Samar’itans. Strictly speaking, a Samaritan would be an inhabitant of the city of Samaria; but the term was applied to all the people of the kingdom of Israel. After the captivity of Israel, b.c. 721, and in our Lord’s time, the name was applied to a peculiar people whose origin was in this wise: At the final captivity of Israel by Shalmaneser, we may conclude that the cities of Samaria were not merely partially but wholly depopulated of their inhabitants in b.c. 721, and that they remained in this desolated state until, in the words of 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava (Ivah, 2 Kings 18:34), and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” Thus the new Samaritans were Assyrians by birth or subjugation. These strangers, whom we will now assume to have been placed in “the cities of Samaria” by Esar-haddon, were of course idolaters, and worshipped a strange medley of divinities. God’s displeasure was kingdled, and they were annoyed by beasts of prey, which had probably increased to a great extent before their entrance upon the land. On their explaining their miserable condition to the king of Assyria, he despatched one of the captive priests to teach them “how they should fear the Lord.” The priest came accordingly, and henceforth, in the language of the sacred historian they “feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.” 2 Kings 17:41. A gap occurs in their history until Judah has returned from captivity. They then desire to be allowed to participate in the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem; but on being refused, the Samaritans throw off the mask, and become open enemies, frustrate the operations of the Jews through the reigns of two Persian kings, and are only effectually silenced in the reign of Darius Hystaspes, b.c. 519. The feud thus unhappily begun grew year by year more inveterate. Matters at length came to a climax. About b.c. 409, a certain Manasseh, a man of priestly lineage, on being expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage, obtained permission from the Persian king of his day, Darius Nothus, to build a temple on Mount Gerizim for the Samaritans, with whom he had found refuge. The animosity of the Samaritans became more intense than ever. They are said to have done everything in their power to annoy the Jews. Their own temple on Gerizim they considered to be much superior to that at Jerusalem. There they sacrificed a passover. Toward the mountain, even after the temple on it had fallen, wherever they were they directed their worship. To their copy of the law they arrogated an antiquity and authority greater than attached to any copy in the possession of the Jews. The law (i.e., the five books of Moses) was their sole code; for they rejected every other book in the Jewish canon. The Jews, on the other hand, were not more conciliatory in their treatment of the Samaritans. Certain other Jewish renegades had from time to time taken refuge with the Samaritans; hence by degrees the Samaritans claimed to partake of Jewish blood, especially if doing so happened to suit their interest. Very far were the Jews from admitting this claim to consanguinity on the part of these people. The traditional hatred in which the Jew held the Samaritan is expressed in Ecclus. 50:25, 26. Such were the Samaritans of our Lord’s day; a people distinct from the Jews, though lying in the very midst of the Jews; a people preserving their identity, though seven centuries had rolled away since they had been brought from Assyria by Esar-haddon, and though they had abandoned their polytheism for a sort of ultra Mosaicism; a people who, though their limits had gradually contracted, and the rallying-place of their religion on Mount Gerizim had been destroyed one hundred and sixty years before by John Hyreanus (b.c. 130), and though Samaria (the city) had been again and again destroyed, still preserved their nationality, still worshipped from Shechem and their impoverished settlements toward their sacred hill, still retained their peculiar religion, and could not coalesce with the Jews.
Ruins of the Temple of Manasseh, Samaria.