Israel descends into civil war

1 Kings 16:1-22   In c.887BC, Baasha is succeeded by his son Elah as King of Israel (from c.887 to c.886BC). He is assassinated in c.886BC (the second year of his reign) by Zimri, one of his officials, who immediately kills all of Baasha’s descendents. The Israelite army rises in revolt and installs Omri – the commander of the army – as King of Israel (from c.886 to c.874BC). Civil war breaks out as some Israelites support Tibni’s claim to the throne. Three years later, in c.883BC, Tibni is killed, and Omri becomes the undisputed king.

1 Kings 16:23-28   In the sixth year of his reign, King Omri of Israel buys the hill of Samaria (named after Shemer, its owner) and fortifies it (see Map 58). The capital of Israel is transferred from Tirzah to Samaria in c.881BC. Omri is succeeded by his son Ahab in c.874BC.

 

Shomron National Park - site of Samaria (Bukvoed)

Shomron National Park - the site of Samaria  (Bukvoed)

 

Samaria

Samaria (meaning ‘a watch-tower’) was built at Shomron (the ‘hill of Shemer’), an isolated summit with a long flat top and steep sides in the central hill country 7 miles / 11 km north west of Shechem (modern-day Nablus) (see Map 58). The capital of the northern kingdom of Israel was transferred here from Tirzah by King Omri in c.881BC (see 1 Kings 16:24). His son, Ahab, built a temple to Baal in Samaria in c.860BC, which was later destroyed, together with its priests, by Jehu (see 1 Kings 16:32 & 2 Kings 10:18-27).

Samaria was attacked on many occasions. In c.857BC, King Ben-Hadad III of Aram (Damascus) laid seige to the city, but the following year he was defeated by King Ahab near Aphek, and conceded a preferential trading treaty between Damascus and Samaria (see 1 Kings 20:1-34). A few years later, after Joram became King of Israel, Ben-Hadad beseiged Samaria again. The resulting famine was so severe that a loaf of bread could only be bought for a bag of silver, and the inhabitants resorted to killing their own children for food (see 2 Kings 6:24-29 & 7:1).

In 724BC, King Shalmaneser V of Assyria laid seige to Samaria for three years. The city eventually fell, and the defeated Israelites were led into exile in Assyria in 721BC (see 2 Kings 17:3-6). The region was re-settled by people from Babylon and Assyria, who intermarried with the few remaining Israelites to become the Samaritan people who still inhabit the area today (see 2 Kings 17:24-34).

Samaria became a Hellenistic (Greek) city following the conquest by Alexander the Great in 332BC, and was expanded after 30BC by Herod the Great, who renamed it Sebaste in honour of Augustus Caesar (‘Sebastos’ is Greek for the Latin ‘Augustus’).

 

Shomron National Park - Remains of Roman Sebaste (Samaria) (Bukvoed)

Remains of Herod's Temple at Shomron National Park   (Bukvoed)

 

Modern-day visitors to the archaeological site overlooking the village of Sebastiya (Sebastia) can still see excavated remnants of King Ahab’s temple to Baal, underneath the remains of a temple built later by Herod the Great and dedicated to Augustus Caesar. The site also includes remains of the Israelite city wall, a Roman amphitheatre and the remains of a colonnaded street dating from Roman times.

According to a 6th century AD tradition, the head of John the Baptist was found at Sebaste. A Crusader cathedral built on the remains of an earlier Byzantine church in the 12th century to honour John the Baptist’s memory was converted into a mosque by Saladin. The present mosque dates from the 19th century.

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