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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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Samaria, Samaritans
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(Σαμάρεια [T WH [Note: H Westcott-Hort’s Greek Testament.] -ία], from שׂמְרוֹן)

1. The kingdom or district.-Samaria originally denoted the capital of the kingdom of Israel, but the term was early applied to the kingdom itself, and in this sense ‘the king of Samaria,’ ‘the cities of Samaria,’ ‘the mountains of Samaria’ are familiar expressions in the OT writings. After the over-throw of the monarchy, the name was still attached to the old territory, whether under the government of Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Hasmonaeans, or Romans. The boundary of Samaria on the N. was the southern edge of the Plain of Esdraelon, on the W. the eastern fringe of Sharon, and on the E. the Jordan. On the S. the frontier was very mutable: Josephus names ‘the Acrabbene toparchy’ and ‘the village Anuath, which is also named Borceos,’ as the boundaries in his time, and these terms have been identified with Akrabbeh and Burkit, about 6 miles S. of Shechem. The Wady Farah on the E. of the watershed, and the Wady Ishar, called lower down Wady Deir Ballut and Wady Auja, on the western side, may be regarded as the dividing lines, which in our Lord’s time were religious rather than political. Ginea (the modern Jenîn) is given as the most northerly town (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) III. iii. 4), and Antipatris was just beyond the S.W. border (Talm. Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Giṭṭin, 76a).

Josephus’ statement (loc. cit.) that Samaria ‘is entirely of the same nature with Judaea ’ is inaccurate; for, while Judaea was a single massive table-land, with natural barriers which rendered it austerely solitary and inaccessible, Samaria consisted of groups of mountains separated by fertile valleys, meadows, and plains, while it was so exposed on its frontiers that neither could artificial fortresses protect it from hostile invasions nor spiritual barriers defend it from the subtler influences of environment. The physical difference between the two countries, however, does not explain that most bitter quarrel in history which came to a head some time before the Christian era began. It was after all a quarrel between brethren, the old tribal and national feud of Judah and Ephraim being accentuated and perpetuated as a religious controversy. The Jewish contention that the Samaritans were at once foreigners and heretics was on both counts an exaggeration. The Assyrian conqueror Shalmancser (2 Kings 17:24), or, according to the inscriptions, his successor Sargon, deported from Samaria only the most influential families, which would have been those most likely to give trouble-27,000 persons in all-leaving the humbler classes in the cities, as well as whole minor towns and villages, undisturbed. The number of Assyrian colonists then and afterwards (Ezra 4:2) introduced into the country was no doubt small in proportion to the entire population. Only the most rigid Jewish exclusiveness could refuse to the Samaritans as a whole the right to the sacred name and traditions of Israel, and so to an equal share in the worship of Jahweh. Josephus, whose Jewish bias is obvious, presents the case against the Samaritans, or, as he frequently calls them, from the Assyrian origin of a fraction of them, the Cuthaeans (2 Kings 17:24). He alleges that the rival worship on Mt. Gerizim was begun by a renegade Jewish priest-Manasseh the high priest’s brother-who had married a Cuthaean satrap’s daughter (Ant. XI. vii. 2, viii. 2); and that when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans denied ‘that the temple on Mt. Gerizim belonged to Almighty God,’ and petitioned ‘Antiochus, the god Epiphanes,’ to permit them to name it ‘the temple of Jupiter Hellenius’ (ib. XII. v. 5). Josephus therefore glories in the Maccabaean zeal which ‘subdued the nation of the Cuthaeans, who dwelt round about that temple which was built in imitation of the Temple at Jerusalem,’ ‘demolished the city [of Samaria] and made slaves of its inhabitants’ (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) I. ii. 6, 7). He asserts that in his own time the Samaritans still continued to distress the Jews, ‘cutting off parts of their land and carrying off slaves’ (Ant. XII. iv. 1); that on one occasion they ‘came privately into Jerusalem and threw about dead bodies in the cloisters’ (ib. XVIII. ii. 2); that they harassed the Galilaeans on their way to Jerusalem and ‘killed a great many of them’ (ib. XX. vi. 1); that in the days of Jewish prosperity they called themselves ‘kindred,’ but at other times declared that they were ‘no way related to them, and that the Jews had no right to expect any kindness or marks of kindred from them,’ who were ‘sojourners that came from other countries’ (ib. IX. xiv. 3). That there is some measure of truth in these allegations is quite probable, but there has unfortunately been no advocate for the defence, no historian who has eloquently presented the facts from the Samaritan point of view. The despised heretics have, however, found one Defender who has adjusted the balance. Jesus not only rebuked the fiery zeal of His disciples-in this respect thorough Jews-against the hated race (Luke 9:51-56), but made one Samaritan a pattern to all the world of neighbourly love (Luke 10:30-37) and another-‘this alien’ (ἀλλογενής)-of gratitude to God (Luke 17:11-19).

The Pentecostal Church, thrilled by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, is said to have awakened early to her duty to Samaria. The dispersion which followed the death of Stephen brought many preachers ‘to the regions of … Samaria’ (Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4). While Philip, and afterwards Peter and John, probably laboured in the city of Samaria-now called Sebaste-itself (Acts 8:5), others evangelized in ‘many villages of the Samaritans’ (Acts 8:25), and their efforts were not without success. The church in Samaria, enjoying, like those in Judaea and Galilee, a time of peace, was built up and multiplied (Acts 9:31). St. Paul and Barnabas, going up to Jerusalem at the end of their first missionary tour, gave a complete account (ἐκδιηγούμενοι) of the conversion of the Gentiles as they went through Samaria (Acts 15:3). But from this moment Samaria passes out of view. After Christ’s own work there-if John 4:39-42 is a reflexion of facts-and the primitive mission of His apostles, history has nothing more to say of the evangelization of Samaria. In the Roman wars the Samaritans made common cause with the Jews and endured great sufferings. Gathered on the top of Gerizim, a company of them preferred death to surrender, and 11,600 are said to have been cut to pieces by Vespasian’s fifth legion (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) III. vii. 32). In later times they seem to have become as fanatical as the Jews, and under the Byzantine Emperors Zeno and Justinian they were punished for their cruelty to the Christian Church. In the Middle Ages there were colonies of them in Nâblus, Caesarea, Damascus, and Cairo. They are now reduced to a little community-‘forty families,’ it is always said-who still sacrifice on Mt. Gerizim, ‘the oldest and the smallest sect in the world’ (A. P. Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 240).

2. The city.-The city of Samaria, rather than the territory, appears to be meant in Acts 8:5; Acts 8:9; Acts 8:14, the best Manuscripts having the article before πόλιν τῆς Σαμαρίας in Acts 8:5, and the genitive being probably that of apposition. This is the view of Weiss, Wendt, Blass, Knowling, and others, and, if they are right, the character of the city chosen by Philip for a Christian mission is a matter of interest. The royal city of Omri occupied a strong position on a round and isolated hill in a broad and fertile vale, about 6 miles N.W. of Shechem, commanding a splendid view (as its name Shômrôn, i.e. ‘Wartburg’ or ‘Watch Tower,’ would indicate) across the Plain of Sharon to the Western Sea, 23 miles distant. Already partly paganized (2 Kings 17:24) after its capture by the Assyrians (722 b.c.), it began to be Hellenized by Alexander the Great (331). He avenged the cruel death of Andromachus, his governor in CCEle-Syria, by killing many of the inhabitants of Samaria, deporting others to Shechem, and substituting Macedonian colonists, who continued to occupy the city till the time of John Hyrcanus. It was ‘a very strong city’ (Jos. Ant. XIII. x. 2) in the time of this victorious Maccabaean prince and high priest, whose sons destroyed it after a year’s siege, and took possession of the whole district for the Jews (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) I. ii. 7). Being afterwards separated from Judaea by Pompey, and made a free city (Ant. XIV. iv. 4, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) I. vii. 7), it was rebuilt by Gabinius (Ant. XIV. v. 3, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) I. viii. 4). Its second period of royal splendour began when Augustus presented it to Herod the Great, who made it an impregnable fortress with a wall 2½ miles in circumference, built in it a magnificent temple to Divus Caesar, adorned it with public buildings, colonnades and gateways, settled in it thousands of his veterans along with people from the neighbourhood, and renamed it ‘Sebaste’ (=Augusta) in honour of his Imperial patron (Ant. XV. vii. 3, viii. 5, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) I. xx. 3, xxi. 2; Strabo, XVI. ii. 34). That the populace was now non-Jewish-‘chiefly heathen’ (Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] II. i. 126), ‘half Greek, half Samaritan’ (G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) 7, p. 348)-is proved by their taking the side of the Romans, first in the conflicts that followed the death of Herod, and again in the great war which sealed the fate of the Jewish nation.

If this was the city which Philip went to evangelize, and in which he was joined by Peter and John (Acts 8:14), it is probable that their gospel was heard chiefly, if not solely, by members of the Samaritan race, whose faith did not essentially differ from that of the Jews by whom they were counted heretical. The time was not yet come for ‘turning unto the Gentiles’; that was first done in the purely Gentile city of Antioch. But the apostles obeyed their marching orders: beginning at Jerusalem, they went to Judaea , Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Herod’s Hellenistic city, which he stained with the blood of his own family (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) I. xxvii. 6), was re-created as a Roman colony under Septimius Severus; but when the need for a fortified ‘Watchtower’ was past, the tide of prosperity returned to the ancient town of Shechem (re-named Neapolis, now Nâblus), and Samaria fell into decay.

Eusebius, in the 4th cent., describes it as Σεβαστήν, τὴν νῦν πολίχνην τῆς Παλαιστίνης (Onom. 292). A bishop of Samaria attended the Council of Nicaea (a.d. 325), and another that of Jerusalem (a.d. 536). A baseless tradition made it the scene of the death of John the Baptist, and a church of the 12th cent. stands over his supposed tomb. A small village retains the Imperial name-Sebustiyeh-and some of Herod’s pillars are still standing. Excavations carried on by Harvard University since 1908 have resulted in many remarkable discoveries.

Literature.-W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, 1910, p. 462f.; A. P. Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, new ed., 1887, pp. 240-246; E. Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] , 1886-91, II. i. 123-127; G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) 7, 1900, pp. 345-350; D. G. Lyon, ‘Hebrew Ostraca from Samaria,’ in Harvard Theological Review, iv. [1911] 136 ff.; S. R. Driver, ‘The Discoveries at Samaria,’ in PEFSt [Note: EFSt Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement.] xliii. [1911] 79 ff.

James Strahan.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Samaria'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/samaria.html. 1906-1918.
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