The Samaritans are an ethnoreligious group of the Levant originating from the Israelites (or Hebrews) of the Ancient Near East. Ancestrally, Samaritans claim descent from the tribe of Ephraim and tribe of Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) as well as from the Levites, who have links to ancient Samaria (now constituting the majority of the territory known as the West Bank) from the period of their entry into Canaan, while some suggest that it was from the beginning of the Babylonian captivity up to the Samaritan polity under the rule of Baba Rabba. Samaritans used to include descendants who ascribed to the Benjamin tribe, but this line became extinct in the 1960s. According to Samaritan tradition, the split between them and the Judean-led Southern Israelites began during the biblical time of the priest Eli when the Southern Israelites split off from the central Israelite tradition, as they perceive it. In the Talmud, a central post-exilic religious text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Samaritans are called Cutheans, referring to the ancient city of Kutha, geographically located in what is today Iraq. In the biblical account, however, Kuthah was one of several cities from which people were brought to Samaria, and they worshipped Nergal. Modern genetics partially support both the claims of the Samaritans and the account in the Hebrew Bible (and Talmud), suggesting that the genealogy of the Samaritans lies in some combination of these two accounts. Genetically, modern Samaritan populations are found to have “much greater affinity” genetically to Jews than to neighbouring Palestinian Arabs. This suggests that the Samaritans remained a genetically isolated population.
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