In John chapter 4, Jesus has a discussion with a woman of Samaria:

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”—John 4:19-20 (ESV)

She indicates that the fathers of the Samaritans worshiped on this mountain, perhaps referring to Mount Gerissim, but the Jews claimed that it was only appropriate to worship in Jerusalem.

The Samaritans were half-Jews, as I understand. As a result, the Jews and Samaritans appear to be a bit hostile toward each other. Many Jews would not travel through Samaria when going to Jerusalem from Galilee, enduring a longer journey for the sake of avoiding Samaria altogether. However, the Samaritans still held to many Jewish beliefs and customs. Indeed, they were still looking for the Messiah, as evidenced in John 4 as well, and actually acknowledged Jesus as that Messiah in the town of Sychar.

So, why did they believe it was alright to worship on Mount Gerissim rather than in Jerusalem? Was there biblical reasoning for that or merely tradition? Why was this an issue that the Samaritan woman would have brought up?

  • I just want some clarification on why God only want to be worshiped at one place and how different religions make their relative conclusions.
    – user4951
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 3:11
  • 1
    For the sake of accuracy, it would be better to refer to Samaritans as having partial Israelite ethnicity; this would not have been primarily Jewish (if at all), but drawn from tribes of the northern kingdom. They were the remnants of the "people of the land," intermarried with the settlers from other nations whom the Assyrians transplanted among them. Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 3:15
  • Could I ask you to change all your past-tense verbs ("the Samaritans were..." etc.) to the present text. The Samaritans are a living religious community. Also, they are not "half-Jews".
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 18:53

5 Answers 5


This is the historical record regarding The Temple and the Samaritans from the Bible.

Moses instructed the Israelites that there should be only one place of worship.

Deuteronomy 12:8-11 (NIV)

You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord.

Later King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem and God approved it for the one place of Worship.

1 Kings 9:3 (NIV)

The Lord said to him: “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

After The Kingdom of Israel was destroyed and the people were exiled to Assyria and other places, (many of the tribes of Israel were lost till today) the empty place of Samaria was occupied by foreigners, who were latter called Samaritans even at the time of Jesus.

2 Kings 17:24-29 (NIV)

The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. When they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.” Then the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.” 28 So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the Lord. Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places.

Mount Gerazim was regarded as a place of blessing.

Deuteronomy 11:29 (NIV)

When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.

Later, the Samaritans selected it for the Place of Worship.

See this wiki page for more on Mount Gerizim.

  • Are you trying to say that mount Gerissim becomes holy city after babylonian exile?
    – user4951
    Commented Mar 26, 2013 at 10:18
  • Whether Samaritan were jews or not is something I do not know either. I mean they worship jewish God and live in the same land. The jews wrote that they do so merely because God sent lions. Hmmm... That's harder for me to believe actually.
    – user4951
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 0:05
  • @Mawia, they claim not to worship any god but God; and there’s no indication that there are any remnants of their old pagan worship still around. Things might have been different 2,000 years ago; you might get some interesting information by asking about the Samaritans on ✡.SE. Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 1:41

D. A. Carson's commentary on John (generally considered to be the best available commentary on this book of the Bible) explains the following: (See p. 220-222)

Different Canon...

The Samaritans limited the canon to the Pentateuch. As a result, they accepted Deuteronomy 12:5 as authoritative...

But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.

...but in the Samaritan textual tradition it reads slightly differently:

. . . to seek the place the Lord your God has chosen . . .

For a Samaritan, "the place" had already been chosen by God and the identity of the location would be found in the Pentateuch itself. The Jews, on the other hand, viewed the statement as forward-pointing to future revelation.

...Different Conclusions

Carson explains the Jewish interpretation as follows:

the Jew concluded Jerusalem was the place: there David determined to build a temple to God, and God solemnly authorized his son Solomon to do so. There sacrifice was divinely sanctioned, the temple site retaining its significance when Zerubbabel rebuilt it after it was destroyed, and when later still Herod embellished it.

Of course, none of this is found in the Pentateuch, and so none of this would have been convincing to a Samaritan. The Samaritans used the following Pentateuch-based logic to support their identification of "the place" as Gerizim:

  • The first place Abraham built an altar after entering the Promised Land was in Shechem, overlooked by Mount Gerizim

  • God instructed the covenant community to shout the blessings from Mount Gerizim once they had entered the promised land (Dt. 11:29-30; 27:2-7, 12)

  • Both instances of the 10 Commandments (Ex. 20:17, Dt. 5:21) in the Samaritan Bible are followed by words very similar to those found in (Dt. 27:2-7), tying the Commandments themselves to Gerizim.


Only one temple would be because God was teaching them that there was one way to worship Him, and it had to be done in the way He taught and in the place He taught. Of course, home worship and gatherings were encouraged, but there was one temple. It is similar to how, in the Tabernacle days, there was one entrance and the opening was to the east.

Also, Jewish-Samaritan relations had a long history of hostility. It began with the fact that the Samaritans were half-Jews but did not end there. During the Return, Samaritans offered to help rebuild the city but were rebuffed.


29 Now (about 9 CE) when Judea was administered by Coponius, who was sent out by Quirinius [the Roman governor of Syria]...these things occurred: During the celebration of the feast of Unleavened Bread, which we call Passover, in a custom of the priests the gates of the temple [in Jerusalem] were opened after midnight.

30 And then, when their opening first occurred, Samaritan men coming into Jerusalem in secret, began to scatter human bones in the porticoes and throughout the temple. (So, the priests), who were not accustomed to such things before, managed the temple with greater care. --- Josephus, Antiquities 18.29-30

Scattering human bones in the Temple would have defiled the Temple right at the time of a major holiday.

At another time, Samaritans sabotaged the signal fires used by Jews to signal a new month had begun. The festival dates were to be celebrated on specific days of the month, thus knowing the first day of the month was necessary. To do so, the Jews set up a system of signal fires (the same kind of signals used in the third LOTR movie). When the New Moon was observed, the signal fire at the Temple would be lit. When the watchmen at the first circle of fires saw the burning, they lit their fires. Then the second set would see the fires and light their own fire. This allowed the message to be spread quickly. To throw the dates off, Samaritans would light fires on dates that were close but not accurate. A description of this may be found in Yerushalami Rosh Hashanah 2:1. Pay attention to the footnotes if available.

  • Very good information. This explains the hatred between Jews and Samaritans.
    – Mawia
    Commented Mar 29, 2013 at 5:05

Jerusalem was not “chosen” for several centuries after the Israelites entered the land. However, Dueteronomy 12:1 makes it very clear that the instructions Moses was giving had to be followed as long as they lived in the land, and a scant few verses later, 12:5 contains the first mention of the “place YHWH will choose”, the central place of sacrifice and pilgrimage feasts. It was the only place these things could be done. No other place was authorized for these activities.

The very end of chapter 11 aludes to the chosen place as Mount Gerizim just before this first mention in 12:5, but one can easily confirm that Mount Gerizim is the chosen place by looking at the instructions for the special ceremony to be held on Mounts Gerizim and Ebal. The instructions included sacrifices, which could ONLY be done at the chosen place. Thus the chosen place is Mount Gerizim.

Compare also the commandment to read the Torah before the entire nation at the chosen place in Deuteronomy 31, to it’s fulfillment at the end of Joshua 8. Again, the Israelites are at this ceremony on Mount Gerizim/Ebal.

A problem is that the Masoretic text suggests the altar was built on Ebal. This is illogical. The priests were from the tribe of Levi, and the Levites were stationed on Mount Gerizim for this ceremony. In fact, the most prominent tribes were all on Gerizim. Scholars have long wrested with the altar being built on the mountain of curses rather than the mountain of blessing. And, we have the Old Latin which preserves the original reading showing the altar being built on Gerizim, as well as the fragment of Deuteronomy 27:4 from Qumran in Judean script no less preserving this reading as well.

Also compare to Exodus 15:17, part of the song of the sea which they sang after the miraculous sea crossing. It reads:

[Exo 15:17 NET] 17 You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place you made for your residence, O Lord, the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

This verse speaks about a location that is already established and known as the place YHWH had established for a residence. The first mention of the chosen place in Deuteronomy 12:5 also calls it the place he has chosen for his residence. It’s really quite clear and obvious if you put all the pieces together.

The truth as I see it after a good year of studying this issue is that the Judeans in fact abandoned the original chosen place for their own political purposes, wanting Jerusalem instead to be that chosen place, and then edited the text, changing the original “has chosen” to “will chose” in the chosen place passages in Deuteronomy, as well as changing Gerizim to Ebal in Deuteronomy 27:4.

The Israelite Samaritans claim that Eli, from the disfavored line of Ithimar, was unable to obtain the high priesthood he coveted, and thus took a group of supporters and established a counterfeit tabernacle and priesthood in Shiloh. This is the tent that was eventually moved to Jerusalem, and morphed into a temple (Jerusalem nor a temple ever being authorized by the Torah, whereas the Shechem area was very obviously a special place to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the exodus was all about returning there.)

This actually seems reasonable if you remove all bias and read the Judean account. We know from Deuteronomy that there is a central chosen place for sacrifice, and as well we know that YHWH instructed the Israelites to destroy the Caananite high places, and yet by the time of Samuel we find he is sacrificing at high places! (1 Sam 9 for example, when Samuel runs into Saul, the random handsome guy wandering around aimlessly in search of his father’s lost donkeys.) Samuel is violating YHWH’s commandments regarding the chosen place, and yet YHWH is said to be speaking to him about whom he has chosen to be king?

Contrast this with the story contained in Joshua 22 which shows how diligently the early Israelites were protecting the chosen place commandments.

A more comprehensive detailing of this can be found here.

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In Josh 8:30 when Joshua builds an altar on Mount Ebal as instructed by Moses Dt27:1-4, the curses are given from Ebal. But notice, the curses and the alter are on the same Mtn. God is saying ,"I know you will sin, but I have provided a sacrifice". Mt Gerizim represents salvation by works alone. Mt. Gerizim is the Secular Humanist belief that my good works will save me, Blessings. Jesus is telling the woman at Jacob's well pointing at Mt Gerizim, "No, No, you need a sacrifice acceptable to God." Mt Ebal a shadow in the OT is Jesus, a Light unto this world.

  • Could you develop more information and background? For example, could you compare and contrast why the stones from the Jordan River were used on Mount Ebal with the altar?; that is, you mention Deut 27:1-4 (context of these stones from the Jordan), but you do not develop any of these ideas.
    – Joseph
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 1:51

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