Samaria

a watch-mountain or a watch-tower. In the heart of the mountains
of Israel, a few miles north-west of Shechem, stands the "hill
of Shomeron," a solitary mountain, a great "mamelon." It is an
oblong hill, with steep but not inaccessible sides, and a long
flat top. Omri, the king of Israel, purchased this hill from
Shemer its owner for two talents of silver, and built on its
broad summit the city to which he gave the name of "Shomeron",
i.e., Samaria, as the new capital of his kingdom instead of
Tirzah (1 Kings 16:24). As such it possessed many advantages.
Here Omri resided during the last six years of his reign. As the
result of an unsuccessful war with Syria, he appears to have
been obliged to grant to the Syrians the right to "make streets
in Samaria", i.e., probably permission to the Syrian merchants
to carry on their trade in the Israelite capital. This would
imply the existence of a considerable Syrian population. "It was
the only great city of Israel created by the sovereign. All
the others had been already consecrated by patriarchal tradition
or previous possession. But Samaria was the choice of Omri
alone. He, indeed, gave to the city which he had built the name
of its former owner, but its especial connection with himself as
its founder is proved by the designation which it seems Samaria
bears in Assyrian inscriptions, Beth-khumri ('the house or
palace of Omri').", Stanley.

Samaria was frequently besieged. In the days of Ahab, Benhadad
II. came up against it with thirty-two vassal kings, but was
defeated with a great slaughter (1 Kings 20:1-21). A second
time, next year, he assailed it; but was again utterly routed,
and was compelled to surrender to Ahab (20:28-34), whose army,
as compared with that of Benhadad, was no more than "two little
flocks of kids."

In the days of Jehoram this Benhadad again laid siege to
Samaria, during which the city was reduced to the direst
extremities. But just when success seemed to be within their
reach, they suddenly broke up the seige, alarmed by a mysterious
noise of chariots and horses and a great army, and fled, leaving
their camp with all its contents behind them. The famishing
inhabitants of the city were soon relieved with the abundance of
the spoil of the Syrian camp; and it came to pass, according to
the word of Elisha, that "a measure of fine flour was sold for a
shekel, and two measures of barely for a shekel, in the gates of
Samaria" (2 Kings 7:1-20).

Shalmaneser invaded Israel in the days of Hoshea, and reduced
it to vassalage. He laid siege to Samaria (B.C. 723), which held
out for three years, and was at length captured by Sargon, who
completed the conquest Shalmaneser had begun (2 Kings 18:9-12;
17:3), and removed vast numbers of the tribes into captivity.
(See SARGON T0003227.)

This city, after passing through various vicissitudes, was
given by the emperor Augustus to Herod the Great, who rebuilt
it, and called it Sebaste (Gr. form of Augustus) in honour of
the emperor. In the New Testament the only mention of it is in
Acts 8:5-14, where it is recorded that Philip went down to the
city of Samaria and preached there.

It is now represented by the hamlet of Sebustieh, containing
about three hundred inhabitants. The ruins of the ancient town
are all scattered over the hill, down the sides of which they
have rolled. The shafts of about one hundred of what must have
been grand Corinthian columns are still standing, and attract
much attention, although nothing definite is known regarding
them. (Compare Micah 1:6.)

In the time of Christ, Western Israel was divided into
three provinces, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Samaria occupied
the centre of Israel (John 4:4). It is called in the Talmud
the "land of the Cuthim," and is not regarded as a part of the
Holy Land at all.

It may be noticed that the distance between Samaria and
Jerusalem, the respective capitals of the two kingdoms, is only
35 miles in a direct line.