After our stop at Shiloh, we went to the site of Samaria. Samaria referred to a city of that name originally, but then came to be used as a reference to the area between Jerusalem and Galilee. It was founded by Omri in 876 BC, and in so doing sought to open himself and his kingdom to the great world of the eastern Mediterranean. He had his son, Ahab, marry a princess of Tyre, Jezebel, and the result was the influence of alien religious practices, and decadent arrogance, that elicited the condemnation of the prophets Hosea and Amos. Many artifacts testifying to the opulence and the mixed up religion are on display in museums in Israel.
Omri bought the piece of land from Shemer, hence the name “Samaria” (1 Kings 16:24) and made it the capital of the Northern Kingdom. This was the third city selected to be the capital, after Shechem (which we also visited and about which I will have something to say in a later post). The story of Omri in 1 Kings 16 is not a very savory story.
Samaria was destroyed by the Assyrians in 723 BC, who deported 30,000 citizens and replaced them with foreigners (2 Kings 17:24). This is important background to understand the friction and conflict between the Jews of Jerusalem and the Samaritans of the north, which is significant to understanding the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) and the encounter Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).
Under the Persians, Samaria became the capital of a province, and when Alexander came and conquered he installed some of his veteran Macedonians in Samaria with the purpose of spreading the benefits of Greek culture. In resistance to this, some of the Samaritans moved out and established a new city on Mt. Gerizim (more about that later!).
The city was razed by the Hasmoneans under John Hyrcanus, which ultimately paved the way for Herod the Great to take over the city (it was given to him by Augustus in 30 BC) and to work his building wonders. In gratitude to Augustus for giving him the city, and for other gifts, he renamed the city Sebaste (Greek for Augustus). He built and fortified the city with many marvellous constructions. At the site, they are uncovering (see photos) an impressive palace, a huge ampitheatre, a temple along Graeco-Roman lines, and many impressive columns and statues. These did not sit well with the religious Jews but Herod thougth he could get away with it since it was in Samaria. It was here that he married his wife, and had two of his sons killed.
Later additions to the site included a small church and a great basilica. It mistakenly became associated with John the Baptist and his demise (due to a confusion of Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas who ordered John’s beheading). There is also at the site examples of 2nd or 3rd century Roman tombs.
Samaria was the site of much apostasy and confusion. They were far from the Temple, and developed their own way of doing things, often in opposition to what God had instructed, and even ignored his prophets whom he sent to warn them. May His church today not be so foolish.
Can’t wait to tell you about Shechem and Sychar, the site of Jacob’s well, and the conversation Jesus had there with a Samaritan woman! Until then, signing off – Father Wismer