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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Historical Content of "Samaria and the Samaritans"

We read in the Gospels about the "Samaritans," we instantly think about the Good Samaritan passage in Luke  10:25-37. However, we necessarily overlook the major division there was between Jews and Samaritans. In John 4, we see a clear picture of that division where the Samaritan woman was not conformable around Jesus, who was a Jew. It is important to learn about the Israeli conflict between Samaritans in the North and Jews in the South in the land of Israel. There is a long history between these two different people groups which both claimed to worship the same God, yet in different ways. Here is some historical information discussing the historical content of "Samaria and the Samaritans," and who they were and what they did.
This is a picture of the "Good Samaritan."

The Location:
Samaria was a large 125 km region that that the dwelling place of the Samaritans.

Old Testament Background:
Samaria was a specific territory occupied by the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel lead by Jeroboam. They were viewed as living in an area of “apostates” from the twelve tribes of Israel (because of the split from the Southern Kingdom tribes of Benjamin and Judah).

Problems occurred during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah when the Jew returned from the Captivity. Samaritans wanted to work on the reconstruction of Jerusalem, but were forbidden to work because of the implications of Sanballat, the enemy of Nehemiah’s historical narrative and obstruction to rebuilding the walls, was from Samaria. Sanballat has a son-in-law named Manasseh, who was a grandchild of the Jewish high priest. He lived immorally and was excommunicated from Jerusalem under the high standard of righteousness and purity set by Nehemiah’s reforms. This context set the stage for hostility and opposition again Jew and Samaritan.

New Testament History:
During AD 6-9 at the Passover when Coponius was governor, Samaritans were so frustrated with the Jews that they desecrated the Holy Plafce by laying out and scattering human bones on the porches. This excluded all Samaritans from every being apart of the services according to Josephus the Jewish historian (Antiq. 18.2.2.). Therefore, the division between Jews and Samaritans is clearly set at its most intense time during the gospel accounts.

New Testament Insights:
Reading this passage along with the Bible dictionary has helped me see the reason why the woman at the well responded to Jesus as “why are you talking to me since you’re a Jew?” Samaritans were viewed as a dissident rebel from the true Jews (cf. John 8:48). They were viewed as half-breeds because of their ancestors married pagans. Jews would never buy food, drink water, or even talk to anyone who was a Samaritan, let alone travel through Samaria and stop there to rest as Jesus did. The Samaritans have a lack of respect towards the Jews and the Jews had a Judaistic prejudice against the Samaritans, which is highlighted in John 4:1-39. The incredible reconciling words of Jesus are truly remarkable because he brought Samaritans and Jews together by teaching the truth of God.

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