Focus on Jesus Series
The Samaritans: "The Disenfranchised Jews"
by Ed Vasicek
The “Samaritans” appear often in the Scripture: the Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, and the command to preach the Gospel in Samaria (Acts 1:8). Some Pharisees accused Christ of having a demon and being a Samaritan Himself. Who were these mysterious Samaritans?
The nation of Israel, even when united, was the union of the North (the majority of the tribes) and the South (Judah, the largest tribe). The union was always shaky. For years even King David ruled only over Judah—until the Northern Tribes elected to join in. When David’s grandson (Rehoboam) took the throne, the northern tribes broke rank. They appointed their own king and severed ties to the South. This Northern confederacy was sometimes called, “Samaria.”
When the Assyrians conquered this Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, they imported gentiles into the land of Samaria and deported many Israelites. The people intermarried, forming the people group referred to as “Samaritans.” Eventually, the foreigners were converted to a Samaritan form of Judaism. The Samaritans turned history around, and claimed that they were the pure race, while the Judeans were the mixed race.
When the Judeans were carried off into Babylon (beginning in 606 BC). and then returned to Jerusalem seventy years later, they began to rebuild the Temple and City. The Samaritans opposed this; they had altered the Torah and rejected the rest of the Old Testament; they declared that Mount Gerizim was God’s chosen sight for the Temple, not Jerusalem. Nehemiah tells us they created all sorts of red tape to oppose the construction of Jerusalem’s walls; the animosity between the groups was strong.
In Rabbinic Judaism, the Samaritans were more despised than the gentiles. A Samaritan woman was always considered “unclean.” Both groups hated and went out of their way to irritate one another. For example, the Jews would signal the beginning of a holy day based on the sunset in Jerusalem. The Rabbi there would give the sign, and fires would be immediately lit from mountaintop to mountaintop throughout the entire region. The holy day had begun. The Samaritans, however, would sometimes light false fires just to confound the Jews. When Jesus spoke to the Woman at the Well, or told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He was doing something very politically incorrect in His day.
Modern Judaism recognizes the full Jewishness of the Samaritan people, several thousand of whom still live in Israel (and have all along). Their Rabbis are considered fully accredited; they are stricter than even Orthodox Jews.
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