Sights and Insights: A capital city on a hill

Tel Samaria remains a testimony of all earthly glory; the only beauty that remains is what was there to begin with.

February 6, 2012 17:38
4 minute read.
Samaria Hellenistic tower and Roman theater

Samaria Hellenistic tower and Roman theater 390 DO NOT REUSE. (photo credit:


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Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (

Samaria enjoyed much produce from the nearby fertile valleys. Trade proved better in Samaria than in any other of the previous capitals, perhaps because it lay only about five miles off the International Highway and along a major road to Shechem.

The peaceful and beautiful surroundings of Tel Samaria would not betray its history. But as I listened, I could almost catch the echoes of the bloody past that raged there. At Samaria, Ahab’s blood was washed from his chariot (1 Kings 20). It was here that Jezebel killed the prophets of God, and later, where Jehu killed the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:13; 2 Kings 10:17ff).

Although Jeroboam II gave Samaria its heyday of success, God called it a failure. The Prophet Amos spoke against the godless leaders: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria . . . those who recline on beds of ivory . . . Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles” (Amos 6:1, 4, 7). The people were boasting of their security and power. Sure, they had a great location, but they had forsaken their relationship with God. Some of the carved ivory pieces appear on display in today’s Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.

After the Assyrians dragged the Northern Kingdom into exile in 722 BC, they repopulated the area, producing a mixed breed—partly Jewish, partly Assyrian—called Samaritans. When Alexander the Great placed some Macedonians at Samaria, the religious Samaritans relocated to nearby Mount Gerizim.

Samaria ruins of Iron Age acropolis (

Caesar Augustus gave Samaria to Herod the Great, who rebuilt the city to his usual high standards and renamed the place Sebaste (Greek for Augustus). Herod the Great married Mariamne here (but later killed her). Herod also strangled his sons in Samaria. Some traditions hold that Samaria was also the place of John the Baptist’s execution (but it wasn’t). 

As I stood on the acropolis, I could see in one glance the crumbling ruins that represented hundreds of years of history. The place where the glorious kings of Israel made their palaces was largely destroyed as Herod the Great erected his obsequious temple to Caesar. The large steps leading to the top of the temple reflect a second-century repair job. All around the tell I saw ruins of various eras: Israelite walls, a basilica, a Roman theater, Hellenistic round towers, Herodian stylobates—and more.

Like so many great cities of yesteryear, Tel Samaria remains a testimony of all earthly glory. The only beauty that remains is what God put there to begin with.

What to Do There:
Allow at least two hours to walk among the ruins. While standing on the acropolis, read Amos 6:1-14.

How to Get There:
Best to avoid Nablus and approach from the west, assuming the political climate allows. From outside Tel Aviv, take Route 6 north, to Route 55 east, to Route 60 north.

Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (
@WayneStiles) or on his blog at

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