“Samaritans” can refer to either: natives of the region of Samaria or members of a Jewish sect.
The Samaritans date their history to Joshua building an altar at Shechem between Mt Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (Joshua 24). They saw themselves as the true Jewish religion.
The Samaritans was originally associated with the people of the northern kingdom. But after the exile, the name Samaritans became associated with a mixed race mixed of Jews and exiles from many nations imported into the region (Ezra 4:9-10). Jews did not consider the Samaritans to be gentiles, but they saw them as less than Jews. When the Jews returned from exile to Jerusalem, Ezra and Nehemiah refused to let the Samaritans participate (Ezra 4:1-3; Nehemiah 4:7).
Samaria is a region surrounding the city of Samaria, including the tribal regions of Manasseh and Ephraim. The name “Samaria” is sometimes synonymous with the entire Northern Kingdom (1Ki 13:32; Jeremiah 31:5). By the time of Christ, Samaria was the region above Judea and below Galilee.
City of Samaria
Shechem was the first capital of the Northern Kingdom (1Kg 12:25). Omri, the sixth king of Israel (885-874 BC), purchased the hill of Samaria for his royal residence (1 Kings 16:24). The city of Samaria became the residence and burial place of the kings of Israel (1Ki 16:23-28; 1Ki 22:37; 2Ki 6:24-30).
When Omri’s son, Ahab, became king of Israel, he built an ivory palace at Samaria which Amos denounced (Amos 6:1-4; 1Ki 22:39). His wife, Jezebel, influenced Ahab to make the city of Samaria the center for Baal worship (1Ki 16:29-33) and Jezebel had many prophets of Yahweh killed in Samaria (1Ki 18:2-4).
Samaria fell to Assyria in 721 BC after a three years’ siege.
The Greeks conquered Samaria (331 B.C.) and hellenized the area with Greek inhabitants and culture. With the blessing of Alexander the Great, they rebuilt a temple on Mt. Gerizim. However, the Hasmoneans, under John Hyrcanus, destroyed the city and the temple, so it was not standing at the time of Jesus.
- Like the Sadducees, Samaritans didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection.
- They rejected the oral law of the Pharisees.
- They held to the Pentateuch and rejected the rest of the Old Testament.
- They viewed Moses as the only prophet and intercessor.
- They saw the temple in Jerusalem as invalid and worshiped at Mt. Gerizin instead.
- They worshipped YHWH and expected a Messiah.
- Their lifestyle was similar to Jews.
- At the time of Christ, there was great animosity between Jews and Samaritans.
Calling someone a Samaritan was in insult.
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” – John 8:48
Some Samaritans rejected Jesus.
51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56And they went on to another village. — Luke 9:51-56
Other Samaritans accepted Jesus. After Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman by the well (John 4:1-42), many believe.
39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. – John 4:39-41
- Luke 10:25-37 – Parable of the Good Samaritan
- When Jesus sends out the 12, they go first to Israel, avoiding Samaria.
5These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” – Matthew 10:5-7
- Map of Judah and Israel During the Period of the Kings
- Map of Israel and Judah
- Map of Samaria
- Map of Samaria and Central Israel
- Israel and Judah
- The Cities of Samaria and the Surrounding Lands
- The Captivity of the Ten Tribes
- Bible Atlas: Samaria
Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
- Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:
- Bridgeway Bible Dictionary: Samaria, Samaritans
- Easton’s Bible Dictionary: Samaria ; Samaritan Pentateuch ; Samaritans
- Fausset Bible Dictionary: Samaria ; Samaritan Pentateuch
- Holman Bible Dictionary: Samaria, Samaritans ; Samaritan Pentateuch
- Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible: Samaria ; Samaritans
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Samaritans; Samaria, City of; Samaritan Pentateuch, the; Samaria, Country of
- Kitto’s Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature: Samaria ; Samaritans
- McClintock and Strong: Samaria; Samaria, Region of ; Samaritan ; Samaritans,
- Morrish Bible Dictionary: Samaria ; Samaritan Pentateuch ; Samaritans
- The Nuttall Encyclopedia: Samaria; Samaritan Pentateuch ; Samaritans
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Background & History
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