The Samaritan Schism

Schisms in Jewish History: Part 2

This post was originally published on Professor Schiffman’s website as the second part of a series of articles on schisms in Jewish history. Bible History Daily republished this article with the consent of the author. Visit for print and multimedia resources on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Babylonian Talmud, Jesus, Hellenism, Christianity and more.

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There is considerable scholarly controversy regarding the date of the Samaritan schism. Although some seek to identify the origins of the Samaritans in the Hellenistic period, their beginnings should be traced back to the 6th century B.C.E. When the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722, they exiled the upper crust of society in order to deprive the country of its leadership. At the same time, as they did elsewhere, they brought in foreign elements in order to create a mixed population unlikely to unify and revolt. These new elements eventually mixed with the native population and together they evolved a syncretistic form of Israelite worship.

Mt. Gerizim. Photo: Sonia Halliday.

When the Judeans returned to rebuild the Temple in about 520 B.C.E., the Samaritans, identifying with the Judeans, offered to help in the endeavor. The Judeans rejected the Samaritans because of their questionable Jewish descent and their syncretistic cult. As a result, long centuries of hostility began. The Samaritans constantly attempted to block the rebuilding of Jerusalem by appealing to Persian authorities.
Following their rejection by the Judeans, the Samaritans set up their own cult center at Mt. Gerizim, near Schechem, modern Nablus. Yet the subsequent history of Jewish-Samaritan relations was one of continued decline. In the Hellenistic period, the Samaritans often took stands against their Judean neighbors. The Samaritan Temple was destroyed by the Hasmoneans. Nonetheless, throughout this period, the Samaritans continued to have an ambiguous status as Jews. They were regarded as Jews who had somehow been corrupted in their religious practices. As we enter the tannaitic period, we can trace, generation by generation, the process of the final separation of the Samaritans from the Jews. Relationships were deteriorating, especially as the Samaritans sided with the Romans, perhaps already in the Great Revolt (66–73 C.E.) but definitely in the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 C.E.). By the end of the tannaitic period, the Samaritans were treated as non-Jews.

Explore the Scholar’s Study “Dating of the Samaritan Temple on Mt. Gerizim” in Bible History Daily.

This view is enshrined in the post-Talmudic tractate Kutim which simply appropriates laws regarding non-Jews and applies them to the Samaritans, substituting the word kuti, meaning Samaritan, for goy, non-Jew. In fact, kuti became practically synonymous with non-Jew, leading to its use by Christian censors as a substitute for goy in Hebrew printed texts.
In the case of the Samaritan schism, certainly by tannaitic times, Jews would not marry Samaritans, since they were of a doubtful status. At some point, probably in the Middle Ages, Samaritans were forbidden to marry Jews. These two groups saw themselves as independent religious communities, acknowledging only their historical connections. The rise of the modern State of Israel has ameliorated the social aspects of this conflict, but Jews are still forbidden to marry Samaritans. Some Samaritans permit marriage to Jewish women, but this leniency came about only recently, since their population shrank to a dangerously low number that threatened their survival. Clearly, Jews and Samaritans separated permanently, and the prohibition of marriage between these two communities was a natural result.

What does urban anthropology tell us about the capitals of Israel and Judah? Learn more about the administrative and regal-ritual cities in “Ancient Samaria and Jerusalem” by Jill Katz.

Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Judge Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies in New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies. He is also the director of the Global Institute for Advanced Research in Jewish Studies. He has extensive experience analyzing and publishing the Dead Sea Scrolls, including positions as co-editor-in-chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2000) and editor-in-chief of the Center for Online Judaic Studies from 2005 to 2008.


Lawrence H. Schiffman on Schisms in Jewish History

Part 1: The Limits of Tolerance: Halakhah and History
Part 2: The Samaritan Schism
Part 3: Sectarianism in the Second Temple Period
Part 4: The Jewish-Christian Schism

1 Responses

  1. Mennonite Millennials and the Good Samaritan | Irregular Ideation says:

    […] today means a helpful stranger.  The Samaritans when Jesus spoke were despised people and an enemy to those listening.  I think the parable might be told differently […]

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