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The Samaritan Diaspora and the number of Samaritans
submitted by Turathuna Bethlehem University

Following their inclination for commerce, the Samaritans moved westward, towards the opulent cities of the coast. Their goals were above all the port of Straton's Tower, (which was to become, at the hand of Herod the Great, Caesarea) and other Phoenician towns of the coast. The creation of the Egyptian colony encouraged this movement.

In the first century A.D., Flavius Josephus (AG 20,6,1-3)records the Samaritans as having been influential at the court of Claudius.In Rome there still existed a Samaritan colony at the beginning of the sixth century.During the first centuries of the Christian era they also traveled south west, reaching Holon and Nicopolis.In the fourth century they got as far as Babylon.

In the time of Justinian they occupied Scythopolis and the environs; passing into Perea, beyond the Jordan, they settled in Thersila (or Tharsila). In the sixth century they also reached Athens and Constantinople, where 'Samaritan' became synonymous with book keeper. They expanded to the north of Syria, to Aleppo, Tyre, Baal-Bek, Beirut and Tripoli. There was an important and wealthy colony at Damascus, mentioned by Benjamin of Tudela.

After the Moslem conquest of Palestine, they are to be found also in Lydda; at Ramleh, Fatimite capital of Palestine until the coming of the Crusaders, they constituted a large percentage of the population and the suburb of Beit-Dagon was a Samaritan city.

The colonies slowly disappeared.The two most important settlements, the Egyptian and the Damascene, came to an end in the middle of the seventeenth century. Today the Samaritans are to be found only at Nablus and at Holon, near Jaffa.

Historical events lead us to consider, if briefly, the numerical size of this people. The number of Samaritans,taken as meaning the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom or schismatic Jews, can only be calculated very roughly by induction, and then only for certain periods of their history.

About the inhabitants of Samaria. At the time of Menahem, ca. 10 years before the Assyrian invasion, the country was obliged to collect 1,000 silver talents for Tiglath-pileser III, and the people in a position to pay bad to contribute 50 shekels. Since in those days a talent was composed of 3,000 shekels, by dividing the tribute into shares of 50 shekels we get 60,000 wealthy men.

According to the second Samaritan Chronicle, 300,000 men returned from the exile, together with their families. This seems rather unlikely.

About the schismatics. Flavius Josephus says that, at the time of Herod the Great, there existed an army of 3,000 men from Sebaste, including cavalry and infantry, and that under Claudius the procurator Cumanus had four cohorts and a wing of cavalry at his disposal. Flavius Josephus goes so far as to speak of four legions, but this is obviously an oversight.

During the great revolt of 529, 100,000 Samaritans fell, according to Procopius; according to Malalas, 20,000 fell, and 20,000 were made prisoner.Theophanis and Malalas tell us that the Samaritans offered, the king of Persia a contingent of 50,000 men, both Samaritans and Jews.

In 1163 Benjamin of Tudela records 400 Samaritans at Damascus, 200 Cuthes at Caesarea and 200 Cuthes at Nablus.

In 1616, Pietro della Valle wrote the following words: "Very few of these Samaritan Jews are to be found today; and the other Jews say that almost as if by a miracle in whatever city they live they may never reach the number of ten families: yet in Egypt, and Palestine, and in Syria, a few may be found scattered in several places, as I have seen in Cairo, in Gaza, in Shechem, in Damascus, and elsewhere".

Deportation,diaspora, rebellions, reprisals and apostasy had brought these people to the brink of extinction. ln order to avoid complete extinction, Izhak ben-Zvi (who in 1952 became the second president of the new state of Israel) persuaded the Samaritans to marry non-Samaritan women. The mixed marriages began in 1923; in 1934 the number had risen to 206; in 1970 it was about 430. Weakened by centuries of tribal marriages, the race has difficulty in recovering also because of the preponderance of males. Among the survivors is to be found an alarming proportion of physically and mentally handicapped people.

Source: "Samaria" by Maria Petrozzi

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