(Sa·marʹi·a) [Belonging to the Clan Shemer].
1. The city that King Omri began to build about the middle of the tenth century B.C.E.; it served as the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel for more than 200 years. Omri purchased the mountain, on top of which this city was built, from Shemer, for two talents of silver, a price equal to $13,212. (1Ki 16:23, 24) The mountain as well as the city continued to be called after the name of this former owner.—Am 4:1; 6:1.
Location. Samaria is identified with ruins called Shomeron adjacent to the Arab village Sabastiya, about 55 km (34 mi) N of Jerusalem, and 11 km (7 mi) NW of Shechem. It was in Manasseh’s territory. When Samaria was described as “the head” of Ephraim, the reference was to its position as the capital of the ten-tribe kingdom, Ephraim being the dominant tribe of that kingdom. (Isa 7:9) Samaria was near to, if not the same location as, “Shamir in the mountainous region of Ephraim,” the home of Judge Tola, who served during the period of the Judges.—Jg 10:1, 2.
The rather flat top of the Samarian hill, about 2 km (1 mi) across from E to W, was an ideal location for a city. The abrupt rise of about 90 m (300 ft) from the plain below made the location easy to defend. The view too was magnificent, for to the N, E, and S were higher peaks, while to the W the land gently sloped down from an altitude of 463 m (1,519 ft) to the blue Mediterranean, 34 km (21 mi) away.
Much of Samaria’s history is bound up with the wayward record of the 14 kings of Israel from Omri to Hoshea.—1Ki 16:28, 29; 22:51, 52; 2Ki 3:1, 2; 10:35, 36; 13:1, 10; 14:23; 15:8, 13, 14, 17, 23, 25, 27; 17:1.
During Time of Ahab. After the death of Omri, his son Ahab continued the city’s building program during his 22-year reign. This included the construction of a Baal temple, the setting up a Baal altar, and the erection of “the sacred pole” of worship—all evidence, in this newly created city, of the Canaanite religion sponsored by Ahab’s Phoenician wife Jezebel. (1Ki 16:28-33; 18:18, 19; 2Ki 13:6) Ahab also embellished Samaria with a beautiful “house of ivory” that was possibly furnished with “couches of ivory” similar to those referred to by the prophet Amos a hundred years later. (1Ki 22:39; Am 3:12, 15; 6:1, 4) Archaeologists have found more than 500 fragments of ivory, many artistically carved, in the ruins of Samaria.
During the latter part of Ahab’s reign, the Syrian king Ben-hadad II laid siege to Samaria, vowing he would strip it so completely that there would not be sufficient dust to fill the hands of those in his army. However, the Israelites were given the victory in order that Ahab should know that Jehovah is God Almighty. (1Ki 20:1-21) In a second encounter less than a year later, when Ben-hadad was forced to surrender, Ahab let him go on the promise that cities would be returned to Israel and ‘streets in Damascus would be assigned’ to Ahab the same as Ben-hadad’s father had assigned himself streets in Samaria. (1Ki 20:26-34) These “streets” evidently had been for the establishment of bazaars, or markets, to promote the commercial interests of Ben-hadad’s father. Nevertheless, Ahab returned to Samaria sad and dejected, for, since he had spared Ben-hadad’s life, Jehovah told him he would forfeit his own.—1Ki 20:35-43.
This forfeiture came about in the third year after that when Ahab invited Judean King Jehoshaphat to help him recover Ramoth-gilead from Syria. The two kings formally held court at the entrance of Samaria and, after ignoring Jehovah’s prophet and listening to the deceptive counsel of false prophets, set out for the battle. (1Ki 22:1-28; 2Ch 18:2, 9) Ahab disguised himself, but he was struck by an arrow, though the enemy archer had not recognized him as the king. Ahab bled to death in his chariot. He was returned to his capital for burial, and the chariot was washed out alongside the pool of Samaria. (1Ki 22:29-38) This pool may be the rather shallow but large rectangular one discovered there by archaeologists.
The final accounting with the house of Ahab was at the hands of Jehu, whom Jehovah anointed for this work of execution. (2Ki 9:6-10) After killing Ahab’s son Jehoram, Ahab’s grandson Ahaziah, and Ahab’s widow Jezebel (2Ki 9:22-37), Jehu next, in an exchange of letters with the princes and older men residing at Samaria, arranged for the beheading of Ahab’s 70 remaining sons. “Know, then,” Jehu declared, “that nothing of Jehovah’s word will fall unfulfilled to the earth that Jehovah has spoken against the house of Ahab; and Jehovah himself has done what he spoke by means of his servant Elijah.”—2Ki 10:1-12, 17.
Other pronouncements of Jehovah by his prophets Elijah and Elisha, and the events connected with them, occurred in Samaria and its vicinity. For example, Ahab’s son Ahaziah fell through the grating in his palace roof chamber in Samaria (2Ki 1:2-17), the Syrian leper Naaman came to Samaria seeking a cure (2Ki 5:1-14), and the Syrian military force, sent out to capture Elisha, was mentally blinded and led to Samaria, where the men were fed and sent home (2Ki 6:13-23). During the reign of Ahab’s son Jehoram, the Syrians besieged Samaria, causing such a famine that some persons ate their own children. But then, in fulfillment of Elisha’s prophecy, the famine was broken in one night when Jehovah caused the Syrians to flee in panic and leave behind their foodstuffs.—2Ki 6:24-29; 7:1-20.
Rival of Jerusalem. From time to time the rivalry and animosity between Samaria and Jerusalem, the respective capitals of the northern and southern kingdoms, burst into open warfare. On one occasion the king of Judah, when about to attack Edom, sent 100,000 mercenaries of Israel back home on orders from Jehovah. And even though paid 100 silver talents ($660,600), these Israelites were so enraged that they raided and plundered Judean towns “from Samaria clear to Beth-horon.” (2Ch 25:5-13) The king of Judah, flushed with victory over Edom, then picked a quarrel with the king of Samaria, a quarrel that was not settled until all the gold and silver from the house of Jehovah and the king’s treasury in Jerusalem had been carried off to Samaria. (2Ki 14:8-14; 2Ch 25:17-24) Years later, however, after a defeat of King Ahaz of Judah, in order to escape Jehovah’s anger, the men of Israel returned certain captives and booty that had been taken to Samaria.—2Ch 28:5-15.
The city of Samaria was eventually destroyed for its idolatry, moral corruption, and continued disregard for God’s laws and principles. (2Ki 17:7-18) Repeatedly Jehovah warned her rulers and their subjects by the mouths of such prophets as Isaiah (8:4; 9:9), Hosea (7:1; 8:5, 6; 10:5, 7; 13:16), Amos (3:9; 8:14), Micah (1:1, 5, 6), and others (1Ki 20:13, 28, 35-42; 22:8) as well as Elijah and Elisha. Later on, after her destruction, other prophets referred to Samaria as a warning example to those who would reject Jehovah’s instructions.—2Ki 21:10-13; Jer 23:13; Eze 16:46, 51, 53, 55; 23:4, 33.
Later History. In 742 B.C.E. Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria, laid siege to Samaria, but the city was able to hold out for nearly three years. When it finally fell in 740 B.C.E., many of the leading inhabitants were deported into exile and settled in Mesopotamia and Media. Whether credit for the ultimate capture of the city goes to Shalmaneser V or to his successor Sargon II is still not a settled question.—2Ki 17:1-6, 22, 23; 18:9-12; see SARGON.
With the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians, the Bible’s detailed history of the city ends. Thereafter, mention of the city is often, though not always (2Ki 23:18; Ac 8:5), made by way of a reminder of what becomes of those who rebel against Jehovah. (2Ki 18:34; 21:13; Isa 10:9-11; 36:19) The Bible relates that after the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent assassination of Gedaliah, 80 men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria came down toward Mizpah and encountered Ishmael the assassin. Ishmael slaughtered many of these men, sparing some of them who promised to show him where they had treasures of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden.—Jer 41:1-9.
Secular records relate some of Samaria’s history from and after the days of Alexander the Great. In Roman times its splendor was due to the building program of Herod the Great, who renamed the city Sebaste (a feminine Greek form for the Latin name Augustus), in honor of Augustus, the first emperor. Today the Arabic name Sabastiya preserves the name Herod gave it. It is therefore not surprising that excavations at this site have uncovered the remains of a number of different periods in its history; some of these remains are from the days of Israel’s kings.
2. The territory of the ten-tribe northern kingdom of Israel. The name of its capital city, Samaria, was sometimes applied to this entire area. For example, when Ahab was called “the king of Samaria,” it was not with the restricted meaning of being king of the city only, but in the broader sense as king of the ten tribes. (1Ki 21:1) So, too, “the cities of Samaria” referred to those scattered throughout the ten tribes, not to towns clustered around the capital. (2Ki 23:19; this same expression recorded at 1Ki 13:32 as if used before the city Samaria was built, if not prophetic, may have been introduced by the compiler of the Kings account.) The famine “in Samaria” in the days of Ahab was extensive throughout the whole kingdom of Samaria and, in fact, even took in Phoenicia, extending at least from the torrent valley of Cherith, E of the Jordan, to Zarephath on the Mediterranean. (1Ki 17:1-12; 18:2, 5, 6) Similarly, the restoration promise regarding “the mountains of Samaria” must have embraced the whole of the realm of Samaria.—Jer 31:5.
Tiglath-pileser III seems to have been the first to uproot Israelites from Samaria’s territory, some prominent Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassites from E of the Jordan being among those moved to Assyria. (1Ch 5:6, 26) When the northern kingdom finally fell, more were taken into exile. (2Ki 17:6) But this time the king of Assyria replaced these Israelites with people from other parts of his realm, a transplanting policy continued by Esar-haddon and Asenappar (Ashurbanipal).—2Ki 17:24; Ezr 4:2, 10.
Lions began to multiply in the land, probably because the land, or a large part of it, had lain waste for a time. (Compare Ex 23:29.) The settlers doubtless felt, superstitiously, that it was because they did not understand how to worship the god of the land. Therefore the king of Assyria sent back a calf-worshiping Israelite priest from exile. He taught the settlers about Jehovah, but in the same manner as Jeroboam had done, so that they learned something about Jehovah but actually continued to worship their own false gods.—2Ki 17:24-41.
3. The Roman district through which Jesus occasionally traveled and into which the apostles later brought the message of Christianity. Its boundaries are not definitely known today, but, generally, it lay between Galilee in the N and Judea in the S, and it extended W from the Jordan to the coastal plains of the Mediterranean. For the most part the district embraced the territories once belonging to the tribe of Ephraim and half the tribe of Manasseh (W of the Jordan).
From time to time, on his way to and from Jerusalem, Jesus passed through Samaria, situated as it was between the districts of Judea and Galilee. (Lu 17:11; Joh 4:3-6) But for the most part he refrained from preaching in this territory, even telling the 12 whom he sent out to avoid Samaritan cities and, instead, to “go continually to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” that is, the Jews.—Mt 10:5, 6.
However, this restriction covered only a limited time, for just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus told his disciples they should carry the good news not only to Samaria but to the most distant part of the earth. (Ac 1:8, 9) So it was that when persecution broke out in Jerusalem the disciples, Philip in particular, took up the ministry in Samaria. Peter and John were later sent there, resulting in further expansion of Christianity.—Ac 8:1-17, 25; 9:31; 15:3.
[Picture on page 846]
Roman ruins at ancient Samaria