When Cyrus gave the exiles permission to return to their homeland in 537 BCE, many did not do so. They had adjusted to life in Babylon and there was very little infrastructure in their native land. Those who chose to stay were creative and wrote about it. So many did not want to return with the Golah, the “Holy Seed” as they liked to call themselves, because they were considered too self-righteous and narrow minded. For their part, the Golah saw the resident Samaritan locals there when they returned as a godless community who had not suffered as they had. They did not really consider them Jews at all.
The origins of the Samaritans are rather obscure. They are Israelites of Central Palestine, generally considered the descendants of those who were planted in Samaria by the Assyrian kings about 722 BC. According to inscriptions from Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad, the Assyrian king claims that 27,290 people in Samaria were relocated to Assyria, and the capital city Samaria (Shomron) was destroyed and later rebuilt by Sargon. As a common Assyrian conquest practice, the Israelite exiles were replaced by people from Mesopotamia and other areas (2 Kings 17 24-26): “And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof”. Since they were a minority, in due course they converted to the local faith.
The Samaritans themselves claim to be the descendants of Ahab (reigned 869-850 BCE) and Jehu’s (reigned 842-815) northern kingdom of Samaria. When the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 721 BCE, many of the inhabitants fled south from Samaria to the Southern Kingdom of Judah to seek refuge. They were absorbed into the population of Jerusalem, but some remained on home soil and continued their own traditions. When the exiles returned, they found that during their absence the Assyrian colonists had intermarried with the relics of the old northern tribes that now inhabited Samaria. The Jews rejected the friendship of “this cross-bred race”, and the ancient hatred began”.
Although these Samaritans belonged to the broad spectrum of Judaism, their traditions were distinct from those observed in Judah. Their faith was Jewish monotheism, but they had shaken off the influence of Judaism by developing their own religious identity. Their canon consisted of only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and then only in their own special version thereof, which they considered the sole source and standard for faith and conduct. The Samaritans held Moses in high regard, Moses being the prophet through whom the law was revealed. They rejected the sanctuary of Jerusalem and replaced it with the older Israelite sanctuary of Shechem.
The Samaritans’ place on the margins of Jewish society at the time of Christ is emphasised in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and their status among Orthodox Jews has not risen much since then. They still live there, a small in-bred clique, maintaining their traditions and festivals. For them the sacred mountain is still Mount Gerizim, where they still gather in their white robes to celebrate Passover with feasting and prayer.
 See the Bible Walks website on Mount Gerizim at http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/MountGerizim.html
 Matthew Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So – Investigating the Truth of the Biblical Past, (volume to accompany the ITV series) Headline Book Publishing, London 2001, 213.
 H.V.Morton, In the Steps of the Master, Methuen, London, 1953, 160.
 Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a Muslim, Prometheus Books, New York, 1995 (2003), pp 82-83.
 Sturgis, op cit, 213-4.