Monday, February 23, 2009

Who Were the Samaritans?

By Nadene Goldfoot

In about 883 BCE, the Jews had a United States of Jews. It was made of two states, Israel and Judah. They were as different as a Republican state and a Democrat state. Israel was in the north and Judah lie in the south. Judah was the poorer state and was made up mostly of the tribe of Judah and most of Benjamin and probably absorbed the tribe of Simeon. They did not have normal access to the sea, nor any great trade-route. It’s existance was quite tranquil. It had Jerusalem and the temple and preserved Mosaic monotheism in a pure form. The Assyrian conquerors, who took over Israel, were checked in Judah at the wall of Jerusalem in 701. Later the state was taken over by the Babylonians in 586 and its people were deported as slaves.

Israel was united under three kings; Saul, David and Solomon. When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam was then king. He was rejected by the northen 10 tribes because he was known to plan a harsh and tyrannical rule. The people chose Jeroboam as king. The southern tribes of Judah allowed Rehoboam to rule over them.

The capital of the northern kingdom of Israel and religious center was Shechem. Then the governor of this state, Omri, transferred his capital to his newly built city called Samaria.

The state finally was beseiged for three years by Assyria in the 4th year of Hezekiah, the king of Assyria from 724 to 721 BCE. The Assyrians, whose major city was Babylonia, took the priests, the most intelligent and richest of the Jewish citizens as slaves and scattered them in many parts of Assyria and the cities of the Medes. They were settled in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor Rive and in the towns of the Medes. This means that they were deported to Kurdistan. Gozan is modern-day Tell-Halaf, Syria, a prehistoric pottery-making city. The Medes lived in NW Iran. Halah may be Nineveh. They exchanged their own people by sending colonists to the Israel locations. The Jews who remained were descended from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The governor was now an Assyrian.

Lions invaded Israel and frightened the new settlers. They thought the invasion was due to their not knowing about the god of the land and asked the government for an Israeli priest. The result of this was that they wound up continuing with their worshipping idols besides introducing Jewish concepts. They wound up with a mixed up religion. Israel was then called Samaria, and the people were Samaritans.

The next conqueror was the Persians under Cyrus. Samaria became a center for malcontents. If there were reforms in Jerusalem and someone didn’t like it, they went to Samaria. The priest Manasseh went there. He was the son of the high priest in Jerusalem. Manassah married a Assyrian woman, daughter of the governor of Samaria. Because of this, he was expelled by Nehemiah from Jerusalem. This happened about 430 BCE. Their language continued to be Hebrew as spoken in the Torah, but its pronunciation was very different, and very old.

The Samaritan religion was a form of primitive Judaism. They recognized only the Pentateuch of old with their own variants. They claimed in the Ten Commandments that the place chosen by G-d for His sanctuary was Mt. Gerizim. They believe their text is the original one and that Ezra altered the Jewish one. Moses is the one prophet in Samaritan eyes. They also did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.

The Samaritans suffered a great deal under Islam as they were not considered to be the "People of the Book. Now they are centered in the Israeli town of Nablus and Holon numbering in 1990 only 530 people. They have a temple on Mount Gerizim.

There was animosity between the Jews and Samaritans because they felt they were a reminder of their own captured people who were replaced by foreigners who worshipped idols. By the time Jesus was born, it was understood that Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. Each group charged the other as being debased and corrupt.

Reference: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia by Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder,D. Phil.,p. 825-826.
Book: My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar: a son's search for his Jewish past in Kurdish Iraq

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