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Ancient city of Samaria (Palestine-Israel)

The Founder of the Kingdom of Israel King Omri. Portrait from the Collection of Biographies Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

The Founder of the Kingdom of Israel King Omri. Portrait from the Collection of Biographies Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

There is probably no place in Israel that would not be related to history in one way or another. So on one day in May, together with our guide in Samaria Itzhak Fishelevich we set out on our journey to the ancient city of Sebastia. In the Bible the city of Sebastia is named Samaria and it is frequently mentioned in different portions both in the positive and in the negative ways. Samaria is located on the territory of the Palestinian autonomy, so you cannot always get there, and if you do get there it will be possible only in the company of the Israeli army. On our trip to Samaria we were accompanied by military patrols.

Remains of the Tombs of Kings Omri and Ahab of Israel

Remains of the Tombs of Kings Omri and Ahab of Israel

The city of Samaria was founded in the time of the reign of Omri, the king of Israel. In 1 Kings it says, “And he bought the hill Samaria of Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on the hill, and called the name of the city which he built, after the name of Shemer, owner of the hill, Samaria.” Samaria’s location was very advantageous, the city was located in the most fertile part of the mountains of Ephraim and had very convenient ways of communication available. When he was laying down the city, King Omri pursued the purpose to unite the remaining ten tribes of Israel. In the times of King Omri, Samaria became one of the most influential centres of Israel. In those days, on the territory of the modern state of Israel there were two kingdoms – the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel.

King Hosea - the Last King of the Kingdom of Israel. Portrait from the Collection of Biographies Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

King Hosea – the Last King of the Kingdom of Israel. Portrait from the Collection of Biographies Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

King Omri ruled for twelve years, from 885 to 874 BCE. And Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him. Omri rested with his ancestors and was buried in Samaria. And Ahab his son succeeded him as king (1 Kings 16:25, 28).

The father’s work was continued by his son Ahab, whose rule lasted for twenty two years. In those days, it was a long term. Under Ahab’s rule, the city of Samaria was built with luxurious buildings and was surrounded by the walls. In 1 Kings it says that Ahab, Omri’s son, did evil in the eyes of the Lord more than all those before him. It was not enough for him to fall into the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat; he took Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon, as his wife, and began to serve Baal and worship him.  He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria, and made a grove; and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.

Ruins of the Round Greek Tower

Ruins of the Round Greek Tower

According to some sources, king Ahab built for himself and his wife Jezebel, a “house of ivory”. During the archaeological excavations that were carried out in 1908-1910 and in 1931-1935, the scientists discovered many broken pieces of ivory. In the territory of ancient Samaria, the ground was virtually covered by fragments of ivory. On some large fragments there were the preserved sections of “exquisite reliefs by Phoenician craftsmen.” In this way it was confirmed that the palace in question is the very “house of ivory of King Ahab.” All these fragments were the traces of the decoration of the palace rooms and its furniture. Ivory plates, found at the excavation sites in Samaria, are displayed at Rockefeller museum in Jerusalem.

Ruins of the Temple Dedicated to Emperor Augustus

Ruins of the Temple Dedicated to Emperor Augustus

In the time of Ahab’s rule, Baal’s worship cult reached its peak. After marrying Jezebel, Ahab raised up persecution against the prophets who convicted the king’s actions that brought destruction upon the people.

King Herod the Great. Drawing

King Herod the Great. Drawing

Ahab’s wife, Jezebel from Sidon, was a strong and energetic woman, and she had a great influence on her husband. Under Ahab, the worship of Jehovah had almost stopped, and that was the reason, according to the ancient Jewish authors, for many plaques. First of all, the country was hit by a terrible drought, and then by an invasion of the enemies.

King Ahab waged three wars with changing success against the Syrian king, and he was killed in the last one. The Syrian king devastated the whole land and held Ahab under a siege in Samaria. The king was in the uttermost despair, when he found out from one of the prophets that the Lord would grant him victory through the chief leaders’ young men. The king ordered to form them into a choice squadron, and sent it out against the enemy when the Syrians expected it the least and were indulged in drinking in their camp. The chief leaders’ young men overthrew the enemy and the rest of the army finished the slaughter. Soon Ahab had a meeting with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah and suggested to him to begin a war against the Syrian king. The Bible says that all the prophets of Baal predicted the victory for Ahab, and only the prophet of Jehovah, Micaiah, spoke of defeat: the Israelites would flee from the battlefield, but only one of them would be killed – Ahab. Indeed, when both kings met the enemy, an arrow shot at random from the Syrian side, lethally wounded Ahab.

Ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre I century CE

Ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre I century CE

So Ahab slept with his fathers; and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead. Ahaziah followed the wicked ways of his father and of his mother Jezebel in all things, and he served calves. One day, as he walked on a terrace above his palace, Ahaziah fell through a lattice and was sick. Suffering from the consequences of his fall, Ahaziah sent messengers to Ekron, the Philistine city to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, whether he shall recover of this disease. Prophet Elijah who met with the messengers announced first through them and then to the king himself in person that the king would not come down from his bed, and he would certainly die; and Ahaziah died in the second year of his reign.

Roman Emperor Augustus. Silver Tetradrachm. Struck in Antioch. From Private Collection

Roman Emperor Augustus. Silver Tetradrachm. Struck in Antioch. From Private Collection

After Ahaziah, Joram, who was Ahaziah’s brother and Ahab’s son, ruled over Israel in Samaria. Joram ruled for 12 years. Joram’s rule is known also because prophet Elijah was taken up in a fiery chariot under his reign, and most of the wonders of prophet Elisha fall on the time of his reign, – Elisha, who saved Joram more than once from Syrians.

The next king after Joram was Jehu. When king Joram had been wounded in the battle against the Syrians, prophet Elsha, while the king was still alive, anointed Jehu the king over Israel (2 Kings 9:6). Then Jehu drew his bow and shot king Joram and Ahaziah king of Judah to death with his own hands (2 Kings 9:24, 27). At his order Jezebel was thrown down from the wall and trampled down by horses. He also ordered to put to death 70 royal sons from the house of Ahab, destroyed the worship of Baal in Samaria and persecuted idolatry; nevertheless, he maintained the heresy of the golden calf cult. King Jehu ruled over Samaria for 28 years. Under him, the Israelites sustained several defeats at the hand of the Syrian king Hazael and lost control over Bashan and Gilead.

John the Baptist. Coptic Icon

John the Baptist. Coptic Icon

After the death of king Jehu, he was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz. The time span of Jehoahaz’s rule over Israel in Samaria was 17 years. As a chastisement for his idolatry, he was stricken by Hazael and Ben Hadad, the Syrian kings, so hard that of his vast army only 50 horsemen, 10 chariots, and ten thousand soldiers remained.

Following Jehoahaz, the next king over Israel in Samaria was his son Jehoash. Jehoash reigned for 16 years. Although he honoured prophet Elisha, over whose death he bitterly wept, he still followed the sins of Jeroboam and maintained idolatry. It is known that Jehoash won a victory over Amaziah king of Judah, whom he took captive.

Ruins of the Byzantian Church of John the Baptist

Ruins of the Byzantian Church of John the Baptist

And Jehoash rested with his fathers and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel. And his son Jeroboam succeeded the throne after him. And Jeroboam reigned for forty one years, and he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat. According to the Bible, Jeroboam was an outright heathen, he worshipped golden calves, and waged successful wars against Syria, the Moabites, the Ammonites; he seized Damascus and Hamath, and restored the ancient boundaries of his kingdom to the Euphrates and the Dead Sea. The chronicles record that the Lord helped him because He did not want the descendants of Israel to perish. During Jeroboam’s reign, the kingdom of Israel reached its highest peak. Prophets Hosea and Amos never ceased to convict the wickedness and iniquities that filled the kingdom of Israel. Through prophet Amos God announced the destruction of the house of Jeroboam and the fall of the kingdom of Israel (Amos 7:9-11).

After the death of Jeroboam, the kingdom passed into the hands of his son Zechariah. Zechariah reigned for only six months, and, as it is written, he did evil in the eyes of the Lord as his fathers had done. And Shallum son of Jabesh conspired against Zechariah. He attacked him in front of the people, and slew him, and reigned in his stead. This was the word of the Lord spoken to Jehu, “Your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” And so it came to pass (2 Kings 15:12).

Ascending to the throne over Israel, Shallum reigned for only a short time – not more than thirty days. Having learned of the king Zechariah’s death and of the take-over in the country, commander Menahem gathered his army and marched with them to Samaria. In Samaria Menahem killed Shallum and assumed the throne.

Menahem ruled over the kingdom of Israel in Samaria for ten years, and he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. After he took over Samaria, Menahem marched against the city of Tiphsah, whose citizens did not want to recognize him. Tiphsah was captured and its dwellers were slaughtered. Menahem had the reputation of a cruel ruler, who made common Israelites suffer. When the Assyrian king Pul came against Israel, Menahem preferred not to fight the Assyrians, but to pay them off with a thousand talents of silver, which was exacted of the people. And Menahem slept with his fathers. And Pekahiah his son reigned in his stead.

King Pekahiah reigned over Israel for two years, and after a two-year wicked rule he was killed by Pekah. The Bible says that Pekah the son of Remaliah, a captain of his, conspired against him, and smote him in Samaria, in the palace of the king’s house, with Argob and Arieh, and with him fifty men of the Gileadites: and he killed him, and reigned in his stead.

Pekah reigned in Samaria for twenty years. Attacking the kingdom of Judah, Pekah took many captives, but persuaded by prophet Oded1 he returned freedom to them. Pekah and Rezin, the king of Syria allied with the purpose of dethroning Ahaz, the king of Judah, to bring up to David’s throne a son of Tabeel, but they could not carry out their intention and had to retreat from Jerusalem. In these dire circumstances Ahaz turned to Assyrian king Tiglathpileser with a request to help him against his enemies. Tiglathpileser conquered Damascus, took over several Northern cities of the kingdom of Israel – Gilead, Galilee, and all the land of Naphtali, and took the people into captivity in Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). It could be that under the influence of all these calamities, Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah, and put Pekah to death and took up his throne himself.

Hoshea reigned for nine years – from 730 to 722 BCE. He is the last king of the kingdom of Israel. The Bible says that Hoshea did evil in the sight of the Lord, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him. Hoshea’s reign was dishonourable, because he obtained kingship by murdering king Pekah. Assyrian king Shalmaneser came up to wage a war against him, and Hoshea became his servant and paid him tribute. And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and paid no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in the cities of the Medes. Hoshea died in captivity in Babylon.

After Samaria had been captured by the Assyrians, and the Israelites had been carried away, the Assyrians mingled with the remnant of the people of Israel who were left there, and as the result of that mingling the Samaritan people were formed.

In the 2nd century BCE, Samaria was populated by the Macedonians. Later the city was torn down and it was rebuilt only under king Herod. Herod named the city Sebastia in honour of Roman emperor Augustus. The Greek variation for the word Augustus is Sebaste.

Under emperor Augustus in 25 BCE, king Herod rebuilt the city, and lodged there Roman soldiers who had finished serving their duty. He enlarged the city significantly, surrounded it by a new wall, and added to it all the necessary attributes of a Roman city: the stadium, the forum, the amphitheatre, and a gentile temple. Joseph Flavius wrote, “in Samaria he rebuilt the city and surrounded it with magnificent walls… and peopled it with six thousand men, dividing between them the fat lands around it… and erected the temple in honour of the emperor…” In honour of Augustus, who was called by the Greeks Sebastes – the Majestic one, Samaria was renamed into Sebastia. Of the citizens of Sebastia Herod formed a single regiment of soldiers who were especially loyal to him.

The history of Samaria does not end there. According to a legend of the early Christians, John the Baptist was buried in this particular city. In the times of the Christian Rome, Samaria was one of significant centres of Christianity. In 614, Samaria was temporarily captured by the Persian troops, but the Byzantians soon recovered this region back from the Persians. Shortly afterwards, Samaria was conquered by the Arabs.

Now on the site of the ancient Samaria the remains of the royal palace dating from the times of Omri and Ahab can be seen, with two square underground facilities, presumably their tombs; the remains of a round Greek tower made with huge stone blocks dating back to the 4th century BCE. The remains of king Herod the Great’s constructions have been also preserved, such as the Roman forum with its well-preserved columns, and the temple dedicated by Herod the Great to Roman emperor Augustus, with a huge stairway leading to it. The main street of the city of Herod’s time has been also excavated, with columns set along the street. The ruins of the Roman amphitheatre of the 1st century CE, Roman basilica with preserved columns of the 3rd century can be also seen there.

On the territory of the archaeological complex there are also the ruins of a Byzantine church of saint John the Baptist. The church is dedicated to John the Baptist, who condemned Herod Antipas for his connection to Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, and who because of this was first put into a dungeon and then beheaded as a sign of gratitude for the dance of Herodias’ daughter. According to the historic sources, the church was built by the order of Saint Helena – the mother of emperor Constantine the Great. Later, during the Crusaders’ times, the church was renovated.

1Oded -  is a prophet, mentioned in 2 Chronicles. He was from Samaria; and he was the father of prophet Azariah. When the Israelites were triumphantly returning to Samaria from their attack on Judah, Oded convinced the Israelites to set the Judeans they captured free (two hundred thousand wives, sons, and daughters), and to return the spoils of war. “But a prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded: and he went out before the army that came to Samaria, and said unto them, ‘Behold, because the Lord God of your fathers was angry with Judah, He has delivered them into your hand, and you have slain them in a rage that reaches up unto heaven. And now you intend to make the children of Judah and Jerusalem your slaves: but are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God? Now hear me therefore, and deliver the captives again, which you have taken captive of your brethren: for the fierce wrath of the Lord is upon you.” (2 Chronicles 28:9-11).

Один комментарий

  1. В XI веке до н. э. эта территория вошла в состав объединённого Израильского царства , столицей которого вначале был город Хеврон , а затем стал Иерусалим .

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