Samaria

Samaria was a region in ancient Palestine. This was between Galilee to the north and Judea to the south.  It had a boundary in the west of the Mediterranean Sea and on the east, the Jordan River.  It was a mountainous region with many olive trees. The Biblical town of Shechem was in the middle of this area and this was a political centre for the region.

When the Israelites began their conquest of Palestine, they took over some of the hill sites, but the strategical strongholds remained in the hands of the Canaanites, who had control of the region at this time.

Samaria was assigned to the tribe of Joseph during the division of the land between the twelve tribes of Israel.  After the death of Solomon, when the ten tribes of Israel split from Judah, Samaria became part of "Israel".

When King Omri eliminated his last rival for the kingship of Israel, he strengthened the country's military position by building his new capital city at Samaria. He then began a new dynasty for Israel.  Samaria remained the capital city of Israel until the Assyrians invaded in 722BC, when much of the population was taken captive.  It was a heavily fortified city and had held out for a siege of two years until it eventually fell to Sargon II of Assyria.  The area was resettled with captives from other areas, which was an Assyrian trait.   These new settlers intermarried with the remaining Israelites, and mingled their religious and cultural traditions. In time they were destined to become a new people known throughout Jewish history as Samaritans.

When the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon to rebuild their Temple by the decree of Cyrus the Great, they would not accept any help from the Samaritans  (the dwellers in the land) to rebuild their temple. The Samaritans had moved slightly south and had begun to think themselves owners of the land. The Jews, who had been left in Jerusalem, had begun to adopt the cultural practices of the inhabitants of the land.  The Temple building at Jerusalem was stopped by these inhabitants and when they made no definitive headway, the Samaritans then built their own temple at Nabulus about 40km from Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem temple was not begun again until the decree of Artaxerxes about 18 years later.  It was not finished until 515 BC. 

The Persian Government officials were stationed in Samaria, but during the last 100 years of Persian rule, relations between Persia and Israel grew steadily worse.

Although there were still social and commercial contact, the theological differences between Israel and Samaria became irreconcilable. 

Samaria was rebuilt and greatly enlarged in the time of Herod the Great (37-4BC). During the New Testament times, Samaria was under Roman control and it was to some extent a centre for the Hellenistic culture.

According to some reports there may be as few as only five hundred Samaritans surviving at this time. They regard themselves as the descendants of the Jews left behind when the Assyrians took so many of the population captive. According to local reports about half the Samaritans, now living, dwell in Tel Aviv.  They pray in Hebrew but have adopted Arabic as their language since the Muslim conquest in 656. They recognise only the Torah as canonical and so have begun an irreconcilable difference from other religions.