History

History Of A Nation: Samaria (Northern Kingdom Of Israel)

930 BC – 720 BC

The exciting real world developments in the past few weeks have led to a lack of history posts but it’s in my Twitter handle so I’m not giving it up just yet. Or ever. I love this. I really do. And so I’m going to go to a nation that has been in one of the principle sources about it has been often derided as an antagonist to the ‘good’ Kingdom of Judah to the south, but was it really as the Bible said it was? I’m going to try and find out.

Location

Samaria is located in Northern Israel and the use of the term beyond this kingdom’s existence has been largely perjorative, hence the Good Samaritan because it was such an unusual occurence for a Samaritan to be good, at least in Israel. Now, it’s a disputed term over the Israeli-Palestinian issue. So I would just call it Northern Kingdom Of Israel from hereonout but there is no one to be offended who generally reads these, Samaria is shorter and it does cover the historical region of Samaria almost exactly. So I’m taking it.

History

According to the Biblical histories, Samaria was an offshoot kingdom from the United Monarchy, which in a relatively recent history post I sort of kind of challenged in a really non-committal way. We don’t know for sure that they were one country, and indeed as ever that’s a bit of a fabrication, but the two peoples might well have been closer or nearly counted themselves as one before the ‘split’. After the split however, it was not plain sailing and we can see that from the books of Kings that the northern kingdom was not well regarded by the southern kingdom, at least in matters of religion, the books being written from a religious perspective as they are. The kings of Israel/Samaria didn’t recognise the authority of the temple in Jerusalem, their land not containing Jerusalem. So according to the books of Kings, every king of Israel was ‘evil’. Some have more of their evil deeds described than others, like Ahab.

It wasn’t just a religious differing though, the two nations warred at least in the early period. Peace was eventually brought about through marriages, for Samaria, this was Ahab’s daughter Athaliah who finally secured friendly relations and an eventual alliance. That didn’t last long and there was tension until Samaria was destroyed by Assyrians.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jeroboam was the offshoot king, an important man in Solomon’s court who fancied himself king and with Solomon dead and Rehoboam, a weaker king leading, he used his network with the ‘ten northern tribes’ of Israel and formed a separate kingdom. The details may not be exactly right but the consequence was a kingdom under the house of Jeroboam. Jeroboam also separated Samaria religiously from Judah, a needed part of his power play, by building temples at Bethel and Dan to challenge the Temple in Jerusalem, and free worship of Yahweh and Baal (from the nearby Phoenicians) was common. Jeroboam had a prosperous and lengthy reign.

Jeroboam’s son Nadab after two years was murdered by his commander Baasha, who had a prosperous and lengthy reign. What is nice about Baasha is not much but he came from the tribe of Issachar. So I have like him because he almost came from the tribe of me!

Baasha’s son Elah was murdered by his commander Zimri, who ruled for a week then was murdered by Omri, who had a prosperous and lengthy reign. See a pattern?

It is unfortunate that it is Kings and not a fuller chronicle that survived that we know exists by Kings telling us to go look it up.

Omri built the city of Samaria that would become associated with the kingdom and he’s the first king of Samaria for which sources outside of Israel mention his name, and evidently was rather successful in establishing Samaria as a solid political force. The Hebrew Bible is jealous and calls him more wicked than all the kings who proceeded him. Thing is, his reign stopped the warlike instability of the previous houses and peace was made with Judah, and he made alliances with the Phoenician city of Sidon to the north. However he also managed to make an enemy of Assyria that would haunt Samaria for the rest of the nation’s days.

Ahab is probably the most well known of the kings of the northern kingdom, wife to Jezebel, thorn in the side of the prophet Elijah and proponent of idol worship. He’s not regarded favourably in the Bible but he fought to defend his people against Assyria, he’s mentioned as being at the Battle of Qarqar by non-Biblical sources, with his army base being at Jezreel. Ahab died when the Arameans invaded Ramoth Gilead, on the east of the Jordan river.

Ahab’s son Ahaziah ruled for a year and suffered an ‘totally unsuspicious fall from his palace balcony’, so his brother Joram took over. Joram followed a new cult, not Baal or Yahweh and this led to tensions a pretender called Jehu came north and beat Joram enough that he could become king of the north. In Kings this is treated as a glorious thing as the wicked House of Ahab is put to rest, despite them doing more for the kingdom on the international stage than any king of Judah. Yahweh even ‘gives Jehu 4 generations on the throne’, which does of course come to pass. The one non-Israelite source we have for Jehu has him submitting to Shalmaneser III of Assyria so not so good on that front.

Jehu’s descendants, Jehoahaz did little. Jehoash, the second king, had prophecies for him set by Elisha, did well against the Arameans and succeeded in successfully attacking Jerusalem, after an unusual ‘evil, idol-worshipping’ king in Judah. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Jehoash was still ‘evil’ according to Kings but outwardly he worshipped Yahweh and he seems to be fairly well treated besides that.

A repeated name comes next from Jeroboam II, who had a really prosperous reign according to archaeological evidence. At this point, Samaria was incredibly densely settled, the most dense centre of population in at least the area. Many biblical prophets lived during his reign, you might have heard of Jonah, for example, although Hosea and Amos were also around, and condemned him for exploiting the poor with the vast wealth available to him.

Following his lengthy reign and death, his son Zechariah reigned 6 months before a captain in the army, Shallum, murdered him, and reigned for a month before a captain in the army, Menahem, murdered him and had a prosperous and lengthy reign, while still being EVIL according to Kings. Business as usual.

Menahem’s son Pekahiah was… captain in the army named Pekah after two years, the kings should invest in better security for their sons. Pekah was part of a band of warriors though, and he allied with Aram, threatening Jerusalem. The shadow of Assyria was closing in and no one felt safe at this point, so Israel thought it best to ally with all the smaller countries around, except their rival Jerusalem. Judah’s king however aided Assyria and Assyria was able to annex Aram and the area of Samaria east of the Jordan river, containing the ancestral lands of three tribes. Knowing they would be next, a noble called Hoshea, who was sympathetic to Assyrians, assassinated Pekah and made himself king.

He would last 11 years, and he didn’t remain aligned to Assyria because it was the great conqueror Tiglath-Pileser III he was really in awe of. This was a mistake, though he tried to move himself closer to Egypt, this angered Shalmaneser V and Assyria went to war, destroying Samaria – we actually know that Shalmaneser went on campaign according to Assyrian sources but the name of the targeted country is missing, we can assume that it was Samaria. Though Shalmaneser died soon after this and Sargon II had to come and pacify the region, it was game over for Samaria and in 720 BC, the Assyrians deported much of the population of Samaria (estimated by modern historians to be only about a fifth in contrast to the apocalyptic number of ‘all’) all across their empire, never to return home. This gave rise to the myth of the Ten Lost Tribes and set the two remaining tribes to the south, in Judah, fearing for their lives. Of course, the book of Kings reports this tragedy as a result of Samaria sinning against the Lord.

So while most of the sources on Samaria are blasting from the books of Kings, we know they existed and fought against Assyria, and some of their kings were effective rulers. Just most of them were clearly not well trained in teaching their sons how to survive.

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