Ancient Judea and Samaria Explained

After reviewing my original post on Jewish settler ideology, I don’t think I adequately addressed the critical question, what is ancient Judea and Samaria? And furthermore, what is the biblically based claim to its divine bestowal upon the Jewish people? I hope this brief history lesson will suffice. Further, I hope the biblical passages quoted below will provide some insight into how easily violent settler ideologies can draw upon scripture to justify their point of view.


First, modern Judea and Samaria receives its name from the Tanakh, the holy text of Judaism, also known as the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is comprised of three main subsections, Torah (“Teaching”), Nevi’im (“Prophets”), and Ketuvim (“Writings”).[1] The story of the ancient Jewish Kingdom, from its shaky beginning under judicial rule, to its union under the monarchs Saul, David, and Soloman (c. 1000 BCE),[2] and its subsequent split into the northern Kingdom of Israel (with Samaria as its capital) and the southern Kingdom of Judea, is a major focus of the Tanakh. The heavy significance of this land in Judaism’s holy text is indisputable, producing a cultural weight that has been building within the Jewish diaspora for 2,000 years.

The story of the “Promised Land” is chronicled throughout the Torah, specifically in the books of Genesis, or Bereishit (where God promises the land to Abraham, see 15); Exodus, or Shemot (where it is only briefly mentioned as the Jews’ final destination after leaving Egypt; see 33:12); Numbers, or Bamidbar (where God, through Moses, details the geographic boundaries of their “inheritance”; see 34:1-12); and Deuteronomy, or D’varim (where God makes a covenant with the Jewish people for the gift of Israel; see 1:19-33, 3:20, 7:12-15, 11, and 20).

It is also a major focus of the Nevi’im books including Joshua (detailing the Israelite military conquest over the Canaanites; see 2:1-12:24); Judges; I & II Samuel (where the kingdom is united under David, see 2 Sam 2 and 2 Sam 5); and I & II Kings (where the kingdom enjoys further peace and prosperity under Soloman, who builds the First Temple in Jerusalem, see 1 Kings 6, and the kingdom is subsequently split into Judea and Israel, see 1 Kings 12-13).

This promise, initially made to Abraham and realized under Moses, Joshua, and the Kings of Israel, was often the source of great acts of violence, even “genocide,” as commanded by God against the Jewish Homeland’s native inhabitants.[3] This attitude has modern day implications within violent factions of the Jewish settler movement, as not only a justification for violence, but as a divine decree to cleanse the land of non-Jews. Some relevant examples are highlighted below.

“But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 20: 16-18)[4]

“Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.’” (Joshua 3:10-11)[5]

“They burned down the city [of Jericho], and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord.” (Joshua 6:24)[6]

“…you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city; for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. And when you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire, doing as the Lord has ordered; see, I have commanded you.” (Joshua 8:7-8)[7]

“When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and attacked it with the edge of the sword. The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.” (Joshua 8:24-26)[8]

“See, the Lord your God has given the land to you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 1:21)[9]

Modern Judea and Samaria gets its name from the two ancient kingdoms described in the Tanakh, which split from the unified Israel after the reign of King Soloman. By referring to it by its biblical name, instead of the more secular title of the West Bank, the Israeli government, including its military force (the IDF), spiritualizes political and armed conflicts with Palestinians and grants these disputes cosmic significance. It is therefore not difficult to understand how a sometimes violent (and always illegal) settler movement could spring up from a political landscape that is deeply rooted in ancient religious tradition.

The term’s official usage by the Israeli government also informs heavily on the failure of securing a two-state solution and the perception of some political commentators, who view the “Jewish state” as unwilling of to concede the areas of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians. With this Promised Land mentality as the foundation of Israel’s claim not only to the West Bank, but to all of Israel, it will be difficult to abandon this attitude without the weakening Israel’s legitimacy.

Peace in this part of the world will not come easy. The land has been scarred by millennia of religious wars; the sacredness nested deep within its soil, and its strong influence on shaping the political realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be ignored. All we can hope for is that all stakeholders involved in perpetuating this grim fight will find moderation and a more universal sense of humanity.


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