Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Samaritans from Philip's Encyclopedia

Descendants of those citizens of Samaria who escaped deportation after their kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians in 722 bc. The Jews to the south rejected them. The Samaritans call themselves 'Children of Israel' (Bene Yisreal), and their sole religious scripture is the Torah.


Summary Article: SAMARITANS
from The New Encyclopedia of Judaism

Descendants of the people formed by the mixture of Israelites remaining in the northern kingdom of ISRAEL with other peoples settled there by the Assyrian conquerors (after 722 BCE). The center of the region was Samaria. The Samaritans accept the laws of the PENTATEUCH but reject the other books of the Bible and the entire ORAL LAW; they do have their own oral traditions regarding various biblical practices.

The Talmud refers to the Samaritans as Kutim (Cutheans) and regards them as descended from various non-Jewish tribes which converted to Judaism. The Samaritans, on the other hand, refer to themselves as either BenéYismel (the “Israelites”) or as the Shomerim (“those who observe [the Law]”). One of the minor tractates of the Talmud, Kutim, is devoted to the laws governing the relationships between Samaritans and Jews. The first statement in this tractate notes that the Samaritans in some ways resemble Jews and in others, non-Jews, yet stresses that in most ways they resemble Jews. As a generalization, the Talmud states that in regard to those laws which the Samaritans do observe, they are more scrupulous than the Jews (Ḥul. 4a).

The Samaritan Pentateuch, written in a variation of the old Phoenician ALPHABET, differs in numerous places from the Jewish text, most notably in its references, not found in the Jewish Pentateuch, to Mount GERIZIM, the holy mountain of the Samaritan faith. Unlike Judaism, which regards “I am the Lord your God…” (Ex. 20:2) as the first of the TEN COMMANDMENTS, the Samaritan Ten Commandments begin with the next verse (“You shall have no other gods before Me”) and the tenth commandment, known as “Mount Gerizim,” declares this mountain as the site where an altar is to be built to God.

Whereas the Jewish Pentateuch stresses the accuracy of the written text, the Samaritan stress is on the accuracy of the text as it is to be read and different Samaritan scrolls have variant spellings of the same text.

The Samaritan interpretation of the laws of the Sabbath precludes having any warm food on the Sabbath day itself and forbids leaving one's immediate vicinity throughout the Sabbath.

The Samaritan CALENDAR, while observing the seven festival days decreed within the Pentateuch, uses its own method for determining when to add leap months; it is thus possible for the Samaritan and Jewish holidays to be a month apart. The observances of the different festival days differ markedly from the Jewish observances and to this day the Samaritans gather at Mount Gerizim before each PASSOVER to bring the paschal sacrifice. Unlike the Jewish calendar, which has the festival of SHAVU'OT on the 50th day after the second day of Passover, the Samaritan calendar always begins the count of the 49 days of the OMER on the first Sunday following the first day of Passover, so that Shavu'ot always occurs on a Sunday. Fasting throughout the DAY OF ATONEMENT applies to everyone aged one year and up. The FOUR SPECIES mentioned in the Pentateuch in regard to SUKKOT are interwoven into the making and decoration of the SUKKAH that is built for the festival. As a result of harassment by their Muslim neighbors, the Samaritans began hundreds of years ago to build their sukkot in their homes and this has since become their established custom.

An important part is played by the high priest, but since the death of the last priest in direct descent, the high priesthood is now occupied by a member of the tribe of Levi, who is selected on the basis of seniority.

The word “Samaritan” appears only once in the Bible (II Kings 17:29), referring to the newly settled colonists in the north who persisted in their pagan ways. When the exiles returned from Babylonia, they rejected the Samaritan claim to be Jews and refused to let them assist in the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the TEMPLE. They were barred from offering sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple or to intermarry with Jews. The Samaritans consequently adopted a hostile attitude, which was directed against NEHEMIAH. They then built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. They suffered severely when Shechem was destroyed by Alexander the Great and their temple was destroyed twice, the first time by John Hyrcanus in 128 BCE and the second time in 486 CE. The Byzantine Christian emperor Justinian ended their autonomy and as they, unlike the Jews, were not considered “People of the Book” they suffered also under Islam. Samaritans lived in other countries and there is evidence of a Samaritan synagogue in Rome which was destroyed in the sixth century CE and of Samaritans in Babylonia and elsewhere. Eventually, they dwindled to a small group concentrated in Erets Israel. Today, the mother community is located in and around Shechem with a daughter community in Holon, near Tel-Aviv; together they number about 500.

Copyright © 1989, 2002 by G.G. The Jerusalem Publishing

Related Articles


Full text Article Samaritans
Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend, Thames & Hudson

Members of a Jewish sect in the Holy Land who originated near ancient Samaria, hence their name. Samaritans claimed descent from tribes of the...

Full text Article Samaritans
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

1. A people of ancient Samaria (now in N Israel), with a religion closely akin to Judaism. Numerous in Roman and Byzantine times and much...

Full text Article Samaritans
Who's Who in the New Testament, Routledge

The capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, built by Omri, father of Ahab, stands on a hill ‘bought from Shemer for two talents of...

See more from Credo