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|Approx. 800 (1.1.2012)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Other Israeli cities||~50|
|Samaritan Book of Joshua|
Modern Hebrew, Hebrew, Arabic
Arabic, preceded by Aramaic and earlier Hebrew
Samaritan Hebrew, Samaritan Aramaic, Samaritan Arabic
|Related ethnic groups|
|Jews, Palestinian people|
|Approx. 800 (1.1.2012)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Other Israeli cities||~50|
|Samaritan Book of Joshua|
Modern Hebrew, Hebrew, Arabic
Arabic, preceded by Aramaic and earlier Hebrew
Samaritan Hebrew, Samaritan Aramaic, Samaritan Arabic
|Related ethnic groups|
|Jews, Palestinian people|
The Samaritans (Samaritan Hebrew: שוֹמְרִים Samerim "Guardians/Keepers/Watchers [of the Law/Torah]", Jewish Hebrew: שומרונים Shomronim, Arabic: السامريون Sāmeriyyūn) are an ethnoreligious group of the Levant, descended from ancient Semitic inhabitants of the region.
The Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Based on the Samaritan Pentateuch, Samaritans say that their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel, as opposed to Judaism, which they say is a related but altered and amended religion, brought back by those returning from the Babylonian exile.
Ancestrally, Samaritans claim descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph (son of Jacob)) as well as from the priestly tribe of Levi, who have links to ancient Samaria from the period of their entry into the land of Canaan, while some suggest that it was from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the Samaritan polity of Baba Rabba. Samaritans used to include a line of Benjamin tribe, but it went extinct during the decline period of the Samaritan demographics. The split between them and their brothers; the children of Judah (the Jews) began during Eli the priest, and the culmination was during the Kingdom of Israel and Kingdom of Judah when the Samaritans (then Kingdom of Israel) refused to accept Jerusalem as the elect, and remained on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans say that Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Place of Israel from the time that Joshua conquered Israel. The major issue between Jews and Samaritans has always been the location of the chosen place to worship God; Jerusalem according to the Jewish faith or Mount Gerizim according to the Samaritan version.
In the Talmud, a central post-exilic religious text of Judaism, the Samaritans are called Cutheans (Hebrew: כותים, Kutim), referring to the ancient city of Kutha, geographically located in what is today Iraq. In the biblical account, however, Cuthah was one of several cities from which people were brought to Samaria, and they worshiped Nergal. Modern genetics suggests some truth to both the claims of the Samaritans and the account in the Talmud.
Once a large community of over a million in late Roman times, the Samaritans shrank to several tens of thousands in the wake of the bloody suppression of the Third Samaritan Revolt (529 AD) against the Byzantine Christian rulers and mass conversion to Islam in the Early Muslim period of Palestine.
As of January 1, 2012, the population was 751, divided between Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim and the city of Holon, just outside Tel Aviv. Most Samaritans in Israel today speak Hebrew and Arabic . For liturgical purposes, Samaritan Hebrew, Samaritan Aramaic, and Samaritan Arabic are used, all written in the Samaritan alphabet, a variant of the Old 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 prior to the Roman exile.
Although they are drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli Rabbinate requires Samaritans to officially go through formal Conversion to Judaism in order to be recognized as Halakhic Jews. One example is Israeli TV personality Sofi Tsedaka, who formally converted to Judaism at the age of 18.
In Jewish Hebrew, the Samaritans are called Shomronim, which would appear to simply mean "Samarians" ("inhabitants of Samaria", Samaria in Jewish Hebrew being Shomron). In Samaritan Hebrew, however, the Samaritans call themselves "Samerim", which according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, is derived from the Ancient Hebrew term Šamerim/Samerim שַמֶרִים, meaning "Guardians/Keepers/Watchers [of the Law/Torah]". Thus, it may suggest Samaria is named after the Samaritans, rather than the Samaritans being named after Samaria. In Jewish tradition, Mount Samaria, meaning "Watch Mountain", is named so because watchers used to watch from those mountains for approaching armies from Egypt from ancient times. Historically, Samaria was the key geographical concentration of the Samaritan community.
The Ancient Hebrew "Šamerim/Samerim" (Samerin سامرين in Arabic which have the same meaning), which in the Bible means Guardians (singular Šameri/Sameri) comes from the Hebrew root verb S-M-R שמר which means: "to watch", or "to guard".
That the etymology of the Samaritans' ethnonym in Samaritan Hebrew is derived from "Guardians/Keepers/Watchers [of the Law/Torah]" (to protect it from alteration against the Talmudic Rabbinic school which became the majority of Jews today), as opposed to Samaritans being named after the region of Samaria, is supported by Christian Church fathers Epiphanius of Salamis in (Panarion), Jerome and Eusibius in Chronicon and Origen in The Commentary of Origen on S. John's Gospel, and in some Ancient Jewish Talmudic Bible Interpretations of Midrash Tanhuma on Genesis chapter 31, and Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer chapter 38 Page 21.
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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, (the number of which did not include the priestly tribe of Levi) to the mountains by Nablus and place half of the tribes, six in number, on the top of Mount Gerizim, the Mount of the Blessing, and the other half in 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).
Samaritans claim they are Israelite descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The inscription of Sargon II records the deportation of a relatively small proportion of the Israelites from Samaria (27,290, according to the annals), so it is quite possible that a sizable population remained that could identify themselves as Israelites, the term that the Samaritans prefer for themselves.
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. 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 on 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 BC. 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 worshipped 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 moneys from all "the remnant of Israel" in Samaria, including from Manasseh, Ephraim and Benjamin. Jeremiah likewise speaks of people from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria who brought offerings of frankincense and grain to the house of the Lord. 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.
Zertal dates the Assyrian onslaught at 721 BC to 647 BC 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 BC. 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 the 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 BC). 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 AD 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, op. cit., 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, op. cit., 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 build a temple on a high place to provoke Israel.
The narratives in Genesis about the rivalries among the twelve sons of Jacob describe 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 capital Samaria and the Kingdom of Judea 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 BC.
The tensions continued in the postexilic period. Chronicles is more inclusive than Ezra-Nehemiah since for the Chronicler the ideal is of one Israel with twelve tribes; the Chronicler concentrates on Judah and ignores northern Israel.[contradiction]
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 temple 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, although the tensions went unrecognized by Roman authorities, Josephus reports numerous violent confrontations between Jews and Samaritans throughout the first half of the first century.
According to the Jewish version of events, when the Judean exile ended in 538 BC and the exiles began returning home from Babylon, they found their former homeland 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 Hebrew god, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
According to 2 Chronicles 36:22–23, the Persian emperor, Cyrus the Great (reigned 559 BC – 530 BC), permitted the return of the exiles to their homeland and ordered the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (Zion). The prophet Isaiah identified Cyrus as "the Lord's Messiah" (Mashiach; see Isaiah 45:1). The word "Messiah" refers to an anointed one, such as a king or priest.
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 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 (about 538 BC), later by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and later still by Haggai and Zechariah (520–515 BC). The work was completed in 515 BC.
The term "Cuthim" 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.
However, the following 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 Assyria. 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 Samar]ians [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 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)
Archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim indicate that a Samaritan temple was built there in the first half of the 5th century BC. The date of the schism between Samaritans and Jews is unknown, but by the early 4th century BC the communities seem to have had distinctive practices and communal separation.
According to Samaritans, it was on Mount Gerizim that Abraham was commanded by God to offer Isaac, his son, as a sacrifice Genesis 22:2. 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 shall choose 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 2nd century BC a series of events led to a revolution of some Judeans against Antiochus IV.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes was on the throne of the Seleucid Empire from 175 to 163 BC. 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.
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."
Anderson notes that during the reign of Antiochus IV (175–164 BC):
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.
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
This Samaritan Temple at Mount Gerizim was destroyed by John Hyrcanus in about 128 BC, having existed about 200 years. Only a few stone remnants of it exist today.
During the Hellenistic period, Samaria was largely divided between a Hellenizing faction based in Samaria (Sebastaea) and a pious faction, led by the High Priest and based largely around Shechem and the rural areas. Samaria was a largely autonomous state nominally dependent on the Seleucid Empire until around 129 BC, when the Jewish Hasmonean king Yohanan Girhan (John Hyrcanus) destroyed the Samaritan temple and devastated Samaria.
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, told to Jews, a Samaritan helps a wounded Jew even though Jews and Samaritans despised each other.
This period is considered as something of a golden age for the Samaritan community, the population thought to number up to a million. The Temple of Gerizim was rebuilt after the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans, around 135 AD. Much of Samaritan liturgy was set by the high priest Baba Rabba in the 4th century.
A building excavated on Delos, dating to the 2nd century BC, 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.
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 Sichem (Neapolis), gathered the elders and asked them to convert; when they refused, Zeno had many Samaritans killed, and re-built the synagogue to a church. Zeno then took for himself Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans worshipped God, and built several edifices, among whom a tomb for his recently deceased son, on which he put a cross, so that the Samaritans, worshipping God, would prostrate in front of the tomb. Later, in 484, the Samaritans revolted. The rebels attacked Sichem, burnt 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.
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 Ghassanid Arabs, Emperor Justinian I crushed the revolt; tens of thousands of Samaritans died or were enslaved. The Samaritan faith 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 near extinction.
By the time of the Muslim Conquests, Samaritans were living in an area stretching between Egypt, Syria, and Iran. Like other non-Muslims in the empire, such as Jews, Samaritans were considered to be People of the Book.
It has been suggested that they were forced to wear red colored turbans as a result of the terms of a document known as the Pact of Umar II, but this stipulation is not explicitly mentioned in the document, the authenticity has been questioned by contemporary scholars, and the tradition cannot be independently verified.
During the Crusades, Samaritans, like the other non-Latin Christian inhabitants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, were second-class citizens, but they were tolerated and perhaps favoured because they were docile and had been mentioned positively in the Christian New Testament.
Over the centuries of Byzantine, Arab and Turkish rule, the Samaritans suffered many hardships which included forced conversion to Christianity, forced conversion to Islam, harsh religious decrees, massacre and persecution.
While the majority of the Samaritan population in Damascus was killed or converted during the reign of the Ottoman Pasha Mardam Beq in the early 17th century, the remainder of the Samaritan communities from Damascus and the other cities where they had a presence moved to Shechem, due to its close proximity to Mount Gerizim.
The Shechem 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 descendants of Aaron's other son, Ithamar, remained and took over the office.
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. During the thirties one of the Samaritans, Tawfeek Khadir al-Kahen, was nominated as member of the Shechem Municipality. The censuses of 1922 and 1931 recorded 163 and 182 Samaritans in Palestine, respectively. The majority of them lived in Nablus.
Much of the local Palestinian population of Nablus is believed to be descended from Samaritans who 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 their religion to Islam during that time. Even today, certain Nabulsi family names such as Muslimani, Yaish, and Shakshir among others, are associated with Samaritan ancestry.
For the Samaritans in particular, the passing of the al-Hakem Edict by the Fatimids 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 Firāsa, would contribute to their rapid unprecedented decrease, and ultimately almost complete extinction as a separate religious community. As a result, they have decreased from more than a million in late Roman (Byzantine) times to 150 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 are 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.
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 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 J1, while the Danfi and Tsedakah families belong to haplogroup J2, and can be further distinguished by M67, the derived allele of which has been found in the Danfi family. The only Samaritan family not found in haplogroup J was the Cohen family (Tradition: Tribe of Levi) which was found in haplogroup 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.
The 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 Ethiopian Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Iraqi Jews, Libyan Jews, Moroccan Jews, and Yemenite Jews, as well as Israeli Druze and Palestinian Arabs—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 BC to 712 BC. 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 Palestinian 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.
Genetic differences between the Samaritans and neighboring Jewish and non-Jewish populations are corroborated in that study of 7,280 bp of non-recombining Y-chromosome and 5,622 bp of coding and hypervariable segment (HVS-I) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences. Comparative sequence analysis was carried out on 12 Samaritan Y-chromosome and mtDNA samples from 9 male and 7 female Samaritans separated by at least two generations. The four Samaritan families clustered to four distinct Y-chromosome haplogroups according to their patrilineal identity. Of the 16 Samaritan mtDNA samples, 14 carry either of two mitochondrial haplotypes that are rare or absent among other worldwide ethnic groups.
As of January 1, 2012, there were 751 Samaritans, half of whom reside in their 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.
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 the West Bank and lived in Nablus. But by the late 1950s, around 100 Samaritans left the West Bank for Israel under an agreement with the Jordanian authorities in the West Bank.
Until the 1980s, most of the Samaritans resided in the Samarian town of Nablus below Mount Gerizim. They relocated to the mountain itself near the Israeli settlement neighborhood of Har Brakha as a result of violence during the First Intifada (1987–1990). Consequently, all that is left of the Samaritan community in Nablus/Shechem itself is an abandoned synagogue. The Israeli army maintains a presence in the area.
Relations of Samaritans with Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians in neighboring areas have been mixed. In 1954, Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi fostered a Samaritan enclave in Holon, Israel. 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, although the Samaritans are a recognized minority along with Christians and Jews. In Israel the Samaritans operate without the status of a recognised religion. They had a reserved seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council in the election of 1996, but they no longer have one. Palestinian Samaritans have been granted passports by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Samaritan communities tend to be more politically aligned with Israel, regardless of whether they live in Jewish-majority or Arab-majority areas. However, Al-Kahen Wasef al-Samery, a Samaritan leader, declared in 1960 that Israel is an enemy for them as it is an enemy for the Arabs. The Samaritans in Nablus often try to show the differences between them and the Jews, more so than those who live in Holon. Samaritans have stated that the military authorities do not treat them as a minority. On the contrary, they felt that they were treated like West Bank Arabs. Prior to 1948, the Samaritans were divided politically into two factions. The first was led by Sadaqa al-Kahen, who supported the Palestinian Arab leader Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, while the second faction was led by Wasef al-kahen, who supported another Palestinian Arab leader, Ragheb Nashashibi.
As a small community physically divided between neighbors in a hostile region, Samaritans have been hesitant overtly to 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 culture, 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.
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, Danfi and Marhib) (a fifth family died out in the second-last centuryWhich century? See this discussion. and a general refusal to accept converts, there has been a history of genetic disease within the group due to the small gene pool. To counter this, the Samaritan community has recently agreed that men from the community may marry non-Samaritan (primarily, Israeli Jewish) women, provided that the women agree to follow Samaritan religious practices. There is a six-month trial period prior to 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 disease. 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 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.
The Samaritan religion is based on some of the same books used as the basis of mainstream Judaism, but differs from the latter. Samaritan scriptures include the Samaritan version of the Torah, the Memar Markah, the Samaritan liturgy, and Samaritan law codes and biblical commentaries. Samaritans appear to have texts of the Torah as old as the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint; scholars have various theories concerning the actual relationships between these three texts.
The Samaritans retained the Ancient Hebrew script, the high priesthood, animal sacrifices, the eating of lambs at Passover, and the celebration of Aviv in spring as the New Year. Yom Teruah (the biblical name for Rosh Hashanah), at the beginning of Tishrei, is not considered a new year as it is in Judaism. Their main Torah text differs from the 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" for the Temple, as opposed to the Jewish Torah that refers to "the place that God will choose". Other differences are minor and seem more or less accidental.
Samaritans refer to themselves as Bene 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 (Judeans), the standard Hebrew name for Jews, considering the latter to denote only mainstream Jews.
The Talmudic attitude expressed in tractate Kutim is that they are to be treated as Jews in matters where their practice coincides with the mainstream but as non-Jews where their practice differs. 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 (Rabbinical Jewish law). The Samaritans have several groups of religious texts, which correspond to Jewish halakhah. 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 book 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, 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.
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