Melakhim B 17: The Shomronim
SEFER MELAKHIM BET: THE SECOND BOOK OF KINGS
Shiur #21: Chapter 17 part II
Shalom! Welcome to this year's series on Melakhim Bet. Last year, we reached the middle of Chapter 17, and it is from there that we shall resume our study for 5774.
In our last
shiur, we discussed the devastating Assyrian siege of Shomron (Samaria),
the fall of the city, and the terrible exile of its inhabitants to far-flung
locations: “Chalach and Chavor, on
the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (17:6). This is the moment that precipitated the
demise of the ten northern tribes. Was the entire population exiled in one fell
swoop? How did these tribes get "lost"? Assyrian records speak of only
The latter half of the chapter is structured in a composite manner:
17:24-33 – A historical account of the Shomronim
17:34-41 – A religious-philosophical assessment of the post-exilic situation
The historical account is as follows:
The king of Assyria brought people from Bavel, Kuta, Avva, Chamat and Sefarvaim,
and placed them in the cities of
The Assyrian policy of population transfer, which was enacted against Shomron, was unleashed indiscriminately against all the kingdoms vanquished by the Assyrians. Then new people arrive in Shomron, foreigners from “Bavel, Kuta, Avva, Chamat and Sefarvaim.” Melakhimdescribes an epidemic in which lions attack and strike fear into this new populace, a phenomenon interpreted as an expression of rage on the part of the “God of the land.” In response, a priest from Beit El is returned from exile. He educates the newcomers about the religion of the land and the lion attacks cease.
Two questions arise from this story: First, why would God send lions to attack a
group of non-Jewish Ã©migrÃ©s? Is there some anticipation that gentiles will
adhere to the religion of
The idea of lions functioning in a punitive divine role is familiar
to the reader of Sefer Melakhim. Earlier in Melakhim, we read the
story of a prophet of God who contravenes an explicit divine instruction and
pays with his life: He is killed by a lion (13:24-28). Similarly, in the Ahab
stories, defiance of the prophet incurs a swift death by means of a lion
But this animal punishment is not limited to the sinful individual. The Torah
features several instances in which wild beasts implement divine providence on
the national stage:
If you walk in My statutes and observe My laws, I will send you the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit…. I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep with no cause for fear. I will rid the land of wild beasts and keep your enemies out of your land. (Vayikra 26:3-6)
I will unleash wild beasts against you, and they shall bereave you of your children and wipe out your cattle. They shall decimate you, and your roads shall be deserted. (Vayikra 26:22)
Another example may be the divine assistance in conquering the
And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites and the Hittites from before you.  (Shemot 23:28)
The power of the animal kingdom is harnessed to enforce God's regime.
But of course, the verses quoted above refer to the people of
The punishment was inflicted upon these nations who came to
Radak draws upon several places in which the Torah indicates that the land itself is susceptible to defilement due to forbidden sexual acts or murder performed on its soil. These pernicious behaviors may engender ejection from this special territory:
The land became defiled, and I visited its sin upon it, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. (Vayikra 18:25)
And you shall not corrupt the land in which you live, for the blood corrupts the land. (Bamidbar 35:33)
Eretz Yisrael is sensitive and responsive to spiritual wrongdoing on its soil, and it doesn't discriminate in this regard between Jew and non-Jew. In the view of the Ramban, the Garden of Eden serves as the paradigm for this dynamic:
The Torah began with the story of Creation until the creation of man, whom God invested with dominance over the world and control of it. The Garden of Eden – the choicest of places in the world – was his dwelling place. But his sin prompted his banishment. The generation of the great flood was banished from the face of the earth and only the righteous amongst them [Noah] was rescued.... It is the way of God, then, from time immemorial, that when a nation continues to sin, it will lose its place and home and another nation will replace it… (Ramban, Bereishit 1:1)
The Ramban explains that what was true for
He expelled those who rebelled against Him from the
In the Ramban's view, the
Why would a priest from Beit El be successful in teaching the new inhabitants of
One of the priests: He was a priest of the images worshipped by Israel, however
Israel believed in the existence of God and beheld Him as a supreme deity;
[Israel] perceived the calves as intermediaries. For
The Malbim is suggesting that there is a dual standard for belief in God between
Jews and non-Jews.
The strict monotheism mandated for Jews is different from the level of belief
required of other nations. For
So they feared God
but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom
they had been carried away. (17:33)
How should these Ã©migrÃ©s be assessed? Should they be viewed as Jews who practice
idolatry, or as gentiles who share some Jewish observance? Eventually the
Samaritans emerged as a distinct group with independent beliefs and practices,
but for a considerable period their identity was indeterminate and subject to
fluctuation as reflected in their closeness to or distance from the Jews and
their religious observance. As such, there were Tannaim who considered them Jews
in many respects and others who saw them as gentiles. In a discussion regarding
teruma (tithes), we read:
Rebbi said: “A Cuthean is like a gentile.”
Similarly, the Talmudic debate regarding the authenticity of the Samaritans returns frequently to their arrival here in Melakhim. Were these Ã©migrÃ©s sincere converts (gerei emet), or ones who converted merely out of fear (gerei arayot, literally “converts [due to the fear] of the lions”)? they authentic Jews?
How did the Jewish community accept this group? After the destruction of
Chazal and extra-biblical sources such as Ben Sira, Josephus and the New Testament all testify to this group. Again, tracing the history is difficult. Ben Sira, a Jewish work, expresses antipathy towards the Samaritans, whom it describes as “not a people” (50:25-26). Josephus describes them as idol worshippers.
We now see that this people had a rich history living alongside
 See Isaiah 11:13, Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 37.
 See Divrei Ha-yamim II 30:1-12 and 34:9 where we note that a considerable Israelite population remained in the northern lands in the period of Chizkiyahu and some sixty years hence, in the era of Yoshiyahu.
 The sole instance of this appellation in Tanakh is here in verse 29, but it could well refer to the Israelite inhabitants of Shomron. It is reasonable to suggest that there was a merging of certain Israelites with the Samaritans by the fact that the Samaritans believe themselves to be the descendants of Ephraim and Menashe. See the end of this shiur.
 This mirrors the structure of the first half of the chapter which offers: 1. 17:1-6 - A historical description of the exile from Shomron; 2. 17:7-23 - A religious-philosophical analysis of the sins that led up to that exile. Both religious-philosophical segments end with the language “until this day.”
This passage (17:34-41) is certainly a retrospective assessment, written from
the vantage point of the composition of Sefer Melakhim (after the
Churban) as a survey of the last 150 years “to this very day” (verses 34,
41). Shemaryahu Talmon assesses this passage as a late addition from the early
But there is a deep confusion as to which group this passage is describing.
The target group addressed in this passage is similarly debated by academics. M.
Cogan suggests that it addresses
 See Melakhim I 12:31. This is echoed in our chapter as well, in verse 32.
 See also 2:24, where Elisha bellows at some children and they are killed by two bears.
 See also the concept of wild beasts in Shemot 23:29. See my article on the topic at http://www.alexisrael.org/#!ekev---gradual-conquest/ckx0. It is also possible that Hoshea is referencing this in 2:20.
 See also Vayikra 26:34-35.
This chapter in Melakhim equates residence in the
 See Abarbanel and Da’at Mikra who share this approach.
 See Rabbeinu Tam in Sanhedrin 63b, Tosafot s.v. assur.
 See Bava Kama 34a.
There seems little doubt that the Samaritans emerged from
See Ezra 4-5. See also the character of Sanvalat who seeks to obstruct
the building of the walls of
 See Y. Elitzur, “The Cutheans in the writings of the Tannaim,” in Israel and the Bible, Y. Elitzur and A. Frisch Ed. (Ramat Gan, Bar Ilan University, 1999) pp. 393-414.
 See Antiquities 12:5.
 Kiddushin 75b and Yerushalmi Gittin 1:5.
 Tosefta Avoda Zara 3:13
 Berakhot 7:1