The Samaritans, Part 1.
April 30th, 2002
Received by H.
My dear brother:
Today I want to come back to an historical topic. In fact, we will speak about some parts of Old Testament history, but it is important to know these facts in order to be able to understand what the New Testament tells us about Jesus.
As you know, the country of Canaan, today known as Palestine, was gradually populated by several nomadic tribes who eventually managed to absorb and replace the ancient peoples who inhabited the area such as the Jebusites, the Amorrites, etc. Those nomads were the Hebrews.
The Bible tells us of the twelve tribes of Israel (the Hebrews) and their origin in Jacob’s (called Israel) twelve sons. But you understand that this is only for the purposes of giving a mythological explanation for the beginnings of this people.
I would also like to state on this occasion that an exodus, such as the Old Testament describes it, never happened. Perhaps we will find time in the future to talk about this subject.
After a few centuries of peaceful coexistence, and also of warlike conquests, these tribes joined together under one single king, called Sha’ul (Saul) in the Bible. However this union was not stable. Even under Sha’ul, his own son established another independent Kingdom in the north of the country. It is interesting to observe that king Sha’ul came from Binyamin (Benjamin), a weak and rather unimportant tribe, and only for that reason was he acceptable to the more powerful tribes.
The reason why the tribes decided to join their forces were the constant threats from the Philistines, a people who lived along the southern coast of Palestine, approximately in that area that is now known as the Gaza Strip. This people, of a non Semitic origin, were very advanced in their technology of iron working, inflicting in this way many painful defeats on the Israelites, who only had weapons of much softer brass.
But finally, the successor of Sha’ul, David, was able to definitively conquer those terrible opponents. This happened around the year 1000 before Christ, and this is very easy to memorize. Finally there was no necessity any longer for the tribes to live in a single country, recognizing an overall king from another tribe. But during David’s reign, the internal conflicts did not grow very noticeable, partly due, to be sure, to his politics of expansion, which transformed Israel into a powerful country, extending its domain up to the city of Damascus.
David’s son, the legendary King Shlomo (Solomon), famous for his riches and wisdom, dedicated himself more to trading than to warring. Of course, his wealth was fabulous, but not everything was the product of his successful joint venture expeditions with the neighboring king of the Phoenicians, but also of the high tributes required, which embittered the lives of his subjects. Shlomo definitely was an oriental-style despot and tyrant.
With Shlomo’s death, people hoped to find an opportunity to persuade the new king, Rekhav’am, Shlomo’s son, to rectify his father’s excesses. He, however, paid no attention at all to the petition, which lead to the rebellion of most of the tribes, and finally to the formation of a new independent state in the northern part of David’s old empire. Now there were two states in Palestine, the southern state, Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem and the king Rekhav’am, and Israel in the north, with its capital in Shekhem, and the king Yarov’am.
The Old Testament of the Bible may give you the wrong impression that the dominant religion in Palestine at that time was that monotheism which today is known as Judaism. However this is not correct. Monotheism did exist, but as the religion of an elite minority, backed strongly by the diverse prophets. But especially in the country, the worship places for Baal, Moloch and Ashtoreth abounded.
The ancient religion of the Hebrews had worship centers all over the country, in the so-called high places, on the summits of the mountains and hills in order to be nearer to heaven. The construction of the first Temple in Jerusalem, under king Shlomo, was an attempt to center the worship in the capital city, and this met fierce resistance.
David, Shlomo and all the kings of Judah that followed him belonged to the tribe of Judah, one of the most powerful tribes. And that caused resistance amongst other powerful tribes, especially the northern tribes of Efrayim (Ephraim) and Menasheh (Manasseh), who continued with their customs and local worship places.
The breaking between the two countries, in fact, was the consequence of rivalry between dominant tribes, which little by little would absorb their weaker neighboring tribes, as in the case of the tribe of Shim’on (Simeon), that had disappeared even before the formation of the kingdom under ShaÂ’ul, having been absorbed completely by their powerful neighbor, Judah.
What followed were centuries of mostly wars and a few alliances between both countries, which really behaved like bad neighbors.
Finally, after approximately 200 years of independence, the king of Israel, the northern country, made the terrible mistake of provoking the powerful Assyrians, who in turn conquered the country and destroyed its capital, Shomron (Samaria), the ancient city of Shekhem. Today you know this city under the name of Nablus (Neapolis), on the West Bank.
The Assyrian king, Sargon II, took almost thirty thousand Hebrews as prisoners of war, mainly among the inhabitants of Shomron and the neighboring villages. It was very common in the old times, and partly it is still practiced, to remove the educated stratum and the population’s rulers, all the intellectuals, priests, administrators, etc., and to replace them with citizens loyal to the system. And this was exactly what Sargon did. He took away the “high society,” and replaced it with administrators from other parts of his empire, amongst others, people from Cus. This is why the Talmud calls the Samaritans “Cussim” or Cutheans. Therefore, in the year 722 before Christ, the state of the northern tribes, Israel, disappeared definitively from the map.
To show you the antiquity of these events, I would like you to recall that in that same year, the “city” of Rome had just a few decades of existence, and it consisted of a few miserable shacks of straw and adobe.
Well, my brother, I see that you are wondering if this is a history lesson. Yes, in some way it is. But my intention is different. Put the following title to this message: “The Samaritans, Part 1.”
Tomorrow, if you give me the time, we will continue. I want to explain who the Samaritans were and are, and I wish to put an end to some commonly accepted falsehoods.
God bless you.
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013