Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who Were the Samaritans?

We hear about the Samaritans in several passages in the New Testament. Who were they? 
Samaritans marking Passover on Mount Gerizim, West Bank


In the Old Testament, Samaria was the name of both the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel as well as the name of that region. 


There are different theories about the origin of the people who are known as "Samaritans" in the New Testament. 


The Jewish View:
The Jews believed that the Samaritans were the descendants of peoples who were forced to resettle the northern kingdom of Israel after the Jews were taken into exile by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. In 2 Kings 17 we read the story of this resettlement, including the adoption of some Israelite worship practices by the new settlers. Basically, the new settlers were being killed by lions and the Assyrian King sent a priest to teach them how to worship God properly - but the settlers continued in their old practices as well. This is why the Jews in Jesus' day looked down on the Samaritans - the Jews thought that the Samaritans were half-breeds who corrupted the worship of God with other traditions.


The Samaritan View:
The Samaritans themselves believed that they were the descendants of northern Israelites tribes who escaped the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. They believed that the split between themselves and other Jews occurred much earlier around 1100 B.C., when the priest Eli left Moses' tabernacle on Mount Gerazim and built his own on the hills of Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:1-3; 2:12-17).


Similarities to Jews:
The Samaritans worshiped God, observed the Sabbath, circumcised males, and believed in the coming of a Messiah and a judgement day.


Differences from Jews:
The Samaritans did not recognize the authority of the temple in Jerusalem and worshiped in their own space on Mount Gerazim. Their sacred scriptures did not contain all of the books of the Old Testament, but only a modified version of the Torah (the five books of Moses). Moses was the only prophet in the Old Testament that they recognized. They had a different version of the Ten Commandments. The Samaritans believed in the unity of God and avoided anthropomorphic language for God (God created without hands, people were created in the image of angels).


Scriptures that Reference Samaritans 

2 Kings 17 – Assyria captures Samaria and resettles it
John 4:9 and John 8:48 – shows the hostility of Jews to Samaritans
Luke 10:25-37 – Parable of the Good Samaritan
Luke 17:11-19 – Cleansing of 10 Lepers (the Samaritan is the only one to thank Jesus)
John 4:1-42 – Samaritan Woman at the Well
Acts 8:1-25 – The conversion of many Samaritans to Christianity - Philip Preaches in Samaria, Peter and John pray for the Holy Spirit

References:

“Dogma –Samaritans” The Jewish Encyclopedia.com 
“Samaritans” p261 Who’s Who in the Bible