The Chosen Place is not Jerusalem

The Chosen Place is not Jerusalem

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Deuteronomy contains over 20 references to a “chosen” place. This chosen place is described in the Masoretic Text using descriptions such as these taken from Deuteronomy 12:

“the place he chooses from all your tribes to establish his name as his place of residence” (Deuteronomy 12:5)

“the place YHWH your God chooses for his name to reside” (Deuteronomy 12:11)

“the place YHWH chooses in one of your tribal areas” (Deuteronomy 12:14)

“the place he chooses” (Deuteronomy 12:18)

“the place he chooses to locate his name” (Deuteronomy 12:21)

“the place YHWH will choose” (Deuteronomy 12:26)

This chosen place is the only location where sacrificial offerings could be made, and where the three pilgrimage feasts, (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot), were to be held.

Jerusalem is believed to be this place by the majority of Jews and Christians.There is credible evidence suggesting that the temple mount is instead the remains of a Roman garrison, and that the temple itself was located in the city of David nearby.

Regardless of where the temple mount stood, it is my assertion that it was not the chosen place of Deuteronomy. I believe scripture combined with the study of ancient manuscripts clearly identifies the chosen place as being Mount Gerizim, in the Shechem area, as the Israelite Samaritans have always claimed.

Here are the facts that brought me to this conclusion:

1. Shechem is very prominent in the Torah; Jerusalem is never mentioned

Abram was called out of his native land to the land of Canaan, by YHWH. He traveled as far as the oak tree of Moreh at Shechem. There he appeared to Abram and said “To your descendants I will give this land.” Abram built his first altar to YHWH here, then went to Bethel (Mount Gerizim) and pitched his tent and built a second altar.

Isaac’s near sacrifice may have taken place here as well. Abraham was sent with his son Isaac to the “land of Moriah”, a place unknown to modern scholars. Many scholars equate Moriah with the oak of Moreh from Genesis 12. Others believe an initial “a” has been dropped, making it the land of Amoriah (of the Amorites, who were Canaanites).

Jacob had his “stairway to heaven” vision near Luz, which exists to this day on Mount Gerizim. He named this place “Beit El” (literally House of God) from which the Bethel of our English translations is derived.

Jacob acquired land in Shechem and settled there. His sons tended his flocks in the area, and from there Joseph was sold into slavery, setting him up to become the eventual savior of his family. Shechem was so important to Joseph that he made his people promise to exhume his bones and take them with them, knowing that YHWH would be restoring his people to his homeland in the future (Genesis 50:25). Indeed, this happened in the time of Moses, and they did as they had promised (Exodus 13:19). His bones were eventually reinterred at Shechem, in a field which had been owned by his father Jacob (Joshua 24:32).

2. A verse in the “Song of the Sea” indicates the Israelites already knew the place where YHWH would establish his name and residence

After the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites sang a song which has been dubbed the “Song of the Sea”. In this song appears this interesting verse:

You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place you made for your residence, O YHWH, the sanctuary, O Adonai, that your hands have established. (Exodus 15:17)

Here you can see there is no hint of a future choice, but a place that has already been established, not by man but by YHWH himself, as his place of residence. The Hebrew word translated place in this verse is “makon”, which means “Fixed or established place, foundation”. The Israelites already knew exactly where they were heading, and where the House of God (Beit El) was located.

3. The future looking “will chose” throughout Deuteronomy was originally “has chosen”

Throughout Deuteronomy the 20+ mentions of the chosen place are always presented with a Hebrew verb tense that casts the choice as a future event. However, it’s quite simple to see that this could not be the case. The first mention of this chosen place in Deuteronomy occurs in chapter 12, verse 5. The place is mentioned another 5 times in this chapter. However, if you pay close attention to the first and last verses of this same chapter, you conclude that the chosen place would have been known:

These are the statutes and ordinances you must be careful to obey as long as you live in the land YHWH, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess. (Deuteronomy 12:1)

You must be careful to do everything I am commanding you. Do not add to it or subtract from it! (Deuteronomy 12:31)

These commands related to this chosen place had to be observed for as long as they lived in the land, (meaning they went into effect immediately after crossing the Jordan), and they were not to add or subtract from them. Neither of these were possible with a chosen place in Jerusalem that wasn’t chosen for several centuries after entering the land!

So how do we confirm that indeed the text originally read “has chosen”? Here’s where manuscript evidence comes into play. Scholar Stefan Schorch writes:

“Adrian Schenker has pointed out in two recent articles that the reading “has chosen” is not only found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, but is attested by some Greek Septuagint manuscripts, too, as well as by the Coptic and the Latin secondary translations of the Old Greek text of the Pentateuch. This indicates that the Hebrew Vorlage of the Old Greek translation of Deuteronomy read “has chosen”, and in terms of textual criticism “has chosen” is therefore certainly the original reading, while the Masoretic reading “will choose” is secondary, being an ideological and maybe even an anti-Samaritan correction.” 1

Extant copies of manuscripts derived from sources older than the Masoretic Text show us that indeed “has chosen” was the likely original reading. Combine this with Exodus 15:17 quite blatantly showing the place had already been established, and the exhortation by Moses to observe this chosen place for as long as the live in the land and neither add to nor subtract, and you have the answer: the chosen place had already been chosen and was known to the Israelites.

4. Activities which were only allowed at the chosen place were commanded to be done on Mounts Gerizim/Ebal

In Deuteronomy there are very clear commands to sacrifice and to “rejoice in your output” (a reference to pilgrimage feasts) in a specific geographic location. These, combined with a bit of common sense, are a clear indicator of where the chosen place is located. If one can only perform these activities at the chosen place, and these commands are linked to a specific geographical location, then that is the chosen place, right?

Let’s start with the first passage that mentions this chosen place, to see what activities are restricted to only that place:

But you must seek only the place he chooses from all your tribes to establish his name as his place of residence, and you must go there. And there you must take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the personal offerings you have prepared, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. Both you and your families must feast there before YHWH your God and rejoice in all the output of your labor with which he has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:5-7 NET)

From this we see that offerings and feasts were to be done only at this chosen place.

Now, let’s examine a commandment to do these things in a specific geographic location:

So when you cross the Jordan you must erect on Mount Ebal these stones about which I am commanding you today, and you must cover them with plaster. Then you must build an altar there to YHWH your God, an altar of stones – do not use an iron tool on them. You must build the altar of YHWH your God with whole stones and offer burnt offerings on it to YHWH your God. Also you must offer fellowship offerings and eat them there, rejoicing before YHWH your God. (Deuteronomy 27:4-7 NET)

Here we see those same activities, offerings and feasting, commanded to be done on Mount Ebal, during the ceremony of the Blessing and Curses commanded in both Deuteronomy 11 and 27. You might be wondering why I believe the chosen is Mount Gerizim rather than Mount Ebal? For that, manuscript evidence again comes into play, and once again I quote Stefan Schorch:

“We have to realize, however, that the Masoretic reading in Deut 27:4 “on Mount Ebal” is almost certainly a secondary ideological correction, as opposed to the text-historically original “on Mount Gerizim”, which is preserved in the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Old Latin (Vetus Latina). According to the original text of the Book of Deuteronomy, therefore, this altar is to be built on Mount Gerizim, which is the mountain of the blessings according to the framing passages Deut 11:29 and 27:12-13.” 2

Not only this, but there was a fragment of Deuteronomy 27:4 in the DSS, written in the newer Judean script no less, (the Samaritans did not change the alphabet used in their Torah scrolls as did the Judeans), which retains Mount Gerizim as the location of the altar! 3

And this only makes sense, given that the Levites were stationed on Mount Gerizim (Deuteronomy 27:12) which was the mountain of the Blessing, as opposed to Ebal, the mountain of the Curses.

5. Commandment to read the Torah, at the chosen place at the end of seven years, fulfilled at Mount Gerizim

Here’s another commandment Moses insisted be done at the chosen place:

He commanded them: “At the end of seven years, at the appointed time of the cancellation of debts, at the Feast of Temporary Shelters, when all Israel comes to appear before YHWH your God in the place he will choose, you must read this law before them within their hearing. Gather the people – men, women, and children, as well as the resident foreigners in your villages – so they may hear and thus learn about and fear YHWH your God and carefully obey all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12 NET)

The fulfillment of this command is found in the book of Joshua, chapter 8:

Then Joshua read aloud all the words of the law, including the blessings and the curses, just as they are written in the law scroll. Joshua read aloud every commandment Moses had given before the whole assembly of Israel, including the women, children, and resident foreigners who lived among them. (Joshua 8:34-35 NET)

This was fulfilled during the ceremony of the Blessing and Curses on mounts Gerizim and Ebal. Given that the altar would have been on Mount Gerizim rather than Ebal as mentioned in point 4, this is another indication that Mount Gerizim is the chosen place.

6. Proof from the book of Joshua that the chosen place commandments were already being carefully kept.

Joshua chapter 22 records a very interesting story about an unauthorized altar and the civil war it nearly caused. Remember, the Israelites lived for 38 years on the eastern bank of the Jordan river, awaiting the day when they would be allowed to enter the land, after the men of the exodus generation had passed away, as punishment for their cowardice (Numbers 13:1-14:35).

During this 38 years, the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh decided they’d prefer to settle down permanently on the land east of the Jordan. They were given permission to do this, provided they crossed the Jordan into the promised land and participated in the conquest. They agreed, and rebuilt the cities of the Transjordan where they had opted to settle (Numbers 32).

Fast forward to the end of the conquest, and in Joshua chapter 22 these two and a half tribes are released to return home to the Transjordan (Joshua 22:1-9). On their way, they build an altar on the west bank:

The Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan and built there, near the Jordan, an impressive altar. (Joshua 22:10)

When the rest of the nation hears about it, they are so incensed that they are ready to start a civil war:

The Israelites received this report: “Look, the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the entrance to the land of Canaan, at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side.” When the Israelites heard this, the entire Israelite community assembled at Shiloh to launch an attack against them. (Joshua 22:11-12)

Luckily, it seems that cooler heads prevailed, and representatives were sent to investigate:

The Israelites sent Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead to the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. He was accompanied by ten leaders, one from each of the Israelite tribes, each one a family leader among the Israelite clans. (Joshua 22:13-14)

Here is how they confronted the two and a half tribes over the altar they had built:

“The entire community of YHWH says, ‘Why have you disobeyed the God of Israel by turning back today from following YHWH? You built an altar for yourselves and have rebelled today against YHWH. The sin we committed at Peor was bad enough. To this very day we have not purified ourselves; it even brought a plague on the community of YHWH. Now today you dare to turn back from following YHWH! You are rebelling today against YHWH; tomorrow he may break out in anger against the entire community of Israel. But if your own land is impure, cross over to YHWH’s own land, where YHWH himself lives, and settle down among us. But don’t rebel against YHWH or us by building for yourselves an altar aside from the altar of YHWH our God.” (Joshua 22:16-19)

The accusation here is that there is already a litany of sins Israel has committed, some which have yet to be properly atoned for, and here you are adding to them by building an unauthorized altar?

As you read further, the argument presented by the two and a half tribes is that their altar is simply a memorial, that there was no intention of offering sacrifices upon it. This mollifies the representatives of the rest of the nation, and a crisis is averted. However, the inescapable conclusion from all this is that the commandments related to the chosen place were already being treated very seriously by the nation of Israel during their early years in the land of their inheritance.

There are only two ways that Jerusalem could have reasonably ended up as the chosen place: 1) “will choose” allowed for hundreds of years in the land before the chosen place was identified, or 2) the chosen place might have been Mount Gerizim initially, but moved later. The story of Joshua 22 completely invalidates the first option, while the prohibition to add to or subtract from Moses’ commandments regarding the chosen place in Deuteronomy 12:32 (13:1 in Hebrew) invalidates the second.

The above six points summarize the reasons for my conclusion that Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, is the location of Deuteronomy’s chosen place.

So why was a temple built in Jerusalem? We will explore the Judean political motivation behind that in a future article.

  1. Schorch, Stefan, “The Samaritan Version of Deuteronomy and the Origin of Deuteronomy” page 10
  2. Schorch, Stefan “The Samaritan Version of Deuteronomy and the Origin of Deuteronomy” page 6
  3. Charlesworth, James “Announcing a Dead Sea Scrolls Fragment of Deuteronomy

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