Who Are the Samaritans?
The Samaritans are a group of people, an ethnoreligious tribe originating from the Israelites with their religion, traditions and history.
Samaritans themselves claim that their ancestors were mainly the Northern Israelite tribes, people from Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived in 722 BCE the demolition of the Kingdom of Israel (or Samaria), which was committed by the Assyrians. The Samaritans have their religion, Samaritanism, which is somewhat related to Judaism. They strictly follow it and stick to the opinion that their faith based on the Samaritan Pentateuch comes from Babylonian captivity. The Samaritans also consider their religion as the true one of the ancient Israelites, saved by those who stayed in the Land of Israel. They also proclaim it as the opposite of Judaism, which they treat as a related, yet altered religion. The Samaritans believe that the authentic Holy Place of Israel was Mount Gerizim from the time when Joshua, the main person in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Joshua, conquered Canaan.
Samaritan people were a large community once, but then the Samaritan Revolts against the Byzantine Empire took place and resulted in the bloody suppression, which led to their population tremendous decline (mainly around 540 CE). Other factors that contributed to it were the conversions to Christianity and Islam, and, therefore, by the Middle Ages, there were only around 1,900 Samaritans estimated who remained in Palestine and Syria. Nowadays, the issue of their population has become even more impressive in terms of an utterly small number of people – there were only around 800 Samaritans registered in 2017. They now have a stand-alone status in Israel, and sometimes the conversions from Samaritanism to Judaism and conversely happen because of marriages.
As for the relationships between the Samaritan and Jews, in many sources, it is described as hatred, although nothing is said particularly about the beginning of this mutual despise. Some researchers believe that the starting point of this confrontation can be dated back to the ancestors of both tribes. Back then, Joseph, the patriarch of Samaritans, was loathed by his brothers, who even planned to kill him. Although God intervened and protected Joseph, the hatred between Samaritans and all the other tribes is claimed to start there. Later on, there were many severe crimes and evil actions committed by different tribes towards the Samaritans and vice versa. Jewish people even started to call them gentile, which meant that they are not a part of the Israelite heritage, complete outsiders. It seems to be ironic and irrational since the Samaritans are half-Jew by origin.
Despite the resentment from other tribes, not only do the Samaritans consistently appear in the Bible in somewhat positive settings, but there are also many parables with the Samaritans as main characters. In addition, the phrase “a good Samaritan” is well-known and widespread worldwide. What is more, in dictionaries, a Samaritan person is usually defined as a person who helps others disinterestedly, unselfishly. Therefore, the general appearance of the Samaritans may be expressed as if they are just people, a usual tribe with their religion, rules, laws, and outlook towards the world.
Nowadays, there is a village called Kiryat Luza, which is located in Holon, Israel, where the modern tribe of the Samaritans lives. They still have their writing system, and they also communicate with each other in two languages: ancient Aramaic dialect and Arabian. Along with the religion, the Samaritans managed to keep the old traditions that they still follow. Moreover, if somebody wants to observe the Samaritans and research their culture and Holy places, they are not reserved from the world.