Who Are the Samaritans?
Samaria was a troublesome region north of Jerusalem during New Testament times.

charles asks: who are samaritans
Question about Right and Wrong in the Bible: Racism
Motivation - Curiosity: General interest; Interest in religion: Interest in Christianity; Student: Class discussion; Encouraged: Faith, hope, love
Bible view - The Word of God - [question 98, Tuesday, 08-May-2012]

Geography and History

My brother-in-law is a lawyer. He tells a joke as follows. 'What is the difference between a squirrel hit by a car, and a lawyer hit by a car?' The answer: 'A squirrel leaves skid marks!'

The Holy Land in modern times
The Holy Land in modern times

In Luke 10 a lawyer quizzes Jesus about eternal life. He wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to love God and love his neighbor, and this, in fact, is the formula for godly living. But the lawyer is not satisfied with the answer and asks, sarcastically, 'Who is my neighbor?' Jesus responds with the well known story of the Good Samaritan, wherein a Samaritan, that is, a resident of Samaria, helped a man who had fallen prey to a group of robbers as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. Unlike two religious Jews who passed the stricken man on the roadside, the Samaritan showed himself neighborly, had compassion, and helped him. Ironically, Samaritans were hated by Jews, so the compassionate Samaritan gave the Jewish lawyer a teaching he desperately needed.

There are two important aspects when answering Charles' question about Samaritans:

  • Geographical and historical aspects concerning Samaria and Judea
  • Religious and spiritual aspects concerning group hatred

A final aspect answers the question 'Who are Samaritans today?'

The map above shows the nation of Israel today, along with its neighboring countries. The Holy Land has changed a lot over the centuries, and today's Israel is much different than yesterday's.

The Holy Land midway through the Old Testament.
The Holy Land midway through the Old Testament.

Turning the clock back about 3000 years to a time about half-way through the Old Testament, the the Holy Land looked like the map at the right. There were two nations occupying the territory of modern-day Israel, the Southern Kingdom or Judah (from which we get the modern-day designations Jew and Jewish) and the Northern Kingdom or Israel.

At one time the Southern and Northern Kingdoms were united under the leadership of King David and King Solomon, but soon after Solomon's death political unrest split the Kingdom in two under the influence of Solomon's sons Rehoboam (south) and Jeroboam (north) (1 Kings 12). The two kingdoms grew further and further apart, with the Southern Kingdom adhering more closely to God's ordinances than the Northern Kingdom.

Around the time of Omri, King of Israel, about 880 BC, the ancient city of Samaria was set up as the capital of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 16:24), while Jerusalem had been the capital of the Southern Kingdom all along.

The two factions bickered constantly, entering into battle with each other and with neighbors on a continuing basis. While both Israel and Judah had good and bad times, in general Judah's religious practice and dedication to God surpassed that of Israel. An good example of Israel's reprobate behavior is seen in its King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 18), and a good example of Judah's godly behavior is seen it its boy King Josiah (2 Kings 22).

Ultimately God judged both Israel and Judah very severely. Israel was invaded and eradicated by Assyria in 722 BC. Judah was invaded and deported to Babylon by Syria in 586 BC.

The Holy Land when the New Testament was written
The Holy Land when the New Testament was written

So the Holy Land was devoid of most Bible influence after 586 BC. However, God retained a remnant of His faithful people while they were in Babylon and, in 536 BC a small group of Judah's captives returned to Jerusalem and started rebuilding God's temple there (Ezra 1). From this remnant sprang the Jews of Jesus' day and of our modern times.

Not so with the Northern Kingdom. When the King of Assyria invaded, he replaced the citizens of Israel with his own people, and the citizens of Israel never returned (2 Kings 17:24). This decimation removed all Bible influence from the northern region and, by the time of the New Testament, inhabitants of the city of Samaria and its neighboring territory were called Samaritans, distinct from Jews.

Hence the stage is set for New Testament strife between the Jews in and around Jerusalem and the Samaritans in and around Samaria. Jews could trace their lineage back to King David, Moses, Abraham and other Old Testament figures, while Samaritans were 'strangers' with no such ties.

Imagine the disdain of the Jewish lawyer when Jesus related the story of the Good Samaritan to him (Luke 10). The two 'good' Jewish men walked right past the man in need as he laid dieing in the roadway, but the 'bad' Samaritan stopped, ministered, and went out of his way to help the dieing man. This was an effective way of answering the lawyer's question about 'who is my neighbor?' He reluctantly answered his own question in Luke 10:37:

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
- Luke 10:36ff [KJV]

Religion and Spirituality

The story of the Good Samaritan told by Jesus is nothing new. As always the New Testament ratifies and strengthens the Old Testament. Jesus' injunction to 'love thy neighbor' echos the same injunction of Leviticus:

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
- Leviticus 19:18 [NASB]

This proceeds from the even broader legal concept of the Old Testament:

There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.
- Leviticus 24:22 [NASB]

Of this verse, respected Rabbi J. H. Hertz says:

One of the great texts of Scripture. In no other code was there one and the same law for native-born and alien alike. Even in Roman law, every alien was originally classed as an enemy, and therefore devoid of any rights. Only gradually was the protection of the law in a limited degree extended to him. In many countries, the denial by the dominant race of civic and political rights to aliens, though they may have lived for generations in the land of their sojourn, is a matter of contemporary history

Victims of the holocaust
Victims of the holocaust in Nazi Germany, 1945.

Nowhere in the Bible is racism tolerated. It is quite the opposite. We are to over-compensate when wronged, i.e., turn the other cheek. Revenge is solely the responsibility of God, and the civil authorities to whom He has extended authority (Romans 13). Left unchecked, disdain for your neighbor ultimately leads to genocidal atrocities.

Please read our article on racism, which appears at this link.

Who Are Samaritans Today?

The answer to 'who are Samaritans today' is quite clear: they are your neighbors, especially the ones you do not like very much!

Mon, 26-Jun-2017 03:45:08 GMT, unknown: 642332 ABXuGzBwduEOk