Jewish Persecution:1 CE – Today, part 8


Before going further into the story of history, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the globe was like at that point in time. The Roman empire had overstretched itself. Unable to defend such huge borders from increasingly competent foes like the Huns, the Vandals, and the Visigoths, the Western Emire had been forced to pull back from expensive to maintain outposts like the British islands. Hispania and Gaul had been lost utterly. By 500 CE, the Western Roman Empire had fallen. The Eastern Byzantine empire recaptured most of its lost Mediterranean and African territory. 

The Eastern Byzantine empire was an oppressive place for the Hebrew peoples, both Rabbinical Jews and their ancestral cousins, the Samaritans. These fellow Levantine natives followed Samaritanism, a similar but distinctly different faith. They believed the Holy Land and the Temple must be in Samaria, the modern West Bank, not Israel’s Jerusalem. During the first century tensions between the groups were exploited by Rome, and Samaritans disavowed kinship with Jews to curry Roman favor. This is reflected in favorable representation of Samaritans in the Christian Gospels. 

However by the middle of the sixth century, Samaritans and Jews living in Galilee and greater Palestine had found common cause against their Byzantine oppressors. They joined together in revolts against the empire on at least three occasions in a quarter century. In 556 CE, following a restriction on rights for religious minorities, Jews joined a primarily Samaritan revolt. The rebellion stretched from Ceasera to Bethlehem, where they burned the Church of the Nativity, angering Christians. 

Samaritans and Jews banded together in rebellion again in 572 and in the summer of 573 or 578 because the records are not clear. The Samaritans in particular suffered devastating losses. They were already a religion with smaller numbers and their faith was outlawed by the Byzantines in retaliation. Many were forced to convert or flee. It was no longer safe for them to remain in the empire. Some stuck it out, praying privately at home, unwilling to leave their village.  

Today Samaritans are recognized as Jewish-ish. They have a stand alone religious status in Israel but must convert to be recognized as Jewish. Genetically Samaritans are closer related to other Jews than to their fellow Palestinians, suggesting they have maintained endogomy (ingroup marriage) throughout the millennia. Samaritans maintain they are the true followers of Abraham, the descendants of Joseph through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Since Israeli statehood Samaritans have had greater access to their holy sites at Mount Gerizan in the West Bank than when it was under Arab control. 

Further reading 

“A Vocabulary of Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue” by Laura S. Lieber

Jerusalem Post: Samaritans Perform Passover Ritual

“The Samaritans, the earliest Jewish sect” by James A. Montgomery

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