(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., and which served as the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel for more than two hundred years. Omri purchased the mountain, on top of which this city was built, from Shemer, for two talents of silver, a price equal to $2,867. (1 Ki. 16:23, 24) The mountain as well as the city continued to be called after the name of this former owner.—Amos 4:1; 6:1.
Samaria was situated thirty-four miles (55 kilometers) N of Jerusalem, and seven miles (c. 11 kilometers) NW of Shechem, 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.—Judg. 10:1, 2.
The rather flat top of the Samarian hill, about a mile (2 kilometers) across from E to W, was an ideal location for a city. Around the crown, an abrupt rise of some 300 feet (91 meters) from the plain below made it easy to defend. The view too was magnificent, for to the N, E and S were higher peaks in the central Palestinian range, while to the W the land gently sloped down from an altitude of 1,519 feet (463 meters) to the blue Mediterranean, twenty-one miles (34 kilometers) away.
Much of Samaria’s history is bound up with the wayward record of the fourteen kings of Israel, from Omri to Hoshea.—1 Ki. 16:28, 29; 22:51, 52; 2 Ki. 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 twenty-two-year reign. This included the construction of a Baal temple, the setting up of 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. (1 Ki. 16:28-33; 18:18, 19; 2 Ki. 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. (1 Ki. 22:39; Amos 3:12, 15; 6:1, 4) Archaeologists have found more than five hundred fragments of ivory, many artistically carved, in the ruins of Samaria.
During the latter part of Ahab’s reign the Syrian king Ben-hadad 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. (1 Ki. 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. (1 Ki. 20:26-34) This ‘assignment’ to Ben-hadad’s father of streets in Samaria, some think, meant setting up Syrian bazaars or business places. 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.—1 Ki. 20:35-43.
This forfeiture came about three years later 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. (1 Ki. 22:1-28; 2 Chron. 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. (1 Ki. 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. (2 Ki. 9:6-10) After killing Jehoram, Ahaziah and Jezebel (2 Ki. 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 seventy 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.”—2 Ki. 10:1-12, 17.
Other pronouncements of Jehovah by his prophets Elijah and Elisha, and the events connected therewith, occurred in Samaria and its vicinity, as, for example, when Ahab’s son Ahaziah fell through the grating in the palace roof chamber (2 Ki. 1:2-17), when the Syrian leper Naaman came to Samaria seeking a cure (2 Ki. 5:1-14), and when the Syrian military force, sent out to capture Elisha, was blinded and led to Samaria, fed and sent home. (2 Ki. 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 that the famine would be broken in one night, Jehovah caused the Syrians to flee in panic, leaving behind their foodstuffs.—2 Ki. 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 a hundred thousand mercenaries of Israel back home on orders from Jehovah. And, even though paid a hundred silver talents ($142,359), these Israelites were so enraged that they raided and plundered Judean towns “from Samaria clear to Beth-horon.” (2 Chron. 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. (2 Ki. 14:8-14; 2 Chron. 25:17-24) Years later, however, in a defeat of King Ahaz of Judah, the men of Israel returned certain captives and booty that had been brought to Samaria, in order to escape Jehovah’s anger.—2 Chron. 28:5-15.
The city of Samaria was eventually destroyed for its idolatry, moral corruption and continued disregard for God’s laws and principles. (2 Ki. 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 besides Elijah and Elisha. (1 Ki. 20:13, 28, 35-42; 22:8) Later on, after her destruction, other prophets referred to Samaria as a warning example to those who would reject Jehovah’s instructions.—2 Ki. 21:10-13; Jer. 23:13; Ezek. 16:46, 51, 53, 55; 23:4, 33.
In 742 B.C.E. Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria, laid siege to Samaria, but the city was able to hold out for three years. When it finally fell in 740, 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.—2 Ki. 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 (2 Ki. 23:18; Acts 8:5), made in way of a reminder of what becomes of those who rebel against Jehovah. (2 Ki. 18:34; 21:13; Isa. 10:9-11; 36:19) After the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent assassination of Gedaliah, the Bible relates, eighty men from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria came down toward Mizpah and encountered Ishmael the assassin, who slaughtered many of these men, sparing some of them who promised to show him where they had treasures of wheat, barley and oil 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 modern Arabic name Sebastiyeh 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, few of which 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. As, 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. (1 Ki. 21:1) So too “the cities of Samaria” referred to those scattered throughout the ten tribes, not to towns clustered around the capital. (2 Ki. 23:19; this same expression recorded at 1 Kings 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. (1 Ki. 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. (1 Chron. 5:6, 26) When the northern kingdom finally fell, more were taken into exile. (2 Ki. 17:6) But this time the king of Assyria (apparently, Sargon II) replaced these Israelites with people from other parts of his realm, a transplanting policy continued by Esar-haddon and Asenappar (Ashurbanipal).—2 Ki. 17:24; Ezra 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 Exodus 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 priest from exile. He taught them 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.—2 Ki. 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 extended from the Jordan W 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. (Luke 17:11; John 4:3-6) But for the most part he refrained from preaching in this territory, even telling the twelve 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.—Matt. 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. (Acts 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 followed Philip there, resulting in further expansion of Christianity.—Acts 8:1-17, 25; 9:31; 15:3.