Previous Next

Table of Contents


Sama’ria (watch mountain). This city is situated 30 miles north of Jerusalem and about six miles to the northwest of Shechem, in a wide basin-shaped valley, six miles in diameter, encircled with high hills, almost on the edge of the great plain which borders upon the Mediterranean. In the center of this basin, which is on a lower level than the valley of Shechem, rises a less elevated oblong hill, with steep yet accessible sides and a long flat top. This hill was chosen by Omri as the site of the capital of the kingdom of Israel. He “bought the hill of Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of the owner of the hill, Samaria.” 1 Kings 16:23, 24. From the date of Omri’s purchase, b.c. 925, Samaria retained its dignity as the capital of the ten tribes, and the name is given to the northern kingdom as well as to the city. Ahab built a temple to Baal there. 1 Kings 16:32, 33. It was twice besieged by the Syrians, in b.c. 901, 1 Kings 20:1, and in b.c. 892, 2 Kings 6:24-7:20; but on both occasions the siege was ineffectual. The possessor of Samaria was considered de facto king of Israel. 2 Kings 15:13, 14. In b.c. 721 Samaria was taken, after a siege of three years, by Shalmaneser king of Assyria, 2 Kings 18:9, 10, and the kingdom of the ten tribes was put an end to. Some years afterward the district of which Samaria was the center was repeopled by Esarhaddon. Alexander the Great took the city, killed a large portion of the inhabitants, and suffered the remainder to settle at Shechem. He replaced them by a colony of Syro-Macedonians, who occupied the city until the time of John Hyrcanus, who took it after a year’s siege, and did his best to demolish it entirely. (b.c. 109.) It was rebuilt and greatly embellished by Herod the Great. He called it Sebaste=Augusta, after the name of his patron, Augustus Cæsar. The wall around it was 2½ miles long, and in the center of the city was a park 900 feet square, containing a magnificent temple dedicated to Cæsar. In the New Testament the city itself does not appear to be mentioned, but rather a portion of the district to which, even in older times, it had extended its name. Matt. 10:5; John 4:4, 5. At this day the city is represented by a small village retaining few vestiges of the past except its name, Sebustiyeh, an Arabic corruption of Sebaste. Some architectural remains it has, partly of Christian construction or adaptation, as the ruined church of St. John the Baptist, partly, perhaps, traces of Idumæan magnificence. St. Jerome, whose acquaintance with Palestine imparts a sort of probability to the tradition which prevailed so strongly in later days, asserts that Sebaste, which he invariably identifes with Samaria, was the place in which St. John the Baptist was imprisoned and suffered death. He also makes it the burial-place of the prophets Elisha and Obadiah.