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Who Were the Samaritans in Biblical Times? - El Shaddai Christian Ministries

Who Were the Samaritans In Biblical Times?

All throughout history we always have had prejudice of one form or another. Whether against a particular nation, race, religion, or whatever, it’s totally wrong, there is no excuse or reason for it. In biblical times the Samaritans were one of the nationalities targeted and hated by the Jews.

The Samaritans were people who lived in what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Samaria, the name of that kingdom’s capital, was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerazim instead of on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Jn 4:20).

The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were strict monotheists. In some respects they were more strict than Jews about the commands of the Mosaic law, especially the sabbath regulations, but they did not share the Jewish stricture against pronouncing the divine name YHWH in their oaths.

Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the river Jordan, bypass Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross over the river again as they neared their destination. The Samaritans also harbored antipathy toward the Jews (Lk 9:52-53). There are a lot of stories about the Samaritans in the Bible however, two of them are the most well-known. They’re the ones about the good Samaritan and the Samaritan woman at the well. The story about the Samaritan woman at the well, in my opinion, is one of the most misunderstood stories. Just about every interpretation I have heard portrays the woman as a prostitute because of the number of husbands that she had. When I virtually attended school at the Israel Bible Center in Tel Aviv one of my professors clarified it the best way I have heard. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg is the Professor of Ancient Cultures at Israel Bible Center. Here is an excerpt from an article written by that professor entitled “Understanding Samaritan Israelites”:

“First, the Samaritan Israelites defined their own existence in exclusively Israelite terms. The Samaritans called themselves – “the sons of Israel” and “the keepers” (shomrim). Jewish sources refer to the Samaritans as “kutim.”

The term is most likely related to a location in Iraq from which the non-Israelite exiles were imported into Samaria. (2 Kings 17:24) The name Kutim or Kutites was used in contrast to the term “shomrim” which means the “keepers” – the terms that they reserved for themselves. Jewish Israelite writings emphasized the foreign identity of Samaritan religion and practice in contrast to the true faith of Israel. The Samaritan Israelites believed that such identification denied their historical right of belonging to the people of Israel. The Samaritan Israelites were the faithful remnant of the Northern tribes – the keepers of the ancient faith.

Second, Samaritan Israelites had always opposed the worship of Israel’s God in Jerusalem, believing instead that the center of Israel’s worship was associated with Mt. Gerizim – the mount of YHWH’s covenantal blessing (Deut. 27:12). On the other hand, Jewish/Judean Israelites believed Mt. Zion in Jerusalem was the epicenter of spiritual activity in Israel. One of the reasons for the rejection of the prophetic Jewish writings by the Samaritan Israelites was that the Hebrew prophets supported Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty.

Third, the Samaritans had a fourfold creed:
One God–YHWH,
One Prophet–Moses,
One Book–Torah,
One Place–Mt. Gerizim.
Most Jewish Israelites of Jesus’ day agreed with the Samaritan Israelites on two of these points: “one God” and “one Book.” They disagreed on the identity of the place of worship and on other books that should also have been accepted by the people of Israel – the Prophets and the Writings.

Fourth, the Samaritans believed the Judean Israelites had taken the wrong path in their religious practice of the ancient Israelite faith, which they branded as heretical, as the Jews did of the Samaritan’s faith expression. The relationship between these two ancient groups can be compared to the sharp disagreements between Shia and Sunni Muslims today. To those outside, both groups are Muslim, but not to the Shia and the Sunni. To them – one is true and the other is false; one is real and the other is an imposter. The Samaritan-Jewish conflict was in this sense very similar. In many ways, this conflict defined the inner-Israelite polemic of the first century.

Fifth, as was mentioned before, the Samaritans are not to be confused with a syncretistic people group that also lived in Samaria (gentile Samarians), who were most probably the people who approached returnees to Jerusalem to help them build the Jerusalem Temple and were rejected by them. (Ezra 4:1-2) Due to their theology, the Samaritan Israelites, the remnant of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, could not support Temple building in Jerusalem. In 2 Chronicles 30:1-31:6 we are told that not all the people from the northern kingdom of Israel were exiled by the Assyrians. Most of them remained even after the Assyrian conquest of the land in the 8th century BCE, preserving ancient Israelite traditions that would differ from later innovations of the Judean version of Israel’s faith.

Sixth, the Samaritan Israelites used what is now called “Samaritan Hebrew” in a script that is the direct descendent of  Paleo-Hebrew (ancient Hebrew), while the Jewish Israelites adopted a new form of square, stylized letters that were part of the Aramaic alphabet. Moreover, by the time of Jesus, the Samaritan Israelites were also heavily Hellenized (lived very much a Greek lifestyle) in Samaria proper and in the diaspora (surrounding countries). Just as the Jewish Israelites had the Septuagint, the Samaritan Israelites had their own translation of the Torah into Greek, called Samaritikon.

And lastly, the Samaritan Israelites believed that their version of the Torah was the original version and the Jewish Torah was the edited version, which had been changed by Babylonian Jews. Conversely, the Judeans charged that the Samaritan Torah represented an edition edited to reflect the views of the Samaritans.

As you can see from this, this was not an easy relationship. There is another factor which could have accounted for the number of husbands she had it has to do with the culture and weddings at that time. Putting it briefly, the marriages were prearranged and the father of the groom would arrange for the payment or as we call it today, the dowry, to be paid then the groom would go to meet the bride, propose to her, paid the dowry, and then return home without consummating the marriage. Although they were technically married, they would not consummate the marriage until a year or more later. The groom would return home to prepare their house or build them a home and they would go, with much fanfare and celebration, to get his bride and take her home where the marriage would be consummated along with a week or more of celebration. With the battles of the time being hand-to-hand combat and being quite frequent and not knowing what we do about medicine today, it was not uncommon for the groom to die from sickness or battle before a marriage was even consummated. At this time, the woman was available to get married again.

Not knowing these facts, it is so easy to judge the woman, or anyone else for that matter the way we do, but unless we know the individual or group that we are judging and understand their culture and actually being in their shoes and knowing what they have been through, we have no right to judge anyone, under this situation or any other. 

Matthew 25:40 states ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, {even} the least {of them,} you did it to Me.’

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