A team of international archaeologists have recommenced the excavation of the ancient site of Tell Belata, in the West Bank city of Nablus.
"Tell Balata is identified as a biblical place in fact, Shekhem or Sikkim, however it's pronounced, but that same name occurs also in external sources. And the most important source is the Amarna archive tablets, clay tablets, found in Egypt, and they date to the fourteenth century BC. And especially from those sources we know quite a bit about the king of this small kingdom, with the capital in Sikkim or Shakmu, as it's called there, who was trying to rebel against the Egyptian overlord," said Gerrit Van Der Jooit of Leiden University, the Netherlands.
The city of Shekhem, positioned in a pass between the mountains of Gerizim and Eibal and controlling the Askar Plains to the east, was an important regional center more than 3,500 years ago. As the existing remains show, it lay within fortifications of massive stones, was entered through monumental gates and centered on a temple with walls five yards (meters) thick.
The king of Shekhem, Labaya, is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Pharaonic archive found at Tel al-Amarna in Egypt, which are dated to the 14th century B.C. The king had rebelled against Egyptian domination, and soldiers were dispatched north to subdue him. They failed.
The city also appears often in the biblical narrative. The patriarch Abraham, for example, was passing near Shekhem when God promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants in the Book of Genesis. Later, Abraham’s grandson Jacob was camped outside the walls when a local Canaanite prince raped his daughter, Dinah. Jacob’s sons sacked the city in vengeance. The body of Jacob’s son Joseph was brought from Egypt hundreds of years later by the fleeing Israelites and buried at Shekhem.
Two millennia ago, the Romans abandoned the original site and built a new city to the west, calling it Flavius Neapolis. The Greek name Neapolis, or “new city,’’ later became enshrined in Arabic as Nablus. In Hebrew, the city is still called Shekhem.