Abimelech’s attack on Shechem culminates with the “notables of the Tower of Shechem” taking refuge in the seriah—sometimes translated as “the stronghold”—of the Temple of El-berith (Judges 9:46). Abimelech and his troops gathered brushwood and “laid it against the seriah and they set the seriah on fire over [or against] them, so that all the people of the Tower of Shechem also died, about a thousand men and women” (Judges 9:46, 49).

The word seriah remains a conundrum (it appears only one other time in the Hebrew Bible, in 1 Samuel 13:6, but its use there does not help us understand its meaning here). Some scholars have interpreted seriah to mean a rockcut tunnel or chamber. Taking into consideration the context of Judges 9, I would suggest that seriah refers to the corridors or ambulatory inside the walls that surrounded Shechem’s temple on three sides. It seems unlikely that the 16.7-foot-thick foundation wall of the temple rose two or three stories high as solid walls. More likely, the side walls consisted of parallel interior and exterior walls with room enough between them for corridors. Later analogies can perhaps be found in the three-story “side rooms” attached to Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6–7). Archaeological remains of a well-preserved temple at ’Ain Dara, in Syria, provide a contemporary parallel to the Jerusalem Temple.a The outer stone walls of the ’Ain Dara temple are 18 feet thick at the base. Parallel walls once built several stories high on the thick stone socles (base) still stand high enough to create corridors 6.6 feet to 8.2 feet wide on three sides of the temple. Access to the ambulatory was through a side door of the great portico at the front of the building.1

I can imagine such doors leading into one or both of the great towers that flanked the entrance to the Fortress-Temple at Shechem. At ground level the corridor would have the appearance of a rather dark, narrow tunnel. Stairwells in the temple towers led to upper stories. Like the “side rooms” of the Jerusalem Temple (see 1 Kings 6:6), the interior of the corridors at the upper levels of Shechem’s Fortress-Temple would have become increasingly more spacious as the load-bearing side walls became narrower. If this were the seriah to which the elite of Shechem fled to escape Abimelech in Judges 9, smoke from bonfires at the entrance of the corridors would have suffocated many of the people crowded inside; bonfires laid up against the outer walls of the temple would have roasted the rest.