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Most people have heard the story of the “Good Samaritan”, it is found in Luke 10:25-37, and you can go and read it if you click the link. Lost on many today is the very title that Jesus framed this story with … the idea that the Samaritan was good. To the Jews in Jesus day, a “good” Samaritan did not exist, it was not possible. If the man was a Samaritan, he could not be good and if the man was good, then he could not be a Samaritan.

Samaria was a 870 square mile parcel of land that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. This separated Jewish Judea in the south from Jewish Galilee to the north. The Samaritan people basically posed as descendants of the lost Jewish tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, but the Jewish people said that was not possible. Those tribes had vanished during the Assyrian destruction of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.. The Jewish people claimed that the Samaritans were actually the descendants of the immigrants that the Assyrians imported into the area as replacement settlers. The Samaritans claimed that they were validly Jewish as much as the Judeans of the southern part of the kingdom, and that they had been left behind after the Assyrian conquest.

Just as David had built a temple in Jerusalem to worship God at, the Samaritans claimed that Omri had built a temple on Mount Gerizim, near Shechem, 30 mile to the north of Jerusalem. This temple has not been found, but the Samaritan capital city of Samaria has been found. It was built during the ninth century by Omri, check out 1 Kings 16:21-24.

Over the years the animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was fueled by the different ruling and conquering kingdoms. Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. rebuilt the capital of Samaria. But then when the Jews pushed Alexander’s successor out, they (the Jews) burnt the city to the ground. This happened under the rule of the Jewish king, Hyrcanus. In the Roman times, Herod rebuilt Samaria again and named it Sebaste. Since then the area has declined until it became an Arab village named Sibastiyeh.

Due to the burning of the city by Hyrcanus a hatred had been forged between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Romans saw this hatred and used it to their advantage. In 6-9 B.C. the Romans allowed the Samaritans to intrude on the Jewish passover in Jerusalem and thereby polluting it. Also in 52 A.D. the Samaritans slaughtered a group of travelling pilgrims near the Galilean-Samaritan border. Both of this event were allowed to happen by the Romans, to keep the Jews and Samaritans fighting with each other. But, then as the Romans were rebelled against 14 years later the Samaritans switch alliance and fought with the Jews against the Romans. 

Many theologians look at the pronounced effect that Samaria has had on Christianity. Some think the Stephen may have been a Samaritan as his final speech was challenging the authority of the Temple. Some detect a Samaritan influence in the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews and some even suggest that the gospel of John was written with the Samaritan people in mind.

Understanding the context, sometimes can help us in the current time, to understand the story better. Now as the Samaritan helps the Jew on that road, it takes a new understand for me. Hope it does for you too!