Samaritans (Heb. Shomeronim, later Ku-thim, Cuthaeans), a people commonly supposed to have sprung, after the conquest of Samaria by Shalmaneser, from the mixture of the natives with foreign colonists from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. As they were a mixed race, their religion was also mixed. More strictly following the Biblical narrative (2 Kings xvii.), Hengstenberg (who has been followed by Hävernick, Robinson, and others) argues that the entire Hebrew population of Samaria had been carried away, that the Samaritan people were wholly of heathen origin, and that the Israelitish worship was established when the colonists obtained from the Assyrian king an Israelite priest, in order to appease the supposed wrath of the national deity by restoring his worship. After the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity the Samaritans asked permission to participate in the restoration of the temple, but it was refused; and from this event (535 B. C.) dates the hostility between Jews and Samaritans. It increased in the latter part of the 5th century B. C, when the Persian governor Sanballat erected for the Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim, near Shechem, a temple of Jehovah, and gave them an independent high priesthood, which was bestowed by him upon his son-in-law Manasses, son of the Jewish high priest.
Alexander the Great took a Samaritan army with him to Egypt, and many settled in the Thebaid. The colony received reënforcements from Samaria under Ptolemy Soter, and again at the time of John Hyrcanus, who destroyed that city, crushing the power of the Samaritans in Palestine. Remnants of the Egyptian colony are extant, and form a congregation at Cairo. In Palestine a few families are found at Nablus, the ancient Shechem. Attempts have been made by Europeans to maintain a correspondence with the remnants of the Samaritans; as by Joseph Scaliger in the latter part of the 16th century, by several learned men in England in 1675, by the Ethiopic scholar Ludolf in 1684, and by Sylvestre de Sacy and others. All the letters of the Samaritans written on these occasions, with an essay on their history by De Sacy, may be found in Notices et extraits des manuscrits de la bibliothèque du roi (vol. xii., Paris, 1831). The best modern accounts of them are by the Americans Fisk ("Missionary Herald," 1824) and Robinson ("Biblical Researches," vol. iii.), and Guérin, Description géographique, historique et archéo-logique de la Palestine, deuxième part, Samarie (Paris, 1875). - The Samaritans recognize, of the books of the Old Testament, only the Pentateuch, rejecting all the rest of the Hebrew canon, together with the traditions of the Pharisees. Of the Pentateuch they have a translation in the Samaritan language, an Ara-maean dialect, mixed with many Hebrew forms and words.
In the same language are written their rituals and liturgies, and a number of psalms. (See Gesenius, Carmina Samaritana, in his Anecdota Orientalia, Leipsic, 1824.) They have also preserved an ancient Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, first described in Europe by Morinus in 1628 (after a copy bought by Pietro della Valle from the Samaritans in Damascus), and shortly after published in the Paris polyglot. It is of considerable importance, agreeing with the Septuagint in a vast number of places where that differs from the ordinary Hebrew text, though Gesenius has proved the studied design of the Samaritan revisers to conform their text to their peculiar anti-Jewish tenets, and the blundering way in which they executed their emendations. It is written in the old Hebrew characters, closely resembling the Phoenician. When the Arabic became the conversational language of the Samaritans, all their works were translated into it; and they have also in Arabic a so-called book of Joshua. (See Joshua.) We know from the New Testament that the Samaritans, like the Jews, were waiting for a Messiah, who in their later writings is called Hashshaheb or Hatta-heb, i. e., the Restorer. Their later writings also prove their belief in spirits and angels, in the immortality of the soul, and in the resurrection.
They observe the Mosaic ordinances concerning the sabbath, and many other prescriptions of the Mosaic law. - See Juynboll, Commentarii Historioe Gentis Samaritanoe (Leyden, 1846), and John W. Nutt, "Fragments of a Samaritan Targum," edited from a Bodleian manuscript, and containing a sketch of Samaritan history (London, 1874).