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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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The Name.

City of Palestine; capital of the kingdom of Israel. It was built by Omri, in the seventh year of his reign, on the mountain Shomeron (Samaria); he had bought this mountain for two talents of silver from Shemer, after whom he named the city Shomeron (1 Kings 16:23-24). The fact that the mountain was called Shomeron when Omri bought it leads one to think that the correctness of the foregoing passage is questionable. The real etymology of the name may be "watch mountain" (see Stade in his "Zeitschrift," 5:165 et seq.). In the earlier cuneiform inscriptions Samaria is designated under the name of "Bet Ḥumri" (= "the house of Omri"); but in those of Tiglathpileser III. and later it is called Samirin, after its Aramaic name (comp. Rawlinson, "Historical Evidences," p. 321).

The topography of Samaria is not indicated in the Bible; the mountains of Samaria are mentioned several times (Amos 3:9; Jeremiah 31:5; and elsewhere) and "the field of Samaria" once (Ob. 19). Through recent investigations it has become known that the mountain of Samaria is one situated in a basin surrounded by hills, six miles from Shechem, and almost on the edge of the maritime plain. Owing to its fertility, which is alluded to in Isaiah 28:1, Omri selected it as the site of his residence; and it continued to be the capital of the kingdom of the Ten Tribes for a space of two centuries, till it was destroyed by the Assyrian king (1 Kings 16:29 et passim; 2 Kings 1:3, 3:1, et passim). Isaiah called Samaria "the head of Ephraim" (Isaiah 7:9), and Ezekiel speaks of "Samaria and her daughters" (Ezekiel 16:53). That the city was strongly fortified is evident from the fruitless sieges which it sustained (see below; comp. Josephus, "Ant." 8:14, § 1). Ahab built there a temple for Baal with an altar for the cult of that divinity (1 Kings 16:32); and perhaps the ivory palace (ib. 22:39) was also at or near Samaria. The king's palace was independently fortified (2 Kings 15:25), and it had aroof-chamber (ib. 1:2). The city gate of Samaria is often mentioned (1 Kings 22:10; 2 Kings 7:1,18,20; 2 Chronicles 18:9); and there is a single reference to "the pool of Samaria" (1 Kings 22:38). Still during the lifetime of Omri, Samaria was required by the father of Ben-hadad to lay out streets for the Syrians (1 Kings 20:34); but it is not stated whether Samaria was directly besieged by the Syrian king or whether Omri, being defeated in one of his battles, was obliged to make concessions in Samaria (see OMRI). Samaria successfully sustained two sieges by the Syrians under Ben-hadad, the first of which was in the time of Ahab (901 B.C.; 1 Kings 20:1 et seq.), and the second, nine years later, in the time of Joram, Ahab's son (2 Kings 6:24-7:7). In the first siege Samaria was afflicted by a famine caused by drought (1 Kings 18:2), but more terrible was the famine caused by the second siege, when women ate their children and an ass's head was sold for eighty pieces of silver (2 Kings 6:25 et seq.). The miraculous rout of the Syrian army caused an extraordinary cheapness of provisions in Samaria (ib. 7:16).

Under Ahab.

Other notable events took place in Samaria: it was there that Ahab met Jehoshaphat, both of whom sat in the entrance of the gate to hear the prophecy of Micaiah (1 Kings 22:10; 2 Chronicles 18:2,9). The seventy sons of Ahab were brought up in Samaria, and were slain there by command of Jehu, who destroyed "all that remained of the house of Ahab," as well as the temple of Baal (2 Kings 10:1-27). According to 2 Chronicles 22:9, Ahaziah, King of Judah, was killed at Samaria (comp. 2 Kings 9:27). Joash, after having captured Jerusalem, brought to Samaria all the gold, silver, and vessels of the Temple and of the king's palace (ib. 14:14; 2 Chronicles 24:25). Pekah returned to Samaria with the spoils and a great number of captives of Judah, who were well treated in Samaria and afterward released (2 Chronicles 28:8-9,15).

In the seventh year of Hoshea, Samaria was besieged by Shalmaneser. Three years later it was captured by an Assyrian king (2 Kings 17:5-6, 18:9-10) whose name is not mentioned; and although Josephus ("Ant." 9:14, § 1) states that it was Shalmaneser, the Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions show that it was Sargon who ascended the throne in 722 B.C., and captured Samaria in the following year. The city, however, was not destroyed (comp. Jeremiah 41:5). Two years later it made an alliance with Hamath, Arpad, and Damascus against the Assyrians, which failed through the overthrow of the King of Hamath (inscriptions of Sargon). The deported Israelites of Samaria as well as those of its dependencies were replaced by heathen from different countries, sent thither by the Assyrian king. The new settlers established there a mixed cult of Jahvism and heathenism (2 Kings 1724-41). According to the Jewish theory they were the founders of the Samaritan religion and the ancestors of the Samaritans. From the time of its foundation to its fall the city was a place of idolatry, not one of its kings being a worshiper of Yhwh. It was violently denounced by Amos (8:14), Isaiah (7:1, passim), Micah (1:6), and other prophets, who also foretold the punishment of the city.

Dismantled and Destroyed.

Samaria emerges again into history four centuries after its capture by the Assyrians. The Samaritans, having assassinated Andromachus, governor of Cœle-Syria (332 or 331 B.C.), were severely punished by Alexander the Great, who colonized the city with Macedonians (331; Eusebius, "Chronicon," ed. Schoene, 2:114). It appears also from Eusebius (ib. 2:118) that a few years later, by command of Alexander, Samaria was rebuilt by Perdiccas. In 312 the city, which was still well fortified, was dismantled by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, and fifteen years later (c. 296) it was again destroyed, by Demetrius Poliorcetes (Eusebius, c.). Almost two centuries elapsed during which nothing is heard of Samaria; but it is quite evident that the city was rebuilt and strongly fortified, for at the end of the second century B.C. John Hyrcanus besieged it a whole year before he captured and destroyed it, by diverting certain streams, which flooded the lower part of the city (Josephus, c. 13:10, §§ 2-3; idem, "B. J." 1:2, § 7). The year of the conquest of Samaria is not clearly indicated. In Megillat Ta'anit it is stated that the city was captured on the 25th of Marḥeshwan (=November), and other circumstances connected with the siege indicate that it was taken shortly before 107 B.C.

Rebuilt by Herod.

Samaria, or its ruins, was in the possession of Alexander Jannæus ("Ant." 13:15, § 4), and was afterward taken by Pompey, who rebuilt it and attached it to the government of Syria (ib. 14:4, § 4; "B. J." 1:7, § 7). The city was further strengthenedby Gabinius, on account of which the inhabitants are also called Γαβινιεῖς ("Ant." 14:5, § 3; "B. J." 1:8, § 4; Cedrenus, ed. Bekker, 1:323). Augustus gave it to Herod the Great, under whom it flourished anew; for he rebuilt it in 27 or 25 B.C. on a much larger scale—twenty stadia in circumference—and embellished it with magnificent edifices, particularly with the Temple of Augustus. Under Herod (whose wife was Mariamne) the city became the capital of the whole district, which also was called Samaria, the city itself being known as Sebaste, as is shown by the coins bearing the inscription Σεβαστηνῶν; this name is the Greek equivalent of the Latin "Augusta," the city being named in honor of Augustus Cæsar ("Ant." 15:7, § 3; 8, § 5; "B. J." 1:8, § 4; 21, § 2; Strabo, 16:760). Sebaste is mentioned in the Mishnah ('Ar. 3:2), where its orchards are praised. Josephus ("B. J." 2:3, § 4; 4, §§ 2-3) speaks of soldiers of Sebaste who served in Herod's army and who later sided with the Romans against the Jews. After Herod's death Sebaste with the whole province of Samaria fell to the lot of Archelaus, after whose banishment it passed under the control of Roman procurators. Then it went over to Agrippa I., and again came under Roman procurators ("Ant." 17:11, § 4; "B. J." 2:6, § 3). At the outbreak of the Jewish war it was attacked by the Jews ("B. J." 2:18, § 1). Under Septimius Severus it became a Roman colony, but with the growth of Nablus or Sheehem it lost its importance.

In the fourth century Sebaste was a small town (Eusebius, "Onomasticon," s.). Jerome (Commentary on Obadiah) records the tradition that Samaria was the burial-place of Elisha, Obadiah, and John the Baptist. Benjamin of Tudela, however, does not relate that these tombs were shown to him; he states only ("Itinerary," ed. Asher, 1:32) that traces of Ahab's palace were still visible, and that he found no Jews in the place (comp. ib., Asher's notes, 2:83). On the site of the ancient Sebaste now stands the small village of Sabasá¹­iyah, where traces of ancient edifices are still to be seen.

  • Baedeker-Socin, Palestine, p.259;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., 3:74 et seq.;
  • Guérin, La Terre Sainte, 1:270;
  • Munk, Palestine, p. 79;
  • Robinson, Researches, 3:138 et seq.;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., 2:149 et seq.;
  • Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp. 245 et seq.;
  • Wilson, in Hastings, Dict. Bible.
M. Sel.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Samaria'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​s/samaria.html. 1901.
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