The city is the location of Joseph's Tomb -
And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in the parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.-
one of the three cities specifically noted in the Biblical account as being purchased -
Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXIX:7 AND HE BOUGHT THE PARCEL OF GROUND, etc. (XXXIII, 19). R. Judan b. R. Simon said: This is one of the three places regarding which the nations of the world cannot taunt Israel and say, ‘ Ye have stolen them.’ These are they: The cave of Machpelah, the [site of the] Temple, and the sepulcher of Yosef HaTzaddik . The cave of Machpelah: And Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver (Gen. XXIII, 16). The Temple: So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold (I Chron. XXI, 25). And Yosef HaTzaddik’s sepulcher: AND HE BOUGHT THE PARCEL OF GROUND.
In a traveller's account from a few years previously, 1496, it was noted that the residents of Shchem and ebvirons were particulalry antagonistic, demanding a passing-through 'tax' and Rabbi Moshe Caro had even prohibited residency there due to the threat of mortal violence to Jews there according to Rabbi Haim Falagi, writing in 1760 as appears in the Tzitz Eliezer 10:1:77:
In 1522, Moshe Basulla (b. 1481) visited the country and observed 12 households there. The officiall governmental census of 1539 registered 71 Jewish families in two separate neighborhoods in the city. In 1546, an earthquake caused much damage and four of the 500 Jews died. A census three years later numbered 36 families and 5 bachelors and in 1590, there were 34 families.
A traveller, Shmuel Ben-David, counted 6 families in 1640 and in 1700, there was a small community of Sabbateians under the leadership of Nehemiah Chaya Hayon. In 1820 approximately, David Hillel found 10 families in the city and in 1832 a visitor noted that Purim was celebrated two days. Two years later, there were two Sfaradi and one Ashkenazi minyans. In 1837, 25 families were counted, the same as counted in 1860. The Montefiore census of 1839 counted 75 souls. That year, 6 Ashkenazi families attempted to take up residency but fled after being unable to tolerate Muslim violence of stone-throwing.
The Jewish community began to dwindle. In 1867, 12 families. In 1881, they requested a shochet (ritual slaughterer) to be sent from Jerusalem. In 1899, only 31 Jews lived in the city and Yitzhak Ben-Tzvi, when he visited in 1908, could not find even one. An attempt by Rabbi Moshe Mendel Werner to repopulate the city failed. One Jew attempted to live there the following year but fled shortly thereafter. In 1918, a HaShomer HaTzair Zionist youth unit attempted to create a renewed Jewish presence but failed, too.