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5.2 Samaria

Samaria is an ancient city and a state in Palestine. The city was located about 40 km (25 miles) Northwest of modern Jerusalem, Israel.


The city of Samaria was built on a hill overlooking a main road to Jerusalem, the capital of King David, by King Omri (reigned 876-869 BC), who made it the capital of his Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians conquered the region in the late 8th century BC, as recorded in 2 Kings 17:1-6, 24. They deported many of the inhabitants, replacing some of them with people from other conquered lands. The people of the region, thereafter known as Samaria, continued to practise a form of Judaism, and preserved the so-called Samaritan Pentateuch, that was probably based on an earlier text of the first five books of the Bible than is currently known in the Jewish Torah.

With the overthrow of the Assyrian Empire (609 BC), Samaria passed to the Babylonians and then to successive conquerors of Palestine. Under the Romans, the city was called Sebaste, and a modern village nearby preserves the name as Sebastiyeh or Sabastiya.

In the 1st century AD the Samaritans were disliked by the Jews, as is demonstrated by the Tale of the Good Samaritan, who helped a sick Jewish traveller after he had been bypassed by members of his own faith (Luke 10:30-37), and by the story of the conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria (John 4:5-42).

The site of the ancient city preserves the ruins of a colonnade from the 1st century BC, a temple to the Emperor Augustus, and other antiquities. Between 1908 and 1911 a team from Harvard University made important discoveries on the site, which was excavated in the 1930s and the 1960s by Palestinian archaeologists.

Modern Samaritans

A sect of Samaritans continues to practise a religion similar to that of the biblical Jews, with some admixture of Islam. Few in number, they inhabit an area around their ancient temple site of Mount Gerizim, near modern Nabulus, in the area now known as the West Bank. (11)