In a private communication a friend asked me a question (which I misread) about the Samaritans. Well, ask me an historical question and I’m off and running! I had a sketchy knowledge, but my quick search turned up some interesting things about this ethnic group, both in history and today.
We know of the Samaritans primarily from three stories in the New Testament, The parable of the Good Samaritan, the Woman at the Well and the Samaritan village that would not welcome Jesus and His disciples as they traveled to Jerusalem during the final week of Jesus’ life. We also know that for a Jew, being called a “Samaritan” was the worst sort of insult. In this blog, we’ll examine the origins of the Samaritans and the enmity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans.
In many references, the Samaritans are described as a race. They would more accurately be described as an ethnic group. Their history and origins are quite muddled, often by actions taken by the Samaritans themselves. However, as a group, we can trace the history of the Samaritans (called the Kuthim in the Hebrew Torah and the Old Testament) back at least as far as the division of Solomon’s kingdom into Israel and Judah.
Following the division, there were a number of wars between the two nations. Particularly in Israel there was a great deal of inter-marriage with other peoples and there was a great deal of pagan worship. With the defeat of Israel by Assyria the Israelites were exiled, much as the Hebrews in Judah were a bit more than a century later. As with Judah, some of the “lesser important people”, those without valuable knowledge or skills, were left behind.
The Samaritans claim that they originated from this group. They also claim that they retained the true worship practices of the “One True God” of the Hebrews. The worship was centered at Mt. Gerizim where Moses communicated with God. (We’ll explore Mt. Gerizim in a later blog) The Samaritans also claim that Mt. Gerizim is the place Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac.
The Jews in the Hebrew Tanakh claim that the Samaritans are a combination of the remnants of Israelites who remained after Israel was defeated and of Israelites who returned to Israel roughly 50 years after their exile. The returnees had inter-married during this period, thus becoming a mixed ethnic group.
Modern DNA evidence as to which of these accounts is correct is inconclusive. The Samaritans as an ethnic group still exist today! (The subject of yet another up-coming blog)
The Jews also claim that what is now known as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the site of Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac.
From the late 10th century BC until the time of Jesus there was great enmity between the Samaritans and Jews.
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