sa-mar'-i-tanz (shomeronim; Samareitai, New Testament; (singular), Samarites):
The name "Samaritans" in 2 Kings 17:29 clearly applies to the Israelite inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom. In subsequent history it denotes a people of mixed origin, composed of the peoples brought by the conqueror from Babylon and elsewhere to take the places of the expatriated Israelites and those who were left in the land (722 BC). Sargon claims to have carried away only 27,290 of the inhabitants (KIB, II, 55). Doubtless these were, as in the case of Judah, the chief men, men of wealth and influence, including all the priests, the humbler classes being left to till the land, tend the vineyards, etc. Hezekiah, who came to the throne of Judah probably in 715 BC, could still appeal to the tribes Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Asher and Zebulun (2 Chronicles 30:5,10,11,18); and the presence of these tribesmen is implied in the narrative of Josiah's reformation (2 Chronicles 34:6). Although the number of the colonists was increased by Esar-haddon and Osnappar (Assur-bani-pal, Ezra 4:2,9 f), the population, it is reasonable to suppose, continued prevailingly Israelite; otherwise their religion would not so easily have won the leading place. The colonists thought it necessary for their own safety to acknowledge Yahweh, in whose land they dwelt, as one among the gods to be feared (2 Kings 17:24). In the intermixture that followed "their own gods" seem to have fallen on evil days; and when the Samaritans asked permission to share in building the temple under Zerubbabel, they claimed, apparently with a good conscience, to serve God and to sacrifice to Him as the Jews did (Ezra 4:1). Whatever justification there was for this claim, their proffered friendship was turned to deadly hostility by the blunt refusal of their request. The old enmity between north and south no doubt intensified the quarrel, and the antagonism of Jew and Samaritan, in its bitterness, was destined to pass into a proverb. The Samaritans set themselves, with great temporary success, to frustrate the work in which they were not permitted to share (Ezra 4:4; Nehemiah 4:7; etc.).
From the strict administration of the Law in Jerusalem malcontents found their way to the freer atmosphere of Samaria. Among these renegades was Manasseh, brother of the high priest, who had married a daughter of Sanballat, the Persian governor of Samaria. According to Josephus, Sanballat, with the sanction of Alexander the Great, built a temple for the Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim, of which Manasseh became high priest (Ant., XI, vii, 2; viii, 2). Josephus, however, places Manasseh a century too late. He was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:28).
When it suited their purpose the Samaritans claimed relationship with the Jews, asserting that their roll of the Pentateuch was the only authentic copy (see PENTATEUCH, THE SAMARITAN); they were equally ready to deny all connection in times of stress, and even to dedicate their temple to a heathen deity (Josephus, Ant, XII, v, 5). In 128 BC, John Hyrcanus destroyed the temple (XIII, ix, 1). In the time of Christ the Samaritans were ruled by procurators under the Roman governor of Syria. Lapse of years brought no lessening of the hatred between Jews and Samaritans (Ant., XX, vi, 1). To avoid insult and injury at the hands of the latter, Jews from Galilee were accustomed to reach the feasts at Jerusalem by way of Peraea. "Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon" was an expression of opprobrium (John 8:48). Although Jesus forbade the Twelve to go into any city of the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5), the parable of the Good Samaritan shows that His love overleaped the boundaries of national hatred (Luke 10:30; compare Luke 17:16; John 4:9).
During the Jewish war Cerealis treated the Samaritans with great severity. On one occasion (67 AD) he slaughtered 11,600 on Mt. Gerizim. For some centuries they were found in considerable numbers throughout the empire, east and west, with their synagogues. They were noted as "bankers" money-changers, For their anti-Christian attitude and conduct Justinian inflicted terrible vengeance on them. From this the race seems never to have recovered. Gradually-dwindling, they now form a small community in Nablus of not more than 200 souls. Their great treasure is their ancient copy of the Law.
The best account of the Samaritans is Mills, Nablus and the Modern Samaritans (Murray, London); compare Montgomery, The Samaritans (1907). A good recent description by J. E. H. Thomson, D. D., of the Passover celebrated annually on Mt. Gerizim will be found in PEFS, 1902, 82.