Samaritans, the people of Samaria belonged to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Throughout their history, they seemed to be in tension with the tribe of Judah. Could it be they thought that their tribes should dominate, since they were descended from Joseph?

The Bible and other writings give us a glimpse of the tension that existed between the tribe of Judah and the tribes of Joseph.

a)   Tension had developed at the time of the Judges when Eli, a descendant of Aaron’s son Ithamar, usurped the priesthood. Refusing to acknowledge Eli as the High Priest, the tribes of Joseph supported the rightful priesthood through Uzzi, a descendant of Aaron’s son Eleazar, and they set up worship at Mt. Gerizim, the mountain of blessings near Shechem. When David (c.1040–970 BC) became king, he restored the rightful lineage of the high priest to Zadok, a descendant of Eleazar, and set up worship at Jerusalem.

b)   After Solomon’s death, friction arose between the Northern and Southern tribes with the Northern tribes setting up their own Kingdom under Jeroboam (931 BC).

c)   Later, Judah formed an alliance with Assyria against Northern Israel, which was then conquered (721 BC), and the elite sent as exiles to Assyria. The Assyrian king sent people from the Babylonian cities of Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to repopulate Samaria and mix with the remaining inhabitants. Of course, these people brought their religious beliefs with them.

d)   After the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile (537 BC), the Samaritan leader, Sanballat, troubled the people of Judah as related in the Book of Nehemiah. The Samaritans had their own temple at Mt. Gerizim, while the Jews had theirs at Jerusalem.

e)   We learn from Josephus that when the Greeks conquered the land of Israel (333-331 BC), that the Samaritans legally disassociated themselves from the Jews and allowed their temple to be renamed Zeus Hellenios or Zeus Xenios. While the Greeks forcefully profaned the Temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans requested that their temple be dedicated Zeus.

f)    After the Israelites won their independence, they invaded Samaria, a dependent state of the Seleucid Greeks, and the Judean king, John Hyrcanus, destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim and devastated Samaria (c. 129 BC).

Understanding the tensions of racial purity, religious purity, and general animosity between the Jews and Samaritans will give a background for understanding New Testament references. The Rabbinical Jews held the Law, Prophets, and Writings sacred along with the Oral Law (Traditions of Men); the Sadducees held to the Torah as Law denying the inspiration of Oral Law and accepting the Prophets and Writings as divinely inspired; the Samaritans held only to the Torah as Law. While the Jews worshiped on the mountain at Jerusalem, the Samaritans worshipped at Mt. Gerizim.

Many Samaritans became Christians, many followed the Gnostic leadership of Simon Magus (Acts 8), and many continued in their traditional religious beliefs. Through the following centuries, they have suffered from war and persecution or converted to Islam, leaving about 721 dedicated Samaritan followers in 2007. They are a people who have been quite religious yet mislead, have had many differences with the Jews, and have suffered from war and persecution from many groups up to the twenty-first century.


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