The schism between Jews and Samaritans

  The  Samaritans,  who prefer to call themselves Israelites, are the remnant of the twelve tribes of  Israel, originated in the time of the judges (11th  B.C.E), when the old priest – Eli ,son of Yefune,  from the lineage of Itmar, son of Aaron , left the holy place on Mt. Gerizim and established a cult site at Shiloh,  to rival the one  at Mt. Gerizim.

   The background to that  split, concerning  the Chosen Place, was the dispute within the priesthood family. Uzi, son of Bachki, of the line  of Phineas , who  were promised  by inheritance of the  high priesthood, was the High Priest in those days, while Eli resolved to usurp the High Priesthood from the descendant of Phineas.

          The author of the major work of Samaritan history, the  chronicler,  Abu’l –Fath, of the fourteenth  century C.E.,  tells the story as follows :     

“A terrible civil war broke out between Eli son of Yafni, of the line of Ithamar, and the sons of Phineas, because Eli  ,son of Yafune , resolved to usurp the High Priesthood from the descendants of Phineas. He used to offer sacrifices on the altar of stones . He was 50 years old, endowed with wealth an in charge  of the treasury of the children of Israel.   He offered a sacrifice on the altar , but without salt, as he were inattentive.  When the Great  High Priest Azzi learnt of this , and found that the sacrifice  was not accepted , he thoroughly disowned him and it is said he rebuked him .

 Thereupon he and the group  that sympathized with him, rose in revolt and at once  he and his followers and his beasts set off for Shiloh.

 Thus Israel split into factions.

He sent to their leaders saying to them, ” Anyone who would like to see wonderful things, let him come to me.” Then he assembled a large group around him in Shiloh, and built a Temple for himself there;

Now, he had two sons, Hophni and Phineas, who rounded up young women  of attractive appearance and brought them to the Tabernacle which had been  built by his father. They let them savor the food of the sacrifices, and had intercourse  with them inside the Tabernacle . 

At this time the Children of Israel  became three factions: 

  1. A loyal faction on Mount Gerizim
  2. A heretical  faction that followed false god.
  3. A faction that followed Eli to Shiloh.

  (Taken from Abu’l- Fath ,Kitab Al-Tarikh ,Paul Stenhouse; Sydney :Mandelbaum Trust, University of Sydney,1985,Pages 47-48 – with slight modifications by Robert  T. Anderson & Terry Giles- ‘The Keepers’  Pages 11-12 ).

     This event ,not only brought a major separation,  between the Israelites, but  also marked  the end of the ‘Rhuta ‘ (means grace  in Aramaic) – The Days of the Grace  , and the beginning of  the ‘Fanuta’ (means concealment in Aramaic) – the days  of the concealment of God from his people. The latter  will end , according to the Samaritan tradition, in  “The End of the Days”  when the Savior  (‘Thab’ – means the Returner) will show up.

There is no rational interpretation, in the Jewish sources, for the passage of the High Priesthood from the lineage of Phineas to the lineage of Ithamar.     

   The  Tabernacle (Mishkan), according to the Jewish Sources,  was transferred  after the death of Eli ,to Nob ( a village near Jerusalem) and after the death of Samuel it was transferred from Nob to Gibeon (a city north of Jerusalem). Only after 440 years, since the entrance of  the Children of Israel to the land  Canaan, the cult site, was transferred  by kings David and Solomon,  to Jerusalem, while the Samaritans still keeping the Holy Chosen Place on Mt.Gerizim.

The Jewish Version of the Origins of the Samaritans.

  The Jewish Bible, tells another story about the origions of the Samaritans. Jewish interpretations of the origion of the Samaritans, focuses on II kings 17-25, which reflect the devastation of the northern kingdom of Israel at the end of the eight century B.C.E.

Israel and Judah map

  After Solomon  death , a civil war  broke out and the former united kingdom,split into two kingdoms, Judah in the south, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Israel in the north whose capital was eventually established in Samaria.
The two kingdoms struglled for two centuries, before the emerging  of the Assyrian conqueror.

  According to the Biblical story, edited later in Judah, as most of the Scolar’s opinions , the Samaritans descended from peoples deported by the Assyrian, from other parts of the empire, during the 8th B.C.E and resetteld in Samaria.  One of these people, according to the bible,  were the “Cuthean” who were brought from Cutha. Eventually “Cuthean” became the Jews derogatory nickname , for the Samaritans. Later, those new inhabitants, named “lion proselytes”, (2 Kings 17)  as they adopted a form of  Israelite religion as a response to  a plague of lions sent by God to punish them for ignoring the God of the land.

  The Jewish resources, in a polemic attitude, doesn’t not distinguish  between this new inhabitants, and the original residents of Samaria, who survived the Assyrian Exile, and maybe Intentionally, denominate the whole  People  of Samaria as   Samaritans.

Sargon’s Inscreptions

The Assyrian King, who conquered Samarita in 721- 722, was Saragon the second (721-705 B.C.E).   In one of Sargon’s inscriptions he testifies as follows:

“From my the  first year  to  the fifteen, of my kingship, I besieged and conquered Samarina. I took as booty 27,290 people who lived there. I gathered 50 chariots from them. I taught the rest of the deportees their skills. I set my eunuch over them, and I imposed upon them the same tribute as the previous king (Shalmaneser V).” 


In other Inscription from  Nimrud Prisms  (COS 2.118D, pp. 295-296,):

“…the Samar]ians [who had agreed with a hostile king]…I fought with them and decisively defeated them. 27,280 people who lived there…..carried off as spoil. 50 chariots for my royal force …[the rest of them I settled in the midst of Assyria]….The Tamudi, Ibadidi, Marsimani and Hayappa, who live in distant Arabia, in the desert, who knew neither overseer nor commander, who never brought tribute to any king–with the help of Ashshur my lord, I defeated them. I deported the rest of them. I settled them in Samaria/Samerina…”

  According to  both of Sargon’s  inscriptions, only  27,290 (or 27.280) of the people who lived in Samaria, were exiled by the Assyrians, while accrording to the Bible, only the landowners in Samaria, numbered  aboout 60,000 people. (2 Kings 42,15,19 and 20 – thousand of Talents of silver, which equal to 1 million Shekels,divided to 50 shekels per person). This indicates, that most of the  population  in Samaria survived the exile, and necessity, have  influenced the new resident’s  religion.

In the next centuries , the kings of the Assyrian empire kept bringing, in a foreign population, from other areas of  the empire, to the area of Samaria.

The Remnant of the North Kingdom

In 2 chronicles chapter 30, which according to Bible’s scholars  was composed at the end of the Persian era, We learn that King Hiskiyah, who ruled  Judah between 726-715, had sent  posts to  all Israel and Judea, asking them to take a part in the Passover sacrifice in Jerusalaem :

And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the LORD, the God of Israel.” (2 chronicles 30:1)

” So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying: ‘Ye children of Israel, turn back unto the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that He may return to the remnant that are escaped of you out of the hand of the kings of Assyria.” (2 chronicles 30:6)

And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, who acted treacherously against the LORD, the God of their fathers, so that He delivered them to be an astonishment, as ye see.

Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were; but yield yourselves unto the LORD, and enter into His sanctuary, which He hath sanctified for ever, and serve the LORD your God, that His fierce anger may turn away from you.
For if ye turn back unto the LORD, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that led them captive, and shall come back into this land; for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face from you, if ye return unto Him.’
So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, even unto Zebulun; but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them.
Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem.” (2 chronicles 30:7-10)

In 2 chronicles chapter 34:9, In the time of  King Josiah, who ruled Judah in the years  649-609, the author of the book, tells a story about  contributions made by the descendants of the tribes Menash and Ephraim, and the remnant of the Israelite kingdom in Samaria, to the decontamination of the Palace in Jerusalem:

“And they came to Hilkiah the high priest, and delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the keepers of the door, had gathered of the hand of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of all the remnant of Israel, and of all Judah and Benjamin, and they returned to Jerusalem.”

From here we can learn, that most of the Israelites – people of Samaria , stayed in the area and were not exiled by the Assaryan. We can  also  learn that  they  adhered Samaria and didn’t feel belong to Jerusalem neither it’s population.

It’s also intersting  to see, that those who humbled themselves , and came to Jerusalem, became a “Real Israelite “, and were accepted by the Jews, in contrast with those who has have remained in Samaria.