6 Steps to Becoming the Sacred Place of the Samaritans
1. Moses commands an altar to be built on one of two mountains upon entering the Promised Land.
Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal are the mountains upon which Moses commanded the
Israelites to stand for the blessing (Mount Gerizim) and for the curse (Mount Ebal). (See
Deuteronomy 11:29; 27:11-13. Cf. Joshua 8:33.) According to the Hebrew Bible in
Deuteronomy 27:1-8, Moses also commanded the Israelites to “set up large stones and
cover them with plaster,” to “write on them all the words of this law,” and to “build an altar
there” when they enter the Promised Land. He told them to do this on Mount Ebal
(Deuteronomy 27:4). The Samaritan Pentateuch, however, records Moses commanding
them to do this on Mount Gerizim.
2. The united kingdom of Israel becomes the divided kingdoms of the northern kingdom (Israel/Samaria) and the southern kingdom (Judah/Jerusalem).
After the Israelites occupied the Promised Land and became a monarchy, the once united
kingdom of Israel encountered civil war and divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and
the southern kingdom of Judah (931 BCE. See 1 Kings 11-12). The city of Samaria eventually
became the capital city of the northern kingdom, while Jerusalem was the capital of the
southern kingdom. According to the books of 1 and 2 Kings, in which some of the acts of the
kings of both kingdoms are recorded, none of the kings of the northern kingdom receive a
favorable review from the Lord. Rather, the repeated phrase regarding the kings of the
northern kingdom is: “he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.”
3. Samaria is destroyed by the Assyrians and the people exiled and replaced.
As a result of their sins, the Lord sent the Assyrians against the northern kingdom, and in
722 BCE the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, was destroyed by the
Assyrians and the people were taken into exile in Assyria. (See 2 Kings 17.) The Assyrian
practice was to replace the exiled people of the conquered lands with people from
Mesopotamia which is what happened in Samaria (2 Kings 17:24-33). However, these new
inhabitants did not worship the LORD, and as a result many were killed by lions. So, the king
of Assyria sent one of the priests who had been taken into exile back to Samaria to teach
the new inhabitants how to worship the LORD.
4. Jerusalem is destroyed by the Babylonians and the people are exiled.
While all of this is happening, the southern kingdom of Judah remained until 586 BCE. They also did not repent of their sins and the LORD sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem. The
inhabitants of Jerusalem were taken into exile in Babylonia (2 Kings 24-25).
5. The Israelites are allowed to return home to rebuild their temple.
In 539 BCE the Persians defeated the Babylonians and, Cyrus, the Persian king, allowed the
Israelites to return to their homeland and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. (See
Nehemiah and Ezra.) During the rebuilding, the Samaritans (who had now been taught how
to worship the LORD) thought they would be welcomed by their southern neighbors and
allowed to help in the rebuilding of the temple. That was not the case, and as a result the
conflict between the Samaritans and the Jews began. (See Ezra 4:1-5.)
6. The Samaritans built a temple on Mount Gerizim.
Having not been welcomed in Jerusalem, the Samaritans built an altar on Mount Gerizim.
The Samaritans claim that Mount Gerizim, rather than Jerusalem, was the location chosen
by God for the temple. The temple was destroyed in the 2nd century BCE. The Samaritans
still consider Mount Gerizim to be God’s chosen location and to be the location of the
binding of Isaac, and it is here that they still celebrate the Passover.
Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when
you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what
you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour
is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and
truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who
worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:20-24 NRSV)