SAMARIA, COUNTRY OF
(shomeron; he Samareitis chora): The name of the city was transferred to the country of which it was the capital, so that Samaria became synonymous with the Northern Kingdom (1 Ki 13:32; Jer 31:5, etc.). The extent of territory covered by this appellation varied greatly at different periods. At first it included the land held by Israel East of the Jordan, Galilee and Mt. Ephraim, with the northern part of Benjamin. It was shorn of the eastern portion by the conquest of Tiglath-pileser (1 Ch 5:26). Judah probably soon absorbed the territory of Dan in the Samaria. In New Testament times Samaria had shrunk to still smaller dimensions. Then the country West of the Jordan was divided into three portions: Judea in the South, Galilee in the North, and Samaria in the middle. The boundaries are given in general terms by Josephus (BJ, III, iii, 1, 4, 5). The southern edge of the Plain of Esdraelon and the lands of Scythopolis, the city of the Decapolis West of the Jordan, formed the northern boundary. It reached South as far as the toparchy of Acrabatta (modern `Aqrabeh), while on the border between Samaria and Judea lay the villages of Annath and Borceos, the modern Khirbet `Aina and Berqit, about 15 miles South of Nablus. The Jordan of course formed the eastern boundary. On the West the coast plain as far as Acre belonged to Judea. The country thus indicated was much more open to approach than the high plateau of Judah with its steep rocky edges and difficult passes. The road from the North indeed was comparatively easy of defense, following pretty closely the line of the watershed. But the gradual descent of the land to the West with long, wide valleys, offered inviting avenues from the plain. The great trade routes, that to the fords of Jordan and the East, passing through the cleft in the mountains at Shechem, and those connecting Egypt with the North and the Northeast, traversed Samarian territory, and brought her into constant intercourse with surrounding peoples. The influence of the heathen religions to which she was thus exposed made a swift impression upon her, leading to the corruptions of faith and life that heralded her doom (Jer 23:13; Hos 7:1 ff, etc.). The Assyrians came as the scourge of God (2 Ki 17:5-23). Their attack centered on the capital. Shalmaneser began the siege, and after three years the city fell to Sargon II, his successor. With the fall of Samaria the kingdom came to an end. Following the usual Assyrian policy, great numbers of the inhabitants were deported from the conquered country, and their places taken by men brought from "Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath and Sepharvaim," cities which had already bowed to the Assyrian power (2 Ki 17:24).
It appears from the Assyrian inscriptions that the number carried away was 27,290. The number afterward deported from Judah was 200,000, and then the poorest of the land were left to be vinedressers and husbandmen (2 Ki 25:12). It is evident that a similar policy must have been followed in Samaria, as 27,290 could certainly not include the whole population of the cities and the country. But it would include the higher classes, and especially the priests from whom the victors would have most to fear. The population therefore after the conquest contained a large proportion of Israelites. It was no doubt among these that Josiah exercised his reforming energy (2 Ki 23:19 f; 2 Ch 34:6 f). Here also must have been that "remnant of Israel," Manasseh and Ephraim, who contributed for the repair of the house of God (2 Ch 34:9). These people, left without their religious guides, mingling with the heathen who had brought their gods and, presumably, their priests with them, were apt to be turned from the purity of their faith. A further importation of pagan settlers took place under Esar-haddon and Osnappar (Ezr 4:9,10). The latter is to be identified with Assur-bani-pal. What the proportions of the different elements in the population were, there is now no means of knowing. That there was some intermarriage is probable; but having regard to racial exclusiveness, we may suppose that it was not common. When the Jews deny to them any relation to Israel, and call them Cuthaeans, as if they were the descendants purely of the heathen settlers, the facts just mentioned should be borne in mind.
After the Assyrian conquest we are told that the people suffered from lions (2 Ki 17:25). Josephus (Ant., IX, xiv, 3) says "a plague seized upon them." In accordance with the ideas of the time, the strangers thought this due to the anger of the tutelary deity of the land, because they worshipped other gods in his territory, while neglecting him. Ignorant of his special ritual ("manner"), they petitioned the Assyrian king, who sent one (Josephus says "some") of the priests who had been carried away to teach them "how they should fear the Lord." How much is implied in this "fearing of the Lord" is not clear. They continued at the same time to serve their own gods. There is nothing to show that the Israelites among them fell into their idolatries. The interest of these in the temple at Jerusalem, the use of which they may now have shared with the Jews, is proved by 2 Ch 34:9. In another place we are told that four score men "from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria," evidently Israelites, were going up with their offerings to the house of the Lord (Jer 41:5). Once the people of the country are called Samaritans (2 Ki 17:29). Elsewhere this name has a purely religious significance.
Of the history of Samaria under Assyrian and Babylonian rulers we know nothing. It reappears at the return of the Jews under Persian auspices. The Jews refused the proffered assistance of the Samaritans in rebuilding the temple and the walls of Jerusalem (Ezr 4:1,3). Highly offended, the latter sought to frustrate the purpose of the Jews (Ezr 4:4 ff; Neh 4:7 ff; 1 Esdras 2:16 ff). That the Samaritans were accustomed to worship in Jerusalem is perhaps implied by one phrase in the letter sent to the Persian king: "The Jews that came up from thee are come to us unto Jerus" (Ezr 4:12). Perhaps also they may be referred to in Ezr 6:21. Idolatry is not alleged against the "adversaries." We can hardly err if we ascribe the refusal in some degree to the old antagonism between the North and the South, between Ephraim and Judah. Whatever the cause, it led to a wider estrangement and a deeper bitterness. For the history of the people and their temple on Gerizim, see SAMARITANS.
Samaria, with Israel, fell to Alexander after the battle of Issus. Antiochus the Great gave it to Ptolemy Epiphanes, as the dowry of his daughter Cleopatra (Josephus, Ant, XII, iv, 1). John Hyrcanus reduced and desolated the country (Josephus, BJ, I, ii, 6 f). After varying fortunes Samaria became part of the kingdom of Herod, at whose death it was given to Archelaus (Josephus, Ant, XVII, xi, 4; BJ, II, vi, 3). When Archelaus was banished it was joined to the Roman province of Syria (Josephus, Ant, XVII, xiii, 5; BJ, II, viii, 1).
Samaria is a country beautifully diversified with mountain and hill, valley and plain. The olive grows plentifully, and other fruit trees abound. There is much excellent soil, and fine crops of barley and wheat are reaped annually. The vine also is largely cultivated on the hill slopes. Remains of ancient forests are found in parts. As Josephus said, it is not naturally watered by many rivers, but derives its chief moisture from rain water, of which there is no lack (BJ, III, iii, 4). He speaks also of the excellent grass, by reason of which the cows yield more milk than those in any other place.
There is a good road connecting Nablus with Jaffa; and by a road not quite so good, it is now possible to drive a carriage from Jerusalem to Nazareth, passing through Samaria.