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Samaria, City Of

SAMARIA, CITY OF

sa-ma'-ri-a, (shomeron; Samareia, Semeron, and other forms):

(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) he 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.

W. Ewing


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SAMARIA, CITY OF'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.