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Like the Jews, the Samaritans are both a religious and an ethnic group. Ethnically, they are the inhabitants who lived in Samaria from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the beginning of the Christian era. Religiously, they are the adherents of Samaritanism. The historical origins of the Samaritans are unclear to this day.

In the land of Israel during the early Christian era, Samaritans fared badly. Due to intense pressure to convert to Christianity (often with threats of violence) Samaritans took to attacking Christians. Christians used the threat of force to convert Samaritans and Jews to Christianity, and often had outright attacks on both Samaritans and Jews. The holy places of both groups were taken over by the Christians. By the 3rd century both Samaritans and Jews were second-class citizens. Under Zeno (474–19) Samaritans amd Jews were massacred. A Samaritan fight to create their own independent state took place in 529; thousands of Samaritans died. The Samaritan faith was virtually outlawed by Christianity.

A large number (most?) of Samartians fled the country in 634 CE, when the Arab Muslim army won at Yarmuk. During the mid 800s Muslim fanatics destroyed Sepharidc and Jewish synagogues. During the 10th century relations between Muslims, Jews and Samaritans improved greatly. In the 1300s the Mamluks came to power; they plundered all Samaritan religious sites, and turned their shrines into Mosques. Many Samaritans converted out of fear. After the Ottoman conquest, Muslim persecution of Samaritans increased again. Massacres were frequent.

By the 1830s only a small group of Samaritans in Shechem remained extant. The local Arab population (not a reflection of worldwide Islam) believed that Samaritans were "atheists" and "against Islam", and they threatened to murder the entire Samaritan community. The Samaritans turned to the Jewish community for help, as Jews and Arabs had good relations at this time, and Jewish entreaties to treat the Samaritans with respect were eventually heeded.

The Samaritan religion is based on some of the same books used as the basis of rabbinic Judaism, but these religions are not identical. Samaritan scriptures include the Samaritan version of the Torah, the Memar Markah, the Samaritan liturgy, and Samaritan law codes and biblical commentaries.

Religious beliefs:

  • There is one God, the same God recognized by the Hebrew prophets. Their view of God is the same as the Jewish biblical view of God.
  • The Torah was dictated by God to Moses.
  • Mt. Gerizim is the one true sanctuary chosen by Israel's God.
  • Many Samaritans believe that at the end of days, the dead will be resurrected by a "taheb", a restorer (possibly a prophet, some say Moses.)
  • They possess a belief in Paradise (heaven).
  • The priests are the interpreters of the law and the keepers of tradition; unlike Judaism, there is no distinction between the priesthood and the scholars.
  • The authority of classical Jewish rabbinical works, the Mishnah, and the Talmud of the Land of Israel are rejected.
  • Samaritans reject Jewish codes of law.
  • They have a significantly different version of the Ten Commandments; their 10th commandment is about the sanctity of Mt. Gerizim.

Samaritan law is not the same as halakha (Rabbinical Jewish law); Samaritan law is based on a strict adherence to the letter of the biblical text, without any of the information from the oral law which characterizes Judaism.