This article treats the intersection of a “peripheral people”—specifically Samaritan Israelites—with scholarly narratives of disaster concerning Late Antiquity. A disaster is not so much a one-off event as an ongoing series of collective experiences, patterned and repatterned in the movements of bodies and through shared—if unstable—narrative. This article, leaning into this phenomenological complexity, attends to the shared discourse of disaster as a practice of scholarly fields concerned with the study of Late Antiquity. I highlight a scholarly tendency to rely on disaster and its related tropes as it scripts the history of a group often classified as peripheral: Samaritan Israelites.
In the case of the Samaritans, rich and varied evidence from Late Antiquity is compressed into a dominant portrayal of a group set on a collision course with the Roman Empire. Examining how this compression happens equips us to better identify the powers of historiographical curation, especially with respect to groups perceived as historical (and/or present) minorities, in shaping narratives. In this article, I ask both a historical question—when and whether disaster struck—and a historiographical one—what does it mean for disaster to provide us with a historiographical vocabulary at all, and to which groups do we tend to apply it?