One of the attacks in the Qur’an is the using of the word Samaritan (in Qur’an translations) by Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) in addressing someone in the Qur’an, yet the City of Samaria was formed centuries later after Prophet Moses (peace be upon him).
Nah! This one is too lengthy . . . .
Let us just read what other Muslim has about it, ok?
M S M Saifullah, ʿAbdurraḥman Robert Squires, ʿAbdullah David, Elias Karim & Muḥammad Ghoniem
© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.
First Composed: 1st May 1999
Last Updated: 26th November 2006
Assalamu-ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:
According to the Christian missionaries and apologists, comparisons between the Qur’anic and Biblical narrations expose serious errors within the Qur’an. The Qur’anic narrations are said to be either ‘absurd’ or ‘historically impossible’. Take for example the story of Moses as related in the Qur’an: the Qur’an mentions a certain Haman who was associated with the Court of Pharaoh – when in reality, say the missionaries, he was a counsellor of Ahasuerus who lived 1,100 years after Pharaoh; the Qur’an mentions that Pharaoh crucified or impaled his victims upon a stake, yet crucifixion was unknown in Egypt at that time.
Relying heavily on a single (prolific) Christian orientalist, the missionaries also state that the Qur’an, according to Surah 20, says the Israelites were led astray by a “Samaritan” – yet the Samaritan people did not exist until many centuries later. What evidence is presented to support these claims? Can the presuppositions of the Christian missionaries be taken seriously in the light of contemporary Samaritan scholarship? This paper proposes to examine the origin of the Samaritans as suggested by the Christian missionaries.
The “Samaritan” error in the Qur’an can be traced to Judeo-Christian attitudes provided by a prima facie consideration of the Old Testament material. Even after the advent of critical biblical scholarship, it was supposed that the picture of the Samaritans as a people of mixed race and religion, as provided in II Kings 17, was for all intent and purposes an accurate one. A prime example comes from the 1898 edition of James Hastings’ A Dictionary Of The Bible. In the article “Samaria, Territory Of” by C. W. Wilson, the description of the Samaritans is given as:
In 2 K 17:29 these colonists are termed ‘Samaritans.’ Josephus says… that they were called Cuthaeans in Hebrew, from Cuthah, the city of their origin… and he regarded the Samaritans of his day as their descendents. The Cuthaeans and others brought their national gods, an act which was believed to have brought on them the vengeance of God of the land.
Descriptions of Samaritans worshipping an admixture of gods owe a great deal to later day Jewish polemics, in particular, that arising from Josephus’ Antiquities as well as from the Old Testament itself. It is not surprising that the views concerning the Samaritans origins also positively influenced in a different way the anti-Islamic polemics in the West in the beginning of the 20th century CE. For example, while discussing the mention of al-Samiri in the Qur’an, Henri Lammens stated that:
“the most glaring anachronisms” is “the story of the Samaritan (sic) who is alleged to have made the Jews worship the golden calf…”
That these claims have literally pullulated amongst the Christian missionaries is something of an understatement. For example, Anis Shorrosh says:
The Qur’an says the golden calf worshipped by the Israelites in the wilderness was molded by a Samaritan… In fact, the term Samaritan was not used until 722 BC, several hundred years after the events recorded in Exodus.
Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner, presumably quoting Shorrosh, say:
The Qur’an says that the golden calf worshipped by the Israelites at Mount Horeb was molded by a Samaritan. The term Samaritan was not coined until 722 B.C., several hundred years after the Exodus, when the idol was crafted.
Similar claims have been made by Mateen Elass who says:
As-Samiri is not a proper name as the definite article before the hyphen makes clear. Most Muslim scholars understand this term to mean “the Samaritan,” but this is problematic since the Samaritans were not constituted as a separate people until after the deportation of the northern tribes of Israel under the Assyrian empire, some five hundred or more years after the golden calf incident.
Gleason Archer in the section “Anachronism and Historical Inaccuracies in the Koran” finds difficulty in the explanation offered by Yusuf Ali for the word al-Samiri in the Qur’an. Archer says:
Yusef Ali suggests that Samariyyu may have been an Egyptian name meaning “stranger, foreigner,” or possibly a Hebrew term derived from Shomer (“watchman”) – in a valiant effort to avoid the charge of anachronism. Samaritan did not come into being as a race until after the 6th century B.C., and so there could have been no Samaritan around as early as 1445 B.C.!
Similar claims were also made by ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi, Robert Morey, Daniel Ali and Robert Spencer.
Jacques Jomier, however, offers a different form of argument concerning al-Samiri in the Qur’an. He says:
At the scene of the Golden Calf, a mysterious character appears: he is called the Samaritan (al-Sāmirī). It is hard to know what this word signifies. Some Westerners have seen a connection with the golden calves of Samaria, but this would take us several centuries beyond Moses. In the absence of other documents, one is very hesitant to subscribe such a hypothesis (cf. Qur’an 20. 85-95).
According to Newman, the mention of al-Samiri in the Qur’an is the result of Muhammad’s confusion of the “time periods” and transferring “Jewish teachings about Samaritans to a single person.”
Except for Jomier and Newman, almost all these claims can be traced back, whether directly or indirectly, to none but Tisdall – the fountainhead of all Christian polemic against the Qur’an. Confident in his ability to truthfully exegete the Qur’an, the “Samaritan” issue appears to be a source of amusement for Tisdall, who notes rather derisively,
But since the city of Samaria was not built, or at least called by that name, until several hundred years after Moses’ death, the anachronism is at least amusing, and would be startling in any other book than the Qur’an, in which far more stupendous ones frequently occur.
It is interesting that Tisdall equated the Samaritans with the appearance of the city of Samaria to claim the anachronism. In the same vein, Christian missionaries have claimed that the Qur’an contains a historically impossible narration when it mentions the name al-Samiri which some translate as “the Samaritan” (Qur’an 20:85, 87 and 95). They claim that:
The Qur’an says that the calf worshipped by the Israelites at mount Horeb was molded by a Samaritan (Sura 20:85-87, 95-97). Yet the term ‘Samaritan’ was not coined until 722 B.C., which is several hundred years after the events recorded in Exodus. Thus, the Samaritan people could not have existed during the life of Moses, and therefore, could not have been responsible for molding the calf.
How can a Samaritan have led the Israelites astray at the time of Moses [about 1400 B.C.] when the city of Samaria was founded by King Omri in about 870 B.C. (see 1 Kings 16:24)? But “the Samaritans” as a distinct people only emerged after the exile of the Northern kingdom of Israel and the resettlement of the area under king Sargon II in after 722 B.C. with non-Israelites which then adopt a syncretism [mixture] between the religion of the Jews and their own polytheistic background. Hence, it is historically impossible that a Samaritan could have led the Israelites into idolatry in the time of Moses. This is another time compression of at least 500, but rather 700 years.
Similar statements are repeated here, as if they singularly embody the truth, concerning the origins of Samaritans.
The problem with this claim is that the Samaritans were not known as a distinct ethno-religious group until around 722 B.C., when the term “Samaritan” was coined…
The claim of the Christian missionaries concerning the origin of the Samaritans rests on the events mentioned in II Kings 17. We will begin by discussing the claims of the Christian missionaries that II Kings 17 describes the origins of Samaritans. What do the scholars of Samaritan studies say about the claim that II Kings 17 accurately describes the origins of Samaritans? This will be discussed along with the usage of the terms “Samaritan” and “Samarian” in light of recent historical investigations. Finally, we will also consider recent scientific studies examining the principal characteristics of the Samaritan and Jewish genetic composition, in order to confirm if there is indeed any shared ancestry.
Before we go into the historical background of II Kings 17, a background relating to the events leading to sacking and exile of Israel in the 8th century BCE is necessary. About two centuries earlier a united Israel had reached its peak under the leadership of Saul, David and Solomon. However, after Solomon’s death, a civil war broke out and the former united kingdom split into two kingdoms: Judah in the south with Jerusalem as its capital, and Israel in the north whose capital was eventually established in Samaria. The two kingdoms struggled for nearly two centuries before Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The account in II Kings 17 implies that the Samaritans descended from peoples deported by the Assyrians from other parts of the vast empire during the mid-8th century BCE. The Assyrian ruler brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. Eventually the term “Cuthean”, that is people of Cuthah, sometimes also referred collectively to denote new settlers, became the Jews’ name for Samaritans and a word of contempt for these genetically and religiously impure people. This name was also adopted by Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities in his polemics against the Samaritans. Thus, according to the Jewish version of history, the Samaritans are a mixed race people, being a native or inhabitant of Samaria, a distinct territory or region in central Palestine. The question now is whether there is any truth in this version of the history.
As mentioned earlier, the traditional view of the origins of Samaritans is based on II Kings 17. The verse in question is II Kings 17:29 where the Hebrew word shomronim or shomeronim appears and is usually translated into English as “Samaritans” (underlined in the Hebrew text below).
But every nation still made gods of its own, and put them in the shrines of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities which they dwelt… (RSV)
The name shomronim that appears in II Kings 17:29 is associated with the worship of idols. However, the Samaritans do not address themselves by this name at all. They call themselves shamerin , that is “keepers” or “observers” of the Torah. The Samaritans themselves make a clear distinction between their own ancestors and the inhabitants of Samaria. For example, in the part of the Samaritan Chronicle II which corresponds to I Kings 16 of the Hebrew Bible, the biblical account of the founding of Samaria by Omri is followed by a note which explains that the inhabitants of Samaria and its nearby cities were called “Shomronim after the name Shomron“. Thus the distinction between the people of Samaria and the Samaritans is clearly maintained in the Samaritan Chronicle II. Put simply, shomronim means the “inhabitants of Samaria” and it has nothing to do with shamerin, “keepers” or “observers” of the Torah, which the Samaritans use for themselves. In fact, a long line of Samaritan scholarship has already pointed out this fact, which, unfortunately, is ignored by the missionaries at their own peril. For example, about 100 years ago James Montgomery pointed out that the Samaritans:
…. call themselves by the ancient geographical apellative, Samerim, which they interpret however as meaning “the Observers”, i.e., of the Law.
Similarly, The Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bible confirms that:
… the Samaritans prefer to style themselves ‘Shamerim’ i.e., “the observant” – rather than ‘Shomeronim’ i.e., “the inhabitants of Samaria.”
The Encyclopaedia Judaica under the entry “Samaritans” says:
Little guidance is obtained from the name of the Samaritans. The Bible uses the name Shomronim once, in II Kings 17:29, but this probably means Samarians rather than Samaritans. The Samaritans themselves do not use the name at all; they have long called themselves Shamerin; i.e., “keepers” or “observers” of the truth = al ha-amet, both the short and long forms being in constant use in their chronicles. They take the name Shomronim to mean inhabitants of the town of Samaria built by Omri (cf. I Kings 16:24), where the probable origin of the word Shomronim is to be found).
Contrary to the claims of the missionaries, the use of the term shomronim in II Kings 17 tells us nothing about the origins of the Samaritans because this word means “inhabitants of Samaria”. Now that the issue of the names that differentiates the Samaritans from the inhabitants of Samaria is dealt with, let us now move to the claim of the missionaries which says that the Samaritans as a distinct people only emerged after the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel and the resettlement of foreigners in the area under king Sargon II after 722 BCE.
The narrative in II Kings 17:18-24 relates that the population of Israel in its totality was deported and exchanged to an alien population. However, the archaeological evidence shows that this narrative is incorrect. Estimates of the population in Israel show that in the Middle Bronze Age II [2000 – 1550 BCE] it was approximately 140,000 and in the Iron Age [1200 – 586 BCE], during the period of divided monarchy, the population of northern kingdom of Israel reached nearly 600,000. A survey of Judea, Samaria and the Golan carried out in 1967-1968 suggests a total of 560,000. On the other hand, Roland de Vaux estimated the total population during this time to be around 800,000.
The Assyrian ruler Sargon II was responsible for defeating the northern kingdom of Israel and sending them into exile. An Assyrian inscription from the time of Sargon II records that he deported 27,290 prisoners from Samaria, suggesting a depopulation of the order of nearly 5% of Israel’s population. Hence 95% of the population remained. Also it can be claimed that the Assyrian kings in their royal inscriptions tended to exaggerate the number of exiles, as they considered a larger number to show the extent of their power and might. If we accept this, then the total number of people exiled would be further reduced. We are essentially left with most of the population intact. Obviously there is a serious historical problem here with II Kings 17:18-24. Commenting on this historical discrepancy and how it undermines the Bible concerning the claim of the Samaritans’ origins, A. D. Crown says:
This is a prima facie evidence that the greatest concentration of people remained in the province until at least sixth century B.C.E. Clearly the story of Samaritan origins in the Bible must be viewed with caution.
A similar observation was made by Coggins about 30 years ago. Using the estimate of Roland de Vaux of 800,000 people in the northern kingdom of Israel and the inscription from the time of Sargon II, he says:
If this is at all accurate it would imply the deportation of between 3 and 4% of the population. Not much stress can be placed on the actual wording of the Assyrian annals, but they would suggest – and the circumstances of a siege would bear out – that the majority of the deportees would have been the inhabitants of Samaria itself, no doubt including many who had gone there as refugees during the siege.
Such discrepancies were also mentioned by Frank Cross and The Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bible.
Coggins and others have suggested that most of the affected people would have been from the upper class, as they would be readily identifiable as potential leaders of resistance. In place of those exiled, the settlers brought in would not have enjoyed the majority, as the native Israelites continued to enjoy being the overwhelming majority of the population. Clearly, the narrative in II Kings 17:18-24 claiming that the population of Israel in its totality was deported by the Assyrians and exchanged to an alien population is unsupported by the archaeological evidence.
How do the Samaritans portray themselves during the period of Assyrian rule? According to their Chronicles, the righteous remnants who belonged to “the community of the Samaritan Israelites, that is the tribe of Ephraim and the tribe of Manasseh, sons of Joseph, and a few other priests and a small number from the rest of the tribes of Israel” who “did not deviate from the way of the holy law, nor did they worship other gods. They did not behave as the nations did, and did not forsake the chosen place Mount Gerizim Bethel, but they continued to worship the Lord their God…”. As Coggins pointed out, even if this idealization is discounted in the Samaritan Chronicles, it is clear that the “religious features of later Samaritanism show no sign of any syncretism brought about by a mixture between native Israelites and those whom the Assyrians brought into the country”.
Unlike the claim of the Christian missionaries, there is nothing to suggest in the Samaritan Chronicles that they adopted a syncretism between the religion of the Jews and their own polytheistic background. On the contrary, the Chronicles clearly affirm their monotheism during the Assyrian rule. It must be emphasized that the Samaritans’ devotion to the Torah was already recognized from the fact that it alone constituted their canon of Scripture. This is further emphasized by the word shamerin – the keepers of the Torah. This very name implies a group which maintained the traditional ways and was suspicious of change.
The Christian missionaries and apologists have had some difficulty in coming to terms with Samaritan scholarship. Although this is partly due to basic errors in comprehension, more seriously, it is primarily due to the fact that contemporary scholarship including the archaeological evidence undermines the veracity of the biblical account. Recognising these basic problems of method, the missionaries have attempted to synthesise their views on the Samaritans into one coherent account; resultantly we are left with nothing more than a mishmash of interpretations with little validity. For instance, consider the Christian missionary Andrew Vargo’s “three views ” of the Samaritan origins:
The Jewish view. The Samaritans are the descendants of the colonists that King Shalmaneser, of Assyria, brought from Cutha, Babylon, Hamath, and other foreign regions after he conquered Samaria in 722 B.C.. King Shalmaneser then deported the native population according to II Kings 17.
Samaritan view: The Samaritans are remnants of the northern Israelite tribes who were left behind when their brethren were deported by the Assyrians.
Modern Scholars: The Samaritans are descendents of Mesopotamian tribes who were deported by the Assyrians and Babylonians to Samaria.
He claims that “all three explanations of the origins of the Samaritans are correct, at least to some degree”. It is hard to see why all the three “explanations” can be true to “some degree” at the same time. Simple logic dictates that if the “Samaritans are remnants of the northern Israelite tribes” then they could not have been simultaneously “the descendants of the colonists” resettled by the Assyrian rulers. Furthermore, Vargo claims on behalf of unnamed and unknown “modern scholars” that the Samaritans are “the descendents of Mesopotamian tribes who were deported by the Assyrians and Babylonians to Samaria”. In fact, we have not come across this view at all in modern scholarship on the Samaritans. What we know is that modern Samaritan scholarship has firmly rejected equating shomronim in II Kings 17:29 with Samaritans. Shomronim means the “inhabitants of Samaria” and it has nothing to do with shamerin, “keepers” or “observers” of the Torah, which the Samaritans use for themselves. Moreover, it was seen that there are serious historical problems with II Kings 17:18-24 which severely undermines the biblical account concerning the claims of the Samaritan origins.
To complete the argument what does modern scholarship say about II Kings 17 being the alleged source of the Samaritans’ origins? Let us start with A Companion To Samaritan Studies published in 1993. One can consider it as a dictionary ‘desk reference’ for Samaritan studies. As for II Kings 17 and the origins of the Samaritans, it says:
Older scholarship took 2 Kings 17 as a reliable account of the origins of Samaritanism and in many translations that is the only place where the word Samaritans is found in the Hebrew Bible (e.g. KJV, RSV). The idea that this passage can give us information about the Samaritan origins is now abandoned though it is undeniable that at an early date the text of understood in this sense. Thus Josephus (Ant. 9:291) states that the heterodox community formed after the Assyrian capture of Samaria was the direct forerunner of the Samaritan or Cuthaean community of his day. Egger has shown how many of Josephus’ references to the Samaritans cannot properly be understood of the Samaritan religious community. Josephus’ work is a clear example of anti-Samaritan polemic at work extrapolating materials from one setting to another as part of his condemnation of the Samaritans.
Similar conclusions were also reached by Lester Grabbe. He says:
The origins of the [Samaritan] community and cult are still uncertain. The origins according to interpretations of 2 Kings 17 (pagan foreigners brought in) and Josephus (dissident Jerusalem priests) are the product of considerable bias and cannot be taken at face value.
Writing in 2002, Anderson and Giles in their book The Keepers: An Introduction To The History And Culture Of The Samaritans say that II Kings 17 cannot be considered an objective account of Samaritan history:
The Cutheans are simply the inhabitants of the north, not the Samaritan sect. Sargon’s deportation of the indigenous Israelite population probably affected primarily the aristocracy within the city of Samaria. The people groups brought into the region replacing the deportees remained a minority. The invectives of the 2 Kings account address this select few and not the general population, and certainly not a religious sect [i.e., the Samaritans] that had, according to the bulk of evidence, not yet attained a sense of self-awareness.
It is generally recognized that the account in 2 Kings 17 is not objective and unbiased history. The purpose of 2 Kings 17, as well as other passages in the Hebrew Bible (particularly in Chronicles and Ezra), is to highlight the primacy of Jerusalem over any potential rivals.
After examining the evidence, Anderson and Giles conclude that the Samaritans did exist during the time of Assyrian invasion, not as a separate sect but as a part of the northern kingdom of Israel. In other words, Samaritans did not emerge after the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel and the resettlement of the area under king Sargon II after 722 BCE.
After doing a detailed discussion on the alleged presence of the Samaritans in II Kings 17, Coggins concluded that:
The simple truth is, as it is hoped that the first main part of the study has shown, that there is no reference to the Samaritans in the Hebrew Old Testament. Some of the allusions in the work of the Chronicler may point to a situation which would later develop into Judaeo-Samaritan hostility, but that is most that can be said.
The New Bible Dictionary under the entry “Samaritans” says:
… Samaritans are mentioned only in 2 Ki. 17:29, a passage which describes the syncretistic religion of those peoples whom the king of Assyria transported to the N kingdom of Israel to replace the exiled native population after the fall of Samaria (722/721 BC).
Several reasons argue strongly against the identification, favoured by Josephus and many others since, of this group with the Samaritans as they are more widely known from the NT…, some of whose descendents survive to the present day in two small communities at Nablus and Holon: (i) the word used (haššōmrōnîm) seems merely to mean ‘inhabitants of (the city or province of) Samaria (šōmrôn)’, and this fits the context of 2 Ki. 17 best; (ii) there is no evidence that the later Samaritans inhabited Samaria. The earliest certain references to them, by contrast, all points clearly to their residence at Shechem…, whilst one of the Josephus’ sources refers to them as ‘Shechemites’…; (iii) nothing whatever that is known of later Samaritan religion and practice suggests the pagan influence of 2 Ki. 17 or Ezr. 4.
It is worthwhile adding that modern biblical scholarship has recognized that antagonism between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel existed for many centuries which goes back to the period of the united monarchy. The account in II Kings 17 was written from a southern viewpoint and was quick to highlight the primacy of Jerusalem over any potential rivals. Independence from Jerusalem, an identifying characteristic of Samaritanism, draws unqualified criticism in the Hebrew Bible. Modern Samaritan scholarship also realizes that there was no sudden break that separated Jews and Samaritans. Rather, the rift developed over a long period of time with certain events causing more hostility than others. Perhaps it was after John Hyrcanus destroyed the temple on Mount Gerizim in 2nd century BCE, the two communities went separate ways.
To summarize, modern scholarship conclusively refutes the claim of Samaritan origins based on II Kings 17. The Christian missionary and apologist views, including Vargo’s “Jewish view” and the views of his unknown and unnamed “modern scholars”, can now be safely discarded.
As we have seen from our discussion on II Kings 17, until the middle of the 20th century it was widely believed that the Samaritans originated from a mixed race people living in Samaria at the time of the Assyrian conquest in 722 BCE. Scholarship has moved ahead since then and in recent years research based on the study of the Chronicles of the Samaritans has led to a re-evaluation of their origins. The Encyclopaedia Judaica (under “Samaritans”) summarizes both past and the present views on the Samaritans’ origins. It says:
Until the middle of the 20th Century it was customary to believe that the Samaritans originated from a mixture of the people living in Samaria and other peoples at the time of the conquest of Samaria by Assyria (722/1 B.C.E.). The Biblical account in II Kings 17 had long been the decisive source for the formulation of historical accounts of Samaritan origins. Reconsideration of this passage, however, has led to more attention being paid to the Chronicles of the Samaritans themselves. With the publication of Chronicle II (Sefer ha-Yamim), the fullest Samaritan version of their own history became available: the chronicles, and a variety of non-Samaritan materials.
According to the former, the Samaritans are the direct descendants of the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, and until the 17th century C.E. they possessed a high priesthood descending directly from Aaron through Eleazar and Phinehas. They claim to have continuously occupied their ancient territory in central Palestine and to have been at peace with other Israelite tribes until the time when Eli disrupted the Northern cult by moving from Shechem to Shiloh and attracting some northern Israelites to his new cult there. For the Samaritans, this was the ‘schism’ par excellence.
Furthermore, even to this day the Samaritans still claim descent from the tribe of Joseph:
The laymen also possess their traditional claims. They are all of the tribe of Joseph, except those of the tribe of Benjamin, but this traditional branch of people, which, the Chronicles assert, was established at Gaza in earlier days, seems to have disappeared. There exists an aristocratic feeling amongst the different families in this petty community, and some are very proud over their pedigree and the great men it had produced.
Clearly, if the Samaritans trace their origins from the time of Joseph’s descendants, then they were certainly in existence in the time of Moses. However, the Samaritan Chronicles, just like the books of the Hebrew Bible, especially the book of Kings, are late compilations. Moreover, as observed earlier, the literature of both the Jews and Samaritans have their own inherent bias in them. They were written from their own point of view and thus exhibit to varying degrees a polemicizing of the events. Nevertheless there are some indications that the Rabbis were aware of the Samaritans’ ancient origins and conceded that they were of genuine Israelite stock. An interesting narration is found in Genesis Rabbah, part of which involves Rabbi Meir discussing the plausibility of the Samaritan claim to have a continuous ancestral link to the tribe of Joseph. The discussion proceeds as follows:
R. Meir met a Samaritan and asked him: ‘Whence are you descended?’ ‘From Joseph,’ he replied. ‘That is not so,’ he said. ‘Then from whom?’ ‘From Issachar,’ he told him. ‘How do you know this?’ he countered. – Because it is written, AND THE SONS OF ISSACHAR: TOLA, AND PUVAH, AND IOB, AND SHIMRON – the last name referring to the Samaritans.’
Although disputing the Samaritan version of the account, Rabbi Meir concurs with their claim to be of genuine Israelite origin. Therefore, according to Rabbi Meir, the Samaritans can in fact trace their lineage to a time that precedes the advent of Moses.
The problem of establishing the authenticity of the claims of the Jews and Samaritans concerning the origins of the latter is not as insurmountable as it seems. We have already seen that II Kings 17 has nothing to do with the Samaritan origins. On the other hand, the Samaritans claim that they have continuously occupied their ancient territory in central Palestine and to have been at peace with other Israelite tribes until the time when Eli disrupted the Northern cult by moving from Shechem to Shiloh. Perhaps the most crucial question now is whether the Ten Tribes, especially the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh from which Samaritans claimed to have directly descended, survived the Assyrians onslaught? The answer to this question has been dealt with in detail by Nathan Schur using information gleaned from the Hebrew Bible and corroborating it with the archaeological records. His observations can be summarized as follows.
From the Assyrian and biblical records, it is clear that Sargon II moved settlers to the city of Samaria in 722 BCE. If all or most of the new settlers went to the city of Samaria, obviously most of the rest of the country was left basically untouched. This is confirmed by the Hebrew Bible itself in II Chronicles 30:1, 10 which says that King “Hezekiah [727-698 BCE] sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel… The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but the people scorned and ridiculed them. Nevertheless, some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem.” If the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had been completely replaced, as claimed in II Kings 17, there would have been no point to try and get them to come to Jerusalem for Passover. Moreover, the old tribal names would have lost their meaning. What is more interesting is that in the above passages the new foreign upper classes are not even mentioned, which can be taken to mean that their numbers and influence could not have been very sizeable. Ephraim’s old attitude to Jerusalem seems to have been quite unchanged, and only members of the peripheral tribes agreed to come to Jerusalem and follow the lead of the king of Judah. It has been claimed that the disdainful attitude of Ephraim was due to a massive implant of foreign settlers, but if so, why call them by the Israelite tribal name? Furthermore Ephraim’s attitude here is not much different from the traditional one of previous centuries. There is no need, therefore, to stipulate foreign settlers, though their presence, at least in the capital, is of course well established.
In the Book of Ezra further plantations of foreign settlers are mentioned from the times of Assyrian kings Esarhaddon [681-669 BCE] (Ezra 4:2) and Assurbanipal [669-627 BCE] (Ezra 4:10). However in the 12th year of Josiah [628 BCE], after his initial reforms in Jerusalem, he extended them also to the area of the northern kingdom, which he had occupied after the collapse of the Assyrian empire in the west. II Chronicles 34:6 mentions again the old tribes: “And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali …” Thus a hundred years after the fall of Samaria and after the latest Assyrian settlements the old tribal names were still in use and no new, foreign ones had superseded them. It has to be assumed therefore that the old inhabitants were mostly still residing in their old homes and had not been displaced by new settlers.
This conclusion is strengthened by the attitude of Jeremiah. He is reported to have said in chapter 31 that Ephraim is still enjoying the love of God and prophesises its complete restoration jointly with Judah. Nowhere does he allude to Ephraim’s having been supplanted by newcomers. The same goes for Ezekiel. He speaks in the same terms of Ephraim as of Judah. There, too, is no allusion to a strange people having displaced the original settlers.
We lack information of what passed in Samaria during the time of the Babylonian rule. However, even in Judah no new settlers were brought in instead of those exiled to Babylon. The Babylonians do not seem to have taken over the Assyrian concept of replacing local populations by others – or might have lacked the power and resources to do so. Thus it does not seem likely that there were any further settlements in Samaria after those of Assurbanipal. If the old tribal framework was basically intact after the time of this last important Assyrian ruler, the resident Israelite population, with a slight admixture of foreign settlers in the main towns, cannot have changed its composition till the time of Persian rule and the initial Jewish return from Babylonian exile. After making this detailed argument, Schur concludes by saying:
Our conclusion is therefore that the Samaritan tradition is generally correct in claiming direct descent from the Ten Tribes of Israel.
This conclusion can be checked now also by archeological evidence. Except for the destruction of the towns sacked by the Assyrians, such as Samaria and Shechem, other places, where occupation was continuous, show no trace of a different material culture intervening in the later Assyrian period. In the 1967/8 survey ceramic remains of 81 sites were also examined in the province of Samaria, and no differences of nuances could be discovered between the Assyrian period on the one hand and the Persian on the other. The same results were obtained in the 1978/9 survey of the Dotan region, in the exploration of western Samaria and by further archeological excavations of the last 15 years in Samaria.
Nearly similar conclusions were also reached by Frank Cross concerning the uninterrupted existence of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh before and after the Assyrian invasion, although he considers that the earliest form of Samaritanism to be an old Israelite religion.
Accordingly, the later Jewish tradition comes to call the Samaritans en bloc Kutians (kwtym), or sardonically, “lion-proselytes” in light of the anecdote in 2 Kings 17:25-28. For their part, the Samaritans of the later times claimed to be the remnants of Ephraim and Manasseh, authentic Israelites who alone preserve the ancient faith and service of the god of Israel unsullied by Judaean innovations.
In fact, neither of these two polemical positions can stand close critical scrutiny. On the other hand, there are very strong arguments to support the conclusion that the bulk of the men of Ephraim and Manasseh remained in the land; on the other hand, there is equally strong evidence… that Samaritanism in the form we find it in the Roman Age and later is not a survival of old Israelite religion, pure or syncretistic, but rather is essentially a sectarian form of Judaism.
Thus, it can be said the Samaritan tradition is correct in claiming direct descent from tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Since the Samaritans trace their origins from the time of Joseph’s descendants, then they were certainly in existence during the time of Moses. However, it is not known from the Samaritan Chronicles or the Hebrew Bible as to when the label shamerin was first used by the Samaritans to identify themselves as a distinct group. The Qur’an suggests that this label was already in place during the time of Moses.
The claims of the Samaritans about their Israelite origins were partially corroborated by a recent study involving genetics which we will now turn to.
The Samaritans are a distinct religious and cultural minority in the Middle East. They number slightly over 500 and they reside in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv and Nablus, near their holy site of Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans, according to their origins, are divided into three large clans: children of Ephraim (the Danafi and Joshua-Marhiv families), the children of Manasseh (Tsdaka family), and the Priests (Cohanim). As for the priests, the Samaritan Chronicle tells us that in 1624 CE, the priestly house descended from Aaron became extinct, and that since then their sacred functions devolved upon the Levites. Thus the modern-day priestly Cohen lineage is from the tribe of Levi.
Throughout the whole of their history, the Samaritans adhered to an endogamous marriage system that was practised not only within the limits of the community but also within the limits of the lineage. Female Samaritans who marry non-Samaritans are expelled from the sect, while the children of male Samaritans who marry non-Samaritans are regarded as Samaritans. Recent studies have shown that around 84% of marriages occur between cousins, producing the highest inbreeding coefficient recorded for any population. This gives a good opportunity to study their genetic character and compare it with Jewish and non-Jewish populations.
Before we go into the issue of genetics, let us first clarify some terms used. A haplotype is the genetic constitution of an individual chromosome and is a contraction of the phrase “haploid genotype”. A haplogroup is a large group of haplotypes. In human genetics, the haplogroups most commonly studied are Y-chromosome haplogroups and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroups, both of which can be used to define genetic populations. Both these haplogroups have their distinct advantages. The Y-chromosome has the advantage of being passed solely along the patrilineal line (i.e., only via father), while mtDNA is passed solely on the matrilineal line (i.e., only via mother). Hence these haplogroups can be used to study the lineage especially of those groups/sects who marry within their own groups/sects.
The haplogroups were used to study cohanim who are descended from Aaron. According to biblical tradition, after the Jewish exodus from Egypt, Moses’ brother Aaron was selected as the first cohen. The designation was bestowed upon his sons, providing the basis for a firmly entrenched Jewish tradition in which a male cohen bestows the status upon his children. A daughter of a cohen can become a priest, but she cannot pass on the honour. The Y-chromosome passes solely from father to son, akin to the cohen status. If all modern cohanim were indeed descendants of Aaron, or a relative of him, their Y-chromosomes should have an ancient common origin. Skorecki and his colleagues have found that the cohanim indeed have some Y-chromosome features distinct from other Jews, implying that the cohanim do share some common ancestry. This shared genetic material comes from an ancestor who lived several thousand years ago, roughly the time estimated for the beginning of the Jewish priesthood. This led to the development of a set of Y-chromosomal markers called the “Cohen modal haplotype” that might have been shared by Aaron. A similar study was used to support the claim of the Lemba clan, an endogamous group from southern Africa, that they were a tribe of Jews. One of the Lemba clans carries a particular Y-chromosome which is “Cohen modal haplotype,” at a very high frequency, which is known to be characteristic of the paternally inherited Jewish priesthood and is thought, more generally, to be a potential signature haplotype of Judaic origin.
What about the Samaritans? As we have noted earlier, the Samaritans have the highest inbreeding coefficient as they have an endogamous marriage system that is practised not only within the limits of the community but also within the limits of the lineage. The Samaritans claim that they possessed a high priesthood descending directly from Aaron through Eleazar and Phinehas. If this is true, it should be reflected in their Y-chromosome haplogroup and it should have close relationship with the “Cohen modal haplotype”. This is precisely what has been observed. Shen et al. concluded from Y-chromosome analysis that Samaritans descended from the Israelites; and mtDNA analysis shows descent from the foreign women. This effectively has validated both local and foreign origins of the Samaritans. Shen et al. say:
Principal component analysis suggests a common ancestry of Samaritan and Jewish patrilineages. Most of the former may be traced back to a common ancestor in the paternally-inherited Jewish high priesthood (Cohanim) at the time of the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel.
Furthermore, the authors say:
This study confirms the strong male-based endogamy of the Samaritan culture… [T]he data … indicate that the Samaritan and Jewish Y-chromosomes have a much greater affinity than do those of the Samaritans and their longtime geographical neighbors, the Palestinians. However, this is not the case for the mtDNA haplotypes. In fact, Table 4 shows that distances of Samaritans to Jews and Palestinians for mtDNA are about the same. Further, the low mitochondrial haplotype diversity suggests that the rate of maternal gene flow into the Samaritan community has not been very high despite their tradition to regard children of male Samaritans born to females from outside as Samaritan… Based on the close relationship of the Samaritan haplogroup J six-microsatellite haplotypes with the Cohen modal haplotype, we speculate that the Samaritan M304 Y-chromosome lineages present a subgroup of the original Jewish Cohanim priesthood that did not go into exile when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BC, but married Assyrian and female exiles relocated from other conquered lands, which was a typical Assyrian policy to obliterate national identities. This is in line with biblical texts that emphasize a common heritage of Jews and Samaritans, but also record the negative attitude of Jews towards the Samaritans because of their association with people that were not Jewish. Such a scenario could explain why Samaritan Y-chromosome lineages cluster tightly with Jewish Y-lineages…, while their mitochondrial lineages are closest to Iraqi Jewish and Palestinian mtDNA sequences… Finally, the high degree of homogeneity in each of the four male Samaritan lineages, which holds with two exceptions even over 13 microsatellite loci…, underscores the strong male-based endogamy of the Samaritan culture that has effectively limited any male-driven gene flow between the four families.
It is worthwhile adding that this scientific study only establishes the common ancestry of Jews and Samaritans patrilineages; it can’t say when the split between them happened, although the authors of this study have speculated that it could have happened during the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel. We now know that this is not true as modern scholars have conclusively rejected II Kings 17 as a source for the origins of Samaritan and clearly not in “line with biblical texts” as Shen et al. have claimed. Despite this error, the scientific study clearly establishes the common ancestry of Samaritan and Jewish patrilineages. As for the mitochondrial lineages of Samaritans, a different historical explanation needs to be sought.
Vargo did not like this evidence and he tried to dismiss it by saying:
All humans on this planet are descendents of people who were alive during the time of the Exodus, however, all of the ethno-religious groups, which developed over time, cannot/do not seriously claim to have been present at the foot of Mount Sinai when Moses was receiving the law! Another problem is that there are many other groups which carry the Cohen modal haplotype. Among the Bantu speaking Lemba of southern Africa nearly fifty-two percent of males carry the Cohen modal haplotype! The Cohen Modal haplotype is also found in significant numbers among Italians and Kurds.
Obviously, the missionary has not taken the opportunity to read the paper carefully enough. The paper clearly says that the Samaritan Y-chromosome lineages cluster tightly with Jewish Y-lineages, the reason being the close relationship of the Samaritan haplogroup J six-microsatellite haplotypes with the Cohen modal haplotype. The issue is not about just having the Cohen modal haplotype, it is about how closely the Samaritan haplogroup J six-microsatellite haplotypes relates with the Cohen modal haplotype. Similarly, the Lemba tribe from sub-Saharan Africa carries a particular Y-chromosome which is a Cohen modal haplotype, at a very high frequency. This suggests a close genetic relationship between the cohanim and the Lemba tribe. The Cohen modal haplotype is also found in Kurds and Italians. Why should this be surprising? There was a Jewish Kingdom of Adiabene in ancient Kurdistan, where the royals and some of the common people converted to Judaism. Nebel et al. have studied the genetic landscape of the Middle East. Concerning the Kurds, they concluded that:
The dominant haplotype of the Muslim Kurds (haplotype 114) was only one microsatellite-mutation step apart from the CMH [Cohen modal haplotype]… The acceptance of Judaism by the rulers and inhabitants of the Kurdish Kingdom of Adiabene in the first century of the Common Era resulted in the assimilation of non-Jews into the community (Brauer 1993). This recorded conversion does not appear to have had a considerable effect on the Y chromosome pool of the Kurdish Jews.
Perhaps Vargo is under the illusion that genetic information disappears if a Jew, who had a long illustrious lineage, converts to either Islam or Christianity. If this person marries with people from a different genetic stock, there will be some genetic changes but not profound. It is only when there is a lack of endogamy over a few generations, the genetic information slowly gets diluted. The case of the cohanim, the Samaritans and the Lemba clan in sub-Saharan Africa is different from the Kurds. Unlike Kurds, the cohanim, the Samaritans and the Lemba clan are tightly knit groups and marriages are usually endogamous (especially the last two groups) and hence the genetic information is preserved, from which one can make reasonable conclusions about their ancestry.
In other words, the conclusion of this study is that the origins of an endogamous community of Samaritans can be traced back to a common ancestor in the cohen or the Jewish priestly family which was paternally inherited. This study establishes a common ancestry for both Jews and Samaritans, the mixed descent of Samaritans which could be due to marriages with foreign women and corroborates the Samaritan claims of Israelite origins.
Until the middle of the 20th century it was commonly believed that the Samaritans originated from a mixed race people living in Samaria at the time of the Assyrian conquest (722 BCE). In a similar vein, the Christian missionaries and apologists have claimed that the Samaritans as a distinct people only emerged after the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel and the resettlement of the area under king Sargon II after 722 BCE. Based solely on the evidence of II Kings 17, the missionaries and apologists claim the Qur’anic mention of the name al-Samiri sometimes translated as “the Samaritan” (Qur’an 20:85, 87 and 95) during the time of Moses is a historical contradiction.
Contrary to the claims of the missionaries and apologists, specialists in Samaritan studies have noted that the use of the term shomronim in II Kings 17 tells us nothing about the origins of the Samaritans. Shomronim means the “inhabitants of Samaria” and it has nothing to do with shamerin, “keepers” or “observers” of the Torah, which the Samaritans use for themselves. Furthermore, the narrative in II Kings 17:18-24 claiming that the population of Israel in its totality was deported by Assyrians and exchanged to an alien population is unsupported by archaeology. This historical discrepancy severely undermines the veracity of the biblical claim concerning Samaritan origins. Consequently, modern scholars have conclusively rejected II Kings 17 as a source for the origins of Samaritans.
In recent years, research based on a more careful study of the Chronicles of the Samaritans has led to a re-evaluation of their origins. Specifically, with the publication of the Samaritan Chronicle II (Sefer ha-Yamim), the fullest Samaritan version of their own history became available. A historical analysis of this chronicle reveals that the Samaritans are the direct descendants of the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, and until the 17th century C.E. they possessed a high priesthood descending directly from Aaron through Eleazar and Phinehas. The common ancestry of both the Jews and Samaritans was also established by recent genetic studies, going back to cohen or the Jewish priestly family. This study also validated both local and foreign origins of the Samaritans.
The missionaries and apologists, ignorant of the Samaritans’ own version of their history as well as recent scholarly investigation and critical analysis, content themselves with repeating the claim made by William St. Clair Tisdall. Unfortunately, Tisdall was also not fully cognizant with the Chronicles of the Samaritans or the extant archaeological evidence; consequently, the missionaries and apologists make claims contrary to recent historical investigation. As we observed in this study, the Qur’anic mention of the name al-Samiri sometimes translated as “the Samaritan” (Qur’an 20:85, 87 and 95) is consistent with modern investigations into the origins of the Samaritan sect.
And Allah knows best!