Abimelech at Shechem (Judges 9)

Illustration: East Gate at Shechem where Zebal and Gaal watched Abimelech’s forces advance on the city as dawn was breaking (Judges 9:34–40).

Gideon’s son Abimelech attempted to become king of Israel by taking control of Shechem, an important commercial and political centre. He was given funds from “the temple of Baal-Berith” (Judges 9:4), also known as “Baal of the covenant”. Baal was the Canaanite storm god and the god of fertility. Further references to the “temple of their god” (Judges 9:27), the “tower of Shechem” (Judges 9:46-47, 49) and the “temple of El-Berith” (Judges 9:46) all appear to regard the same temple. Several archaeological findings at Shechem relate directly to Judges 9:

  • A great fortress-temple excavated there has been identified as the temple of this chapter. It was constructed  in the seventeenth century B.C. and lasted until the city’s destruction by Abimelech in the twelfth century B.C. The largest temple yet found in Canaan, it measures 21 m by 26 m , with foundations 5 m thick.
  • In  front is a courtyard with a sacred stone 1,5 m wide and 0,4 m thick. It was broken in antiquity but still stands 1,5 m high. This sacred stone may be the “pillar” where the coronation ceremony took place when Abimelech was declared king (Judges 9:6).
  • The city gate from the time of Abimelech was excavated on the eastern side of the site. It was from this point that Abimelech’s rival, Gaal, observed Abimelech and his men approaching the city (Judges 9:35-37). Leaving the security of the walls of Shechem, Gaal engaged Abimelech in battle but was defeated (Judges 9:38-40). The gate is an impressive structure some 16,5 m wide and 13,4 m deep, with orthostats (stoneslabs) lining its walls.
  • Evidence of massive destruction from the time of Abimelech has been found throughout the site, attesting to his razing of the city (Judges 9:45).

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