Tag Archives: Samaritan


After leaving the archaeological park on Mount Gerizim I went looking for the ancient city of Samaria-Sebaste. Samaria was the site purchased by Omri for two talents of silver from Shemer and made the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Kings I 16:24-28). Omri’s son Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and they built a temple to the pagan god Baal which was later destroyed by Jehu, who had Jezebel and 70 princes of Ahab’s family killed. Sebaste, was the Greek equivalent of the Latin Augusta, was Herod’s name for the city when the area was given to him by the Emperor Augustus. Herod rebuilt the city, in full Roman style, a kilometer long cardo of 600 columns, a forum, a Roman basilica, stadium, temple, hippodrome and theater surrounded by a wall and gates.

I picked up 2 trampistim (hitchhikers) who were on their way to Shavei Shomron who pointed me in the right direction to Samaria-Sebaste. The road loops around the settlement, a tall concrete separation wall on the left and then heads north. I stopped for directions at an impromptu stand by the side of the road where a Palestinian fellow was selling two kinds of plums, yellow and purple ones – he gave me 2 to taste and pointed to a dirt road on the right heading up the hill. The road is passable by car, just. A short drive and I was on a straight road through a grove of olive trees with two rows of Roman columns, standing along the road and in a row among the trees (cardo).

Continuing along the road I passed some excavated ruins and noticed a set of stairs to the left going up the hill (acropolis) as I approached the town. Left turn and I pulled into an open area (forum) bordered by rows of columns and parked the car.

A fellow stepped out of the Samaria restaurant and souvenir shop and greeted me. Sari, who had lived in Alabama for a number of years, there are decals of Alabama sports teams on the window, introduced himself and offered to show me around. First stop was the Hellenistic tower and Roman theater.

From there we walked to the top of the hill, the acropolis where Herod built a temple to Augustus over the administrative buildings and parts of the palace of Omri from the 8th century BCE.

There is a great view of the surrounding area and specifically the Roman cardo below.

The monumental steps leading to the temple were redone with the rebuilding of the temple during the reign of Septimus Severus (193-211CE).

From there we walked to the ruins of a small 7th century Byzantine church with Crusader additions where according to one tradition the head of John the Baptist was kept. It’s then a short walk back to the square. In walking through the forum I noticed a section of a fine marble lintel with egg and dart carving.

A great day trip that I would be happy to guide – the ruins at Mount Gerizim and Samaria-Sebaste. To fill out the day, you can cross Samaria to the Jordan valley and add some of these sites: the mosaic zodiac at Bet Alfa synagogue, the archaeological site at Bet Shean, the Crusader fortress at Belvoir, the monastery in Wadi Qelt, the mosaic museum at the Inn of the Good Samaritan depending on your interests.

Blessing on Mount Gerizim

When we drove up to experience the Samaritan Passover sacrifice at Kiryat Luza we had hoped to also visit the site at Mount Gerizim but it was closed. Now the Israel Nature and Parks Authority with the Judaea and Samaria Civil Administration have completed the work to enable daily access to the archaeological site on Mount Gerizim.

Mount Gerizim is one of two mountains that overlook the West Bank city of Nablus (in Hebrew Shechem, of which there are many Biblical references). Mount Gerizim at 886 meters above sea level (higher than Jerusalem) is one of the highest mountains in Israel. In Deuteronomy 27:2-13 Moses and the Elders command the nation to build an altar of large, natural white-washed stones on Mount Ebal (the mountain across from Gerizim) and to make peace offerings on the altar, eat there and write the words of the Law on the stones when they cross the Jordan River into the land of Israel. The Israelites are then to split into two groups of six tribes each, one stays on Mount Ebal and pronounces curses, while the other goes to Mount Gerizim and pronounces blessings.

Mount Gerizim is sacred to the Samaritans. According to the Samaritan version of Deuteronomy and a scroll fragment found at Qumran, God instructs the people to build the altar on Mount Gerizim not Ebal. According to the Samaritans God chose Mount Gerizim as the location for the Holy Temple, rather than the Temple Mount or Mount Moria in Jerusalem (Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you – Exodus 25:8).

At the end of the 5th century BCE, Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, constructed a temple on Mount Gerizim and a large city grew around it and flourished during the Hellenistic period. Religious tensions between the Jews and the Samaritans led John Hyrcanus to destroy the temple on Gerizim in the 2nd century BCE according to Josephus (in the Talmud, it is destroyed by Simon the Just). In the 4th century when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the Samaritans were barred from worshiping on Mount Gerizim. In 484 CE the Byzantine ruler Zenon constructed a fortified monastery with a Christian octagonal martyrium inside, in honor of Mary Mother of God (Theotokos). The plan of the martyrdom is almost identical to the Kathisma church on the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

There are the remains of quite intricate mosaic floors in some of the areas.

In 529CE, Emperor Justinian made Samaritanism illegal, extended the enclosure to the north (destroying the Samaritan temple to its foundations) and built a protective wall around it.

According to Muslim tradition, the tomb of Sheikh Ghanem one of Salah al-Din’s commanders was built on the foundations of the northeastern tower.

In the excavations of the city both public and residential buildings were uncovered as well as olive presses.

Mosaics at Inn of Good Samaritan

On the main highway <1> between Jerusalem and Jericho is a site identified with the Inn of the Good Samaritan (mentioned in the parable in Luke 10:25-37). Remains from the first century BCE to the first century CE were found throughout the area. Abundant finds from this period include pottery, clay lamps, glass vessels, metal implements and numerous coins attesting to intensive activity that befits an inn for Jewish and then Christian pilgrims and travelers making their way between Galilee and Jerusalem.

Byzantine artifacts

In the Ottoman period, a rectangular structure was built over the southern wall of the Crusader fortress. This building underwent numerous alterations and was restored after being damaged during WWI. It served as a roadside inn guarding the Jerusalem-Jericho road from attacks by brigands as it had for centuries.

Since the parable of the good Samaritan includes men of three faiths, the newly opened museum has chosen to display the mosaic floors and other artifacts found in churches and Jewish and Samaritan synagogues in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It is fascinating to see the similarities and differences among the images displayed in mosaic.

Mosaic Khirbet Huriya

The art of mosaic began in the Greek world around the 4th C BCE and reached Israel during the Hellenistic period. It continued to develop and by the end of the Second Temple and Roman periods simple, plain and geometric mosaics became more ornate, complex with representations of flora and fauna, people, instruments, religious symbols. It became the chief means of paving public buildings, private homes, bath houses, churches and synagogues.

Mosaic floor

Places Nearby

Take the cutoff to Maale Adumim to visit the Martyrius monastery (there is a combined entrance ticket; note you need to phone in advance), the largest in the Judean desert. Inside the complex the main church was paved with colorful mosaics in geometric patterns interspersed with pictures of animals; the refectory floor, discovered intact, is covered with mosaics in geometrical designs and the kitchen was also paved with mosaics.

On the opposite side of the road along Wadi Qelt visit one of Herod’s fortresses, named after his mother, Cypros. There are 2 bath houses with remains of mosaic floors.

If you are planning a trip down to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi don’t forget to take a few minutes to check out the mosaic floor in the synagogue (your entrance ticket to the nature reserve is good for the antiquities park). The synagogue has a detailed 18 line inscription in Hebrew and Aramaic including the 12 signs of the zodiac (indicated by their names but not depicted graphically as in most other synagogues of the same period, eg. Tiberia, Bet Alfa, Tzippori). The central hall has 4 birds within a medallion, peacocks grasping a bunch of grapes, a menora and geometric patterns.