Where did the Samaritans come from?

The Samaritans are really fascinating to me. They use the older, more Canaanite looking writing system rather than the well-known Aramaic writing system of Hebrew today. Their dialect of Hebrew is very different from standard Biblical Hebrew. Whent they speak Modern Israeli Hebrew, they retain more of the Semitic phonology than do other Israelis. They have different halachic interpretations than the Jews - for example, their mezuzah isn’t rolled up into a small container and attached to the doorpost but rather framed and hung up above the lintel. They still practice animal sacrifice but they don’t wear tzitzit or tallitot or anything like that. They build year-round booths in their houses rather than once a year on Sukkot. They don’t believe in the Jerusalem Temple but they believe in the Temple on Mt. Gerizim where they have many legends about Adam and Eve meeting there, Abraham almost sacrificing his son there, etc. They accept only Torah and reject Nevi’im and Ketuvim.

Now, I’ve only read some basic articles on their origins but I can’t quite sort it out in my head. The Jews claim something different from what the Samaritans claim and scholars themselves have even more theories and are divided on the origins of the Samaritan community. Some theories include:

*]descendants of the Israelites left over from the destruction of the North Kingdom who interbred with the Assyrian colonists that were imported in
*]descendants of the Judaeans that were not taken into exile and who were rejected when the exiles returned under the Persian king Cyrus and who in turn rejected the returning exiles claiming that the exiles religion had been corrupted
*]a group of people who separated from the rest of the Israelites during the period of the Judges and set up their own place of worship and their own illicit priesthood on Mt. Gerizim

The second one seems to really fit in with what we know about pre-exilic Israelite religion and how it differs from post-exilic Judaism… but among scholars who date the compilation of the entire Torah to exilic or post-exilic times, I can see how this theory is problematic since even the Samaritans accept the entire Torah as is (albeit several key textual differences regarding the Temple, etc.)

I’d really like to know - where did they come from!? Does anyone know what the most current, up-to-date scholarship says on the issue?

As far as interbreeding goes, the Judeans did quite a bit of that too. The ancestry of Jesus is a very good indicator of that.

The overriding issue is that the Hebrews were Henotheists, not Monotheists. They did believe there were other gods, they just were not supposed to worship any others. One can see how this can play out in mixed marriages. Since the Canaanites were not actually exterminated (as might be supposed) the communities were filled with people who believed in many gods and worshiped several, and neighbors who also believed in many gods but worshiped just one of them.

King David was king of Judea first, then elected to be the king of all Israel, so it was something like a dual monarchy. One of his acts to centralize power was to make the Canaanite city of Jerusalem his capital, and remove the Ark to a location in that city. Then he restricted worship to that one location, he used religion as a control mechanism, and the other local worship sites scattered around were suppressed.

But the tradition of temple worship was already well established across the kingdom. The Canaanites had very similar worship practices to the Hebrews, which is why Solomon was able to employ Phoenicians (Canaanites) to build the temple, they knew just what was needed.

When the kingdom of Judea and the kingdom of Israel separated, naturally they wanted their own temple, in fact they had two approved worship sites. So then legally there were three temples all worshiping Yahweh, but the overall community in both kingdoms was still henotheist.

The ‘Jews’ (Hebrews from Judea) did not become definitely monotheists until after the Babylonian exile, and then this was essentially the community leaders and upper classes whom had been removed. When they had permission to return to Jerusalem decades later they found the local population a generally dispirited lot, which had to be catechized. This was also when the locals were commanded to abandon their foreign or mostly ‘Canaanite’ wives. The temple to the north was not making this demand.

The Hebrew temple at Mt Gerezim to the north had never ceased functioning, so there was a rivalry between the two groups for a following among the locals. That pretty much sums up the different origins of the Samaritans and Jews. It seems that there was very little difference between a Jew and a Samaritan in those days, except for location.

Today the small Samaritan group is monotheist, just like the modern Jewish community.

It is interesting that among the Jews a belief in an afterlife for ordinary people came later (among the Pharisees), and that the for Jewish Sadducees (who controlled the temple) and the Samaritans there was no dogma of an afterlife, which reflects their common early Hebrew understanding.

Here is the scriptural reference to the transport of Assyrians to Samaria. One can see why there was a bias against Samaritans by the descendants of Judah in the days of Jesus Christ. (2 Kings 17:22-41)

22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

Assyria Resettles Samaria
24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.”

27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord.**

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of
Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.**

After the Northern Israelites were banished to Assyria in 721BC, the Assyrians resettled the area of Northern Israel with other nationalities. Over time, these settlers interbred with the remnants of the Israelites and were called “Samaritans” because their territory included the former Israelite capital Samaria.

After Judah had gone to Babylon and returned (405BC), they shunned the Samaritans because they were “half breeds”, and post exilic Judaism was all about separation and the law. (Phariseeism derived it’s name from the Hebrew word for separation).


I am amazed that they still exist-- did not suffer that much in 70 AD, and retained their distinct identity under Muslim rule.

Yes, they do have an amazing history and identity. When one thinks of the woman at the well, and the parable of the Good Samaritan, one knows that God is with them.

On the other hand, Simon Magus was the Samaritan who tried to purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit from the apostle Peter. Simon Magus later became the ‘father’ of all gnostic heresies.

Yet, Justin Martyr was a Samaritan who was converted to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. One can only imagine what difficulty he had in his dialogue with Trypho the Jewish man. This dialogue occurred around 135 AD and Justin was attempting to convince Trypho of the truth of the Messiah. By that time, the heresies of the gnostics had taken root and they did not leave a favorable impressions with Trypho. In fact, Justin Martyr even speaks about this Simon Magus and his successors and the scandal they had caused to the Christian faith.

Very interesting subject are the Samaritans.

Thanks for all the information even if you all still seemed to be giving contradictory answers. :stuck_out_tongue:

Ahh, another person fascinated by the Samaritans. :slight_smile:

The truth is their origins are not known with certainty. The OT certainly contains one account of their origins, certainly the “official” Jewish view. I’ve not heard Hesychios’s account before, but it doesn’t sound far fetched.
In reality it happened so long ago and there is so little recorded that we’ll never know for sure, we can only guess based on the information we have available.

A while back I went searching for an English translation of the Samaritan Torah to see what it said and how it differed, but it doesn’t seem anyone has done such a translation.

There’s a really cool Youtube video on the Samaritans if anyone is interested:


They suffered greatly in several persecutions and wars.

The Jews made war on them and destroyed their temple at some point before Christ (don’t know when) and the open hostility was continuous. It seems likely that several of the early Christian communities were originally converted from among the Samaritans, so as the church grew the Samaritans probably shrank in numbers.

The later Christians barely tolerated them (and persecuted them at other times). Under Justinian they were legally barred from worshiping on their holy mountain and a church was built on the temple site.

I suppose the reason they have survived at all is because the early Muslims recognized them as ‘People of the Book’ like their Jewish cousins, but they would have been a smaller minority than either the Christians or the Jews in Palestine at the time of the Islamic conquest.

Do you have a source for that claim :confused:

Samaritans worship what they do not know per (John 4:19-24):
“Sir,” the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

I don’t know for sure about the Samaritans, but I would be willing to accept that claim.

The Sadducees (who were Jewish and controlled the temple) used only Torah. They were a more archaic form of Judaism, so there would probably be some additional similarities between the Jewish Sadducees and the Samaritans.

The Writings and Prophets distinguish the Pharisees among the Jews, who grew to be the largest party among the population of Jews. Jesus was a Pharisee.

Research I’ve done agrees that they only use the Torah.

I think what Jesus was saying is that they don’t truly know who God is - though they do worship him. The lack of the Nevi’im and Ketuvim seems to be verified by this, though not with certainty.

If I can find a source on their lack of use, I’ll try to remember to post it. I don’t have much time right at the moment.

This book review of Mr.Pummer’s book on the Samaritans list all the references to the Samaritans in the writings of Josephus, which are extensive.

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