The Samaritans in Jesus' day began as a race of people in the Old Testament, formed after the Assyrian King took most of the nation of Israel into exile. He repopulated what was then Israel's capital city, Samaria, with foreigners who eventually intermarried with the Jews who remained in the land. As a result, their offspring was only half Jewish. These half-Jews became known as Samaritans.
Relationships With Jews
The Samaritans were still in the land when the Jews returned from captivity. The Jews shunned them because the Samaritans were not "true" Jews. The Samaritans wanted to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, but the Jews didn't want their help. The Samaritans then tried to stop the Jews from rebuilding the temple. When they were unsuccessful, they built their own temple on Mount Gerazim. This was the beginning of animosity between the two groups, which continued until the time of Jesus.
Like the Jews, the Samaritans believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, they believed Mount Gerazim was the only place for sacrifice and worship, as opposed to the temple in Jerusalem. They didn't believe in the entire Old Testament, only the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These beliefs further separated the Samaritans from their Jewish neighbors.
Relationships With Jesus
Jesus had a different attitude toward Samaritans than most Jews. He didn't hold them in contempt; instead, he reached out to them. He healed a Samaritan leper. When a Samaritan village refused to welcome him, Jesus didn't allow his disciples to order its destruction. One of his most famous parables tells the story of a good Samaritan, who helped a Jew in need. Jesus once went out of his way to travel through Samaria so he could speak with the woman at the well. As a result, she and many people in the town believed in him as the Messiah.
Jewish Influences After Jesus
After Jesus' resurrection, he instructed his apostles to preach the gospel to Samaria, which they did. The Jewish leaders persecuted the early church by capturing Christians and either arresting them or killing them. Because of this, the apostles scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. The apostles' presence in Samaria resulted in more Samaritan converts, who built Christian churches in their land.
- "Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible"; Walter A. Elwell; 1988
- "The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary"; William B. Eerdman; 1987
- "Dictionary of New Testament Background"; Craig Evans and Stanley Porter; 2000
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images