Territory of Samaria



There is very little definite data on the boundaries of the territory of Samaria. Usually it is considered as the land occupied by the tribes of Ephraim and W Manasseh. Geographically, the S boundary is the road that goes from Jericho to Bethel and then descends via the valley of Aijalon to the Mediterranean. The N boundary consists of Mt. Carmel and Mt. Gilboa and the hills that connect these two bastions. The Mediterranean is the W boundary with the Jordan on the E. Both Shechem and the city of Samaria are near the center of the area, with Samaria more to the N and W. The area made its wealth from its productive farm lands and its international trade routes.

The natural produce included grains and olives and the fruit of vineyards and orchards, plus flocks and herds. Samaria always had a good produce market in nearby commercial Phoen. Note the economic-political marriage between Ahab and Jezebel. It was to the benefit of commerce that both the N-S roads, one along the coast and one along the high ridge, went through the territory of Samaria. There were three roads running E and W. The S road went from Jericho to Bethel to the Mediterranean. The center highway had a much better grade through a natural pass at Shechem between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. The N road was a continuation of the coast road, where it cut across the plain of Dothan to Jenin and down through the vale of Jezreel to the Jordan River at Beth-shan (later called Scythopolis). Most of the land commerce between Egypt and Syria went through the district of Samaria.

Political history.

The use of “Samaritan” as a political term came only after the conquest of Samaria by the Assyrian Sargon II in 721 b.c. The only OT use of the word in the sense of the “territory of Samaria” is in 2 Kings 17:29. Sargon made it into the province of Samerena. His records specifically speak of 27,290 persons being deported from the capital city of Samaria. He apparently took prisoners from other cities, since he settled large numbers of deportees in the province of Samaria, taking them from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sephar-vaim (2 Kings 17:24). Later deportees were also settled in the province by Esar-haddon and his son Ashurbanipal, i.e. Osnappar (Ezra 4:2, 10). The basic population of the land, however, remained essentially Israelite, for not a single permanent feature of any of the religions practiced by the colonists influenced the Samaritan faith.

When the Assyrian empire weakened, Josiah tried to annex the Samaritan territory but he lost it to his military rival Pharaoh Necho. The latter, however, soon lost it in turn to Nebuchadnezzar, who seems to have incorporated this old Assyrian province into his own Babylonian empire in 612 b.c. At that time the province reached as far S as Bethel, for that city was spared when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 587 b.c. Apparently he then added this new area around Jerusalem to the old Samaritan province. The Persians seemed to have continued the same provincial policy as the Babylonians, for Sanballat was politically in charge of this area until Nehemiah reduced its size slightly by making the Jerusalem section into a semi-independent political unit under the high priests.

Historical evidence concerning the province of Samaria between the Restoration under Nehemiah and the era of Alexander the Great is scanty. Josephus recorded a number of interesting stories relating to Alexander in Pal., but most historians reject them as fiction. It is known, however, that Alexander pensioned off some of his soldiers from the Tyre campaign at the city of Samaria. The Gr. general whom he left in charge of the district of Samaria was murdered by the local people. After that the city was severely punished, and apparently the Samaritan population was uprooted, for afterward the city seemed to be essentially Gr. The details have been confirmed by recent archeological findings. Shechem became the only major Samaritan city. The southern half of the province of Samaria seems always to have continued in the Samaritan faith. Paganism apparently prevailed in the northern half of the province around the capital city itself.

Ptolemy carried prisoners to Alexandria from both the Jews and the Samaritans. Both of these religious groups continued to be important in that city, even through NT times. Antiochus Epiphanes seems not to have bothered the Samaritans unless 2 Maccabees 6:2 is correct where it implies that he rededicated the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim to Zeus Xenios. Since he had no fighting with the Samaritans, this may well be incorrect, as the Samaritans at all other times, so far as is known, were fanatical whenever Mt. Gerizim was profaned. He would, of course, put a governor in Mt. Gerizim (2 Macc 5:23).

The province of Samaria first appeared in the Maccabaean story when the Seleucid Demetrius rewarded Jonathan for lifting the siege of the Acra in Jerusalem by giving him three districts of Samaria: Ephraim, Lydda, and Ramathaim.

By 128 b.c. John Hyrcanus was strong enough to capture Shechem and Mt. Gerizim and to destroy the Samaritan temple there. As the capital city of Samaria was a strong Gr. fortress, it was able to hold off the Jewish forces for a year before it fell. Scythopolis was the next city to be captured, and with its fall the entire province of Samaria was in Jewish hands.

When Pompey captured Pal. he annexed the city of Samaria to the province of Syria. And the Samaritans again became the local power in the district. The history of Samaria in NT times is treated under Samaritans (q.v.). In NT times Samaria extended from the free cities of Scythopolis and Jenin on the N to a line c. fifteen m. S of Shechem.


J. A. Montgomery, “The Samaritans—the Earliest Jewish Sect, Their History, Theology and Literature” (1907).