Omri and Samaria (1 Kings 16)

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Following his coup Omri ruled the northern kingdom for 12 years (1 Kings 16:15-22). Although a failure as a spiritual leader, Omri was a powerful king (16:16-18, 21-28). Perhaps his most significant accomplishment was the founding of the new capital at Samaria (16:24). It was established around 885 B.C. and remained the capital until the demise of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.

Samaria is situated at a crossroads near the main north-south road through the highlands of Israel, 55 km north of Jerusalem. Situated on a high hill, the city dominates the surrounding countryside. Excavations at the site have unearthed Omri’s royal citadel on the acropolis. It was surrounded by a 1,5 m thick wall enclosing a four-acre area. The wall was constructed of fine ashlar (cut) masonry laid in header-stretcher fashion (alternating narrow-face and wide-face placement of rectangular blocks). On the Southwestern side of the enclosure was a palace constructed around a central courtyard. The preserved portion is 24 m by 27 m in size. Outside the royal quarter was a lower city built on the slope of the hill.

Omri’s name appears in a number of ancient documents:

  • The earliest known inscription to mention a king of Judah or Israel is the Mesha (or Moabite) Inscription, written approximately 846 B.C. It states that “Omri had occupied the land of Medeba (northern Moab), and had dwelt there in his time”.
  • In a document from about five years later the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III referred to Jehu, a leter Israelite king, as the “son of Omri”.
  • Other Assyrian kings, such as Tiglath-Pileser III (ca. 732 B.C.) and Sagon (ca. 721 B.C.), attached such importance to the reign of Omri that they referred to Israel as “Omri-land”.

Omri was an enormously famous and successful king, yet the Bible pays him virtually no attention. Political success, in the eyes of the Biblical writers, counted for very little if an individual had turned away from God.


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