Membership, Community, Diversity

Who are the Samaritans?

After the northern kingdom’s capital, Samaria, was overrun by the Assyrians in 721 B.C.E., many of the leading and best-educated Jewish citizens were deported. The invaders imported significant numbers of colonists who gradually infiltrated the people of Israel. They came to trace their ancestry to the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, thus identifying themselves as Jewish at least genealogically, and intermarried with Jews. The Samaritans established their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. As a result of a falling out with Nehemiah in the fifth century, the Samaritans split off from Judaism more or less definitively and came to think of themselves as a separate people. Now very few in numbers, the Samaritans still have their own version of the Torah and distinctive codes of religious law. At Passover they still sacrifice a lamb on Mt. Gerizim. Only a small community of Samaritans, well under a thousand, survive. Plagued by health problems as a result of inbreeding, most Samaritans live around the city of Nablus in the West Bank.


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