A Samaritan was an inhabitant of Samaria, but there was a difference between the Samaria of the Old Testament and the Samaria of the New. In the time of Israel’s Old Testament monarchy, Samaria was a city in central Israel and its inhabitants were Israelites. In New Testament times Samaria was the central region of Palestine and its inhabitants were non-Israelites.
After the death of Solomon in 930 BC, the ancient kingdom of Israel was split into two. The breakaway northern section of ten tribes continued to call itself the kingdom of Israel; the southern section of two tribes became known as the kingdom of Judah. The northerners established their capital first at Shechem, then at Tirzah, but when Omri came to the throne he built a new capital at Samaria. Samaria remained the capital till the end of the northern kingdom. The town, built on a hill, had a commanding position over the surrounding plain and nearby trade routes (
). It was well fortified and able to withstand enemy attacks (
; 2 Kings 7).
1. Description.—‘Samaria,’ originally the name of the city built by Omri (1 Kings 16:24
), became.in a very short time a common name for the Northern kingdom (Amos 3:9, Jeremiah 31:5, 2 Chronicles 25:13
); but during the Greek period it became limited to the province of Samaria, and so in NT times it is the designation of the district that lies between Galilee and Judaea (John 4:4
). The limits and extent of the Samaritan territory varied from time to time (Josephus Ant. xii. iv. 1; 1 Maccabees 11:34
), and it is impossible to define with absolute certainty the boundaries in Gospel days. These, however, may be known generally. We learn that Ginea—the modern Jenîn—on the south edge of the plain of Esdraelon, was its northern boundary (Ant. xx. vi. 1); and this is confirmed by the fact that Caphar Outheni—now Kefr Adan—4 miles distant, was in Galilee (M. Gittin i. 5). The southern boundary is stated as ‘the Acrabbene toparchy’ (BJ iii. iii. 4), and a village named Anuath or Borkeas was on the border (ib.). As these have been identified with the modern villages of ‘Akrabe and Berûkîn, we conclude that this boundary ran westward to the Shephelah along Wady Ish‘âr. In that case it would then naturally run eastward to the Jordan down Wady Zamar. There seems, however, good reason to fix it farther north at this point, as Karn Sartabeh seems to have been in the hands of the Jews (M. Rosh. ii. 4), unless, indeed, it was a border hill accessible alike to Jews and Samaritans. This seems the more likely, as it was the only signalling station in the neighbourhood of Samaritan territory where false lights could be kindled to deceive the Jews on the occasion of the new moons, and this the Samaritans are accused of having done (Bab.
Rosh. 22b and margin). The eastern boundary was, of course, the Jordan, while the hill slopes towards the Shephelah constituted the western—the plain between Caphar Outheni and Antipatris being regarded as a heathen district (Bab.
Gittin 76a). This gives us a territory of about 20 miles from north to south, and 30 from east to west.
The region consists of scattered mountain groups and rounded hills with plains between, the chief of these being Merj el-Mahna, to the east of Nâblus, Merj el-Ghuruk or the plain of Sanur (a lake in the winter and spring), and the plain of Dothan, which last opens into the plain of Esdraelon. Samaria presents a striking and beautiful contrast to Judaea with its barren hills. Here they are for the most part covered with fruit trees of every kind, chief among which are the olive, the fig, the mulberry, the orange, the apricot, and the pomegranate. On the Samaritan hills great flocks of sheep and goats find pasture. The whole country is studded with villages, and the fertile plains and valleys produce rich crops of grain. Only to the east, extending along the Jordan boundary, is the country rough and broken, and the mountains, which descend precipitously to the river, naked and barren; and this they nave always been (BJ iv. viii. 2). The rest of the country is well watered everywhere, and in many places it is extremely beautiful. In the early centuries the gardens of Samaria (פרדסות סבסטי, M. Erakhin iii. 2) were famous, and to-day the fruit orchards and beautiful gardens of Jenîn are equally well known, while all must agree with Thomson (LB
ii. 110) when he says: ‘One may be excused for becoming somewhat enthusiastic over this pretty vale of Nâblus, sparkling with fountains and streams, verdant with olive groves and fig orchards, interspersed with walnut, apple, apricot, orange, quince, pomegranate, and other trees and shrubs.’ But, notwithstanding its superiority in richness and beauty to the south country, the Jews of the 1st cent, were very unwilling to admit that Samaria was part of the Holy Land. When they spoke of it they reckoned only the three lands,—Judaea, Galilee, and Peraea (M. Shebhiith ix. 2),—always omitting Samaria, as not being Jewish soil. But even the district we have described is not to be regarded as having been at any time fully occupied by the people we call Samaritans. The name was strictly limited to the religious sect, the metropolis of which was Shechem (Ant. xi. viii. 6). There, and in many of the towns and villages, they were numerous and strong, but almost everywhere there were also Grecian settlers, and with the city of Samaria itself the Samaritans had little or nothing to do.
2. History of the Samaritans in their relationship to the Jews.—Although the Samaritans claim descent from the patriarchs (John 4:12
), and present us with an unbroken history, and although it is to some extent true that they represent the spirit of the tribe of Ephraim (Renan, Lang. Semit. p. 230), we must date their characteristic existence as a people only from the time of their conflicts with Ezra and Nehemiah. We regard the Samaritan statement (el-Tolidoth), that 300,000 men besides women and children were brought back from captivity in the days of Sanballat, as baseless; but, on the other hand, when Israel was carried away captive, a remnant must have been left; and that such was the case we have abundant evidence (2 Kings 23:17-20, Jeremiah 41:5
). Their appearance as a community dates only from the time of their mingling with the Assyrian colonists settled in the land, and it is from the leading party amongst these that they are frequently designated Cuthaeans (2 Kings 17:24
). There can be no question of the accuracy of the OT narrative of the originally mixed origin of the Samaritans, but repeated accessions from Judaism (Nehemiah 13:28-29
; Ant. xi. viii. 2 and 6), probably ultimately outnumbering the original colonists, and the manifest reversion to the pure Semitic type, induce us to believe that the existing Samaritan race has but little connexion with the old Turanian colonists, and is probably now of almost as pure Hebrew blood as the modern Jew.
For their rejection from all participation in the rebuilding of the Temple the Samaritans never forgave the Jews (Ezra 4:3-4, Nehemiah 2:20
), and for their attempted hindrance of that work the Jews bore the Samaritans no less a grudge. The breach became irrevocable when a rival priesthood and temple were set up on Gerizim. Jewish and Samaritan tradition agree as to the date of this event, which Josephus sets down wrongly in the time of Alexander the Great and Jaddua the high priest (b.c. 332)—one hundred years too late (Ant. xi viii. 2); but, though his account is clearly mixed with fable, there may still be some historical basis for the extra details he gives. About b.c. 200, during the weak rule of the high priest Onias ii. (d. b.c. 198), the Samaritans, being then in a flourishing condition, are accused of having harassed the Jews and carried away captives to serve as slaves (Ant. xii. iv. 1). In his account of Maccabaean times Josephus continually accuses them of denying all kinship with the Jews, when they see them in suffering and difficulties, and of claiming to be Sidonians (Ant. xii. v. 5); but, on the contrary, when good fortune befalls the Jews, they claim to belong to that race, and to derive their descent from Joseph (ib. ix. xiv. 3, xi. viii. 6, xii. iv. 5). John Hyrcanus (c.
b.c. 128) made an expedition against Samaria (Ant. xiii. x. 2). After repeated successes against their ally and protector Antiochus Cyzicenus, he took Samaria, ravaged the country, subdued the Cuthaeans who dwelt about the temple at Gerizim, and destroyed their temple (Ant. xiii. ix. 1). During the period of unrest that followed the deposition of Archelaus (a.d. 6), the Samaritans became so aggressive that they came privately into Jerusalem by night, and, when the gates of the Temple were opened just after midnight, they entered and scattered dead men’s bodies in the cloisters to defile the Temple (Ant. xviii. ii. 1). Another incident is later recorded, which led to very serious consequences. A number of Galilaean pilgrims were attacked, and many killed, at Ginea (Jenîn), the first Samaritan village on the way (Ant. xx. vi. 1–3). This led to civil war for a time, then to the intervention of the Roman authorities, and ultimately to a decision in favour of the Jews by Claudius himself (a.d. 51). At a still later period we find the Jews excluding the Samaritans, as also Christians and pagans, from Capernaum, Nazareth, and Sepphoris (Epiphanius, adv. Haer. i. 11). Nor was it only in Palestine that the jealousies continued to exist. Alexander and Ptolemy Lagi had taken many Jews and Samaritans to Egypt (Ant. xi. viii. 6), and there in Alexandria we read of rivalry and disorders between them (Ant. xii. i. 1), the disputes being, as usual, regarding the relative merits of Jerusalem and Gerizim.
Jewish literature is full of manifestations of the same spirit. Ben Sira speaks of ‘the foolish folk that dwell at Shechem,’ and characterizes them as ‘no nation’ (Sirach 50:25-26
). Josephus invariably calls them ‘Cuthaeans,’ and will not admit—except sometimes for a purpose—that they are of Hebrew blood. The Rabbis, though hesitating to call them ‘Gentiles,’ use the same name. Regarding their food, we read: Let no man eat the bread of the Cuthaeans: for he that eateth their bread is as he that eateth swine’s flesh’ (M. Shebhiith viii. 10; Bab.
Kidd. 76a). In the matter of gifts and offerings to the Temple, including the half-shekel, the Samaritan was put on the same footing as slaves and heathen (M. Ab. Zar. i. 5: Jerus.
Ab. Zar. i. 4). If a Samaritan were witness to a bill of divorce, that in itself made the document invalid (M. Gittin i. 5). Rabban Gamaliel, quite in keeping with the liberal spirit he always shows (cf. Acts 5:38
), was, however, inclined to accept such testimony, and at a later period we occasionally meet with a less bitter tone; for, while some of the Rabbis, remembering 2 Kings 17:25
; 2 Kings 17:28,
called them ‘proselytes of the lions,’ Rabbi ’Akiba was ready to recognize them as true proselytes (Bab. Kidd. 7:5
b), while others said it was permitted to have dealings with one who became a true proselyte (Jerus.
Shek. i. 4). Samaritan wine was universally condemned, but ‘the victuals of the Cuthaeans are permitted if not mixed with wine or vinegar’ (Jerus.
Ab. Zar. v. 4); and the unleavened bread of the Cuthaeans is permitted (Bab.
Kidd. 76a). Although Samaria is not part of Israel, ‘the land, the roads, the wells, and the dwellings of the Cuthaeans are clean’ (Jerus.
Ab. Zar. v. 4). An Israelite might circumeise a Cuthaean, but the contrary was not permitted, as it might then be done in the name of Gerizim (Jerus.
Jebamoth vii. 1). It was permitted to add ‘Amen’ to a blessing asked by a Cuthaean, but only after hearing the whole blessing (M. Ber. viii. 8). Meat slaughtered by a Cuthaean is allowed if an Israelite is present, or if the Samaritan himself eats from it (Bab.
Cholin 3b). Samaritan literature is, on the whole, less aggressive; but that arises from the fact that we have less of it, and the greater necessity the Samaritan had to stand on the defensive. Still, in every proof they bring forward in favour of their sanctuary as the one holy place, there is implied or expressed the idea that the Jew is schismatical, if not heretical. They use the designation ‘Israelite’ for themselves alone, and refuse it to the Jews. Still, they have no objection to be called ‘Samaritans,’ which they write שומרים or שומרי תורה—‘Guardians of the Law.’ (See Letter to Ludolf). They have an intense dislike to Jerusalem, and the bitterness of their hate culminates in their play upon its name, when they describe the Jews as אדורי שלם—‘accursed to perfection’ or ‘perfectly cursed’ (el-Tolidoth). The more moderate attitude of which we have spoken seems to have been, on the whole, later than the days of the Gospels, and may have been caused by the Samaritans having made common cause with the Jews against Vespasian (BJ iii. vii. 32). At that time they shared in the Dispersion, and their synagogues were then to be found in Egypt and Rome. At the present moment the relationship between the two races is no closer than in the past. Some twenty years ago, the Samaritans, fearing the extinction of their sect, sought to arrange for intermarriage with the Jews, but this was refused.
3. Religion.—The basis of the Samaritan religion is the Pentateuch, as they read and understand it; and to this they have been as loyal as the Jews to their Law. Since long before the Christian era they have been strongly monotheistic. Not only are they the enemies or images and every visible representation of the Deity, but they have ever resented as strongly as do the Jewish Targums every anthropomorphic representation of God; and, so far as we can judge, they have made no concessions to heathenism. They were, indeed, accused by the Rabbis of worshipping a dove on Gerizim (Cholin 6a), and also of worshipping the idols Jacob buried (Genesis 35:4
) under the oak of Moreh (Ber. Rab. § 81); but these were malicions falsehoods. From the Jewish point of view another offence against the Law was that they pronounced the Sacred Name—Jahweh—with its own vowels (Jerus.
Sanh. x. 1; Bab.
Sanh. 90). Theodoret seems to confirm this, and tells us that their pronunciation was Ἰαβέ (β = v, as in mod. Greek)—a point of interest is that scholars for grammatical reasons pronounce it in the same manner. For some centuries, however, they have been accustomed to pronounce it Shima (‘the name’), just as the Jews use hasshem in conversation (Letter to Ludolf). In the matter of their ritual orthodoxy we have even the testimony of Josephus; for, when he tells of Jewish fugitives accused of ritual irregularities being received by the Samaritans, he adds that they complained of being falsely accused (Ant. xi. viii. 7). To this we may add the remarkable confession of Rabban Simeon, the son of Gamaliel, who says: ‘Every command which the Cuthaeans keep they observe more strictly than the Israelites’ (Bab.
Cholin 4a). They practise circumcision, and keep the Law strictly. They observe all the Mosaic feasts; and, in accordance with their reading of the Law, they go three times a year to Gerizim for the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, and at such times practically the whole community lives in the mountain. Only at the Passover season, however, do they offer sacrifices, and, as the arrangements at that time bring before us much more vividly the occasion of the institution of that feast than the calm order of the Jewish ritual, it claims our attention. The usual order is that seven days before the Passover the whole community camps out on the top of Gerizim in the neighbourhood of the sacred rock, which they regard as the site of their ancient temple. On the evening of the 14th Nisan the whole congregation assembles, and the high priest reads the words of institution in Exodus 12:1-12
. Precisely at sunset, as he concludes the sixth verse, a sufficient number of lambs for the community is slain by men dressed in white clothing. Each member of the congregation then marks his forehead with the blood. The wool is removed by scalding with boiling water previously made ready. The bodies are now examined, to make sure that there is no blemish, and thereafter they are spitted and roasted in a pit arranged as an oven. An hour or two later, when they are sufficiently cooked, the Samaritans standing, eat in haste with their loins girded, with shoes on their feet, and with staff in hand. All that remains, together with the right shoulders and hamstrings previously removed, is carefully gathered up and burned in the night. Early on the morning of the fifteenth day they all return to their duties in the town.
In accordance with the Law, the levirate marriage is practised; but with the difference, that it is not the brother, but the nearest friend that takes his wife. As among the Sephardic Jews also, a second wife is allowed during the life of the first when she has had no children.
Beyond these things their religious ideas are vague. The Pentateuch is their sole canonical book, and beyond its life they never seem to have passed. They were never called upon to go through a stirring national crisis, like the Jews during the Maccabaean times, and so they never rose to the same vigour and intellectual life. The written sources of their dogma are late, but from these and from Jewish sidelights we can learn something. It is discussed in the Talmud as to whether they are to be classed with the Sadducees in belief, and the Jews seem to have had some ground for thinking so, for they are represented as saying that ‘no resurrection is recorded in the Law’ (Bab.
Sanh. 90b). Still, the modern Samaritan believes in a resurrection, in the distinction between good and evil spirits, in a judgment, and in the creation from nothing. It is to be remarked, however, that Arabic writers in the Middle Ages tell us of Samaritan sects professing the distinctive beliefs of both Pharisees and Sadducees, so that the opinions of both parties must have been held by individuals at an earlier date. In John 4:25
we find that the woman of Samaria looked forward to the coming of a prophet whom she, like the Jews, designated ‘the Messiah.’ That this word should have been used by her has been regarded as peculiar, since it does not occur in the Law, but in the 1st cent. we find Samaritans familiar with and quoting the prophets (Mid. Debar. § 3); and, besides, we must see that it would be impossible for a faith like theirs, continually under the pressure of a foreign bondage, to survive without absorbing many of the elements of Jewish eschatology; and of these the Messianic idea was the most widely spread in the 1st cent., so much so that it was hardly possible for even the Samaritans to escape its influence. It was doubtless in connexion with such a hope that the prophet arose, and tumults occurred which were put down by Pilate, causing him finally the loss of his office (Ant. xviii. iv. 1); as it also led Simon Magus to give himself out as some great one (Acts 8:9
). When the Messianic idea took final form, they expected the Messiah’s coming in the year 6000 a.m., but did not think that he should be greater than Moses. Whether he should be of the tribe of Joseph does not appear, but they denied the application of Genesis 49:10
(where their reading varies from the Massoretic Text ) as proof that he should spring from Judah. From the Jews they adopted the synagogue system; and, apart from the feast days kept on Gerizim, all their worship is conducted in Kenîset es-Sâmiré, the synagogue of the Samaritans, in the S.W. of the town (Nâblus). The high priest, who is said to be of the tribe of Levi, conducts their services, and, according to the Law, he receives tithes from his people.
4. Literature.—The most ancient and important document the Samaritans possess is the (Hebrew-) Samaritan Pentateuch; and this they seem to have become possessed of at a very early date—indeed, before the Babylonian (אשורי) alphabet had supplanted the older Hebrew, for, like all the later books of this people, it is written in a character that is now peculiar to them,—the Samaritan alphabet,—but which in itself is nothing more or less than a cursive form of the old lapidary script of Hebrew, Phœnician, and Moabite. Another testimony to their early reception of the Torah is that it is not divided into parâshahs like the Massoretic Text , but, on a totally different principle, independent alike of the Rabbis and the Alexandrian critics, into ketzîn. These number in all 962, Genesis containing 250, Exodus 200, Leviticus 134, Numbers 218, and Deuteronomy 160. While the language of this recension of the Pentateuch is Hebrew, it supports in the matter of various readings rather the LXX Septuagint than the Massoretic Text , the number of agreements being not less than 2000, while in the ages of the patriarchs it differs from both the LXX Septuagint and the Massoretic Text . But more to be considered than all these taken together are certain variations that have had an important hearing on their religion. The Jews were wont to accuse the Samaritans of having corrupted the Law; and the charge was well founded. In Deuteronomy 27:4
(cf. also v. 7) we find the substitution of ‘Gerizim’ for ‘Ebal,’ and at the close of the Decalogue in both Exodus 20:17
and Deuteronomy 5:21
a long passage is inserted—
‘And it shall be when the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanite, whither thou goest in to possess it, thou shalt set up for thyself great stones, and thou shalt plaster them with lime, and thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law; and it shall be when ye pass over Jordan, ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, on Mount Gerizim, and thou shalt build there an altar to the Lord thy God, and thou shalt offer upon it sacrifices to the Lord thy God, and thou shalt sacrifices peace-offerings, and thou shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God. That mountain is beyond Jordan after the way from the rising of the sun, in the land of the Canaanite, who dwelleth in the West, over against Gilgal, near by the oak of Moreh, over against Shechem.’
This, according to the Samaritan division of the Decalogue, was reckoned the Tenth Commandment, and, like the others, of perpetual obligation, so that the Samaritans regarded not only the Temple at Jerusalem, but also the tabernacle at Shiloh, though in Ephraim, and the whole Jewish priesthood after the settlement of the land, as schismatical.
Other books of the OT they do not consider canonical. They do, indeed, have a deep veneration for Job and the Psalms, and they read Joshua and Judges, but they are all regarded as apocryphal.
The synagogue system, which among the Jews led to the formation of the Targums, was also the means of producing an Aramaic-Samaritan Pentateuch (תרגום שמרוני), which, however, Nöldeke dates at not earlier than the 4th cent., though it may contain earlier elements; and in favour of this it is to be noted that in general it agrees with τὸ Σαμαρειτικόν of Origen. It closely represents the Heb.-Sam.
Pentateuch, and in language it differs but little from the Palestinian Aramaic.
Their later works consist of material directly connected with their religion and life as a people. They possess over a dozen volumes, mostly unpublished, which they designate Tarteel (‘chanting’). These are in Hebrew mixed with Aramaic, and contain the services for the various seasons of the year, and they are probably ancient. Another dozen volumes are made up of commentaries on various portions of the Pentateuch text; and, although these also are written in Hebrew, they are usually accompanied by an Arabic translation. The best known Samaritan commentary is that of Markah, which was published in Europe by Heidenheim in 1896. The author probably lived in the 4th century. In addition to these they possess a few historical works:—Kitab es-Satir, a history of the period from Adam to Moses; et-Tabakh, an account of judgments which befell the Jews; the Book of Joshua (in Arabic, but probably in parts from a Heb. original), which closely follows the canonical Joshua, but has many apocryphal additions and eight concluding chapters, bringing the history down to the time of Alexander Severus; Chronicle of Abul-Fath; el-Tolidoth, a short Hebrew history from Adam till the present high priest, accompanied by an Arabic translation.
So far as Manuscripts are concerned, the only one that, on account of its antiquity, merits our consideration is the jealously guarded Pentateuch roll in Nâblus. It is preserved in a covering of crimson satin in a silver case engraved with a plan of the tabernacle. The roll itself is written on parchment much discoloured by age. The Samaritans claim that it was written by Abishua the son of Phineas, thirteen years after the settlement of the land; but this is incredible, though they show an acrostic made by the thickening of certain letters in the roll itself as proof. Socin thinks it may belong to the 6th cent.; but other scholars with whom the present writer has discussed the question, would carry its date back even to a short time before the Christian era, so that there is a bare possibility of its having been in use when Christ passed through the streets of Shechem: like ordinary synagogue rolls, the MS is written in columns. These are 7 in. wide, and contain 70 to 72 lines. The writing is small, and the letters are of the oldest Samaritan type.
Samaritan books are all un-vowelled, and in their pronunciation of both Hebrew and Aramaic this people differs widely from the Jews and Syrians. The gutturals, which the Galilaeans confounded with one another, are altogether omitted by the Samaritans. The vowel system also at first sight seems to have nothing in common with the Massoretic pronunciation, so much so that a recent writer on the subject expresses the opinion that ‘it follows certain laws of language as yet unknown to us’ (Rosenberg’s Lehrbuch, p. 11). However, when we come to compare the modern Samaritan pronunciation of both Hebrew and Aramaic with that of the Jews and the Syrians, we see that the former in nearly every detail bears to the latter the same relationship as the vulgar Palestinian Arabic dialects bear to the older classical speech. It thus appears that, in the absence of vowels to preserve the memory of the sounds when Arabic supplanted these languages as the colloquial, and in the absence of any formulated grammar till the year 1400, the Samaritan pronunciation was allowed to go through the same processes of decay as the common sister Semitic dialects on the same soil. A careful consideration of these processes enables us to produce the Samaritan as a valuable testimony to the general accuracy of the Massoretic pointing; while, if we road the Samaritan Targum with the pointing of Onkelos, we shall attain to a very close approximation to the speech of Christ with the woman of Samaria and with the people of Sychar.
5. Relationship of Christ to the Samaritans.—To understand even imperfectly the beauty and tenderness of the attitude of Jesus to this despised race, we must remember that His ministry occurred during the period when the separation of Jew and Samaritan was most absolute, and the bitterness of feeling most intense. Yet they were invariably treated with respect and forbearance by Christ, as also by His Apostles after the Resurrection; and just as His gentleness won the affection and gained the gratitude of publicans and sinners, so also did His treatment of the Samaritans. It was the one Samaritan and not the nine Jews who returned to give thanks (Luke 17:16
), and who was contented to wait for the official verdict, and the freedom it would bring, that he might continue in the company of Jesus; and all that is related of the conversation at the well, and of the relations with the villagers of Sychar, reveals the same attractiveness and consideration. True it is that at the beginning of His ministry, and when sending out the Twelve, He directed them not to ent