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שֹׁומְרוֹן, السامرة
Hills near the ruins of Samaria
Hills near the ruins of Samaria
Coordinates: 32°16′N 35°11′E / 32.267°N 35.183°E / 32.267; 35.183Coordinates: 32°16′N 35°11′E / 32.267°N 35.183°E / 32.267; 35.183
Part ofWest Bank, Palestine
Highest elevation
(Tall Asur (Ba'al Hazor))
1,016 m (3,333 ft)

Samaria (/səˈmɛəriə/;[1] Hebrew: שֹׁמְרוֹן, romanizedŠōmrōn, Arabic: السامرة, romanizedas-Sāmirah) is the ancient, historic biblical name used for the central region of the Land of Israel, bordered by Judea to the south and Galilee to the north.[2][3] The first-century historian Josephus set the Mediterranean Sea as its limit to the west, and the Jordan River as its limit to the east.[3] Its territory largely corresponds to the biblical allotments of the tribe of Ephraim and the western half of Manasseh; after the death of Solomon and the splitting-up of his empire into the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel, this territory constituted the southern part of the Kingdom of Israel.[2] The border between Samaria and Judea is set at the latitude of Ramallah.[4]

The name "Samaria" is derived from the ancient city of Samaria, capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel.[5][6][7] The name Samaria likely began being used for the entire kingdom not long after the town of Samaria had become Israel's capital, but it is first documented after its conquest by Sargon II of Assyria, who turned the kingdom into the province of Samerina.[5]

Samaria was used to describe the northern midsection of the land in the UN Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. It became the administrative term in 1967, when the West Bank was defined by Israeli officials as the Judea and Samaria Area,[8] of which the entire area north of the Jerusalem District is termed as Samaria. In 1988, Jordan ceded its claim of the area to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).[9] In 1994, control of Areas 'A' (full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority) and 'B' (Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli–Palestinian security control) were transferred by Israel to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority and the international community do not recognize the term "Samaria"; in modern times, the territory is generally known as part of the West Bank.[10]


Map of Samaria by J.G. Bartholomew in 1894 book by George Adam Smith

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew name "Shomron" (Hebrew: שֹׁומְרוֹן) is derived from the individual (or clan) Shemer (Hebrew: שמר), from whom King Omri (ruled 880s–870s BCE) purchased the hill on which he built his new capital city of Shomron (Samaria; 1 Kings 16:24).[11]

The fact that the mountain was called Shomeron when Omri bought it may indicate that the correct etymology of the name is to be found more directly, in the Semitic root for "guard", hence its initial meaning would have been "watch mountain". In the earlier cuneiform inscriptions, Samaria is designated under the name of "Bet Ḥumri" ("the house of Omri"); but in those of Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745–727 BCE) and later it is called Samirin, after its Aramaic name,[12] Shamerayin.[6]

Historical boundaries

Northern kingdom to Hellenistic period

In Nelson's Encyclopaedia (1906-1934), the Samaria region in the three centuries following the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, i.e. during the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian periods, is described as a "province" that "reached from the [Mediterranean] sea to the Jordan Valley".[13]

Roman-period definition

The classical Roman-Jewish historian Josephus wrote:

(4) Now as to the country of Samaria, it lies between Judea and Galilee; it begins at a village that is in the great plain called Ginea, and ends at the Acrabbene toparchy, and is entirely of the same nature with Judea; for both countries are made up of hills and valleys, and are moist enough for agriculture, and are very fruitful. They have abundance of trees, and are full of autumnal fruit, both that which grows wild, and that which is the effect of cultivation. They are not naturally watered by many rivers, but derive their chief moisture from rain-water, of which they have no want; and for those rivers which they have, all their waters are exceeding sweet: by reason also of the excellent grass they have, their cattle yield more milk than do those in other places; and, what is the greatest sign of excellency and of abundance, they each of them are very full of people. (5) In the limits of Samaria and Judea lies the village Anuath, which is also named Borceos. This is the northern boundary of Judea.[3]

During the first century, the boundary between Samaria and Judea passed eastward of Antipatris, along the deep valley which had Beth Rima (today's Beit Rima) and Beth Laban (today's Al-Lubban al-Gharbi) on its southern, Judean bank; then it passed Anuath and Borceos, identified by Charles William Wilson (1836–1905) as the ruins of ’Aina and Khirbet Berkit; and reached the Jordan Valley north of Acrabbim and Sartaba.[14] Mount Hazor also stands at that boundary.


To the north, the area known as the hills of Samaria is bounded by the Jezreel Valley; to the east, by the Jordan Rift Valley; to the northwest, by the Carmel Ridge; to the west, by the Sharon plain; and to the south, by the Jerusalem mountains.[15][dubious ]

The Samarian hills are not very high, seldom reaching the height of over 800 meters. Samaria's climate is more hospitable than the climate further south.

There is no clear division between the mountains of southern Samaria and northern Judea.[2]


Hills of Samaria, near Yitzhar
Site of Dothan where, according to the Book of Genesis, Joseph was sold by his brethren

Over time, the region has been controlled by numerous different civilizations, including Canaanites, Israelites, Neo-Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Seleucids, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks.[16]

Israelite tribes and kingdoms

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites captured the region known as Samaria from the Canaanites and assigned it to the Tribe of Joseph. The southern part of Samaria was then known as Mount Ephraim. After the death of King Solomon (c. 931 BC), the northern tribes, including Ephraim and Menashe, separated from the southern tribes and established the separate Kingdom of Israel. Initially its capital was Tirzah until the time of King Omri (c. 884 BC), who built the city of Samaria and made it his capital. Samaria was the capital of Israel until its fall to the Assyrians. It was condemned by the Hebrew prophets for its "ivory houses" and luxury palaces displaying pagan riches.[17]

Assyrian period

In 726–722 BC, the new king of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, invaded the land and besieged the city of Samaria. After an assault of three years, the city fell and much of its population was taken into captivity and deported.[18] Little documentation exists for the period between the fall of Samaria and the end of the Assyrian Empire.[19][20] It seems likely that many returned in 715 BC due to slave revolts that Assyrian king Sargon was enduring.[21] Tremper Longman III suggests that Ezra 4:2, 9–10 implies that later Assyrian kings also returned more Israelites to Samaria.[22]

After the destruction of Israel, the Samaritans emerged as an ethnoreligious group in the region of Samaria, claiming descent from the Israelites. With their temple on Mount Gerizim, they continued to thrive for centuries.[23]

Ruins of the ancient Israelite palace in the city of Samaria, built by the Omride dynasty

According to the Jewish version of events, when the Judean exile ended in 539 BCE and the exiles began returning home from Babylon, Samaritans found their former homeland of the north populated by other people who claimed the land as their own and Jerusalem, their former glorious capital, in ruins. The inhabitants worshiped the Pagan gods, but when the then-sparsely populated areas became infested with dangerous wild beasts, they appealed to the king of Assyria for Israelite priests to instruct them on how to worship the "God of that country." The result was a syncretistic religion, in which national groups worshiped the Israelite God, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.

The Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel who were descendants of the "Ten Lost Tribes" taken into Assyrian captivity. They had their own sacred precinct on Mount Gerizim and claimed that it was the original sanctuary. Moreover, they claimed that their version of the Pentateuch was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text produced by Ezra during the Babylonian exile. Today, most scholars believe the Samaritans were a blend of Israelites with other nationalities whom the Assyrians had resettled in the area.[24]

Babylonian and Persian periods

Persian Achaemenid coin minted in Samaria, dated c. 375–333 BC. Left; Persian satrap holding lance and reins on horseback, Aramaic inscription BDYḤBL below. Right; satrap and drived in chariot
drawn by two horses
Persian Achaemenid coin minted in Samaria, dated c. 375–333 BC. Left; a seated Persian wearing tiara and holding bird. Right; Persian king standing, holding dagger and bull by its horn, flanked by an Aramaic
inscription which reads ŠMRY

According to many scholars, archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim indicate that a Samaritan temple was built there in the first half of the 5th century BCE.[25] The date of the schism between Samaritans and Jews is unknown, but by the early 4th century BCE the communities seem to have had distinctive practices and communal separation.[citation needed] Much of the anti-Samaritan polemic in the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical texts (such as Josephus) originate from this point and on.[26]

Hellenistic and Roman periods

During the Hellenistic period, Samaria was largely divided between a Hellenizing faction based around the town of Samaria and a pious faction in Shechem and surrounding rural areas, led by the High Priest. Samaria was a largely autonomous state nominally dependent on the Seleucid Empire until around 113 BCE, when the Jewish Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple and devastated Samaria.[27] Only a few stone remnants of the Samaritan temple exist today.

In 6 CE, Samaria became part of the Roman province of Iudaea, following the death of King Herod the Great.

New Testament references

The New Testament mentions Samaria in Luke 17:11–20, in the miraculous healing of the ten lepers, which took place on the border of Samaria and Galilee. John 4:1–26 records Jesus' encounter at Jacob's Well with the woman of Sychar, in which he declares himself to be the Messiah. In Acts 8:1 it is recorded that the early community of disciples of Jesus began to be persecuted in Jerusalem and were 'scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria'. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached and healed the sick there.[28] In the time of Jesus, Iudaea of the Romans was divided into the toparchies of Judea, Samaria, Galilee and the Paralia. Samaria occupied the centre of Iudaea (John 4:4). (Iudaea was later renamed Syria Palaestina in 135, following the Bar Kokhba revolt.) In the Talmud, Samaria is called the "land of the Cuthim".

Byzantine, Early Muslim, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods

The Samaritan population shrunk significantly in the wake of the bloody suppression of the Samaritan Revolts (mainly in 525 CE and 555 CE) against the Byzantine Empire; conversions to Christianity under the Byzantines and later to Islam following the Muslim conquest of the Levant also reduced their numbers significantly.[29][30] By the mid-Middle Ages, the Jewish writer and explorer Benjamin of Tudela estimated that only around 1,900 Samaritans remained in Palestine and Syria.[31]

British Mandate

During the

Jordanian period

As a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, most of the territory was unilaterally incorporated as Jordanian-controlled territory, and was administered as part of the West Bank (west of the Jordan river).

Israeli administration

The Jordanian-held West Bank was captured and has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. Jordan ceded its claims in the West Bank (except for certain prerogatives in Jerusalem) to the PLO in November 1988, later confirmed by the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace of 1994. In the 1994 Oslo accords, the Palestinian Authority was established and given responsibility for the administration over some of the territory of West Bank (Areas 'A' and 'B').

Samaria is one of several standard statistical districts utilized by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.[34] "The Israeli CBS also collects statistics on the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza District. It has produced various basic statistical series on the territories, dealing with population, employment, wages, external trade, national accounts, and various other topics."[35] The Palestinian Authority however use Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Salfit, Ramallah and Tubas governorates as administrative centers for the same region.