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Holman Bible Dictionary

Samaria, Samaritans

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(ssuh may' rih uh, ssuh mehr' ih tuhn) Place name of mountain, city, and region meaning, “mountain of watching,” and the residents thereof. Forty-two miles north of Jerusalem and nine miles northwest of Nablus, a hill protrudes from the broad valley which cuts across the central highlands of Israel. There lie ruins of ancient Samaria near a small village called Sebastiya. Samaria was the capital, residence, and burial place of the kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:23-28 ; 1 Kings 22:37 ; 2 Kings 6:24-30 ). Following the Northern Kingdom's fall to Assyria (721 B.C.), exiles from many nations settled Samaria (Ezra 4:9-10 ). Later, the Greeks conquered the region (331 B.C.) and hellenized the area with Greek inhabitants and culture. Then the Hasmoneans, under John Hyrcanus, destroyed the city (119 B.C.). After a long period without inhabitants, Samaria lived again under Pompey and the Romans (63 B.C.). Finally, Herod the Great obtained control of Samaria in 30 B.C. and made it one of the chief cities of his territory. Again, the city was resettled with people from distant places, this time mercenaries from Europe. Herod renamed the city Sebaste, using the Greek word for Augustus, the emperor. When the Jews revolted in 66 A.D., the Romans reconquered the city and destroyed it. The Romans later rebuilt Samaria, but the city never regained the prestige it once had.

Samaria is the only major city founded by Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Omri, the sixth king of Israel (885-874 B.C.), purchased the hill of Samaria for his royal residence. Shechem had been the capital of the Northern Kingdom until Jeroboam relocated it at Tirzah.

When Ahab, Omri's son, became king of Israel, he built an ivory palace at Samaria. Amos denounced him for doing this (Amos 6:1 ,Amos 6:1,6:4 ; 1 Kings 22:39 ). Jezebel influenced Ahab, her husband, to make the city the center for Baal worship (1 Kings 16:29-33 ). Jezebel also had many prophets of Yahweh killed in Samaria (1 Kings 18:2-4 ).

On two occasions, Benhadad, the king of Syria, besieged the city of Samaria; but both times he was unsuccessful (1 Kings 20:1 ; 2 Kings 6:1 ). Naaman, a Syrian leper, had come to Samaria to be healed by Elisha a short time prior to Ben hadad's attack (2 Kings 5:1 ).

Here Elijah destroyed the messengers of King Ahaziah, who were seeking the consultation of Baalzebub. He, likewise, prophesied of King Ahaziah's death (2 Kings 1:1 ). Later, Jehu killed Ahab's seventy sons in Samaria (2 Kings 10:1 ). Finally, Samaria fell to Assyria in 721 B.C. after a three years' siege (2 Kings 17:5 , 2 Kings 18:9-12 ). See Assyria. This destruction came after many prophecies concerning its sins and many warnings about its doom (Isaiah 8:4 ; Isaiah 9:8-14 ; Isaiah 10:9 ; Isaiah 28:1-13 ; Isaiah 36:19 ; Jeremiah 23:13 ; Ezekiel 23:1-4 ; Hosea 7:1 ; Hosea 13:16 ; Amos 3:12 ; Micah 1:6 ).

While the term Samaria was first identified with the city founded by Omri, it soon became associated with the entire region surrounding the city, the tribal territory of Manasseh and Ephraim. Finally, the name Samaria became synonymous with the entire Northern Kingdom ( 1 Kings 13:32 ; Jeremiah 31:5 ). After the Assyrian conquest, Samaria began to shrink in size. By New Testament times, it became identified with the central region of Palestine, with Galilee to the north and Judea to the south.

The name Samaritans originally was identified with the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom ( 2 Kings 17:29 ). When the Assyrians conquered Israel and exiled 27,290 Israelites, a “remnant of Israel” remained in the land. Assyrian captives from distant places also settled there (2 Kings 17:24 ). This led to the intermarriage of some, though not all, Jews with Gentiles and to widespread worship of foreign gods. By the time the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, Ezra and Nehemiah refused to let the Samaritans share in the experience (Ezra 4:1-3 ; Nehemiah 4:7 ). The old antagonism between Israel to the north and Judah to the south intensified the quarrel.

The Jewish inhabitants of Samaria identified Mount Gerizim as the chosen place of God and the only center of worship, calling it the “navel of the earth” because of a tradition that Adam sacrificed there. Their scriptures were limited to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Moses was regarded as the only prophet and intercessor in the final judgment. They also believed that 6,000 years after creation, a Restorer would arise and would live on earth for 110 years. On the Judgment Day, the righteous would be resurrected in paradise and the wicked roasted in eternal fire.

In the days of Christ, the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was greatly strained (Luke 9:52-54 ; Luke 10:25-37 ; Luke 17:11-19 ; John 8:48 ). The animosity was so great that the Jews bypassed Samaria as they traveled between Galilee and Judea. They went an extra distance through the barren land of Perea on the eastern side of the Jordan to avoid going through Samaria. Yet Jesus rebuked His disciples for their hostility to the Samaritans (Luke 9:55-56 ), healed a Samaritan leper (Luke 17:16 ), honored a Samaritan for his neighborliness (Luke 10:30-37 ), praised a Samaritan for his gratitude (Luke 17:11-18 ), asked a drink of a Samaritan woman (John 4:7 ), and preached to the Samaritans (John 4:40-42 ). Then in Acts 1:8 , Jesus challenged His disciples to witness in Samaria. Philip, a deacon, opened a mission in Samaria (Acts 8:5 ).

A small Samaritan community continues to this day to follow the traditional worship near Shechem. See Israel ; Samballat.

Donald R. Potts


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Samaria, Samaritans'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/s/samaria-samaritans.html. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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