Before I can even begin to describe the situation of the Hebrews (Jews and Samaritans) in the first centuries BCE/CE, I first need to define who exactly those two groups of people are, in real life rather in the imaginations of partisan politico-religious writers.
The true history of the Samaritans and Jews and the greatly exaggerated conflict between the two differs considerably from that depicted in the Jewish/Christian scriptures or in the works of Flavius Iosephus. In the beginning, the terms “Jew” (or “Judean”) and “Samaritan” did not refer to adherents of different sects of the same religion as much as to citizens of two small Levantine kingdoms that arose during the region’s Early Iron Age that lasted 1200-722 BCE.
The northern and earlier of these two kingdoms was called Samerina in Aramaic after its capital, Samaria, while the southern and later kingdom was called Yehud after its central mountain range, the Har Yehuda. The area later called Galil ha-Goyim (Galilee), or “District of the Gentiles” was never anything more than the outskirts of direct control by the Aramean kingdom of Damascus.
It was during this Early Iron Age that the civilization among the collection of allied coastal city-states known to most of the world as Phoenicia and to themselves as Kana’an flourished and spread across the Mediterranean world and Southwest Asia. The independence of the Phoenicians lasted until their conquest by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century, but even then their complete domination of trade in the eastern Mediterranean continued.
Samerina and Yehud were preceded in existence by several territorial kingdoms in land more friendly to agriculture and long-term settlement, in the larger region later known as Coele-Syria or Transjordan.
The earliest of these was Moab, established around 1250 BCE with its capital at Kerak. Not long after the Iranian empire of Cyrus the Great came into regional superiority, Moab was conquered by a northern Arabian tribe called the Qedarites in 550 BCE.
The kingdom of Edom appeared about 1180 BCE with its seat at the city of Bozrah until it was displaced by the Nabateans, who built the fabulous city of Petra, in 168 BCE. The Edomites moved west, where they were conquered in 110 BCE by the forces of Hasmonean high priest John Hyrcanus, who forced them to convert and absorbed tityheir territory.
The last of these, Ammon, came into being around 1000 BCE, with its seat at Rabath Amman, and ceased to exist as a separate entity after the Macedonian conquest in 332 BCE.
The region’s Early Iron Age began with the collapse of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom and loss of its suzerainty and the invasion of the Sea Peoples, which included the Philistines’ conquest and settlement of the south 1175-1150 BCE. Because the Philistine settlement included the city of Gath, far into the interior of the later Judea, that part of the region became virtually deserted.
The first possible mention of a people called “Israel” occurred in 1207 BCE in the Great Karnak Inscription recording Pharaoh Merneptah’s campaigns against the Libu and the Sea Peoples, including a victory over the Kana’anite city-states of Gezer, Yanoam, and Ashkelon, as well as a landless people called Isiriar, probably a Kemitic corruption of “Israel”. Given the context and description and certain grammatical markers, it is clear that the “Isriar” were a quasi-nomadic tribal rather than settled territorial population, but native to Kana’an and speaking virtually the same language (Hebrew and ancient Canaanite are virtually identifcal).
Around 883 BCE, Omri, king of the Israel (or Isriar) decided his people should begin to dwell in permanent settlements and founded the city of Samaria. At least by other nations, his kingdom was known as Samerina in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the region, or as Bit Humria, or House of Omri, in honor of him. Omri became prominent enough to marry his son, Ahab, to the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre. Jezebel was also grand-aunt to Dido, first queen of Tyre’s colony of Carthage.
The neo-Assyrian emperor Shalmaneser III spent 854-846 BCE conquering all of the Levant; among the defeated kings listed on the Kurkh Monolith is Ahad the Israelite. Shalmaneser didn’t leave sufficient occupying forces behind, however, and into the vacuum stepped the Aramaean king of Damascus, Hazael. In 843 BCE, Hazael,erected a stele in the city of Dan celebrating his victory over Joram king of Israel and Ahaziyahu king of Bit Dawid (House of David), probably after they revolted.
Some thirteen years later, in 830 BCE, Hazael destroyed the city of Gath which had been the major inland settlement of the Philistines for nearly four centuries. This cleared a major impediment to the resettlement of the south and probably the birth of Yehud. It was around this time that the citadel at Tel Arad was built, which has the only temple found to date specifically called a House of Yahweh other than those in the city of Samaria and on isle of Elephantine in Egypt and was probably the seat of the new kingdom.
The Assyrians found it necessary to assert themselves by force of arms upon the coastal city-states of the region, both in Phoenicia and Philistia, in 734 BCE. Twelve years later, in 722 BCE, the Arameans, Samaritans, and Philistines, and perhaps their Transjordan neighbors, rose in revolt and Sargon II of Assyria put down the rebellion harshly. This time, he destroyed the city of Samaria, which had apparently spearheaded the revolt, carried off many of its inhabitants, and planted colonists in the area between Samerina and Damascus.
Afterwards, Samerina and the other territories became mere colonies of Assyria. In the wake of this, refugees flooded into Yehud in southern Kana’an, inhabiting that region in large numbers for the first time in more than five centuries. Some of the refugees, and some of the warriors already in Yehud, migrated to Egypt in the wake of the collapse of the Kushite Empire. Forming several military colonies, their southernmost became host to the other known House of Yahweh, on the isle of Elephantine (Yeb in ancient Kemitic) in southern Egypt on the Nubian border, around 650 BCE.
Eventually the neo-Assyrian Empire collapsed, and by 626 BCE, the empire of the Chaldeans based in Babylon had taken over much of its realm, that which wasn’t absorbed into the empire of the Medes in the north of Iran. Samerina remained a province of the new empire rather than recovering its autonomy while the growing kingdom of Yehud became its vassal as of 597 BCE.
Yehud rose in revolt in around 588 BCE with the support of Pharoah Apries of Egypt’s 26th Dynasty. The Egyptian forces were easily routed by Nebuchadnezzar II, who took Yehud after an 18-month long campaign, including a siege of the capital (probably Tel Arad). Carrying off a substantial portion of its population, he brought in colonists and appended it to the province of Samerina as a sub-province.
Chaldean domination of the Levant did not last long in geologic terms.
By conquering the land of the Medes in 559 BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia (Pars) and Ansan became king of all Iran and first emperor of the Achaemenid dynasty. Twenty years later (539 BCE), Cyrus conquered Babylon and deposed its last king, Nabonidus, whose son Belshazzar had served as his regent for decades. Neither Nabonidus nor his son was Chaldean, by the way; in fact, they were probably Assyrian.
That same year Cyrus issued his famous decree written on the Cyrus Cylinder which is the world’s first Declaration of Human Rights. Neither Samerina nor Yehud are mentioned in the decree as some claim; in fact, no specific nation is mentioned at all, though the rights of conquered peoples to return to their homelands and to worship as they wished are stipulated.
Thus did Syria, Samerina, Phoenicia, Philistia, and Yehud enter Iranian orbit. Cyrus kept the arrangements much as before, but allowing individual peoples more self-government and freedom from having to pay for the worship of deities they didn’t believe in. The lands of the Levant were organized into the 6th satrapy, or satrapy of Abar-Nahra, with Yehud remaining a sub-province of Samerina. In 525 BCE, Cambyses II, son and successor of Cyrus, conquered Egypt and added it to the satrapy of Abar-Nahra.
At Elephantine, devotees to the native Egyptian god Khnum, whose temple stood immediately adjacent to the Hebrews’ House of Yahweh, rioted and destroyed the latter in 411 BCE. Four years later, no reason known for the delay, the officials at the Hebrew colony petitioned the Iranian governor of Samerina at Samaria (Bagayavahu) and the joint governors of Yehud at Mizpah (Dalaiah and Shelemiah, sons of Sinballidh) both for permission for and help with rebuilding the House of Yahweh there.
According to correspondence, both forms of assitance were given by both parties. This amply demonstrates that even at this late date, there was little or no animosity between the two entities envinced in later centuries and anachronistically back-dated by Flavius Iosephus and the writers of the Old Testament book of Ezra-Nehemiah.
In 332 BCE, Alexander the Great of Macedonia and his Macedonian and Greek army conquered Syria and Palestine, and laid siege to the city of Tyre in Phoenicia, with the assistance of warriors from Yehud. Once Tyre fell, the other cities surrendered peacefully. Alexander went on to conquer Egypt, where he established the city of Alexandria, allotting two of its five districts to the Hebrews.
The Samarians revolted the next year, and after their rebellion was put down found themselves occupied by a garrison of Macedonian troops. In later years, these troops and their successors were given lands to settle in what had been the buffer zone between Samerina and Damascus and came to be called Galil ha-Goyim (District of the Gentiles).
Alexander died in 323 BCE, and in the Wars of the Diadochi which ensued almost immediately, Ptolemy I Soter took control over Egypt and became its Pharoah. By 312 BCE, Ptolemy secured his power over the southern and central Levant, that which the Greeks had called Palestina since the time of Herodotus (c. 450 BCE).
After decades of war between the two successor states, possession of Palestina passed from Ptolemaic Egypt to Seleucid Syria in 198 BCE. This was probably aided and abetted by the elite of Samerina, who had always been pro-Hellenistic as opposed to the policies of the Ptolemies, who were less so.
Yehud under the Hellenistic emperors came to be governed more by its high priests than any other native figure. In 185 BCE, high priest Simon II (son of Onias II) died, and conflict broke out between his sons. Onias III was pro-Ptolemy and anti-Hellenist while Jason was pro-Seleucid and pro-Hellenist. The Tobiads, a wealthy and influential family with several members in the imperial bureaucracy, eventually joined the pro-Hellenistic party and placed Jason on the throne of high priest in 175 BCE.
Jason soon began a program of increasing Hellenization, and to convert Jerusalem into a Hellenistic city. Three years later, his brother Menelaus outbid him for the seat.
In 168 BCE, Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire invaded Egypt and deposed the Ptolemies, but was forced to withdraw the next year by the legions of the Roman Republic. Returning home through Palestina, Antiochus stopped in Jerusalem to restore Menelaus, whom Jason had taken the opportunity to displace.
The First Judaean Civil War (Hasmonean Revolt) broke out the next year. Rather than a revolt against the Seleucids, though that was a by-product, it was essentially a civil war between the Hellenizing reformers in the cities and rural traditionalists (kind of like the Taliban). It ended with the Hasmoneans on the throne of the high priest and eventually becoming as Hellenistic as any of their predecessors, as well as being as vicious and fratricidal as the Scottish Stuarts.
During the whole mess, Onias IV, brother of Jason and Menelaus, fled to refuge in Ptolemaic Egypt, where in 154 BCE he set up a colony with a fully functioning temple in Leontopolis (rather than in Alexandria). The city and its district came to be called the Land of Onias.
The Seleucid Empire disintegrated in 116 BCE, and the Hasomeans took the title king. In 110 BCE, John Hyrcanus conquered the Idumaeans and forced them to convert to Judaism. After a long siege, he also destroyed the city of Samaria and the temple atop Mt. Gerizim.
This is the true point at which the Judeans and Samaritans split.
At the end of the Second Judean Civil War in 97 BCE, Alexander Jannaeus, son of John Hyrcanus, crucified over 800 rebels at Jerusalem after slaughtering their families in front of them by slitting their throats. On the other hand, he rebuilt the Samaritans’ temple. In 81 BCE, he annexed the sparsely-populated territory known as Galil ha-Goyim and began to populate it with transplanted Judaeans after forcing those there to convert.
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) conquered Greater Syria in 63 BCE. The Hasmoneans continued as autonomous clients of the Roman Republic until their last heir was overthrown and killed by Herod the Great, to no one’s regret in 37 BCE. Syria proper, meanwhile, became an imperial province under a proconsularis.
At the end of Mark Anthony’s war with Cleopatra VII Philopater of Egypt against Octavius, the latter awarded the city of Samaria to Herod the Great, king of the Jews. Herod renamed the city Sebaste in Octavius’ honor and began rebuilding it.
When Herod died in 4 BCE, his realm was divided among his offspring as ethnarchs rather than as kings. Archelaus inherited Judaea, Samaraea, and Idumaea. Antipas inherited Galilaea, Peraea, and Decapolis. Philippos inherited Ituraea, Trachonitis, Batanaea, Gaulanitis, and Panaeas. Salome I inherited Philistia.
Ten years later, in 6 CE, Octavius Augustus deposed Archaelaus because of his cruelty and joined all his territories into a single sub-province called Iudaea with a praefectus, with the capital moved to Caesarea Palestinae.
The prefecture of Iudaea came under the greater province of Syraea, whose proconsularis, Legatus Publius Suplicius Quirinius, began a tax census of the province. It was not the whole world that was being taxed, nor even the whole of Syraea, and Galilaea was not part of the new prefecture. It did, however, provoke a revolt by one Judas the Galilean, who may have been using the hard feelings to his own advantage.
In 36 CE, a religious fanatic known to history as The Samaritan Prophet and his followers occupied Mount Gerizim in an attempt to rally their fellow Samaritans to separation from greater Iudaea. Pontius Pilatus, the sub-province’s praefectus, put down the mild insurrection so brutally that he was recalled to Roma by Tiberius Augustus.
Flavius Philo Iudaeas of Alexandria reported, in person, to the imperial court in 38 CE that riots against the Hebrews living in the city had broken out and devastated much of their two sections, and asked for them to be restored to their autonomous governance.
In 46 CE, a revolt led by one Theudas broke out in Iudaea during the term of procurator Tiberius Iulius Alexander, a Jew from Alexandria. It was quickly put down. The same year Jacob and Simon, the sons of Judas the Galilean, began an uprising that lasted two years.
The Judean Zealots and their Sicarii and other allies rose up in 66 CE in Iudaea and Galilaea, with the Samaritans joining them the following year. After Jerusalem and the temple fell under siege in 70 CE, 20,000 Idumaeans showed up in support of those inside. The besieged fell into a brutal civil war among themselves, led by John of Giscala on one side and Simon bar Giora on the other.
While Titus, son of the new emperor Vespasian (as of 69 CE) besieged Jerusalem, a general Cerealis destroyed Sebaste and the Samaritan temple atop Mount Gerizim. Titus’ second-in-command was none other than the former Iudaean procurator Tiberius Iulius Alexander, who later commanded the Praetorian Guard.
When Jerusalem surrendered in 70 CE, the entire city was destroyed, it walls pulled down, its buildings burned and crushed, the temple and its mount leveled. But scattered guerrilla resistance remained throughout the country-side.
The Romans destroyed the community at Qumran in 70 CE on their way to Masada. While that siege was still going on, Vespasian ordered the city of Flavius Neapolis built on top of the village of Mabartha, two kilometers from the ruins of Sebaste, in 72 CE. Masada was taken in 73 CE after all but seven of its defenders either were murdered or committed suicide.
That same year, the Temple of Onias in Leontopolis in Egypt was destroyed because Vespasian feared it might become a center of dissent.
In 115 CE, while Trajan Augustus was in the Persian Gulf area fighting the Iranians over territory, a Jewish would-be messiah in Cyrenaica Lukuas began an uprising against the Gentiles in the region, attacking their pagan temples and slaughtering thousands. Meanwhile, Jewish risings also began in Cyprus under one Artemion and in Mesopotamia.
Lukuas and his followers swept across Egypt, burning, pillaging, and killing, with some of the Egyptian Jews joining in but few of the in Alexandria, which the rebels burned. When a new Roman general appeared on the scene, Lukuas shifted his attention to Iudaea, where his followers under leaders named Julian and Pappas made their last stand at Lydda.
Fighting in Egypt did not end until 117 CE. Cyrenaica was almost completely depopulated and Alexandria destroyed. The former was repopulated and the latter rebuilt, including its Jewish Quarter, which actually took up two of five districts. In Cyprus, a quarter million were supposedly killed.
In 130 CE, Hadrian Augustus began building a new, pagan city atop the ruins of the former Jerusalem. Two years in the construction, angry Judeans under a military leader named Simon bar Kosiba (Bar Kokhba) and a religious leader named Rabbi Akiva rose in rebellion. In three years, Hadrian had thoroughly eradicated the rebels. Upon the war’s conclusion, the emperor proceeded to finish the new city, Aelia Capitolina, after merging all the small provinces into one Syria-Palaestina.
Hadrian also rebuilt the temple of the Samaritans, who did not join the revolt, on top of Mount Gerizim. Their temple was destroyed for the last time, however, in 484 CE in the wake of the Justa Uprising.
There were other risings by the Judeans and Samaritans separately, both before and after the Bar Kokhba War, but the final one with the two groups fighting together came under Justin II Augustus in 556 CE. It began with rebels from both populations slaughtering Christians in the capital of Caesarea and lasted until 572 CE.
However, the remaining Samaritans who hadn’t been killed or sold into slavery during and after their Ben Sabar Revolt of 529 CE undoubtedly benefitted from the commonwealth the Judean allies of the Iranian Sassanids maintained 614-629 CE. Before it was crushed, that is.