Samaritans: Josephos on Chuthean origins and relations with Judeans over centuries (late first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Samaritans: Josephos on Chuthean origins and relations with Judeans over centuries (late first century CE),' Last modified November 1, 2022,

Ancient authors: Josephos, Judean Antiquities, various passages (link to Greek text and full translation) and Tacitus, Annals 13.54 (link to Latin text and full translation).

Comments: There are very few ethnographic sources dealing with Samaritans or Samarians (northern peoples in Israel) as a people in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. It seems that for Greek and Roman authors, such people would simply be enveloped within the very broad Greek category of “Syrians” or “Phoenicians,” or within the more specific (but still general) category of “Judeans” (which, as an outsider term at least, could sometimes include anyone from that part of the world). So Samaritans often disappear from view, unfortunately. Outsiders seem somewhat, if not totally, ignorant on the cultural and historical details that might  distinguish northern from southern peoples living in the land of Israel.

Some insider Judeans (Jews), however, made a big deal of ostensible differences, as we see with the Judean author Josephos (or: Flavius Josephus). And some of these insiders would likely strongly object to the potential inclusion of Samaritans (or what we might call non-southern Israelites) with Judeans (southern Israelites of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin).

Beyond the inscriptions at Delos from the second and first centuries BCE (discussed at this link and translated at this link), where these immigrants self-identify as “Israelites on Delos who contribute towards the holy temple on Gerizim,” Josephos remains our most extensive – if extremely biased – source. In his work on Judean Antiquities, Josephos repeatedly deals with Samaritans (or Samarians) from their supposed origins in the wake of the conquest of the northern Israelite kingdom by the Assyrians (in 721 BCE) to incidents in the first century CE leading up to the Romans’ destruction of the temple in 70 CE (collected below). It seems clear from Josephos’ rhetoric that he is expecting a Greek-speaking audience that would not distinguish northern peoples of Israel from Judeans in the south, centred on Jerusalem. On the contrary, Josephos wants to strongly distinguish these peoples, with Judeans (especially Jerusalemites) being portrayed as superior to other inhabitants of Israel.

When reading this material, it is extremely important to realize who we are listening to: Josephos was a proud, elite Jerusalemite from a Judean priestly family. So that is the perspective we get on the Samaritans, as with other issues. The result is a Samaritan origin story which (building on but adjusting 2 Kings and other writings now in the Hebrew Bible) casts all northern peoples of Israel as deceptive foreigners from Persia and Media, originally called “Chutheans” as Josephos spins things. One of the most solid things we do know about the differences between northerners and southerners in Israel is confirmed by Josephos: they had alternative holy places for the Israelite God, one on mount Gerizim and the other in Jerusalem (see also the discussion of Samaritans in the gospel narratives at this link).

Added to this is a particular set of stereotypes that Josephos repeats over and over. Mainly, these “foreigners,” who nonetheless adopted worship of Israel’s God, were by “nature” fickle and deceptive: Samaritans kept switching between latching onto Judeans as though relatives (when things were going well for Judeans) and distancing themselves and claiming to be outsiders (when things were going poorly for Judeans). So Josephos claims. This provides excellent material for understanding specific Judean or, better, Jerusalemite attitudes towards some northerners but is not at all helpful for reconstructing either characteristics of this people or historical events.

The second main thing that Josephos gives us that is very relevant to ethnic relations is a series of incidents that supposedly verify his stereotype (above) while also indicating that there were ongoing conflicts between Judeans and Samaritans (other Israelites, in other words). While we cannot count on the reliability of the narratives presented below, they nonetheless confirm the ethnic tensions that developed over time between northerners and southerners (especially the Jerusalem elites) and continued to exist in the late first century CE when Josephos writes. Also incidents that do seem to have an historical basis, such as the destruction of the mount Gerizim temple in around 112 BCE by Hyrkanos and other Maccabean supporters from the south, help to explain why tensions might build over time.

We have also included (at the very end of this post) one of the few Roman authors who briefly deals with tensions between peoples in Israel, including Samaritans. Tacitus’ brief discussion of Felix and Cumanus as governors of Judea reflects tensions again but is in no way reconcilable with Josephos’ alternative stories about Samaritans and Cumanus. Judean-Samarian relations were far less important to Tacitus who mentions them incidentally.

Works consulted: Gary Knoppers, Jews and Samaritans: The Origins and History of Their Early Relations (Oxford: OUP, 2013).

Source of the translation: H.S.J. Thackerey and R. Marcus, Josephus, volumes 1-7; LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1926-43), public domain (copyright not renewed), adapted by Harland. Passages from later volumes of Antiquities translated by Harland.


[Assyrian conquest of the northern tribes and supposed origins of the Samaritans as foreign Chutheans, set in about 721 BCE and after]

(9.277-282) Now when Shalmaneser (Salmanasses in Greek transliteration), the king of Assyria, was informed that Hoshea (Osees), the king of Israel, had secretly sent to So (Soas), the king of Egypt, inviting him to make an alliance against the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser was filled with anger and marched against Samaria in the seventh year of the reign of Hoshea. But the Israelite king would not admit him, at which point Shalmaneser besieged Samaria for three years and took it by storm in the ninth year of the reign of Hoshea [721 BCE] and in the seventh year of Hezekiah, king of Israel [drawing on 2 Kings 17:1-6]. Shalmaneser also utterly destroyed the leadership of Israel, and transported all its people (laos) to Media and Persia. Along with them, he carried off Hoshea alive.

After removing other peoples (ethnē) from a region called Cuthah (Chouthos) (there is a river by this name in Persia), he settled them in Samaria and in the country of the Israelites. So the ten tribes of Israel emigrated from Judea nine hundred and forty-seven years after their ancestors went out of Egypt and occupied this country under the command of Joshua. From the time when they revolted from Rehoboam (Roboamos), the grandson of David, and gave the kingdom over to Jeroboam, as I have previously related [Antiquities 8.221], it was an interval of two hundred and forty years, seven months and seven days.

This is how the Israelites came to an end because they violated the laws and disregarded the prophets who predicted that this misfortune would overtake them if they did not cease from their impious actions. The beginning of their troubles was their rebellion against Rehoboam, the grandson of David, when they chose as their king his servant Jeroboam, who sinned against the deity and thereby made the deity their enemy because they imitated Jeroboam’s lawless conduct. But he deserved such punishment. The king of Assyria also came with an army and invaded Syria and all of Phoenicia. . . [material omitted]


[Judean legend about how the Chutheans / Samaritans came to worship the god of Israel]

(9.288-291) As for the Chutheans (Chouthaioi) who were transported to Samaria (this is the name by which they have been called to this day because they were brought over from the region called Chutha, which is in Persia, as is a river by the same name), each of their peoples (ethnē) – there were five – brought along its own god. Because they revered them in accordance with their ancestral custom, they provoked the greatest God to anger and wrath. For he sent a pestilence [lions 2 Kings] on them by which they were destroyed. Since they could devise no remedy for their sufferings, they learned from an oracle that they should worship the greatest God, for this would bring them deliverance [cf. 2 Kings 17:24-41 for all of this section, although Josephos is freely revising his source, using an umbrella category of “Chutheans” for peoples that are distinguished differently in 2 Kings, where the people come from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim].

And so they sent envoys to the king of Assyria, asking him to send them some priests from the captives he had taken in his war with the Israelites. Accordingly, he sent some priests. After being instructed in the customs (nomima) and sacred matters concerning this God, they [the Chutheans] worshipped him with great enthusiasm and were at once freed of the pestilence. These same rites have continued in use even to this day among those who are called “Chutheans” in the Hebrew tongue [transliterating Kuthim] and “Samaritans” (Samareitai) by the Greeks.

[Stereotype about the Samaritans’ changing ethnic identifications]

However, they change their attitude according to circumstance: When they see the Judeans prospering, they call them their kinsmen (syggeneis) on the ground that they are descended from Joseph and are related to them through their origin from him. Yet when they see the Judeans in trouble, they say that they have nothing whatever in common with them and that they do not share feelings of goodwill or common descent (genos), and they declare themselves to be foreigners of another people (alloethneis). Now concerning these people we will have something to say in a more fitting place [see following passages].


[Retelling of supposed foreign Samaritan origins in connection with conquests of northern and southern tribes of Israel, set in about 721 BCE and after and 586 BCE and after]

(10.180-185) But, when they came there, the deity revealed to the prophet that the king of Babylonia was about to march against the Egyptians, and he ordered the prophet to foretell to the people that Egypt would be taken and that the Babylonian king would kill some of them and would take the rest captive and carry them off to Babylon [Jeremiah 42:7]. And so it happened. For in the fifth year after the sacking of Jerusalem, which was the twenty-third year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar marched against Coele-Syria and, after occupying it, made war both on the Moabites and the Ammanites. Then, after making these peoples subject to him, he invaded Egypt in order to subdue it. After killing the king who was then reigning and appointing another, Nebuchadnezzar again took captive the Judeans who were in the country and carried them to Babylon.

And so, as we have learned from history, the descent group (genos) of the Hebrews twice were in the situation of going beyond the Euphrates. For the people of the ten tribes (phylai) were driven out of Samaria by the Assyrians in the reign of Hoshea and, once again, the people of the two tribes [i.e. southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin] who survived the capture of Jerusalem were driven out by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia and Chaldea. Now, when Shalmaneser removed the Israelites, he settled in their place the people (ethnos) of Chutheans, who had formerly lived in the interior of Persia and Media and who were then, moreover, called “Samaritans” because they assumed the name of the country in which they were settled. But the king of Babylonia, when he carried off the two tribes, did not settle any people (ethnos) in their place. For this reason all of Judea and Jerusalem and the temple remained deserted for seventy years. Now the entire interval of time from the captivity of the Israelites until the deportation of the two tribes amounted to one hundred and thirty years, six months and ten days.


[Supposed royal letters concerning the Samaritans’ complaints about the Judeans’ rebuilding program set in the time of king Cambyses, set in 530-522 BCE]

(11.19-32) While they were laying the foundations of the temple and very busily engaged in building it, the surrounding peoples, especially the Chutheans (whom the Assyrian king Shalmaneser had brought from Persia and Media and settled in Samaria when he deported the Israelite people), urged the governors and those in charge to hinder the Judeans in the rebuilding of the city and the construction of the temple. And so, being corrupted by their bribes, they sold their services to the Chutheans by showing neglect and indifference toward the Judeans in their building. For Cyrus, because of his preoccupation with other wars, was in ignorance of these matters and, as it happened, died soon after making war on the Massagetians.

But, when Cyrus’ son Cambyses [II, reigning ca. 530-522 BCE] took over the royal power, the people in Syria, Phoenicia, Amman, Moab and Samaria wrote a letter which read as follows [cf. 1 Esdras 2:16; Ezra 4:7]:

“To our sovereign from his servants Rathymos, the recorder of all things that happen, Semelios, the scribe, and the judges of the council in Syria and Phoenicia. You should know, O King, that the Judeans who were carried off to Babylon have come to our land and are building their rebellious and mischievous city and its marketplaces, and are repairing the walls and erecting a temple. Know, therefore, that, if these things are done, they will neither consent to pay tribute nor be willing to obey, but will oppose the kings and seek to rule rather than obey. Since, then, work is being done on the temple and quickly moving forward, we have thought it proper to write you, O King. We request that you not to overlook these things in order that you may examine the records of your ancestors. For you will find in them that the Judeans – as well as their city [Jerusalem] – have been rebels and enemies of the kings. For that reason Jerusalem has been laid waste until now. We have also thought it proper to make this known to you, in case you are perhaps ignorant of it, namely that, if the city is re-founded in this way and has its circuit of walls restored, the road to Coele-Syria and Phoenicia will not be accesible to you.”

When Cambyses read this letter, being naturally bad, he was aroused by its contents and wrote as follows [cf. 1 Esdras 2:25; Ezra 4:17]:

“Thus says king Cambyses to Rathymos, the recorder or events, and Beelzemos and Semelios, the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues resident in Samaria and Phoenicia. After reading the letter sent by you, I ordered the records of my ancestors to be examined, and it was found that that city has always been hostile to the kings and that the inhabitants have been engaged in rebellions and wars. We have learned that their kings, being powerful and violent men, have levied tribute on Coele-Syria and Phoenicia. I have therefore given orders that the Judeans will not be permitted to rebuild the city in case the amount of trouble which they have continually caused against the kings is further increased.”

When this letter was read by them, Rathymos and Semelios, the scribe, and their colleagues immediately leaped on their horses and, accompanied by a large number of people, hurried to Jerusalem and prevented the Judeans from building the city and the temple. And so these works were stopped for nine years more until the second year of Darius’ reign over Persia. For Cambyses after a reign ofsix years, during which he conquered Egypt, returned from there and died in Damascus.”


[Samaritans ask to share use of the rebuilt Jerusalem temple and are refused full sharing, set after 539 BCE]

(11.84-108) On hearing the sound of the trumpets, the Samaritans, who happened to be hostile to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, came running there, for they wanted to learn the reason for the disturbance. When they found that the Judeans who had been taken captive to Babylon were rebuilding the sanctuary, they approached Zerubabbel (Zorobabelos) and Joshua (Jesus) and the chiefs of the families, and asked to be allowed to join in constructing the temple and to have a share in the building. They asserted: “For we worship God no less than they do and pray fervently to him and have been enthusiastic in his service from the time when Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, brought us here from Chuthia and Media.”

Such was the speech they made, but Zerubabbel, the high priest Joshua and the chiefs of the Israelite families told them that it was impossible for them to have a share in the building since no one but themselves had been commanded to build the temple, the first time by Cyrus and now by Darius. “They would, however, allow them to worship there,” they said, “but the only thing which they might, if they wanted, have in common with them, as might all other people, was to come to the sanctuary and revere God.” On hearing this, the Chutheans (it is by this name that the Samaritans are called) were indignant and persuaded the peoples in Syria to request the governors in the same way as they had formerly done under Cyrus and again, after his reign, under Cambyses, to stop the building of the temple and put hindrances and delays in the way of the Judeans as they busied themselves with building it.

At the same time Sisines, the [Persian] governor of Syria and Phoenicia, and Sarabazanes together with certain other people went up to Jerusalem and asked the leaders of the Judeans who it was that had given them permission to build the temple in such a way that it was more like a fortress than a sanctuary, and why they had even built porticoes round the city, as well as very strong walls. At that point, Zerubabbel and the high priest Joshua said that they were servants of the greatest God and that this temple, which had been built for him by one of their kings, a fortunate man who surpassed all others in virtue, had stood for a long time. But, because their fathers had acted impiously toward God, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia and Chaldea, had taken the city by force and destroyed it and, after despoiling the temple, had burned it and had taken the people captive to Babylon where he settled them. Then Cyrus, who was king of Babylonia and Persia after him, had written that the temple should be built. Cyrus had given over to Zerubabbel and his treasurer Mithridates all the dedicatory offerings and vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from it, commanding them to carry these to Jerusalem and put them back in the temple, where they belonged, after it was built. This he had instructed them to have speedily done, and had ordered Sanabasaros to go up to Jerusalem and see to the building of the temple. On receiving this letter from Cyrus, he had, soon after his arrival, laid the foundations. However, even though Zerubabbel had been constructing it from that time on, it had not been completed to the present because of the hatred of their enemies. “If, therefore, you so desire and see fit, Write these things to Darius in order that he may examine the archives of the kings and find that we have not spoken falsely in anything which we have said. When Zerubabbel and the high priest had spoken to this effect, Sisines and those with him decided not to stop the building until they had reported these things to Darius, but they at once wrote to him about them.

Now, as the Judeans were trembling with fear that the king might change his mind about the building of Jerusalem and the temple, Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets who were among them at that time, urged them to take courage and not be apprehensive about any unexpected action by the Persians, for God, they said, foretold this to them. And so, having faith in the prophets, they applied themselves vigorously to the building, without relaxing for a single day.

But the Samaritans wrote to Darius and in their letter accused the Judeans of fortifying the city and constructing the temple so as to resemble a fortress rather than a sanctuary, and said that what was being done would not be to his advantage and, in addition, cited the letter of Cambyses in which he had forbidden them to build the temple.

So, when Darius heard from them that the restoration of Jerusalem would not be safe for his rule, and also read the letter that came from Sisines and those with him, he commanded that a search be made in the royal archives concerning these matters. And there was found at Ekbatana, a fortress in Media, a document in which the following was written:

“In the first year of his reign king Cyrus ordered the temple in Jerusalem to be built with its altar, to a height of sixty cubits and the same breadth, its walls to be made of three courses of well-polished stone and one of wood of the country. And the costs of this he decreed should come out of the king’s treasury, and that the vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon should be given back to the people of Jerusalem, and that the supervision of these matters should be undertaken by Sanabassares, the governor and ruler of Syria and Phoenicia, and his companions, but that they themselves should keep away from the place and should leave the building of the temple to the servants of God, the Judeans and their leaders. He also decreed that they should assist in the work and from the tribute of the territory which they governed should pay for the expenses of the Judeans in sacrificing bullocks, rams, sheep and kids ‘ and fine flour, oil and wine and whatever other things the priests might suggest, in order that they might pray for the well-being of the king and the Persians. But those who should transgress any of these commands he ordered to be seized and crucified and their possessions to be confiscated to the royal treasury. Furthermore he prayed to God that, if anyone should attempt to prevent the building of the temple, He should strike him down and restrain him from his wicked deed.”

Darius on finding these things in the archives wrote an answer to Sisnes and his companions, which read as follows:

“King Darius to governor Sisines and Sarabazanes and their companions, greetings. I have sent to you a copy of the letter which I found in the archives of Cyrus, and it is my will that everything should be done as is stated in that letter. Farewell.”

So, when Sisines and those with him learned the king’s wishes from this letter, they decided to act accordingly. They therefore began to superintend the sacred works and assisted the Judean elders and the leaders of the old men. The construction of the temple was carried out with great enthusiasm while Haggai and Zechariah were prophets in keeping with the command of God and with the consent of kings Cyrus and Darius. So it was built in seven years. Then, in the ninth year of the reign of Darius, on the twenty third day of the twelfth month, which is called by us Adar and by the Macedonians Dystros, the priests and Levites and the rest of the Israelite people brought sacrifices to celebrate the renewal of their former prosperity after their captivity and in token of having a sanctuary once more after it had been rebuilt, the sacrifices being a hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs and twelve male goats, one for each tribe (twelve is the number of Israelite tribes) to atone for the sins of each tribe. In accordance with the laws of Moses, the priests and Levites set porters at each gateway because the Judeans had built porticoes round the temple within the sacred precincts.


[Judeans of Jerusalem bring accusations against Samaritans, set after the first Jerusalemites’ return, after 538-520 BCE]

(11.113-119) Such, then, was the condition of the Judeans who had been delivered from captivity in the time of Cyrus and Darius. But the Samarians, who regarded them with feelings of hostility and envy, inflicted many injuries on the Judeans. The Samaritans relied on their wealth and pretended to be related to the Persians, since they had come from their country. They refused to pay the amounts which they had been ordered by the king to pay to the Judeans out of their tribute for the sacrifices, and they had the [Persian] governors enthusiastically aiding them in this. Whatever else they could do to injure the Judeans either by themselves or through others, they did not hesitate to try.

The people of Jerusalem therefore resolved to send an embassy to king Darius to accuse the Samaritans. The envoys were Zerubabbel and four other leaders. When the king learned from these envoys the complaints and charges which they brought against the Samaritans, he gave them a letter and sent them off to bring it to the governors of Syria and the council. It was written as follows:

“King Darius to Taganas and Sambabas, the governors of the Samaritans, and Sadrakes and Buedon and the rest of their fellow servants in Samaria. Zerubabbel, Ananias and Mardochaios, the envoys of the Judeans, have charged you with hampering them in building the temple and with failing to provide them with the amounts which I commanded you to pay them for the expenses of the sacrifices. It is my will, therefore, that, when you have read this letter, you will pay them out of the royal treasury from the tribute of Samaria everything which they may need for the sacrifices as the priests request. This will be done in order that they may not fail to perform their daily sacrifices or their prayers to God on behalf of me and the Persians.”

These were the contents of the letter.


[Samaritans supposedly continue to plot to hinder Judean wall building plans, set in about 486-465 BCE]

(11.173-183) When the Ammanites, Moabites, Samaritans and all those living in Coele-Syria heard that the building of the walls was being pressed [in the time of king Xerxes, ca. 486 to 465 BCE], they were angry and continually contrived plots against the Judeans to hinder their purpose. They killed many of the Judeans and tried to finish off Nehemiah himself by hiring some foreigners to do away with him. They also instilled fear and alarm into them and spread rumours among them that many peoples were about to attack them. This made the Judeans so alarmed that they very nearly gave up building. None of these things, however, deterred Nehemiah from being devoted to the work. . . [description of Nehemiah’s success in completing the walls omitted].


[Manasseh’s marriage to a Samaritan and contention with elders in Jerusalem, set in the period 465-424 BCE]

(11.302-303 and 306-313) When Johanan (Joannes) passed away he was succeeded in the high priesthood by his son Jaddua (Jaddus). Jaddua also had a brother named Manasseh (Manasses). Sanballat had been sent to Samaria as satrap by Darius the last king and he was of the Chuthean race from whom the Samaritans also are descended. Sanballat (Sanabalites) gladly gave Manasseh his daughter, named Nikaso, in marriage. Sanballat knew that Jerusalem was a famous city and that its kings had given much trouble to the Assyrians and the inhabitants of Coele-Syria. He believed that this alliance by marriage would be a pledge to secure the goodwill of the entire Judean people (ethnos) [cf. Nehemiah 13:28; 2 Esdras 23:28]. . . [section omitted].

. . . (306) Now the elders of Jerusalem, resenting the fact that the brother [Manasseh] of the high priest Jaddua was sharing the high priesthood while married to a person of another tribe (allophylon), rose up against him. This was because they considered this marriage to be a stepping-stone for those who might want to transgress the laws about taking wives and that this would be the beginning of intercourse with those of another tribe. They believed, moreover, that their former captivity and misfortunes had been caused by some who had made the mistake of marrying and taking wives who were not of their own country.

They therefore told Manasseh either to divorce his wife or not to approach the altar. Since the high priest [Jaddua] shared the indignation of the people and kept his brother from the altar, Manasseh went to his father-in-law Sanaballat and said that while he loved his daughter Nikaso, nevertheless the priestly office was the highest position over the people and had always belonged to his family, and that therefore he did not want to be deprived of it on her account.

[Plan to build another temple on mount Gerizim and install Manasseh]

But Sanaballat promised not only to preserve the priesthood for him but also to procure for him the power and office of high priest and to appoint him governor of all the places over which Sanaballat ruled, if he were willing to live with his daughter. Sanaballat said that he would build a temple similar to that in Jerusalem on mount Gerizim (Garizein) (which is the highest of the mountains near Samaria) and began planning to do these things with the consent of king Darius. Elated by these promises, Manasseh stayed with Sanaballat, believing that he would obtain the high priesthood as the gift of Darius. Sanaballat, as it happened, was now an old man.

But since many priests and Israelites were involved in such intermarriages, there was a lot of confusion among the people of Jerusalem. For all these priests and Israelites deserted to Manasseh, and Sanaballat supplied them with money and with land for cultivation and assigned them places to live, in every way seeking to win favour for his son-in-law.

Now about this time Darius heard that Alexander [of Macedon] had crossed the Hellespont and defeated his governors in the battle at the Granikos river and was Darius advancing further . . . [sections omitted].


[Judeans’ and Samaritans’ supposed relations with Alexander of Macedon, set after 334 BCE]

(11.340-347) Having regulated these matters at Jerusalem, Alexander marched off against the neighbouring cities. But all those peoples to whom Alexander came received him in a friendly spirit. At this point, the Samaritans – whose chief city at that time was Shechem, which lay beside mount Gerizim and was inhabited by deserters from the Judean people – seeing that Alexander had so clearly honoured the Judeans, decided to profess themselves to be Judeans.

[Samaritans’ supposed nature and lack of kinship with Judeans]

This is because Samaritans are naturally (physis) like that, as we have already shown somewhere above. When the Judeans are in difficulties, they deny that they have any kinship (syggeneis) with them (thereby indeed confessing the truth). Yet whenever the Samaritans see something good happening to the Judeans, they suddenly grasp at the connection with them, saying that they are related to them and tracing their line back to Ephraim and Manasseh, the descendants of Joseph.

[Samaritans come to Alexander]

So, then, with splendour and a show of great eagerness on Alexander’s behalf, they met the king when he was hardly out of Jerusalem. When Alexander encouraged them, the Shechemites [Shechem was the main city of the Samaritans at the time] approached him, bringing along the soldiers whom Sanaballat had sent to him, and invited him to come to their city and honour the temple there as well. At that point Alexander promised to grant this request another time when he should come back to them. However, when they asked him to remit their tribute in the seventh year, saying that they did not sow in the seventh year, he inquired who they were that they made this request. When they said that they were Hebrews but were called the Sidonians of Shechem, he again asked them whether they were Judeans. Then, as they said that they were not, he replied, “But I have given these privileges to the Judeans. However, when I return and have more exact information from you, I will do whatever I think is best.” With these words, then, he sent the Shechemites away.

But he ordered the soldiers of Sanaballat to accompany him to Egypt. There, he said, he would give them allotments of land, as in fact he did shortly afterwards in the Thebaid region, and he ordered them to guard this territory.

When Alexander died [323 BCE], his empire was partitioned among his successors (the Diadochi). As for the temple on mount Gerizim, it remained there. Whenever anyone was accused by the people of Jerusalem of eating unclean food or violating the Sabbath or committing any other such failure, he would flee to the Shechemites, saying that he had been unjustly expelled. Now by that time the high priest Jaddua was also dead, and his son Onias [I] succeeded to the high priesthood. This, then, was the way things were with the people of Jerusalem at that time.


[Judean and Samaritan military colonies established in Egypt by Ptolemy I Soter, set in 305-282 BCE]

(12.111) Having overthrown the Persian empire and settled the affairs of Judea in the manner above, Alexander, the king of Macedon, died [323 BCE]. His empire fell to the share of many, Antigonos becoming master of Asia and Seleukos of Babylon and the peoples around there, while Lysimachos ruled the Hellespont, Kassandros held Macedon, and Ptolemy [I Soter, reigning 305-282 BCE] son of Lagos took Egypt. But, as they quarrelled and fought jealously with one another, each for his own kingdom, the result was that continual and prolonged wars arose, and the cities suffered through their struggles and lost many of their inhabitants.

All of Syria faced treatment from Ptolemy son of Lagos that was the opposite of the meaning of his surname, “Saviour” (Soter). Ptolemy seized Jerusalem by resorting to cunning and deceit. He entered the city on the Sabbath as though he was going to sacrifice and, since the Judeans did not oppose him, he became master of the city without difficulty and ruled it harshly. This was because the Judeans did not suspect any hostile act and, because of their lack of suspicion and the nature of the day, were enjoying idleness and ease. This account is attested by Agatharchides of Knidos, the historian of the Diadochi, who reproaches us for our fearful approach to the deity (deisidaimonia; or: superstition), on account of which we lost our freedom, in these words:

“There is a people called Judeans, who have a strong and great city called Jerusalem, which they allowed to fall into the hands of Ptolemy by refusing to take up weapons and, instead, through their untimely fearful approach to the deity submitted to having a hard master.”

This, then, was the opinion which Agatharchides expressed about our people.

Now Ptolemy, after taking many captives from the hill country of Judea and the district around Jerusalem, on the one hand, and from Samaria and those on mount Gerizim, on the other, brought them all to Egypt and settled them there. Ptolemy recognized that the people of Jerusalem were most constant in keeping their oaths and pledges, as shown by the reply which they gave to Alexander when he sent an embassy to them after defeating Darius in battle. So he assigned many of them to his garrisons, and at Alexandria gave them equal civic rights with the Macedonians and exacted oaths by them that they would be faithful towards his descendants, since he had placed them in a position of trust.

[Quarrels between Judeans and Samaritans in the Egyptian diaspora]

Yet still other Judeans also went to Egypt of their own volition because they were attracted to the excellence of the country and Ptolemy’s love of honour. Their descendants, however, had quarrels with the Samaritans because they were determined to keep alive their ancestral way of life and customs, and so they fought with each other. Those from Jerusalem said that their temple was the holy one and required that the sacrifices be sent there, while the Shechemites [i.e. Josephos’ alternate term for Samaritans, at times] wanted sacrifices to go to mount Gerizim. . . [sections omitted].


[Samaritans supposedly destroy land and enslave Judeans, set in the time of Ptolemy V, reigning ca. 204-180 BCE]

(12.154-159) After this Antiochos [III, Seleukid king, reigning 222-187 BCE] made a treaty of friendship with Ptolemy [V Epiphanes, reigning ca. 204-180 BCE], and gave him his daughter Kleopatra in marriage, offering as her dowry Coele-Syria, Samaria, Judea and Phoenicia. When the tribute was divided between the two kings, the prominent men purchased the right to farm the taxes in their several provinces and, collecting the fixed amount, paid it to the royal pair.

At this time the Samaritans were flourishing and caused the Judeans much trouble by destroying their land and carrying off slaves. This happened in the high priesthood of Onias [II]. For, when Eleazar died, his uncle Manasseh took over the high priesthood, and, after he departed this life, the office came to Onias, who was a son of Simon who is also called the Just. And Simon was a brother of Eleazar, as I have said before. This Onias was small-minded and extremely into money. For this reason he did not pay (on behalf of the people) the tribute of twenty talents of silver which his fathers had paid to the kings out of their own revenues. This raised the anger of king Ptolemy, and the king sent an envoy to Jerusalem to denounce Onias for not paying the tribute and threatened that, if he did not receive it, he would parcel out their land and send his soldiers to settle on it. Accordingly, when the Judeans heard the king’s message, they were dismayed, but Onias was not ashamed any of these threats, so great was his love of money.


[Samaritans supposedly petition to be exempted from negative treatment and request identification of their temple with Zeus Hellenios, set in the time of Antiochos Epiphanes, set in about 167-164 BCE]

(12.257-265) Yet when the Samaritans saw the Judeans suffering these misfortunes [Antiochos Epiphanes’ desecration of the temple and other negative actions, ca. 167-164 BCE], they would no longer admit that they shared kinship (syggeneis) or that the temple on Gerizim was that of the greatest God, acting in accordance with their nature (physis) as we have shown. They also said they were colonists (apoikoi) from the Medes and Persians, and they are, in fact, colonists from these peoples. Accordingly, they sent envoys to Antiochos with a letter in which they made the following statements:

“To king Antiochos Theos Epiphanes, a reminder from the Sidonians in Shechem. Due to the effects of certain droughts in their country and following a certain ancient fear of the deity (deisidaimonia), our ancestors made it a custom to observe the day which is called the Sabbath by the Judeans, and they erected a temple without a name on the mountain called Gerizim, and there offered the appropriate sacrifices. Now you have dealt with the Judeans as their wickedness deserves. However, since the king’s officers believed that we follow the same practices as the Judeans through kinship with them, the king’s officers are involving us in similar charges even though we are Sidonians by origin, as is evident from our civic documents. We therefore petition you as our benefactor and saviour to command Apollonios, the governor of the district, and Nikanor, the royal agent, not to trouble us in any way by attaching to us the charges of which the Judeans are guilty, since we are distinct from them both in descent group (genos) and in customs (ethē), and we ask that the temple without a name be known as the temple of Zeus Hellenios [literally: Greek Zeus; 2 Maccabees 6:2 claims it was Zeus Xenos, friend of foreigners]. For if this is done, we will cease to be troubled and, by applying ourselves to our work in security, we will make your revenues greater.”

To this petition of the Samarians the king wrote the following reply:

“King Antiochos to Nikanor. The Sidonians in Shechem have submitted a reminder which has been filed. Now since the men they sent have represented to us sitting in council with our friends that they are in no way concerned in the complaints brought against the Judeans, but choose to live in accordance with Greek customs, we acquit them of these charges, and permit their temple to be known as that of Zeus Hellenios, as they have petitioned.”

In this fashion he also wrote to Apollonios, the district governor, in the 146th year, on the eighteenth of the month Hekatombaion Hyrkanios.

At this same time there was a man living in the village of Modai in Judea, named Mattathias, the son of Joannes, the son of Symeon, the son of Hasmonai, a priest of the course’ of Joarib’ and a native of Jerusalem. . . [omitted following discussion of the Maccabees / Hasmonians].


[Supposed debate between Judeans and Samaritans on whose holy place was in keeping with the law of Moses, judged by Ptolemy VI Philometer and set in about 180-164 BCE]

(13.74-79) Now a quarrel arose between the Judeans in Alexandria and the Samarians [an alternative for Samaritans] who worshipped at the temple on mount Gerizim, which had been built in the time of Alexander. They disputed about their respective temples in the presence of Ptolemy [VI Philometer] himself. The Judeans claimed that it was the temple at Jerusalem which had been built in accordance with the laws of Moses, and the Samaritans claimed that it was the temple on Gerizim. And they requested the king to sit in council with his Friends and hear their arguments on these matters, and to punish with death those who were defeated.

Accordingly, Sabbaios and Theodosios made speeches on behalf of the Samarians, while Andronikos the son of Meshulam (Messalamus), spoke for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea. They swore by God and the king that they would give their proofs in accordance with the law [of Moses], and requested Ptolemy to put to death anyone who might violate these oaths. And so the king brought many of his Friends into his council and sat to hear the speakers.

Now the Judeans who were then in Alexandria were in great anxiety about the men whose task it was to express indignation on behalf of the temple at Jerusalem, for they were resentful that any should seek to destroy this temple which was so ancient and the most celebrated of all those in the world. But as Sabbaios and Theodosios permitted Andronikos to make the first speech, he began with proofs from the law [of Moses] and the succession of the high priests, showing how each had become head of the temple by receiving that office from his father. Andronikos also showed that all the kings of Asia had honoured the temple with dedicatory offerings and most beautiful gifts, while none had shown any respect or regard for that on Gerizim, as though it were not in existence. By these and many similar arguments Andronikos persuaded the king to decide that the temple at Jerusalem had been built in accordance with the laws of Moses, and to put to death Sabbaios and Theodosios and their party. These, then, were the things that happened to the Judeans in Alexandria in the reign of Ptolemy Philometor.


[Hyrkanos I’s campaigns in Samaria, siege of Samaria and destruction of the temple on Gerizim, set around 112 BCE]

(13.254-257) As soon as he heard about the death of Antiochos [actually Demetrios II, died ca. 125 BCE], Hyrkanos I [or: Hyrcanus, high priest ca. 135-104 BCE] marched out against the cities of Syria, thinking he would find them empty of fighting men and of anyone able to deliver them, as in fact was the case. And he captured Medaba [old Moabite city under Nabatean control, now in Jordan] after six months, during which his army suffered great hardships. Next he captured Samoga and its environs and, in addition to these, Shechem, Gerizim and the Cuthean people. That people lives near the temple built after the model of the sanctuary at Jerusalem, which Alexander permitted their governor Sanballat to build for the sake of his son-in-law Manasseh, the brother of the high priest Jaddua. as we have related before [above, 11.322-324]. Now it was two hundred years later that this temple was destroyed.

(13.275-284) So Hyrkanos marched against Samaria, a very strongly fortified city. How this city was founded by Herod under the name of Sebaste, as it is now called, we will relate in the proper place. Now Hyrkanos attacked and besieged it vigorously because he hated the Samarians [alternative for Samaritans, but here focussed on the inhabitants of the city of Samaria itself] as scoundrels because of the injuries which, in obedience to the kings of Syria, they had done to the people of Marisa, who were colonists and allies of the Judeans. Accordingly he made a trench round the city on all sides, built a double wall for a distance of some eighty stadia, and placed his sons Antigonos and Aristoboulos in charge.

As they pressed the siege, the Samarians were finally brought by famine to such a state of need that they were forced to eat just about anything for food, and at the same time to call upon Antiochos of Kyzikos for help [if not an error, this would be before he was a co-regent of the Seleukid realm; in War 1.65, Josephos has Antiochos of Aspendos in this role]. He readily came to their assistance, but he was defeated by Aristoboulos and was pursued by the brothers as far as Skythopolis [modern Beit Shean], where he made his escape. The brothers then returned to Samaria and once more closed in the Samarians within the wall. As a result, they had to call on Antiochos a second time for help, who at that point applied to Ptolemy [IX] Lathyros for six thousand men. Ptolemy sent these soldiers against the wish of his mother, who all but drove him from the kingdom when she heard of it. With these Egyptians, Antiochos at first invaded and ravaged Hyrkanos’ territory like a bandit (lēstikōs), for he dared not meet him in battle face to face (his force was not adequate for that), but supposed that by damaging his territory he would force Hyrkanos to stop the siege of Samaria.

However, after losing many of his men by falling into ambushes, Antiochos went off to Tripolis, leaving Kallimandros and Epikrates to direct the war against the Judeans. But as Kallimandros attacked the enemy too recklessly, he was defeated and killed on the spot. As for Epikrates, out of greed for money he openly betrayed Skythopolis and other nearby places to the Judeans, but could not bring the siege of Samaria to an end.

So Hyrkanos captured the city after besieging it for a year. However, not being content with that alone, he effaced it entirely and left it to be swept away by the mountain torrents. He dug beneath it until it fell into the mountain torrents, and so removed all signs of its ever having been a city.

Now about the high priest Hyrkanos an extraordinary story is told about how the deity communicated with him. For they say that on the very day on which his sons fought with Antiochos of Kyzikos, Hyrkanos, who was alone in the temple burning incense as high priest, heard a voice saying that his sons had just defeated Antiochos. On coming out of the temple he revealed this to the entire crowd, and so it actually happened. This, then, was how the affairs of Hyrkanos were going. At this time not only were the Judeans in Jerusalem and in the country [of Judea] in a flourishing condition, but also Judeans living in Alexandria and in Egypt and Cyprus.


[Samaritans supposed attempt to desecrate the Jerusalem temple with human bones, set in the time of the first Roman prefect Coponius, ca. 6-9 CE]

(18.29-35; trans. Harland) During the administration of Judea by Coponius (who had been dispatched with Quirinius, as I said), something happened: When the festival of Unleavened Bread, which we call “Passover,” was taking place, the priests had the custom of throwing open the gates of the temple in the middle of the night. This time, when the gates were first opened, some Samaritan men who had secretly come into Jerusalem began to scatter human bones in the collonaded areas and throughout the temple. As a result, the priests, although they had previously observed no such custom, excluded everyone from the temple, in addition to taking other measures for the greater protection of the temple. Not long afterwards Coponius returned to Rome.


[Samaritan movement quelled by the Roman prefect Pilate, set in about 37 CE]

(18.85-89; trans. Harland) The Samarian [alternative for Samaritan, but perhaps focussed on the inhabitants of the city of Samaria specifically] people (ethnos) was also not exempt from disturbance. For a man who made light of deceit and wanted to please the crowd, tricked them, calling them go together with him to mount Gerizim, which is the most sacred mountain to them. He maintained that on their arrival he would show them the sacred vessels which were buried there, where Moses had deposited them. Considering this story persuasive, they appeared with weapons. They placed themselves in a certain village named Tirathana. They planned to climb the mountain in a large crowd, welcoming new arrivals who kept coming. But before they could ascend the mountain, Pilate blocked their planned route up the mountain with a line of cavalry and heavy-armed infantry. Those engaging in war with those in the village killed some in a pitched battle and made the others flee. Many prisoners were taken, of whom Pilate put to death the principal leaders and those who were most influential of those who fled.

When the disturbance had been settled, the Council of the Samarians went to Vitellius, a man of consular rank who was governor of Syria, and accused Pilate with the slaughter of the dead. Because, they said, they had met in Tirathana not as a revolt against the Romans but as an escape from the extreme violence of Pilate. At that point, Vitellius sent Marcellus, one of his friends, to take charge of the administration of Judea. Vitellius ordered Pilate to return to Rome to explain the accusations of the Samaritans to the emperor [Tiberius]. So Pilate, after having spent ten years in Judea, hurried to Rome in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, since he could not refuse. But before he reached Rome, Tiberius had already passed away [37 CE].


[Clashes between Samaritans and both Galileans and Judeans under the Roman prefect Cumanus, set in about 48-52 CE]

(20.118-139; trans. Harland) Hostilities also arose between the Samaritans and the Judeans for the following reason: During festivals, it was the custom of the Galileans to pass through the Samarian countryside on their way to the sacred city. On one occasion when they were travelling, those in a village called Ginaia, which was located on the border between Samaria and the great plain, engaged in battle with the Galileans and killed a large number of them. The foremost leaders of the Galileans, hearing what happened, came to Cumanus and called on him to seek out the murderers of those killed. However, since he had been bribed by the Samarians, Cumanus neglected to bring justice for them. Irritated by this, the Galileans urged the crowd of Judeans to advance with weapons and to assert their freedom. They said that slavery was bitter on its own, but when it involved extremely violent treatment, it was quite intolerable. Those in authority tried to appease them and shorten the disturbance, and offered to persuade Cumanus to punish the murderers.

However, they did not pay attention. Instead, taking their weapons and inviting the assistance of Eleazar son of Deinaios – a bandit (lēstēs) who had lived in the mountains for many years – they plundered certain villages of the Samarians, setting them on fire. When news of the incident reached Cumanus, he deployed the company of the Sebastenians and four units of infantry and he supplied weapons to the Samarians. He then went out against the Judeans and, clashing with them, he killed many but took more alive. At that point, when those who were by honour and descent the foremost leaders of the Jerusalemites saw how terrible the disaster was, they changed their robes for sackcloth and defiled their heads with ashes and went to great lengths in order to persuade those engaged in the disturbance. They urged them to imagine that their homeland would be destroyed, their temple burned, and they themselves with their wives and children would be enslaved. They therefore convinced them to change their minds, to throw down their arms, to return to their homes, and to lead a quiet life in the future. Saying these things, they persuaded them to stop. The people dispersed and the bandits (lēstai) returned to their strongholds. From that time the whole of Judea was infested with groups of bandits (lēstēria).

The foremost leaders of the Samarians met with Umidius Quadratus, the governor of Syria, who at that time was at Tyre, and accused the Judeans of burning and plundering their villages. They claimed not so much that they themselves had been mistreated but that the Judeans had shown disdain for the Romans. The leaders of the Samarians said that the Judeans should have appealed to the Romans to judge the case, if in fact the Samarians had done them an injustice. They should not have done what they did, as though they did not have the Romans as their governors. The Samarians said that they had therefore come to Quadratus to receive a decision. These were the accusations of the Samarians. Now the Judeans said that the Samarians were responsible for the clash and the fighting, but that Cumanus, who had been bribed by the Samarians ignore the murder of the Judean victims, was most responsible. After the hearing, Quadratus put off making a decision, saying that he would announce his decision when he had reached Judea and had a more accurate understanding of the truth. So the Samarians left without being successful.

Not long after, Quadratus reached Samaria, where, after a full hearing, he came to the conclusion that the Samarians had been responsible for the disturbance. He then crucified the Samarians and the Judeans who, he had learned, had taken part in the violent actions and whom Cumanus had taken as prisoners.

From there he came to Lydda, a village that was as big as a city, and sat on the judgement seat, where he gave a second thorough hearing to the case of the Samarians. Here he was informed by a certain Samarian that a leader of the Judeans named Doetos, together with four others who engaged in violence, had persuaded the crowd to revolt against the Romans. Quadratus also ordered these people to be put to death. As for the high priest Ananias, the commander Ananus, and their followers, he put them in chains and sent them up to Rome to give an account to Claudius Caesar. Quadratus also ordered the foremost leaders of the Samarians, the foremost leaders of the Judeans, Cumanus the governor, and Celer, a military tribune, to be sent to Italy to get a decision from the emperor concerning what they were seeking from one another. Quadratus himself, fearing a more violence by the Judean crowds, visited the city of Jerusalem. He found it at peace and participated in one of the ancestral festivals for God. Believing that there would be no more violence on their part, he left them celebrating the festival and returned to Antioch.

(3) Cumanus and the foremost leaders of the Samarians who had been sent to Rome were assigned a day by the emperor on which they were to state their disputes with one another. Caesar’s freedmen and friends displayed the greatest favouritism for Cumanus and the Samarians. They would have prevailed over the Judeans if Agrippa the Younger – who was in Rome and saw that the foremost leaders of the Judeans were dismayed – had not urgently persuaded Agrippina, the wife of the emperor, to persuade her husband to give the case a thorough hearing in a manner appropriate to his respect for law and to punish those who started the revolt. Claudius was favourably impressed by this petition. He then heard the case through. After discovering that the Samaritans were the original cause of the trouble, he ordered those of them who had come before him to be put to death, condemned Cumanus to exile, and ordered Celer the tribune to be taken to Jerusalem, where he was to be dragged around the whole city in a public spectacle and then put to death.

Claudius now sent Felix, the brother of Pallas, to take charge of matters in Judea. . . [remainder omitted].


Tacitus, Annals, 13

[Tacitus’ quite different account of disturbances involving Samarians and Judeans under the governors Felix and Cumanus]

54 However, a similar moderate approach was not shown by his brother, surnamed Felix. For a while past, Felix had held the governorship of Judea, and considered that with such influences behind him all troubles would be slight. The Judeans, it is true, had given signs of disaffection in the rioting prompted <by the demand of Gaius Caesar for an image of himself in the Temple; and though> the news of his murder had made complicity needless, the fear remained that some emperor might issue an identical order. In the interval, Felix was fostering crime by misconceived remedies, his worst efforts being emulated by Ventidius Comanus, his colleague in the other half of the province. The province was divided so that the natives of Galilee were subject to Ventidius Cumanus and the natives of Samaria to Felix. The districts had long been at variance, and their animosities were now under less restraint because they could despise their rulers. Accordingly, they harrassed each other, unleashed their troops of bandits, fought an occasional battle, and carried their trophies and their thefts to the procurators.

At first, the pair rejoiced; then, when the growth of the mischief forced them to intervene with their troops, the troops were beaten, and the province would have been ablaze with war if Quadratus the governor of Syria had not intervened. With regard to the Judeans, who had gone so far as to shed the blood of regular soldiers, there were no protracted doubts as to the infliction of the death penalty: Cumanus and Felix were answerable for more embarrassment, as Claudius, on learning the motives of the revolt, had authorized Quadratus to deal with the case of the procurators themselves. Quadratus, however, displayed Felix among the judges, his admission to the tribunal being intended to cool the zeal of his accusers. Cumanus was sentenced for the shortcomings of both of them, and calm returned to the province. . . [remainder of narrative omitted].

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published.