(ssheh' chuhm) Personal and place name meaning, “shoulder, back.” 1. District and city in the hill country of Ephraim in north central Palestine. The first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, the city was built mainly on the slope, or shoulder, of Mount Ebal. Situated where main highways and ancient trade routes converged, Shechem was an important city long before the Israelites occupied Canaan.
The city makes its earliest appearance in biblical history in connection with Abram's arrival in the land (Genesis 12:6-7). When Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, he settled down at Shechem and purchased land from the sons of Hamor (Genesis 33:18-19). In
Genesis 33-34, Shechem was the name of the city and also of the prince of the city. While Jacob was at Shechem, the unfortunate incident of Dinah occurred. Simeon and Levi, her full brothers, destroyed the city (Genesis 34:1). Later, the brothers of Joseph were herding Jacob's flock at Shechem when Joseph was sent to check on their welfare. Joseph was buried in the plot of ground that his father Jacob had purchased here (Joshua 24:32).
As the Israelites conquered Canaan, they turned unexpectedly to Shechem. Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal and led the people in its building, renewing their commitment to the law of Moses (Joshua 8:30-35; compare
Deuteronomy 27:12-13). Shechem lay in the tribal territory of Ephraim near their border with Manasseh (Joshua 17:7). It was a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7) and a Levitical city (Joshua 21:21). See Cities of Refuge; Levitical Cities. Joshua led Israel to renew its covenant with God there (Joshua 24:1-17). Gideon's son Abimelech fought the leaders of Shechem (Judges 8:31-9:49).
Rehoboam, successor to King Solomon, went to Shechem to be crowned king over all Israel (1 Kings 12:1). Later, when the nation divided into two kingdoms, Shechem became the first capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:25). Samaria eventually became the permanent political capital of the Northern Kingdom, but Shechem retained its religious importance. It apparently was a sanctuary for worship of God in Hosea's time about 750 B.C. (1 Kings 6:9).
The name Shechem occurs in historical records and other sources outside Palestine. It is mentioned as a city captured by Senusert III of Egypt (before 1800 B.C.) and appears in the Egyptian cursing texts of about the same time. “The mountain of Shechem” is referred to in a satirical letter of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Shechem also figures in the Amarna Letters; its ruler, Lab'ayu, and his sons were accused of acting against Egypt, though the ruler protested that he was absolutely loyal to the pharaoh.
At Shechem (sometimes identified with Sychar), Jesus visited with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well (John 4:1). The Samaritans had built their temple on Mount Gerizim, where they practiced their form of religion.