Easton's Bible Dictionary
a watch-mountain or a watch-tower.
In the heart of the mountains of Israel, a few miles north-west of Shechem, stands
the "hill of Shomeron," a solitary mountain, a great "mamelon." It is an oblong
hill, with steep but not inaccessible sides, and a long flat top. Omri, the king
of Israel, purchased this hill from Shemer its owner for two talents of silver,
and built on its broad summit the city to which he gave the name of "Shomeron",
i.e., Samaria, as the new capital of his kingdom instead of Tirzah ( 1
Kings 16:24 ). As such it possessed many advantages. Here Omri resided during
the last six years of his reign. As the result of an unsuccessful war with Syria,
he appears to have been obliged to grant to the Syrians the right to "make streets
in Samaria", i.e., probably permission to the Syrian merchants to carry on their
trade in the Israelite capital. This would imply the existence of a considerable
Syrian population. "It was the only great city of Palestine created by the sovereign.
All the others had been already consecrated by patriarchal tradition or previous
possession. But Samaria was the choice of Omri alone. He, indeed, gave to the
city which he had built the name of its former owner, but its especial connection
with himself as its founder is proved by the designation which it seems Samaria
bears in Assyrian inscriptions, Beth-khumri ('the house or palace of Omri')."
Samaria was frequently besieged. In the days of Ahab, Benhadad II. came up against
it with thirty-two vassal kings, but was defeated with a great slaughter ( 1
Kings 20:1 - 21
). A second time, next year, he assailed it; but was again utterly routed, and
was compelled to surrender to Ahab ( 1
Kings 20:28 - 34
), whose army, as compared with that of Benhadad, was no more than "two little
flocks of kids."
In the days of Jehoram this Benhadad again laid siege to Samaria, during which
the city was reduced to the direst extremities. But just when success seemed to
be within their reach, they suddenly broke up the seige, alarmed by a mysterious
noise of chariots and horses and a great army, and fled, leaving their camp with
all its contents behind them. The famishing inhabitants of the city were soon
relieved with the abundance of the spoil of the Syrian camp; and it came to pass,
according to the word of Elisha, that "a measure of fine flour was sold for a
shekel, and two measures of barely for a shekel, in the gates of Samaria" ( 2
Kings 7:1 - 20
Shalmaneser invaded Israel in the days of Hoshea, and reduced it to vassalage.
He laid siege to Samaria (B.C. 723), which held out for three years, and was at
length captured by Sargon, who completed the conquest Shalmaneser had begun (
Kings 18:9 - 12
), and removed vast numbers of the tribes into captivity. (See SARGON .)
This city, after passing through various vicissitudes, was given by the emperor
Augustus to Herod the Great, who rebuilt it, and called it Sebaste (Greek form
of Augustus) in honour of the emperor. In the New Testament the only mention of
it is in Acts
8:5 - 14
, where it is recorded that Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached
It is now represented by the hamlet of Sebustieh, containing about three hundred
inhabitants. The ruins of the ancient town are all scattered over the hill, down
the sides of which they have rolled. The shafts of about one hundred of what must
have been grand Corinthian columns are still standing, and attract much attention,
although nothing definite is known regarding them. (Compare Micah
In the time of Christ, Western Palestine was divided into three provinces, Judea,
Samaria, and Galilee. Samaria occupied the centre of Palestine ( John
4:4 ). It is called in the Talmud the "land of the Cuthim," and is not regarded
as a part of the Holy Land at all.
It may be noticed that the distance between Samaria and Jerusalem, the respective
capitals of the two kingdoms, is only 35 miles in a direct line.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(1) The City
(watch mountain) This city is situated 30 miles north
of Jerusalem and about six miles to the northwest of Shechem, in a wide basin-shaped
valley, six miles in diameter, encircled with high hills, almost on the edge of
the great plain which borders upon the Mediterranean. In the centre of this basin,
which is on a lower level than the valley of Shechem, rises a less elevated hill,
with steep yet accessible sides and a long fiat top. This hill was chosen by Omri
as the site of the capital of the kingdom of Israel. He "bought the hill of Samaria
of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name
of the city which he built, after the name of the owner of the hill, Samaria."
( 1 Kings 16:23 , 16:24 ) From the that of Omris purchase, B.C. 925, Samaria retained
its dignity as the capital of the ten tribes, and the name is given to the northern
kingdom as well as to the city. Ahab built a temple to Baal there. ( 1 Kings 16:32
, 16:33 ) It was twice besieged by the Syrians, in B.C. 901, ( 1 Kings 20:1 )
and in B.C. 892, ( 2 Kings 6:24 - 7 ; 6:20 ) but on both occasions the siege was
ineffectual. The possessor of Samaria was considered de facto king of Israel.
( 2 Kings 15:13 , 15:14 ) In B.C. 721 Samaria was taken, after a siege of three
years, by Shalmaneser king of Assyria, ( 2 Kings 18:9 , 18:10 ) and the kingdom
of the ten tribes was put an end to. Some years afterward the district of which
Samaria was the centre was repeopled by Esarhaddon. Alexander the Great took the
city, killed a large portion of the inhabitants, and suffered the remainder to
set it at Shechem. He replaced them by a colony of Syro-Macedonians who occupied
the city until the time of John Hyrcanus, who took it after a years siege, and
did his best to demolish it entirely. (B.C. 109.) It was rebuilt and greatly embellished
by Herod the Great. He called it Sebaste=Augusta , after the name of his patron,
Augustus Caesar. The wall around it was 2 1/2 miles long, and in the centre of
the city was a park 900 feet square containing a magnificent temple dedicated
to Caesar. In the New Testament the city itself does not appear to be mentioned;
but rather a portion of the district to which, even in older times it had extended
its name. ( Matthew 10:5 ; John 4:4 , 4:5 ) At this clay the city is represented
by a small village retaining few vestiges of the past except its name, Sebustiyeh
, an Arabic corruption of Sebaste. Some architectural remains it has, partly of
Christian construction or adaptation, as the ruined church of St. John the Baptist,
partly, perhaps, traces of Idumaean magnificence, St. Jerome, whose acquaintance
with Palestine imparts a sort of probability to the tradition which prevailed
so strongly in later days, asserts that Sebaste, which he invariably identifies
with Samaria was the place in which St. John the Baptist was imprisoned and suffered
death. He also makes it the burial-place of the prophets Elisha and Obadiah.
(2) The Country
Samaria at first included all the tribes over which Jeroboam made himself king,
whether east or west of the river Jordan. ( 1 Kings 13:32 ) But whatever extent
the word might have acquired, it necessarily be came contracted as the limits
of the kingdom of Israel became contracted. In all probability the territory of
Simeon and that of Dan were very early absorbed in the kingdom of Judah. It is
evident from an occurrence in Hezekiahs reign that just before the deposition
and death of Hoshea, the last king of Israel, the authority of the king of Judah,
or at least his influence, was recognized by portions of Asher, Issachar and Zebulun
and even of Ephraim and Manasseh. ( 2 Chronicles 30:1 - 26 ) Men came from all
those tribes to the Passover at Jerusalem. This was about B.C. 728. Samaria (the
city) and a few adjacent cities or villages only represented that dominion which
had once extended from Bethel to Dan northward, and from the Mediterranean to
the borders of Syria and Ammon eastward. In New Testament times Sa maria was bounded
northward by the range of hills which commences at Mount Carmel on the west, and,
after making a bend to the southwest, runs almost due east to the valley of the
Jordan, forming the southern border of the plain of Esdraelon. It touched toward
the south, is nearly as possible, the northern limits of Benjamin. Thus it comprehended
the ancient territory of Ephraim and that of Manasseh west of Jordan. The Cuthaean
Samaritans, however, possessed only a few towns and villages of this large area,
and these lay almost together in the centre of the district. At Nablus the Samaritans
have still a settlement, consisting of about 200 persons. [SHECHEM]
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
sa-ma'-ri-a, (shomeron; Samareia, Semeron, and other
(1) The City
|(1) Shechem was the first capital of the Northern Kingdom
(1 Kings 12:25). Jeroboam seems later to have removed the royal residence to Tirzah
(1 Kings 14:17). After the brief reigns of Elah and Zimri came that of Omri, who
reigned 6 years in Tirzah, then he purchased the hill of Samaria and built a city
there, which was thenceforward the metropolis of the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings
16:24). Here the hill and the city are said to have been named after Shemer, the
original owner of the land. There is nothing intrinsically improbable in this.
It might naturally be derived from shamar, and the name in the sense of "outlook"
would fitly apply to a city in such a commanding position. The residence, it was
also the burying-place, of the kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:28 ; 22:37 ; 2 Kings
10:35 ; 13:9 , 13 ; 14:16).
Toward the western edge of the Ephraimite uplands there is a broad fertile hollow
called Wady esh-Sha'ir, "valley of barley." From the midst of it rises an oblong
hill to a height of over 300 ft., with a level top. The sides are steep, especially
to the Samaria. The greatest length is from East to West. The surrounding mountains
on three sides are much higher, and are well clad with olives and vineyards. To
the West the hills are lower, and from the crest a wide view is obtained over
the Plain of Sharon, with the yellow ribbon of sand that marks the coast line,
and the white foam on the tumbling billows; while away beyond stretch the blue
waters of the Mediterranean. On the eastern end of the hill, surrounded by olive
and cactus, is the modern village of Sebastiyeh, under which a low neck of land
connects the hill with the eastern slopes. The position is one of great charm
and beauty; and in days of ancient warfare it was one of remarkable strength.
While it was overlooked from three sides, the battlements crowning the steep slopes
were too far off to be reached by missiles from the only artillery known in those
times--the sling and the catapult. For besiegers to attempt an assault at arms
was only to court disaster. The methods adopted by her enemies show that they
relied on famine to do their work for them (2 Kings 6:24, etc.). Omri displayed
excellent taste and good judgment in the choice he made.
The city wall can be traced in almost its entire length. Recent excavations conducted
by American archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of Omri's palace, with
remains of the work of Ahab and of Herod (probably here was Ahab's ivory palace),
on the western end of the hill, while on the western slope the gigantic gateway,
flanked by massive towers, has been exposed to view.
Under the influence of Jezebel, Samaria naturally became a center of idolatrous
worship. Ahab "reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had
built in Samaria. And Ahab made the Asherah" (1 Kings 16:32). Jehoram his son
put away the pillar of Baal (2 Kings 3:2), and within the temple Jehu made an
end at once of the instruments of idolatry and of the priests (2 Kings 10:19).
There are many prophetic references to the enormities practiced here, and to their
inevitable consequences (Isaiah 8:4 ; 9:9 ; 10:9 ; 28:1 ; 36:19 ; Jeremiah 23:13
; Ezekiel 23:4 ; Hosea 7:1 ; 13:16 ; Amos 3:12 ; Micah 1:6, etc.).
Under pressure of Damascus Omri conceded to the Syrians the right to "make streets
in Samaria" (1 Kings 20:34).
Ben-hadad II besieged the city, but suffered ignominious defeat (1 Kings 20:1
- 21; Josephus, Ant, VIII, xiv, 1 f). Persistent attempts by the Syrians to reach
the city in the time of Jehoram were frustrated by Elisha (2 Kings 6:8; Josephus,
Ant, IX, iv, 3). At length, however, Ben-hadad again invested the city, and the
besieged were reduced to dire straits, in which, urged by famine, scenes of awful
horror were enacted (2 Kings 6:24). A mysterious panic seized the Syrians. Their
deserted camp was discovered by despairing lepers who carried the good news to
the famished citizens of the plenty to be found there. Probably in the throat
of the great western gateway occurred the crush in which the incredulous captain
was trampled to death (1 Kings 7; Josephus, Ant, IX, iv, 5).
Here the 70 sons of Ahab were slain by Jehu in the general destruction of the
house of Ahab (2 Kings 10:1). In Samaria, the Chronicler tells us, Ahaziah in
vain hid from Jehu (2 Chronicles 22:9; compare 2 Kings 9:27). Pekah brought hither
much spoil from Jerusalem and many captives, whom, at the instance of the prophet
Oded, he released (2 Chronicles 28). The siege of Samaria was begun by Shalmaneser
in the 7th year of Hoshea, and the city was finally taken by Sargon II at the
end of 3 years, 722 BC (2 Kings 17:5; 18:9; Ant, IX, xiv, 1). This marked the
downfall of the Northern Kingdom, the people being transported by the conqueror.
That this was not done in a thoroughgoing way is evident from the fact recorded
in the inscriptions that two years later the country had to be subdued again.
Colonists were brought from other parts to take the places of the exiles (2 Kings
17:24; Ezra 4:10). Alexander the Great took the city in 331 BC, killed many of
the inhabitants, and settled others in Shechem, replacing them with a colony of
Syro-Macedonians. He gave the adjoining country to the Jews (Apion, II, 4). The
city suffered at the hands of Ptolemy Lagi and Demetrius Poliorcetes, but it was
still a place of strength (Josephus, Ant, XIII, x, 2) when John Hyrcanus came
against it in 120 BC. It was taken after a year's siege, and the victor tried
to destroy the city utterly. His turning of the water into trenches to undermine
the foundations could only refer to the suburbs under the hill. From the only
two sources, 'Ain Harun and 'Ain Kefr Rima, to the East of the town, the water
could not rise to the hill. The "many fountains of water" which Benjamin of Tudela
says he saw on the top, from which water enough could be got to fill the trenches,
are certainly not to be seen today; and they have left no trace behind them. The
city was rebuilt by Pompey and, having again fallen under misfortune, was restored
by Gabinius (Josephus, Ant, XIV, iv, 4; v, 3; BJ, I, vii, 7; viii, 4). To Herod
it owed the chief splendor of its later days. He extended, strengthened and adorned
it on a scale of great magnificence, calling it Sebaste (= Augusta) in honor of
the emperor, a name which survives in the modern Sebastiyeh. A temple also was
dedicated to Caesar. Its site is probably marked by the impressive flight of steps,
with the pedestal on which stood the gigantic statue of Augustus, which recent
excavations have revealed. The statue, somewhat mutilated, is also to be seen.
Another of Herod's temples West of the present village was cleared out by the
same explorers. The remains of the great double-columned street, which ran round
the upper terrace of the hill, bear further testimony to the splendor of this
great builder's work (Josephus, Ant, XV, vii, 3; viii, 5; BJ, I, xxi, 2). It was
here that Herod killed perhaps the only human being whom he ever really loved,
his wife Mariamne. Here also his sons perished by his hand (Josephus, Ant, XV,
vii, 5-7; XVI, iii, 1-3; xi, 7).
It is commonly thought that this city was the scene of Philip's preaching and
the events that followed recorded in Acts 8, but the absence of the definite article
in 8:5 makes this doubtful. A Roman colony was settled here by Septimius Severus.
From that time little is known of the history of the city; nor do we know to what
the final castastrophe was due. It became the seat of a bishopric and was represented
in the councils of Nicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon. Its bishop attended the
Synod of Jerusalem in 536 AD.
The Church of John, a Crusading structure beside the modern village, is now a
Moslem mosque. It is the traditional burying-place of John the Baptist's body.
(2) The Samareia:
A town mentioned in 1 Macc 5:66 as on the route followed by Judas from the district
of Hebron to the land of the Philistines. The name is probably a clerical error.
The margin reads Marisa, and probably the place intended is Mareshah, the site
of which is at Tell Sandachannah, about a mile South of Belt Jibrin.
(2) the Country
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 Kings 13:32 ; Jeremiah
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 Chronicles 5:26).
Judah probably soon absorbed the territory of Da 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 (Jeremiah 23:13 ; Hosea 7:1, etc.). The
Assyrians came as the scourge of God (2 Kings 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 Kings 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 Kings 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 Kings 23:19 ; 2 Chronicles 34:6). Here also must have been that "remnant
of Israel," Manasseh and Ephraim, who contributed for the repair of the house
of God (2 Chronicles 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 (Ezra 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
Kings 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 Chronicles
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 (Jeremiah 41:5). Once the people of the country are called
Samaritans (2 Kings 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 (Ezra 4:1 , 3). Highly offended, the latter sought to frustrate the
purpose of the Jews (Ezra 4:4 ; Nehemiah 4:7 ; 1 Esdras 2:16). 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" (Ezra 4:12). Perhaps also they may be referred to in Ezra 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,
Samaria, with Palestine, 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
beth-khumri, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, city, country, israel capital, land of the cuthim, omri purchased for two talents of silver, samaria, sebaste, sebustieh, shemer, shomeron