Many Samaritans Became Christians
It has long been recognized in psychological circles that once a people give up their national religion for one that is truly universal (catholic) and that they abandon their former religion while away from their national homelands, the people usually become reckoned as converts to a new society altogether. In other words, when Samaritans who were scattered in great numbers around the Roman Empire gave up their Samaritan religion which was tied to Mount Gerizim in central Palestine as their central place of worship, they then became orthodox Catholic Christians. They came to be known as belonging to the people of the land in which they were converted. For example, if Samaritans who abandoned the religion of their homeland took up a belief in orthodox Christianity while living in Italy, they became from that time forward, Italian Catholics. Those in Spain became Spanish Catholics. Those in France became French Catholics, etc. Their loyalty from then on was to their local bishop (or to the Pope as an overall authority) and they ceased to be called Samaritans from then on.
The same thing happened to the individual Jews who were converted to Christianity, Islam or whatever religion throughout their history. For one to accept Catholic Christianity wholeheartedly and to abandon all forms of his former Judaism meant that the person would blend into the normal Gentile society around them and they would love all the signs of their former Jewishness. On the other hand, if they simply accepted Jesus as the Messiah and still retained much of their Jewish ways (such as meeting on Sabbath, eating kosher foods, etc.) then they would normally be called "Messianic Jews" or some might call them "Jewish Christians." It all depended on what the converts retained from their old religious beliefs.
If Jews or Samaritans simply abandoned all their connections with the Mosaic belief and attached themselves fully to Catholic Christianity, then they would have lost their former identities and have become known as the same people as those within the lands of their conversions. This is especially true if they indiscriminately married into the local stock of people and their descendants doing the same thing in future generations.
All of this is a well-known phenomenon, but it is important for us to realize this point if we hope to discover what happened to the great numbers of Samaritans who made up the people of the Samaritan homeland and their diaspora from the first to the sixth centuries of our era.
Let us now look at the issue. Recall that Simon Magus blended a type of Christianity, Judaism, Samaritanism and paganism into a single system which came to be called Simonianism, and then it became known as Gnosticism (when they abandoned the name "Simonian"). Then, Gnosticism itself was supplanted by Constantinian Christianity which in turn became known as "orthodox Catholic Christianity." The first mass conversions of the Samaritans from their traditional religious beliefs was when they went over to the teachings of Simon Magus in the first and the second centuries. The whole nation was affected with the doctrines of Simon Magus if we believe Justin Martyr (himself a Samaritan). Allowing for some exaggeration on the part of Justin, it is still reasonable to believe that many Samaritans were converts to Simonianism (later to be called Gnosticisim). This meant that the teachings of Jesus began to take on a new meaning to them, though they interpreted the teachings of the Gospel in the Gnostic manner of belief.
Then in the time of Baba Rabban, we find this priest himself as head of the Samaritan people, sending his nephew to Constantinople to secretly become a Christian as a means of saving the Samaritans from any Byzantine persecution. The nephew became an Archbishop who was able to crown even some Byzantine rulers if we believe what the Samaritan Chronicle records.
And a little later, in the years of Arcadius (395–408) ″were years of ease for them [the Samaritans] in which they continued to embellish their new synagogue building" (Crown, The Samaritans, p.68). There can be no doubt that the Samaritans were actively constructing synagogues during their times of prosperity within the Byzantine period.
From this time onward, we find several references in Byzantine literature and laws about the Samaritans. The evidence shows that the Samaritans were quick to be converted to Christianity if the need arose, but they were prone to retain their old ways and were not in the main truly converted in the Byzantine period to their newfound faith. They became what the records call "Crypto-Samaritans" and some of them began to assume great power and authority in the Byzantine government. Avi-Yonah called these "crypto-Samaritans" a "fifth column" on behalf of their brethren wherever they were found (The Samaritan Revolts, pp.127–132).
As an example of what the Byzantines thought of the Samaritans, Procopius the chief historian of the 6th century, gave an account of the Samaritans of Caesarea in the time of Justinian. The emperor who persecuted non-Christians found that the Samaritans did not think it profitable to endure any distress over mere doctrinal beliefs. They "discarded their old name and called themselves Christians" (Procopius, Secret History, II). Procopius later mentions a native Samaritan by the name of Arsenius who was a close friend of the empress Theodora who had become very rich and powerful in Palestine. He was even made a senator. In order to hold on to this powerful office Arsenius "decided to call himself a Christian" (Procopius, Secret History, 27).
If the Byzantine records are anything to go by, it must be reckoned that the Byzantine rulers looked on the Samaritans (the ones still calling themselves "Samaritans") as being much like the Simon Magus of the Book of Acts and that they had little trust in any of them. Like the apostle John had said of them in his day that they then reckoned themselves Jews but did lie, so it seems that they also began to call themselves Christians while not really accepting the pristine teaching of the Gospel as it referred to conduct or to doctrine. So lax in their religious duties were the Samaritans that in the late 6th century, Justinian II made a law requiring a two year trial period for all Samaritans who wished to become Christians.
The laws that were issued about the Samaritans from the late 4th century to the 6th century were primarily suggesting that they were the source of the Gnostic movements which had afflicted Christianity, and the Samaritans were looked on with great skepticism and caution. However, vast numbers of the Samaritans, especially in their diaspora, converted to Christianity from the fourth to the sixth centuries and they disappeared from being "Samaritans" any longer. They married into the local populations wherever they were and became known nationally from then on by the name of the region where they converted.
The final demise of the Samaritans as a major group of people with their own religion centered on Mount Gerizim in central Palestine, was the conquest of Islam. When Islam became a major power in the former home territory of the Samaritans, it became easy for them to take up the Muslim religion as they had the Christian faith earlier. It is with the Muslim invasion that we lose all track of the Samaritans who had formerly accepted Gnosticism, then Catholic Christianity and then Islam. The few remaining Samaritans that held tenaciously to their old form of religion (which was mainly a Mosaic belief with their holy mountain being Mount Gerizim) diminished remarkably. So far did they decline in population, that by the time of Napoleon about two hundred years ago, they had fallen in number to a mere 200 souls. Now, at the close of the 20th century, they are back to about 600 in number. The rest of their brethren who formerly went by the name Samaritans have long ago disappeared when they were converted to Christianity or Islam.
In a word, many Samaritans in their European diaspora became converted to Catholic Christianity. This merging caused the racial and religious identity of the Samaritans in Europe to disappear. And when Islam came on the scene in the early 7th century, many Samaritans in the Muslim world adopted Islam and also disappeared as a distinct Samaritan group in race and religion. Indeed, it is almost certain that the Moslem population around Nablus and in central Palestine today are mainly of Samaritan racial stock who now call themselves "Arabs" or "Canaanites."
The Samaritans who resisted the triumph of Catholic Christianity and Islam and a conversion to those faiths (of the vast numbers that lived in the first to the sixth centuries) are those 600 people who live in Nablus and near Tel Aviv in Israel. They maintained their identity because they were a small group who would not give up their conservatism and continued to hold on to the Law of Moses and Mount Gerizim as their only authority. Only a few of the remaining Samaritans continued with Moses.
The rest of the Samaritans have disappeared from the records of history. With the absorption of the Samaritans by the Catholic Church in Europe, and with the Samaritans being engulfed by Islam in the rest of the world in which they settled, they have disappeared from history and have become a major part of The People That History Forgot. But the Samaritans are not the only ones who should be considered from a historical point of view. There were other nations who were neighbors to the Jews and Samaritans and they must be considered as well. The next chapter will explain.
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