Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim , Israel , May 2012
The Samaritans (Hebrew: שומרונים Shomronim, Arabic: السامريون as-Sāmariyyūn) are an ethnoreligious group of the Levant. Religiously the Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Based on the Samaritan Torah, Samaritans claim their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites prior to the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel, as opposed to Judaism, which they assert is a related but altered and amended religion brought back by those returning from exile.
Ancestrally, Samaritans claim descent from a group of Israelite inhabitants from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (the two sons of Joseph) as well as some descendants from the priestly tribe of Levi, who have connections to ancient Samaria from the period of their entry into the land of Canaan, while some suggest that it was from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the Samaritan Kingdom of Baba Rabba. The Samaritans, however, derive their name not from this geographical designation, but rather from the Hebrew term Shamerim שַמֶרִים, "Keepers [of the Law]".
In the Talmud, a central post-exilic religious text of Judaism, Samaritan claim of ancestral origin is disputed, and in those texts they are called Cutheans (Hebrew: כותים, Kuthim), allegedly from the ancient city of Cuthah (Kutha), geographically located in what is today Iraq. Modern genetics has suggested some truth to both the claims of the Samaritans and the mainstream Jewish accounts in the Talmud.
Historically, Samaritans were a large community — up to more than a million in late Roman times, but were then gradually reduced to several tens of thousands a few centuries ago — their unprecedented demographic shrinkage has been a result of various historical events, including, most notably, the bloody suppression of the Third Samaritan Revolt (529 CE) against the Byzantine Christian rulers, and mass conversion to Islam in the Early Muslim period of Palestine. According to their tally, there were 745 Samaritans as of November 30, 2 near the city of Nablus in the West Bank, and the other in the Israeli city of Holon. Also eight families in Gaza City were found to be Samaritans. There are followers of various backgrounds adhering to Samaritan traditions outside of Israel, especially in the United States.
With the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language by Jews in Israel, and its growth and officialization following the establishment of the state, most Samaritans in Israel today speak Modern Hebrew. The most recent spoken mother tongue of the Samaritans was Arabic, as it is for those in the West Bank city of Nablus. For liturgical purposes, Samaritan Hebrew, Samaritan Aramaic, and Samaritan Arabic are used, all of which are written in the Samaritan alphabet, a variant of the Old Hebrew alphabet, distinct from the so-called square script "Hebrew alphabet" of Jews and Judaism, which is a stylized form of the Aramaic alphabet. Hebrew and later Aramaic were languages in use by the Jewish and Samaritan inhabitants of Judea prior to the Roman exile.
As of November 30, 2011, there were 745 Samaritans, half of whom reside in their modern homes at Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim, which is sacred to them, and the rest in the city of Holon, just outside Tel Aviv. There are also four Samaritan families residing in Binyamina-Giv'at Ada, Matan and Ashdod.