The Samaritans

Written by Drew on March 14th, 2006

The Samaritan race probably originated with the Assyrian domination of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. The Assyrians, who had been successful in numerous military conquests by this time, would customarily separate people from their native lands and from their leadership to quell any attempts to revolt against the oppression. Sargon, the king of Assyria at this time, followed this procedure with the Israelites, exiling them to camps in his own land. In their place he settled Samaria, the most affluent district of the Northern Kingdom, with peoples from other conquests: Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim (2 Kgs. 17:24). More colonists followed under Osnapper (Ezra 4:10).

Not all the Israelites were taken away. In King Josiah’s day a reference is made to “the remnant of Israel” (2 Chron. 34:9). If Sargon’s methods were comparable to Nebuchadnezzar’s, then we can assume the nobility, men of valor, and those who had learned a skill were taken. The poorest people of the land, however, stayed to cultivate the land and make it profitable for Assyria (2 Kgs. 24:14). The Israelites that remained in Samaria intermarried with those Gentiles who were brought in, and the race of the Samaritans was formed.

After the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity in 536 B.C., a hatred began to boil between the Samaritans and the “pure bred” Jews. This enmity was based partly on the racial differences precipitated by the situation described above, but they were made worse by the Samaritan’s construction of a rival temple on Mt. Gerazim in Shechem (cf. Jn. 4:20-21).

Disgust was felt on both sides. The Jewish historian Josephus believed the Samaritans to be opportunists. When the Jews enjoyed prosperity, the Samaritans were quick to acknowledge their blood relationship. But when the Jews suffered hard times, the Samaritans disowned any such kinship, declaring that they were descendants of Assyrian immigrants. A Jewish document written in the second century B.C. reads, “Two nations I detest, and a third is no nation at all: the inhabitants of Mount Seir [Edomites], the Philistines, and the senseless folk that live at Shechem [Samaritans]” (Ecclesiasticus 50:25-26). In 128 B.C. the Jewish king Hyrcanus destroyed Samaria’s temple.

On the other hand, Samaritans were capable of fomenting their own rage. On one occasion Jesus and His disciples were travelling from Galilee, through Samaria, to Jerusalem in the south. But one village in Samaria would not allow Jesus to stay there for the night, because “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:51-53). In typical fashion the Sons of Thunder wanted to call fire from heaven to consume them, but Jesus rebuked them (Lk. 9:54-55).

Jesus never allowed these racial tensions to define His acceptance of others. One finds Him conversing with a Samaritan woman at a well, to the astonishment of His disciples (Jn. 4:1-45). On another occasion He tells a parable that forever changes the meaning of “Samaritan” from something to avoid to something to strive for (Lk. 10:30-35). He, a Jew, was so accepting of these foreigners that some even accused Him of being a Samaritan (Jn. 8:48).

Racial tensions in America do not compare with what was happening in Jesus’ day, or even to what is happening in that region now. However, our churches still struggle with segregation, and prejudice still frustrates the preaching of the gospel. Racism is sin (Rom. 2:11; Jas. 2:8-9). Jesus died to knock down racial barriers (Eph. 2:13-16). If the Lord can bring together Jews and Samaritans, He can reconcile every race.


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