From Babylon to Syria
That the people of the later Roman Empire were basically from Syria, Phoenicia, Samaria and Asia Minor is without doubt. These easterners replaced the old stock of Rome and Italy. As plain as this is, however, it is one thing to say that these new Romans were transplanted "Syrian-types," but quite another to show that they were also politically and religiously "Babylonians" in large measure.
We will now look further into this issue. Let us first concentrate on the Samaritans. The Bible tells us that the Samaritans were originally made up of five Babylonian tribes that came into the area of Ephraim and Manasseh in the 7th century B.C.E. This is fine and true, but what is not generally realized is the fact that the Scriptures also reveal that Babylonians were not the only ones to settle in Samaria. There were other neighbor tribes to the Babylonians (peoples from Mesopotamia and Persia) who also came into the region of Samaria and other areas west of the Euphrates. Indeed, the Bible and early Assyrian records show that the Assyrians actually settled people from Mesopotamia and Persia (Elam) in all the areas of Syria and Phoenicia, as well as in the region of Samaria.
Some scholars have restricted the Samaritan colonization of the Mediterranean sea coast regions only to the region which became known as Samaria. But from the records of the Samaritans, those of the Jews and Assyrians and especially the records of the Bible, we can know that Babylonians were not only limited to Samaria. They were settled all over the area from the Euphrates River to Tyre, Sidon and into Samaria when the former inhabitants of those lands were uprooted and taken to regions in Assyria and Persia. Let us first look at the biblical record.
When the Jews were rebuilding the Temple after the Babylonian captivity, the peoples of Samaria came to the Jews and said,
"Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as you do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assyria, which brought us up hither."
The Jews declined this Samaritan petition because they were mixing pagan religious practices with their worship of YHVH. This rejection infuriated the Samaritans. They resolved to thwart any attempt to rebuild the Temple if they could not have a part in its construction. Thereupon, they wrote a letter to the king of Persia asking him to put a stop to the building. The contents of this letter are interesting because its contents reveal a lot more about the origin of the Samaritans (and their brother tribes) and about where they came to reside in Palestine and Syria. The record of this letter in the Bible affords the historian a major key regarding the distribution of Babylonians west of the Euphrates. Let us notice what these Samaritans and their allies said of themselves.
[Asshur-banipal] brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest [of the cities] that are on this side the river [in the cities west of the Euphrates], and at such a time."
"Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper
Let us notice that all the tribes mentioned in this letter (ten groups of people altogether) were from eastern areas. Almost all were from Mesopotamia and Persia. And more importantly, note that these nations were settled not only in the cities of Samaria, but also in the rest of the cities on the west side of the Euphrates River. As far as the Persian government was concerned (which flourished at the time this letter was written), this whole region was called "Syria." Note what Bevan stated about the phrase "on this side the river."
"This was the ordinary designation of Syria in the official language of the old Persian Empire."
Bevan, House of Seleucus, vol.I, p.234
These eastern peoples were brought by the Assyrians in the 7th century B.C.E. into THE WHOLE of the region we now call Syria, and not into Samaria alone. They were brought into this northern area to fill up the devastation and the void which hung on the land after the Assyrian wars. Let us remember that Northern Israel was emptied of Israelites. It was the Samaritan people who came in to replace them. On the other hand, we are told that ancient Syria (to the north of Israel) was also invaded by the Assyrians and that many of the ancient Arameans (the early Syrians) were taken back to northern Assyria. The land of Syria, west of the Euphrates River and southward toward Palestine, had very few people left in it, very much like the land of Israel to its south.
The prophet Amos (Chapter 1:3–5) foretold that the Arameans (those of Syria and northern Mesopotamia) were to be taken captive by the Assyrians to Kir (the Kir valley area just south of the Caucasus). This prophecy probably does not mean that every single Aramean was taken away, though on the surface that is what the prophecy says. Without doubt, a good deal of the native stock of ancient Aram was certainly removed from their land. Those few who were left must have amalgamated with the incoming stock from the east. The land of Syria was then repopulated, just like the land of Israel. These new peoples who came into the land of Syria (along with those who went on to Samaria in the hill country of Ephraim) were people who were once allied with Assyria. They were brought into the area as the friends of the Assyrians in order to provide a buffer zone of protection to Assyria and Mesopotamia who had their centers of empire in the east. After all, the eastern seaboard area of the Mediterranean was one of the most strategic to Assyria.
The Assyrians did not move rebellious nations into the Syrian and Palestine areas. That would have been the height of folly. Besides, Syria and Samaria were never regions of exile like the Caucasus and Caspian Sea regions.
The fact is, these people which the Bible shows came into Syria and Samaria from the regions of Mesopotamia and Persia, came to the area as colonists of Assyria. Many of them came from regions annexed to Assyria by Esar-haddon, but they were his allies. They came to redevelop the land and to strengthen it for Assyria. It would have been the height of absurdity for the Assyrians to have planted rebellious tribes into an area bordering the naturally rebellious Egypt. The evidence strongly suggests that these transplanted peoples were being granted these lands by Assyria in order to stabilize the western flank of the empire and to make it secure. Later, when the Babylonian empire came along, these very people proved to be even more helpful. During the time of the Persian Empire, these Babylonians and Persians were still in the Syrian and Samaritan regions. They were, as the Bible says "in all the areas west of the Euphrates" (Ezra 4:9–10).
Even the records of the Samaritans and the Jews support the above information. Josephus mentions an official letter of the Samaritans which was written to Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century B.C.E. in which the Samaritans stated that their forefathers had at one time come from the northern area near the city of Sidon. See Antiquities, XII,5.5. The Samaritans called themselves the Sidonians who lived in Samaria. These Samaritans had maintained their close ethnic ties to the people of Sidon (which really meant people who were under the control of the Mediterranean Phoenician cities in most of the coastal regions of the Levant). In fact, the Samaritans from Babylon and other areas in Mesopotamia and Persia had kinfolk all along the northern area of the Phoenician coast, and Sidon became a major center of this Babylonian influence.
In Assyrian times this ancient city of Sidon had been completely destroyed by Esar-haddon king of Assyria. The Sidonian king was killed and all the former people taken captive. Esar-haddon tells how the destruction came about in his own official cuneiform records. He stated that after Sidon’s destruction, he then rebuilt the city and, naming it after himself, restocked it with people from the countries of the East. About Sidon and the Sidonians, Esar-haddon said,
[Elam] and the sea shore of the East [Babylon], those who belonged to me as my share of the booty. I set over them [in eastern lands] officers of mine as governors."
"I drove to Assyria his teeming people which could not be counted. ... I settled therein people from the mountain regions
Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p.290 column B
Further, in another text, he spoke of the early Sidonians and said, "I led to Assyria his teeming subjects, which could not be counted" (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p.291A). And as for Tyre, the sister city of Sidon, Esar-haddon said,
[the king of Tyre] those of his towns which are situated on the mainland and reorganized the region turning it over to Assyria."
"I took away from him
Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p.291A
Thus, the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon which existed before Esar-haddon had their populations stripped bare (this is what previous Assyrian kings had done with the people of Israel who once lived in the hill country of Ephraim and other areas of Israel). And then, as his own records show (as well as the biblical account), he placed in their areas new peoples who had come from the mountain countries of Persia (Elam) and the Mesopotamian regions around Babylon. This means that the whole of the Mediterranean coast around these former cities of the Phoenicians were settled by kinfolk of the same people that had been brought to Samaria. This is why the Samaritans in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes called themselves as people who had come from Sidon. The fact is, however, all the people on the west side of the Euphrates in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah had been brought to these regions (the regions of Syria, the Levant and Samaria) in the time of Esar-haddon. They were basically of Babylonian and Elamite racial stocks. In other words, they were of Semitic origin and temperament.
Indeed, when Antiochus answered the letter of the Samaritans about them having first lived in Sidon, and after having checked those public records, he addressed them as "the Sidonians who live at Shechem" (Josephus, Antiquities, XII,5.5). Even Josephus himself refers to them as Sidonians of recent origin (but at the same time he said they anciently came from eastern countries). And besides this, an early Jewish commentary on the Scriptures (called the Palestinian Targum) written about 50 B.C.E., referring to Genesis 10, calls Sidon a Samaritan city. The Targum called it Cutha (that is, Cuthanis), the city of the Cuthites. (Cuthites was, and still is, one of the names the Jews used for the Samaritans.) Cutha was one of cities in Mesopotamia from whence they came.
Now what does this all prove? It serves to indicate that the Samaritan influence was not only limited to the hill country of Ephraim. The Samaritans also had kinfolk (and other "brother" tribes) in all the region of Sidon and Tyre and all of Syria this side of the River Euphrates. At least, that is precisely what the Bible says and I believe it (Ezra 4:9–10).
Of course, the Babylonians and Persians were only called Samaritans when they lived in Samaria, but in the other areas (though they were essentially the same people from the east) they went by other names. These Babylonians who lived in Sidon were called Sidonians, though they were, of course, the same basic stock as the Samaritans. Likewise the transplanted Babylonians in the other cities west of the Euphrates were not called Samaritans, but were also of the same stock.
There was, however, as time went on from the period they were brought into the lands by Esar-hadden and into the New Testament period, a major difference between the Babylonians in Samaria and the Babylonians and Persians in Sidon and Syria (not in race but in religion). The Samaritans who lived next to the Jews in Samaria accepted the Old Testament Law as a basis for their idolatrous religion, while the others at first cared little for accepting anything of the Old Testament. This singled out the Samaritans as being somewhat different from the others in Syria but they were all of the same general race. And indeed, we are told by Josephus (as I have already mentioned) that by the 1st century the majority of the women in Damascus (a prime city of these transported peoples) were practicing Judaism rather than the Samaritanism of their brethren in Samaria. Josephus also stated that Antioch (the capital of Syria this side of the River Euphrates) had flocks of its citizens being proselytes of Judaism or "God-fearers."
So, what is the outcome of this? It means that the Bible puts Babylonians along with some neighboring tribes of Persians (Elamites) in all the cities of Syria and Phoenicia as well as in Samaria and that the secular records support it. Thus, Babylonian influence from Antioch to Damascus and to Sidon and then throughout all of Samaria was much greater in scope than some scholars may imagine.
But there is even more historical information about even the political government, society and religion in some central parts of Mesopotamia moving from old Babylon on the River Euphrates, up to where Baghdad is at the present time, and then westward to Antioch. This is a fascinating and important part of the history that must be understood by all people who want to know how "Babylonianism" came to be in all areas of the west, including the Roman Empire. Recall that the prophet Daniel interpreted the vision of Nebuchadnezzar that Babylon was the head of gold of an image (showing all the Gentile governments in a successive way) until the Kingdom of God would appear on earth. In the next section of this book, we will give historical information that will show how “Babylon” even in a political and religious sense moved west ― first to Antioch, and then to Rome.
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