe the scene that here bursts so suddenly upon them on arriving in spring or early summer at this paradise of the holy land. “The whole valley,” says Dr. Robinson, “was filled with gardens of vegetables and orchards of all kinds of fruits, watered by fountains which burst forth in various parts and flow westward in refreshing streams. It came upon us suddenly like a scene of fairy enchantment. We saw nothing to compare with it in all Palestine.” The allusions to Shechem in the Bible are numerous and show how important the place was in Jewish history. Abraham, on his first migration to the land of promise, pitched his tent and built an altar under the oak (or terebinth) of Moreh at Shechem. “The Canaanite was then in the land;” and it is evident that the region, if not the city, was already in possession of the aboriginal race (see Genesis 12:6). At the time of Jacob’s arrival here, after his sojourn in Mesopotamia (Genesis 33:18; 34), Shechem was a Hivite city, of which Hamor, the father of Shechem, was the headman. It was at this time that the patriarch purchased from that chieftain “the parcel of the field” which he subsequently bequeathed, as a special patrimony, to his son Joseph (Genesis 33:19; Joshua 24:32; John 4:5). The field lay undoubtedly on the rich plain of the Mukhna, and its value was the greater on account of the well which Jacob had dug there, so as not to be dependent on his neighbors for a supply of water. In the distribution of the land after its conquest by the Hebrews, Shechem fell to the lot of Ephraim (Joshua 20:7) but was assigned to the Levites and became a city of refuge (Joshua 21:20-21). It acquired new importance as the scene of the renewed promulgation of the law, when its blessings were heard from Gerizim and its curses from Ebal, and the people bowed their heads and acknowledged Jehovah as their king and ruler (Deuteronomy 27:11; Joshua 24:23-25). It was here Joshua assembled the people, shortly before his death, and delivered to them his last counsels (Joshua 24:1, 25). After the death of Gideon, Abimelech, his bastard son, induced the Shechemites to revolt from the Hebrew commonwealth and elect him as king (Judges 9:1). In revenge for his expulsion after a reign of three years, Abimelech destroyed the city, and as an emblem of the fate to which he would consign it, sowed the ground with salt (Judges 9:34-45). It was soon restored, however, for we are told in 1 Kings 12:1 that all Israel assembled at Shechem, and Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor, went thither to be inaugurated as king. Here, at this same place, the ten tribes renounced the house of David and transferred their allegiance to Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:16), under whom Shechem became for a time the capital of his kingdom. From the time of the origin of the Samaritans, the history of Shechem blends itself with that of this people and of their sacred mount, Gerizim. Shechem reappears in the New Testament. It is the Sychar of John 4:5 near which the Saviour conversed with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The population of Nablus consists of about 5,000, among whom are 500 Greek Christians, 150 Samaritans, and a few Jews. The enmity between the Samaritans and jews is as inveterate still as it was in the days of Christ. The Mohammedans, of course, make up the bulk of the population. The well of Jacob and the tomb of Joseph are still shown in the neighborhood of the town. The well of Jacob lies about a mile and a half east of the city, close to the lower road, and just beyond the wretched hamlet of Balata. The Christians sometimes call it Bir es-Samariyeh—”the well of the Samaritan woman.” The well is deep—75 feet when last measured—and there was probably a considerable accumulation of rubbish at the bottom. Sometimes it contains a few feet of water, but at others it is quite dry. It is entirely excavated in the solid rock, perfectly round, 9 feet in diameter, with the sides hewn smooth and regular. Of all the special localities of our Lord’s life, this is almost the only one absolutely undisputed. The tomb of Joseph lies about a quarter of a mile north of the well, exactly in the centre of the opening of the valley. It is a small spot between Gerizim and Ebal. It is a small, square enclosure of high whitewashed walls, surrounding a tomb of the ordinary kind, but with the peculiarity that it is placed diagonally to the walls, instead of parallel as usual. A rough pillar used as an altar and black with the traces of fire is at the head and another at the foot of the tomb. In the walls are two slabs with Hebrew inscriptions, and the interior is almost covered with the names of pilgrims in Hebrew Arabic and Samaritan. Beyond this there is nothing to remark in the structure itself. The local tradition of the tomb, like that of the well, is as old as the beginning of the fourth century.
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866)