Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Destruction of the Samaritan Temple by John Hyrcanus: A Reconsideration

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Destruction of the Samaritan Temple by John Hyrcanus: A Reconsideration

Article excerpt

The emergence of the Samaritan community as a self-contained entity is generally considered to have been the outcome of a process of mutual estrangement between Jews and Samaritans. Much has been written in an attempt to delineate the moment of the final separation between the two groups, and many divergent views have been expressed on this matter. It has become common in current scholarship to place the "parting of the ways" in the second century BCE.1 In particular, the destruction of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim by John Hyrcanus is often regarded as the decisive cause of the final breach between Jews and Samaritans. 2 Hyrcanus's action is usually interpreted as demonstrating his hatred and contempt for the whole Samaritan community; it has even been maintained that his real intention was to exclude the Samaritans from Judaism.3

Comparative analysis of the different ways in which John Hyrcanus treated the various peoples he subdued, however, may lead to the opposite conclusion. In this article, I propose that his policy toward the Samaritans aimed not at their exclusion but, on the contrary, at their assimilation into the Hasmonean state.

I. John Hyrcanus's Military Conquests and His Treatment of Subdued Peoples

According to Josephus's Jewish War (1.62), Hyrcanus launched a military campaign against the cities of Syria during the expedition of the Syrian ruler Antiochus VII Sidetes against the Medes (130 BCE). In Antiquities (13.254), however, Josephus reports that Hyrcanus began his campaign immediately upon learning of the death of Sidetes (129 BCE). Taking advantage of the weakening of the Seleucids, he first took the Transjordanian cities of Madaba and Samaga (together with neighboring places) and then attacked Shechem and Gerizim, subduing "the nation of the Cutheans" (J.W. 1.63; Ant. 13.255). After this, he turned southward to Idumea and captured Adora, Marisa, and other cities. Finally, he conquered the city of Samaria (J.W. 1.64-65; Ant. 13.275-281). Josephus's dating of Hyrcanus's military expeditions has been revised in the light of recent archaeological discoveries: the results of the excavations at sites such as Marisa (Maresha), Tel Beer-Sheva, Mount Gerizim, Shechem (Tell-Balâtha), and Samaria appear to indicate that Hyrcanus's territorial expeditions occurred toward the end of his reign, between the years 112/111 and 108/107 BCE.4 In what follows, I will concentrate more specifically on the fate of the inhabitants of the areas conquered by Hyrcanus.


Josephus provides no details regarding the fate of the inhabitants of Madaba, Samaga,5 and their environs. Aryeh Kasher has proposed that both cities were ruled by the Arab tribe of the Jambrites/Ya'amri mentioned in 1 Macc 9:36-42, and Uriel Rappaport suggests that this area was taken from the Nabateans.6 Because of the lack of archaeological data, the precise date of the campaign in Transjordan remains a moot point.7 Some have even questioned the authenticity of the claim that Madaba was conquered by John Hyrcanus, on the grounds that, according to Ant. 14.18, it was his son Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE) who took the city from the Arabs.8 At any event, it may be useful to note here the results of the study by Jong- Keun Lee and Chang-Ho Ji of the settlement patterns in the zone surrounding Madaba in the late Hellenistic period. The area under discussion is delineated by Iraq al-Amir in the north and Machaerus in the south and includes Wadi Hesban in the east.9 Lee and Ji note that, after a period of abrupt settlement decline in the mid-second century BCE, this area witnessed settlement intensification in the late second-early first century BCE. Interestingly enough, archaeological evidence has yielded no link between the Nabateans and this settlement growth; Lee and Ji have therefore ascribed it to John Hyrcanus and most probably to Alexander Jannaeus. This would mean that the area was reoccupied by Jews.


Josephus provides more information about the treatment of the Idumeans. …

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