The Samaritans, Part 2.
May 1st, 2002
Received by H.
Yesterday we spoke of the history of the separation of the old Kingdom of David and Solomon into two independent states, Judah in the south, and Israel in the north.
The powerful country of Assyria, during most of the two centuries of Israel’s independence, suffered stagnation under a series of weak and inept kings. The local rulers gradually accumulated greater power, and the country was in great danger of falling apart.
However, one day, an experienced soldier, hardened in many battles, with the name of Pulu, took possession of the throne in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and re-established the strict central control, waging multiple wars of expansion. Unfortunately for the “Israelite mouse” that dared to roar, they faced exactly this merciless king, who did not hesitate one second in desolating the country of Israel in retaliation. Only the city of Samaria resisted the attacks of the conquerors. Pulu would later be known as king Tiglatpileser III.
When Pulu died, Salmanasser V succeeded him, but he was murdered during the siege of the city. Only the “just emperor,” Sharrukin, as Sargon II was actually called, proved able to conquer the city. He destroyed it, and approximately 27,000 prisoners were taken back to his capital city, inserting brass rings into their upper lips, in order to drive them like cattle to the slaughterhouse. The Assyrians were famous for their cruelty, a fame well deserved.
In Assyria’s later history, Sargon and his successors were able to expand the limits of their empire ever more, conquering even the south of Mesopotamia and Egypt up to Nubia. But the earthly glory did not last forever. Several events, among them the invasion of barbarian hordes, the Scythes, and an alliance between the Chaldeans and the Medes, weakened the empire, which finally was conquered by the Medes and Chaldeans, who divided the country amongst themselves. Palestine fell under the Babylonian Chaldeans’ influence.
Those Hebrews who had been taken into exile by Sargon would return nevermore to their country. They perished abroad, or they mixed with the local population. Those Hebrews who stayed in that region, which previously was Israel, continued with the traditions of their ancestors and their worship of Yahweh. Eventually, a worship center, a high place, won supreme importance, Mount Gerizim, where, according to tradition, Abraham had offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.
The foreigners, who had been brought to Israel as administrators by the Assyrians, converted to the local population’s religion, because it was the custom to worship the local gods, in this case, a single God, Yahweh. And of course, they and their descendants mixed, in the course of the years, with the indigenous Hebrews.
Now, the southern kingdom, Judah, later on would suffer a very similar fate to that of its neighbors in the north. In the great chess game of power, Judah had to choose between Egypt and Babylon, and the king in Jerusalem placed his bet on the “wrong horse,” confronting Babylon openly. Judah was conquered, its capital, Jerusalem, destroyed, and part of its population, once again we speak of the high society, was taken into captivity in Babylon. But in this case the Babylonians did not replace the deported people by people of other nationalities, but rather, they chose a Jew, Gedalyahu, as the administrator of the conquered country. Of course, not all Jews were deported, but only a small number. In short, the position of an administrator does imply that there was still something to be administrated, doesn’t it?
Gedalyahu was murdered by nationalist Jews, bringing Babylon’s fury once again over the country, causing one more deportation of thousands of rebels. The Babylonians, contrary to their Assyrian predecessors, treated their prisoners well, and they allowed them to live according to their customs in relative freedom on the banks of river Euphrates.
Jewish culture flourished in Mesopotamia, and when finally, after 150 years, the Persians conquered the empire, and when king Cyrus gave permission to the Jews to return to their country, relatively few undertook the journey back. They knew what would await them in the old homeland: Rustic peasants, ruins, blood, sweat and tears. The comfort of Babylon proved stronger than nationalism.
The permission of Cyrus to rebuild the Temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians 150 years earlier, certainly fixed priorities in the work of those repatriated. They found many hands willing to help them in their sacred undertaking among the Jewish peasants who lived around Jerusalem. But even their northern neighbors, now called “Shomronim” (Samaritans) offered their help. However, the Jews rejected their offer. A growing hostility developed between the two peoples, which would mark all their future history.
And now, my dear brother, I would like to clarify some facts that traditionally are not well understood and which are taught in a completely distorted way.
- Samaritans are not a mestizo people, a mixture of many immigrants from the Assyrian empire and a few Israelites who had remained in their country. Of course, there was some mixture, as well as there was such mingling between the Jews and other people. Do you believe that the ancient inhabitants of Canaan had disappeared, who lived there before the arrival of Hebrews? Had they all been annihilated, as the Bible suggests? Certainly not. Why you believe that at the present time a Jew from Germany looks like a German, a Jew from Russia looks like a Russian and a Jew from the Yemen looks like a Yemenite? Is not mixture the cause? Tragically, the principle of being a Jew, that is to say, the religious principle, has given place to a racist comprehension. The idea of a “pure race” is a fiction that, unfortunately, even at the present time injects poison into the hearts of many. The Samaritans, in fact, are in their culture, their language, their religion, even in their genetics, descendents of the ancient Hebrew northern tribes. And I will give you an example. You can get some idea of the magnitude of the people who were left behind in what once was Israel, in comparison with those less than 30,000 deported ones, by considering the following passage from the Bible, from the Second Book of Kings 15:19-20: “There came against the land Pulu the king of Ashur; and Menachem gave Pulu one thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. Menachem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Ashur. So the king of Ashur turned back, and didn’t stay there in the land.” This happened when the king of Israel still tried to maintain his relative independence, paying tributes and recognizing his condition of being an Assyrian vassal. But let us analyze the figures: One silver talent was the equivalent of 3000 shekels. Therefore, Pulu received three million silver shekels. Menachem charged each wealthy man in the country with 50 shekels, in other words, there were 60,000 (sixty thousand!) people in Israel who had enough money to lead a life of certain luxury. Some would perish in the following war with Assyria; many were taken into captivity, but some of them, and practically all the “normal” population, all peasants, stayed in the country. Even if the figure given in the Bible was an exaggeration, the country certainly was densely populated.
- The accusation that Samaritans were idolatrous was unjustified because at the time when their country was destroyed, in Judah the worshipping of Canaanite and Phoenician gods also abounded. This was not a problem of the northern tribes, but of all Hebrews, including Jews.
- Actually, what happened when the Samaritans offered their help in the reconstruction of the Temple was that the Jews wanted to impose their will, demanding the end of the worship on Mount Gerizim and the exclusive recognition of the Temple at Jerusalem as the “House of God,” something completely unacceptable for the Samaritans. They replied that the Temple could not be the only admitted place for worship, and additionally, that the Hebrew Writings specified that the altar for sacrifices was not to be built of carved stones, but of crude rock. Therefore, the way of sacrificing, as the Jews intended to do in the new Temple, was an infraction of Moses’ Laws, while they worshipped in the correct way. You can easily imagine what happened. Religion, especially those not well understood superficialities, is always the “battle horse” for fixing political disputes. Later on, the Samaritans would also build a Temple on Mount Gerizim, forgetting the arguments they themselves had brought forth.
- The hatred Samaritans felt against Jews is largely due to the Hasmonaean period, when the Jews undertook compulsory conversion campaigns against the Samaritans, destroying their temple on the Mount Gerizim, and sometimes behaving worse than their pagan enemies. It was during the Hasmonaean reign that Galilee was re-colonized by Jewish settlers. This is why in the times of Jesus, there was a Jewish Judea in southern Palestine and a half-Jewish Galilee in northern Palestine, divided by a Samaritan central Palestine.
- Neither is it correct that a continuous tension reigned between Jews and Samaritans. There were many commercial bonds, Samaritans were allowed at times to sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem, sometimes they were forbidden to do so. There were some Jews who converted to Samaritanism. If a continuous hostility had reigned between both peoples, it would be very difficult to explain why the Samaritans fought against the Romans shoulder to shoulder with their Jewish companions.
Very well. We have spoken enough on Samaritan history. I only want to add that in antiquity the Samaritans constituted a very numerous people, with strong colonies even in foreign cities, very similar to the Jewish Diaspora. But finally they succumbed under powerful pressures on the part of the Christian church, which almost managed to annihilate them. Nowadays, just a few hundred Samaritans continue with their ancient religion, mainly in the vicinity of the cities of Nablus and Tel-Aviv.
Now, my dear brother, we still have to analyze a little the Samaritan religion, comparing it to that of the Jews. As the word “Judaism” indicates, this religion is the version of the Hebrew religion that dominated amongst the tribe of Judah, that is to say, it is just an aspect of a multifaceted original religion. But of that, we will speak tomorrow.
Thank you for your time, and may God bless you.
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013