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A Mountain, its Temples and Cultural Identity: Mt Gerizim and the Self-Identification of the Inhabitants of Neapolis

Jane Evans

Temple University

In a conversation between a Samaritan woman and Jesus, they touch upon tensions between Jew and Samaritan, a tension that focusses on the different mountains that hold their sacred temples (Jhn 4:4-28). The Samaritans built a large sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim by the early Hellenistic period, cementing their religious and ethnic identity as separate from the Jews (e.g. Joseph. JW 1.62-65).

John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple in an act of cultural cleansing (ca. 108 BC), selling the Samaritans into slavery (Joseph. JW 1.65). The strain between the groups continued through the 1st century; the Samaritans were also targets for Roman aggression (e.g. Joseph. JW 3.307-15). There is apparently no attempt to rebuild the Samaritan cult place.  Instead, by the time of Antoninus Pius, the peak sheltered a large temple to Zeus. Excavations of the site have revealed it foundations and parts of the superstructure, confirming its second century date and allowing us a glimpse of the structure, activities that occurred within the sanctuary, and a suggestion of when the building may have passed out of use (Bennett, et al, forthcoming).

The city below the peak, Neapolis, produced civic bronzes from the 1st to mid-3rd century, with an extraordinary number of innovative types, focusing on the cult buildings in the sanctuary of Zeus.  Many of these types included Mt. Gerizim; they began with detailed reverses showing the structures on the mountain. After Elagabalus instituted worship of El-Gabal in Rome, the types shifted dramatically, to incorporate the mountain as a symbol, paired with other symbols specifically of Roman culture and politics. A new close connection between types on coins from the Roman mint and coins from Neapolis was forged, perhaps in part because the Neapolitans picked the wrong side in the struggle between Septimius Severus and Pescenius Niger.

In this paper I will examine the shifting identity of the Samaritans, focusing on the 3rd century AD, when the series of coins minted with Roman symbols, and their attempt to make the mountain itself one of those symbols, is unlike anything in ancient Palestine, or indeed, the Levant.

Session/Panel Title:

Visions of Ancient Cities...

Session/Paper Number

10.4

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