|Regions with significant populations|
|Samaritan Community Populations|
|Israel (mainly in Holon)||415 (2017)|
|Mount Gerizim||381 (2017)|
Arabic, preceded by Aramaic and earlier Hebrew
Samaritan Hebrew, Samaritan Aramaic, Samaritan Arabic
|Related ethnic groups|
Other Levantines and Semitic peoples
The Samaritans (; Samaritan Hebrew: , translit. Shamerim (), "Guardians/Keepers/Watchers (of the Torah)") are an ethnoreligious group originating from the Israelites (or Hebrews) of the Ancient Near East.
Ancestrally, Samaritans claim descent from the tribe of Ephraim and tribe of Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) as well as from the Levites, who have links to ancient Samaria (now constituting the majority of the territory known as the West Bank) from the period of their entry into Canaan, while some Orthodox Jews suggest that it was from the beginning of the Babylonian captivity up to the Samaritan polity under the rule of Baba Rabba. Samaritans used to include descendants whose ancestry was ascribed to the Benjamin tribe, but this line became extinct in the 1960s. According to Samaritan tradition, the split between them and the Judean-led Southern Israelites began during the biblical time of the priest Eli when the Southern Israelites split off from the central Israelite tradition, as they perceive it.
In the Talmud, a central post-exilic religious text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Samaritans are called Cutheans (Hebrew: , Kutim), referring to the ancient city of Kutha, geographically located in what is today Iraq. In the biblical account, however, Kuthah was one of several cities from which people were brought to Samaria, and they worshiped Nergal. Modern genetics partially support both the claims of the Samaritans and the account in the Hebrew Bible (and Talmud), suggesting that the genealogy of the Samaritans lies in some combination of these two accounts. Genetically, modern Samaritan populations are found to have "much greater affinity" genetically to Jews than to neighbouring Palestinian Arabs. This suggests that the Samaritans remained a genetically isolated population.
The Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, a religion closely related to Judaism. Samaritans believe that their worship, which is based on the Samaritan Pentateuch, is the true religion of the ancient Israelites from before the Babylonian captivity, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel, as opposed to Judaism, which they see as a related but altered and amended religion, brought back by those returning from the Babylonian Captivity. The Samaritans believe that Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Place of Israel from the time that Joshua conquered Canaan. The major issue between Jews and Samaritans has always been the location of the Chosen Place to worship God: The Temple Mount of Moriah in Jerusalem according to Judaism or Mount Gerizim according to Samaritanism.
Once a large community, the Samaritan population appears to have shrunk significantly in the wake of the bloody suppression of the Samaritan Revolts (mainly in 529 CE and 555 CE) against the Byzantine Empire. Conversion to Christianity under the Byzantines also reduced their numbers. Conversions to Islam took place as well, and by the mid-Middle Ages, Benjamin of Tudela estimated only around 1,900 Samaritans remained in Palestine and Syria.
The present-day population has been consistently divided between Qiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim and the city of Holon, just outside Tel Aviv. Most Samaritans in Holon and Qiryat Luza today speak Hebrew and Arabic. For liturgical purposes, Samaritan Hebrew, Samaritan Aramaic, and Arabic are used, all written with the Samaritan alphabet, a variant of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, which is distinct from the Hebrew alphabet. Hebrew and later Aramaic were languages in use by the Jewish and Samaritan inhabitants of Judea (the name by which Israel was known during part of the Second Temple era) before the Roman exile.
Samaritans have a stand-alone religious status in Israel, and there are occasional conversions from Judaism to Samaritanism and vice versa due to marriages. While the Israeli Rabbinic authorities consider Samaritanism to be a branch of Judaism, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel requires Samaritans to officially go through a formal conversion to Judaism in order to be recognized as Halakhic Jews. One example is Israeli TV personality Sofi Tsedaka, who formally converted to Rabbinic Judaism at the age of 18. Samaritans with Israeli citizenship are obligated to undertake mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces, while those with dual Israeli-Palestinian citizenship (living in Qiryat Luza) are generally exempted.
There is conflict over the etymology of the name for the Samaritans in Hebrew, stemming from the fact that they are referred to differently in different dialects of Hebrew. This has accompanied controversy over whether the Samaritans are named after the geographic area of Samaria (the northern part of what is now globally known as the West Bank), or whether the area received its name from the group. This distinction is controversial in part because different interpretations can be used to justify or deny claims of ancestry over this region, which has been deeply contested in modern times.
In Samaritan Hebrew, the Samaritans call themselves "Shamerim" (), which according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, is derived from the Ancient Hebrew term meaning "Guardians/Keepers/Watchers [of the Torah/Law]".
Historically, Samaria was the key geographical concentration of the Samaritan community. Thus, it may suggest the region of Samaria is named after the Samaritans, rather than the Samaritans being named after the region. In Jewish tradition, however, it is sometimes claimed that Mount Samaria, meaning "Watch Mountain", is actually named so because watchers used to watch from those mountains for approaching armies from Egypt in ancient times. In Modern Hebrew, the Samaritans are called Hebrew: , romanized: Shomronim, which would appear to simply mean "inhabitants of Samaria". This is a politically sensitive distinction.
That the etymology of the Samaritans' ethnonym in Samaritan Hebrew is derived from "Guardians/Keepers/Watchers [of the Law/Torah]", as opposed to Samaritans being named after the region of Samaria, has in history been supported by a number of Christian Church fathers, including Epiphanius of Salamis in the Panarion, Jerome and Eusebius in the Chronicon and Origen in The Commentary on Saint John's Gospel, and in some Talmudic commentary of Tanhuma on Genesis 31, and Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer 38, p. 21.
According to Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Place of the Israelites from the time that Joshua conquered Canaan and the tribes of Israel settled the land. The reference to Mount Gerizim derives from the biblical story of Moses ordering Joshua to take the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the mountains by Shekhem (Nablus) and place half of the tribes, six in number, on Mount Gerizim, the Mount of the Blessing, and the other half on Mount Ebal, the Mount of the Curse. The two mountains were used to symbolize the significance of the commandments and serve as a warning to whoever disobeyed them (Deut. 11:29; 27:12; Josh. 8:33).
Samaritan historiography places the basic schism from the remaining part of Israel after the tribes of Israel conquered and returned to the land of Canaan, led by Joshua. In its account, after Joshua's death, Eli the priest left the Tabernacle which Moses erected in the desert and established on Mount Gerizim and built another one under his own rule in the hills of Shiloh.
A terrible civil war broke out between Eli son of Yafni, of the line of Ithamar, and the sons of Pincus (Phinehas), because Eli son of Yafni resolved to usurp the High Priesthood from the descendants of Pincus. He used to offer sacrifices on an altar of stones. He was 50 years old, endowed with wealth and in charge of the treasury of the Children of Israel. ...
He offered a sacrifice on the altar, but without salt, as if he were inattentive. When the Great High Priest Ozzi learned of this, and found the sacrifice was not accepted, he thoroughly disowned him; and it is (even) said that he rebuked him.
Thereupon he and the group that sympathized with him, rose in revolt and at once he and his followers and his beasts set off for Shiloh. Thus Israel split in factions. He sent to their leaders saying to them, Anyone who would like to see wonderful things, let him come to me. Then he assembled a large group around him in Shiloh, and built a Temple for himself there; he constructed a place like the Temple (on Mount Gerizim). He built an altar, omitting no detail--it all corresponded to the original, piece by piece.
At this time the Children of Israel split into three factions. A loyal faction on Mount Gerizim; a heretical faction that followed false gods; and the faction that followed Eli son of Yafni in Shiloh.
Further, the Samaritan Chronicle Adler, or New Chronicle, believed to have been composed in the 18th century using earlier chronicles as sources states:
And the Children of Israel in his days divided into three groups. One did according to the abominations of the Gentiles and served other gods; another followed Eli the son of Yafni, although many of them turned away from him after he had revealed his intentions; and a third remained with the High Priest Uzzi ben Bukki, the chosen place.
The emergence of the Samaritans as an ethnic and religious community distinct from other Levant peoples appears to have occurred at some point after the Assyrian conquest of the Israelite Kingdom of Israel in approximately 721 BCE. The records of Sargon II of Assyria indicate that he deported 27,290 inhabitants of the former kingdom.
Jewish tradition affirms the Assyrian deportations and replacement of the previous inhabitants by forced resettlement by other peoples but claims a different ethnic origin for the Samaritans. The Talmud accounts for a people called "Cuthim" on a number of occasions, mentioning their arrival by the hands of the Assyrians. According to 2 Kings and Josephus, the people of Israel were removed by the king of the Assyrians (Sargon II) to Halah, to Gozan on the Khabur River and to the towns of the Medes. The king of the Assyrians then brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avah, Emath, and Sepharvaim to place in Samaria. Because God sent lions among them to kill them, the king of the Assyrians sent one of the priests from Bethel to teach the new settlers about God's ordinances. The eventual result was that the new settlers worshiped both the God of the land and their own gods from the countries from which they came.
This account is contradicted by the version in Chronicles, where, following Samaria's destruction, King Hezekiah is depicted as endeavouring to draw the Ephraimites and Manassites closer to Judah. Temple repairs at the time of Josiah were financed by money from all "the remnant of Israel" in Samaria, including from Manasseh, Ephraim, and Benjamin. Jeremiah likewise speaks of people from Shekhem, Shiloh, and Samaria who brought offerings of frankincense and grain to the House of YHWH. Chronicles makes no mention of an Assyrian resettlement. Yitzakh Magen argues that the version of Chronicles is perhaps closer to the historical truth and that the Assyrian settlement was unsuccessful, a notable Israelite population remained in Samaria, part of which, following the conquest of Judah, fled south and settled there as refugees.
Rabbi Meir: What tribe are you from?
The Samaritan: From Joseph.
Rabbi Meir: No!
The Samaritan: From which one then?
Rabbi Meir: From Issachar.
The Samaritan: How do you figure?
Rabbi Meir: For it is written (Gen 46:13): The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Iob, and Shimron. These are the Samaritans (shamray).
Zertal dates the Assyrian onslaught at 721 BCE to 647 BCE and discusses three waves of imported settlers. He shows that Mesopotamian pottery in Samaritan territory cluster around the lands of Menasheh and that the type of pottery found was produced around 689 BCE. Some date their split with the Jews to the time of Nehemiah, Ezra, and the building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Returning exiles considered the Samaritans to be non-Israelites and, thus, not fit for this religious work.
The Encyclopaedia Judaica (under "Samaritans") summarizes both past and present views on the Samaritans' origins. It says:
Until the middle of the 20th century it was customary to believe that the Samaritans originated from a mixture of the people living in Samaria and other peoples at the time of the conquest of Samaria by Assyria (722-721 BCE). The biblical account in II Kings 17 had long been the decisive source for the formulation of historical accounts of Samaritan origins. Reconsideration of this passage, however, has led to more attention being paid to the Chronicles of the Samaritans themselves. With the publication of Chronicle II (Sefer ha-Yamim), the fullest Samaritan version of their own history became available: the chronicles, and a variety of non-Samaritan materials. According to the former, the Samaritans are the direct descendants of the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, and until the 17th century CE they possessed a high priesthood descending directly from Aaron through Eleazar and Phinehas. They claim to have continuously occupied their ancient territory and to have been at peace with other Israelite tribes until the time when Eli disrupted the Northern cult by moving from Shechem to Shiloh and attracting some northern Israelites to his new followers there. For the Samaritans, this was the "schism" par excellence.-- "Samaritans" in Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972, Volume 14, col. 727.
Furthermore, to this day the Samaritans claim descent from the tribe of Joseph:
The laymen also possess their traditional claims. They are all of the tribe of Joseph, except those of the tribe of Benjamin, but this traditional branch of people, which, the Chronicles assert, was established at Gaza in earlier days, seems to have disappeared. There exists an aristocratic feeling amongst the different families in this community, and some are very proud over their pedigree and the great men it had produced.-- J. A. Montgomery, The Samaritans, the Earliest Jewish Sect: Their History, Theology and Literature, 1907, p. 32
The Dead Sea scroll 4Q372 hopes that the northern tribes will return to the land of Joseph. The current dwellers in the north are referred to as fools, an enemy people. However, they are not referred to as foreigners. It goes on to say that the Samaritans mocked Jerusalem and built a temple on a high place to provoke Israel.
The account of the Assyrian kings, which was among the archaeological discoveries in Babylon, differs from the Samaritan account, and confirms much of the Jewish biblical account but may differ in regard to the ethnicity of the foreigners settled in Samaria by the Assyrians. At one point, it is simply said that they were from Arabia, while at another, that they were brought from a number of countries conquered by Sargon II:
the Samarians who had agreed with a hostile king ...I fought with them and decisively defeated them...carried off as spoil. 50 chariots for my royal force...the rest of them I settled in the midst of Assyria. ...The Tamudi, Ibadidi, Marsimani and Hayappa, who live in distant Arabia, in the desert, who knew neither overseer nor commander, who never brought tribute to any king--with the help of Ashshur my lord, I defeated them. I deported the rest of them. I settled them in Samaria/Samerina.-- Sargon II Inscriptions, COS[not specific enough to verify] 2.118A, p. 293
The inhabitants of Samaria/Samerina, who agreed [and plotted] with a king [hostile to] me, not to do service and not to bring tribute [to Ashshur] and who did battle, I fought against them with the power of the great gods, my lords. I counted as spoil 27,280 people, together with their chariots, and gods, in which they trusted. I formed a unit with 200 of [their] chariots for my royal force. I settled the rest of them in the midst of Assyria. I repopulated Samaria/Samerina more than before. I brought into it people from countries conquered by my hands. I appointed my eunuch as governor over them. And I counted them as Assyrians.-- Nimrud Prisms, COS 2.118D, pp. 295-296
The narratives in Genesis about the rivalries among the twelve sons of Jacob are viewed by some as describing tensions between north and south. They were temporarily united in the United Monarchy, but after the death of Solomon, the kingdom split in two, the Kingdom of Israel with its last capital city Samaria and the Kingdom of Judah with its capital Jerusalem.
The Deuteronomistic history, written in Judah, portrayed Israel as a sinful kingdom, divinely punished for its idolatry and iniquity by being destroyed by the Assyrians in 720 BCE.
The tensions continued in the postexilic period. The Books of Kings are more inclusive than Ezra-Nehemiah since the ideal is of one Israel with twelve tribes, whereas the Books of Chronicles concentrate on the Kingdom of Judah and ignore the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria).
The Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel who were descendants of the "Ten Lost Tribes" taken into Assyrian captivity. They had their own sacred precinct on Mount Gerizim and claimed that it was the original sanctuary. Moreover, they claimed that their version of the Pentateuch was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text produced by Ezra during the Babylonian exile.
Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other's territories or even to speak to one another. During the New Testament period, the tensions were exploited by Roman authorities as they likewise had done between rival tribal factions elsewhere, and Josephus reports numerous violent confrontations between Jews and Samaritans throughout the first half of the first century.
According to historian Lawrence Schiffman, throughout the Persian Period, Judeans and Samaritans fought periodically with one another. The Samaritans were a blend of all kinds of people--made up of Israelites who were not exiled when the Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 722 BCE--of various different nationalities whom the Assyrians had resettled in the area. The Assyrians did this as an attempt to ensure that Israel's national dream could not come true.
According to the Jewish version of events, when the Judean exile ended in 539 BCE and the exiles began returning home from Babylon, Samaritans found their former homeland of the north populated by other people who claimed the land as their own and Jerusalem, their former glorious capital, in ruins. The inhabitants worshiped the Pagan gods, but when the then-sparsely populated areas became infested with dangerous wild beasts, they appealed to the king of Assyria for Israelite priests to instruct them on how to worship the "God of that country." The result was a syncretistic religion, in which national groups worshiped the Israelite God, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
According to Chronicles 36:22-23, the Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great (reigned 559-530 BCE), permitted the return of the exiles to their homeland and ordered the rebuilding of the Temple (Zion). The prophet Isaiah identified Cyrus as "the Lord's Messiah". The word "Messiah" refers to an anointed individual, such as a king or priest.
During the First Temple, it was possible for foreigners to help the Jewish people in an informal way until tension grew between the Samaritans and Judeans. This meant that foreigners could physically move into Judean land and abide by its laws and religion.
Ezra 4 says that the local inhabitants of the land offered to assist with the building of the new Temple during the time of Zerubbabel, but their offer was rejected. According to Ezra, this rejection precipitated a further interference not only with the rebuilding of the Temple but also with the reconstruction of Jerusalem. The issue surrounding the Samaritans offer to help rebuild the temple was a complicated one that took a while for the Judeans to think over. There had always been a division between the north and the south and this instance perfectly illustrates that. Following Solomon's death, sectionalism formed and inevitably led to the division of the kingdom. This division lead to the Judeans rejecting the offer made by the Samaritans to centralise worship at the Temple.
The text is not clear on this matter, but one possibility is that these "people of the land" were thought of as Samaritans. We do know that Samaritan and Jewish alienation increased and that the Samaritans eventually built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, near Shechem.
The rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem took several decades. The project was first led by Sheshbazzar (ca. 538 BCE), later by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and later still by Haggai and Zechariah (520-515 BCE). The work was completed in 515 BCE.
The term "Kuthim" applied by Jews to the Samaritans had clear pejorative connotations, implying that they were interlopers brought in from Kutha in Mesopotamia and rejecting their claim of descent from the ancient Tribes of Israel.
According to many scholars, archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim indicate that a Samaritan temple was built there in the first half of the 5th century BCE. The date of the schism between Samaritans and Jews is unknown, but by the early 4th century BCE the communities seem to have had distinctive practices and communal separation.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes was on the throne of the Seleucid Empire from 175 to 163 BCE. His policy was to Hellenize his entire kingdom and standardize religious observance. According to 1 Maccabees 1:41-50 he proclaimed himself the incarnation of the Greek god Zeus and mandated death to anyone who refused to worship him. In the 2nd century BCE, a series of events led to a revolution by a faction Judeans against Antiochus IV.
The universal peril led the Samaritans, eager for safety, to repudiate all connection and kinship with the Jews. The request was granted. This was put forth as the final breach between the two groups, being alleged at a much later date in the Christian Bible (John 4:9), "For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans"--or not "alleged" if the Greek sunchrasthai merely refers to not sharing utensils (NABRE).
Anderson notes that during the reign of Antiochus IV (175-164 BCE):
the Samaritan temple was renamed either Zeus Hellenios (willingly by the Samaritans according to Josephus) or, more likely, Zeus Xenios, (unwillingly in accord with 2 Macc. 6:2).-- Bromiley, 4.304
Josephus Book 12, Chapter 5 quotes the Samaritans as saying:
We therefore beseech thee, our benefactor and saviour, to give order to Apolonius, the governor of this part of the country, and to Nicanor, the procurator of thy affairs, to give us no disturbances, nor to lay to our charge what the Jews are accused for, since we are aliens from their nation and from their customs, but let our temple which at present hath no name at all, be named the Temple of Jupiter Hellenius.-- Josephus
Shortly afterwards, the Greek king sent Gerontes the Athenian to force the Jews of Israel to violate their ancestral customs and live no longer by the laws of God; and to profane the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus, and the one on Mount Gerizim to Zeus, Patron of Strangers, as the inhabitants of the latter place had requested.-- II Maccabees 6:1-2
During the Hellenistic period, Samaria was largely divided between a Hellenizing faction based in Samaria (Sebastaea) and a pious faction in Shekhem and surrounding rural areas, led by the High Priest. Samaria was a largely autonomous state nominally dependent on the Seleucid Empire until around 113 BCE, when the Jewish Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple and devastated Samaria.
Under the Roman Empire, Samaria became a part of the Herodian Kingdom, Herodian Tetrarchy and with deposition of the Herodian ethnarch Herod Achelaus in early 1st century CE, Samaria became a part of the province of Judaea.
Samaritans appear briefly in the Christian gospels, most notably in the account of the Samaritan woman at the well and the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the latter, it is only the Samaritan who helped the man stripped of clothing, beaten, and left on the road half dead, his Abrahamic covenantal circumcision implicitly evident. The priest and Levite walked past. But the Samaritan helped the naked man regardless of his nakedness (itself religiously offensive to the priest and Levite), his self-evident poverty, or to which Hebrew sect he belonged.
The Temple of Gerizim was rebuilt after the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans, around 136 CE. A building dated to the second century BCE, the Delos Synagogue, is commonly identified as a Samaritan synagogue, which would make it the oldest known Jewish or Samaritan synagogue. On the other hand, Matassa argues that, although there is evidence of Samaritans on Delos, there is no evidence the building was a synagogue.
There were some Samaritans in the Sasanian Empire, where they served in the army.
This period is considered as something of a golden age for the Samaritan community, the population thought to number up to a million.
According to Samaritan sources, Eastern Roman emperor Zeno (who ruled 474-491 and whom the sources call "Zait the King of Edom") persecuted the Samaritans. The Emperor went to Neapolis (Shechem), gathered the elders and asked them to convert; when they refused, Zeno had many Samaritans killed, and re-built the synagogue as a church. Zeno then took for himself Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshiped God, and built several edifices, among whom a tomb for his recently deceased son, on which he put a cross, so that the Samaritans, worshiping God, would prostrate in front of the tomb. Later, in 484, the Samaritans revolted. The rebels attacked Sichem, burned five churches built on Samaritan holy places and cut the finger of bishop Terebinthus, who was officiating the ceremony of Pentecost. They elected a Justa (or Justasa/Justasus) as their king and moved to Caesarea, where a noteworthy Samaritan community lived. Here several Christians were killed and the church of St. Sebastian was destroyed. Justa celebrated the victory with games in the circus. According to John Malalas, the dux Palaestinae Asclepiades, whose troops were reinforced by the Caesarea-based Arcadiani of Rheges, defeated Justa, killed him and sent his head to Zeno. According to Procopius, Terebinthus went to Zeno to ask for revenge; the Emperor personally went to Samaria to quell the rebellion.
Some modern historians believe that the order of the facts preserved by Samaritan sources should be inverted, as the persecution of Zeno was a consequence of the rebellion rather than its cause, and should have happened after 484, around 489. Zeno rebuilt the church of St. Procopius in Neapolis (Sichem) and the Samaritans were banned from Mount Gerizim, on whose top a signalling tower was built to alert in case of civil unrest.
Under a charismatic, messianic figure named Julianus ben Sabar (or ben Sahir), the Samaritans launched a war to create their own independent state in 529. With the help of the Ghassanids, Emperor Justinian I crushed the revolt; tens of thousands of Samaritans died or were enslaved. The Samaritan faith, which had previously enjoyed the status of religio licita, was virtually outlawed thereafter by the Christian Byzantine Empire; from a population once at least in the hundreds of thousands, the Samaritan community dwindled to tens of thousands.
Though initially guaranteed religious freedom after the Muslim conquest of Palestine, Samaritan numbers dropped further as a result of massacres and conversions.
By the time of the early Muslim conquests, apart from Palestine, small dispersed communities of Samaritans were living also in Arab Egypt, Syria, and Iran. Like other non-Muslims in the empire, such as Jews, Samaritans were often considered to be People of the Book. Their minority status was protected by the Muslim rulers, and they had the right to practice their religion, but, as dhimmi, adult males had to pay the jizya or "protection tax". This however changed during late Abbasid period, with increasing persecution targeting the Samaritan community and considering them infidels which must convert to Islam. The tradition of men wearing a red tarboosh may go back to an order by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil (847-861 CE) that required non-Muslims to be distinguished from Muslims.
During the Crusades, Samaritans, like the non-Latin Christian inhabitants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, were second-class citizens, but they were tolerated and perhaps favored because they were docile and had been mentioned positively in the Christian New Testament.
While the majority of the Samaritan population in Damascus was massacred or converted during the reign of the Ottoman Pasha Mardam Beq in the early 17th century, the remainder of the Samaritan community there, in particular, the Danafi family, which is still influential today, moved back to Nablus in the 17th century.
The Nablus community endured because most of the surviving diaspora returned, and they have maintained a tiny presence there to this day. In 1624, the last Samaritan High Priest of the line of Eleazar son of Aaron died without issue, but according to Samaritan tradition, descendants of Aaron's other son, Ithamar, remained and took over the office.
By the late Ottoman period, the Samaritan community dwindled to its lowest. In 19th century, with pressure of conversion and persecution from the local rulers and occasional natural disasters, the community fell to just over 100 persons.
The situation of the Samaritan community improved significantly during the British Mandate of Palestine. At that time, they began to work in the public sector, like many other groups. The censuses of 1922 and 1931 recorded 163 and 182 Samaritans in Palestine, respectively. The majority of them lived in Nablus.
After the end of the British Mandate of Palestine and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel, some of the Samaritans who were living in Jaffa emigrated to Samaria and lived in Nablus. By the late 1950s, around 100 Samaritans left the West Bank for Israel under an agreement with the Jordanian authorities in the West Bank. In 1954, Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi fostered a Samaritan enclave in Holon, Israel.
Until the 1990s, most of the Samaritans resided in the West Bank city of (Nablus) below Mount Gerizim. They relocated to the mountain itself near the Israeli settlement Har Brakha as a result of violence during the First Intifada (1987-1990). Consequently, all that is left of the Samaritan community in Nablus itself is an abandoned synagogue. The Israeli army maintains a presence in the area.
Demographic investigations of the Samaritan community were carried out in the 1960s. Detailed pedigrees of the last 13 generations show that the Samaritans comprise four lineages:
Recently several genetic studies on the Samaritan population were made using haplogroup comparisons as well as wide-genome genetic studies. Of the 12 Samaritan males used in the analysis, 10 (83%) had Y chromosomes belonging to haplogroup J, which includes three of the four Samaritan families. The Joshua-Marhiv family belongs to Haplogroup J-M267 (formerly "J1"), while the Danafi and Tsedakah families belong to haplogroup J-M172 (formerly "J2"), and can be further distinguished by the M67 SNP-- the derived allele of which has been found in the Danafi family-- and the PF5169 SNP found in the Tsedakah family. The only Samaritan family not found in haplogroup J was the Cohen family (Tradition: Tribe of Levi) which was found haplogroup E-M78 (formerly "E3b1a M78"). This article predated the change of the classification of haplogroup E3b1-M78 to E3b1a-M78 and the further subdivision of E3b1a-M78 into 6 subclades based on the research of Cruciani, et al.
A 2004 article on the genetic ancestry of the Samaritans by Shen et al. concluded from a sample comparing Samaritans to several Jewish populations, all currently living in Israel--representing the Beta Israel, Ashkenazi Jews, Iraqi Jews, Libyan Jews, Moroccan Jews, and Yemenite Jews, as well as Israeli Druze and Palestinians--that "the principal components analysis suggested a common ancestry of Samaritan and Jewish patrilineages. Most of the former may be traced back to a common ancestor in what is today identified as the paternally inherited Israelite high priesthood (Cohanim) with a common ancestor projected to the time of the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel."
Archaeologists Aharoni, et al., estimated that this "exile of peoples to and from Israel under the Assyrians" took place during ca. 734-712 BCE. The authors speculated that when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, resulting in the exile of many of the Israelites, a subgroup of the Israelites that remained in the Land of Israel "married Assyrian and female exiles relocated from other conquered lands, which was a typical Assyrian policy to obliterate national identities." The study goes on to say that "Such a scenario could explain why Samaritan Y chromosome lineages cluster tightly with Jewish Y lineages, while their mitochondrial lineages are closest to Iraqi Jewish and Israeli Arab mtDNA sequences." Non-Jewish Iraqis were not sampled in this study; however, mitochondrial lineages of Jewish communities tend to correlate with their non-Jewish host populations, unlike paternal lineages which almost always correspond to Israelite lineages.
There were 1 million Samaritans in biblical times, but in recent times the numbers are smaller. There were 100 in 1786 and 141 in 1919, then 150 in 1967. This grew to 745 in 2011, 751 in 2012, 756 in 2013, 760 in 2014, 777 in 2015, 785 in 2016, 796 in 2017, 810 in 2018 and 820 in 2019.
Half reside in modern homes at Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim, which is sacred to them, and the rest in the city of Holon, just outside Tel Aviv. There are also four Samaritan families residing in Binyamina-Giv'at Ada, Matan, and Ashdod. As a small community physically divided between neighbors in a hostile region, Samaritans have been hesitant to overtly take sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict, fearing that doing so could lead to negative repercussions. While the Samaritan communities in both the West Bank's Nablus and Israeli Holon have assimilated to the surrounding respective cultures, Hebrew has become the primary domestic language for Samaritans. Samaritans who are Israeli citizens are drafted into the military, along with the Jewish citizens of Israel.
Relations of Samaritans with Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians in neighboring areas have been mixed. Samaritans living in both Israel and in the West Bank enjoy Israeli citizenship. Samaritans in the Palestinian Authority-ruled territories are a minority in the midst of a Muslim majority. They had a reserved seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council in the election of 1996, but they no longer have one. Samaritans living in Samaria have been granted passports by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
One of the biggest problems facing the community today is the issue of continuity. With such a small population, divided into only four families (Cohen, Tsedakah, Danafi, and Marhiv, a fifth family dying out in the twentieth century) and a general refusal to accept converts, there has been a history of genetic disorders within the group due to the small gene pool. To counter this, the Samaritan community has recently agreed that men from the community marry non-Samaritan (primarily, Israeli Jewish) women, provided that the women agree to follow Samaritan religious practices. There is a six-month trial period before officially joining the Samaritan community to see whether this is a commitment that the woman would like to take. This often poses a problem for the women, who are typically less than eager to adopt the strict interpretation of biblical (Levitical) laws regarding menstruation, by which they must live in a separate dwelling during their periods and after childbirth. There have been a few instances of intermarriage. In addition, all marriages within the Samaritan community are first approved by a geneticist at Tel HaShomer Hospital, in order to prevent the spread of genetic disorders. In meetings arranged by "international marriage agencies", a small number of Ukrainian women have recently been allowed to marry into the community in an effort to expand the gene pool.
The Samaritan community in Israel also faces demographic challenges as some young people leave the community and convert to Judaism. A notable example is Israeli television presenter Sofi Tsedaka, who has made a documentary about her leaving the community at age 18.
The head of the community is the Samaritan High Priest, who is selected by age from the priestly family and resides on Mount Gerizim. The current high priest is Aabed-El ben Asher ben Matzliach who assumed the office in 2013.
Much of the local Palestinian population of Nablus is believed to be descended from Samaritans, who had converted to Islam. According to the historian Fayyad Altif, large numbers of Samaritans converted due to persecution under various Muslim rulers, and because the monotheistic nature of Islam made it easy for them to accept it. The Samaritans themselves describe the Ottoman period as the worst period in their modern history, as many Samaritan families were forced to convert to Islam during that time. Even today, certain Nabulsi family names such as Maslamani, Yaish, and Shaksheer among others, are associated with Samaritan ancestry.
For the Samaritans in particular, the passing of the al-Hakim Edict by the Fatimid Caliphate in 1021, under which all Jews and Christians in the Fatimid ruled southern Levant were ordered to either convert to Islam or leave, along with another notable forced conversion to Islam imposed at the hands of the rebel ibn Fir?sa, would contribute to their rapid unprecedented decrease, and ultimately almost complete extinction as a separate religious community. As a result, they had decreased from nearly a million and a half in late Roman (Byzantine) times to 146 people by the end of the Ottoman Era.
In 1940, the future Israeli president and historian Yitzhak Ben-Zvi wrote an article in which he stated that two thirds of the residents of Nablus and the surrounding neighboring villages were of Samaritan origin. He mentioned the name of several Palestinian Muslim families as having Samaritan origins, including the Buwarda and Kasem families, who protected Samaritans from Muslim persecution in the 1850s. He further claimed that these families had written records testifying to their Samaritan ancestry, which were maintained by their priests and elders.
The Samaritan religion is based on some of the same books used as the basis of Judaism but differs from the latter. Samaritan religious works include the Samaritan version of the Torah, the Memar Markah, the Samaritan liturgy, and Samaritan law codes and biblical commentaries. Many[who?] claim the Samaritans appear to have a text of the Torah as old as the Masoretic Text; scholars have various theories concerning the actual relationships between these three texts.
According to Samaritans, it was on Mount Gerizim that Abraham was commanded by God to offer Isaac, his son, as a sacrifice. In both narratives, God then causes the sacrifice to be interrupted, explaining that this was the ultimate test of Abraham's obedience, as a result of which all the world would receive blessing.
The Torah mentions the place where God chooses to establish His name (Deut 12:5), and Judaism takes this to refer to Jerusalem. However, the Samaritan text speaks of the place where God has chosen to establish His name, and Samaritans identify it as Mount Gerizim, making it the focus of their spiritual values.
The legitimacy of the Samaritan temple was attacked by Jewish scholars including Andronicus ben Meshullam.
In the Christian Bible, the Gospel of John relates an encounter between a Samaritan woman and Jesus in which she says that the mountain was the center of their worship. She poses the question to Jesus when she realizes that he is the Messiah. Jesus affirms the Jewish position, saying "You (that is, the Samaritans) worship what you do not know".
The Samaritans have retained an offshoot of the Ancient Hebrew script, a High Priesthood, the slaughtering and eating of lambs on Passover eve, and the celebration of the first month's beginning around springtime as the New Year. Yom Teru`ah (the biblical name for "Rosh Hashanah"), at the beginning of Tishrei, is not considered a New Year as it is in Rabbinic Judaism. The Samaritan Pentateuch differs from the Jewish Masoretic Text as well. Some differences are doctrinal: for example, the Samaritan Torah explicitly states that Mount Gerizim is "the place that God has chosen" to establish His name, as opposed to the Jewish Torah that refers to "the place that God chooses". Other differences are minor and seem more or less accidental.
Samaritans, from a photo c. 1900 by the Palestine Exploration Fund.
Entrance to a modern Samaritan synagogue in the city of Holon, Israel
Samaritans refer to themselves as Benai Yisrael ("Children of Israel") which is a term used by all Jewish denominations as a name for the Jewish people as a whole. They, however, do not refer to themselves as Yehudim (Jews), the standard Hebrew name for Jews.
The Talmudic attitude expressed in tractate Kutim is that they are to be treated as Jews in matters where their practice coincides with Rabbinic Judaism but as non-Jews where their practice differs. Some claim that since the 19th century, Rabbinic Judaism has regarded the Samaritans as a Jewish sect and the term "Samaritan Jews" has been used for them.
Samaritan law is not the same as Halakha (Rabbinic Jewish law). The Samaritans have several groups of religious texts, which correspond to Jewish Halakha. A few examples of such texts are:
Samaria or Samaritans are mentioned in the New Testament books of Matthew, Luke, John and Acts. The Gospel of Mark contains no mention of Samaritans or Samaria. The best known reference to the Samaritans is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in the Gospel of Luke. The following references are found:
The rest of the New Testament makes no specific mention of Samaria or Samaritans.
The Samaritan News, a monthly magazine started in 1969, is written in Samaritan Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, and English and deals with current and historical issues with which the Samaritan community is concerned. The Samaritan Update is a bi-monthly e-newsletter for Samaritan Studies.
A documentary film was produced in 2018 entitled How to Save a Tribe presented by traveller/author Leon McCarron. It focuses on the population crisis among the Samaritans.
Today there are precisely 705 Samaritans, according to the sect's own tally. Half live near the West Bank city of Nablus on Mt. Gerizim [...]. The other half live in a compound in the Israeli city of Holon, near Tel Aviv.
Totaling 760 people between Kiryat Luza and Holon -- up from 150 people in 1967 but down from an estimated 1 million during Biblical times
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