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Study Resources :: Dictionaries :: Samaria, Samaritans

Dictionaries :: Samaria, Samaritans

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Smith's Bible Dictionary

Samaria, Samaritans:

This city is situated 30 miles north of Jerusalem and about six miles to the northwest of Shechem, in a wide basin‐shaped valley, six miles in diameter, encircled with high hills, almost on the edge of the great plain which borders upon the Mediterranean. In the centre of this basin, which is on a lower level than the valley of Shechem, rises a less elevated hill, with steep yet accessible sides and a long fiat top. This hill was chosen by Omri as the site of the capital of the kingdom of Israel. He "bought the hill of Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of the owner of the hill, Samaria." (1 Kings 16:23-24). From the that of Omri's purchase, B.C. 925, Samaria retained its dignity as the capital of the ten tribes, and the name is given to the northern kingdom as well as to the city. Ahab built a temple to Baal there (1 Kings 16:32-33). It was twice besieged by the Syrians, in B.C. 901 (1 Kings 20:1) and in B.C. 892 (2 Kings 6:24; 2 Kings 6:20) but on both occasions the siege was ineffectual. The possessor of Samaria was considered de facto king of Israel (2 Kings 15:13-14). In B.C. 721 Samaria was taken, after a siege of three years, by Shalmaneser king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:9-10) and the kingdom of the ten tribes was put an end to. Some years afterward the district of which Samaria was the centre was repopulated by Esarhaddon. Alexander the Great took the city, killed a large portion of the inhabitants, and suffered the remainder to set it at Shechem. He replaced them by a colony of Syro‐Macedonians who occupied the city until the time of John Hyrcanus, who took it after a year's siege, and did his best to demolish it entirely (B.C. 109) It was rebuilt and greatly embellished by Herod the Great. He called it Sebaste‐Augusta, after the name of his patron, Augustus Caesar. The wall around it was 2 1/2 miles long, and in the centre of the city was a park 900 feet square containing a magnificent temple dedicated to Caesar. In the New Testament the city itself does not appear to be mentioned; but rather a portion of the district to which, even in older times it had extended its name (Matthew 10:5; John 4:4-5). At this day [A.D. 1884 ‐ BLB Ed.] the city is represented by a small village retaining few vestiges of the past except its name, Sebustiyeh, an Arabic corruption of Sebaste. Some architectural remains it has, partly of Christian construction or adaptation, as the ruined church of St. John the Baptist, partly, perhaps, traces of Idumaean magnificence. St. Jerome, whose acquaintance with Palestine imparts a sort of probability to the tradition which prevailed so strongly in later days, asserts that Sebaste, which he invariably identifies with Samaria was the place in which St. John the Baptist was imprisoned and suffered death. He also makes it the burial‐place of the prophets Elisha and Obadiah.

(2.) The Samaria named in the present text of 1 Maccabees 5:66 is evidently an error. The true correction is doubtless supplied by Josephus, who has Marissa (i.e. Maresha.)

(3.) In the strictest sense of the term, a SAMARITAN would be an inhabitant of the city of Samaria. But it is not found at all in this sense, exclusively at any rate, in the Old Testament. In fact, it only occurs there once, and then in a wider signification, in 2 Kings 17:29. There it is employed to designate thow whone the king of Assyria had "placed in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel." Samaria at first included all the tribes over which Jeroboam made himself king, whether east or west of the river Jordan (1 Kings 13:32). In other places in the historical books of the Old Testament (with the exception of 2 Kings 17:24, 26, 28-29), Samaria seems to denote the city exclusively. But the prophets use the word in a greatly extended sense. Hence the word "Samaritan" must have denoted every one subject to the king of the northern capital. But whatever extent the word might have acquired, it necessarily be came contracted as the limits of the kingdom of Israel became contracted. In all probability, the territory of Simeon and that of Dan were very early absorbed in the kingdom of Judah. This would be one limitation. Next, in B.C. 771 and 740 respectively, "Pul king of Assyria, and Tilgath‐pilneser king of Assyria, carried away the Reubenites and the Gadites, and the half‐tribe of Manasseh" (1 Chronicles 5:26). This would be a second limitation. But the latter of these kings went further: "He took Ijon, and Abel‐beth‐maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria" (2 Kings 15:292 Chronicles 30:1-26). Men came from all those tribes to the Passover at Jerusalem. This was about B.C. 728. Samaria (the city), and a few adjacent cities or villages only, represented that dominion which had once extended from Bethel to Dan northwards, and from the Mediterranean to the borders of Syria and Ammon eastwards. This brings us more closely to the second point of our discussion, the origin of those who are, in 2Ki 24:29, and in the New Testament, called Samaritans. Shalmaneser, as we have seen in 2Ki 27:5-6, 26) carried Israel, i.e. the remnant of the ten tribes which still acknowledged Hosehea's authority, into Assyria. This remnant consisted, as hass been shown, of Samaria (the city) and a fewe adjacent sities and villages. Now, 1. Did he carry away all their inhabitants, or no> 2. Whether they were wholly or only partially desolated who replaced the deported population? In reference to the former of theses inquiries, it may be observed that the language of Scripture admits of scarcely a doubt. "Israel was carried away" (2Ki 27:6, 23) and other nations were placed "in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel" (2Ki 27:24). There is no mention whatever, as in the case of the somewhat parallel destruction of the kingdom of Judah, of "the poor of the land being left to be vine‐dressers and husbandmen" (2Ki 25:122Ki 27:24, "the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava (Ivah, 2Ki 28:34) and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they possesed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. " Thus the new Samaritans-for such we must now call them-were Assyrians by birth or subjugation, were utterly strangers in the cities of Samaria, and were exclusively the inhabitants of those cities. An incidental question, however, arises, Who was the king of Assyria that effected this colonization? The Samaritans themselves, in Ezr 4:2, 10, attributed their colonization not to Shalmaneser, but to "Esar‐haddon king of Assur," or to "the great and nobel Asnapper," either the king himself or one of his generals (about B.C. 677.) The fact, too, that some of these foreigners came from Babylon would seem to direct us to Esar‐haddon, rather than to his grandfather, Shalmaneser. And there is another reason why this date should be preferred. It coincides with the termination of the sixty‐five years of Isaiah's prophecy, delivered B.C. 742, within which "Ephraim should be broken that it should not be a people" (Isa 7:8). These strangers, whome we will now assume to have been placed in the "cities of Samaria" by Esar‐haddon, were, of couse, idolaters, and worshipped a strange medley of divinities. God's displeasure was kindled, and they were infested by beasts of prey, which had probably increased to a great extent before their entrance upon it. On their explaining their miserable condition to the king of Assyria, he despatched on of the captive priests to teach them "how they should fear the Lord." The priest came accordingly; and henceforth, in the language of the sacred historian, they "feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children and their children's children; as did their fathers, so do they unto this day" (2Ki 17:41). Such was the origin of the post‐captivity or new Samaritans,-men not of Jewish extraction, but from farther East. A gap occurs in their history until Judah has returned from captivity. They then desire to be allowed to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem. But they do not call it a national undertaking. They confess their Assyrian descent, and even put it forward ostentatiously, perhaps to enhance the merit of their partial conversion to God. Ezra, no doubt, from whose pen we have a record of the transaction, saw them through. On this the Samaritans throw off the mask, and become open enemies, frustrate the operations of the Jews through the reigns of two Persian kings, and are only effectually silenced in the reign of Darius Hystaspis, B.C. 519. The feud, thus unhappily begun, grew year by year more inveterate. Matters at length came to a climax. About B.C. 409, a certain Manasseh, a man of priestly lineage, on being expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage, obtained permission from the Persian king of his day, Darius Nothus, to build a temple on Mount Gerizim, for the Samaritans, with whom he had found refuge. The animosity of the Samaritans became more intense than ever. They are said to have done everything in their power to annoy the Jews. Their own temple on Gerizim they considered to be much superior to that at Jerusalem. There they sacrificed a passover. Towards the mountain, even after the temple on it had fallen, wherever they were, they directed their worship. To their copy of the Law, they arrogated an antiquity and authority greater than attached to any copy in the possession of the Jews. The Law (i.e. the five books of Moses) was their sole code; for they rejected every other book in the Jewish canon. The Jews, on the other hand, were not more conciliatory in their treatment of the Samaritans. The copy of the Law possessed by that people they declared to be the legacy of an apostate (Manasseh) and cast grave suspicions upon its genuineness. Certain other Jewish renegades had from time to time taken refuge with the Samaritans. Hence, by degrees, the Samaritans claimed to partake of Jewish blood, especially if doing so happened to suit their interest. A remarkable instance of this is exhibited in a request which they made to Alexander the Great, about B.C. 332. They desired to be excused payment of tribute in the sabbatical year, on the plea, that as true Israelites, descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, sons of Joseph, they refrained from cultivating their land in that year. Another instance of claim to Jewish descent appears in the words of the woman of Samaria to our Lord, John 4:12, "Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?" Very far were the Jews from admitting this claim to consanguinity on the part of this people. They were ever reminding them that they were, after all, mere Cuthaeans, mere strangers from Assyria. The traditional hatred in which the Jew held the Samaritan is expressed in Ecclus. 50:25-26. And so long was it before such a temper could be banished from the Jewish mind, that we find even the apostles believing that an inhospitable slight shown by a Samaritan village to Christ would be not unduly avenged by calling down fire from heaven. Such were the Samaritans of our Lord's day; a people distinct from the Jews, though lying in the very midst of the Jews; a people preserving their identity, though seven centuries had rolled away since they had been brought from Assyria by Esar‐haddon, and though they had abandoned their polytheism for a sort of ultra Mosaicism; a people, who-though their limits had gradually contracted, and the rallying‐place of their religion on Mount Gerizim had been destroyed one hundred and sixty years before by John Hyrcanus (B.C. 130,) and though Samaria (the city) had been again and again destroyed, and though their territory had been the battle‐field of Syria and Egypt-still preserved their nationality, still worshipped from Shechem and their sacred hill; still retained their nationality, and could not coalesce with the Jews. Not indeed that we must suppose that the whole of the country called in our Lord's time Samaria was in the possession of the Cuthaean Samaritans, or that it had ever been so. It was bounded northward by the range of hills which commences at Mount Carmel on the west, and, after making a bend to the southwest, runs almost due east to the Valley of the Jordan, forming the southern border of the Plain of Esdraelon. It touched towards the south, as nearly as possible, the northern limits of Benjamin. Thus it comprehended the ancient territory of Ephraim, and of those Manassites who were west of Jordan. The Cuthaean Samaritans, however, possesed only a few towns and villages of this large area, and these lay almost together in the centre of the district. At Nablus, the Samaritans have still a settlement, consisting of about 200 persons [A.D. 1884 ‐ BLB Ed.] SEE [SHECHEM]. The view maintained in the above remarks, as to the purely Assyrian origin of the New Samaritans, is that of Suicer, Reland, Hammond, Drusius in the Critici Sacri, Maldonatus, Hengstenber, Hävernick, Robinson, and Abp. Trench. Others, as Winer, Döllinger, and Dr. Davidson, have held a different view, which may be expressed thus in Döllinger's own words: "In the northern part of the promised Land (as opposed to Judaea proper) there grew up a mingled race which drew its origin from the remnant of the Israelites who were left behind in the country on the removal of the Ten Tribes, and also from the heathen colonists who were transplanted into the cities of Israel. Their religion was as hybrid as their extraction: they worshipped Jehovah, but, in addition to Him, also the heathen idols of Phoenician origin which they had brought from their native land" (Heidenthum und Judenthum, p. 739, § 7.)

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