52. Post-Exilic Samaria

Discuss the role of Samaria in regional politics during the post-Exilic period.

Summary: Samaria was destroyed in 722 but it re-established itself and became continued to be occupied until the Persian period. By the Persian period, it had a higher population than Judah. Thus, Samaria was in charge of Israel and the surrounding area. Judah, on the other hand, was destroyed in 586 and in 538 Judeans began to return to Judah. As the Judeans began to rebuilt their destroyed city and temple, the rulers of Samaria began to harass the Judeans out of fear of losing power. The rulers of Samaria attempted to keep Judah weak by harassing the Judeans and by trying to sway Persian authorities against Judah. Although there was conflict between Samaria and Judah, there is evidence that there were also peaceful relations between them, despite the conflicts that existed. Some scholars even suggested that Samaria had official control over Judah and therefore Samaria was rightfully agitated. But, today, scholars do not accept this view anymore. All in all, Samaria was afraid to lose power and therefore it attempted to keep its power by harassing Judah.

Historical Survey of Samaria

*722 BCE. Samaria was destroyed by Shalmaneser V of Assyria. Northern Israelites were deported and the land was populated with Assyrians. 

*Samaria then became part of the Assyrian empire.

*Samaria began to establish itself after the Assyrian deportations. 

*The 8th century fortification may have survived to the Persian period (Lipshitts)

Historical Survey of Judah

*701 BCE. Cities in Judah destroyed by Sennacherib of Assyria.

*590-80's BCE. Judah was destroyed by Babylon.

*586 BCE. Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar. Judaeans go into exile.

*Jerusalem and Judah is very poor during the Babylonian exile. Area is heavily depopulated with a large decrease in the settlement.

Judah and Samaria under the Persian Empire

*539 BCE. Cyrus II conquers Babylon and inherits Babylon's empire which consisted of all of Mesopotamia, including Samaria and Judah. 

*538 BCE. Cyrus of Persia allows Judaeans to return to from Babylon to Jerusalem.

*522 BCE. Darius I establishes a subdistrict of his empire–Across the River, to which belong Judah and Samaria.

*Samaria–recovered quicker after Assyrian destruction than did Judah after Babylon (Knoppers). It was "one of the biggest urban centers in Palestine" during the Persian period (Lipschits). Samaria shows a "continuity from the Iron III period (late 8th century) into the Persian Period" (Knoppers).

•Imports of Persian pottery; a lot of Attic ware; Samarian coins; 

•Samaritan papyri mention the governors of Samaria

•Population much larger than Judah (Kessler). Samaria was heavily settled (Knoppers).

*Judah–is poor and depopulated. There are "no architectural or other finds that attest to Jerusalem as an urban center during the Persian Period" (Lipschits).

Relations between Judah and Samaria

Peaceful Relations

*There is evidence of peaceful relations between Judah and Samaria.

*Intermarriage (Ezra 9-10; Neh 13:23-27): The struggle in Ezra-Nehemiah against intermarriage clearly shows that the people intermarried and had peaceful relations. Even the daughter of Sanballat the Horonite was married to the grandson of Eliashib, the high priest (Neh 13:28)! Clearly, there were cordial relations between Samaria and Judah.

*Yahwistic Samaritan names: In the Samaritan papyri, the majority of Samaritan names are Yahwistic; e.g., Delaiah, Shemaiah, [Yesha']yahu. Yahwistic names also found in Samaritan coins; e.g., Ḥananyah, Jeho'anah, Bodyah, Shelemiah. Additionally, Tobiah the Ammonite has a Yahwistic name. These names show that the Samaritans viewed themselves as worshippers of YHWH. This suggests that there was some link between the Judaeans and the Samaritans.

*Elephantine evidence: In 408, the Jews of Elephantine write to Bagohi, governor of Judah, and to Delaiah and Shelemiah, sons of Sanballat and governors of Samaria. The Jews appeal to both Samaria and to Judah for support to build a temple in Elephantine. This suggests that there was some ties between the leaders of Yehud and Samaria.

*Finally, Neh 6:10-14 records the Nehemiah went to the house of Shemaiah, son of Delaiah, where Shemaiah supposedly warned Nehemiah of an assassination plot against him. Nehemiah views this warning as a tactic to scare him. Nevertheless, the fact that they met together suggests that there ties and relations between Yehud and Samaria (Knoppers).

*Nevertheless, there were also conflicts between Yehud and Samaria.

Conflict between Judah and Samaria

In the 520's, Zerubbabel leads a wave of exiles back to Jerusalem. Soon, he was appointed governor by Darius. Along with Joshua/Jeshua the high-priest, Zerubbabel established an altar on the temple mount and began to rebuilt the temple. The temple was rebuilt by 516 BCE, by the support of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

In Ezra we read of Samaria opposing the rebuilding of the temple in Zerubbabel's time (4:1-5 + 4:24-5:2) and in Ezra's time (4:6-23). And in Nehemiah (2:10, 19 & chaps. 4, 6) we read of Samaria opposing the rebuilding of the city wall of Jerusalem. 

In Zerubbabel's time (520-516 BCE; Darius), the "enemies of Judah and Benjamin" tried to discourage the Judaeans from rebuilding the temple; they "troubled them in building, and hired counselours against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Perisa" (Ezra 4:1-5). The building of the temple was stopped until the reign of Darius (4:24). Nevertheless, after Tattenai and Shethar-Bozani inquired into the matter, permission was granted to the Jews to continue building the temple (Ezra 5-6). Darius' edict of approval is given (Ezra 6). The decree even states that whoever opposes the rebuilding of the temple should be hanged (6:11-12).

By the middle of the 5th century  BCE, Jerusalem's temple and Jerusalem's walls were being rebuilt. This suggests that Jerusalem had become the capital of the Persian province of Yehud, replacing Mizpah (Lipschits). And Samaria had a desire for "political, economic, and religious influence and involvement in the re-emerging cultic and economic center in Jerusalem" (Kessler).

In Ezra's time (458 BCE; Artaxerxes I), the leaders of Samaria (i.e. Rehum and Shimshei the scribe) wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. They claimed that the Jews were building the "rebellious and evil city, and are finishing its walls and repairing the foundations". They warn Artaxerxes that if the city is rebuilt, the Jews will stop paying "tax, tribute, and custom". Moreover, they claim that once the walls are rebuilt, the king "will have no dominion beyond the river". Artaxerxes replied with a command for the Jews to stop rebuilding their city. Rehum went to Jerusalem with the letter and with arms forced the Jews to stop rebuilding the city (4:6-23).

In Nehemiah's time (445 BCE; Artaxerxes I), Sanballat the Horonite (also mentioned in the Elephantine papyri), Tobiah the Ammnonite, Geshem the Arab, mock the Jews for rebuilding the city walls (Neh 2:10, 19; chap 4). Also, the Ashdodites joined (4:7) and conspired with Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem to attack Jerusalem. Later, it is recorded that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem conspired to overtake Nehemiah (Neh 6). They accused him of supporting a revolt and of attempting to set himself as king in Jerusalem. So, they invited him to come out and "consult together." Clearly, they planned to kill Nehemiah. Nevertheless, the wall was completed and Nehemiah did not consult with Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

Why the Conflict?

While Judaeans were in exile in Babylon, politics in Samaria continued to develop. When the Judaeans returned to Jerusalem, their neighbors (Samaria, Ammon) were running the place. So they did not want the Judaeans to gain any power who would pose a political threat to them. The leaders of Samaria would have remembered that some time ago, Judah had a hegemony and that Josiah ruled over Judah as well as territories of Samaria and Megiddo. Samaria therefore responded in fear when they saw Jerusalem rebuilt and the temple reconstructed. 

Nehemiah is specifically commissioned to rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem; he is escorted by the military back to Jerusalem (Neh 2:4-9). He is also appointed as governor over Jerusalem (Neh 5:14). It is clear, then, why Sanballat was so opposed to the activities of Nehemiah. Sanballat was afraid if Jerusalem gained power he would lose power over Israel and Judah.

In response, the Samaritans joined with Ammon, northern Arabia, and Ashdod to go against the Judaeans. Sanballat's gang were in a power struggle with Nehemiah. Nehemiah's actions were an attempt to make Jerusalem independent of Samaria and Ammon, which were the regions of Sanballat's rulership. Nehemiah was not trying to get independence from Persia, but rather, with Persia's support, Nehemiah was trying to free Judah from the influence of its immediate neighbors (Collins 439)! Samaria realized that the rebuilding of the temple would set Jerusalem back to the religious prestige that Jerusalem had before its destruction. And Sanballat understood that the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls would strengthen Judah greatly. That's why Samaria wanted to prevent Judah from building the temple and Jerusalem's walls. 

The Samaritans harassed the Judaeans and they attempted to sway and persuade Persian authorities agains the Jews and against Jerusalem and in so doing, the rulers of Samaria hoped to keep their own power over the region of Israel and Judah. 

The Jews, on the other hand, used the support of Persia to rebuild Jerusalem. It was in their interest to have the support of Persia; thus, contrary to the claims of Sanballat, the Jews were not rebelling against Persia, but rather, they were utilizing Persia's support to restore their city.

(In 332 BCE, Sanballat's grandson–Sanballat III, built a temple in Mt. Gerizim. This again shows the power struggle between the Judaeans and Samaria which existed from the time of Cyrus to the time of Alexander the Great.)

Was Judah Under the Control of Samaria?

Albrecht Alt suggested in 1934 that Judah was initially placed under the control of Samaria and it is for this reason that Samaria was upset when Judah sought to gain independence by restoring their city and temple. Morton Smith critiqued this view in 1971. In result, this view is not not widely held. Smith argued that Alt's view was a hypothesis and there was no real evidence to support this view.

Notwithstanding, Akroyd upholds that perhaps Samaria did espouse some authority over Judah for some time; he suggests some thought on this view. 

1) Akroyd argues that Samaria complained to Persia (as recorded in Ezra-Nehemiah) about the rebuilding of the walls because it had the legal right to do so, namely, it controlled Judah!

2) There was a clear line of governors over Samaria in the 5th-4th century as is disclosed in the Samaritan papyri. In Judah, however, there does not seem to have been a clear succession of governors, which suggests the Judah was much weaker than Samaria (However, Akroyd admits that more governors have in fact been found that functioned, so this weakens his argument). 

3) Additionally, the Elephantine papyri reveal that in 408 BCE, the Jewish community in Egypt appealed to Judah AND to Samaria for support to build a temple in Egypt. This suggests that there was some link between Judah and Samaria. 

4) Finally, coins began to be minted in the early 4th century with the name, Yehud, which was the Persian provincial name of Judah. This may suggest that until then, or until a time not long before, Judah was under foreign local control, perhaps under Samaria.

*While most scholars don't hold to this view, nevertheless, it is clear that Samaria was more powerful than Judah in the Persian period and Samaria intended to keep its power by keeping Judah weak.


*Samaria was afraid to lose power, so they harassed Judah and they attempted to sway Persia against Judah in an effort to keep their own power.

Bibliography (citations taken from articles with the following volumes)

1) Lipschits, Oded and Gary N. Knoppers. Eds. Judah and the Judean in the Fourth Century B.C.E. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2007. 

2) Lipschits, Oded and Manfred Oeming. Eds. Judah and the Judeans in the Persian Period. Winona Lake, Indian: Eisenbrauns, 2006.

3) Cross, F.M. From Epic to Canon. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ Press, 1998.

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