Samaria

SAMARIA (sa-mâr'ĭ-a, Heb. shōmerôn, Gr. Samareia). The country of Samaria occupied a rough square of some forty miles (sixty-seven km.) north and south by thirty-five miles (fifty-eight km.) east and west. It was the territory occupied by the ten tribes led by Jeroboam, extending roughly from Bethel to Dan and from the Mediterranean to Syria and Ammon. The political and geographical frontiers are somewhat blurred. Sir George Adam Smith, after careful geographical and historical analysis, concludes: “The southern frontier...gradually receded from the Vale of Aijalon to the Wady Isher and ’Akrabbeh. The northern...lay from the Mediterranean to Jordan, along the southern edge of Esdraelon, by the foot of Carmel and Gilboa. If Carmel is shut off, the edge of Sharon may be taken as the western boundary; the eastern was Jordan...” (Historical Geography of the Holy Land, pp. 324-25; for detailed description see pp. 249-56). The earliest name for this section of the Palestinian uplands was Mount Ephraim (Josh.17.15; Josh.19.50; Judg.3.27; Judg.4.5).

Viewed from the sea, the area does, in fact, seem to be a unity. The western flank, generally poor country, falls away from the summits in a slope more gradual than that of the Judean highlands. Access is easy, and little history gathered around slopes that were so indefensible and sterile. Over the divide, the one conspicuous pass is that in which Shechem lies, between mounts Ebal and Gerizim. It crosses the range and merges into a valley swinging south to Jordan, dividing the eastern flank of Mount Ephraim into two portions, a bulwark of high country to the south and an open series of broad valleys to the north. “Plains, meadows, and spacious vales,” according to Sir G. A. Smith, were a remarkable feature within this highland mass, providing both gentle access and secluded pasturelands within. Hence the trend of Samaria’s history. The country was too open for successful defense. Hence, too, the chariot is mentioned frequently in the annals of the northern kingdom, and the surrounding paganism poured almost unrestricted into the life of the northern kingdom.

Extensive excavations were carried out here by G. Reisner, C. S. Fisher, and D. H. Lyon in 1908 and 1910-1911, and later by J. W. Crowfoot, K. Kenyon, and others in 1931-1935. Impressive remains of a palace from the time of Omri and Ahab have been found on the acropolis. Ostraca written in ancient Hebrew were found dating to the reign of Jeroboam II or Menahem, as well as numerous ivory plaques reminiscent of the “house of ivory” that Ahab built (1Kgs.22.39; Amos.3.15; Amos.6.4).

From the Hellenistic and Roman periods there were revealed large round towers in the city wall (one measuring sixty-three feet [twenty m.] in diameter). In the second century b.c. a new wall with square towers was built around the acropolis. In the Roman period the entire 170-acre city was surrounded by a wall, whose western gate with its two round towers forty-six feet (fourteen m.) in diameter still stand on the square bases of the Hellenistic period. A temple of Augustus, a hippodrome, and a forum, built by Herod the Great, and a small theater from the third century a.d. were found on the mound

For further details on Samaria, see Bethel; Shechem; Shiloh; Sychar.——EMB