Yes, those good Samaritans we’ve all heard of…
Historically, Samaritans were a large community — up to more than a million in late Roman times – but over the subsequent centuries their numbers have been reduced until today there are a total of only 745 Samaritans left in the entire world.
These remaining Samaritans live exclusively in two communities, one in Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim near the West Bank city of Nablus, and the other in the Israeli city of Holon, just outside Tel Aviv.
I focus on the Mount Gerizim community because of its significance for Samaritans… Samaritans believe that Mount Gerizim was not only the first piece of land ever created, but is also the land out of which Adam was made, the only place spared in the great flood and the place Abraham went to sacrifice his son (opposing the common belief that this took place at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem).
A view of Mount Gerizim:
Archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim indicate that a Samaritan temple was built there in the first half of the 5th century BC. However, this temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus around 128 BC and only a few stones remain of it today:
Until the 1980s, most of the Samaritans here lived in the city of Nablus which is just below Mount Gerizim. They relocated to the mountain itself, near the Israeli settlement neighborhood of Har Brakha, as a result of violence during the First Intifada (1987–1990). Consequently, all that is left of the Samaritan community in Nablus proper is an abandoned synagogue.
Palestinian Samaritans have been granted passports by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
This is the entrance to the Samaritan community on Mount Gerizim. Our Palestinian taxi driver from Nablus had to drop us off here because he is absolutely not allowed to come any closer. You can see the Israeli military post in the background which is there because of the Israeli settlers in Har Brakha:
Our first views of the Samaritan community:
It doesn’t take long to notice the absence of a thriving population…
Why has this population that once numbered in the millions been reduced to only 745?
The demographic collapse of the Samaritans has been a result of various historical events over the many centuries of Byzantine, Arab and Turkish rule. The Samaritans suffered tremendously under these different rulers, being forced to endure forced conversion to Christianity, forced conversion to Islam, harsh religious decrees, persecution and even outright massacres (Most notably, the bloody suppression of the Third Samaritan Revolt in 529 AD against the Byzantine Christian rulers).
With only 745 members left, it would seem that the extinction of this religious community is not far off… I am, therefore, glad that we had the opportunity to see at least something of this culture before it disappears forever: