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Map of Samaria by J.G. Bartholomew in 1894 book by George Adam Smith
Hills of Samaria, 2011
Site of Dothan where, according to the Book of Genesis, Joseph was sold by his brethren

Samaria (/səˈmɛəriə/;[1] Hebrew: שֹׁמְרוֹן‎, Standard Šoməron, Tiberian Šōmərôn; Arabic: السامرة‎, as-Sāmirah – also known as Jibāl Nāblus, "Nablus Mountains") is a historical and biblical name used for the central region of the ancient Land of Israel, bordered by Galilee to the north and Judaea to the south.[2][3] For the beginning of the Common Era, Josephus set the Mediterranean Sea as its limit to the west, and the Jordan River as its limit to the east.[3] Its territory largely corresponds to the biblical allotments of the tribe of Ephraim and the western half of Manasseh; after the death of Solomon and the splitting-up of his empire into the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel, this territory constituted the southern part of the Kingdom of Israel.[2] The border between Samaria and Judea is set at the latitude of Ramallah.[4]

The name "Samaria" is derived from the ancient city of Samaria, the second capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel.[5][6][7] The name likely began being used for the entire kingdom not long after the town of Samaria had become Israel's capital, but it is first documented after its conquest by Sargon II of Assyria, who turned the kingdom into the province of Samerina.[5]

Samaria was revived as an administrative term in 1967, when the West Bank was defined by Israeli officials as the Judea and Samaria Area,[8] of which the entire area north of the Jerusalem District is termed as Samaria.

Jordan ceded its claim of the area to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in August 1988.[9] In 1994, control of Areas 'A' (full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority) and 'B' (Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli–Palestinian security control) were transferred by Israel to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority and the international community do not recognize the term "Samaria"; in modern times, the territory is generally known as part of the West Bank.[10]


Village in Samaria overlooking historic pool

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew name "Shomron" is derived from the individual [or clan] Shemer, from whom King Omri (ruled 880s–870s BCE) purchased the hill on which he built his new capital city (1 Kings 16:24).[11]

The fact that the mountain was called Shomeron when Omri bought it may indicate that the correct etymology of the name is to be found more directly, in the Semitic root for "guard", hence its initial meaning would have been "watch mountain". In the earlier cuneiform inscriptions, Samaria is designated under the name of "Bet Ḥumri" ("the house of Omri"); but in those of Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745–727 BCE) and later it is called Samirin, after its Aramaic name,[12] Shamerayin.[6]

Historical boundaries

There are variations in the geographical definition of Samaria during history.

Northern kingdom to Hellenistic period

In an early 20th century popular encyclopaedia, the Samaria region in the three centuries following the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, i.e. during the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian periods, is described as a "province" that "reached from the [Mediterranean] sea to the Jordan Valley".[13]

Roman-period definition

The classical Roman-Jewish historian Josephus wrote:

(4) Now as to the country of Samaria, it lies between Judea and Galilee; it begins at a village that is in the great plain called Ginea, and ends at the Acrabbene toparchy, and is entirely of the same nature with Judea; for both countries are made up of hills and valleys, and are moist enough for agriculture, and are very fruitful. They have abundance of trees, and are full of autumnal fruit, both that which grows wild, and that which is the effect of cultivation. They are not naturally watered by many rivers, but derive their chief moisture from rain-water, of which they have no want; and for those rivers which they have, all their waters are exceeding sweet: by reason also of the excellent grass they have, their cattle yield more milk than do those in other places; and, what is the greatest sign of excellency and of abundance, they each of them are very full of people. (5) In the limits of Samaria and Judea lies the village Anuath, which is also named Borceos. This is the northern boundary of Judea.[3]

At the beginning of the Common Era, the boundary between Samaria and Judea passed eastwards of Antipatris, along the deep valley which had Beth Rima (today's Beit Rima) and Beth Laban (today's Al-Lubban al-Gharbi) on its southern, Judean bank; then it passed Anuath and Borceos, identified by Charles William Wilson (1836–1905) as the ruins of ’Aina and Khirbet Berkit; and reached the Jordan Valley north of Acrabbim and Sartaba.[14] Mount Hazor also stands at that boundary.


To the north, the area known as the hills of Samaria is bounded by the Jezreel Valley; to the east, by the Jordan Rift Valley; to the northwest, by the Carmel Ridge; to the west, by the Sharon plain; and to the south, by the Jerusalem mountains.[citation needed][dubious ]

The Samarian hills are not very high, seldom reaching the height of over 800 metres. Samaria's climate is more hospitable than the climate further south.

There is no clear division between the mountains of southern Samaria and northern Judaea.[2]


Over time, the region has been controlled by numerous different civilizations, including Israelites, Babylonians, the classical Persian Empire, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks.[15]

Israelite tribes and kingdoms

Map of Israeli settlements administered by the Shomron Regional Council in the West Bank

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites captured the region known as Samaria from the Canaanites and assigned it to the Tribe of Joseph. After the death of King Solomon (c. 931 BC), the northern tribes, including those of Samaria, separated from the southern tribes and established the separate Kingdom of Israel. Initially its capital was Tirzah until the time of King Omri (c.884 BC), who built the city of Shomron and made it his capital.

In the Bible, the city of Samaria, capital of the kingdom during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE, was condemned by the Hebrew prophets for its "ivory houses" and luxury palaces displaying pagan riches.[16]

Assyrian period

In 726–722 BC, the new king of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, invaded the land and besieged the city of Samaria. After an assault of three years, the city fell and much of its population was taken into captivity and deported.[17] Little documentation exists for the period between the fall of Samaria and the end of the Assyrian Empire.[18]

It seems likely that many returned in 715 BC due to slave revolts that Assyrian king Sargon was enduring.[19] Tremper Longman III suggests that Ezra 4:2, 9–10 implies that later Assyrian kings also returned more Israelites to Samaria.[20]

Babylonian, Persian and Hellenistic periods

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Roman period

In AD 6, the region became part of the Roman province of Iudaea, after the death of king Herod the Great.

New Testament references

The New Testament mentions Samaria in Luke 17:11–20, in the miraculous healing of the ten lepers, which took place on the border of Samaria and Galilee. John 4:1–26 records Jesus' encounter at Jacob's Well with the woman of Sychar, in which he declares himself to be the Messiah. In Acts 8:1 it is recorded that the early community of disciples of Jesus began to be persecuted in Jerusalem and were 'scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria'. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached and healed the sick there.[21] In the time of Jesus, Iudaea of the Romans was divided into the toparchies of Judea, Samaria, Galilee and the Paralia. Samaria occupied the centre of Iudaea (John 4:4). (Iudaea was later renamed Syria Palaestina in 135, following the Bar Kokhba revolt.) In the Talmud, Samaria is called the "land of the Cuthim".

Byzantine, Early Muslim, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods

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British Mandate

During the Great War, Palestine was wrestled by the armies of the British Empire from the Ottoman Empire and in the aftermath of the war it was entrusted to the United Kingdom to administer as a League of Nations mandated territory[22] Samaria was the name of one of the administrative districts of Palestine for part of this period. The 1947 UN partition plan called for the Arab state to consist of several parts, the largest of which was described as "the hill country of Samaria and Judea."[23]

Jordanian period

As a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, most of the territory was unilaterally incorporated as Jordanian-controlled territory, and was administered as part of the West Bank (west of the Jordan river).

Israeli administration

The Jordanian-held West Bank was captured and has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. Jordan ceded its claims in the West Bank (except for certain prerogatives in Jerusalem) to the PLO in November 1988, later confirmed by the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace of 1994. In the 1994 Oslo accords, the Palestinian Authority was established and given responsibility for the administration over some of the territory of West Bank (Areas 'A' and 'B').

Samaria is one of several standard statistical districts utilized by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.[24] "The Israeli CBS also collects statistics on the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza District. It has produced various basic statistical series on the territories, dealing with population, employment, wages, external trade, national accounts, and various other topics."[25] The Palestinian Authority however use Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Salfit, Ramallah and Tubas governorates as administrative centers for the same region.

The Shomron Regional Council is the local municipal government that administers the smaller Israeli towns (settlements) throughout the area. The council is a member of the network of regional municipalities spread throughout Israel.[26] Elections for the head of the council are held every five years by Israel's ministry of interior, all residents over age 17 are eligible to vote. In special elections held in August 2015 Yossi Dagan was elected as head of the Shomron Regional Council.[27]

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered by the international community to be illegal under international law, but the United States and Israeli governments dispute this.[28] In September 2016, the Town Board of the American Town of Hempstead in the State of New York, led by Councilman Bruce Blakeman entered into a partnership agreement with the Shomron Regional Council, led by Yossi Dagan, as part of an anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.[29]


Ancient city of Samaria/Sebaste

Samaria ruins, 1925

The ancient site of Samaria-Sebaste covers the hillside overlooking the Palestinian village of Sebastia on the eastern slope of the hill.[30] Remains have been found from the Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine era.[31]

Archaeological finds from Roman-era Sebaste, a site that was rebuilt and renamed by Herod the Great in 30 BC, include a colonnaded street, a temple-lined acropolis, and a lower city, where John the Baptist is believed to have been buried.[32]

The Harvard excavation of Samaria, which began in 1908, was headed by Egyptologist George Andrew Reisner.[33] The findings included Hebrew, Aramaic, cuneiform and Greek inscriptions, as well as pottery remains, coins, sculpture, figurines, scarabs and seals, faience, amulets, beads and glass.[34] The joint British-American-Hebrew University excavation continued under John Winter Crowfoot in 1931–35, during which time some of the chronology issues were resolved. The round towers lining the acropolis were found to be Hellenistic, the street of columns was dated to the 3–4th century, and 70 inscribed potsherds were dated to the early 8th century.[35]

In 1908–1935, remains of luxury furniture made of wood and ivory were discovered in Samaria, representing the Levant's most important collection of ivory carvings from the early first millennium BC. Despite theories of their Phoenician origin, some of the letters serving as fitter's marks are in Hebrew.[16]

As of 1999 three series of coins have been found that confirm Sinuballat was a governor of Samaria. Sinuballat is best known as an adversary of Nehemiah from the Book of Nehemiah where he is said to have sided with Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian. All three coins feature a warship on the front, likely derived from earlier Sidonian coins. The reverse side depicts the Persian King in his kandys robe facing down a lion that is standing on its hind legs.[36]

Other ancient sites


The Samaritans (Hebrew: Shomronim) are an ethnoreligious group named after and descended from ancient Semitic inhabitants of Samaria, since the Assyrian exile of the Israelites, according to 2 Kings 17 and first-century historian Josephus.[37] Religiously, the Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Based on the Samaritan Torah, Samaritans claim their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel. Their temple was built at Mount Gerizim in the middle of the 5th century BCE, and was destroyed under the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus of Judea in 110 BCE, although their descendants still worship among its ruins. The antagonism between Samaritans and Jews is important in understanding the Bible's New Testament stories of the "Samaritan woman at the well" and "Parable of the Good Samaritan". The modern Samaritans, however, see themselves as co-equals in inheritance to the Israelite lineage through Torah, as do the Jews, and are not antagonistic to Jews in modern times.[38]

See also


  1. "Book of Mormon Pronunciation Guide" (retrieved 2012-02-25), IPA-ified from «sa-mĕr´ē-a»
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Samaria - historical region, Palestine". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Josephus Flavius. "Jewish War, book 3, chapter 3:4-5". Retrieved 2012-12-31 – via Ancient History Sourcebook: Josephus (37 – after 93 CE): Galilee, Samaria, and Judea in the First Century CE.
  4. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia, 15th edition, 1987, volume 25, "Palestine", p. 403
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey, eds. (1990). Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Mercer University Press. pp. 788–789. ISBN 9780865543737. Retrieved 31 May 2018. Sargon ... named the new province, which included what formerly was Israel,Samerina. Thus the territorial designation is credited to the Assyrians and dated to that time; however, "Samaria" probably long before alteratively designated Israel when Samaria became the capital.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Online Etymology Dictionary".
  7. "Open Collections Program: Expeditions and Discoveries, Harvard Expedition to Samaria, 1908–1910".
  8. Emma Playfair (1992). International Law and the Administration of Occupied Territories: Two Decades of Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Oxford University Press. p. 41. On 17 December 1967, the Israeli military government issued an order stating that "the term 'Judea and Samaria region' shall be identical in meaning for all purposes ... to the term 'the West Bank Region'". This change in terminology, which has been followed in Israeli official statements since that time, reflected a historic attachment to these areas and rejection of a name that was seen as implying Jordanian sovereignty over them.
  9. Kifner, John (1 August 1988). "Hussein surrenders claims on West Bank to the P.L.O.; U.S. peace plan in jeopardy; Internal Tensions". New York Times.
  10. Neil Caplan (19 September 2011). The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-1-4443-5786-8.
  11. "This Side of the River Jordan; On Language", Forward, Philologos, 22 September 2010.
  12. Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Samaria" . The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  13. Finley, John H., ed. (October 1926). "Samaria". Nelson's perpetual loose-leaf encyclopaedia: an international work of reference. X. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons. p. 550. Retrieved 13 December 2020 – via HathiTrust Digital Library.
  14. James Hastings (editor), A Dictionary of the Bible, Volume III: (Part II: O - Pleiades), "Palestine: Geography", p. 652, University Press of the Pacific, 2004, ISBN 9781410217271
  15. "Open Collections Program: Expeditions and Discoveries, Harvard Expedition to Samaria, 1908–1910".
  16. 16.0 16.1 "The Ivories from Samaria: Complete Catalogue, Stylistic Classification, Iconographical Analysis, Cultural-Historical Evaluation". Archived from the original on 2018-03-21.
  17. Free, Joseph P.; Vos, Howard Frederic (24 July 1992). Archaeology and Bible History. Zondervan. ISBN 9780310479611 – via Google Books.
  18. Becking, Bob (1 January 1992). The Fall of Samaria: An Historical and Archaeological Study. BRILL. ISBN 9004096337 – via Google Books.
  19. "2 Kings 17 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers".
  20. Longman, Tremper; Garland, David E. (26 January 2010). 1 Samuel - 2 Kings. Zondervan. ISBN 9780310234951 – via Google Books.
  21. Acts 8:4–8
  22. The Mandate for Palestine. (1922, July 24). League of Nations Council. Retrieved June 23, 2021 from
  23. UN partition resolution Archived 2006-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  24. "Israel Central Bureau of Statistics". Archived from the original on 2012-02-04.
  25. "Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs".
  26. "The Center for Regional Councils in Israel". Website. Archived from the original on 2008-09-29.
  27. Hebrew. "Shomron Regional Council Website".
  28. "The Geneva Convention". BBC News. 10 December 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  29. Lazaroff, Tovah (16 September 2016). "In anti-BDS stand, Hempstead New York signs sister city pact with settler council". Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  30. Michael Hamilton Burgoyne and Mahmoud Hawari (May 19, 2005). "Bayt al-Hawwari, a hawsh House in Sabastiya". Levant. Council for British Research in the Levant, London. 37: 57–80. doi:10.1179/007589105790088913. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
  31. "Holy Land Blues". Al-Ahram Weekly. 5–11 January 2006. Archived from the original on 11 March 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
  32. Wiener, Noah (6 April 2013). "Spurned Samaria: Site of the capital of the Kingdom of Israel blighted by neglect". Biblical Archaeology Society. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  33. The Archaeology of Palestine, W.F. Albright, 1960, p. 34
  34. Albright, W. F. (24 July 2017). "Recent Progress in Palestinian Archaeology: Samaria-Sebaste III and Hazor I". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 150 (150): 21–25. doi:10.2307/1355880. JSTOR 1355880. S2CID 163393362.
  35. Albright, pp.39–40
  36. Edelman, Diana Vikander. The Origins of the Second Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem. Equinox. p. 41.
  37. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 9.277–91
  38. "Keepers: Israelite Samaritan Identity Since Joshua bin Nun".


  • Rainey, A. F. (November 1988). "Toward a Precise Date for the Samaria Ostraca". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 272 (272): 69–74. doi:10.2307/1356786. JSTOR 1356786. S2CID 163297693.
  • Stager, L. E. (February–May 1990). "Shemer's Estate". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 277/278 (277): 93–107. doi:10.2307/1357375. JSTOR 1357375. S2CID 163576333.
  • Becking, B. (1992). The Fall of Samaria: An Historical and Archaeological Study. Leiden; New York: E. J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-09633-7.
  • Franklin, N. (2003). "The Tombs of the Kings of Israel". Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins. 119 (1): 1–11.
  • Franklin, N. (2004). "Samaria: from the Bedrock to the Omride Palace". Levant. 36: 189–202. doi:10.1179/lev.2004.36.1.189. S2CID 162217071.
  • Park, Sung Jin (2012). "A New Historical Reconstruction of the Fall of Samaria". Biblica. 93 (1): 98–106.
  • Tappy, R. E. (2006). “The Provenance of the Unpublished Ivories from Samaria,” Pp. 637–56 in “I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times” (Ps 78:2b): Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday, A. M. Maeir and P. de Miroschedji, eds. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
  • Tappy, R. E. (2007). “The Final Years of Israelite Samaria: Toward a Dialogue between Texts and Archaeology,” Pp. 258–79 in Up to the Gates of Ekron: Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honor of Seymour Gitin, S. White Crawford, A. Ben-Tor, J. P. Dessel, W. G. Dever, A. Mazar, and J. Aviram, eds. Jerusalem: The W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research and the Israel Exploration Society.

External links

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