Between Late Roman and Byzantine periods.
In the period following the Bar Kochba uprising, the Jewish community in Israel underwent a major crisis. Many Jews emigrated from the country for different reasons. The Samaritan settlement, on the other hand, has flourished and expanded. The Samaritan chronicles, tell of various Roman emperors, who came after Hadrian, and some of them did well with the congregation and allowed freedom of worship. Thus the chronicles tell of Emperor Antonius who reigned during the days of the high priest Pinchas.
“And the king (Antoninus) loved the religioun of the children of Israel, and tried to follow it. He was a good man in his ways, and he read the Torah of Moses in the holy script.”
However, at other times, the Chronicles tell of pressure and persecution by the ruling Roman emperor. For example, in the days of Commodus :
“In those days of the Rabban ( The High Priest from the lineage of Pinchas b. Elazar ) Eqbon ,the king was Commodus who pressured the Samaritans .He prevented the Samaritans from reading in their Torah, and closed all their synagogues … and sent people to burn the house of the Rabban Eqbon and all the books in it. His two sons were beated infront of their his eyes, and their skin was stripped down, above their flesh before all the congregation. “
The chronicles tell similar stories from the time of Severus Alexander.
The spread of the Samaritan settlement in the land of Israel, outside Samaria, as well as outside the borders of the country, reflects the strength of the Samaritan settlement in Israel in the time of the second century CE.
The Samaritans are clinging to the Jordan Valley, as well as its eastern past in places such as Nebo and Nabach, Gilead, Bashan and in the Golan, Acre and Safed and till Rosh Hanikra. Samaritan communities that existed in Gaza spread to Alexandria and later, in the later centuries, even to Cairo. Other Samaritan communities, first settled in the north of the country, expanded and moved to Syria to settle in the cities of Aleppo, Damascus, and even Bek in Lebanon.
The community in Alexandria, comprised Samaritans, who were engaged in shipbuilding, including seafarers, who reached Thessaloniki and the islands of Crete and Sicily and settled there, and others who traveled as far as Syracuse and Rome.
Babba Rabbah and the beginning of the uprising
The era of Christianity was the era of religious zealotry. Serious persecutions were condemned for all those who did not accept the ruling religion, and especially for the Jews and the Samaritans. Constantius enacted laws to protect the converts to Christianity and issued decrees against slave’s circumcision, and intermarriage with Christians.
In the fourth century (308 c.e), a leader named “Baba Rabah” (308-362) rose to the Samaritans. Baba Rabbah was the son of the high priest, Nathanel the priest, a brother to Pinchas and Eqbon.
There is an interesting story, in the Samaritan Chronicles about the birth and of Baba Raba. Babba Rabbah, was born in the days where the circumcision was forbidden, but despite this restriction, the Samaritans still circumcised their sons in secret, inside hided caves, and mostly in a very early hour of the morning. In this way, Babba itself was led to the circumcision in secret, and though the fact his father was spotted, while fulfilling the commandment, the bishop named [Germanus] , ignored it, and let him continue, without hurting him. That’s why he was mentioned forever, in an essay of Markeh, the greatest Samaritan sage who also lived in the second half of the fourth century AD, and sung by the samaritans till today. Markeh was the son of Amram the priest, who is together with his son, consider to be, the founders of the Samaritan worship.
Baba Rabba, who according to Samaritan traditions, envisioned In his sleep a vision, calling on him to help his people, indeed met the challenge and led the Samaritans for battels against the rule of local Roman commissioners. He worked against the Roman garrison (which was depleted in those days in Israel due to the transfer of troops for protection against invading forces into the Roman Empire) and many successes have been applied. Because of these successes, Baba Rabba is referred to as the “rabba” = which means the great in Aramaic.
Baba Rabba also worked to revive the spiritual activities of Samaritans. He built eight new synagogues: in Awarte ( a village next to mt.Gerizim), in Kiryat Shalem, in Beit Namara, in Kiryat Hajaa, in Karwah, in Kiryat Luza, in Sabrin, in Beit Dagon and in Elon More near Nablus.
Babba Rabba also placed heads for each of the synagogues, which also serve as seminaries. He divided the country into twelve districts. At the head of each district, He placed a president and a priest. The division of the country into provinces was done for gathering forces quickly, in case of an attack by the Roman forces, and for distributing and concentrating the religious rule of the high commit. The high commit was a religious council, nominated by Babba Rabba, and consisted of seven sages, three of whom are priests, and four non-priests, whose rulings were distributed to all other districts.
Baba Rabba stood at the head of Nablus district and was the head of the military leadership.
The Samaritan rebellions
From the fifth century CE, harsh orders were imposed on the Samaritans by the Byzantine Romans. A Roman garrison is stationed, on mt. Gerizim and the pressure from the government is increasing, by enacting laws and restrictions on Samaritans (and Jews). As an example, the “inheritance law”, which prevented the inheritance of any property, was enacted for non-Christians. Another law was the one which prevented Samaritans and Jews from serving in honorary positions, which included the imposition of authority. In many cases these laws and restrictions, caused the owners of any property, to ostensibly convert to Christianityת in order to preserve their property.
Samaritans and Jews have different restrictions for the construction of synagogues, or the expansion of existing synagogues. While Samaritans were not allowed to build or construct their synagogues, there are archeological evidences, that Jews indeed built and expanded their synagogues.
The Samaritans’ animosity toward Christians has grown to the point of seeing them as impure, and until objects touched by them, and ground been passed on by them, considered to be unclean, and were purified with water or by fire.
The Christian traveler from the 6th century Antoninus of Piacenza (570 C.E) tells:
“… Throughout the open country, Samaritan cities and villages, and along the streets we passed on , the Samaritans followed us, purifying it with fire… and when you bought something form them, you have to throw the coins into the water in order to purify it … and in the evening they purifying themselves in water, and only then ,they return to their village or town. “
The hard pressure pushed the Samaritans into frustration, and bring them to the brink of rebellion. The first Samaritan rebellion was against Emperor Zenon (484 AD). The rebellion began in Nablus (Neapolis), by reoccupying it and extending to Caesarea and the rest of the country. The reason for the rebellion, according to the Samaritan Chronicles, was the attempt of the Byzantines to desecrate the graves of the high priests in the village of Awarteh in the slopes of Mount Gerizim. The rebellion was suppressed by Zenon, but the unrest among the Samaritans against Christian rule did not cease.
During the reign of Emperor Anastasius, in 495, Samaritans and a zealous woman rose to the top of the mountain and slaughtered the Roman garrison. However, the things didn’t reach a total revolt, due to the refusal of Nablus residents to support the rebels. Commissioner Procopius, suppressing the rebellion in a hard hand.
Emperor Justinian (565-527), renewed all restrictions and decrees, previously granted to the Samaritans. He re-enforced the law of inheritance, the law of classes, and denied ownership of lands by the Samaritans and the Jews.
In 529, the second uprising broke out among the Samaritans. it spread rapidly from Caesarea to Beit She’an and across Samaria. At the head of the uprising is Yulian ben TSabar. It was a brutal revolt, the rebels killed the bishop of Nablus, Amanus, and several other priests were slaughtered and burned together with remains of other Christian saints. The rebellion lasts for a long time but was finally suppressed in a hard hand, the Samaritan religion was placed out of the law. Evidence from ancient historians reveals that the rebels lost about 100,000 people, and Yulian was captured. Some of the prisoners are transferred, to the Arabic president of the R’assan tribe, who helped the Romans to suppress the revolt.
From this evidence, it is understood, that the rebellion was general, and crossed the country. This also indicates that the Samaritans in the early sixth century numbered hundreds of thousands. Byzantine historians of the time, Theophanes and Mahalas, say in their testimonies, that the Samaritans also sent envoys to the King of Persia, in a bid to conquer the land, and were even prepared to send an army of 50,000 Jew and Samaritan soldiers. But the attempt was thwarted when the apostles were caught on the way.
After the second rebellion, Iustinianus the 1st enacted extremely harsh laws against the Samaritans. Their synagogues are destroyed, and there is an ordinance to punish anyone who is engaged in re-establishing them. The inheritance law is legislated again, and also applies to personal property. Troops of supervises were set up to examine the ways of the converted Samaritans. The overseers had to oversee that the convert was educating his family by the Christian religion. The boys who were born in Samaritan-Christian intermarriage were forced to be educated as Christians. From various archaeological evidence, it can be understood that these restrictions and laws were not applied to the Jews. The right the Samaritan or Jews, to testify in court against Christians, was denied. According to the Christian historian Procopius (there are opinions that he was originally a Samaritan or a Jew who converted to Christianity), in his essay “On the Buildings,” most of the Samaritans at that time became ostensibly Christians
After a while, Justinian slightly softened the restrictions but did not cancel them. As the restrictions became a daily reality, a third revolt broke out. The third revolt broke out in 556 and spreads from Caesarea to the Carmel mountain. The Samaritans are accused of destroying Christian photographers. As a result, a new regulation was passed, which essentially excluded the Samaritans from outside the law. The strict observance of the converted Samaritans was intensified, so that if a converted Samaritan was found keeping the Sabbath, or any other non-Christian commandment, all his property was confiscated, and he himself was exiled from the land. Each Samaritan who wanted to convert to Christianity would have to do this first, during a two-year training period. The purchase of a Christian slave was banned, and a Samaritan slave, who decided to convert to Christianity was immediately released.
The Byzantine pressure on the Samaritans brought them to extinction. They were refrained from fulfilling their religion openly, without risking themselves. Many Samaritans left to Persia, while others were converted or plagued by epidemics that spread throughout the Byzantine Empire.
In the first half of the 7th century AD, the general number of the Samaritans, descend from a little bit less than Milion, to several hundreds of thousands.